I think it's fair to say that new character classes (or new takes on existing ones) are one of the oldest "traditions" of the hobby. The introduction of the Thief and the Paladin in Supplement I opened the door to this practice and I don't think D&D players have ever tired of it. If you read The Strategic Review or early issues of The Dragon, you'll soon see that new character classes were a regular and much-loved feature of those periodicals. By the time I started reading Dragon, though, new character classes were often presented as "NPC classes," often with dire warnings against allowing the use of these classes for player characters. The implication was clear: the AD&D Players Handbook was the final word on this subject and until TSR saw fit to add new classes through its official publications, there would be no more.
Gygax partisan though I am, on this particular subject I never accepted Gary as the last word. I gleefully allowed these supposed NPC classes to be used as player characters. We had our fair share of ninjas (years before Oriental Adventures), samurai (ditto), archers, berserkers, beastmasters, and countless others. Very few of them ever lasted for long (Jeff Goelz's variant bard being the main one I recall), but I rarely prevented a player from giving these new classes a whirl. That was part of the fun of old school D&D: the willingness to experiment with potentially dangerous "ingredients." Worries about "balance" were still far in the future. So long as a class was fun to play and added something unique to the campaign, it was usually good enough for me.
That's why, to this day, I take a lot of pleasure in seeing new character classes and new takes on old ones. One of the many pleasures of old school games is their simplicity. Creating new classes for these games isn't a complex math problem; it's more about finding an archetype unserved by the other classes and creating game mechanics that allow that archetype to be used meaningfully in a campaign, with "meaningfully" being a very broad adverb indeed. So, it's with great happiness that I came across Brave Halfling Publishing's Delving Deeper series, which presents new character classes for use with Labyrinth Lord, although they could be used without much modification for other games, such as Swords & Wizardry.
I'd previously reviewed Brave Halfling's version of the monk. This time I'm going to talk about three others: the bard, the paladin, and the ranger.
Delving Deeper - Bard is, for me, the weakest of the three products. That's mostly because the whole concept behind the class has been muddled since Doug Schwegman's article in The Strategic Review in 1976. That article described the bard as a "jack of all trades," a description echoed in this 4-page PDF, which sells for 75 cents. Part fighter, magic-user, and sage, the bard is roughly comparable to the cleric in terms of combat effectiveness and toughness (though with weaker saving throws). In addition, the class possesses a legend lore ability, can charm persons and monsters (as per the appropriate spells), and can read languages (including the magical tongues used to inscribe arcane scrolls). The result is very well done, but it does little to bring much-needed coherence to the class. After reading this product, I am still unclear exactly what archetype the bard fills.
Delving Deeper - Paladin is, by contrast, a very coherent presentation of a much-loved -- and hated -- archetype: the fighter dedicated to upholding law and goodness. I'll admit to multiple levels of prejudice in liking this 6-page PDF a great deal. Firstly, I'm simply very fond of paladins and almost always play them on those rare occasions when I play rather than referee. Secondly, the class presented here is, by default, not a spellcasting one, just like its Supplement I inspiration. I very much approve of that, since spellcasting paladins further muddy the distinction between this class and clerics. The result is a class that's umabiguously a fighting man, albeit one imbued with divine power and grace. This 75-cent PDF also includes rules including holy swords in your Labyrinth Lord campaign.
Delving Deeper - Ranger is 5-page PDF retailing for 75 cents and, in my estimation, the best of the three reviewed here. That's because this product embraces the multiple ways that the ranger class has been interpreted over the years by offering two different versions of the class. The first is what might be called the "traditional" ranger, in that it includes a damage bonus when fighting evil humanoids and giants, in addition to such abilities as tracking, moving silently, direction sense, and wilderness survival. The second version could be called a "scout," since it swaps the damage bonus for the ability to hide and listen in a natural environment. I really appreciate the inclusion of two versions of the class, since it highlights what new character classes are really all about in the first place: options.
And options are what these inexpensive PDFs provide. At 75 cents apiece, each one is well worth picking up, if only to mine them for ideas when creating one's own character classes. I've been lately pondering ways to make a more coherent bard class and Delving Deeper - Bard gave me some food for thought, even though my own interpretation of the class will likely be quite different. All of these products include art by Andy "Atom" Taylor, whose exuberant style is a perfect esthetic representation of Brave Halfling's approach to publishing. They're definitely worth a look by anyone who hasn't forgotten the joyful enthusiasm this hobby engendered in all of us at the beginning.
Delving Deeper - Bard: 3½ out of 5 polearms
Delving Deeper - Paladin: 4 out of 5 polearms
Delving Deeper - Ranger: 4½ out of 5 polearms