Scum and Villainy is an essential source book for those running a Star Wars: Saga Edition game on the fringes of galactic society, whether that’s trolling for would-be passengers in a Mos Eisley cantina, smuggling spice out of Kessel, or engaging in piracy against the Galactic Empire.
The book does for crime what the earlier Starships of the Galaxy did for starships and space combat, providing scoundrels, bounty hunters and outright criminals with a host of new game rules and options for running a campaign that interacts with the galaxy’s dark underbelly.
Dirty Tricks & Blasters
Scum and Villainy opens with the hodgepodge of character options typical to Saga Edition source books, including eight new species (blood carver, clawdite, fallen, gand, jawa, ryn, toydarian, ubese), a host of new feats and talents for the game’s existing base classes as well as a few prestige classes. Leafing through these introductory pages, it’s quickly becomes obvious that book takes a more combat-oriented, gear-heavy approach to crime than one might expect.
There are a few exceptions to this — the "e;Friends in Low Places"e; feat makes it easier to acquire black market items and there are a handful of feats that give tech specialists new options when creating gear – but much of the first third of the book is about new and creative ways to drive a dagger between someone’s shoulder blades.
Three of the book’s four prestige classes are given over to combat-heavy options. The "e;Assassin"e; is an obvious choice for would-be snipers, the reprinted "e;Master Privateer"e; prestige class includes a new "e;Piracy"e; talent tree that perfect for pirate captains, and the "e;outlaw"e; prestige class works well works well for characters making a career of running from the long arm of the law. Only the "e;Charlatan"e; offers a non-combat oriented option for scoundrels, providing confidence men and silver-tongued rogues with class abilities that make it easier for them to deceive their marks.
While I’ll grumble about the lack of role-playing-oriented feats and talents, I’ll admit I had great fun reading through the "e;Outlaw Tech"e;. The chapter introduces a number of new upgrades, allowing armor to become perfectly sealed for space or aquatic combat, add gauntlet-launched electromagnetic grapples, or greatly reduce its weight. Weapon upgrades allow a pistol to become a miniature droid, only fire for its owner, use targeting scopes, or become an impromptu grenade. Starship upgrades center around enhancements of particular use to smugglers and pirates, including plasma torches for cutting through enemy hulls, hidden cargo holds, and anti-boarding systems.
Essential Tools for Star Wars Game Masters
Where Scum and Villainy truly proves itself essential is in its campaign-oriented chapters. The "e;Fringe Campaigns"e; chapter offers advice on running a "e;Scum and Villainy"e;-style game, and then gives game masters a random job generator to get them started with adventure creation. The generator is keyed to 16 job summaries that include a quick-hit objective as well as several complications (e.g. guards, security, etc.) They’re easily scaled to any character level and provide plenty of great adventure fodder in a handful of pages.
The book touches on black markets, con games, loan sharks, piracy and smuggling, presenting just enough rules information to get players into trouble There are also a series of tables for randomly generating spaceports and shadowports (the later only being frequented by pirates and other low-lifes) which should come in handy for anyone running a planet-hopping campaign.
The only flaw in this line-up is the lack of additional information about slicing computer networks. While the core rulebook provided an overview of slicing in the "e;Use Computer"e; skill description, I’d hoped that Scum and Villainy might offer more cyber attack and defense options. Granted, hacking isn’t something we see a lot of in the movies (or more accurately, we see it, but R2-D2 is easily able to defeat whatever systems he goes up against) but it would have made nice addition for those slicer-style scoundrels, and provided the class with another non-combat alternative.
Supplementing the campaign generation material are write-ups for named NPCs such as Booster Terrik (owner of the Star Destroyer-turned-mobile shadowport Errant Venture) Booshh (the bounty hunter that Princess Leia impersonated in Return of the Jedi) and the Black Sun mastermind Prince Xizor. There are also a number of Threats of the Galaxy–style archetypes for fixers, outlaws, data slicers, enforcers and other ethically-challenged individuals that the heroes are likely to come into conflict with.
Game Master Friendly
Rounding out the book is its most controversial content: mini adventures and a full module. The mini adventures offer two-page summaries with an adventure hook, a few paragraphs about different locations and NPCs, and a handful of maps. "e;The Fell Star"e; is a full-length adventure designed for low-level characters in which heroes are tasked with tracking down a Hutt’s missing freelancer.
It’s great stuff to have as a GM, particularly a time strapped one like me who usually finds himself scrambling from week to week to get the adventure done in time, but players may balk at having 63 pages given over to content they can’t use. While I appreciate their concerns, everything I’ve read says its difficult for any game other than D&D to sell GM-only books and still make a profit on it. As a game line, Star Wars needed this sort of content, and if given a choice between not having it at all, and having it appear in a supplement like this, I’ll take the added content every time.
There’s one last aspect of Scum and Villainy that’s worth noting, and which kicks it up a notch in my book: the index. For the first time since the core rules, we have a book that includes an index. Not only do we have an index that spans one and a half pages, but there’s even a "e;Scum and Villainy"e; sidebar listing villains, generic NPCs, creatures, droids, and starships by challenge level. As someone who’s spent too much time digging through Star Wars books looking for some rule or piece of equipment, this is a fantastic addition.
Scum and Villainy Revisited
Scum and Villainy was the first of the “GM Toolkit”-style rule books released for Saga Edition. In interview on the Order 66 podcast, lead developer Rodney Thompson explained that he wanted people to be able to create distinct campaigns by using the core rule book, a campaign era book, and the appropriate toolkit. Scum and Villainy covered the fringer campaign, while future books covered war, intrigue and exploration.
After two years of using Scum and Villainy I can safely say it was a good strategy. Within weeks after purchasing it, the book had become my go-to book for my Knights of the Old Republic campaign. While not a pure fringer campaign, it touched on many of those elements (battles with pirates, showdowns with Twi’lik clans on Ryloth, jumping from planet to planet aboard a personal starship).
The single most useful part of the book is something I didn’t even mention in my initial review: the “Difficulty Class by Class Level” Table. This table offered a range of Difficulty Class numbers based on character level and the intensity of the task (easy, medium, moderate, hard, heroic) and it was GM gold. It eliminated the guess work in setting skill DCs for my adventures, and was indispensable when I began adapting Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition’s skill challenges to Star Wars.
The mini adventures were hugely useful. I’ve used about half of them (either in part or whole). It’s been great knowing that I can fall back on them if I run out of time while working on my own adventure, and they’ve proven module enough to drop into larger story lines.
With the Star Wars: Saga Edition line now complete, I’ve found that Scum and Villainy remains one of my go-to books. The Difficulty Class chart, the starship and gear customization rules, and mini adventures made it an excellent tool. It’s well worth buying if you can find it.
- Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
- MSRP: $39.99
- Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
- ISBN-13: 978-0786950355
- 224 pages (hardcover)
- Buy the book from Amazon.com
- This review first appeared on GameCryer.com and is reprinted with permission