|Written by Ryan. Costello, Jr|
|Friday, 02 November 2007 20:26|
The follow up to the popular Complete Warrior supplement, Complete Divine promised detailed expansion of divine casters and new options to add a touch of the divine to the other classes, all in the more-crunch-for-your-buck format of Complete Warrior. How does this book compare to its predecessor and many successors?
At a Glance
The profile box cover, the staple of the Complete series, brings a nice splash of blue, white, and yellow to the very brown cover. There is definitely a quality to the character depicted that stands out as divine, rather than arcane. The glowing holy symbol of Pelor helps. Unique to Complete Divine, the character on the cover is actually featured inside. This mohawked fellow is Thouvan, the sample character for the new Radiant Servant of Pelor prestige class.
The artwork inside is largely excellent. Jeremy Jarvis captures the heart of the prestige classes featured in two of my favourite illustrations from the book, Church Inquisitor and Evangelist. Franz Vohwinkle’s Geomancer is a frightening creature with just a touch of Venger to his look, and R. Mimura’s Stormlord makes a Halfling Druid look like the fiercest caster in the game. Finally, potentially the hokiest magic item in the entire game gets a spot on rendering by Wayne England. Kord’s Belt of Champions embraces the relic’s ludicrous gimmick so fully that I can no longer take a cleric of Kord seriously unless they are wearing a giant gold pro wrestling style championship belt with a clenched fist in the face plate.
New Prestige Classes
A lot of the prestige classes explore the less prominent members of church organizations. The Black Flame Zealot is the holy assassin of nongood churches. The Church Inquisitor seeks out corruption within. And although a few of the prestige classes are awfully similar -Holy Liberator and Hospitaler share many class features with the paladin, Divine Crusader and Pious Templar have a lot in common- the flexibility of many prestige classes, in particular those that differ depending on the character’s god, make it feel like the chapter is twice as full.
Complete Divine is full of new magic items, mostly relics that act as lesser artifacts and tie into existing deities, new spells for clerics, druids, rangers, and paladins, and although there aren’t many feats, there are a few gems, and a new type of feat, wild feats, add dimension to the druid wild shape ability.
Expanded Deity Information
There isn’t a lot of background information on the gods in the Player’s Handbook, just an overview of what they stand for. Chapter Five: Deities expands on what we know, granting greater insight into these divine beings. Especially appreciated is information on monster deities, often referred to in the Monster Manual but never in great detail.
The New Classes
The idea is that clerics get their powers because they choose a god, favoured souls get their powers because a god chooses them. Interesting premise. But once you look at the mechanics, the nightmare begins. You get bonus spells based on a high charisma score, but the save DC of your spells is set by your wisdom. Two of the seven class features you get revolve around your deity’s favoured weapon, implying that the class is combat oriented. So to play the class to its full capacity, a character would need a high charisma, wisdom, and strength or dexterity, with a high constitutional always being helpful.
The favoured soul also gets energy resistance to three separate energy types, just because. And the one cool class features, wings that provide a fly speed of 60 ft, only sprout at 17th level. Too little far too late.
The shugenja is Complete Divine’s oriental entry (to compliment the samurai from Complete Warrior, wu jen from Complete Arcane, and ninja from Complete Adventurer) and boy does it let you know it. The shugenja shows the most promise of the three classes offered, a divine worshipper of the elements rather than a god or nature, but the write-up dictates how the shugenja must fit into the game to the point that I’ve grown a strong hatred for the class. The Races entry explains that Asian-themed D&D really shouldn’t have nonhumans. But if you absolutely have to have fantasy creatures in your fantasy role-playing game, “mix Asian culture with the elves, dwarves, and other races of traditional fantasy”. It even goes so far as to include an entry on Oriental Classes in Nonoriental Settings, suggesting that the class should be from a distant land if a player or DM wants it to show up in a vanilla setting.
I believe a rant is in order. I play Dungeons & Dragons because the rules are generally as flexible as my imagination. Occasionally a class needs a restriction to fit its concept, like a Monk’s mandatory lawful alignment. However, the shugenja spits on that flexibility. There is nothing about the class that requires any Asian influence beyond the class abilities. Complete Warrior didn’t put such a vice around its samurai. In fact, the sample samurai was a dwarf. My D&D is flexible enough that if I want a goliath samurai adventuring with a half-orc swashbuckler, both of whom grew up in the same village and maybe even went to the same Warrior University, I am all for it. If I really wanted an Asian-themed campaign, and there’s no reason I wouldn’t, Wizards of the Coast released Oriental Adventures long before the first Complete series. Last I checked, the more flexible Complete Warrior with its crazy samurai dwarf outsold Oriental Adventures by a large margin. Added to that, the shugenja is described as a noble, problematic for a player who has to justify where all his money went or to a DM who has to keep telling the player that just because he has a noble background doesn’t mean he should be able to call on his father for favours every adventure. It also says they look down upon all other classes, which certainly makes it hard to fit this character into a party. And they’re supposed to belong to an Order, a whole slew of new problems for the DM that would rather concentrate on his own NPCs than have to worry about who all the other Order members are and explain why there isn’t a branch of the shugenja’s Order in every town they adventure to.
Even after all that, I can’t let the shugenja’s Sense Elements class feature off the hook. This is the largest write-up for the least defined ability in the game. At a glance it seems like you can detect one of the four classic elements (air, earth, fire, and water) within ten feet of you. That’s right, ten feet. For each round you concentrate your range increases by five feet, up to a maximum of thirty feet. Thirty feet is a decent range, but it takes five rounds to get that far.
You’d think that it would be obvious if there was, say, fire within ten feet of you. And before you think that you could check for water in the desert, the ability can’t detect through 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt.
So at a glance, it seems like a very strange ability, especially considering it’s the only one shugenja get. But then it gets complicated. In the example, it mentions that you can search for people by sensing water, which is what we’re mostly made of. All of a sudden this ability is a lot more powerful, and it’s still granted at 1st level. Couldn’t the ability to detect the water in people have been delayed to a later evolution of the power? And what creatures have water in them for sure? Do Beholders? Thri-Kreen? Could a shugenja tell a Halfling from a gnome based on how much water is in their system?
Most of the problems with this class aren’t with its abilities but with the writing. So much time was spent telling us how important it is that the class’ Asian influence be preserved that there was apparently no time to clearly outline the parameters of the only class ability the shugenja has.
Poor Spirit Shaman. I’m on such a negativity roll after outlining my disdain for the shugenja that I’m looking for the next target to sink my teeth into. Well, I’ll try to return to an objective tone outlining the problems the Spirit Shaman has.
Traditionally, a primary caster either has a vast spell list but limited spells per day, like the wizard and cleric, or a limited spell list but less limitations on how often it can cast. At the beginning of a day, the spirit shaman has unlimited access to entire Druid spell list –vast thanks to the Spell Compendium- which he has to narrow down to a number of spells “retrieved”. Basically imagine a sorcerer that could reassign his spells known every day. And unlike the sorcerer, the Spirit Shaman gains more powerful spells at the same rate as a druid, but can cast more often each day.
Conceptually, the spirit shaman is okay, gaining power through spirits (incorporeal undead, fey, elementals, and a few others). But then why does it have the druid spell list instead of its own that’s less nature-oriented? And why is it so good at combating and controlling spirits if they are the source of its power?
There is one clear example of how poorly thought out the spirit shaman is. The Chastise Spirit class skill grants the spirit shaman a touch attack versus spirits that delivers 1d6 damage/spirit shaman level. And at twentieth level, the spirit shaman’s type changes to fey. And since fey are spirits by the definition the class provides, a 19th level spirit shaman could use Chastise Spirits to dominate, destroy, and embarrass a 20th level spirit shaman.
Three class, each deeply flawed in their own way. The only book in the first Complete series to disappoint in that regard.
The Spell Compendium and Magic Item Compendium were both great assets to players, minimizing the book shuffling required to create or advance characters. But those sourcebooks come at the expense of books like Complete Divine, reprinting almost half the content of the book.
Curious where to find the Shugenja’s spell list? Check page XX. Complete Divine’s editors didn’t search the book closely enough, I would say, because there are a number of those place holders that made it to print. It might explain why so many of the prestige classes read like the paladin base class, and why the base classes are such poor quality. This book felt like it could have had a skilled eye give it a once over before it made it in the consumer’s hands.
There aren’t many options for non-divine casters, but the Divine Crusader makes up for it. It opens up a spell list consisting of a single domain related to the character’s deity.
On last prestige class that deserves mention is The Blighter. What do ex-druids do when they stop caring about nature? Retire, mostly, and reevaluate their lives. But some get back at that which they loved. The blighter is the druid equivalent of the blackguard, the complete corruption of a once devoted follower.
Fast Wild Shape is a wild feat that lets a Druid wild shape as a move action, opening up new tactical options (cast then turn into a well-armoured animal, wild shape then attack).
Minimal. The one Cleric I played did not use any options from Complete Divine. I once used a Geomancer as a villain and he faired moderately well. And as a player I fought a Blighter, which might have been the best encounter of the campaign, very memorable.
I’m currently DMing a Spirit Shaman and having a tough time with it. It’s hard to justify throwing incorporeal undead or elementals against the party knowing it will be torn apart in a round or two, but not using any of them basically wastes some of the PC’s class features, disappointing the player. Not that the spirit shaman has any trouble dominating encounters with none spirits.
Complete Divine is the weak link in the first Complete series chain. A lot of its options need redrafting and some of the best it had to offer can be found reprinted elsewhere. And it fails to deliver on the promise that every character, not just divine characters, will find the book useful. My latest character, the Scales of St. Cuthbert, is religious to the point of obsession, as his name is evidence of, and I could not find a single useful option in the book for him.
If you are a die-hard cleric or druid player, there are options in this book you will enjoy. Everyone else can go without this series low.
If You Liked This Book…
The Spell Compendium and Magic Item Compendium are full of all the spells and magic items you find in this book and much more.
The rest of the Complete series (Complete Warrior, Complete Arcane, and Complete Adventurer) are like Complete Divine but better. Complete Adventurer in particular has a lot of options for druids.
Again for druid players, Races of the Wild has a lot of wilderness-based options that are not racial specific, and every book in the Races Of series contains race-specific alternate animal companions.
I’d stay away from the sequel to Complete Divine, the second Complete series book Complete Champion. Unless you want to flip through countless pages of rules about organizations and churches, save your time and money.