May 24, 2019

Feywild Geography | Into the Wilds

In this series, we'll be expanding on the work begun in our supplement of fairies and fariy tales, Fey Folio, by extending the world building, exploring additional mechanics, and fleshing out the Fey's fantastical world. Join us as we embark Into the Wilds.

I find writing this article without wholesale writing a map and diving into the worldbuilding neck-deep challenging. We've been carefully considering how to make the Feywild itself live up to its reputation of splendor, magic, and strangeness, and we've got some fun ideas.

Temporal Cardinality

One of the things we mentioned while talking about the Feywild is that humanoids who get stranded there feel like days pass in hours, and vice-versa -- that the entire experience is dreamlike -- but we did little to ground this notion. So, to emphasize the Feywild's seasonal themes and convolute some of its rules, we've decided to stir time in with space.

The Feywild, but its nature, abhors the rigid constraints of the Material Plane. As the wellspring of magic, the plane intertwines things separate elsewhere in the multiverse, like space and time, and perception and reality.
     The Feywild offers no true distinction between space and time; it has no East and West, only Mornward and Nightward; its denizens do not travel North to South, but Springward to Winterward. Each spot in the Feywild is fixed in time, an eternal spring morning or summer night, such that a twilit gala can literally last forever, a moving picture that somehow feel frozen in time. It is for this reason that humanoid visitors describe the plane as dreamlike, for they might spend days, months even, basking in a winter morning, before traveling nightward and finding the time of day crawls forward with their travels.
     Much of the Feywild is pleasant spring and eternal, glittering dusk, but the plane stretches far nightward, much further than most humanoids deign to travel. That region of endless darkness is sometimes called the Feydark, for if the Feywild is dreamlike, that place is nightmarish. It bears considering that the Feywild, like feykind and like magic itself, bears an irredeemable darkness, seldom exhibited, but always lingering. Even evil fey and those accustomed to night do not travel too deep into the Feydark, for it has its own denizens, embodiments of the night's terrors amplified by the magical plane.

This sets up our new cardinal directions and a new rule to live by. The Feywild's time of day is static, but changes depending on where you are in the plane. This also allows us to make a smooth linearization from Feywild to Feydark -- they're on the same plane of existence, but the Feywild is drenched in gentle mornings and twilight, the Feydark has only night.

Moreover, the seasons are also fixed, but depend on latitude. This has some weird properties, like the fact that the Autumnlands are a perpetual diorama of red and yellow leaves falling to the ground and being crunched underfoot, without the trees ever running out of leaves, but I think it further enhances the magical nature of the world. Sadly, this means we're already revising some of our Courts: the Snowy court will have to be focused on spreading the domain of the Winterlands in the Feywild, thereby causing eternal winter.

Ultimately, the shifting seasons are a smaller change than the fixed times of the plane, since at a glance, different latitudes on a map would just seem to have different climates, much like everywhere else, but the difference is in the texture of an eternal season: it stands to reason that there might be a literal winter wonderland frozen at Christmas time, or fields in the Autumnlands with ever-harvestable crops.

The Problem with Hazards

This whole "fixed time" thing is seeming awfully restrained for a land of eternal magic. Where's the random surges of wild magic and convoluted forest paths that bend in on themselves and water so full of magic that it'd kill normal humanoids? In the Fey Folio, we included a lot of Feywild hazards in lieu of properly fleshing out the plane. (This might be a reflex of mine to try to express everything in mechanics, even when a few paragraphs might suffice.) But hazards are kind of a headache to run games around for long stretches. They're great if you want to throw players in the Feywild for one session, before getting back to the Material Plane, but they just don't do anything to make the plane feel more different most of the time. Either players figure out the tricks to the hazards and ignore them, or they're constantly rolling to resolve effects with the environment; both outcomes suck to play.

So, we need to subdivide the Feywild a little more: we need a space, apart from the rest of the plane, where adventures happen, where the plane itself gets messy and crazy -- all Alice in Wonderland, from the Cheshire Cat's weird smile to the convoluted growing and shrinking. This is where we throw off all the rules and let people get really lost in the woods. For lack of a better term, we'll call this the Deep Wilds.

Deep Wilds

With the Deep Wilds, we can throw in all the inconvenient hazards, while keeping the easy to deal with ones in the core Feywild. Moreover, it lends some fun to travel, since it breaks up the world into quite literal "random encounter" and "fixed encounter" areas within the fiction. While that might seem artificial if players ever catch on, it's a godsend for running games.

While all the Feywild is magical, in the Deep Wilds, the constraints of reality wear thin. In these places, where the forest paths twist in on themselves in impossible ways, the lines between perception and reality blur. That which seems to be true is factually true, to the elation and horror of those who wander there. These places are the most dreamlike of the wilds, where, when it seems like an eternity passes in wandering forest paths, it truly does; when it seems like a pair of menacing eyes peers at you from through the leaves, they truly do; where if the trees seem to move whenever you turn around, they actually are.
     The aspect of the Deep Wilds depends largely on the temperament of those who wander there. Those of grim or disturbed thoughts find the wild to be full of gnarled trees and thorny brush, while those of sunny disposition find clean forest paths and soft grass. Everyone, however, eventually notices the Deep Wilds' bizarreness.
     In the Deep Wilds, smiles hang in the air a second after their source disappears, someone's size changes by a few inches with their self-esteem, and the saturation of all colors seems to wildly increase. The seasons can shift in an instant with the weather, and can be extremely localized to a single hill or field. Furthermore, wild magic electrifies the air convoluting spells, but also enriching flora, fauna, and the water, with its uncontrollable magic.

Cities and Gardens

In contrast to the Deep Wilds, there are a small handful of areas of the Feywild which seem to be considerably less wild, chiefly fey elf cities and Court Gardens. These both deserve articles in their own right, but I'll cover them now for completeness. Fey elf cities are shining crystal cities dotting the Feywild -- think Oz, from the Wizard of Oz. Much like Oz, they each have some critical underlying flaw or curse they infects their otherwise metropolis aesthetic. These are basically separate from the rest of the Feywild, and they're also fairly small; though towering, these cities do not sprawl outward; they're neatly contained within their orderly walls.

Gardens, on the other hand, are locations in the Feywild which defer to the power of the Archfey, supplicating to their power. These places are almost like demiplanes (with many more restrictions), answering to the beck and call of the Archfey who controls them. For example, the Obsidian Court's throne is very much a garden, a place of stone obelisks and rocky mountains. Each court has its own garden, with the size of the garden corresponding to the influence of the court. The relatively small Pirate Court, for example, has but one treasure cove, whereas the Rose Court commands a entire picturesque valley and its surrounding countryside.

Feedback

The big worldbuilding notes here were on mixing the cardinal directions with seasons and times of day (thereby fixing the time and season for locations) in the Feywild, and subdividing the Feywild into Deep Wilds, Cities, and Gardens. What do you think of these developments? Are we getting closer to making a more magical Feywild, or should we be changing course?

5 comments:

  1. Woah, some really cool ideas here. I do not recall the feywild being properly fleshed out in any official 5e material, so it doesn't break anything already set in stone- and it perfectly combines the supernatural, arbitrarily magical essence of the FW with the fact that it's a lot more like the material than the outer planes.

    I'm not 100% sure it works with established material if you run it in, say, the forgotten realms, but that doesn't really matter anyway- a DM can always use whichever parts fit and disregard the rest.

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    1. It's true that the official 5e material doesn't have very much about the Feywild. There is quite a lot of content that was made for 4th edition though, so I've been working under the assumption that that is the 'WotC canon'. It's difficult balancing the need to mesh with existing settings on the one hand, but coming up with something exciting and original on the other...

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  2. I don't think the distinction between deep wilds and 'fixed' wilds will actually feel artificial if there is a good in-character reason for it and said reason is at least foreshadowed or implied in the content in general. To that end I have a suggestion, one that ties in with a piece of lore about the fey: what fixes the fixed parts of the Feywild is pacts with the land itself. The strange, seemingly arbitrary customs and rules that the fey would likely obey as if it was the most natural thing in the world would then in part be the denizens' end of such pacts. Same with the critical underlying flaw or curse of the crystal cities, it would be a clause in the pact. It'd also provide good reason for the cities not to sprawl outward at all, especially if the pacts they're founded on are old, the wall is as far as the pact that allows the city's construction goes and no further. For the citizens, building beyond that limit is literally impossible.

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