I have long been seeking what I would call, my ultimate version of Dungeons & Dragons. I have tried many, many systems ranging from the various editions of D&D (from 2nd to 5th editions) all the way to the indie clones (Dungeon World, White Hack, Torchbearer), the OSR systems (including Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord) and modern takes on the genre of traditional fantasy (Pathfinder, Fantasy Age, Dungeon Crawl Classics).
I can say, with all honesty, that they pale in comparison to this marvellous work by Mr Spahn. The Hero's Journey manages to capture that "feel" of D&D fantasy that other systems have tried to nail but haven't quite managed. The writing is concise, friendly and informal without being bogged down with colloquialisms or excess chatter. The rule system is simple and, once grokked, intuitive enough for old hands and beginners alike. The layout is crisp with some lovely artwork by none other than Mr Larry Elmore (I adore the front cover art; a Tolkien-esque tribute if ever I saw one!).
A perfect selection of races and classes is presented along with a profession system which harkens back to secondary skills of earlier editions. I like it. I like it a lot.
Alongside this there is an ample bestiary, a modest spell selection and some very spot-on advice for getting a game off the ground applicable to both veterans and rookies alike. James pitches at just the right level; inclusive and useful with no wasted words or dry prose. Moreover this is not a game that attempts to overwhelm readers. It keeps things simple and then enourages readers to journey towards the campaign of their desires; be that epic or modest in scope.
What else can I say? If I had any wishes for this book it would be information on creating specialist clerics, a larger spell list (including magic missile!) and more beasties. Then again, it is already so well packed that I have no complaints, only requests for more! I would love, love to see a companion volume to this along with extra rules options, more spells, beasties & deities.
To summarise: Mr Spahn has knocked this one completely out of the park. A wonderul piece of work, a terrific game; not just an homage to old-school D&D but, dare I say it, something that takes the old torch and re-lights it, paving the way through dungeons anew and then passing it forward for a whole new generation of adventurers to enjoy.
[5 of 5 Stars!]