|Designer(s)||Steven S. Long|
|Publication date||2003 (5th edition)|
Fantasy Hero is a role-playing game book that supports the Fantasy genre using the Hero System rules. The first version was published in 1985. Since the release of the 5th edition of the Hero System, Steven S. Long of Hero Games has published a new version of the Fantasy Hero book, as well as several supplementary publications to support Fantasy Hero-based campaigns. The Hero system book is required to make full use of this work in a game. The book contains information that is useful to both the Game Master (GM) and the Players. Recently, a new edition of Fantasy Hero has been released, updating the genre book to the new Hero System 6th Edition.
The 5th edition book is a fairly extensive work, with 416 pages of text bound in a stiff-paper cover. Each 21.5 × 27.5 cm-sized page is printed in double-column text with occasional side-bar information. The interior is moderately illustrated with non-color drawings, while the jacket has a full-color painting. The book received the Gold Medal ENnie Award in 2004 for Best Non-D20 Supplement. 
A substantial portion of the book consists of information about fantasy gaming that is non-game-system-specific. This content can be used by game masters who want to create their own campaign setting, or to modify an existing publication to suit their interests. The remainder of the work then delves into specifics of the Hero system in a fantasy campaign. However the flexible nature of the system is utilized throughout the book, allowing the Game Master to attune the rules to fit their setting.
The seven chapters in this work cover the following topics: an overview of the fantasy genre; information for constructing player characters; rules for combat in a fantasy setting; various systems of magic and spell creation; the geographic, cultural, economic, and social aspects of fantasy societies; advice about creation of a campaign setting and how to run a game, and a small number of sample characters and structures that can be inserted into a campaign.
Fantasy characters in the Hero system are built using the point-based method. That is to say, each of the character's statistics are determined by spending "character points" based on the costs listed in the Hero system rules manual. The listed character races are the conventional types commonly found in many fantasy settings for role-playing games. Thus it includes the usual dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings found in Dungeons & Dragons, as well as giants, centaurs, orcs, trolls, and so forth. The race-specific modifiers are provided in the form of "packages" which can then be adjusted by the player, based on the allowances by the GM.
The character skills are described as they relate to fantasy settings, with recommendations for the GM. In particular there is a listing of the various professional and knowledge-based skills relevant to these settings. Skills that are specific to more advanced societies are listed as such. Similar commentaries are given for the prerequisites, talents, and especially the powers available to the characters. Finally the book includes a lengthy list of equipment available for the character, although such a listing will likely need to be modified based on the type of setting.
True to the nature of the genre, there is extensive information provided both on tactical combat and on the use of magic. The system allows flexibility in implementing the type of magic system that the GM wants to make available in their setting. The magic discussion is replete with examples, something that is often necessary for newcomers to this system. There is also a "mass combat system" for use when the characters are operating as part of a much larger force.
Spells in Fantasy Hero are an application of the Hero powers system, with appropriate limitations applied to simulate the conventional restrictions of magical spells. The spells commonly require incantations (verbal), gestures (physical), a skill roll, and in many cases some type of focus. This last is an object of some type that can be taken or destroyed, thereby hindering the spell caster.
However, practically any kind of magic system can be described within the context of the HERO System's open design to suit the needs, vision, or fictional inspiration of a particular campaign or setting. This extreme flexibility of design is both a feature that is particularly of interest to GM's and players that want to model very specific forms of magic in their setting(s), but can also be overwhelming to GM's and players that just want to play a game with some established boundaries and not have to worry about such things themselves.
The earlier edition of the Fantasy Hero book included a series of theme oriented "colleges", and a specific mechanical basis for spellcasting. This was a specific implementation of the abstract concept of "magic", but as it was the published example available, it in effect became the de facto standard. This runs counter to the "universal" precepts of the HERO System, and the 5th edition supplement excises it entirely.
Instead, 68 pages of Fantasy Hero for 5th edition are dedicated to Magic Systems and concepts, dealing in the broad concept of magic, and exploring topics that should be considered when making a custom magic system. Ways of modeling some concepts and tropes found in genre fiction and film are covered as well. The flexibility and expressiveness of the HERO System's buy-a-mechanic effects-driven character design model is highlighted in this fashion. In addition to the high concepts, twelve distinct example magic systems across the gamut of power levels and styles are presented in summary, with two to three columns each on average.
Two related products, the Fantasy Hero Grimoire and Fantasy Hero Grimoire II, are compilations of spells intended for use in the Fantasy Hero genre, particularly suited to be used with the default magic system of the Turakian Age, one of the four published HERO System Fantasy settings. The spells are subdivided into colleges or schools. The available schools are alchemy, conjuration, divination, druidry, elemental magic (for each of the elements as well as ice, light, and shadow), enchantment, necromancy, sorcery, thaumaturgy, witchcraft, wizardry, and divine magic. Fantasy Hero Grimoire II extends the spells and magic in the first grimoire, and adds a number of more unusual and esoteric colleges of magic. Thus the book details spells for shamanism, chaos magic, rune magic, areomancy, and so forth.
The following publications have been released to support Fantasy Hero:
- Broken Kingdoms (2001) – a unique Fantasy Hero setting.
- Fantasy Hero (1st edition, 1985)
- Fantasy Hero (2nd edition, 1990)
- Fantasy Hero Companion (1990) – included mass combat rules.
- Fantasy Hero Companion II (1992) – included detailed naval rules.
- Magic Items – an early-edition magical items list.
- The Spell Book – an early-edition spell list.
Publications since 2003 support the new 5th edition Hero System rules:
- Fantasy Hero (2003, 416 pages)
- Fantasy Hero Battlegrounds (2004, 128 pages)
- Fantasy Hero Grimoire (2003, 270 pages)
- Fantasy Hero Grimoire II: The Book of Lost Magic (2004, 144 pages)
- Monsters, Minions, and Marauders (2003, 128 pages)
- The Turakian Age (2004, 319 pages) – a high fantasy setting
- The Valdorian Age (2005, 199 pages) – a swords & sorcery setting
- Asian Bestiary, Vol. I (2006, 144 pages)
- Asian Bestiary, Vol. II (2006, 144 pages)
- Nobles, Knights, and Necromancers (2006, 176 pages)
- Tuala Morn (2007, 300 pages) – a pseudo-Celtic fantasy setting
- Enchanted Items (2007, 240 pages)
- The Atlantean Age (2008) – a high fantasy setting
- Urban Fantasy Hero (2009)
- The Book of Dragons (2009)
In addition, these Hero game system publications could be used to support a Fantasy Hero campaign:
- Hero System Almanac 1 (1993)
- Hero System Almanac 2 (1995)
- Hero Bestiary (2nd edition, 1992) – a general Hero bestiary that includes fantasy genre creatures.
- Hero System Bestiary (2002, 239 pages)
- Hero System Combat Handbook (2005, 160 pages)
- Hero System Equipment Guide (2005, 206 pages)
- Horror Hero (1994)
- Ninja Hero (1st edition, 1990)
- Ninja Hero (2nd edition, 2004, 160 pages)
- The Ultimate Martial Artist (1st edition, 1994)
- The Ultimate Martial Artist (2nd edition, 2002, 192 pages)
- The Ultimate Mentalist (1st edition, 1995)
- The Ultimate Mentalist (2nd edition, 2006, 290 pages)
- The Ultimate Metamorph (2005, 248 pages)
- The Ultimate Mystic (2005, 230 pages)
- The Ultimate Skill (2006, 400 pages)
- The Ultimate Speedster (2006, 292 pages)
- The Ultimate Supermage (1996)
- The Ultimate Vehicle (2003, 236 pages)
Phil Masters reviewed Fantasy Hero for White Dwarf #76, giving it an overall rating of 9 out of 10, and stated that "This is not a game for the lazy. [...] Nonetheless, for those who want flexibility, high colour and playability, it's probably the best thing on the market."