||Unorthodox Fighters presents five core classes intended to serve as variants from the standard fighter class. Each one is presented using the same format used in the Player's Handbook. There are a lot of good ideas here, and the layout and presentation is well done, but the rules implementation is often lacking.
Of the classes, I liked the Bastion and the Second Son the most. The former is a defensive fighter who prefers the use of heavy armor and massive shields. The latter is a noble that, because of his place in the birth order, does not stand to gain a significant inheritance and cannot rely too heavily on his family name to make his way in the world. Other classes include the Bully, the Dogfighter, and the Legend Seeker.
There are a lot of neat ideas in this book, and the flavor text is, for the most part, fairly sound. The writing suffers whenever Unorthodox Fighters turns to rules. Too often, the author uses wordy, confusing descriptions where simple explanations would have sufficed. Consider, for example, the following from the Bully class: ?The Bully is considered to be armed and is not an attack of opportunity when attacking with his fists.? Why not just say that the Bully gains the Improved Unarmed Strike feat? And the phrase ?is not an attack of opportunity? is the author's way of saying that an attack does not draw an attack of opportunity. That phrase is used several times in this book and, even though I know what they mean, I find it very jarring.
Other rules require even more deciphering. The Bastion's Improved Steadfast Stance says that it increases his ?zone of control? to 10ft, effectively giving him reach. What if the Bastion already has reach by virtue of his race or his weapons? Your guess is as good as mine.
When the rules aren't just being vague, they're being overpowered. The majority of these classes at some point grant the ability to take attacks of opportunity against opponents that wouldn't normally draw them. Whether they take a withdraw action, a five foot step, or an action that doesn't normally ever draw an attack...they take one anyway. I pity the poor wizard that tries to cast defensively within reach of a Bastion. If this doesn't seem too potent to you, how about the Legend Seeker's +2 bonus to hit and damage when wielding his chosen weapon, a 1st level class ability that's better than Weapon Specialization.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the largely underpowered Dogfighter. The concept behind this class is a clever one: a fighter from the wrong side of the tracks that gains the services of a faithful canine animal companion. While he and his dog gain lots of feats and special attacks when fighting together, the dog itself never gets any tougher. Even at low levels, a standard dog (CR 1/3, 6 hp) is probably more of a liability than anything else. Later, the Dogfighter gains additional canine companions, but not until 14th level. I'm not sure two ordinary dogs are really going to make a big difference at that point in a character's career.
LIKED: Unorthodox Fighters inspires me to take its neat ideas and rewrite them for balance and clarity. Each of the five classes presented here represents a clever and original idea that fits well in the D&D milleau. D20 books traditionally handle niche classes of this nature through prestige classes, so its a refreshing change of pace to see a company achieve the same ends via 20 level core classes.
DISLIKED: While the product looks very professional, the rules are either unclear, unbalanced, or both. My final score is two and a half stars, mostly for effort and inspiration. With clearer rules descriptions and more thorough design work, Unorthodox Fighters could have been a four star product.
VALUE: Very Satisfied
[2 of 5 Stars!]