Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Heroes

Heracles as a baby. Killing a snake. Easily makes him one of the Top 5 Most Useful Babies.

A little fiction with your article today! Scroll down past the asterisks if you just want to get to the article.

Kelvin couldn’t believe his good fortune. As a child he had grown up hearing the stories of Hewin Bowsnapper and how he had blazed a trail for his people all those years ago into the Southernlands, protecting them once the land was settled. As a boy, Kelvin stayed up late on the nights his father went to the bar, hoping he would return with some news of the ranger’s exploits. His mother had sewn him the green and brown tunic Hewin wore, striped to help him blend in with the forest. As a boy, Kelvin had lacked the two large hound dogs Hewin had, but pretending was just as fun. With a wooden club and a wooden sword he would explore the copses and glades outside the village, giving commands to imaginary dogs and taking on imaginary foes. It was why he ranged now, leading caravans, investigating sightings of beasts, exploring ruins with Ram and Dera. Real life was less glamorous than the stories his pa brought home all those year ago, but at times, it was just as exciting; more so.

And here in a bar on the road to the boat races of Gethe, here Hewin was. Older, for sure. Grey streaked the man’s mouse-brown hair and his beard was peppered. Semi-retirement had padded his belly and under his chin. But when the barkeep had pointed him out Kelvin had locked eyes with him, the steel grey eyes of legend that saw the slightest movement in the bushes, the ripple in the pond, and he knew the barkeep was telling the truth. Kelvin had dropped his glass. And after Dera made fun of him for a good while, he had taken a deep breath and approached him. When Hewin invited them to sit at his table, Kelvin couldn’t believe it. His childhood hero, sitting beside him.

“So there we were, in the Three Oaks settlement. We had already got the villagers indoors while we dealt with the Pigmen,” Hewin said, leaning over the table. Kelvin hadn’t heard this story before, though the Pigmen had come up frequently in the tales of Hewin Bowsnapper’s exploits. The Pigmen didn’t have snouts like pigs, but they did have ears like them, mouths similar to turtles and legs like goats. At least that’s how they were depicted in drawings. When the first settlers had come to this land they attacked, trampling farms, carrying away food, making life difficult. “Garin had seen them slip into one of the barns so quietly, quickly,” he said, narrowing his eyes. Hewin looked from person to person. Kelvin was enraptured. “I told the girls to heel and us three, we made our way. I could hear them in the barn, in the dark. They can see in the dark, you know, like a bat or an owl. Unnatural.

“So, I keep my sword sheathed so as not to catch any of the light and quietly we walk in. I can barely make them out, their furry, greasy fur, their ears twitching, their clawed hands pawing through a barrel of apples. The harvest.” The old man nodded at Kelvin. “Before they can even look up, I rush up to them and crack my club against ‘em, sending one of them flying back against the wall. Thump.” He hit his fist on the tabletop, making Kelvin and Ram jump. “Dead. One of them makes a sound like a demon-bat and flies at me, nails glinting as they go for my eyes. It leaps up onto me but Talit shoots it with a spell and it squeals. I can smell its singed fur.

“The last one runs through the hole in the barn it came through and peels off, making good time. That’s when I call the girls, and they come baying through, giving chase, noses to the ground. There’s hardly a moon out but it don’t matter to them. We follow it through the woods, not bothering to be quiet. After a while we could see their fires in the distance. And finally, we come to it.

“Their camp. A whole handful of them. We could see the things they had stolen in piles around their fires, their deformed little bodies. Brown leaped into the middle of their camp and bayed. Some of them fainted straight away,” Hewin laughed, the memory merry in his grey eyes. “We made quick work of them. Any that tried to run away, the dogs got. Out of the things stolen, we tried to carry back as much as we could and I marked a trail for the people of Three Oaks to follow to get the rest. They thanked us kindly for our service and for making Three Oaks safe once again.” He winked at Kelvin before he drained his mug. “All that talking made me thirsty! Another round!”

“Oh, let me get it!” Kelvin insisted, but the man put a strong, heavy hand on his shoulder, pushing him back into his chair.

“When you’re my age, you gotta make sure you get up from time to time. Make sure it all still works!” Kelvin laughed with Hewin, watching him go to the bar. The two dogs padded after him through the crowds of people, trained to be faithful.

Dera leaned over and put a hand on Kelvin’s chin, closing his mouth for him. “I can’t believe you’re biggering in your pants over that man,” the dark-complexioned fighter said, rolling her eyes.

Kelvin felt his face get hot. “It’s not like that,” he insisted. “I already explained it. That man, he’s a hero to me.”

“And a terror to those ‘Pig People,” Dera snorted, loosening the straps on her bracers. She yanked them off and set them on the table. “The Pig People called themselves the Arita, and they were here first. They took to raiding farms when settlers pushed them off the land they lived off of. If you can call it raiding.” Dera shook her head the way she always did. “Are they still calling it the Southern Exploration in your schools?”

Kelvin felt his face get hot. “Why, what do they call it in Gethe?”

“Depends on who you ask,” Dera said. “One of the nicer epitaths is ‘The Reddening of the Wilds.”

Kelvin looked to Ram. The quiet monk was staring into his mug, obviously trying to avoid Kelvin’s eyes.

“Is that a jab at the Red Father?” Kelvin asked Dera. Kelvin worshipped the Red Father, whose Holiest of Temples was in Raqa, the first city. But Dera was from Gethe, one of those who had come from Miz, with different beliefs. And Ram was one of the Wind Monks. Who knew where he was from originally? Neither of them understood his life or his beliefs. Kelvin turned his gaze towards Hewin, the grizzled ranger still waiting at the bar for a pitcher of beer. The old man caught sight of Kelvin looking at him and waved, a broad smile on his weathered face.

“Blood’s red too, Kel,” Dera said quietly. Ram waved his hand to get their attention.

“Except coconut crabs. They have blue blood,” he signed. Ram grinned and even Dera couldn’t help but smile.

“True,” Kelvin laughed, glad the novice monk had lightened the mood with his joke. He sighed and watched as Hewin Bowsnapper walked towards the table, the pitcher of beer raised over his hand as if it were a trophy. Hewin had been a great man. There were wells and town squares named after him all through the central and southern country. Kelvin dreamed of having something named after him someday. He wanted to help people. Dera was such a cynic, always pointing out the complications that things like power and fame lead to. But Hewin’s fame had inspired Kelvin and Kelvin knew he himself was a good person.

Kelvin poured everyone a drink and raised his glass. “A toast,” he said, waiting till everyone had their glass in hand, all eyes upon him. “To the aiding of our fellow men and women.”

“I’ll drink to that!” Hewin roared.

“I as well,” Dera said. She smirked at Kelvin before she drank. Ram pounded his fist twice on the table in agreement and tipped his mug towards his mouth. Kelvin nodded to Dera and took a pull, vowing to do his best to sort out the truly evil from the desperate. Dera might not believe it, but the Red Father would help him do it. The beer made him burp and Kelvin felt his face grow hot with embarrassment but he soon joined in with the laughter of his friends yet again.


Heroes. Every culture has them.

Hero(in)es today are generally seen as people who despite terrible situations, enormous odds, and/or heinous opposition still manage to show bravery and courage, often putting themselves at risk for the good of others to overcome. Sometimes these brave individuals take on something physical, such as a beast or another human being. Other times, they tackle an idea or cultural stance. In the Classical age, heroes and heroines were often demigods who afforded their own cults, the worshipping of these individuals serving an important role in the rich, spiritual practices of the Ancient Greeks. Heracles (aka Kevin Sorbo), Achilles, and Perseus were all heroes, and each had their own cult. Their stories have persisted through time, culture, and mediums, told and retold for numerous generations. Catholic Saints can be seen as heroes, garnering their own adoration throughout the ages, entire religious orders founded on their individual teachings and doings.

Not every hero has the blood of gods in their veins or the divine on their side. Nowadays, our heroes are men and women who rescue people from burning buildings, stand up for the rights of groups of individuals, teach children how to read, build homes for those whose lives have been destroyed, aid people in escaping from  war ravaged homes, or stand up and fight those who would take their rights by force. Sometimes a person is a hero to only a handful of people. Sometimes a whole nation might recognize an individual as being somewhat more special than everyone else, one who molded the future of many with their hands when others would crush it. And other times individuals honored with holidays and parades are derided or hated by others. Many of the Europeans who “discovered” the New World have holidays and/or statues of their likenesses erected in various locations, their faces put on stamps, their exploits lauded in history books while some people just do not agree. Someone praised for their wartime efforts might be hated by pacifists or those who don’t agree with their political or social views.

The adventurers in our games are often (supposed to be) the heroes and heroines of their campaigns, but what does that mean? What traits and virtues do their cultures extol? Who inspired them to take up the life of an adventurer? The trails that past heroes have blazed can make steadier or more awkward footing for today’s heroes in the making.

For GMs

  • Are there any national heroes? Regional heroes? Religious Heroes? Social heroes? Why are they famous?
  • How are heroes honoured? With holidays? Statues? Do people name their children after them? Schools set up in their names? Special ranks or titles? Audience with important officials/rulers/religious figures? Gratitude?
  • What virtues do heroes exemplify? What makes the heroes of this nation different from the heroes of the neighboring countries?
  • Is there unknown history behind the heroes?
  • Who decides who is a hero? Is a single report of a heroic action enough? Or are there special requirements?
  • Who keeps the records regarding the stories of heroes? Who has access to them?
  • What is expected of heroes that are still living? What is expected of heroes long dead?
  • How are the tales of heroic exploits transferred from person to person? Word of mouth? Written down? Painted on buildings? Reenacted in plays?
  • Are there any people who dispute the heroics of any lauded individuals?
  • Are heroes secular entities or are their strong characters ascribed to religious conviction?
  • What political clout do heroes have, if any?
  • How do the common people see heroes? As people just like them who exhibited bravery? Or specially inspired individuals?

Plot Hooks

  • The party returns from a mission having succeeded in their task, but not without loss: one of their party members died in the undertaking. The ruling political or religious party seeks to make the fallen comrade a hero, putting the deceased individual on a platform to inspire the populace and not everything being said is entirely true. Why is this being done? How do the party members feel about their friend being made into a hero? How are the living party members seen and treated by the government and the rest of the population at large?
  • An individual performs a great act, saving their village/town/city from a great threat. The PCs are all members of a religious order who are sent to try and recruit/convert this person to their cause/religion. Why does the order believe the person in question is a good fit for their religion? What are the spiritual beliefs of their intended target? Why inspired them to protect their friends and family?
  • The PCs are all servants of a larger-than life hero who goes from town to town, solving problems and retelling the (exaggerated) tales of their exploits. When the hero dies rather uncermoniously in the night the PCs realize their meal ticket and employer is gone. What do they do with the dead hero? Do they try to keep up the ruse of the hero being alive so they can keep on living comfortably, without the burden of the terrible stories and overshadowing? Do they lie about the cause of death? Who would recognize the hero? Does the death have any repercussions the PCs are now forced to deal with (a will, debts, posthumous revenge)?
  • After a strange phenomenon (earthquake, lightning storm, swarm of the national animal), the PCs all find themselves in possession of the belongings of the Founding Heroes. When they go to return the items (and perhaps all meet each other for the first time), they are told the items being transferred to them must be a sign from the deities, as the country is secretly in a crisis that must be avoided before something terrible happens. The PCs are charged with performing a task that will prevent the nation from war, disaster, etc. Was it really divine intervention? How do the PCs feel about the Founding Heroes? The Heroes who have ‘chosen’ them? Is it a dream come true? A nightmare? Do they receive just the items or special abilities as well? Add their own flair?
  • When a hero to a small cultural group dies, those belonging to the group seek to have the individual recognized by the state. The PCs are sent with the evidence as to the greatness of the individual, as well as their own accounts of the person. How has the deceased hero’s petitioning changed the culture at large? Have people beyond the group benefited from the strides made? Which politicians/individuals are for the PCs cause? Against it?
  • All the statues of a particular hero are being defaced or destroyed. With their national holiday fast approaching, the PCs must find out who is doing this and why. Is it a single individual? A group? A network? Will they stop at the statues or are there other parts of their plan taking place and going unnoticed?

For PCs

  • What do you consider a hero to be?
  • Do you have a favorite hero? A story regarding them?
  • Did heroes encourage you to take up the life of an adventurer? Did it prepare you?
  • Are your heroes similar to the heroes of your fellow PCs? Does your culture extol different virtues than others?
  • How are your spiritual beliefs tied to your belief in heroes?
  • hat would you have to achieve in order to consider yourself a hero?
  • Do you adventure for yourself? For your family? For your country?
  • Who were you before you decided to become a hero? Have you changed in any way? Do you watch what you say or do more now that you are in the public eye?
  • When you recount tales of your deeds, do you embellish them or tell it like it was? Do your friends do the same?

What say you? All heroes start somewhere. Have you ever made a character based on a hero from our culture?

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