What is Heroic Fantasy?

Heroes (and anti-heroes) make up the pages of Heroic Fantasy. It is defining quality of the subgenre set in worlds where magic and monsters exist, modern technology may or may not exist, and where heroes usually save the day.

The classic example of this is the Sword & Sorcery hero "Conan the Barbarian", but therein lies some interesting arguments because some people argue that Conan is actually an anti-hero because he doesn't exactly fit the description of a flawless hero.

Yes, Conan is strong, usually honourable, but he is also a thief, a pirate, a mercenary and a freebooter.

The defining characteristic of Heroic Fantasy therefore is the central hero (or heroes) as part of the plot.

The Sword & Sorcery subgenre however does differ somewhat in definition, because a Sword & Sorcery book doesn't necessarily need to have a hero. It could have a villain as the main character. Sword & Sorcery really just needs a swashbuckling-type protagonist, who could be a hero, anti-hero or villain, and various obstacles to be overcome - one of which is usually magic or dark magic.

Heroic Fantasy differs because it doesn't need the magic element. It could have monsters instead, or perhaps horror elements, but no magic. Magic isn't a necessity for it to be Heroic Fantasy. It does however require a Hero or Heroes (or Anti-Hero[es]). That part is at least mandatory.

Heroic Fantasy, as implied, also means that good needs to triumph over evil... Unlike dark fantasy where evil sometimes wins. Sometimes, not always.


A good example of this is the Michael Moorcock series of Elric of Melnibone books (Stormbringer, etc) in which Elric often tries to do good, but the intelligent sword Stormbringer is doing evil during the process and often winning in the long run.

Thus that particular series is a good example of Sword & Sorcery and Dark Fantasy, and Elric himself is an anti-hero, so it technically also qualifies as Heroic Fantasy even though the sword is usually winning in the long run of things.

Bram Stoker's Dracula technically falls into the category of Heroic Fantasy. The heroes win. Dracula loses. It is a Dark Fantasy / Heroic Fantasy story.

Multiple Subgenres often peacefully co-exist. Hence why Sword & Sorcery books are often also Heroic Fantasy.

Eg. High Fantasy just means that there is a lot of magic, monsters, etc in the story. Harry Potter for example is definitely High Fantasy. But it is also Heroic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy. Some of the books even qualify to be Dark Fantasy due to the theme of evil winning in that book and/or an abundance of undead / dark fantasy themes.

Heroic Fantasy often focuses on characters who come from humble beginnings. The farmhand who becomes the Dread Pirate Roberts and saves a princess from being married to an evil prince. The moisture farm boy who goes off to fight the evil empire and becomes a Jedi Knight. The swordsmith's apprentice who ends up going on a high seas adventure fighting undead pirates.

Yep, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, and the Pirates of the Caribbean are all technically Heroic Fantasy.

Shrek? Heroic Fantasy. Definitely an anti-hero.

Many heroes from fairy tales, fables and myths are also playing a role in Heroic Fantasy stories. Jack and the Beanstalk.

Sometimes the hero will be of royal stock but not know it. Or perhaps they are simply really short and are farmers. Or gardeners.

Bilbo? Frodo? Samwise? Yep, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are also Heroic Fantasy (in addition to being Epic Fantasy).

Basically if it has a hero in the story and it is a fantasy story (due to magic, monsters, etc) then it is Heroic Fantasy.

The film "Avatar" is arguably a Heroic Fantasy because of the "magic" abilities of the trees and animals of that world. So are Smurfs. He-Man. Hercules. Xena. Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The term "Heroic Fantasy" was coined by author/editor L. Sprague de Camp. Below is his definition of the hallmarks of the subgenre.

"Heroic fantasy" is the name I have given to a subgenre of fantasy, 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 combines 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.

— L. Sprague de Camp, introduction to the 1967 Ace edition of Conan (Robert E. Howard), p. 13.


Yes, that is another important aspect of Heroic Fantasy. Escapism is wonderful. We live in a world which is entirely too realistic sometimes and it is really nice to escape to a world where heroes usually save the day.

How Rare is a Paladin? (By the Numbers, 2nd Edition AD&D)

How rare are paladins? Or rather, how rare should they be?

If 2nd Edition AD&D is the reference, paladins are pretty rare. The stat requirements alone indicate that paladins are certainly not average:

Strength 12, Constitution 9, Wisdom 13, Charisma 17.

Getting a 9 Con isn't hard, and while 12 Str and 13 Wis is certainly above average, they're not difficult to get. It is the 17 Charisma that everyone knows is a challenge.

When rolling 3d6 getting a 17 Charisma requires rolling two sixes plus either a 5 or a 6 on the third dice. Getting a 17 or 18 are equally difficult when rolling 3d6 because there's only 2 ways to do it. Either 665 or 666. That's it. As anyone who has studied Finite Math knows, the order doesn't matter. 566 is still as equally hard to roll as 665. We are just organizing them in numerological order to keep it simple.

In contrast rolling a 16 is much easier. There are two ways to do it: 664 or 655.

And 15? Three ways to do that: 663, 654, 555.

Any character class with a stat requirement of 15 or higher is therefore pretty rare, as there is only so many ways to roll the stats needed to be a Druid or a Paladin, with paladins obviously being far more rare. Druids only need a 15 Charisma and there are 7 ways to roll that on 3d6. Paladins need a 17 or higher, so druids logically would be 3.5 times more common than paladins. At least that, because don't forget the paladin also needs to fulfill the Str, Con and Wis requirements.

And compared to commoners walking around with average stats of 10.5? Well, let's just say that being a peasant has no stat requirements other than being alive.

14: 662, 653, 644, 554

13: 661, 652, 643, 553, 544

12: 651, 642, 633, 552, 543, 444

11: 641, 632, 551, 542, 533, 443

10: 631, 622, 541, 532, 442, 433

9: 621, 531, 522, 441, 432, 333

And so on.

Basically there are twenty-four different ways to roll numbers between 9 and 12 on 3d6, but there are only sixteen ways to roll a stat of 13 or higher. And consequently, only sixteen ways to roll a 8 or lower. So only 56 possible rolls. Out of which only a 17 or 18 Charisma can be a paladin, so there's only 2 out of 56 ways to get the necessary Charisma requirement on 3d6.

So 3.57% of people would have the necessary Charisma.

Only 22 of 56 rolls would garner at 12 Str or higher, so 39.2% of people would be strong enough.

40 out of 56 would have 9 Con or higher, so 71.4%.

And 16 out of 56 would have 13 Wis or higher, so 28.6%.

The chances of getting ALL four of these stat requirements???

Roughly 0.286%. I ran the math twice to double check.

So out of 400 people rolled using the 3d6 dice method, only 1 person would have the necessary stats to potentially become a paladin.

So what about Alignment?

Not everyone is fit to be a paladin, even if they do have the necessary stats.

Being Lawful Good should be fairly rare, depending upon the fantasy world. Eg. Practically non-existent in a world like Dark Sun, but more common in a region like Solamnia in the Dragonlance world of Krynn. Or very common in a world like Eternia (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, etc).

But if we fudge the averages a bit for argument's sake, the "average fantasy world" should have lots of people who are Neutral in alignment, with almost equal numbers of good and evil people.

Say: 30% good, 40% neutral, 30% evil.

It is fairly safe to say that in an "average" fantasy world there should be more neutral people than there is good people, and likewise evil people. But not necessarily more than both.

Likewise not everyone is lawful or chaotic. Many people are neutral in that respect. Thus it would be safe to say that lawful, neutral and chaotic people might be divided like so:

30% lawful, 40% neutral, 30% chaotic.

So even amongst a society of only Good people, only 30% of them would be Lawful Good.

And that compared to the average fantasy world only about 9% of people would be LG.

Taken together?

So only 1 in 400 people would have the necessary stats to be a paladin, but only 1 in 11 people would have the alignment requirement.

So only 1 in 4400 people could potentially become a paladin because they have the stats and alignment requirements.

But this assumes that person would even choose to BECOME a paladin. They might instead be a farmer, or a merchant, or a blacksmith. Any number of things.

If forced by circumstances, it makes sense that people might HAVE to become warriors, and potentially paladins if they had the right combination of stats and alignment. But it should still be really rare.

In a kingdom of perhaps 1 million people only 227 people would have the necessary alignment and stats. But what if most of them ended up becoming priests, warriors, farmers, merchants, etc?

Suffice to say, paladins, these paragons of virtue, should be almost as rare as unicorns.

And in certain worlds, like Dark Sun, paladins don't even exist. There are no paladins in Dark Sun, instead they have far more gladiators.

Some other worlds, like say one based on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, well, paladins might be far more common.

And then there's the matter of the rolling system. Some DMs allow 4d6 drop the lowest, which skews the results and statistics.

And of course, what edition of Dungeons and Dragons a group is playing. It is far easier to become a paladin in 3rd or 5th edition. But for realism's sake there should only be so many.

And I didn't even touch on the topic of the death rate of paladins...

Publishing a fantasy book? Make sure you get a professional fantasy book editor.

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