Heroic Fantasy

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The exploits of mighty-thewed, sword-wielding heroes and their thiefly, wizardly and/or priestly companions, as they spend their days smiting evil, fighting monsters, recovering treasures and quaffing ale.

Tends to be distinguishable from High Fantasy by its scale—the problems are generally those of the hero, not the world—and moral standards—absolute evil and absolute good make fewer appearances. (Well, absolute good makes fewer. Absolute evil, in the form of a Religion of Evil or the like, makes a convenient foe.) Also by its tendency to be an endless series of adventures, partly because the smaller scale makes it more plausible, and partly because the heroes are very prone to love being In Harm's Way.

Heavily influenced by Hero's Journey, the Arthurian cycle, the Conan the Barbarian stories and movies, the game Dungeons & Dragons, and classical myth.

Sometimes set in a world that looks an awful lot like medieval Europe, although it can range all the way back to a "forgotten prehistory" such as in Conan the Barbarian, or even the "classical" period (ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, etc.), as found in Xena: Warrior Princess (this variant is sometimes called "Sword and Sandal" and more burly versions are called "Thud and Blunder"). May involve Mythopoeia.

Sometimes it can be found in the future, often in After the End setting; sometimes it comes close to Planetary Romance. Also often features Medieval Stasis.

Also known as "Sword and Sorcery", a term coined by Fritz Leiber, one of the genre’s Trope Codifiers, in reply to a letter by Michael Moorcock. There is much debate of the definition of these genres; unkind souls have even described Heroic Fantasy as nothing but an upmarket term for Sword and Sorcery.

Good live-action film and television heroic fantasies can be counted on the fingers of one hand (generally starting with the Conan the Barbarian movie). Dying is easy. Fantasy is hard! On the other hand, roughly half of all RPGs ever written fall under this genre, if not more. The odd tendency for Anime to use settings with an obvious European flavor is noted.

See also Two-Fisted Tales, Pulp Magazine.

Heroic and epic Fantasy of Chinese cultural origin is known as Wuxia.

Contrast Sword and Sandal. See also Medieval European Fantasy.

Not to be confused with Low Fantasy, which is simply Fantasy in a down-to-earth setting.

Nor to be confused with Demythtification, which is Mythology reimagined as Historical Fiction.

Examples of Heroic Fantasy include:


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Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons. Though the game system is flexible enough that the enterprising DM can apply it to almost any Fantasy subgenre, as printed it tends toward Heroic Fantasy.
  • Barbarians of Lemuria emulates the whole Sword & Sorcery genre.


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