May 18, 2019

Races of the Fey | 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.

The many and varied creatures that make up the broad category of 'fey' provide ample inspiration for settings, adventures and -- of course -- player characters. That’s why it makes sense to know going into this Into the Wilds series about fey creatures: who they are, how they fit into the world, and why we’re representing them the way we are.

What is a Fey Creature?

According to the Monster Manual, the fey are
“...magical creatures closely tied to the forces of nature. They dwell in twilight groves and misty forests. In some worlds, they are closely tied to the Feywild, also called the Plane of Faerie. Some are also found in the Outer Planes, particularly the planes of Arborea and the Beastlands.”
That gives us a few hints to go on, but not all that much detail. Plenty of magical forest creatures found in fairy tales, including goblins, kobolds, elves, giants, trolls and wills-o’-wisp, are not fey creatures in D&D. Most confusingly, both faerie dragons and pseudodragons belong to the dragon type, when it seems clear that the former is designed to be a fey ‘version’ of the latter.
     Because of this ambiguity, we have attempted to establish some common touchstones for what makes a fey creature. Firstly, almost all of them have innate spellcasting. Fey spellcasting usually leans towards druidic magic and the arcane trickster’s spell pool (that is to say, enchantments and illusions), so this is often a strong distinguishing feature. We have also interpreted wild magic as being in the fey wheelhouse, since it plays into their unpredictable nature. Secondly, many of them are not native to the Material Plane. This puts some implicit distance between fey and humanoids - they don’t just walk in different circles, they live in different worlds. It also suggests that any fey that are encountered on the Material Plane are travelers, who likely possess skills and knowledge that might be unusual in their current environment, adding to their mystique. Finally, the fey aesthetic is very much inspired by the natural world. Plants, animals, landscapes, seasons and weather patterns are all used in connection with the fey, which is something we can build on in our own content.

Building Worlds

When including fey creatures in your game’s setting, there are a few things you might want to consider, particularly if you aren't using a pre-established setting. The first should be to ask, is there a plane of faerie, fey realm, neverland or otherworld that acts as a home plane for the fey? This has been our default assumption, but it is perfectly acceptable to cast fey as a part of the natural world, as ordinary people integrated into humanoid society, or as misfit vagabonds, wandering the universe without a home. But whatever you decide, your answer to this question has far-reaching consequences. The fey are intimately linked to the world around them, and their power, attitude and prevalence in the world will depend heavily on where in it they are based.
     We chose a particular characterization for the fey in our Fey Folio (fickle, impulsive, free-spirited, haughty, contemptuous and inscrutable) because it aligns well with the kinds of adventures that a GM might run, if they wanted to include fey creatures as major players. That is to say, stories that feature lots of intrigue, social interaction, riddles and pranks. The intention is that humanoids are fish out of water when they stand among the fey (and vice versa), and must rely on their wits and mental skills to survive. I also think this treatment is fitting for a world where the fey have an entire plane to themselves (the Feywild), since the physical distance enhances the sense of fey superiority; their world is brighter, more magical, more exciting and less polluted than that of the humans, and having a safe place to fall back on means that fey creatures have more license to behave in whimsical, carefree ways around humanoids without necessarily suffering any consequences for their recklessness.
     These attitudes run right through the Folio, from the way we structured the Faerie Courts and described the archfey, to the exotic weapons that we ascribed to the fey elves. We will, of course, be expanding on all of those things in this series, so stay tuned to see more of that.
     On the other hand, if you decide to take a different approach to the fey in your own game, you'll want to consider how the changes you make impact on the various aspects of the world of faeries. If fey are integrated into humanoid society, how do they view and interact with other races? And how would humanoid society change to accommodate a constituency of tiny, flying people? How do the fey fit in, economically, politically and militarily? In this scenario, fey are going to be less mysterious and inscrutable, which could have knock-on effects in other areas - perhaps a new group of monsters is needed to lurk in the woods, and maybe the secret enclave spell doesn’t exist in this world.

Feykind According to Mage Hand Press

It’s easy to describe the fey as vaguely magical, even sinister, but we really want to focus our description of them on three major facets:
     Fey Perspective. Fey consider themselves above those from the Material Plane. This sets the scene for most of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales comparisons, and also gives us room to focus on Feywild politics in absentia.
     Oaths and Contracts. Material wealth means nothing in the Feywild. Spinning straw to gold is nothing more than a parlor trick to feykind, so fey value their influence, their network of allies, and their status above all else.
     Nothing a fey says or does is set in stone until they swear an oath, or, in the most dire of circumstances, sign a contract. Such acts bind a fey’s soul at the deepest level; to break a contract is not simply anathema to fey, it rends their essence asunder. Hence the revilement of laws, rules, and social structures by fey as a whole -- these ordered systems offer implicit contracts, which are just as dangerous to fey freedoms, both physically and spiritually.
     Mutable Souls. Fey tend to be capricious, but in truth are moreso wholly changeable at their core. Fey embrace change as a rule, rolling with the tide of times, and embrace it utterly; a fey can completely revise its fundamental convictions or adopt a new identity overnight, never returning to its previous self. Sometimes, even, fey forget their previous selves, the complete change erasing all ties to the past.

Races of the Fey

In the Fey Folio, we provided six new races (and one new near human feat), most of which are fey in nature. This allows for both mixed parties of humanoids and fey, and parties composed entirely of fey creatures. To give a brief summary of what's in the book:
     Most of the races are based primarily on pre-existing D&D content. Dryads, pixies, sprites and satyrs are all present as monsters in the 5th edition monster manual, and sirines have been included as monsters in previous editions.
     Having included dryads, it felt only natural to extend our offering to the various other nymphs of Greek mythology; we have offered lampades, oreads and undines as playable races and may well add more nymph subraces as part of this series. We also came up with a half-nymph variant human, since that is the logical conclusion of the established nymph lore. On the mechanical side, we gave nymphs +2 Wis because of their connection to nature (and because sirines already had +2 Cha on lock) but most of the distinguishing features are found in the subraces. The 'bound to nature' sidebar is a unique feature that is intended to inform a nymph's outlook on the world, and possibly provide a plot hook if their home is ever threatened.
     The boggart race, under which we have included bogles, redcaps and shellycoats, is inspired directly by British folklore. These were fun to write and we were all amazed by how well Martin Kirby captured them in his artwork. We felt it was important to have some ugly, gremlin-like fey in the book, to counterbalance the more aesthetically pleasing nymphs and pixies. Mechanically, they are simple but effective, with a suite of features that have a direct, tangible impact on the game.
     Mandrakes are an original plant-like race that we first introduced in the Men and Monsters book. Given their seasonal themes, we knew they would be perfect for Fey Folio. The other original race in the book is the third fairy subrace, the sithe. The idea behind these is that they are the purest manifestation of the fey themes we established above. They are cunning, arrogant and magical; the stereotypical fairy in every sense. Even the name, a corruption of the Gaelic word, sidhe, is meant to be synonymous with 'fey'.

Fey Creatures as Player Characters

Players who wish to make use of these races are in for a unique experience. There are several factors that make playing a fey creature different from playing a humanoid, some of which might require the players and GM to revise their approach to the game. In the Fey Folio, we included some advice on this subject; this blog post gives us an opportunity to expand on that, and discuss some of our behind-the-scenes reasoning.
     An important factor to bear in mind when roleplaying is that fey hailing from the Feywild and those originating on the Material Plane bear completely different perspectives. Whereas fey on the Material Plane are likely familiar with magical forests, druidic magic, and other feykind, they were not immersed in the totality of magic in the Feywild. Those who knew nothing but the splendor and strangeness of the Plane of Faerie, on the other hand, will surely look down on the Material and its denizens, for it is without magic and it (to them) follows strange and trivial rules. Some fey from the Feywild even feel that fey who are born on the Material Plane are fundamentally lesser than "true" fey of the Feywild. Most fey recognize this as bigoted thinking, but the notion persists regardless.
     GMs should bear in mind that fey from the Feywild will find the mundanties of life on the Material, from farming to spinning wool to conventional greetings, utterly foreign. Similarly, fey from the Material will find the complexity of Feywild magic and politics just as baffling as a humanoid would.
     Additionally, Tiny fey will play very differently than normal characters. Most of them have flight -- a departure from a usual Mage Hand Press rule of thumb to never give races flight -- which allows them to overcome their perspective, but does little to mitigate their different weapon set and lack of ability to grapple. However, Tiny fey don't feel themselves any smaller than other creatures; indeed, if an elder dragon can hear their speech, a sithe feels that they should treat them as equals to be heard and considered. Larger Fey follow this line of thinking, such that an entire community of Tiny fey living in a single tree is afforded the same rights and respects as the spire-laden cities of the fey elves.

Feedback

We touched on a lot here, but here's probably the most important places to sound your opinion:
  • Do you agree with our characterization of feykind personality? If not, how can we improve?
  • Do you think our roster of Faerie races should be expanded, or is it expansive enough?
  • What considerations do you think should be taken into account as we design for Tiny fey?

8 comments:

  1. Wow, that's a lot of fey races. Cool.
    "Sithe" reminds more of Sith than Sidhe... And I'd have no idea how to pronounce it (since "sidhe" is "shee", like in "bean sidhe"=banshee).

    Will breaking oaths and contracts have a mechanical effect on a PC? Or just an RP effect?

    Playing tiny fey characters would be very problematic... HP and strength scores becomes completely unrealistic, for one. rewarding a party with items is another... um... large issue, as is carrying gold (which in theory you wouldn't need in the FW, but come on).
    Add to that easy assassinations in the M-plane, wondering why not all monster bites are swallow...
    In short, there is a huge abundance of problems that arise from playing a tiny creature. Many of which are player option issues, which can be solved by an experienced DM, but others (namely HP, str, etc.) are simply suspension-of-disbelief problems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe Finger is working on variant (mechanical) rules for oaths and contracts.

      I've been running a game with tiny PCs for nearly 4 years using the rules in Fey Folio, and I haven't had any major issues. Those rules include Str and HP penalties as core mechanics, and so far that's been very effective at creating an appropriate level of vulnerability for the tinies. For carrying things, they have a cart and Dumpling the mule, which is fun. For magic items, I'm planning to introduce some new tiny magic weapons in an upcoming post.

      Having medium monsters swallowing tiny people is something that hadn't occurred to me, though. That's a good idea. We should write rules for that.

      Delete
    2. I don't see the suspension of disbelief in a tiny creature that's inherently deeply magical being more durable than a non-magical creature of that size, but I reckon that's a YMMV thing.

      Delete
    3. Oh absolutely. I mean, a human civilian NPC has 9 HP, while a human PC might have over 100, and people manage to deal with that disparity alright.

      The penalty I've been using for tinies boils down to 1 HP per level. I've found that's enough to create the experience I'm looking for.

      Delete
  2. So do any traditional weakness apply to fey originating from the Feywilds? Cold Iron was the biggest, but I also remember putting a nail through their footprints will stop them from moving, a salt circle would hold them at bay, not to mention the keeping to the contract between a guest and a host.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a variant rule in the Folio about weakness to iron, but it's an optional thing because we were concerned that something like that might be unfun for fey PCs. Variant rules will likely be posted to the blog sometime soon!

      Other than that, it's worth bearing in mind that a lot of the fairytale things are already in core D&D as standard abilities. Banishment, magic circle, protection from good and evil etc. often reference classic folklore in their mechanics or spell components.

      Delete
  3. Any plan on making something like this for the Shadowfell too? My friend and I are making a campaign that flips back and forth between the two and this folio is super helpful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not in the pipeline at the moment, I'm afraid. The Folio is kind of a labour of love for me, so I don't know if I can summon the same amount of energy to do a Shadowfell book.

      Plus you do have Curse of Strahd to fall back on for inspiration with Shadowfell type stuff...

      Delete