Foreword to 'In the Footsteps of Hercules'

Michael O. Varhola

Following is my personal forward to In the Footsteps of Hercules, a fictitious travelogue recently released by Skirmisher Publishing at DriveThruRPG and which I wrote as a companion book to the revised and expanded Platinum Edition of my City Builder: A Guide to Designing Communities. My goal with this prefatory piece is to speak to my motivations for including in this book the various elements that appear in it. 

This project is very important to me, perhaps more so than many people might expect a roleplaying game project set in a fantasy world to be. There are, however, a number of reasons that make that very much the case, and they include the people, places, and activities that are most important to me and the ways that those things have converged over the years. So, although this book is a work of fiction, it represents much more than that to me in disparate but interconnected ways, some of which I will note here.

One is that I have had the opportunity to work on this project with a number of talented people who, far from just being acquaintances or coworkers, are among my closest and, in some cases, oldest friends. Those people include project manager Brenda Cass, artist Amanda Kahl, cartographer William T. Thrasher, playtester Paul O. Knorr (my first gamemaster and the person who introduced me to roleplaying games in 1982), and my father Michael H. Varhola. They also include my colleague and travelling companion Clint Staples, who died on February 11, 2020, during the period that we were playing through an adventure set in the fourth leg of the pilgrimage route detailed in this book. 

As I worked on this project I was also fascinated to realize that, for the most part, the places where Hercules performed his labors are not obscure or shrouded in mystery but are largely well known and, in many cases, correspond to sites that bear the same names to this day. It is, in fact, possible to follow the very route we present in this book, the actual route the demigod Hercules is reputed to have walked more than three millennia ago.

Finally, it bears mentioning that I celebrated my first three birthdays in Greece and can look back at photos of myself at sites described in this book; that my visits back to that country over the years have helped me to develop an abiding love for it; that a lifetime of hiking — to include doing so professionally while serving as a combat infantryman — have given me an appreciation for what it means to explore a country on foot; and that I am drawn to spiritual journeys and have walked pilgrimage trails that include the 500-mile-long Camino de Santiago in Spain. It should perhaps thus not be completely surprising that actually hiking the route described in this book has become a personal goal that I am at this point planning to accomplish in reality and not just vicariously.

So, please join us, and bring your players and their characters along if you are a storyteller, as we set out to follow in the Footsteps of Hercules. 

— Michael O. Varhola