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Sword and Sorcery

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"I live in a world of fire and sand. The crimson sun scorches the life from anything that crawls or flies, and storms of sand scour the foliage from the barren ground. This is a land of blood and dust, where tribes of feral elves sweep out of the salt plains to plunder lonely caravans, mysterious singing winds call travelers to slow suffocation in the Sea of Silt, and selfish kings squander their subjects' lives building gaudy palaces and garish tombs. This bleak wasteland is Athas, and it is my home."
The Wanderer, Dark Sun

A subgenre of Heroic Fantasy, with which it is often lumped together, but having its own distinguishing characteristics. Coined by Fritz Leiber in the early '60s to define the style of his own works and those writers that inspired him, and to differentiate it from other works described as Heroic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery is a genre of fantasy that is often considerably less glamorous and all about fast-paced action. Almost universally, Sword & Sorcery stories are about mighty warriors fighting supernatural horrors with blade in hand, either an Eldritch Abomination or Evil Sorcerer. Any political or criminal leaders are usually merely an Unwitting Pawn of a much darker power. Many victories will be by the skin of their teeth and usually won more through quick thinking and cleverness rather than physical might. There will be at least a few times where they cut their losses and bail on a fight, and they will have at least one Run or Die moment when they recognize that a threat is way out of their league. While they may have genuine allies here and there, they know better than to trust most people; as far as they are concerned, everyone they meet has a hidden dagger in their clutches until proven otherwise, and even then, they are usually still prepared for betrayal at some point.

Sword & Sorcery protagonists can usually be identified by three main traits, which separate them from most heroes from Heroic Fantasy:

Robert E. Howard is widely seen as the Trope Maker of the genre, with Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock being the Trope Codifiers a generation later. Many famous stories were first published in Pulp Magazines and short story anthologies are still a popular form of the genre.

If the heroes of a story are actually heroic and morally unambiguous, it's probably Heroic Fantasy. If there is only a low supernatural presence, it is most likely Low Fantasy. Can sometimes overlap with Dark Fantasy. See also Wuxia and Sword and Sandal, the Chinese and Bronze Age Mediterranean versions (respectively) of the genre, both with very strong overlaps.

Not to be confused with Sword and Sorcerer, which is a character duo trope.

Common tropes in Sword & Sorcery:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk, particularly in the Black Swordsman arc at the start of the story. Though it mainly veers straight into Dark Fantasy and Cosmic Horror.
  • Claymore: The titular Claymores are warrior women who hunt monsters called Yoma but are shunned by humans for being part-Yoma themselves.

    Comic Books 
  • Conan the Barbarian, naturally.
  • Red Sonja.
  • The Tales of the Jedi series is quite different in style from most Star Wars stories and has very stong allusions to Sword & Sorcery, being set 5,000 to 4,000 years before the rest of the Expanded Universe. Being the stories of the ancient Sith, it's full of demonic-looking evil sorcerers, their huge palaces and temples, and alchemy.
  • The flashback stories featuring the prehistoric Avengers in Jason Aaron's The Avengers run.
  • Cerebus the Aardvark started off as a parody of Conan, then became a more general Black Comedy Satire and then...something far stranger.
  • The Goddamned has elements of the genre. A morally-grey Barbarian Hero with nothing but bones for weapons, Amazonian Beauties, a Sandal Punk setting full of giant beasts of dubious physiologies, barbaric Frazetta Men, giants, cults and cult-leaders, curses and the duality between faith in oneself and a higher power.



    Live Action TV 

  • Heavy Metal band Eternal Champion's albums chronicle the adventures of Ultimate Blacksmith Rænon, and his forging of the Godblade against the Mad God Brakur.
  • GWAR positively adores this trope - especially in their 2001 album, Violence Has Arrived.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, a retro-clone of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Atlantis: The Second Age, which awards experience depending on how heroically you slay your enemies and revolves heavily around mechanics that require you to do outrageous and badass things the whole time.
  • Barbarians of Lemuria.
  • There have been plenty of Conan RPGs over the years, with another one currently being published by Modiphius Entertainment.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The game's roots are in this genre, with Gary Gygax claiming the game owes more to Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber and Jack Vance than to Tolkien.
    • The Dark Sun setting specifically aims to emulate old pulp stories and is heavily influenced by John Carter of Mars, as well as Conan the Barbarian.
  • As does On Mighty Thews, which even comes with a list of substitutions to make things more pulpy.
  • Primeval Thule is a campaign setting set in the world of Robert Howard's Conan the Barbarian and Kull (with a bit of the Cthulhu Mythos thrown in) but taking place in a time between them, on the tropical continent of Greenland.

    Video Games 
  • Age of Conan, obviously.
  • Bound by Flame: Even though the goal of the protagonist is to prevent the destruction of what little is left of the world, Vulcan keeps fighting the Ice Lords mostly out of self-preservation, rather than saving the world.
  • Diablo: The first game more than the second and third, which grew more into Epic Fantasy.
  • Disco Elysium has the book series Hjelmdallerman, the Man from Hjelmdall, which is a Stylistic Suck parody of the genre, with Hjelmdallerman himself being a blatant Conan-knockoff.
  • Ecstatica: A traveller stumbles into a town ravaged by eldritch beasts, and must fight their way out using swords and magic.
  • God of War is epic in scale and revolves around a war of the gods, but Kratos is really only out for revenge and nothing else, simply not caring for the cataclysmic destruction following in his wake.
  • Heavenly Sword: A young warrior claims an ancient magical sword to rescue her father from the evil sorcerer and his monstrous henchmen, even though the spirits of the weapon are likely to doom her.
  • Icewind Dale: A group of mercenaries sets out to find the power behind the monsters and unnatural winter coming from the mountains.
  • Legacy of Kain: While lots of people are trying to convince him to fulfill his destiny and restore balance to the world, Kain really is only after personal power and revenge against those who got in his way. Raziel is somewhat more noble, but also mostly motivated by getting back at those who wronged him.
  • The Witcher video game series (also includes Assassins of Kings and Wild Hunt), much like the books they are based on: A lone monster hunter hunting a sorcerer who stole the alchemical secrets from the witchers.

    Western Animation