This probably should have been my first post on this subject and not the third, but now I am getting around to it and hopefully clear some things up for the future, as I think this is probably going to be something of an ongoing theme here.
Hope & Heroism isn’t any kind of established fantasy genre. I actually made it up just this week.
Why do such a thing? Isn’t that really pretentious from some nobody who hasn’t published anything yet? Well, yes it is, but I think there’s still a good reason. When I gave up on the d20 System and the kind of fantasy RPGs that are being published by Wizards of the Coast and Paizo a few years back, I went from Myth & Magic through Castles & Crusades and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea to Barbarians of Lemuria and on to Fantasy Age. But eventually I came to the venerable Basic/Expert rules of D&D that are even older than I am and the most simple system I’ve ever seen (after RISUS). And looking for a version that comes with sensible modern improvements like increasing AC (Decreasing AC is dumb! And it was dumb back in 1974!) I eventually chose Lamentations of the Flame Princess over Basic Fantasy (It was the thief skills that won me over.)
That’s how I got in contact with the LotFP adventures and their Weird Fantasy style, and I found something that I’ve always been missing in RPGs. I am still not really sure what it is, but I think it’s an appearance of some kind of greater cerebral depths that sets them apart from regular fantasy elfgames. Sure, a lot of the earlier stuff was junk, but I still appreciated the effort and could see the honest attempt to be something more. But Weird Fantasy is not what I really want out of a roleplaying game. It’s all soo bleak and grotesque in a way that just doesn’t seem fun. Interesting certainly, and probably fascinating, but not fun.
Another effort to take D&D type games in another direction away from just killing people and taking their stuff and then patting each other on the shoulder that happened a few years before the whole OSR thing gor of the ground was Green Ronin’s Blue Rose setting that they marketed as Romantic Fantasy. A term freshly invented to summarize the kind of fantasy novels it draws from and give an impression of what people can expect from them. But again, though I appreciate the attempt, the execution is not what I am looking for. Even though I had been looking for ideas to get some of my mostly female friends who are interested in fantasy but not about monster slaying into RPGs, Blue Rose clearly wasn’t the way to do it. It’s peaceful egalitarian setting of love and respect always seemed just way too sappy to me.
But now just a few days back I read a very interesting post that describes Romantic Fantasy as something broader than just princesses and unicorns and girls falling in love with dashing heroes and heroines. And I think Joseph’s approach to thinking about fantasy that follows the ideals of Romantic Fantasy lines up very much with my own. What I am calling Hope & Heroism is basically the same thing that he describes as Romantic Fantasy.
So why not just go along with that and call it Romantic Fantasy, too? Because for everything outside of Blue Rose and its source material, it’s a really awful term. The word romance has become so closely associated with love stories these days that few people even know about its earlier meaning. I think the last time it was used to simply mean Fantasy as it had been for centuries before was with the Planetary Romance genre, which today is much better known as Sword & Planet. For Blue Rose the association with love stories is not a problem because that interpretation also works. But for everyone else the term Romantic Fantasy is much more of a liability than a benefit. Of those people who encounter the term Romantic Fantasy for the first time, only those intrigued by fantasy love stories will even take a second look at what you’re presenting. It won’t gain you an audience but probably lose a lot of potential readers. Something else is needed and after discussing it for a few days with other people the term Hope & Heroism emerged as the most popular substitution. I am not a big fan of X & X titles, but it just emerged that way and once you’ve started using a term for a while it feels odd to change it. But other than that I think it’s a pretty good one. It’s snappy, it says what it is about on the tin, and you can use it in a sentence as a descriptor in a way that makes grammatically sense. So Hope & Heroism it is. What is it really about?
It really starts with my idea of an ideal fantasy hero and the kinds of conflicts that make for meaningful fantasy stories. What does that include in practice?
- The heroes seek to restore peace and order over destroying evil.
- The heroes get involved when witnessing injustice.
- The heroes aim to be examples to others.
- The conflicts have sources that won’t go away by killing the enemy leader.
- Mercy and offerings of peace will pay out in the long run.
- Violence can help to get out of a tight spot but will always mean more trouble down the line.
- The antagonists have various reasons to fight and at least some of them can be persuaded to change to other methods.
- Heroes will sometimes fail, but having tried is what matters.
- The heroes give and risk more than can be reasonably expected of them. (That’s what makes them heroic.)
Is this a new genre? Not exactly. This is not a new branch in the taxonomic system of fiction genres. This is much more like a new circle drawn on an extremely messy Venn diagram of fantasy styles. Hope & Heroism is a group of certain qualities that have been existing in works for ages. Nothing new has beem created, only discovered. And it might not even be new. The link I put above shows at least one person did it before me.
The type specimen of what I think of as Hope & Heroism is the movie Princess Mononoke. I thknk it has everything that I consider important. Other great works that I consider great examples are the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; the TV shows Avatar, Seirei no Moribito, and Rune Soldier; the videogame series Mass Effect (at least when following mostly the Paragon path) and the main plotlines of the games Witcher 2 and Witcher 3 (there’s way too much combat between scenes for my taste). My love for Mass Effect was actually reason I got interested in doing more with fantasy than just destroying evil monsters.
From what I’ve seen in recent years, there seems to be a lot of people looking for something more in RPGs. Both Weird Fantasy and Romantic Fantasy are probably too niche to ever become widely popular. But I think Hope & Heroism is much closer to the RPG mainstream and might be of interest to a wider range of people. I think it’s certainly an approach worth sharing and a convenient name for it could only help. Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on over time?