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.
One of the three typical settings for fantasy literature. High Fantasy
usually focuses on the epic struggle between absolute good and absolute evil, and the characters are thrust in the midst. Low Fantasy
portrays the struggle of characters to achieve their own personal goals, ranging from questionable
to decidedly unsavory
Heroic Fantasy sits somewhere in between. It tends to be distinguishable from High Fantasy
by its scale — the problems are generally those of the heroes, not the world. Kingdoms and societies are portrayed mainly to the extent the heroes have an impact on them. On the other hand, it's distinct from Low Fantasy
as well in that the heroes are actually heroic
and their goals are morally sound or, at the very least, not overtly objectionable. An Anti-Hero
in this setting is more likely to be a Loveable Rogue
than a Well-Intentioned Extremist
The setting differs as well: it is neither fragile and in need of saving
, nor a Crapsack World
with wickedness Inherent in the System
- rather, it's an ambiguous place, characterized more than anything by being an Adventure-Friendly World
, with much untamed wilderness to travel through
, quests to undertake
and dungeons to delve
. Therefore, the heroes are very likely to encounter magic and fantastic elements, assuming they aren't prevalent in the setting to begin with.
The first story of this type
is often considered to by Lord Dunsany
's "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth" from 1908, but it is 1929's "The Shadow Kingdom
" by Robert E. Howard
that is responsible for kick-starting the genre proper
. Howard himself would later go on to codify
the genre with his Conan the Barbarian
Heavily influenced by The 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
Often lumped together with Sword and Sorcery
, a genre coined by Fritz Leiber
. Unkind souls have described Heroic Fantasy as nothing but an upmarket term for Sword & Sorcery, though Leiber deliberately created it to set his stories and similar works by other writers apart from the general field of Heroic Fantasy.
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.
See also Two-Fisted Tales
, Pulp Magazine
Heroic and epic Fantasy of Chinese cultural origin is known as Wuxia
Contrast Sword And Sandals
. 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
Perhaps you would be interested in writing one yourself?
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Anime & Manga
- Crimson Spell combines Heroic Fantasy with the Yaoi genre.
- Arguably Berserk goes from Low Fantasy to a heroic but dark fantasy at the end of the Golden Age arc where all the demons start coming out and become the main source of conflict.
- Or it was Heroic Fantasy all along without the characters noticing. After all Zodd the Immortal didn't exactly keep his existence a secret.
- Fairy Tail focuses on the eponymous guild of wizard adventurers and the various quests they undertake for fun and profit.
- Rune Soldier is a comedic Heroic Fantasy spin-off of the high fantasy Record of Lodoss War.
- Fullmetal Alchemist started as this, though it quickly veered into High Fantasy territory. The 2003 anime version, on the other hand, stuck with Heroic Fantasy.
- Seirei no Moribito: While it later turns out that the fate of the kingdom is at stake, the story follows a lone mercenary on the run, who is trying to hide the prince from assassins send after him by his own father.
- The Tower of Druaga
- Queen's Blade. The heroines rarely have magic on their side while the villains do and often the only way to win a fight is through sword battles. While there is a grand plot involving the fate of the land, the heroines are largely unaware of it and just want to fulfill their personal desires.
- Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis was an attempt to make the titular character's comic this genre.
- Mouse Guard: Heroic fantasy with mice soldiers.
- Red Sonja.
- Quite averted in With Strings Attached, which is partially set on a continent that was once a place of Heroic Fantasy. However, by the time the four find themselves there, the skahs warriors have long since wiped out any threats, and are going crazy with boredom because they have nothing to do and refuse to become civilians. A major goal of some of the secondary characters is finding a way to restock the continent with monsters, since the gods refuse to do it.
- Played much more straight on Jim Hunter's world, but that's because it was built by a gamer.
Live Action TV
- 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.
- As does On Mighty Thews, which even comes with a list of substitutions to make things more pulpy.
- Exalted is what you get when you combine this with the tropes of wuxia, ancient myth, and a dash of shonen anime style to taste.
- Dragon Age. While the first game has a "unite the people to fight an army of evil" main plot, the side plots that make up the biggest chunk of the game follow the genre pretty straight. The second game focuses completely on a single protagonist rising in power within the hierarchy of one city, with the main factions being Templar (sword) and Mage (spell).
- Demons Souls
- Sword And Sorcery EP
- God of War plays it pretty straight, though starting with the second game the scope of the events becomes considerably bigger, as it grows into a full blown war among the gods.
- Prince of Persia
- The Reconstruction (Deconstruction, ironically)
- Fantasy Quest
- The Witcher: A lone monster hunter hunting a sorcerer who stole the alchemical secrets from the witchers.
- Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior
- Monster Hunter is mostly this as well. The levels of mysticism are very slight (down to the special mode of the Longsword in Tri and its derivatives), but everything else is totally straight: minimal overarching plot, for the most part its just a world where people make a living slaying or capturing giant monsters for the chance at building more weaponry with which to slay or capture tougher giant monsters.
- Skies of Arcadia is a Reconstruction of this setting, with Schizo Tech and Ocean Punk thrown in for flavour. Much of the world is equivalent to the real world 15th/16th Century, but there's also fantastical creatures, adventurers and explorers, myths, and widespread use of magic and magical weaponry. Not to mention the Sky Pirates, of course.