The Complete Fighter's Handbook
Tag Line: Who says fighters are the poor cousins of the AD&D game?
Makers: TSR for AD&D 2nd Edition
What is it?
To differentiate one character of a certain class from another of the same class, AD&D 2nd edition introduced the idea of "kits", an added layer that made, for example, swashbucklers different from gladiators or career soldier. They launched the idea with the Fighter's Handbook (no doubt, this class was considered "cookie-cutter" the most) and also threw in role-playing advice, new combat rules and equipment descriptions.
-Reintroduces the Barbarian and Cavalier from Unearthed Arcana with a minimum of fuss.
-Each kit has its own special abilities and drawbacks, so for example, the Savage might be friends with the animals, but find heavy armor extremely uncomfortable. The Noble Warrior always has a place to stay, but must consistently overspend or lose his reputation. And no doubt, a lot of players made Beast-Riders and Berzerkers when this book came out.
-The Role-Playing section suggets yet another layer to make your fighter stand apart with personalities such as the Crude Crusher, Merry Showoff and Fated Philosopher.
-New combat rules include specializing in fighting styles (2-handed, weapon&shield, etc.) and such nuggets as bypassing armor, disarming, martial arts, called shots, even jousting.
-Gladiator and oriental weapons.
-If you like more realism, then check out the piecemeal armor and armor damage rules.
-I love the campaign ideas, either using only one class (the Fighter) or even only one kit!
-While I think kits are a brilliant idea, a lot of pages are given over to optional combat rules. If you're not into this kind of complexity (and I know AD&D 2nd got some flack for such things as weapon speeds), then you'll find half the book useless.
-There is some confusion regarding whether Warrior kits can or should be applied to Rangers and Paladins, especially once these subclasses got their own kits.
"If the player-character tribesmen ride dire wolves, the sorcerer's minions [...] will be ogres riding smilodons (sabre-tooth tigers). If the PCs ride pegasi, the more numerous enemies might be goblins riding giant bats."
How I've used it
Upon getting the book, I immediately rolled up half a dozen characters, none of which I ever used. There was Tessalonica, the Amazon women's lib activist; Octavio the Beneficient, the classic swashbuckling hero; Hogan Jumpfoot, the halfling gladiator who, according to my notes, was meant to behave a lot like the Beast (and in parentheses, I add "Marvel not CBS", which is the only thing that really dates the character sheets I kept); Ahkmed a Ranger/Wilderness Warrior to be played as a desert nomad and strict muslim; and a Paladin/Beast-Rider whose sheet I've just misplaced who rode a rhino. Yee-haw! I certainly foisted kits on my players, but I don't really remember any stories about that.
Kits are a lovely idea that really added depth to the character creation rules for AD&D 2nd ed. and though I own all the Complete Handbooks, they never got as good as the Fighter's. Other installments either offered too few kits (like the Priest's), were uninspired (like the Thief's) or way over-the-top (like the Paladin's). 2nd edition was the golden age of Dungeons & Dragons, as far as I'm concerned, with great and varied campaign worlds and just enough complexity and variation in the rules to keep things interesting. I've no interest in d20, but I guess the Prestige classes and such are a way to bring back kits. I guess.