This is a cool one from over at Barrel Rider Games, the Class Compendium which was designed for Labyrinth Lord but can be used for any B/X game really. I got mine over at RPG Now, and opted for the PDF and hardcover printed book combo. I like hardcover books, but I like PDFs for my phone when I am somewhere outside and want something more intelligent to absorb than a mobile game.
Want to turn Labyrinth Lord or any B/X game into something more like Pathfinder, but still keep the tried-and-true B/X sensibilities? This is your book. It adds 52 new classes, some profession-based and others are the traditional race-based, and I love reading through these and seeing a B/X take on some of the traditional expansion classes (Bard, Barbarian, Acrobat) and getting some really fun new classes (Pirate, Friar, Explorer).
We also get some fun race-classes, such as dragons, angels, treants, and goblins. We also get race-specific classes for dwarves, elves, and halflings like the elven greensinger or the halfling burglar. You can even play as a familiar and I find that enchanting and sounding like a blast for some of the players we had the joy to play with over the years.
BalanceI feel a lot of work was put in balancing the classes against a lower-powered B/X framework, and I get a good feeling on my first look on a lot of these. My first impression is "these are a bit sparse and low powered" but remember, each one of these has to compete and be balanced against a B/X fighter, cleric, thief, or magic user. Going overboard means the expansion classes will be great power-creep choices, so I like the limited feel and lower power level of a lot of these designs.
The Bard is CoolI really like the non-magical bard here, and this class fits my vision of a singing and on-the-side thief who has a good basic singing power and can stand alongside a party of other B/X heroes and not outshine them. I have had other games where the bard class clearly outshined the party's thief, and we got this feeling the bard did everything better as a superior thief+ class. More on the bard later, because I would love to do a comparison of different B/X bards in different books and how they were designed. This one, while basic, feels the best to me and I am still collecting data for that bards in B/X article.
Expanded in Many Directions
Choice vs. FocusI get this feeling you can have too much choice in a game and things are ruined by being a mile wide and an inch deep. In a normal B/X game when you encounter an NPC they can really only be one of the few chess pieces available. Solving problems doesn't mean choosing the right class for the problem, but using what you have in intelligent ways. If you have a mystery-style adventure, you don't need an 'investigator' style class to solve it - everyone can play Sherlock Holmes and figure things out. You get a purpose-built class for one type of problem and all of a sudden the rest of the party feels minimized.
You also run the risk of watering down a party's core competencies in the standards, like fighting, thieving, spell-casting, and healing with classes like these. If everyone is playing a specialist, you can get parties that are more like a Las Vegas buffet of random tastes than you have a focused and complete meal or team that works together. By the end of Pathfinder's first edition run that's the feeling I got from the parties we encountered, they were more ensembles of strange 'I wanna be a' classes than they were traditional fighter-mage-thief parties.
Ultimately it comes down to taste, but if every player is picking a specialist then I suspect that the referee will need to make adjustments to the adventure for balance, play-ability, and also supporting the classes and making things interesting. If one player picks an investigator class and the dungeon is a straight up combat grind, you are going to have that player feeling their special abilities won't be used. Yes, this is ultimately the player's fault for picking an oddball class which may run against the theme of the adventure and/or campaign, but good referees can adjust and throw in some mysteries every now and then to compensate.
Then again, without these classes you don't have these problems of specialists. Again, it really is about choice versus focus, what your group prefers, and how the referee likes to run things. I like a lot of choice by default since it creates a richer world, but I know the problems this can cause so I am better prepared for the times when the entire table picks strange classes and expects the game to be able to hanlde that.
Of course, this is OSR we are talking about so if everyone picks a housecat and wanders into the Tomb of Death it is going to be a housecat slaughter, so it is ultimately easier to deal with players that want to be strange classes. But then again, who am I to take away that chance of the housecats actually pulling it off and becoming feline legends? To each their own and it is good to have options I say.