Friday, February 12, 2016

The Greatest Adventure: Inspirations for The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey is born of many sources. Its mechanical roots are firmly set in Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, which is evident to the point of being present on the front cover. I built the game to draw on the things I loved from the various fantasy games I'd played over the years: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay found its way into the way race impacts a character. AD&D 2nd Edition took hold in the diversity of classes and the interior design. Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox is the forms both the foundation and the framework of the game. AD&D 1st Edition grabbed hold when it came to Secondary Skills. Taking attributes and modifying them from a base on the "Core Six" was inspired by Dungeon Crawl Classics.

But I tried not to just throw it all in a blender and pop out a fantasy heartbreaker. Like any other gaming author, my inspiration came from a blend of fiction, films, music and art. While White Star drew from classic sci-fi pulp films and art, The Hero's Journey was created with the literature of high fantasy in mind. Not Lieber, Moorcock and Howard - but Tolkien, Lewis, and even a bit of King Arthur thrown in. These were the novels I had read as a boy and that had launched my imagination when I couldn't get to a gaming table. As a boy, I had a nearly two-hour bus ride to my school and I spent much of that time in these and other fantastic places.

But, much to my surprise, music inspired me more than anything in the writing of The Hero's Journey. OSR gaming seems heavily influenced by metal these days, and understandably so. I listened to plenty of metal as a young gamer and still do as a man. But The Hero's Journey wasn't built on the axe of metal. It was built on the strings of a more melodic, but no less epic sound.

I'm reluctant to use the term Progressive Rock or Folk Rock, but that's probably the most accurate term when it comes to the "sound" of The Hero's Journey. There's a sense of wonder and of hope present in this music that really captures the game. I find it inspiring and uplifting.

Now, I already know that folks will call The Hero's Journey a game that simply reskins Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox and a game that's "too deadly." They're not totally wrong, but I feel like they're coming at it from the wrong point of view. Yes, The Hero's Journey holds characters at a lower hit die than even Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox. Yes, heroes stop getting hit dice after 3rd level. But the heroes of these stories were just that: Heroes. They were not super heroes or gods. They were men and women, still bound by mortal limits. A horde of goblins was still a threat, even if they were "high level." Creatures like dragons and giants were fantastic and terrible, to be feared and faced at a risk of certain death - yet still there was hope of victory. A fool's hope. A hero's hope. If only someone had the courage to take up the sword against them.

So if you're kind enough to pick up The Hero's Journey, please keep these design considerations in mind. If you don't like them, change them. Modify the game to suit your table. I wrote this game to weave stories I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell them. I just hope you'll come along for the ride.


  1. Hmm, I like the idea of a more "dangerous" game....I have been playing since first edition when there were many,many save or die situations. The greater risk only makes victories sweeter, and heroics more memorable! Bravo, mister Spahn, I look forward to a new journey in my favorite hobby!

  2. Music is a HUGE influence. I alternated between seventies pop for Pits & Perils, alternating with plenty of Iron Maiden (and solo Bruce Dickinson as well) and even the odd Blind Guardian, which you so aptly cited above. We certainly looks forward to your new release!

  3. Im looking, but i dont see it. Any chance of a print copy?

    1. David, the PDF is now available on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. And yes, print versions will be made available on the above mentioned websites as well as through Lulu in softcover B/W and full color hardcover.

  4. Doesn't everyone cap hit points? I always disliked the increase to ridiculous levels.

  5. Doesn't everyone cap hit points? I always disliked the increase to ridiculous levels.

  6. "Deadly" and "dangerous" it may be, but it starts characters out with more gold and has a house rule suggesting they start with a full 6 HP at level instead of rolling a hit die. I heartily agree with that rule applied in any system, frankly, and reading it in a rule book was alone worth the price of admissions :-) So to me it definitely gives 1st level characters more of a fighting chance.


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