Scoundrel is a word with so much character. Less insulting than con artist, not as cute as rascal, a scoundrel is the kind of person that will pull a fast one on you just to let you know you’ve been had. The second entry in the second Complete series, Complete Scoundrel introduces a whole new dimension to D&D’s Skills mechanic, as well as an assortment of new types of Feats. This sourcebook sums itself up nicely on the back cover: “Fair Fights are for Suckers”.
Complete Scoundrel owes my interest in it to Complete Mage. Had Complete Mage not impressed me so much, I would have turned my nose up at this superfluous continuation of the original Complete series. Now I’m intrigued to see if the new options can live up to Complete Mage’s innovative Reserve Feats.
At a Glance
That is a cover that jumps out at you. The red and gold cloak worn by our cover boy catches the eye, as does the swath of glowing green in the background. The beautifully detailed sword and scabbard strapped to his back is one of the finest renditions of a fantasy blade in any D&D sourcebook. It fits in nicely with the profile box frame and ties into the character’s elbow pads and coat trimming. Even more impressive are the details in the illustration. A small bookmarked journal strapped to his shoulder, a mini tome of unknown secrets and lies kept straight by the sly scoundrel. He has three cards in his hand, each featuring a dragon, clearly a reference to the most popular card game in D&D, Three Dragon Ante. And finally, a rose pinned to his collar, possibly a gift from an impressed maiden, possibly a gift for a comely lass that catches his eye. A wonderful cover that truly captures the spirit of the book, especially with the subject’s crooked smile letting us know that his back-up plans have back-up plans.
My first impression was that Complete Scoundrel had less artwork within than standard sourcebooks. The Complete Scoundrel Art Gallery has only three pages of original art, including chapter headers, which is less than the average four pages with no chapter headings. This is likely because 4th Edition was on the close horizon and 3.5 sourcebooks were getting less money put into them.
I am glad Wizards.com finally included Chapter Headers in the online gallery. These pieces offer more than just an action scene or a character portrait. Often they are abstract pieces of artwork more daring than the colour illustrations. David Bircham’s Chapter Start 3 has a lot going on and leaves a lot up to interpretation. Are the characters in the background all of the middle figure’s targets? Maybe for bounties, maybe they wronged her. Are they the five aspects of her personality? Her party mates? All I know is that the six characters are vastly different and interesting in their own way, and that the main character has wicked intentions and one hand behind her back.
A couple of stand-out images include Franz Vohwinkel’s profile picture for the Gray Guard prestige class. It’s intimidating as all heck and shows the dark side of Lawful Good. The Gray Guard in question, Ambros Brasmere, looks like he’s enjoying making the little cloaked individual squirm and spit up blood, employing his Devastating Touch class feature.
Speaking of dark sides, Healer’s Vision is a spell that lets the subject see the anatomy of others. Eric Deschamps illustrates how this spell can be used to an assassin’s advantage. Extra points for giving a cocky expression to the demon who has no idea his vulnerabilities are on display.
Since this book is thin on great artwork, I’ll throw an honourable mention to another Eric Deschamps illustration, the tiefling rogue Valek Xander. He’s another scary dude with an expression that indicates a lot going on below the surface.
The second Complete series is made up of direct sequels to entries in the first Complete series. It should be expected that options introduced in Complete Scoundrel’s predecessor Complete Adventurer are supported here, but it is surprising how many other books are also supported. New material exists for options originally introduced in Complete Warrior , Complete Arcane, Complete Divine, Tome of Magic, and there are a surprising number of new psionic options.
I was torn whether to make this a Highlight or a Low Point. As someone with regular access to the entire first Complete series, I appreciate new material made available for older non-core options that intrigue me. However I understand that there are those who only buy a few sourcebooks and the more pages dedicated to options they do not have access to, the less valuable it seems. I finally decided to make this a highlight because no one can legally create new options for non-core rules but Wizards of the Coast. No independent publisher could make a feat for a multiclassing fighter/swashbuckler, for example. With the last new 3.5 products from Wizards of the Coast already published, this is a rare treat for those of use who thought there would never be supplemental material for certain non-core options.
Complete Scoundrel also does a great job supporting itself. Some of the new magic items, prestige classes, and spells are directly related to new options it introduces. Thankfully, this opens up a variety of new build options for a player that wants to optimize a character based around luck feats or skill tricks.
Easily Integrated New Ideas
I was afraid Skill Tricks would be a complex new system that everyone had access to but only a few players would acknowledge. Thankfully, Skill Tricks are a small but entertaining offshoot of the existing skill system. Put simply, a character with enough ranks in a single skill could invest a few additional skill points to unlock a new trick related to that skill. For example, a character with enough ranks in Tumble could buy the Back on your Feet movement trick and be able to stand up from prone more quickly and without provoking attacks of opportunity. The Skill Tricks system isn’t without its faults. It means classes with minimal skill points, like low-intelligence sorcerers, are unlikely to ever buy skill tricks. And many of the tricks are very cinematic, which adds great dynamics to encounters. But there are only so many times a character can use Corner Perch before the trick is played out and the player regrets the skill points spent to gain access to it. However, it is better to waste a couple of skill points than waste a feat. Many of the feats introduced in past sourcebooks would make better Skill Tricks. A little dedicated house ruling not only makes previously limited feats useful, but it would add a lot more Skill Tricks to explore.
Two new types of feats are introduced as well. Ambush feats take the idea Complete Warrior introduced with its Arterial Strike and Hamstring feats and categorizes them. Ambush feats allow a rogue or ninja to trade in bonus sneak attack or sudden strike dice in exchange for more precise attacks. It’s like a newly refined called shot system, where a well aimed blow can harm a foe in ways other than hit points damage. Anyone that has ever wanted to play a surgical rogue needs to pick up a bunch of ambush feats.
Finally, luck feats are up there with reserve feats as far as fun and usefulness. Luck feats allow a character to spend points from his luck pool to alter results of a role. Typically this means rerolling and accepting the second roll, but some feats allow the character to treat certain natural 1s as natural 20s. Obviously some feats let you reroll more important situations than others, but every feat adds one point to your luck pool. So if you have a feat that lets you treat a natural 1 on attack as a natural twenty and another feat that lets you reroll the amount cured by a healing spell, you have two points in your luck pool that can be used however you want. Roll back-to-back critical misses? Two luck points later and you have back-to-back critical threats, but no luck points left. My only complaint about luck feats is that none of them are fighter bonus feats.
Of the three new ideas, ambush feats and luck feats are very impressive. Skill tricks sound like they can be fun, but they are still somewhat cumbersome and repetitive. If 3.5 weren’t ending, I would love to see Skill Tricks explored further in subsequent releases over the next few years. Sadly, this is an idea loaded with potential that will not see realization.
How does a Con Artist work his mark? He makes a connection, talks like their old friends, and gains his victim’s trust. Which is exactly how Mike McArthur and F. Wesley Schneider write Chapter 1: Scoundrels of All Types. I can not remember any instance where a D&D sourcebook used examples like Malcolm Reynolds from TV’s Firefly, Al Swearengen from TV’s Deadwood, and Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean film trilogy, or quote Han Solo to start the first chapter of a sourcebook. They use these current pop culture examples to make a connection with their hip young readers. I was nearly taken aback when I read them describe scoundrels as “lucky bastards”. Such language is unheard of in a D&D sourcebook, but pretty common in casual conversation. Using “bastard” as indifferently as you might with your old friends.
This self-aware chapter brings the book’s Scoundrel concept to life, and makes the sourcebook’s opening “fluff” chapter amusing.
The most loosely defined aspect of D&D is alignment, and as a result a lot of interpretation and debate has gone into removing the ambiguity. Wizards of the Coast has rarely stepped forward to define them more clearly. Complete Scoundrel bucks that trend, and opens up whole new worlds of debate.
This is the downside of the book’s casual tone. Is Batman truly Lawful Good and not Lawful Neutral? Arguable. Is Tomb Raiser’s Lara Croft really a neutral character, or do we just not know enough of her motivations to judge them otherwise? And can a lawful good character be a scoundrel?
Instead of attempting to clarify alignments, they casually define them in regards to scoundrels. That leads to more questions and arguments that the original alignment outlines from the Player’s Handbook.
The odd short story or anecdote makes a decent space filler, especially for those of us who got a bit tired of the same sitting dog and skull-themed treasure chest showing up in every sourcebook. The short stories are no longer appreciated when one or more appears in each chapter in the book. They are everywhere!
Prestige Class formatting has become longer with each new update. The latest variation goes on far too long, including information that is redundant, unimportant, or stifles creativity, like how the class is received by the world at large. On top of that, Chapter Six: Scoundrel Adventures is thirty five pages of filler. Complete Adventurer surprised me with an insightful chapter on rogue and guild-heavy role-playing. Complete Scoundrel fails where its predecessor succeeds.
Before I go into details, I don’t understand why the second chapter in the book is Prestige Classes. I’m supposed to learn about the cool new prestige classes that take skill tricks and luck feats to the next level when I have yet to reach the chapter that outlines skill tricks and luck feats? Now, I strongly believe in consistency in my sourcebook series, as anyone who reads my reviews knows. This is an instance where I would prefer an exception. Complete Mage established that the second Complete series would not introduce base classes, unlike the three new base classes in each of the first Complete series. However, with all the new systems Complete Scoundrel introduces, it is a shame there aren’t new base classes to embody them. As it stands, only characters with sneak attack or sudden strike qualify for Ambush feats, meaning not even Scouts, who have the similar Skirmish class feature, qualify. I complained that virtually every prestige class in Complete Adventurer gave out Rogue abilities like they were candy, but if it weren’t for that sourcebook, there would be virtually no classes with access to ambush feats.
A couple of the prestige classes have enough potential that they could have made excellent base classes. Combat Trapsmith is a five level prestige class about setting quick traps on the battlefield. The Master of Masks is a ten level prestige class that crafts different magical masks, each providing unique abilities. Both of these prestige classes have fully fleshed out class abilities that could have really shined as base classes. I would have also loved a new base class tied directly into ambush feats and another tied into luck.
Malconvoker is a non-evil prestige class that summons evil creatures to work in the name of good. It is a nine level prestige class, a nice touch.
Better Lucky than Good is the ultimate luck feat, turning critical fumbles into critical hit threats.
Concussion Attack is an ambush feat that trades sneak attack for Intelligence and Wisdom damage. Putting strategic abilities such as this into the hands of non-casters adds tactical depth to melee combatants. Too bad you need to be a high level rogue to qualify.
The skill trick Whip Climber lets a character use a whip as a grappling hook. We’ve seen Indiana Jones do it, now any character with enough ranks in Use Rope can mimic archeology’s greatest action hero.
Fatal Flame is a wicked new spell that turns opponents into deadbombs. Great for coordinating ranged attacks, the target of this spell explodes upon dying.
Bayonets are cool. Crossbows are cool. Anachronisms are cool. A bayonet crossbow? Anachrotastic!
I feel like I’m offering too many Juicy Bits, but this book really has a lot tricks up its sleeves. I’ll quickly mention the alchemical item Forger’s Paper, the Rod of Ropes magic item, and the wonderfully named living item, Gut Mites.
At the moment, none. I never got around to reading Complete Scoundrel despite it being on the shelf since it was first released. Now that I have read it, I look forward to trying a luck feat on my current character, and using a lot of the other options to create memorable NPCs and unexpected villains when next I DM.
Complete Scoundrel is a diamond in the rough. Even if I never use a single option from this book (very unlikely), it was one of the most entertaining sourcebooks I’ve read since I started doing these reviews. Further proof that concepts that feel greed based, like the second Complete series can turn out to be fantastic additions to the game.
If You Liked This Book…
Complete Scoundrel is strong where its predecessor Complete Adventurer is weak and vice versa. Want base classes and cool organizations, go to Complete Adventurer. Want prestige classes and great flavour, Complete Scoundrel. Interesting feats, spells, and magic items? Either one’s good. There are two other books in the second Complete series, one of which is worth mentioning. Complete Mage provides players with as much good flavour and innovative options as Complete Scoundrel.
Release Date: January 2007
Date Reviewed: January 30th, 2008