The look and the layout are of exceptional quality. The book is well organized and well put together with exceptional and helpful art work along the way.
As to the content, I'll preface this review by stating that I am a long time DM and player in the Scarred land setting; I have had one campaign or another active in Scarn for 10+ years now. I am a huge fan of the original Scarred lands world, particularly the grim and gritty feel of the world, the detail given to each region, kingdom, city-state, God, titan and race. The struggles players have to deal with - not just good vs. evil, but divine races vs. titanspawn added a depth to the campaign world and a feeling amongst players that they were rather insignificant but, should they survive long enough, they might rise to become great heroes and champions of their cause whatever that cause happened to be from campaign to campaign. It was a deadly world and players came in to campaigns knowing it was a serious world for serious gamers with little in the way of fluff. The Scarred lands always seemed to me to be a campaign world whose target audience was mature, adult gamers, it left out much of the fluff and kewlness that other worlds used to pander to less mature gamers who liked the infusion of video game qualities in their table top roleplay. I am not saying either style of game or campaign world is better than the other, but I prefer the former. I am an adult, a middle aged gent who has been D&Ding since the mid-eighties, and this background is where my review is coming from. If you're fourteen or fifty and you prefer a character who functions like your favorite video game badass then my review will likely mean little to you.
And on to the review.
The grit and grime have been white-washed - or brightly colored in to be more precise. If the original Scarred lands campaign world was a grimy, dark novel, then this newest incarnation is the comic book version of said novel. Still interesting, still a very enjoyable read, but something to be taken less seriously and something that, I feel, takes itself less seriously. This has much to do with the Pathfinder game system itself which fixes a lot of complex and frustrating systems from 3.5, but is also more player friendly in the sense that a character death is far less likely and new powers are earned far more frequently. So saying that this seems a comic book version of the original has something to do with the player friendly Pathfinder system which I will be switching to and see as a step up from 3.5.
Speaking strictly to the campaign world and not the Pathfinder system, I would suggest that many of these new PC races have a comic book feel to them and it seems as if the world's creators had the 12-17 year old target age in their crosshairs when they created them. Of course there must be a kewl catfolk race for the kids to play, forget that the original manticora were blood-thirsty and savage; they slaughtered, preyed upon and literally feasted upon the divine races and now they are pussy cats who made nice, though there is a small suggestion that some who are not among the redeemed still dine on the divine races. Could they not have waited for the Termana book to come out and introduce the Terali, or must we now have two kewl catfolk races and still no gnomes?
The sutak and asaatthi have similarly been cleaned up; no mention is made on the war-hungry Sutak's relentless, borderline obsessive drive to eliminate the city-state of Hollowfaust; very little is said of the asaatthi's worship and reverence of Mormo. These were classic foes who seemed so sinister, so hateable and so perfectly suited to the SL world that it frustrated me to see them glossed over in the way that they were. I am not sure why the creators felt it necessary to paint these classic Scarredland villains as if they were good guys since the close of the Divine War. No objection to making them PC races, but why perform such a face-lift on the races themselves? Having redeemed titanspawn races is an idea I love - having them be the norm of their respective races just rubs me the wrong way. Clusters or pockets of redeemed races who are hated and hunted by others of their race works great for me, but cities of asaatthi, sutak even slitheren who are now serving the gods takes so much away from these races as the foes they were created to be.
I won't even mention the hollow legionnaires as I find them so comical that I will exclude them from SL campaigns I run when I do make the switch to Pathfinder.
Moving on from races to classes and I'll preface this section of the review by stating that I have played (never ran) maybe two Pathfinder campaigns; my knowledge of classes beyond the core rulebook is minimal, though I am buying up other books to familiarize myself in perperation of switching future SL campaigns to Pathfinder. Having said that, I cannot comment on many of the races but I am thrilled that many of the SL standards have been included in this book. Prestige classes or archetypes for Silver knights, Iron knights, courtesans of Idra, hellianns, blood witches, vigils, rune casters and lots others are instrumntal in a Ghelspad campaign and I think these classes were handled wonderfully by the creators. Classes are well balanced and for the most part they capture the feel of the original class or prestige class.
I do have two strong gripes however...
the Iron knight's class abilities are based upon a book and system that I have never heard of, I don't like that; who wants to have to purchase or reference other books to see what a class can do? Spell it out on the page, it makes things so much easier for DMs and players alike. Also, these Iron knight abilities seem geared toward large-scale combat rules, making iron knights almost worthless as player characters unless the campaign involves large scale war-fare. I don't mind a class geared toward such a specific task, but why essentially eliminate one of the four orders of Corean's knighthood for this purpose?
Druids... Druids are essentially the priests and spiritual guides to those who worship the titans. The standard druid is essential a nature priest - a druid who serves Denev, the earth mother. I would have loved, Loved to have seen archetypes for druids who serve the other titans. A druid of Thulkas with great influence over heat and fire, a druid of mesos with smatterings of arcane magic along with his druidic spells as a couple of examples. New cleric domains might be offered to such druids who choose a cleric domain as their nature bond (Ex. sun replaces water for Thulkas - magic replaces animal for Mesos). This was something I was certain we'd see and hope will be available in future source books, until then I'll work a few out on my own for future campaigns.
Upon my first read through, nothing stands out with feats or background traits, I think a great job has been done on these. Great balance, great flavor and true to the feel of the Scarred lands. It is from this point onward (with the exception of the gazetteer) that I think this book is strongest. Feats and equipment were handled very well and creators, authors, designers all deserve a pat on the back for this.
Spells and True Rituals - this is where the creators knocked it out of the park. Was so pleased to see so many spells from the Relics & Rituals books converted so well. From a 3.5 standpoint, I long thought many SL spells were more powerful than core spells of the same level; some SL spells made core spells entirely obsolete (3rd level dragon breath vs. 3rd level lightning bolt); but here we have so many of the spells that were so inventive, so creative and added so much to the SL setting, all converted, balanced and presented wonderfully, with great art work for many. The system for true rituals is not as complex as the original either; True rituals were handled extremely well and I had feared going in that they were going to be set aside entirely, so I give many props and kudos to those who put in the work to keep this part of the campaign setting in-tact.
Equipment and magic items - again, items, weapons and armor were wonderfully converted from the original SL campaign setting and brought along to Pathfinder without removing that distinctive Scarredlands feel. I am thrilled with this aspect of the book and only wish they had room to fit more of the magic items - though I am in no way suggesting that they skimped on this section of the book. Like the spells section (and I might as well include the monster section in here as well) I would have loved to have seen more, but the creators had to stop somewhere and what they have is a good deal more than I had expected.
I'll end at the Gazetteer and start by saying this to those new to the Scarredlands campaign world: Get the original book, Scarred Lands Campaign Setting: Ghelspad. The detail, the information, the history and the potential campaign ideas found therein makes it a necessity. This book could not have fit everything it did into it had they included the level of detail in the original Ghelspad. I have to think that the creators assumed those purchasing this book were already owners of that book; if you are not then get it.
This gazetteer, again, was a little too glossy, friendly and bright for my liking as compared to the original, this coupled with the more friendly races really hurts the overall feel of the new Ghelspad. It irks me that this rendition will be THE defining essence of ghelspad in ten to twenty years. It's not that this version with its shifted ambience and tone is so bad; it's just that the original was so good. Obviously I will hold on to what I loved about the original as tightly as I can in my campaign and will be thrilled to add the wonderful conversions and creations from this book. I am very excited that Onyx Path chose to give the Scarred Lands new life and I look forward to what lies on the horizon for Scarn.
[3 of 5 Stars!]