Today I sat down and read about 85 pages of Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderlands. I don't know if I'll be able to sit down and read the other half until next weekend, but I have enjoyed reading the first half immensely. A few key thoughts:
-I really dig the way Conley does sub-classes. For the most part, the classes are easy to qualify for, unlike many of the classes of old AD&D. However, each sub-class generally has a set of rules that one must abide by, or at least some kind of routine/maintenance. For instance, members of the various orders of magic-users must often be tested to advance to certain levels, and the soldier sub-class must spend a certain amount of time doing drills to maintain his abilities. While many of the sub-classes are specific to Conley's campaign, they could easily be adapted to just about any campaign. The only thing I didn't like about the sub-classes is the weird animal buddy that Myrmidons of Set get.
I do have one question about the Berserker, so Rob, if you're reading, can you answer me this: if I am reading the rules right, must the berserker attain 3rd level before he can rage? The rules state 1/day for every three levels attained. The other way I could see it interpreted is that berserkers can rage 1/day at levels 1-3, then 2/day at levels 4-6, etc.
-Conley isn't really about balance, and believe it or not, that's okay. A race of demons is not going to be perfectly balanced against, say, gnomes, and that's just the way it is. I am a firm believer that game balance is impossible to attain without inviting the ludicrous into your games. (Then we get games where you can hit insubstantial creatures with an ordinary weapon for half damage, or where you can trip a cube-shaped monster, but I done beat that dead horse) I like the asymmetry between the races.
-Though many of you old-schoolers hate skill systems and shake your fists at them, Conley has implemented something very light and unobtrusive. Conley also addresses how skill systems work in his style of play, and the commentary is much appreciated. This skill system doesn't leave much room for min/maxing or the build mentality. I'd say it gets the job done. If you don't care to use it, however, his rogue character classes are not going to work as written in your game. Most of them are easily adapted to whatever structure your thief-type classes operate on, with the exception of the merchant adventurer...I'm not sure what you'd do with him if you didn't use a skill system of some sort.
-Rituals are something I like the idea of, but my nitpick is that any "ordinary" spell can be used as a ritual. I'd be more inclined to make rituals their own thing. If I included rituals in a campaign, they'd likely be the remnant of the wizardry used by an ancient race, rather than just different ways to cast spells from the spell list.
...on the other hand, it might be interesting to try a campaign where this is the only way to cast spells. At any rate, the ritual system included in the book gave me some food for thought. (Though I could say that about just about anything from the book thus far.)
The remainder of the book is dedicated to descriptions of the various regions and cultures of the setting. Anyone reading the "crunch" section of the book will glean some of this history and flavor, as it is mentioned in an anecdotal fashion in the descriptions of the races and some of the classes. I am less likely to implement any of the setting elements wholesale, but I am always eager to see how other DMs set up their campaign worlds.
In the end, I'd say this book has a lot of good ideas and is a shining example of how to take the game and make it your own. I'd say it is definitely worth a read, even if you are a fan of DIY campaign worlds. I will likely post my opinions of the setting once I finish the book entirely.