I initially stumbled across this one on Lulu while I was buying my copy of the Advanced Edition Companion, and was intrigued by what I saw - intrigued enough to plonk down my money for a copy at the same time, though until yesterday it had remained on my shelf. Now, I think it highly likely that it's going to be a key part of my campaign.
Production wise, you get a 116-page book, pretty well illustrated, that is designed for 'Basic' and 'Expert' rules systems. (That has a familiar ring to it, somehow...) Although it is not associated with Labyrinth Lord or any other retro-clone, there should be no problems using it with any of the B/X-style rules-sets. I stress that point - the nature of this book will make it less useful with something like OSRIC.
I don't really consider this a 'Companion' in the B/X sense of the world. It isn't really a high-level supplement, though it does extend the level limits all the way up to 36. This to me is a good thing. I didn't actually think the original Companion book was that good, and I very rarely take campaigns above Expert level in any case; I find lower-level material a lot more use.
The best thing about this book comes right at the start. Seven new classes, presented in the OD&D style, that add more classes and races to the game - and each is distinctive. Although the new classes are drawn from AD&D, having them add something new to the game is taken as more important than apeing the class.
So you start with the Bard, almost all of whom's powers relate towards using his musical instrument. He has some of the Thief skills, some illusionist spells, starting at 2nd level, and abilities to inspire courage, alter reactions, and charm his enemies. The Druid is as you'd expect taking his spells from the Druidic spell list, but essentially a 'nature cleric'. (Yes - there are two new spell lists here. Another take on the Druid and Illusionist spells.)
Then it gets better - a varient Elf, the 'Wildwood' Elf. This again draws Druidic spells, but has a range of abilities designed for use in the outdoors. (The book recommends not using both types of Elf in the same campaign - I disagree. Great scope for conflict.) Then the Gnome, and this is a good one. Basically on the same power level as the Dwarf, but less good at fighitng and with illusionist spells. A much better fit to OD&D. Then Half-Orcs/Half-Elves. Interestingly, both of these classes have been treated in the same way in the game, with the same abilities; the take is that both are 'outsiders', and that the external differences are largely cosmetic. They are treated as outdoorsmen, again with some Thief abilities, some tracking abilities, and some to cure wounds. I like this idea in general, but I think in practice I might include some variation between the two.
My favourite race next - the Half-Ogre! We see far too little of this gem, and here he is for B/X. D10 hit points and damage bonuses form the bulk of his abilities, and make him a ferocious fighter, which is as it should be. Slow level advancement, though. The Illusionist - again - comes next. A fairly standard take on it. The final new class is the Scout, which is essentially a Ranger, but without clerical spells bolted on; I like this class, as it actually does add something new.
I've spent a lot of time on the classes, as for me they were what made the book distinctive. There is a nice comprehensive equipment list, but nothing particularly special. Then the spells, which take up about half the book - a few additional magic-user and cleric spells, and complete druidic and illusionist spells lists. Whilst these have been seen in other products before, I still like having lots of different spell lists to make the magical characters distinctive.
Most of the second half of the book consists of new monsters, and again we see a lot of familiar faces. A few that stand out are the Bookworm, which is death for a spellbook, the Rust Dragon (like a Red Dragon, but with a breath weapon that mimics the effect of a Rust Monster!) , and some nice varieties of skeletons to make those undead encounters interesting. This is one of those sections of the book that are more useful in the game than a great read; if you've been playing for a while you will have seen most of them before.
The book concludes with a selection of magical items, again drawn from AD&D, nicely sorted into tables. Again - we've seen these before, but they are all converted and are all here in one place. You can't really have too many magical items, I think. Plenty of reference tables finish the book.
Why did I like this? It is useful. I can use the whole book in my LL or B/X campaign without any modifications, or any changes to the basic nature of the game. It is still B/X, but now with a range of additional classes, spells, monsters and options. I can recommend this for that reason. It is available through Lulu, and there is also a free (non-art) PDF download available.
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