Inspirations Friday: Hiero's Journey

In the past, my "Inspirations Friday" posts have mainly dealt with inspirations for my ongoing World of Samoth Campaign, but I've also written about ideas for other things such as fantasy Colonial America and a "field guide" to extra-terrestrials.

Today I'll be writing about a classic science-fiction book from 1973, Hiero's Journey. This first part of a planned trilogy (although the author never completed the third installment) was listed in the Appendix N of the original Dungeon Master's Guide as an inspirational work, and also was mentioned as an inspiration for the original Gamma World game. My exposure to the book came from neither of those sources, but instead from the cover of a paperback reissue of the book that must have been published in the early to mid-80s. It featured a picture of man standing in the wilderness next to a moose that was harnessed to be ridden like a horse. The man had a bunch of equipment strapped to him, including a long dagger or a short sword, and he seemed to be in the middle of a conversation with a bear that was standing on its hind legs and gesturing with its arms. This picture grabbed my attention and I grabbed it off the little spinning rack it was on. If I recall correctly, I was at some drug store shopping with my mom, and it had a spinner rack of novels, a small section of which were dedicated to the fantasy and science-fiction genre. I read the little blurb on the back of the book, and then found a map inside the front cover, and I was instantly intrigued. It basically looked like a handbook for the Gamma World game, which I was very familiar with at the time (but somehow had never seen the notes about how Hiero's Journey was one of the inspirations for the game).

My mom didn't end up purchasing the book for me, but I found it shortly thereafter at the "big library" in the city (which I liked going to after school because they also had copies of many of the hardback AD&D books on the shelf, when they hadn't already been checked-out). I devoured the book and, at the time, of course didn't catch many of its political and pro-environmental messages, as a young boy of 14 years old. I was more focused on the world building of a post-apocalyptic setting. The Gamma World game had a bit in the front part of the book about the history of the world and how the great apocalypse had come about, but there was scant little information about the state of the current world. D&D had Greyhawk and the "Known World," and Boot Hill and Top Secret were based on real-world earth history. But Gamma World didn't do much to flesh out what the world was like other than providing equipment lists. For me, reading Hiero's Journey, I started to get a real sense about how the natural world would grow, un-attended, and slowly start covering up all of man's creations. That had never occurred to me before.

The author, Sterling Lanier, also developed a whole culture that included a futuristic version of a Christian church, different political entities, and secret societies that were much more "grounded" than some of the more fanciful and outlandish Cryptic Alliances described in the Gamma World rulebook. It should also be noted at this time that my copy of Gamma World, which I had purchased from a friend at school for $2.50, was missing most of the pages about the Cryptic Alliances anyway, so reading about "organizations" in Lanier's book seemed really cool to me at the time.

Lanier also included something else in his book that, at the time, I loved even more than maps, and that was a glossary of terms used in the book. He defines all the different organizations, churches, political entities, and mutant creatures that he names in the book, and reading this is a really quick way to get a bunch of great ideas for a Gamma World campaign.

Within the book are tons of great ideas that were ripped right out the story and imported into both Dungeons & Dragons, including a green slime creature, psionic powers (which are in both D&D as well as the mental mutations of Gamma World), and an old-fashioned dungeon-crawl at the end of the story. It is really fun to read the book with a knowledge of these two games and see why Gygax and Ward listed it as an inspiration for their game design, and which elements from the book ended up being major themes for their games.

I recently re-read the book, and its sequel (The Unforsaken Hiero) a few years ago. The really imaginative ideas and descriptions still resonated with me after all these years, but in looking at it now, there are some interesting, and not always entirely successful, choices that Lanier makes in the novel. It's definitely a product of its time, and reading it now as an adult I can see that he was really pushing a pro-environmentalist agenda very hard. It actually does work within the context of the story, given that the world in a Hiero's Journey was destroyed and polluted by man-made machines, but often the execution of this message is a bit preachy. In addition to the main protagonist, Per Hiero Desteen, there's the mutant bear, Gorm, and a Hiero's moose mount that also has a limited form of mental telepathy so he can communicate with Hiero and follow his instructions. There's also a female character, Princess Luchare, and it's in her depiction that you can really get a sense of the time period this novel was written. She is a dark-skinned member of a "barbarian kingdom" and Lanier's treatment of both her race and her sex are not entirely up to modern standards.

At the climax of the book, there's also a really interesting scene that as a kid, I didn't get at all. It can be read on a very literal level, but going back as an adult, it's pretty easy to see the Lanier is making a thinly-veiled political commentary. Again, it's really only there if you're looking for it, but once you figure it out, it's hard not to focus on it.

None of these minor quibbles ruin my enjoyment of the book. It really is a classic example of early post-apocalyptic fiction and it shows so many roots that made their way into Gamma World specifically, but also into D&D. I myself used the book as inspiration for my Gamma World campaigns when I was younger, and I still tend to do my world-building for Gamma World based upon a lot of ideas from Hiero's Journey. A lot of the encounter tables I created to replace the missing pages from my copy of the Gamma World rulebook were based on characters and creatures from the book.

Who else has read this one? What are your thoughts about it? Share them below, or of course on Google +.

  • Format: The original hardback is about 280 pages. It was also published as a mass-marker paperback, which is the version that I first encountered.
  • Where to Buy: This one is a bit tough to find, and when you do, it can be a bit expensive. Amazon has a "new" copy of the paperback listed for 19.88 or used copies for about $8.00. I found a hardback copy at a used book store in Glendale about 13 years or so ago for less than $10.00.
  • Price: See above on current pricing.
  • More Info: There is no "official" page for this book, and the Wikipedia article is unfortunately very short with limited information. Your best bet for more information is to just read the book!

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "Hey Bulldog" by the Beatles


  1. I read Hiero's Journey and the sequel. They are great books that can be used to help make a lot of GW make sense.
    Hiero is an excellent example of the Ranger class in D&D as well.

  2. I read Hiero's Journey and the sequel. They are great books that can be used to help make a lot of GW make sense.
    Hiero is an excellent example of the Ranger class in D&D as well.


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