Like many players and GMs, I've been looking for a fix for the cavalier. When this caught my eye, I thought perhaps I had found a reasonable fix for the worst class in the Pathfinder game.
I will say that the Fencer is a good choice for anyone interested in playing a Cavalier. It is significantly better, faster, and stronger than the base Cavalier. However, there are some issues with it in terms of game balance. There are also a couple wording issues and typos to hammer out, but an attentive player/GM should be able to catch these.
Grit: The addition of the Grit mechanic to the class is well done and much needed. It doesn't take away Challenge, but gives the Fencer additional options during combat for that much needed flourish and unique attack options that a Fighter can't access. Basically, it's the thing separating the Cavalier/Fencer from being replaced by a Fighter.
Rapiers: Since the Fencer is somewhat based upon European archetypes, it is reliant upon rapiers as a weapon. This is a much needed reason to use a rapier as a full BAB class, when previously there was none.
Colors: While somewhat similar to the Banner class feature that it replaces, it's far more useful in that it replaces a bonus on charge attacks with a bonus to CMD. That's more useful to EVERYONE in the party rather than just the Cavalier.
Ace of Blades: A definitely needed ability for the Cavalier in general, which makes the Fencer the preferred archetype for Cavalier. HOWEVER, it does not say it replaces Supreme Charge explicitly, so GMs be prepared for a potential loophole.
Cloak Style: This is actually a pretty clever way to handle a cloak as a weapon. But there is one issue, so look below in the Cons section.
Included Racial Favored Class Bonuses: I cannot stress how nice it is to have additional Favored Class bonuses for the archetype when it has removed all the things that the original class's racial favored bonuses affected.
Parry and Riposte: I liked the idea upon reading, however the mechanics behind it are a little less than viable. Only the Shield bonus from wearing an actual shield or the class feature from rapier usage applies, not magical equipment like a Ring of Shield. Enhancement bonuses are taken into consideration though, so perhaps it could be more viable at the higher levels than I give it credit for.
Deeds: The Fencer, like the Gunslinger, gains access to a list of Deeds. Unlike the Gunslinger, they have a set list that they gain at specific levels with no real choice. This isn't such a bad thing, as it limits the potentially fatally stupid choices a player could make, but it does feel a little less like Deeds and more like Class Features since all of them are Extraordinary ability.
Weapon Expertise: Just as I said that the Cavalier/Fencer should have an edge over the Fighter, the Fighter should retain their edge over the Cavalier/Fencer. Rather than give it equivalent Fighter levels, simply give it Weapon Focus/Specialization and their Greater versions as Bonus Feats and skip the equivalency. It will limit potential loopholes. It also crimps the Single Sword style when they gain those feats in their progression.
Team Work Feats: If you're like me, you don't care for Teamwork Feats. The Fencer simply loses them, which isn't a really big deal, but it does get away from the idea of the Cavalier/Fencer as the Tactician of the party. It's more of a thematic than actual issue.
Parrying Dagger Style: This does not gain Two-Weapon Fighter, so the Fencer must pick those feats up themselves if they want to be able to even think of hitting a target with their offhand. Otherwise, it's based more around using the dagger as a shield, so there isn't much need to attack with the offhand.
Cloak Style: While clever, there is a wording issue. Veiled Intentions in the style needs to be explicitly worded and show the sneak attack progression rather than simply say "equal to a Rogue half their Fencer level." And even then, it seems a bit too
Loss of the Orders: Again, this isn't a huge loss, but it is a loss. They do however gain the 8th level ability of their Order, even if it is at 14th level.
While my Cons list might be larger than the Pros, I actually do like the class and the idea of it. The implementation seems pretty decent enough that a group could play using it without too many problems, it just needs a little bit of polishing so it can shine. I personally would prefer to use the Fencer as the base rather than the base Cavalier. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
As for the Magebane archetype, I'm not a fan of it. Mostly because it is far too specialized against casters with ray spells, which very few of my caster villains use when there are perfectly good minions to throw at the party.
Onward to the Meister.
THE ABSOLUTE MAJOR FAULT IN THE CLASS: The write up for the book says it's a Fighter archetype, while in the text of the book it says it's a Cavalier archetype. THIS IS A MAJOR ISSUE. While I'm absolutely sure that it's a Fighter archetype, I needed to point this out so nobody else thinks it is for Cavalier.
Basically, by sacrificing Armor Training and Armor Mastery, they gain increased skill with a select weapon group. This is more or less, a waste of printed space and kind of a let down given the name. The main reason it is a letdown is because there are already Archetypes out there that pretty much do this specialization, so I'm not going to go into a list of pros and cons for this one. I give it 1 out of 5, it's just not needed.
Really, this is just the hybrid of a Fighter and a Monk. Flurry of Blows with "bladed weapons," (thankfully, the Designer Note does clarify this so there won't be too much arguing over what it means) and an increase in Monk and Fighter level equivalencies. Really, this is only for that special multiclass combo. I'll give it 2 out of 5, mostly because I don't see it being for anything OTHER than Monk and Fighter.
The New Weapons section is a good addition and will hopefully give your history/weapon buff player something to halt their talking your ears off about "real historical weapons and usage" vs "RPG weapon choices." All the weapons are also equivalent to others in terms of feat specialization, thankfully. No need to worry about your +3 Spadroon being sundered and leaving you with three feats utterly useless forever on. I give it 4 out of 5 stars because its always nice to have variety with weapons for players without removing the need for Exotic Weapons.
The New Feats section is also a good addition. Thankfully, none of the feats are too overpowered or particularly underpowered. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars just because nothing stands out in a good or bad way.
Overall, I say that the Fencer is a much better alternative to the Cavalier and that it alone makes this book worth the price. The rest of the things in it, you can take or leave. But make sure you check out the Fencer.