Game: The Quintessential Rogue
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 18th, March 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 23
Average Score: 7.67
The Quintessential Rogue is a fantastic book. The success of its predecessor, the Quintessential Fighter, put a great burden of expectation on the Quintessential Rogue. Even with a production line that included such tempting offering as the Slayer’s Guide to Dragons and Judge Dredd d20 the Quintessential Rogue was widely anticipated. The Quintessential Rogue had to be a good book, it carried the success of Mongoose Publishing’s prestigious Collector Series on its shoulders. As it happens, given the superb quality of the book, it has not only taken the Collector Series from strength to strength but it casts further shade on the idea of buying one small book with two or three character classes squeezed in. As my mother likes to say, “If you’re going to do something at all then do it properly”.
Character Concepts, as first introduced in Quintessential Fighter, also perform well in Rogue and they’re a blast. They’re the answer to the problem that over used and miss used prestige classes are becoming. If a character is slightly different from the norm then change it slightly from the norm. You shouldn’t be afraid to and you shouldn’t make up an entirely new prestige class either. What the Quintessential Rogue does is to list some well thought out rogue concepts and then provide roleplaying tips and mechanical adjustments for them. The beggar, for example, gains bonuses to his bluff skill and others but can no longer count such skills as Craft as a class skill. It makes perfect sense. What wouldn’t make sense is to try and pass of beggar as some sort of weird prestige class. Barbarian is listed as a possible rogue concept. A brave move, I didn’t like it at first but after a bit of thought I was won over. The overloading of commonly used terms can only be a good thing, it stops players playing the synonyn game.
There are Prestige Classes in the book, though. Most of the prestige classes reach only to level 5 but some go all the way to 10; whatever the case, though, each class has a new special ability available to them at every level. Their good prestige classes too, well balanced, fair and sensible by nature. Rogues present an inherit difficulty when it comes to prestige classes in that most further extrapolations of roguish means of life tend to move off into petty specialities. Here, though, you’ll find the agent of the crown, commando, crusading footpad, deep tracker, executioner, shadowy avenger and tomb raider. If you’re missing assassin then you might be surprised to find that that’s given in the more lowly powered character concepts.
Tricks of the Trade offer up a range of basic skills but with interesting new uses attached. Bluff can be used to try and disguise your spell casting or card sharking, for example. The Gather Information skill can be used to nurture a regular informant. The best offerings from the tricks of the trade chapter, though, come in the shape of the quirky little things rogues can do, that can often leave the DM scratching her head but are nicely covered here. Pouring acid into a lock as a way to open or destroy it, using an inkpen as a poison injection device, throwing marbles on the floor or even using your whip to whisk something off a table. The previous are just the sort of trick that makes playing rogues so much fun. I think the tomb raider prestige class goes nicely with all the whip tricks, lets here it for Indiana Jones style fantasy adventures!
Feats are a little like prestige classes in that every Tom, Dick and Harry likes to have a go at making them up and tend to do badly. A class book would be incomplete without them, though, and so we’re lucky that Mongoose has done a typically good job on them. The feats here are balanced but this does not mean they’re all low powered. The craft matrix feat is introduced here. Matrixes are dangerous physical devices that are used to store magic spells. Matrixes are used to power magical traps and so you need to be playing a magically able rogue to have a hope of picking up the feat.
A magical dagger that grows from a ring, a vial of acid or what about a lock that throws out a fireball the very second it suspects someone’s trying to pick it? Sound cool? Welcome to the Tools of the Trade section. It’s a short section but it’s a pretty neat section, there’s a decent mix of interesting locks as well as the standard lock picks, thief potions and daggers. One of my favourite bits from there, though, was the armour. There are nice ideas that govern bonuses given to those wise guys who tan, say, gargoyle hide and turn that into their leather armour. Gargoyle hide not exotic enough for you, what about the hide check bonuses you might earn by wearing Displacer beast skin armour or the acid protection from Digester armour?
If you want details of the local watch, the local guard or patrol then there’s the Law and Order section. It seems like the very anti-theses of what you would expect from a rogue book but, of course, its inclusion makes perfect sense. If you’re a rogue or DMing rogue then, most likely, you’ll want to know how vigilant the local watch is. How vigilant the local watch is and how robust they are. On a similar note, but in a different chapter, there are rules to govern the reputation of the rogue. Except, that is, you don’t have to be a rogue to have reputation. This is a nice touch in any campaign; it’s always interesting to see how people react to characters once they’re famous war heroes. I think reputation is going to be a big thing. Now I think about it Mongoose is the first company to mention it explicitly in rules along with aliases and other trappings of fame. Why do I think reputation is going to be a big thing? It’s campaign friendly, your heroes and villains can gain and loose reputation in away they can’t do with XP without messing up the game, reputation could also be the gauge by which characters participating in national games (RPGA, Living Greyhawk, etc) are measured against. Reputation also seems to be a big aspect in popular computer RPGS, it was a factor in Baldur’s Gate, it was slyly there in the wonderful Planescape Torment and I think it’ll be the vitae of Project Ego.
The chapter on poisons and their manufacture is as long as the Law and Order and Reputation chapters put together. This seems to make sense too, most DMs have a good understanding of just how tough and wise they want their local watch to be but unless they’re something of a chemist then they might pause to wonder just how much it costs to produce a nasty poison.
Traps! The arming and disarming of traps is perhaps the most famous feat for which the rogue character class is known. There’s a wealth of cunning and dangerous ideas in a chapter entirely given over to generic and specific trap details. There’s a wonderful table of trap components that lists all sorts of useful features to add to your trap, the DC increase on your Craft (trapmaking) skill roll and the materials required. The table, I’m sure, is like a red flag to a bull when it comes to baiting your players into trying to create the most audacious trap they can imagine. Of course, some traps are extra nasty; some traps are magical in nature. Back in the feat section of the Quintessential Rogue there’s a reference to magically talented rogues being able to create spell matrixes as a means to store spells. This means that you’ll no longer have to take it for granted that some traps have unexplained magical components. The matrixes in the book are spilt into three sections, the lowest one being capable of holding small spells and the highest one being able to hold the larger spells but, of course, cost the earth. There are then nice rules on who can make, handle, use and re-use these matrixes.
The book could end here and still be worth every penny. The book could end here and still be so much better than Song and Silence the Wizards of the Coast blend of Rogue and Bard class book. The Quintessential Rogue doesn’t end here, though; it goes on to include the Laws of the Night, a long chapter on Guilds and other Organisations and then hideouts. Laws of the Night acts as the introduction to the idea of the Thief Guilds but doesn’t rely on their presence, the premise is that there is honour among thieves and whether that’s true or not it does help you to include rogues among your group of hero PCs. The Guilds chapter is a very good idea, there’s enough here to allow you to run a game entirely of rogue PCs. A Guild crosses many different levels of abilities and this makes it very attractive to GMs; your low level rogues can work for it, try and get noticed (in the good way) and scramble to watch their backs from possible political plays among the members. As your rogues get better and more powerful then their influence in the Guild rises and there’s still no danger of then out stepping the organisation that could be a critical focus in your game. If you’re anything like me in terms of roleplaying preferences then you’ll see a Guild as a means of introducing politics into your fantasy game and not as a deux ex machina to introduce quests. It doesn’t matter though, which ever your preference, you’ll find something for your Guild. There’s a detailed and rich set of rules that allow you to make up your Guild in a similar way as you might design a character. There are loyalty modifiers, explorer societies, spy rings and much more. You don’t need to even bother with the standard Thief Guild.
This is a meaty book. Our life is made easier by the Mongoose bunch by the inclusion of four sides of rules summary. The rule tables that appeared throughout the book as well as lists of the new feats and armours that have been introduced make an encore appearance here and it’s space well used. There’s an index too! I jest not when I bemoan the fact that so many of these d20 companies seem to dispense with them. Unless you can memorise entire rulebooks (and I know some gamers seem to have the ability to do so!) then you’ll be thankful for the index. There’s also a handy rogue centric character sheet right at the end.
The Quintessential / Collector Series comes in this faux leather front cover style with the title of the book emblazoned in large gold letters. It might be easy to assume that there’s a shortage of artwork inside – but that’s what you get for judging a book by its cover. The artwork is good and plentiful; that seems to be a hallmark of Mongoose productions. Their artwork also tends to be a little more risqué than some other companies, the Quintessential Rogue doesn’t depict every single rogue inside as a willowy, leather clad female but there are some and there some topless sketches too. Unless you’re a prude or intend to let your mother read the book, I can’t see this being a problem, I certainly wasn’t complaining.