Until one hundred and fifty years ago, the world of Scarn was rent by a horrific war between the Gods and Titans, as the Gods, the children of the Titans, sought to rid the land of their whimsical and dangerous parents. Yet even as the battles raged and the mortals suffered beneath the combatants’ notice, the Gods found they could not kill the Titans. As its creators, the essence of the titans is inseparably bound to the world of Scarn, and destroy them, and the world is also destroyed. So instead of killing them, the Gods simply sought to incapacitate their parents, either chaining them in place or hacking them apart, their bodies and body parts becoming part of Scarn’s landscape where they fell. Now decades later, the felled titans are the targets of titan-worshippers wanting to resurrect their masters and the divine races to continue their war against the titanic abominations.
This is the set-up for the Scarred Lands, originally a setting for the d20 System published by White Wolf Publishing under its Sword and Sorcery Studios imprint since the year 2000. Now published by Onyx Path Publishing for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition as a Scarred Lands Player’s Guide, but a gaming group need not grab this rulebook in order to get a taster and a feel for this post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. The alternative is Gauntlet of Spiragos: An Introductory Adventure for 1st-Level Characters, an adventure designed to take a quartet of adventurers from First Level to Third Level. Advice is included to help a Dungeon Master adjust the scenario to make it more or less of a challenge as required.
The focus of Gauntlet of Spiragos is the Chasm of Flies, a crack in the earth left when the titan Spiragos the Ambusher was smote down by one of the young gods, Vangal the Ravager. The location is now is inhabited by spider-eye goblins and their spider allies, but has long been rumoured to be the resting place of powerful artefacts leftover from the Divine War. A torn and stained map has fallen into the hands of the Player Characters which possibly shows the location of a cleft or chasm in the Devil’s March and depicts what could be three magical items. The Player Characters are presented with three ways of discerning about information about the map, the Devil’s March, and the cleft in the ground. The first is from their general knowledge, whilst the second is to examine the map and work out the meaning of its various clues, and to that end, the designers have provided a number of skill tests for the players to roll and discover what their characters can learn. The other is to go to the edge of the Bronze Hills and Creagfort, which lies a few miles south of the Devil’s March and perhaps learn what those posted there know. This is optional, but the scenario assumes that the Player Characters will start there anyway, and to be honest, this is really the only opportunity for any roleplaying to take place in the adventure.
Unfortunately, after this, Gauntlet of Spiragos takes on a rather singular note with a series of combat encounters between Creagfort and the Chasm of Flies with an extra optional one should the Party be making easy progress. This optional encounter introduces an NPC which could be used to harass the Player Characters’ progress, but as written this option is one that the Dungeon Master will need to develop herself because he is only present to increase the number of combat challenges. This is a missed opportunity since it might have given something or someone for the Player Characters to interact with and oppose, and something or someone for the Dungeon Master to roleplay.
The Chasm of Flies presents an interesting physical challenge for the Player Characters, consisting of a pair of parallel columns which descend into the darkness, festooned with webs. This gives it an eerie atmosphere with a verticality derived for what the ‘dungeon’ actually is, something entirely in keeping with the setting and the consequences of the Divine war. Yet the encounters in the Chasm of Flies are not all that interesting in themselves, being again combat orientated and singular in nature. Nevertheless, the objects indicated on the map at the start of the adventure, the reasons for the Player Characters to undertake the journey are actually very nicely done, quite powerful and flavoursome given the low Level nature of the scenario.
Physically, Gauntlet of Spiragos is something of a mixed bag. Some of the artwork is excellent, but some of it is cartoonish. Likewise, some of the cartography is murky and a waste of space, in fact, the best map in the scenario is actually the player handout given out at the scenario. Similarly, the scenario suffers from being overwritten and dense in places, hampering the efforts of the Dungeon Master to extract material from the book and present it to her players.
There are some great elements in Gauntlet of Spiragos—the nature of the dungeon, the excellent magical artefacts, and the map handout as a means of delivering clues and information—which together do impart some of the feel and flavour of the world of the Scarred Lands. In fact, the importance of the magical artefacts come into play in Dagger of Spiragos and Ring of Spiragos, the two sequels to Gauntlet of Spiragos.) As an introduction, they work well, but they are hampered by the scenario’s linear design, lack of variety in terms of play, and the sometimes stodgy writing, the ultimate effect being that Gauntlet of Spiragos is not as interesting and as dynamic as an introduction to Scarred Lands it deserves to be. This should not be taken as Gauntlet of Spiragos: An Introductory Adventure for 1st-Level Characters being a complete disaster, for it is far from that. Rather it is a scenario that will work better with some tinkering and adjustment upon the part of the Dungeon Master.