with that being said, however - i will now FINISH my review of this very fine gaming product.
ok, so last time i gushed about the random charts at the beginning of the book. if you want to check that out, head here.
the rest of the book is made up of the things you're probably most interested in: new classes and new spells. there are 17 new classes...most of which are human classes. don't worry - for everyone that likes to play demihumans (like myself) there are a few cool options like the centaur, the gnome, and the ogre-kin. some of the stand-out human classes (as far as i'm concerned) are the acrobat, the barbarian, the summoner, and the mystic.
now, don't get me wrong here...all the classes are very well done. i'm just going to focus on the ones that really grabbed my eye as i read through. things are kept very simple (in the B/X tradition) while also offering cool options that don't exist in the standard rules. several of the classes are spellcasting classes, and they mercifully DO NOT use the vancian/fire & forget method. i'll detail two of those classes below.
here's a brief overview of the classes that struck my fancy:
ACROBAT: acrobats can't can't wear armor or use shields, which makes sense. they're limited to just the staff. they do gain a bonus to AC based on their level (+2 AC at 2nd level, etc). they can climb walls like thieves and can't really be knocked off their feet. they have a percentile based skill called PROWESS which allows them to perform crazy stunts (with the DM being the final judge on just what is feasible in any given situation), and another skill called EVASION which allows them to disengage from combat without being attacked. very interesting.
BARBARIAN: this is a simplified version of the barbarian class from UNEARTHED ARCANA. barbarians have a ton of HP (d10) and are pretty good trackers. due to their ferocity they gain a +1 to all melee attacks, though they have limited gold at first level to reflect their uncivilized ways. they can HEAR NOISE and CLIMB WALLS like thieves and can also pull the "halfling vanishing act" while outdoors. at higher levels they can SUMMON a HORDE of other barbarians.
CENTAUR: the centaur gains 2 hit dice at first level but they are capped at 7th level. they can use any weapon but are limited to horse barding for armor (though they gain a bonus to their natural AC). they also have 2 hoof attacks that they can use in place of a weapon - until they gain some levels and then they can attack with both hooves and weapon in the same turn. centaurs can flat out MOVE - they have a 60' combat movement rate...which makes sense since they're half horse. they can also carry a ton, so if you're playing the centaur prepare to be coat-racked. they can also track much like the barbarian...um, or the ranger. which doesn't exist in BX D&D. anyway.
MYSTIC: these guys are loners who have given up on society and turned their focus inward to attune their connection with the physical world. they don't wear armor and they don't really carry weapons. heck, they don't even really EAT. they can heal minor wounds though, so that's cool. they can also detect evil and magic AT WILL (don't have a heart attack, grognards...the game won't break). and guess what? they are a spellcasting class and they don't use the vancian magic system. thank goodness. here's how it works: you can cast an amount of spells per day equal to your level OR your CON score - whichever is lower. you don't need to memorize anything, either...spells are known innately. every time you gain a level you choose a new spell off of the mystic spell list (it's a new list with new spells). they have spells like CURE WOUNDS, INNER STRENGTH (which raises their STR to 18), OMEN (allows a yes/no question for the DM), WATER WALK, and ENLIGHTENMENT (which allows the mystic to choose an object like a sword or a house and know EVERYTHING about it). overall, a very awesome class and i think i'll be rolling one of these guys up in the near future.
SUMMONER: obviously, these guys summon allies from "elsewhere". when you create the character you choose 1 of 6 possible specilaizations of summoning - there are demonologists, elementalists, spiritualists, naturalists, necromancers and faerie. basically, your character makes a pact or bargain with these entities in exchange for power. as they gain levels they can strike new bargains and gain access to other specialty areas, provided they are willing to spend the gold and time required to do so. summoners can wear any armor and wield any weapons...though they only have d4 hit points. summoners are also a spellcasting class...and here's how it works: they have a number of FAVOR POINTS per day equal to their level. to cast a spell they must expend the spell's level in points. so, a 1st level summoner would have 1 favor point...and since their spell list only has 1 spell per level, they could cast that spell once. at 2nd level, they'd have 2 FP and could cast a 2nd level spell once or the 1st level spell twice. see how that works? pretty cool. the spells are also pretty rad - they have stuff like DEMON ARMAMENTS (summon random magic weapons or armor rolled on the treasure chart; summoners of levels 1-3 use the basic book; 4-14 use the expert book; 15+ uses the B/X COMPANION...the weapons radiate evil and magic and to keep them longer than a day you have to spend 2 FP and bathe the weapons in blood). that's a 2nd level spell. pretty good stuff, eh?
every spellcasting class has a different way of using magic. i'm not going to detail all of them - but these two classes are a good barometer for the other ones.
the interior art is pretty good - with the stuff by kelvin green really standing out. the pics of the witch hunter, the summoner and the acrobat are all great. the other art is good also, but i just really dig his style. my only complaint about the book is the binding - it's perfect-bound, unlike the original B/X books and the B/X COMPANION. keeping this bad boy open while i reviewed was a pain in the buttocks...but that's really nitpicking.
overall...well, this is a great product. you really need to pick it up if you play any amount of B/X D&D, LABYRINTH LORD, SWORDS & WIZARDRY or any of the other 78 clones out there. here's hoping JB puts out his B/X based cyberpunk/shadowrun game...i know i'd grab it (hint hint).