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Skip Navigation LinksHigh Fantasy HERO>Content>Campaign Guidelines>Campaign Paradigms>Epic Fantasy
Epic Fantasy
This paradigm represents a generic Epic Fantasy implementation, which is a "Lower" form of Fantasy. In general this means that characters are less capable, Magic is less plentiful, mortality is higher, and play tends to be "grittier".
Epic Fantasy lies somewhere between Sword & Sorcery and High Fantasy in both tone and power level. A key point is that Magic is generally easier but about as prevalent as it is in Sword & Sorcery, and not as easy or as prevalent as in High Fantasy.
Most Fantasy literature falls into this category to some extent. The classic example is of course Tolkein, and his many direct imitators such as Brooks and McKiernan. However, there are many more original writers such as Martin, Feist, J.V. Jones, Duncan, and a long list of others that aren't terribly original but at least don't just rip Tolkein off such as David Eddings and perhaps the master of gritty Fantasy David Gemmel. Some roleplaying settings have more of an Epic feel to them, including the Dragonlance and Ravenloft settings from D&D, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game, the Paladium Fantasy Roleplaying Game, and Rolemaster. Several of these are more Dark Epic, but Epic nonetheless.
The primary difference between Epic Fantasy from other similar paradigms is more one of format and tone than anything else. Epic Fantasy generally focuses on a quest or overarching theme, and is more story driven; in fact this subgenre is often called Quest Fantasy.
Many examples of Epic Fantasy include a good deal of traveling through the countryside. A GM that intends to follow this trend should make a point of getting very familiar with the Environment section of the rules.
Another key consideration is how the GM casts travel in relation to the characters. Is the Journey a passive antagonist, something to be overcome by the characters? Or is the Journey a metaphor, paralleling the characters' progression and growth? Or is the Journey more of an adventure, a fun and challenging source of interesting events? Of course hybrids are possible, but regardless a GM should give some consideration to this idea before deciding on how heavily to enforce Environmental effects and how much focus to spend on the sundries of travel.
Many examples of Epic Fantasy include the idea of a long history filled with bygone empires and powerful events that have littered the setting with remnants and relics. Crumbling architecture and old "places of power" are common expressions of this trope.
To model this the GM might consider sprinkling the landscape of their setting with ruined structures that have an actual Power, typically sensory but perhaps healing, obfuscating, or some other subtle and passive effects, bought via an Immovable Focus. This can add a lot of flavor to a campaign, and allow for some powerful but immobile Magic.
Due to its story driven focus, this paradigm favors longer story arcs, and character mortality is much rarer than in Sword & Sorcery. The heroes of the story generally lead charmed existences and somehow manage to scrape through even the most desperate circumstances. Part of this comes down to the GM's handling of events in play, but part of it can be shoved off into mechanics.
The focus of the subgenre isn't on flashy effect and raw power, it is generally on character development, and thus Magic tends to the subtle rather than big flashy effects and often isn't very refined. Frequently in many examples of Epic Fantasy magic seems to act more as pure willpower being exerted upon events than some kind of structured mystical practice.
Being more of a literary environment, where the book is about the journey of the characters rather than an account of battles and fights, the opposition in this subgenre are rarely very powerful in objective terms because they can all be taken out by a single event, the better to move the story along.
A group of three Ogres in the woods may be a major danger, not just a brief encounter requiring a little sword sharpening after the fact, but conversely somehow manage to defeat themselves via sheer stupidity in a literary reversal. Even a major threat like a Dragon might be killed by a single arrow in the literature, which is clearly ludicrous within the scope of most Fantasy RPGs, even in HERO System games using hit-location multiples. The greatest evil in all the land cant survive having a piece of jewelry cut off of their finger; etc. etc.
If a GM wanted to model this trope, they should consider building most opponents with a major flaw or weakness which defeats them utterly if exploited.
The following options are assumed to be in effect for this paradigm.
Option Selected Option
No Formal Race Package or NCM   X Formal Race Package with NCM
END Cost = Active Points / 10   X END Cost = Active Points / 5
Knockback   X Knockdown
Generalized Damage P N Hit Location Damage
No Long Term Damage   ~ Injury & Impairment Damage
Literacy Standard   X Literacy Not Standard
Super Skills Available ~   No Super Skills Available
Combat Luck Allowed ~   No Combat Luck Allowed
No Deadly Blow Allowed   ~ Deadly Blow Allowed
No Armor Proficiency   X Armor Proficiency
No Skill Maxima 15- Skill Maxima
No STR Minima   X STR Minima
Equipment Costs Points   X Equipment Doesn't Cost Points
Bases & Vehicles Cost Points   X Bases & Vehicles Don't Cost Points
Followers Cost Points   X Follower Don't Cost Points
Superheroic CSL Conversion   X Heroic CSL Conversion
No Encumbrance   X Encumbrance
No Long Term Endurance   X Long Term Endurance
Normal Damage Default   X Killing Damage Default
~: Used in moderation
P: Player Characters, perhaps significant NPC's
N: Non Player Characters and "monsters"
Epic Fantasy characters get hurt occasionally and will sometimes have some residual damage from previous encounters. Magical Healing is rare for the mainstream, but somewhat more accessible to heroes. However, it is not uncommon for characters, particularly warrior types, to have a lot of BODY and the Rapid Healing Talent. 
As a side note, some popular source materials for this subgenre seem to have a penchant for "wounds that will never heal completely", but which don't really seem to have any actual effect on a character's performance beyond acting as an occasional story element. This sort of attack can be treated as a Drain vs. Body with the Fade rate bought down to per Century (or some suitably long time). It's use should be limited to major villains however. Thus a "Bracelet-Wight" might have a "Dagger" bought as a Drain vs. Body, OAF: Dagger rather than as an HKA for example.
It is assumed that new characters in this paradigm start with 50 Base Points and up to 50 points from Disadvantages. This value can be altered by the GM at will.
This paradigm is expected to be mid powered but cap out quickly due to a lower power level and slower progression. A GM can easily kick start the campaign to a higher level of play by granting Experience to characters to represent their status as veteran adventurers when the campaign starts, but this is not as common in this paradigm. Similarly the GM could downscale the characters to represent that they are somewhat green when the campaign starts
Another idea common to this paradigm is that not all characters start as equals; it is very common for members of a questing group to have widely different experience and backgrounds. A GM might consider allowing some characters to start with more Experience than others and then adjust for this over time in game by giving them proportionately less Experience.
The following chart vaguely indicates relative status levels by adjusted character points. The status titles are not intended to have any literal meaning; they are just intended to give an idea of the status of a character with that many character points.
Relative Status Base Max Disadvantage Points Starting Experience Max Starting Total Points
Sheltered Neophyte 25 25 0 50
Neophyte 50 25 0 75
*Youngblood 50 50 0 100
Seasoned Youngblood 50 50 25 125
Veteran 50 50 50 150
Seasoned Veteran 50 50 75 175
Hero 50 50 100 200
Champion 50 50 150 250
Famous 50 50 200 300
Legend 50 50 250 350+
* Assumed Default
This paradigm tends to be more Human centric. This isn't to say that there aren't more fantastic Race in existence; but if they do exist they tend to be more rare than in higher echelons of Fantasy. However, unlike Sword & Sorcery, if exotic Races do exist they tend to be definitely advantaged compared to Humans.
When exotic Races do exist in this paradigm, there tends to be a good deal of weight attached to one's Race; being an Elf or a Dwarf or something similar has a somewhat monolithic connotation. It is common for individuals to be thought of as being representative of their entire Race, and for Races to have well defined stereotypical behavior.
When exotic Races aren't prevalent, or less rarely when they are, this same pattern of group identity often is seen in the idea of Nationality, or else Humanity is separated into distinct subraces with identifiable attributes and flaws, or both. GM's might consider representing subraces of a key Race with separate Package Deals.
Default Assumptions
Human Elf Dwarf
Human (Physical)    
Common Options
Half Elf Elven Blooded Halfling
Numerous Magic Systems are appropriate to this paradigm; also many Magic Systems can be mixed and matched to good effect as well.
The Adeptology, Magecrafting, and Metier Magic Systems defined on this site are flexible and scaled at a range more or less appropriate the paradigm. The Spellweaving and Aldenari Magic Systems described on this site are also suitable to this paradigm, and there are several useful Magic Systems in print from other sources that are good fits for this paradigm as well. However, for convenience this paradigm assumes that Adeptology is in use by default. This form of Magic is very flexible and can be used to suit several in-game traditions of Magic, both Arcane and Divine, but has a high cost of entry and a requirement for access talents appropriate to a paradigm with few Spellcasters.
Optionally Magecraft is effective as a more aggressive and combat oriented Magic System, while the Metier Magic System is more structured and has the idea of many distinct styles of Magic built in to it. GM's desiring a more structured Magic System could swap in either one of those Magic Systems without effort, or even incorporate any two or all three into their setting.
Finally, Runeforgers are sometimes appropriate to this paradigm, but the GM will have to decide how prevalent he wants to make them since they do represent a source of Magic Items, which can be a concern to the overall tone of the setting.
Default Assumptions
Common Options
Magecraft Metier Runecrafting
Aldenari Spellweaving  
The concept of Profession is usually not very marked in this paradigm, or when present used more as a background idea than as a definitive part of a character. A character's Race and Nationality is usually much more important than their Profession. This paradigm also has less focus on combat in general; characters tend to be more Skills and Characteristics oriented.
Generally character's in this paradigm will tend to use the various Extension Packages, which are topically oriented, and the Base Packages which are more generic, rather than the Composite Packages presented on this site. Also, Epic campaigns usually involve a lot of travel, so characters tend to become adapted to travel and various environments.
The GM is encouraged to make Cultural Packages appropriate to their setting, and to make variations on generic Professions to model their distinctness across cultures.
Default Assumptions
Warriors Rogues Adepts  
Common Options
Mages Metierans Runecrafters Aldenari