is by far the best of the D&D 3.5 crunch hardbacks yet. Itís got pretty much the full works Ė base classes, prestige classes, feats, spells, magic items, monsters, plus campaign advice. All of thatís good enough in its own right. But what really makes this book shine are the thirteen pages dedicated to whatís probably the most mould-breaking D&D base class yet. What follows is a pretty lengthy review, but you could probably fake your way through the book by reading the last paragraph.
Between base classes and prestige classes, thereís 22 new directions to take your character in this book. Well, I say new. If youíve got a relatively complete D&D collection already, youíll have access to most of these in one form or another already. The warmage is lifted straight from Miniatures Handbook, and the wu jen from Oriental Adventures. The warmage is a good class (great for those who want to run effective fighter mage characters), the wu jen not so great (element based casters with taboos restricting their behaviour).
The prestige classes mostly come from Tome & Blood, and are pretty much unaltered, so donít expect anything earth-shattering there. Still, a couple of new classes make an appearance, and the wild mage is a welcome return to 3rd edition (they tend to throw around rod of wonder-style effects. Itís pretty deadly.). For every prestige class thereís an NPC stat block as an example, same as the other Complete books. As far as Iím concerned, these are pretty much filler. They donít come with backgrounds, so itís not like these are fully fleshed NPCs you can use immediately. Personally, Iíd have much rather seen generic equipment, skills and feats for each level, like in the Dungeon Masterís Guide. Thatíd make it much easier to quickly create NPCs tailored to the partyís level.
Anyone playing an arcane spellcaster with no access to Tome & Blood will find these prestige classes nigh indispensable. To those with Tome & Blood, theyíre really nothing new.
The Warlock is quite undeniably new, and really is a decider when youíre pondering whether to buy this book or not. The basic premise behind the warlock is theyíre a very limited arcane caster. Their abilities are very narrowly defined (even at 20th level, they only have 12 Ďinvocationsí, plus their eldritch blast attack power. What they do, though, they do well. What they do, they can do all day.
If you donít like the D&D spell system, you owe it to yourself to look at the warlock. Theyíve got a focused, dark themed power list, and they pick up a few demonic themed powers that they pick up along the way. The class powers are derived from fiendish pacts and bargains, but it wouldnít take much to modify the class for good characters and celestial bargains.
RPGnetters Iíve seen discussing the class tend to like it and donít think itís game-breaking by any means (eldritch blasts, their attack power, donít do more damage than a light crossbow at low levels, though they are a ranged touch attack). A level of warlock alongside normal spellcasting levels can cool for making sure you never run out of magic and have to resort to the weaponry.
71 pages in, we exit the classes chapters and enter the domain of feats. Before we fire up with the miscellany, weíre presented with a section about what Playerís Handbook feats can be used with what spells. This is good for anyone whoís confused by the myriad of combat feats and which ones can be applied to which spells, and especially good for those whoíd never contemplated putting the two together.
The feats are a mixture of reprints and some classy new stuff. Born of the Three Thunders, which allows your electricity spells to mix in thunderclaps for sonic damage and stunning, is a welcome addition, as is Double Wand Wielder, a feat thatís deadly in the hands of a high Use Magic Device rogue. Sorcerers can dabble in their draconic heritage a little (well, okay, a lot). The Explosive Spell metamagic feat is long overdue, knocking victims of your area effect spells backwards if they fail their saves. The Mage Slayer feat from Miniatures Handbook is fixed, but still very effective in the hands of melee characters. Arcane casters, regardless of their class, can now fork out a feat to obtain a familiar.
Thereís a lot of cool new stuff in here. This section is one of the highlights of the book.
As far as Iím concerned, the spells chapter tends to be the dullest section of D&D books. I tend to gloss through them, only really paying attention to the really classy stuff and the stuff thatíll be any use to any NPCs of mine. This book, sadly, really isnít an exception. Thereís a few fun things in there, like decapitating scarf. Defenestrating sphere, sadly, will under no circumstances defenestrate anyone, unless their windows happen to be in the ceiling. Itís a good spell, but itís horrifically misnamed. Duelward is good, allowing free actions for the use of counterspells. The various orb spells are good if you donít have access to them from Tome & Blood or Miniatures Handbook (itís a running theme Ė a lot has been cribbed from those books). Iím fond of Transmute Rock to Lava, largely because it specifies what happens if you cast it on the ceiling rather than the floor. Thatís the best of quite a large crop, though.
Magic items come in all shapes and sizes, apparently. Before the new items themselves, we have a section on alternatives to potions and scrolls, spellbook construction, and crazy enchantments for your spellbook (including one to make Ďem levitate... long live genre clichťs!).
The actual magic items are remarkably unmemorable, though. The clouting weapon quality is fun (between that, Awesome Blow and Explosive Spell everyone can hurl their enemies around the room!), but aside from that, I wouldnít expect these to appear in anyone's game any time soon (perhaps with the exception of belts of many pockets and phoenix helms, the latter of which Iíve seen used, but both are reprints from other books).
Again, this sectionís vaguely dull (and short). Effigy creatures (construct versions of normal creatures) arenít bad. Elemental Grues are updated from 2nd edition, but didnít massively need to be. Elemental Monoliths bridge the gap between Elder elementals and Primal Elementals, but donít really achieve much that an Elder elemental with extra hit dice doesnít. Pseudonatural creatures appear yet again (honestly, itís practically getting to the stage where D&D books without pseudonatural creatures are the exception), and spellstitched undead are an unremarkable reprint.
The final section of the book illustrates the role of the arcane classes in a typical Greyhawk/Forgotten Realms-style world. Itís vaguely interesting, but rather tends to generalise (not all conjurers are the same, or transmuters, or especially bards). After that, thereís a bit about designing adventures for arcane casters, whoíre prone to throw about to game breaking flight and divination spells that can screw your adventures up unless you planned for them in the first place. Thereís some good advice here, but naturally, it needs to be tempered according to your group.
The chapter introduces a very unusual notion Ė the all-arcanist campaign. A campaign where all of the characters are exclusively arcane casters really intrigues me. Much like epic level characters, theyíd probably be able to stop all over piffling things like plot and adventure structure, but it sounds like it could be fun anyway. If anyone does get possessed to run this, Iíd heartily recommend a character with the Craft Construct feat to add some damage limitation. Anyhow, I digress.
The Arcane Events section is an interesting section about spell duels and arcane tournaments. Itís a different take to how it was done in Magic of FaerŻn, but not massively so. It made for interesting reading, and it might inspire you to run an adventure based around those sorts of shenanigans, but itís by no means essential stuff. Same can be said of the Arcane Organisations, especially if youíre not playing in Greyhawk.
The last main section is on epic characters. Itís really not that important, even if you are running an epic campaign (which Iíve been there and done). Thereís a few updated epic feats (Automatic Quicken spell is practically neutered, sadly), but nothing you couldnít have got off the SRD.
Art is pretty much what youíd expect from a D&D book. No Wayne Reynolds in sight for this one, though thereís a not inconsiderable amount of Ron Spencer in there. I like the stuff, but I know a lot of peopleís mileage may vary when it comes to D&D art.
If you donít have an extensive D&D collection, then this book is a nigh indispensable purchase. Thereís a lot of bang to be had for your buck. If you do have Tome & Blood and Miniatures Handbook, though, the value of Complete Arcane is much more debateable. The new spells and feats are good, but I think the scale-tipper has to be the warlock. If I could only take five D&D books to a desert island, thisíd be one of them. Uh, assuming I was taking them there for gaming, and not building a signal beacon to attract passing aircraft or anything.