Who says fighters are the poor cousins of the AD&D game? No one will say it aloud after reading the Complete Fighter's Handbook: 128 pages of mind-expanding advice on how to make your fighter the leanest, meanest threshing machine for leagues around.
New weapons, new proficiencies, new fighting styles, and fighter "kits" make this optional AD&D accessory a useful item for players and DMs.
PHBR1: Complete Fighter's Handbook (1989), edited by Aaron Allston, was the first “splatbook” for 2nd edition AD&D. It became the model for every Complete book that followed (and there were a lot, not all of equal quality or similar usefulness), and it is jam-packed with rules for expanding the role of fighters in an AD&D game.
The Complete Fighter's Handbook is also the book that first introduces kits in D&D. Somewhat maligned by the end of 2nd edition AD&D due to uneven standards of game balance across different titles, kits were nonetheless a godsend at the time they first appeared. They allow players to clearly and dramatically differentiate their fighter characters. Sick of playing a 2nd edition vanilla fighter with few choices? This is the book for you.
Contents Under Pressure. The Complete Fighter's Handbook is a superb example of how good layout and attention to detail can make a book more useful; considering that this 124-page book didn't have an index, the table of contents is so complete that it didn't require one. Both sections and sub-sections in each chapter are called out, making it simplicity itself to find the rule you need.
And there are a lot of rules – this is a book that prefers rules crunch to evocative flavor text. Other than a 17-page nod to roleplaying different types of fighters and other martial characters, the book is filled primarily with new optional rules and combat techniques.
Kit-Bashing. Character kits were initially designed to differentiate fighter builds without adding (much) additional power to the character. There were 14 kits in this book, from “amazon” to “wilderness warrior”: barbarians, berserkers, cavaliers, peasant heroes, pirates, samurais, and more. If you ever wanted to play a gnome beast-rider mounted on a giant bat, you came to the right place.
Character kits worked hard to balance mechanical benefits with roleplaying hindrances, but they weren't always completely successful. The swashbuckler, for instance, was particularly interesting since it offered a version of the normally heavily armored fighter that the regular core rules couldn't easily provide. However, that the swashbuckler's hindrance of "trouble seeks out the character" isn't really much of a hindrance at all. (It's D&D, right? Trouble always seeks out the character, and that's what makes the game fun.)
The Fighter's Handbook also cemented non-weapon proficiencies as a necessary, almost mandatory, rule of 2nd edition AD&D. It's easy to forget that in the core rules NWPs are completely optional. With kits using them so extensively, though, in practice that optional status didn't last for long.
Rules, Rules, Rules. This book contains the first major combat rules expansion for the 2nd edition of the game. It was pretty complete and inclusive, providing optional systems for weapon proficiencies, ambidexterity, fighting style specialization (such as "two-weapon style"), punching, grappling, called shots, parrying, hit locations, and many more. There are guidelines for mounted combat and tournaments, and advice for how to deal with problematic combats. Players are even provided with excellent tactics for fighting, such as wolf-pack tactics and adjusting the group's tactical mix.
Gear Up. Most of the Equipment chapter concerns new weapons for the specialized kits introduced in this book. Samurai weapons, pirate weapons, swashbuckler weapons, savage weapons... if you have a nifty new kit, you'll need gear to go with it. It's impressive that (with the possible exception of the katana) none of the new weapons are particularly over-powered. New armor is also introduced, along with a system for damaging and repairing armor that never found much favor in the gaming public.
What this book does not provide is a plethora of new magic items. There are only seven listed in the whole chapter, most useful but none iconic.
Solid and Useful. Devoid of the game imbalance excesses that made some of the later Complete books a little more difficult to use, the Fighter's Handbook is a fun, well-written rulebook that demonstrably improves the game for anyone playing a martial-based hero.
About the Creators. Aaron Allston is a prolific author whose recent works include Star Wars novels and the new non-fiction book Plotting: A Novelist's Workout Guide. He has worked on games such as Car Wars, Champions, Dying Earth, GURPS, Ghostbusters International, Dungeons & Dragons, and many more.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.