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    What is S&S?

    S&S is short for “sword and sorcery.” It’s a subgenre of fantasy literature and gaming that features sword-wielding heroes engaging in violent, often personal adventures.

    The narratives typically focus on action-packed encounters, magic, and personal quests rather than the grand epic battles or political intricacies found in other genres, such as L&L.

    S&S stories are known for their fast-paced, plot-driven storytelling where magic is mysterious and often dangerous.

    Sword and sorcery gained prominence in the early 20th century with writers like Robert E. Howard and his character Conan the Barbarian, which defined many of the genre’s characteristics.

    The focus on smaller, more intense narratives featuring gritty anti-heroes and dark magic became a staple of the genre, influencing both literature and roleplaying games (RPGs) heavily throughout the 20th and into the 21st century.

    S&S examples

    1. In a typical S&S-themed roleplaying game, players might navigate through cursed ruins to retrieve a mythical sword, battling enchanted beasts and rival sorcerers along the way.
    2. A popular text-based adventure game might feature a rogue sorceress seeking revenge against a tyrannical warlord, using both stealth and magic to achieve her goals.
    3. In an interactive narrative forum, a player character, a grizzled warrior with a haunted past, might undertake a perilous journey to lift a curse that plagues their homeland.
    4. A tabletop scenario could involve a band of adventurers delving into forgotten dungeons, encountering traps, monsters, and ancient magic, focusing on personal glory and survival rather than saving the world.
    5. An S&S mobile game might allow players to assemble a party of heroes, each with unique sword skills and sorcerous abilities, to fight through a series of combat-driven quests.

    Myths about S&S

    A common myth about S&S is that it lacks depth or sophistication compared to other fantasy subgenres. However, sword and sorcery games often explore complex themes of morality, survival, and heroism in a nuanced manner.

    Another misconception is that S&S stories are solely about action and combat. While these are prominent elements, character development and exploration are equally integral to the narrative.

    Lastly, it’s often wrongly assumed that S&S is only for a niche audience of fantasy fans. In fact, sword and sorcery games tend to have broad appeal due to their exciting content.

    S&S FAQs

    How does S&S differ from high fantasy?

    S&S focuses more on low-scale, gritty tales with personal stakes and less on the elaborate world-building or epic scale typical of high fantasy. The protagonists in S&S are often more flawed and operate in a morally grey area, contrasting with the often clearly defined heroes and villains of high fantasy.

    Can S&S include modern elements, or is it strictly medieval?

    While traditional S&S settings are pseudo-medieval, modern S&S can incorporate elements from different eras, including steampunk or post-apocalyptic themes, expanding the genre’s traditional boundaries.

    What makes a character typically S&S?

    A typical S&S character often embraces a rough, survivalist lifestyle, frequently operating solo or in small groups, and might use both physical prowess and magic. They are typically deeply flawed and driven by personal goals or vendettas rather than altruistic motives.

    How do I create a compelling S&S adventure in a roleplaying game?

    Focus on creating intense, personal challenges for the characters, such as revenge quests or the hunt for a legendary artifact. Incorporate elements of mystery and danger with magic, and ensure the setting evokes a sense of foreboding and adventure.

    What are common tropes found in S&S?

    Common tropes include the lone warrior, ancient cursed items, dark magic, morally ambiguous characters, and settings that blend the exotic with the perilous. These tropes help create the intense, dark atmosphere characteristic of the genre.

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    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."