Saturday, December 21, 2019

Keeping Wizards Magical: Wizards in The Hero's Journey 2e

Evelyn, Human Wizard
Wizards as portrayed in the the works that inspired The Hero's Journey are characters like Merlin, Gandalf, Raistlin, and Pug. When a wizard enters a room, people notice. People slink back a bit. People are in awe of the magic they wield. But the reality of playing most traditional fantasy roleplaying games always fell short of that for me. Sure, on paper they were described that way - but when it came time to play the character itself you often found (particularly at low levels of play), that you were more of a liability than an asset. You were no fearsome arcanist walked from legend into reality - you were a fragile glass cannon who might be useful if you happened to have prepared just the right spell for just the right moment. Creative and experienced players learned to work around this through clever use of spells, often in ways they weren't intended. But the truth of the matter was that playing an arcane spellcaster usually was an exercise in patience and (often) frustration. That being said, those who did remain patient (and alive) would rise to become earth-shattering masters of magic capable of shaping reality to their will. But until then, hide behind the guy with the biggest shield and hope for the best.

I wanted to take a minute to talk about Wizards and magic spells in The Hero's Journey 2e. They do find their basis in the traditional spellcasters depicted above, but there are significant and important changes. First and foremost, a Wizard either knows a spell or does not know a spell. End of story. It's not memorized, nor does it require a book from which it must be prepared. Instead, a Wizard is limited in the number of spells they can cast each day before needing to rest - at least in most cases.

The spells that a wizard casts are also different from traditional fantasy RPGs, though many elements are familiar. As an example, this is the spell known as Errant Pilgrim.

When a character casts Errant Pilgrim, they choose one of the three effects described above at the time they cast the spell. So, even if Errant Pilgrim is the only spell they know, there is still flexibility in that single spell. Each spell in The Hero's Journey 2e is linked thematically. Errant Pilgrim has obvious nature themes, particularly those that relate to travel and observation. Stand Against the Adversary is themed around protection from and the defeat of evil foes. Breathed in Silver is centered around illusion and fey enchantment. By binding the spells in this thematic fashion, it allows players to create a character who's Archetype is Wizard, but select spells to give them a more thematic flavor without creating additional Archetypes. So if you want to play a nature-focused Wizard who calls themselves a druid, you might select Errant Pilgrim, Harkening of the High Hawk, and Friend of Birch and Beast for your spells.

Evelyn taps the essence to
cast Fire Both Bright & Sacred
Moreover, Wizards are not without options once they've expended their daily allotment of spell by Tapping the Essence. Tapping the Essence to cast an Apprentice Level spell inflicts 2d6 points of damage on a Wizard - a serious risk that can kill them. They're literally ripping their own essence apart to draw the magical energy necessary to cast a spell. But, even if it does kill the Wizard, the spell is successfully cast - because going out in a blaze of glory is cool. Wizard can always choose to cast any spell they know after they've expended their daily allotment of spells by Tapping the Essence - whether it's an Apprentice, Journeyman, or Master spell

Also, because each Lineage offers a character a few additional weapon choices Wizards are not limited to the traditional "staff and dagger" weapon restrictions - but nor are they martial masters by any stretch of the imagination.

Finally, and most importantly I think, to keep Wizards rare in The Hero's Journey 2e, a character must have an Insight of 15 to even qualify for the class. Few have the mental discipline to wield the arcane arts masterfully. A Bard may occasionally dabble in Apprentice-level spells, but only Wizards ever learn Journeyman or Master level spells. They are the true artisans of enchantment -- feared and awed, as they should be.

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. Awesome stuff, James! Can't wait to dig into the spell list.

  2. This sounds really cool. It sounds like it has so much more flavor.

  3. James, could you consider giving us paper minis cutouts in the campaign? Your art is awesome, and having thar coloured or even in B&W would be cool!

  4. A Wizard's style being defined by the spells they wield rather than their 'class' name seems more appropriate to the wizards of heroic fantasy. That the spell works when you tap the essence is also spot on. Oh, and I like the tone of the writing.

  5. 1st - Defnitely backing this, and that was before I recognized Nic's art. I have his TpB graphic novel Free Mars on my shelves and have loved his art ever since.
    2nd - Any chance the KS includes stretch goals for more art? Asking. For a friend.
    3rd - Is there going to be a non-random method of character gen presented (like a fixed array, 2-for-1 points swapping like B/X or Method VI from 2nd Edition AD&D)? I appreciate trying to retain the special feel of various classes/archetypes but it's something not all groups might be comfortable with.

    1. Cirlot
      1. Nic's art is amazing. He was my first choice for interior artist for this book.
      2. Sadly, the additional art will not be added as a stretch goal. The PDF of the book is done and the KS is being run to cover the cost of an off set print run of physical copies.
      3. While there's not one in the core rule book, Narrators are always encouraged to design their own, edit existing rules, or simply come up with something brand new from whole cloth. There's no "Hero's Journey Police" that's going to come raid your house for 'playing the wrong way.'


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