Complete Warrior is the first in what is considered the most successful series of of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 supplements. Both an update to the popular second edition Complete Guide books (brown soft cover books which each focused on a single class or race) and the third edition Sword and Fist (another soft cover book, with options for the PH martial classes).
Has Complete Warrior learned from its two predecessors? Let’s say there’s a reason the Complete series is so popular.
At a Glance
Complete Warrior debuted the profile box cover format, where a largely brown cover is embellished by a small graphic of a single character. And this particular character says so much while doing so little. He’s holding out the head of his latest kill, maybe a vampire or an orc drained of its blood. But he isn’t proud or satisfied, he has a scowl that says “Now where’s my reward?” His armour shows age, his gloves have magical runes that suggest they are Gauntlets of Ogre Power. The odd holy symbols of Heironeous, not enough to suggest he’s a paladin, just that he’s a warrior with some faith.
Inside, a lot of the profile pictures of prestige classes are kind of dull or are strangely contorted. The Master of the Unseen Hand is fantastic, clearly displaying someone who has used his telekinetic powers to launch his opponent out of his boots and into the blue. The Drunken Master is fun, and I have nothing but love for the grin on the face of the Exotic Weapon Master, actually using a gnome hooked hammer. But outside of those, most feature a tough guy pose with some small hint of what their class is about, which is pretty dull. And the style of art is drastically different from page to page, sometimes offering vibrantly coloured, ultra detail like the Frenzied Berzerker and then switching to low details crayon colours like the Gnome Giant Slayer (more on him later).
The amount of artwork in this book is great, and really makes flipping the pages more interesting, but it isn’t the best artwork of any D&D sourcebook.
New base classes
The Hexblade, the Samurai, and the Swashbuckler. When it comes to martial classes, it’s easy to assume everything is now just a variation of a multi-classed Fighter. Well Complete Warrior shows that there were some bases left uncovered.
Every book in the first Complete series (Adventurer, Arcane, Divine, and Warrior, with Psionics the first series extra) offers at least one caster-warrior class. In Complete Warrior, that class is the Hexblade. The Hexblade is like a Paladin’s twisted brother, using arcane magic and a natural curse that debuffs opponents, hindering their attack and damage, saves, and skill checks. It is an original concept that fits into D&D seamlessly, truly inspired. As the first new class featured in the first release of the first Complete series, this is definitely a quality bottle of champagne to inaugurate the ship.
Another staple of the first Complete series is a class steeped in oriental legend. The Samurai is based on the Western view of the Eastern warrior, trained equally in etiquette and combat, and honour bound to a lord. I never read the Oriental Adventures (OA) supplement, but I have to assume a Samurai was featured. I’m not sure how or if the CW Samurai differs from the OA Samurai. I do know Complete Warrior presents a really fun class. What’s not to love about a warrior with a class feature called “Mass Staredown”? My only objection to the class is how few skill points it receives (2+ Int), given that its background states a Samurai studies manners and etiquette as much as it studies the use of the katana and wakizashi.
Finally, the Swashbuckler is a musketeer without the musket, a master of the rapier and a quick, dodgy combat style. Sound familiar? That’s because the Duelist prestige class in the Dungeon Master’s Guide was supposed to fill that same niche. The Swashbuckler presents a base class replacement for that prestige class, even offering the same Acrobatic Charge class feature at a much lower level than the Duelist. Even though I feel bad for the Duelist, the Swashbuckler is superior. The Duelist is a prestige class for a Fighter, Fighter/Bard, or Fighter/Rogue. That means qualifying characters have minimal skill points, access to weapons and armour they can’t use, and possibly trapfinding or bardic music and other class features that do not fit the flavour of the class. As a core class, the Swashbuckler can offer only the class features that suit that class, such as decent skill points (4+Int) and only light armour proficiency.
I’d just like to add that each of these core classes benefits from a high charisma score. Ah Charisma, how far you’ve come from the second edition dump stat.
Complete Warrior has a 77 page Prestige Classes chapter. The whole book is only 160 pages. This one chapter is just under half the book. And rest assured, it is chock full of goodness. The chapter starts with a convenient chart categorizing the prestige classes offered into groups like Good Guys, Bad Guys, Melee, Ranged, Spellcaster, etc. There being Spellcaster prestige classes in a book called Complete Warrior might not seem like the an obvious fit, but they are all for multi-classed warrior/casters with a bend towards combat. The Bladesinger is a fighter/bard, the Rage Mage is a barbarian/arcane caster, and the Spellsword is the requisite fighter/wizard prestige class.
There are monk and druid specific prestige classes, two options that were noticeably absent from the original selection in the DMG. There are also a couple of strong options for the samurai and swashbuckler. The Hexblade, sadly, does not have a prestige class designed specifically for it. Even still, the range of options offered in this book is staggering.
A popular trend in D&D supplements lately has been Alternate Class features. The idea of providing the same classes with different options gives old favourites new paint jobs and helps keep them current. The idea originated in Complete Warrior. The format may be different from the Racial Class Features of the Races Of books or the new standard for Alternate Class Features found in Players Handbook II, but the Variant: Paladins and Rangers Without Spellcasting found in CW shows brilliant forward thinking and a true knowledge of how certain people play certain classes.
The new Feats are a nice selection, if a bit limited for Fighters looking for new branches for their Feat trees. Hamstring is a personal favourite, a feat that gives a rogue a special attack to reduce an opponent’s speed, and I like that Improved Familiar is brought back with new combat-oriented options. Tactical Feats are another great new option. Often new Feats grant a PC a very cool ability that requires such a specific set of circumstances it is unlikely to ever get used. Tactical Feats provide three unlikely abilities, improving the odds that one of them gets used at least every other session.
I don’t object to Chapter 4: Fantasy Warfare being included in a guide to combat for all classes. I object to its content and layout. This chapter is all over the place. A couple of pages of theory on where D&D combat mechanics fits between historical combat and modern warfare that’s well worth reading starts the Chapter and might have been a good way to start the book. The Mercenary campaign section offers good advice on how a small party of PCs can affect an entire war. Good so far. Then we get to the Sporting Combat. What should have been a selling point of the book reads like a bad web article, ends too soon, and doesn’t offer any decent charts or tips to run the few games they provide smoothly.
Why put information about martial gods and epic-level play between the weapons and magic items? And why aren’t Weapons and Magic Items given their own chapter? For that matter, why aren’t the Epic feats with the general, divine, tactical, and weapon style feats? It is just such a hard Chapter to read because it feels like they kept adding unrefined new material until they were satisfied with the book’s page count.
No New Special Attacks
This is an old complaint of mine. There are a dozen Special Attacks in the Player’s Handbook: Grappling, Tripping, Aid Another. This is an area that has never been expanded. I submit an article to Dragon magazine about severing limbs because I felt the game had gone too long without this option. Complete Warrior could have used a few more game-wide options, not just player options. A juda-style throw is another special attack I’d like to see added to the game.
What can I say, attack robot familiars just don’t fit with my views of D&D. If they were more rickety and cog-based, or jointless and clearly magically manipulated, maybe I’d be more open-minded. I can even accept Warforged, basically a race of animated suits of armour that have evolved. But the clean robot look of the Guardian Familiars, in particular the red laser eye of the Gauntlet Guardian, rub me the wrong way.
Who can deny the fun of the Drunken Master prestige class? When one of the special prerequisites is surviving a night of heavy drinking “without being incarcerated, poisoned, or extraordinarily embarrassed”, and a class feature called Drink Like A Demon, what’s not to love?
The Justicar is another very original prestige class, one that focuses on non-lethal combat and bringing hogtied criminals to the proper authorities. It doesn’t fit in with my group’s style of gaming, sadly, or I’m sure I would have played one by now.
Maybe it’s just me, but I love the mancatcher, an exotic weapon brought to 3.5 in this book. A polearm with a hinged claw at the end that allows reach grappling.
My surly gnome fighter Karkerkast had a background as a Troll Slayer when he debuted, so I was tickled pink when Complete Warrior was released and featured the Gnome Giant Slayer prestige class. Sadly, the class is too specialized since there are only so many monsters with the giant type, and most of the class features are giant-specific (some apply to all large and large creatures, however). I stand by Kark as one of my favourite characters, but I will never say he was an effective character build. Making a two weapon fighter with Spring Attack was a big mistake.
Currently, I am playing a Hexblade/Kensai named The Scales of St. Cuthbert, an intrusively religious warrior that convinces himself every coincidence he comes across is a sign from his god. The Hexblade class is fun for a player, but boy did my DM hate him. Now that I’m DMing him and using Scales as an NPC, I can sympathize. The Kensai prestige class, also in Complete Warrior, is an adventurer so closely tied to a weapon that it grows in magical properties as the PC advances in levels.
I also had a goliath Samurai rolled up as a back-up character in case his brother Horncarver the goliath cleric died when my friend Jean ran the Red Hand of Doom canned adventure. Horncarver survived so I never did get to play that character, whose name now escapes me.
Finally, I have to mention that my friend Corey played a half-ogre Barbarian/Bear Warrior. The prestige class turns a raging character into a black bear. Since black bears are medium and half-ogres are large, he actually shrunk when he transformed. Another nice prestige class.
I have to point out that there are only four chapters in this book. Chapter 1: Classes. Chapter 2: Prestige Classes. Chapter 3: Supplemental Rules. And Chapter 4: Fantasy Warfare. Three of the four chapters in this book are the highpoints, and my complaints about the fourth chapter are more about failed potential. It should be pretty clear that Complete Warrior is a personal favourite of mine. Not every book in the first Complete series is as good as this one, which is too bad. With very little suggestions for change, Complete Warrior is the standard all other player-oriented D&D supplements should strive for.
If You Liked This Book…
Check out the rest of the first Complete series, in order of importance: Complete Adventurer, Complete Arcane, and Complete Divine. The second Complete series is very different in format and there is no warrior-oriented book yet, but you might enjoy Complete Scoundrel, Complete Champion, or Complete Mage.
Arms and Equipment Guide has everything a fighter would need to handle any situation.
Player’s Handbook II’s feats are great for a fighter looking to expand. It also offers alternate class features for the Hexblade.
The Miniatures Handbook offers a little of everything for players, and really has less to do with the D&D Miniatures game than it does the tabletop RPG.
Races Of Stone and Races of the Wild from the Races Of series introduce new races that can make effective warriors, the goliath and the raptoran. The goliath fills many of the combat roles of the half-orc without the stigma of low intellectual statistics, and raptorans can fly. There’s even a racial substitution fighter level that lets a Raptor fly unencumbered in medium armour. Savage Species provides further options for making classes out of monsters.
Heroes of Battle expands upon the ideas of hinted at in the CW section on Fantasy Warfare.
If you have something in particular in mind, the Environment series of books (Frostburn, Sandstorm, Stormwrack, Cityscape, and Dungeonscape) offer options for campaigns in the arctic, desert, at sea, urban, or in the ever-popular subterranean dungeon.
And for those dragonslayer hopefuls, arm yourself with knowledge about your favourite foes by reading the Draconomicon.