Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Review: The Hero's Journey by Barrel Rider Games

OK, so here's the setup.  You've been playing D&D for several decades, and over that time, you've developed original house rules to suit your own playing style and variant classes to suit the preferences of your assorted players.  And if you're an especially ambitious and organized hobbyist, you put it all under a single cover for quick reference, making the game your own.

One such result would look like this...

The Hero's Journey by James Spahn and Barrel Rider Games! 

Compatible with Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, this is a carefully focused system.  Gone is the usual introduction to role-playing and explanation of the funny dice.  Readers are assumed to be already familiar with the conventions of the hobby via D&D.

In his own words (and from the foreword): 

"Most life-long gamers have an image in their mind of the “perfect” fantasy roleplaying game. It’s usually pretty darn close to a published favorite with tweaks and modifications spread throughout to suit what they envision to be the pinnacle of gaming."

End of quote, cause' it's not the whole story...

At the same time, it's so much more than a list of bulleted statements or an outline of rules notations.  The Hero's Journey includes all the relevant content of a proper game, including character abilities, classes, and races, not to mention magic spells and monsters, treasures and powerful magical items.  All of them lovingly detailed and fully described. 

At it's core we have classic D&D.  Only an iteration of the game designed for maximum consolidation and ease of use, giving readers the best of both worlds: all the depth and fun of the original system with the simplicity and superior organization that's only possible after 40+ years of hindsight...

In short, this is a house-ruled version of the original game, lovingly constructed around what the author, by his own admission has filled with stuff that's, frankly, totally cool!

First, we get professions (i.e., secondary skills), only here, professions, like being an armorer or teamster, are treated as the true starting point and primary!  After all, this is what the characters did BEFORE becoming adventurers and leaving home to seek their fortunes abroad.  These can be rolled randomly or chosen, noting that they grant advantages relevant to adventuring and add additional starting equipment.  A nice touch.

Classes and races are included, and all the usual suspects are provided, but you get some cool choices, like cavaliers and druids, to round things out.  All of this is offered with an old-school sensibility, but draws from later innovations, like barbarians and even some original stuff, like jesters...

Note also that while the game is set up for race AND class, provisions are made for race AS class should the players wish to do this, and with a MINIMUM of hassle.  Indeed, readers will find numerous suggested house rules blocked off throughout the book, many of which open up intriguing possibilities for the GM!

Once again, these are explained in great detail, but clearly and simply, creating an exciting atmosphere while also trimming the fat and keeping things straightforward and simple.

Spells, monsters, and magic items are described in detail, with relevant charts and tables, making the book an essential reference during play.  Here you get more than enough for a great campaign where characters rise to great power, overcome terrifying foes, and acquire fabulous relics of power!

Each of these sections leave off with advice for GMs to introduce their own original creations, making even this collection of personal house rules the springboard for other original house rules, which is just an awesome dynamic and in keeping this tradition.

You could buy this, print it out, put it in plastic document protectors (we did this), and have a complete, detailed, and truly indispensable reference for an old-school campaign!

Right now it's a digital download, but we have to say something about the production.  The front cover is an obvious homage to the immortal Tolkien, and this theme is repeated, and in full color, throughout, making the chapter headings gorgeous and the charts and whatnot clean and easy to read, but also easy on the eyes...  

The remaining artwork comes from various sources, all chosen to reflect the essential atmosphere of the game.

The Hero's Journey is a classic game designed by a player who obviously loves the hobby and filled their rules with the sort of things that would make that game awesome!  This might seem an obvious and intuitive goal, but when a designer's sheer love of the game shines through in a ruleset, it counts for EVERYTHING...

This is a pay what you want offering, and considering its great completeness, superb melding of the traditional with the original, and evocative production makes this an essential addition to a complete OSR collection.  This is well-worth supporting, and we look forward to more releases from Barrel Rider Games and Mr. Spahn!  


  1. It's a house-ruled version of White Box and not the original game since neither WB nor this game include "book 3" or the 3-book D&D setting. This is good. I don't want to see another clone that dare not deviate from canon, I want house rules. Pity this didn't take the extra step towards a complete product.