By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Raging Swan Press is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC & SRD, 1 page explaining how to read statblocks to novice DMs, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 12 pages of content.
This pdf introduces us to a rag-tag band of smugglers called Kai’s Scoundrels. While morally dubious and including two humanoids, the scoundrels are not all evil and can be considered rather pragmatic people that might go either way – salvation or damnation lie in the future of this group, possibly at the hands of the PCs. Their business being smuggling, the scoundrels might become allies, adversaries or both to the PCs and thus maximum usability is guaranteed.
After an initial background story and lore section as well as rudimentary information on safe-houses etc., we are introduced to the members of the band, starting with Kai. "Killer" Kai Linnow is actually a female (Kai being a common male name in German) magus 7/rogue 1 and, low cha notwithstanding, the leader of the scoundrels. The once idealistic woman has been hardened by the tragedies of her life and her resulting pragmatism is only skin deep, making her an interesting character to develop over the interaction with the PCs.
Marra Brandywine is another character I’d consider interesting – the cheerful, hedonistic Halfling woman is not only a beauty, but also a summoner 7/ranger 1 with a twist – her eidolon is an incarnation of bad luck that has killed her parents and her survival and the eidolon’s presence forever reminds her of the capriciousness of life and the possibility of imminent death. She comes with a new spell to summon your eidolon to your side. This character is AWESOME and the one of the bunch I truly love – tragic, cool and offers a new fluff-twist on the existing class. Two thumbs up!
Captain LeVar is a clichéd pirate (rogue 3/fighter 4) and makes for an inherent force of potential tragedy for the smugglers – the amnesiac and actually rather nice man has been infected with lycanthropy and turns into a were-shark. Should his condition prove to be permanent, he will have to be put down, casting a dread pall over the band of associates/friends. His black-outs are also a reason for the band to keep on the move. He thankfully comes with all 3 statblocks, not necessitating you creating Lycanthrope-stats..
Marrowsplitter (druid 7) is an interesting character – the gnoll druid is the second heart of the scoundrels, making for a cynic, pessimistic comrade with a bleak outlook on life. What’s kind of unsettling about the gnoll is the budding inter-species relationship between him and Kai, which might push one or the other over the edge, should the target of their affections perish. In contrast to what one would expect, though, Marrowsplitter is in fact not one of the bad guys in the group, this role falls to another one.
Namely, the half-elf rogue 1/ bard 7 called Mercutsio, who turns out to be a charming sociopath, devoid of any motivation beyond his personal gratification. It is this psycho whom LeVar wants to take down, should he eventually succumb to his curse. Mercutsio also makes for yet another reason the scoundrels are on the run – broken hearts, dead people and chaos tend to be left in the wake of the half-elf.
The final member of the rag-tag band is the arcane arsenal, the orcish fire-sorcerer Torn Tusk, who, while evil, genuinely cares for his fellow scoundrels and via his pessimistic nit-picking of plans tries to keep them alive and their hides intact, in spite of his belief that the world will burn. Or already is.
Editing and formatting are not exactly up to the prime standard Raging Swan set for themselves, as I noticed some minor typos, in itself not enough to rate the product down, though. Layout adheres to the classic b/w-2-column standard and the artworks for the characters are neat. It’s a pity that Marrowsplitter and Torn Tusk didn’t get artworks, though. The pdf is extensively bookmarked and comes with an additional version optimized for use with e-readers.
I’m a bit torn on the scoundrels. They do make for an interesting group of NPCs and come with the full NPC-treatment, i.e. with sections on distinguishing features, mannerisms etc. I also like the fact that we get a Magus and a summoner with a very unique background and eidolon. The characters per se (with the exception of Mercutsio, who is rather one-dimensional) feel organic and are well-written.
HOWEVER. There’s a big however here: They are smugglers and there is only VERY basic information on their strategies, modus operandi etc. Smuggling hasn’t really been covered by any supplement out there in extensive detail and this aspect of the group, i.e. their trade, has been unfortunately more or less under-developed, stating that they enjoy smuggling wares they can carry. That’s the boring way. A sample ship/carriage/wagon with secret compartments, special ideas on how to transport gems, art, gold – there would have been so much potential here to make them not only yet another group of NPCs, but actually a set of rivals that are distinct not only in character, but also by trade and methods. Seeing that 12 pages of content are shorter than comparable RSP-products, I feel that a couple of pages detailing their (preferably smart!) methods would have gone a long way to improving the overall uniqueness of the group and thus, appeal when compared to others.
Unfortunately, while I love the characters, for me this pdf didn’t set out what I hoped it would do. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars – if you just want a cool set of NPCs, go for it and round up to 4. If you were looking for SMUGGLERS who SMUGGLE goods and wanted methods as well as characters, round down. I’ll do the latter.
Kai’s Scoundrels is available from: