Tharbrian Horse-Lords is the first Player's Guide for Adventure Games Publishing's Castles & Crusades-based "Wilderlands of High Adventure" setting. The product is available in two formats: a 22-page PDF costing $5.00 or a 36-page digest-size booklet costing $7.00. This review is based on the PDF, so I cannot comment on any changes made to the print version, if any. Like most previous AGP Wilderlands products, Tharbrian Horse-Lords is text-dense and without any illustrations. The layout is a simple two-column one that's easy to read and the text is both clear and well edited.
Of course, it's the actual content of the product that matters most and Tharbrian Horse-Lords offers plenty of content, most of free of game mechanics. This makes it very easy to use with game systems other than C&C, although some sections of it are written as expansions to the variant barbarian class presented in Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1. The Horse-Lords of the title are a barbarian culture best described as "Celtic Mongols." That is, their culture reminded me of an amalgam between the continental European Celtic peoples (primarily the Gauls) and central Asian horse nomads. While ethnologists among us might balk at this, I found the mixture easy to grasp, which suggests that players would find it equally easy to portray a Tharbrian as a character.
The bulk of the product describes the history, society, and culture of the Tharbrians, sometimes in more detail than I felt necessary. However, since each section only adds to one's overall sense of what Horse-Lord culture is like, it can be argued that additional detail is never a bad thing. This is clearly a taste issue; for myself, I prefer broader strokes in my gaming products, with less specific information and more general ideas that I can use as a springboard. This is particularly true in the case of settings like the Wilderlands, which has always been a "big tent" setting, whose most detailed areas were still very sketchy compared to those of contemporary settings.
I worry somewhat that, given the amount of information provided in this product about one barbarian nation, the Wilderlands of High Adventure will soon find itself weighted down in canon, no matter how well written and interesting. And it is interesting. James Mishler has described the Tharbrians in sufficient detail that I can easily imagine playing an entire campaign within their roaming lands, making this product almost a mini-campaign setting within the larger Wilderlands. In that respect, it's quite remarkable and the level detail it provides is exactly right. Given that, perhaps I should clarify my worry somewhat: taken in itself, I think Tharbrian Horse-Lords strikes a good balance between too much and too little detail; taken as part of a larger whole, I see a trend toward fleshing out every nook and cranny of the Wilderlands and that remains worrisome to me. But, as I said, it's a matter of taste and many gamers will find eight paragraphs of information about the Tharbrian diet exactly the sort of information they need in their campaigns, while I find it a bit too much.
I can say, without hesitation, that Tharbrian Horse-Lords is an excellent product, well written and interesting and a good companion to the other Wilderlands product AGP has published to date. The key here in gauging one's own interest in it is whether you deem the approach Mishler has adopted in those other products as felicitous or not. I personally find them a little information-heavy at times, but I realize not everyone shares my preferences. For me, the glory of the "classical" Wilderlands is its lack of detail, which makes it easy to remake the setting in any way I choose as the situation demands. Mishler's Wilderlands of High Adventure variant presents a particular interpretation of that setting and then fleshes it out in increasing detail. That's not a bad approach and, as I feel compelled to reiterate, Mishler does so excellently; it's just not my preferred approach. Whether it is yours will determine how you feel about Tharbrian Horse-Lords.
Presentation: 5 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10
Buy This If: You're looking for a fully-fleshed out barbarian culture to use in your game.
Don't Buy This If: You're not interested in fantasy ethnography