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Friday, 11 June 2021

Friday Fantasy: Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I

Out on the borders of the far Northwest lies a forest without end. Here doughty Lumberjacks and Lumberjills leap from tree to tree, felling and cutting the mighty pines for shipping back to civilisation. In the deeper parts of the forest, the great hairy hulks known as Sasquatches roam freely, feared by some as monsters, simply misunderstood say others, but unknown to all. If the exact nature of the Sasquatches remains unknown, then the secrets of the Squirrels are kept hidden—and they like that. For within their secluded city republic of Baudekin, sapient Squirrels and other members of the Sciuridae family from across the dimensions protect it secrets, most notably the Secret Gnawledge those contained within the roots of the Library Trees. For anyone wanting to set out into the forest, the place to start is Squeamish, a ‘nice, clean, company town’. Squeamish is a boomtown, a frontier town built by the Red Bear Lumber Company, and the many Lumberjacks and Lumberjills that work the forest work for a felling gang employed by the Red Bear Lumber Company. They work for the Red Bear Lumber Company, they live on the Red Bear Lumber Company property, they eat Red Bear Lumber Company food, and they have a long line of credit with the Red Bear Lumber Company. Perhaps though, one of those many Lumberjacks and Lumberjills—whether a Lumber-Fighter, Lumber-Cleric, Lumber-Thief, or Lumber-Wizard—will strike it lucky on a side hustle or with an independent gang and bring back that one rare botanical specimen which will set them up for life—or at least ensure they can pay off their credit. There are always Wizards and Alchemists willing to pay for such items. Adventurers come to Squeamish too, perhaps for those same rare botanical specimens, or to hunt for Sasquatch or rescue innocents kidnapped by the brutish creatures, or to enter a Lumberjack competition, or… Whatever the reason, they will need a guide—and there are plenty of those to go around. Perhaps hire a Gunkey—a cross between a goat and a jackass, and twice as stupid/foppish/lecherous as you would expect, rent out a half-useful, only half-tested device from Half-Mad Leach MacCleod, or simply feast on tasty street food from Odd Jacob—the ‘Salty Weasel Bites’ are a best seller!

This is the set-up for Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I, a systemless, rules-agnostic fantasy roleplaying setting by the creator of Wampus Country. Published by Lost Pages, best known for the entertaining Genial Jack and the Burgs & Baillifs series, this is a comedy-style setting based on the Pacific Northwest—although it could be Vermont too, although mostly the Pacific Northwest because Portland—which is easy to adapt to the setting of the Game Master’s choice, whether that is Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, Savage Worlds, or Old School Essentials. So as a setting, right from the start, it is full of flannel (shirts), axes, bearded men, axes, maple syrup, axes, and weirdness, which sort of has a Twins Peaks feel to it.

Lumberlands is offered as a place to visit, rather than as a place to be from. Numerous reasons are given why, such as questing for the legendary Squirrel City, engaging in logging company intrigues, or even attempting to hire a family of Giant Beavers to gnaw you that perfect home. Lumberjack and Lumberjill culture is highlighted, how they are plain-dealing, strong, self-reliant, egalitarian (mostly), and so on, before suggesting what Lumber-versions of the four core character Classes might look like. So Lumber-Fighters prefer axes, wear flannel and dungarees, possess stunning beards, big stompin’ boots, and enjoy public displays of prowess, whilst the Lumber-Thief sports a smaller, often oiled beard, wears flannel ironically (?), is agile as a weasel, has canvas boots with good luck symbols, lumbergang tattoos, and pirate-style earrings. Not really enough to equate to an actual Class in terms of Dungeons & Dragons, more a set of pointers in the right direction, whether the Game Master simply wants to use the use the classic Dungeons & Dragons Classes as written with Lumberlands flannel, or actually create Lumberlands versions of those Classes. Lumberjacks and Lumberjills can worship any gods, but have their own too, like Timmerton, the demigod of the Lumberlands, a bare-chested mountain of a man with maple syrup dripping from his mighty beard, and the Cult of the Beaver, whose members are very fond of hard work and clean teeth.

Lumberjack and Lumberjill equipment includes the Lucky Flannel, which when combined with dungarees, counts as leather armour, and axes of all sorts—and custom-fitted axes for all sorts of situations. The list of possible customisations is only the first of several tables in Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I. The next gives options adding a personality to your Gunkey, whilst there are several subtitles to the supplement’s quite detailed encounter table. Once out of Squeamish, having detailed the Red Bear Lumber Company and several of the town’s peoples and places, the supplement runs off into the woods, with all of its gear strapped atop a Gunkey of course, and begins to expose some of the secrets of Lumberland. This includes just who and what the Sasquatches are and they really are not what you think; a discussion of Squirrel politics, which might or might not be a parody of US state politics, less members of the rodent family of course; and somewhere—since there are no maps of the Lumberlands, ‘Portal-Land’, a dimensionally unstable triangle where easy access to other worlds can be gained (and vice versa), and time and gravity can shift, and is inhabited by the False Ones, strange humanoids with perfectly smiling porcelain masks, hypnotically pleasant lines in banter, horribly matching sweaters, and a willingness to invite adventurers to dinner…

Rounding out Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I is a lengthy set of encounter tables, which are broken down by type, so Deadly Plant, Things of Nightmare, and Natural Wonders, and more. Each of the categories includes six detailed entries. Penultimately, there is a list of Lumberland familiars, including an ‘Enchanted Salmon of Wisdom’, which looks good on a wooden plaque and dispenses wisdom in song, and an ‘Animated Tattered Flannel, which could have been a shirt or a baby’s blanket, but which will happily wrap around the owner’s shoulder, but leaps to cover his nose and eyes in the event of a gas or powder attack! Lastly, there is final list, this one of potential Henchbeings, including one eyebrow-raising Marmot!

Physically, Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I is neatly presented, although the text is a little fuzzy in places. The artwork is of course cartoonish, which suits the supplement perfectly.

Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I is funny and engaging and inventive, but for all that, its tongue-in-cheek tone and subject matter is unlikely to be for everyone or every campaign. Both tone and subject matter mean that Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I needs a higher degree of buy-in from the players as much as the Referee for everyone to enjoy it. The other issue is where to use it, as there are likely to be few campaigns or settings in which are going to be natural fits for its content. It means that the Referee should really consider if this supplement is going to be suitable for her campaign even before thinking about the work necessary to adapt it to the rules being used. That aside, Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide I is a delightfully silly satire upon the Pacific Northwest (or Vermont or Canada), its peoples and its politics, and its wildlife, and let us hope that there will be a Wampus Country Travel Guide II.

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