Barbarians of the Wilderlands I is a 20-page PDF, retailing for $4.00, written by the prolific James Mishler and intended for use with Adventure Games Publishing's Castles & Crusades-based Wilderlands of High Adventure setting. Of those 20 pages, 17 are devoted the text of the product itself, the other three being a cover, a table of contents/OGL page, and an illustrated dedication to "the Last Celt" (Robert E. Howard, for those curious). As with all of AGP's releases, Barbarians of the Wilderlands I is illustrated by Peter Bradley, who also acted as its graphic designer. The PDF has a clean, three-column layout that's easy on the eyes. The text is likewise clear and free of any egregious typographical or grammatical errors. From a purely technical standpoint, this is a solid product (though I must admit that I'd love to see other artists and art styles used in future products, if only to introduce some of the variety I tend to associate with the old school).
The PDF dedicates six pages to a variant barbarian class intended either to replace or to supplement the standard barbarian from the C&C Players Handbook (now dubbed a "savage warrior"). The variant's basic abilities are similar to those of the standard class, with some tweaks to make it more generalized and a bit less like a berserker. I appreciate this, since one of my biggest beefs with 3e is the way it conflates the berserker archetype with the barbarian archetype. The two are related certainly, but many pulp fantasy barbarians were not berserkers, so it's nice to see an attempt being made to broaden the class a bit. Of course, the variant barbarian still possesses a "primal rage" ability, but it doesn't overshadow its other abilities.
Among the variant barbarian's other abilities are what are called "tribal abilities." A 1st-level barbarian gets three of these abilities, depending on his native culture. The run the gamut from animal handling to horsemanship to sound imitation. The wide variety of tribal abilities should enable the referee to create many distinctive barbarian tribes, each with their own unique cultures and "specialties." Mishler clearly took a cue from the barbarian class in AD&D's Unearthed Arcana, which certainly reveals his long association with the hobby. In my opinion, though, this product's barbarian is much more playable and appealing than its UA predecessor. One way it does this is through a class ability called Versatility, which allows the barbarian to pick up minor class abilities from other classes, simulating the way that barbarian wanderers sometimes become jacks-of-all-trades over the course of their travels. It's a nifty little idea and I'm curious to see how it works in play.
The remainder of the product discusses some of the barbarians of the Wilderlands of High Adventure, providing specific information on their societies, cultures, and how to present them using the new rules. Each barbarian nation is given a single page write-up, which is, in my opinion, just about perfect. This way the referee gets a good overview of what, say, the Altanians are like -- their physical appearance, tribal structure, religion -- without bogging down in unnecessary details that just tie his hands. In each case, the barbarian nations are given one or more real world historical cultures from whom they are descended. At first, I thought Mishler had intended to say that, for example, the Skandiks were similar to Earth's Vikings, but the text clearly uses the words "are descended from." I asked him what he meant by this and he explained that many of the cultures of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy are literally descended from historical Earth cultures, brought to Ghenrek IV by various means throughout the ages. Mishler added that further details about this, as well as alternative explanations/options for those who prefer their Wilderlands to be "pure" fantasy, will be found in an upcoming product.
I was initially somewhat unsure about the utility of this product. I've stated before that I think one of the virtues of the Wilderlands is how skeletal it is as a setting. My great fear is that AGP might spend too much time fleshing out its every nook and cranny and publishing products filled with minutiae of interest only to the hardest of the hardcore fans. That's clearly not the case with Barbarians of the Wilderlands I. Instead it's a terrificly usable product that gives just enough information to save the beleaguered referee time but without burying him in mounds of details that he could just as soon create himself through play. Because of this flexibility, I'd recommend it even to those who don't use the Wilderlands setting or even play C&C. It's full of good ideas and ought to inspire anyone who wants to add pulp fantasy barbarians to their campaigns.
Final Score: 4½ out of 5 polearms