Monday, January 6, 2020

Strange, Dangerous, and Inhuman: The Fey and Fairie

When I was a boy I loved fairy tales. Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, Rumpelstiltskin - I devoured all of it. My fascination that there was a strange and magical world full of fantastic creatures just beyond my senses drove the imagination of a young boy who was forced to stay inside due to childhood illness. It was no wonder that I would later develop what has become a lifelong passion for fantasy, mythology, and role-playing games.

As I grew older, I became more interested in fairy tales - but in their original forms. The truly strange and unnerving fairie stories of the Brothers Grimm and the like. This lead to an interest in the mythology of the British Isles and what are sometimes called the Fair Folk. They were magical and powerful, beautiful and terrible, and above all they enchanting. It was only natural that the Fey would feature prominently in The Hero's Journey 2e.
Tesh, Changeling Warrior

Because of its roots in British folklore and Celtic mythology, the Fey are more present in The Hero's Journey than in more traditional fantasy role-playing games. In fact, right from character creation, players have the opportunity to take up the role of a Fey character through the Changeling lineage. But make no mistake, this lineage is no shapeshifter. A Changeling in The Hero's Journey is a strange being that has been left behind from the realm of Fairie in place of a mortal child stolen long ago. Though life in the mundane world has muted their strange nature, it is still ever-present and they are almost always regarded as vagabonds, miscreants, or cursed by most "civilized" people. But their Fey nature grants them some unique benefits which range from being ever so slightly out of touch with the flow of time to the ability to remain unnoticed and ignored by mortal eyes.

In addition, The Hero's Journey features a myriad of Fey creatures in Chapter Eight: Menagerie. Each of these creatures is designed to cleave very lose to the folklore that inspired the game. Kobolds are not cowardly trap-smithing lizard-dogs. They are tiny wizened men that dwell in the deep places of the earth, guiding and condemning underworld travelers with their strange knocking. Fey Cats are not panthers that cast strange illusions, but innocent seeming felines that will suck the soul from a mortal body as it sleeps. And a Fey Queen is as beautiful and terrible as the season she commands and all who comes into her presence know only fear and awe.
A kobold, passing between the deep places of the earth
 as it returns to its hidden city of stone. 

Magic itself is also infused with the energy of Fairie, particularly illusions and phantasms. All deceptive magic has ties to the realm of Fairie, for they are the masters of power and perception with little heed for the constants of the Mortal Realm. Wizards and bards that dare to dabble in the magic of the Fair Folk may find themselves making promises to fairy ladies and fey lords in return for magical knowledge, only to be bound forever by the unintended consequences of a promise.

By the same token, the strong presence of fairies and their ilk by no means mandates their inclusion in a Narrator's legendarium. They are simply tool in the wardrobe to color the adventures being told. That being said, it is my firm belief that the strong presence of the Fey in The Hero's Journey 2e can create a gaming that is both at once familiar and deeply unsettling -  just like any good fairy story.

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.
A Fey Queen, vain and glorious, entertaining the affections of
a Fairie Dragon.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Bonds of Fellowship: The Importance of the Group

Tabletop role-playing games are a group activity. It's a group of (usually) three or more people sitting around a table, working together to collaboratively share an experience that all present will enjoy. Often this experience involves overcoming an adversary or accomplishing a difficult task. More importantly, most folks who sit down to play RPGs together are friends - and if they're not, after a few sessions of play, they're likely to become friends. That's one of my favorite things about tabletop RPGs. It creates a shared experience for all involved, a shared memory, and often a shared sense of victory and accomplishment.

In the case of The Hero's Journey 2e, many of the sources which inspired the game are stories about a group of friends. Whether it's the classic Company of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings, the brotherly bond of Pug and Thomas in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga, the unlikely friendship of Willow Ufgood and Madmartigan in Willow, or the iconic Companions of the Dragonlance series, none of these stories would resonate as they do without those bonds of friendship. As such, The Hero's Journey 2e has several rules to reinforce this theme.

Tucker, Human Yeoman, protecting
a dear friend in battle

One of its new Archetypes, the Yeoman, is entirely built around this concept. Mechanically speaking, a Yeoman is a supporting Archetype and functions primarily to empower other characters. Thematically, this is done through the use of their Promise ability. At the beginning of each day, the Yeoman declares a promise to one (or more, at higher levels) other player characters (or important NPC) and as long as the two remain within close proximity, the character (or characters) which have been chosen as the beneficiary of the Promise ability receive bonuses. In addition, should a character under a Yeoman's Promise ability become injured or wounded, the Yeoman becomes a truly fierce opponent, gaining Advantage on attack rolls and other abilities. In short, a Yeoman is the heart of an adventuring company.
Tucker, Willow, Flynn, Bandoras, Evelyn, Tesh,
Puckstone, and Kara relaxing around the campfire.

Secondly, while traveling on the road or resting at an Inn, the group can choose to Relax Around the Campfire. This action allows characters to enjoy the company of their fellow heroes and draw upon the strength of those shared good times to find strength of heart in dark times. In short, successfully Relaxing Around the Campfire grants a character Advantage to any one Saving Throw of their choice the next day. The bonds of friendship are strong indeed and can see heroes through the darkest times.

Finally, Chapter Seven: Running the Game features a section on creating player characters that begin play with a reason for those characters to be bound together in their adventures. There is little place for the "lone wolf" character in The Hero's Journey 2e and no one is an island. In short, it is our friends who will give us the strength to survive the horrors we must confront - and that is a theme that has resonated in legends through to the modern day because it is as timeless and universal as friendship itself.

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.
Heroes standing together against the evils of the world

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Courage is There For the Taking: Despair in The Hero's Journey 2e

In most fairy tales and high fantasy stories that inspired The Hero's Journey, all the protagonists had one thing in common: They were afraid. They had moments of doubt and terror. They stood against terrible, impossible foes and (at least at first), they felt helpless or outright ran away. In The Lord of the Rings we see it over and over again. It's a key plot point in what makes dragons dangerous in the Dragonlance novels. And fairy tales, well they're just full of fearful things. After all, many of them where written specifically to frighten children into behaving!

To that end, The Hero's Journey 2e has a mechanic called Despair and characters will sometimes be called upon to make a Despair Saving Throw. But Despair is more than just a "It's a big scary monster, run away" mechanic. Fear and weariness are often part of any great journey worthy of tale or song. Whether it's crossing a Blighted Land or suffering the terrible heartache that comes with the death of an dear friend and boon companion. All of these are part of Despair and all of them play a role in The Hero's Journey 2e.

In addition, every fantastic creature in The Hero's Journey 2e has a Despair Rating. Typically this ranges from 1 to as high as 15, though it can be higher. The more fantastic, more powerful, more overwhelmingly evil such a creature is, the higher its Despair Rating. So, a goblin might only have a Despair Rating of 1, while a horrific Death Knight has a 13. Some creatures have extraordinarily high Despair Ratings not because they inspire fear, but because they inspire awe. None more beautiful and terrible than they Fey Queen with her Despair Rating of 15.
Behold the majestic terror that is the Death Knight.

When the player characters encounter a creature with a Despair Rating five higher than their level, they must make a Despair Saving Throw. Certain Lineages or Heirlooms may grant bonuses or penalties to this Saving Throw. If the Saving Throw fails, the character suffers Disadvantage on all Saving Throws and attack rolls made while in the presence of the source generating the Despair. They are literally crippled by fear.
Tesh, Bandoras, and Willow cross a desolate realm bereft of hope.

But dangerous creatures aren't the only thing that causes Despair. If a character is travelling across a blasted landscape of unnatural evil, it can take its toll and may impose a Despair Saving Throw after an extended period of time. The sheer evil that infuses that Blighted Land seeps into their soul and begins to drain away hope and valor.

Finally, if a player character witnesses the death of a loved one or another player character, they must also make a Despair Saving Throw. Adventures sometimes have dire costs and witnesses the violent or tragic end of dear friend can weaken the resolve of even the most hardy warrior, after all.

Surrounded by death and carnage, Tucker tends to
his wounded friend Tesh.

The Despair rules are present for two reasons. They reinforce that fear is a part of any hero's journey and that, more importantly, it can be overcome. From a mechanical standpoint, a creature's Despair Rating can be used as a measure by Narrator's as to how dangerous a foe is against a group of player characters - though some dangerous beasties that specialize in fear may have surprisingly high Despair Ratings compared to their actual threat level.

Most importantly, fear and Despair never actually remove character agency. Players are at a literal Disadvantage when under the effects of Despair, but they are never unable to act -- no matter how impossible the odds may be. Completely removing player agency is something I as a game designer try to avoid whenever possible. The challenge faced by a player character may seem overwhelming and impossible to overcome, but they should always be given the chance to try...
Kara, with no more than courage of heart and a blade of steel
faces off against a Lord of Flame and Shadow.

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.