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Skip Navigation LinksHigh Fantasy HERO>Content>Campaign Guidelines>Campaign Paradigms
Campaign Paradigms
Paradigms Scale Dark Fantasy
This document contains suggestions on how to define high level campaign ground rules and assumptions for running different sorts of Fantasy HERO Campaigns
Fantasy is a broad and rich genre with numerous subgenres that focus on various aspects of the larger concept. This document identifies five major subgenres and presents the idea of "paradigms" within them. An ancillary document is provided for each subgenre that defines an assumed default paradigm for that subgenre. In addition to serving as ready to use paradigms for GM's, they also serve as examples of what to consider for their own unique paradigms within that subgenre, or as a good starting point ready for tweaking to suit the GM's preferences.
Super Fantasy High Fantasy Sword & Sorcery Fantasy
Epic Fantasy Low Fantasy Paradigm Worksheet
Paradigms are roughly equivalent to subgenres, but are a little more specific. A subgenre could contain multiple paradigms, which is to say a number of different paradigms could be very similar and all fit within the same basic subgenre. For instance two different GM's might run Sword & Sorcery campaigns, but with different assumptions and nuances; they are separate paradigms within the same subgenre.
Starting a campaign requires a GM to make a lot of decisions about what kind of setting they are using, the starting points of the characters, how prevalent Magic is, what kind of Magic Systems are available, what Races and Professions are appropriate, and so on.
For some GM's these decisions come as easy as breathing, but for others they can be quite a chore, and new GM's in particular are often unsure of what is appropriate. The purpose of this document is to offer up some easily adopted Campaign Paradigms to help GM's get their campaign going. The intention is for a GM to either use a paradigm in it's entirety, or adapt one to serve as a starting point, and anything in between. A Paradigm Worksheet is provided for GM's that want to define their own Paradigm for their campaign.
Each of the paradigms provided has several categories of information presented. One of the most significant is a block of "assumptions" such as the following.
Option Selected Option
No Formal Race Package or NCM     Formal Race Package with NCM
END Cost = Active Points / 10     END Cost = Active Points / 5
Knockback     Knockdown
Generalized Damage     Hit Location Damage
No Long Term Damage     Injury & Impairment Damage
Literacy Standard     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     Armor Proficiency
No Skill Maxima     Skill Maxima
No STR Minima     STR Minima
Equipment Costs Points     Equipment Doesn't Cost Points
Bases & Vehicles Cost Points     Bases & Vehicles Don't Cost Points
Followers Cost Points     Follower Don't Cost Points
Superheroic CSL Conversion     Heroic CSL Conversion
No Encumbrance     Encumbrance
No Long Term Endurance     Long Term Endurance
Normal Damage Default     Killing Damage Default
Each line item reflects an assumption about campaign ground rules that are in effect in that paradigm. Typically one side or the other will be marked with an "X", showing which option is assumed to be used. Individual GM's can obviously override the assumed behavior.
Generally speaking, the left hand side items represent more of a "Superheroic" implementation, while those on the right represent a more "Heroic" implementation; higher echelons of Fantasy tend to fall more to the left side of the chart and lower echelons of Fantasy tend to fall more to the right.
Also included as part of Assumptions is a detailed section discussing  the typical prevalence of Magical Healing in paradigm, which can have a massive effect on the tone and mortality of a campaign.
Each paradigm includes a section specifically discussing key ideas that relate to it. This section is intended as advice to GM's, but like all advice can be ignored at will.
An important concept to consider when discussing Fantasy implementation is the matter of scale, which is typically categorized as "High" and "Low". Generally campaigns are referred to as being either "High" and "Low", and it is not always clear what the distinction is based on.
Basically the term refers to the ratio a Fantasy campaign has between the realistic and the fantastic. Campaigns that have a higher ratio of fantastic elements are "High", while those that have a lower ratio are "Low"
Typically this ratio is also mirrored in the power level of the campaign, but this is more of an ancillary effect. You could have a high powered "Low Fantasy" campaign or a low powered "High Fantasy" campaign, this isn't very common however since the higher the power level of individual characters the more capable and less realistic they become.
Dark Fantasy
Fantasy is a genre, and it contains multiple subgenres, which in turn contain multiple paradigms. Running across this model is the idea of meta-genres that span multiple paradigms, genres, and subgenres. Meta-genres include the concepts of Romantic, Horror, Mystery, Comedy, and Tragedy. All of these meta-genres can theoretically be applied to some degree to Fantasy but the most commonly applied is Horror; the use of Horror in Fantasy is typically referred to as "Dark Fantasy".
Any paradigm of Fantasy can be "Dark". There is no intrinsic element preventing Dark Super Fantasy or Dark High Fantasy. Since one of the basic ideas of Dark Fantasy is that the characters should be afraid and in danger, it is more difficult to execute in higher powered campaigns, but it is not impossible.
To implement a Dark Fantasy, simply pick a paradigm and add some Horror elements to it. Some key ideas that can help a GM do this follow.
Perhaps the main theme of Dark Fantasy is that the heroes, or often just the protagonists (as many Dark Fantasy PC's are not exactly "heroes" per se) are basically at a serious disadvantage. The opposition they face, or sometimes even the very environment are inimical to them, and success is the exception rather than the rule. Nothing comes easy in Dark Fantasy, and everything has a cost, usually assessed as a loss of "humanity". Power corrupts rather than empowers, and few things are what they seem to be.
A lot of this is just "flavoring" by the GM, with little to no mechanical effect. However, of course any Magic System used in such a setting would need to be tweaked to reflect this overall theme of "nothing good can come of the pursuit of power".
 Often the Magic in place in such a setting is directly linked to whatever dark forces infest the setting. Because of this it is difficult to give specific examples as its impossible to estimate what effect an individual GM would be going for, but as a general rule Magic that hurts or limits Magic Users in some way via Side Effects and/or that require a sacrifice of some sort (whether literal or metaphysical...or both) are appropriate.
For an example of a Dark Epic Fantasy setting, reference the Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing Game; a detailed conversion with enough content to serve as the basis of a HERO System campaign is provided here.