A lot has been said through the years about the fighter class of the revised OGL core rules. One of the complaints trumpeted by many is that the higher level fighter, and indeed to a certain extent the lower level fighter, spends most of his time locked in rather mundane and boring attack actions swinging his or her weapon. Many attempts have been made to correct for this, mostly focused on trying to spice up the fighter's options and tactical abilities in combat. In most cases, this has cantered around the use of the fighter class' bread and butter - feats. The Deft Fighter is Thomas W. Simpson's effort to create a more interesting combat and tactical fighter using a new feat, the Deft Fighter feat, and a large number of fighter tricks.
The Deft Fighter is a 24 page pdf and indeed the first product from new OGL publisher, Thomas W. Simpson. This product comes as a single pdf file, and is a well presented document with good single column layout, clear writing, attention to detail, and some good illustrations from artist William McAusland. There are no bookmarks in the product. The Deft Fighter is a presentable product from this new publisher.
The concept behind the product is the Deft Fighter feat which allows you to specialise in a number of fighter tricks and abilities that create a more interesting combat fighter. The concept has been attempted in numerous different ways by other publishers, so is generally nothing new, but this take provides a flexible option to expand the list of new fighter tricks, and even the associated additional feats for the deft fighter. Fighter tricks are special actions or manuevers that are performed in conjunction with a normal attack, and resolved using opposed skill checks. It's fairly easy to expand on the list of fighter tricks, making this a flexible system for the martial warrior.
There are 24 fighter tricks in this product, all of them non-magical tricks or abilities rather than supernatural or other magical abilities. Examples include Nowhere to Run, which allows the fighter to prevent an enemy escaping; Dastardly Dancer which allows the fighter to weave out of combat with skill, and Death from Below, a Gimli kind of manuever from The Two Towers. The naming of the various feats leaves something to be desired, but mostly these achieve what they set out to achieve - if you succeed at the skill check, you gain some additional advantage, whereas if you fail, you are unable to pull the manuever off, and suffer a penalty.
While this is an interesting idea and certainly opens up the possibilities for combat, the underlying mechanics are probably not as robust as ithey seem. Take the Heart Attack trick as an example. This trick is a Balance vs. Sense Motive skill check, success which paralyzes your opponent for 1d4 rounds. Firstly, not many fighters, let alone monsters, have any decent ranks in the Sense Motive skill, whereas a fair many characters use the Balance skill. It's fairly easy to envisage a character that specialises in Balance, thereby succeeding at this trick frequently, rendering pretty much any opponent helpless and hence open to easy coup de graces. The balance of the power is just not there in all instances, particularly where monsters are concerned. In addition, rogue/fighters are far more likely to excel at these tricks than pure fighters are due to improved skill points.
Overall, I think this idea has merit and there are several interesting ideas and concepts in the product. I think the implementation, though, in some cases requires a little more thought, particularly where the underlying mechanics are concerned. If you are planning to adopt material from this product, then most likely you'll need to bear it in mind when throwing enemies at your party, since you'll need to boost certain skills in most enemies. The Deft Fighter feat and its tricks is certainly useful though, placing more emphasis on skills for fighters, and adding some useful options for tactical combat to the table.
[3 of 5 Stars!]