Sometimes its not the genre but the way that a book presents the material. In this case The
Heroic Fantasy Handbook From Autarch tries its best to heal a nagging ulcer that has existed in the table top role playing game fantasy book fandom since the early days. That is the divide between the fans of High fantasy vs Low fantasy. There's also a similar divide between modern Dark Fantasy fans & pure pulp magazine fans. The sub divisions of hobbies & fandom also spills over in to Sword & Planet vs Heroic Fantasy books & so forth. All of this B.S. spilled over into the Appendix N of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide back in '79.
Basically its a way for others to turn their nose up at other people who are using the themes, ideas,etc. of any of the above to play adventures, campaigns, & games where the themes & elements of High Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Sword & Planet, Dark Fantasy, Pulp are used & mixed with gusto! Others haven't been playing their own campaigns 'the right way'.
Personally I think all of these definitions & divisions are manure! The Heroic Fantasy Handbook From Autarch takes the ideals of all of the above & boils them into a stew that focuses the lens of Heroic Fantasy in a set of actually playable & usable guidelines for the Adventurers, Conqueror, King retroclone system.
How does "The Heroic Fantasy Handbook" do this? Well, let's look at the actual definition of Heroic Fantasy from L. Sprague de Camp's introduction to the 1967 Ace edition of Conan (Robert E. Howard), p. 13.
""Heroic fantasy" is the name I have given to a subgenre of fiction, otherwise called the "sword-and-sorcery" story. It is a story of action and adventure laid in a more or less imaginary world, where magic works and where modern science and technology have not yet been discovered. The setting may (as in the Conan stories) be this Earth as it is conceived to have been long ago, or as it will be in the remote future, or it may be another planet or another dimension.
Such a story conbines [sic] the color and dash of the historical costume romance with the atavistic supernatural thrills of the weird, occult, or ghost story. When well done, it provides the purest fun of fiction of any kind. It is escape fiction wherein one escapes clear out of the real world into one where all men are strong, all women beautiful, all life adventurous, and all problems simple, and nobody even mentions the income tax or the dropout problem or socialized medicine."
"The Heroic Fantasy Handbook" does this by giving the players options that are patterned after the stories, novels, etc. of the subgenre itself while keeping the basics patterns & ideas that are found in the ACK's handbook in tact whist adding a set of 16 new character classes inspired by the archetypes of material. This isn't a quick coat of paint & bunch of OGL revamps but a loving & well thought out inspiration of material.
"The Heroic Fantasy Handbook" is well laid out & easy on the eye with a professional care toward its magick systems & PC options. This is a two hundred & twenty four page monster of a book with magics that reflect & heighten the ideals of the material presented in the the Adventurers, Conqueror, King retroclone system.
The eldritch magic system is a marriage of the magicks of Conan's Mythos with the temptations of hinted at in C.S. Lewis's Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe along side the weirdness of Tolkien. And all of this echos back to the world of ACK's.
The ceremonial magicks of "The Heroic Fantasy Handbook" give the magician a far more reaching & subtle mechanism for game play enabling players to give a heavy hand during play on monsters, rulers, and other enemies. This magick turns the wizard in question into a power to be reckoned with not only in life but in economics & during adventures.
There's more weirdness here with the implementation of spellsinging which is directly related to ACK's elves & it works to give the Elven enchanters more arcane muscle which they sorely need. There are over a hundred & fifty five spells here & this doesn't mean that "The Heroic Fantasy Handbook"
is another padded 'splat book'. "The Heroic Fantasy Handbook" is designed as an add on book for characters looking to be flesh out for play in a more complete campaign setting. There's lots of options here and all of them are actually usable.
This isn't a bull crap book trying to take your money. This is a book for adding more dimension to your ACK's characters & NPC's. This book is as much for the dungeon master as its for the players. Was the "The Heroic Fantasy Handbook" worth the wait? Yes it was! This is a five out of five book and no I'm not kidding. This is the book that I wish I had when I started my ACK's & OSR campaigns. Why because it works at what it does and that's kick ass & take names!
Why do I say this? Because if you want to run a down & dirty campaign with all of the elements of ACK's Sword & Sorcery mixed with a healthy dose of Tolkein then this is the book for you! If you want to run a straight up balls to the walls Sword & Planet campaign then your going to want the ACK's rule book & Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu. But you'll want "The Heroic Fantasy Handbook"to bring the thunder & lightning to the whole campaign affair.
While not necessary the ACKS Player's Companionhas several kick ass NPC options that can still kick the crap out the player's PC's such as the Anti paladin, dwarven fury, & a few others to put those Heroic types down!
Sorry but I'm going to give the "The Heroic Fantasy Handbook" a five out of five because its just that good!
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[5 of 5 Stars!]