Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Hero's Journey: Words Matter

So, as I'm sitting here editing The Hero's Journey, Second Edition I wanted to talk a bit about the game's focus in both this version and the first edition. Both incarnations of the game were build to emulate the style of fantasy found in classic fairy tales and works of heroic fantasy like J.R.R. Tolkien, the Dragonlance novels, and Feist's Midkemia series. The protagonists are heroes -- active forces for good in the world -- and there is a clear divide between good and evil. Magic is truly wondrous and awe-inspiring. Mythic beasts and dangers exist just beyond the horizon, and in the end doing the right thing matters.

In it's original edition, the rules of The Hero's Journey spoke of this a lot. But the rules never truly reflected it. The tropes of the game were bent or ignored in order to firmly fit it into compatibility with White Box games and White Box rules. The new edition of this game makes no such concessions and is, in fact, not compatible with White Box. Well, at least not without some serious changes.

Alterations have been made to every aspect of the game and the game's terminology. Why change terminology? Because language is a reflection of tone and theme. Previously, The Hero's Journey featured eight attributes: The "traditional" six (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom (called Willpower) and Charisma), plus two new ones: Appearance and Luck.

The new edition has paired this down to six, each of which has been titled to lean into the archaic and evocative language of myth and legend.

Might: This is an analogy for strength in more traditional games, impacting melee combat and carrying capacity. The term "might" was chosen because when one hears of "Mighty Heroes" it conjures images of daring deeds and feats of amazing physical prowess. Strength is a bit more dry and analytical.

Alacrity: This is an analog for dexterity. But, it also reflects a character's speed and preciseness, in addition to their physical agility and sense of balance. Again, I felt it was more prosaic and evocative.

Resolve: This is a combination of physical and mental endurance, a blending of constitution and wisdom/willpower. Why do this? Because in so many heroic stories, you hear tale of physically weak heroes who had a strength of will, a resolve, that allowed them to carry on, to push past physical and mental limits, to achieve the impossible.

Insight: I have always found it difficult to roleplay a character smarter than I am. Wizards and wise men in stories are not described as being intelligent, but they are often described as insightful. They are able to deduce more, notice more, and make connections not visible to others. Insight seemed a more accurate term and it combines the "perceptive" aspects of a character often previously lumped into Wisdom in more traditional games. Gandalf or Merlin would never describe themselves as intelligent, but everyone respects their sharp insight into a situation.

Bearing: This replaces Charisma, but is a bit more subtle in its use. Often you have heroes who rise from obscurity and show a "noble bearing." It's an indefinable quality akin to charisma, natural magnetism, and a kind of subtle aura of power that surrounds a character.

Weal: This replaces Luck, but Weal is an ancient term that means a combination of destiny, luck, and a general sense of fate that is tied to an individual. A character is bound by their destiny or fate, to an extent, but still somehow maintains free will. Weal seemed like the most accurate way to reflect this element of fairy stories and heroic fantasy and the archaic term "Weal" seemed to be the most appropriate term to reflect that.

Next time, I'll talk about the Lineages of the game -- how some have changed, some have been cut, and new additions have been made.


  1. Yes! I'm loving this! The attributes are quite evocative. Breaking with White Box and making THJ into its own game was the right choice. I'm looking forward to more design articles from you.

  2. This is really cool and valuable insight. Thank you for writing about it.

  3. These are great choices for heroic fantasy, looking forward to the next post !

  4. I like the new attribute names, they are more evocative than the original six.

  5. I know this is late, but first time reading: I'm extremely excited about this. Will you still plan to have a compatibility license in place as you did the 1st edition?

    1. There will most certainly be a third party publishing option made available.

    2. Excellent! I shall start to plan accordingly then.

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