Tuesday, December 17, 2019

I'm Going On An Adventure: Writing Adventures for The Hero's Journey

So, with the impending Kickstarter for The Hero's Journey, Second Edition set to begin on January 7th, 2020, I'm hard at work on supporting material in the hopes that the funding is wildly successful and folks genuinely want to play the game. But writing an adventure for The Hero's Journey is a bit different from writing a traditional fantasy module. As I was writing The Hero's Journey, I tried to emphasize that while combat was an element of the game, it was not a strong focus an should not be the first solution in a group's repertoire. In fact, combat should be the last option. When swords get drawn and battle is joined then circumstances must be dire.
Tesh, Changeling Warrior, locked in combat with a Redcap

To this end, as I'm penning these adventures (yes, I'm writing several) I decide to break from traditional fantasy RPGs and not list a recommended level. The world of The Hero's Journey is dangerous, regardless of your level. That's already implied by the fact that characters do not see a huge increase in their Endurance, even when they reach high levels of play. It's more akin to "I can get his by a sword two or three times an probably not die" instead of the more traditional route of "I can fall a hundred feet and keep on swingin' without any problem."

As an example, a 10th level Warrior with a Resolve of 18 that rolled maximum Endurance at 2nd and 3rd level would still only have an Endurance of 50. By contrast, the bite of an Elder Wyrm does 4d10 points of damage. This means that the mightiest Warrior in history, a literal living legend, could most definitely survive ONE bite from an Elder Wyrm. A second bite (or a swat from the other claw and tail attacks it gets in the same round) would almost certainly kill that same Warrior. This also makes a 10th level Wizard that casts Wreathed and Consumed can do between 10 and 60 points of damage to everyone in a 20 foot radius. A genuinely cataclysmic explosion. And that's not to speak of the mind an reality altering powers of the Fey...

So, as you can see, combat is deadly in The Hero's Journey. But strange creatures have no "alignment," and have their own reasons for acting as they do then roleplaying becomes the most valuable tool in a character's bag of tricks. Conan cleaves through countless foes with a swing of his axe. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser face off against half a dozen wizards at the gates of Lankmar. But when Tristan crosses into Stormhold, he rarely uses his sword. In Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship runs from most combat encounters. When Bilbo faces off against the spiders of Mirkwood he uses hit and run tactics to distract them -- not to face them in battle. The clever hobbit doesn't even think to try to kill the dragon outright. It's not that these things are impossible, it's that slaying a dragon or felling a giant in The Hero's Journey is a genuinely legendary and requires genuinely legendary planning, skill, and even luck.

Tucker (Human Yeoman), Flynn (Half-Elf Bard), Bandoras (Halfling Burglar),
and Evelyn (Human Wizard) are about to have a very bad day...

Given that in traditional fantasy roleplaying adventures a recommended level is usually provided to gauge the viability of combat encounters, it seems at odds to name a recommended level when writing adventures for The Hero's Journey. Combat is rare and deadly in The Hero's Journey, regardless of character level. It is the stuff of legendary songs or sorrowful laments. That goes beyond a character's level and permeates the entire essence of the game. Be clever. Be resourceful. Be diplomatic. Be heroic. Your sword when all else has failed, not as the first solution to a problem.

On the other side of that Narrators running The Hero's Journey shouldn't rely too much one combat. A single tense battle or a few small combats to build drama can be useful, but if your game turns into a meat grinder of character, then your players will never get invested in either their characters or your legendarium. Use combat sparingly to keep the inherent drama of its presence high and when players use a quick wit or clever turn of phrase to avoid bloodshed, then that is to be commended. A hero is not measured by the body count they leave in their wake.

So the adventures I write for The Hero's Journey will have no "recommended level." Instead they will tell stories inspired by folklore and heroic fantasy literature. Players will need to rely on more than their weapons and spells to solve problems. They will need to be of stout heart, quick mind, and perhaps, just a bit lucky... but then again, what hero hasn't been saved by these things more often than not?
Bandoras and his lucky Rabbit's Foot

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.


  1. I cannot wait. I loved the 1st edition and am really looking forward to the KS. Thanks for the peak under the hood.

  2. I think part of the issue with traditional D&D is that 90% of the abilities a player has on his character sheet all revolve around combat abilities. So that is the solution a character leans towards. So if classes had more abilities that gave them options other than fighting, I think more players would use them.

    1. That's certainly a fair argument. Abilities are there to be used and by implication of being present are meant to be used to solve problems. THJ2 has its fair share of "combat" archetypes - Knight, Ranger, Swordsman, Warrior - but between Lineage and profession and non-combat abilities for each lineage I like to think each character will have a fair spread of abilities to solve problems with.

  3. Really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together!

    As an aside, two hits from said wyrm (so a total of 8d10 damage) deals 50+ damage "only" 25% of the time, so it's the third hit that kills such a tough character (with 95% likelihood of 50+ damage on 12d10).

  4. I'm looking forward to the Kickstarter.

    That's an interesting perspective and approach to the game. I like it but it may take some people a bit of an adjustment to get used to.

    I'm enjoying the art you've been sharing. Thanks for doing so.

  5. I'm glad you're supporting the ruleset with adventures. I think concrete examples help DMs more than style guides and supported rulesets have a better chance of standing out from the crowd over time.

    My teenage self wonders "So James, can I go full Raistlin at Level 10 ?"

    1. I mean, you _could_ go "full Raistlin" at 10th level. It'd not be pretty, but you could...

  6. Interesting stuff! Can't wait to have a look.

    This line art, by the way, is fantastic. It would be nice if all the (uncroped) artworks were available in a seperate PDF during the KS. (Now that I think about it, this is actually something that I would love to see from a lot of OSR products!)

  7. Awesome! Was wondering how you'd release the book. With it being a KS campaign I guess that means I'll be waiting before I have my hands on it a little longer. Count me in for the support for sure! Time to boost the signal!


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