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Skip Navigation LinksHigh Fantasy HERO>Content>Campaign Guidelines>Campaign Paradigms>Sword & Sorcery Fantasy
Sword & Sorcery Fantasy
This paradigm represents a generic Sword & Sorcery 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".
Sword & Sorcery is akin to High Fantasy, but the Magic tends to be toned down. In some settings the two paradigms represent separate eras or ages. In some settings a Sword & Sorcery paradigm evolves into a High Fantasy paradigm over time, and in others a High Fantasy paradigm collapsed into a Sword & Sorcery paradigm due to some disaster or event.
Most sources for Sword & Sorcery are literary, and include the works of Howard, Lieber, and Moorcock, and several movies from the eighties such as Conan, Ladyhawk, Red Sonja, Willow, and Dragonslayer. Sword & Sorcery hasn't been much in vogue in recent decades, but aspects of it can be seen in some of the writings of modern authors like Brust, Gemmel, and Goodkind. Role-playing forays into this arena are usually based on a literary source, and include versions of Conan and Dragonlords of Melnibone, but there are some original examples such as the Riddle of Steel. Also, the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting for D&D can be played as more of a Sword & Sorcery setting rather than as High Fantasy.
Magic Items of real power tend to be very rare, and are frequently relics of a bygone (and more powerful) Age. More prevalent Magic Items tend to be lower powered and/or expendable. If a character acquires an actual Permanent Magic Item (as opposed to an Ephemeral Magic Item) with a useful ability they should consider themselves lucky but will also likely need to defend it from the avaricious. Often a character with some pluck that is fortunate enough to acquire a useful Magic Item will go on to make a name for themselves, and many such items have well known histories surrounding them stemming from a string of notable owners.
Due in part to being a warrior dominated paradigm, and lacking quantities of magical weapons, subtle differences in the construction of mundane weapons is often an important subject in Sword & Sorcery campaigns. A GM should consider giving some weight to the materials used to construct weapons and a few minor pros and cons for good or shoddy craftsmanship.
The order of Sword & Sorcery should be taken literally. Magic is present but takes a back seat to muscle and skill; in a direct confrontation, a swordsman will usually defeat a Spellcaster. Magic is often insidious and capable of noteworthy effects, but unlike High Fantasy these effects are rarely fast, or combat practical, or reliable. On the plus side however few people have any defense against Magic, or Magic Items of their own, so Spellcasters have an effective near-monopoly on Magic.
As a side effect of the focus of the paradigm, high strength characters will tend to be extremely prevalent in most Sword & Sorcery campaigns. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it can have some unintentional side effects that can do anything from destabilize the game to outright ruin the GM's intended tone and feel.
Aside from the boring sameness of many meat puppet warrior types, one of the main issues is that high strength allows characters to effectively ignore Encumbrance, which allows them to strut around in full plate as if it were flannel. Most Sword & Sorcery campaigns are slanted at more of a bare-chested barbarian feel, and characters strolling around with an ironmongery on their back is obviously counter to that intention.
There are several ways to control this behavior if a GM is so inclined. The most direct way is to simply control the economy and equipment list in use so that such items are either not available at all or are extremely rare and ridiculously expensive to own and maintain. This is a "natural" balancing technique and works well in most cases. However a GM could alternately assess stiff detriments to Armor use in the form of DEX, DCV, and/or Movement penalties to discourage the trend.
Coming at the problem from the other direction, the GM could do something a little more drastic like change the cost of STR to 2 points per point, or set the STR Maxima to 15. This kind of fix can cause secondary issues, such as if the GM is using HERO Designer to track characters, but it does work well to limit the number of beef monkeys in a campaign. Care should be taken to balance such a change against other Characteristics.
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   X 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   14- 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
Sword & Sorcery Fantasy characters get hurt often and in fact will often have some residual damage from previous encounters. Magical Healing is usually pretty rare, and either not very effective or comes with a cost even when it can be attained. However, it is not uncommon for characters, particularly warrior types, to have a lot of BODY and the Rapid Healing Talent. 
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 higher mortality rate and lower power level. 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
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 Races in existence; but if they do exist they tend to be more rare, come in fewer varieties, and be less advantaged than in higher echelons of Fantasy. In fact, non-Human races are sometimes depicted as having significant flaws in addition to any advantages.
Default Assumptions
Human Human (Physical)  
Common Options
Elf Dwarf Half Elf
Halfling Half Orc  
Numerous Magic Systems are appropriate to Sword & Sorcery; also many Magic Systems can be mixed and matched to good effect as well.
The Spellweaving, Magecrafting, and Metier Magic Systems defined on this site are flexible and scaled at a range more or less appropriate the paradigm. 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 Spellweaving is in use by default. This form of Magic is very customizable to suit several in-game traditions of Magic, both Arcane and Divine.
As an option, Magecraft is effective as a more aggressive and combat oriented Magic System, but it is definitely at the higher end of a Magic System suitable for this paradigm. The Metier Magic System is roughly between Magecraft and Spellweaving in terms of its overall capability. GM's desiring a little more Magic 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 often 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
A variety of Professions are appropriate to this paradigm, but not as many as is more common in higher echelons of Fantasy. An interesting trend in this paradigm is that people tend to be identified more strongly by their nation of origin; this frequently carriers over into the concept of their Profession. Thus warriors from country X are likely equipped and fight similarly, and are distinctive from the warriors from country Y..
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 Spellweavers Priests
Common Options
Mages Metierans Runecrafters