Mountain Man
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Basic Information

A man that makes his living in the northern regions of the U.S. and Canada, most often as Hunter Trapper. One of the most recognizable characters in Westerns, the Mountain Man is always presented as a large bearded man, covered from cap to boots in fur and skins, even in areas where these would not be needed. Common equipment includes various traps, a rifle (often anachronistic), an axe or hatchet and of course a really big knife (either a Bowie Knife, or an Arkansas Toothpick). He probably eats quite a lot of pemmican as well.

They are often shown alternating between fighting and hanging out with the local natives, sometimes doing both at the same time with two different tribes. As a result, they are most likely to be sympathetic towards the natives - quite often including having a native wife - and to correct any white man foolish enough to have contempt for "the savages". Their other common enemy is the grizzly bear, and they are often shown killing them in hand to hand combat. Expect him to be strong, brutally tough and extremely skilled in hunting, fishing and other skills necessary to survive in his environment. He will also be a master of the colder parts of the year - knowing his way around survival at low temperatures and the use of native technology like snowshoes (which had become lostech in Europe millennia ago). Perhaps surprisingly he is also liable to be something of a waterman - given the almost complete lack of roads where he is, rivers provide the easiest and quickest route of travel, especially with cargo and so he will probably know his way around all the local ones and know how to operate a raft a native canoe and probably other forms of boat.

The mountain man is stereotypically a loner, but historically were known to operate in quite large parties as well under the right circumstances. Failing other mountain men, he may be accompanied by native friends (or even family given the abovementioned native wife - he and/or they may also be metis) or at least a dog (possibly the sort of dog that would be described as a wolf if it wasn't living in someone's cabin). Fringe cases may even have a bear that they raised from an orphan cub.

Mountain Men would gather about once a year at an event called the Rendezvous, where they would sell their pelts to buyers from the fur companies and trade for whiskey and supplies. The Rendezvous was also a social event where the mountain men could play games, swap tall tales and generally raise hell.

See Also



Game and Story Use

  • Rolled up maximum Strength on your cowboy PC? That might be strong enough to be a Mountain Man.
  • Good wilderness encounter. He could be friendly and decent like Grizzly Adams, or a Corrupt Hick that needs to be put down. The players won't know which till he's within Bear Hug range.
  • In a fantasy campaign, mountain men may live out amongst orcs or other non-humans rather than primitive human tribes. The effect is liable to be much the same.
  • Similar characters can be found in other wild frontiers - Vietnam era campaigns are another obvious one where Europeans who have at least partially "gone native" are significant … and like the mountain-men, these people are prone to being a bit … French. Central Africa is another key example, and even well settled areas like China can have appropriate roles for "nativised trader with the interior".
  • There are stories about people robbing Mountain Men.1 This could be a line of work for very skilled or suicidaly brave brigands: all the reward, none of the work.
  • Likely to be hired (or at least required) as wilderness guides for those passing through their preferred range. Can be used to deliver exposition to PCs about their player's negligence on not buying appropriate survival skills and what equipment they need to purchase to have a chance of survival as a result.
  • That ancient Kentucky Rifle (or at least something) may well have some of the characteristics of a small cannon - if you war with bears, you will need some serious firepower. Failing that, the Kentucky Long Rifle had a reputation for accurate long range shooting, although you may still need a backup weapon if the bear lives long enough to close up the range.
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