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D&D Alumni: Fey
D&D Alumni
Bart Carroll

T he Feywild -- for those who've never been -- is a place bright with magic, where "the laws of science, logic, and reason defer to the arts of magic, story, and rhyme. Ordinary animals and objects converse as eloquently as any worldly mortal. Enchanted forests wander across the landscape like herds of roving sheep. Glorious castles perch on mountain spires that touch the starry heavens, and a bold traveler can board a vessel to a fey palace on the moon."

Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

This month, D&D has ventured fully into the land of Faerie. Heroes of the Feywild hits shelves, and it includes player options to play as fey races and subclasses, and DM options to run campaigns in the Feywild. The latest D&D Encounters season, Beyond the Crystal Cave, starts off with a character creation session in which players can explore these new options before embarking on their fey-themed adventure.

But what exactly is the Feywild? How did this land of Faerie make its way into the D&D universe?

The Faerie Kingdom

Of course, most people are well aware of the fairy aspect of fairy tales. The concept of enchanted beings interacting with the mortal world goes back pretty much as far as there have been stories. Elves, goblins, hobgoblins, bogies, sprites, pixies, brownies, barghests -- the list goes on and on for fairies, wee folk, and other hidden people that have populated folk tales (and crossed over into the game).

We also have the concept for an "otherworld," a world alongside our own where fairies reside and mortals can pass only with certain consequences. Norse mythology had its "elf home," the fairy realms where light elves lived (as opposed to the dark elves deep underground, which is an obvious influence for the drow). Tolkien later borrowed heavily from Norse and Germanic mythologies, bringing his own version of elves and their realm to the Middle Earth, most popularly in the concept of Lothlorien. Most folk tales that use a fairy realm describe the place as being strange, beautiful, but often extremely perilous. For those remembering The Hobbit, traveling through elven forests and meeting the elves was dangerous, unpredictable business.

In fairy lands, time passes differently. Visitors are held against their will, or they are forced to dance until exhaustion. Children are stolen and raised as the fairies' own. It can be a wonderful place, but not one entered lightly -- a concept that applies to a good many stories set in some "otherworld," whether the Chronicles of Narnia, Lev Grossman's The Magicians, or Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

Beyond the Crystal Cave

With D&D, it could be argued that the Feywild -- the game's version of the realms of Faerie -- first made its appearance back in 1st Edition's UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave. Steve Townshend designed the 4th Edition Beyond the Crystal Cave D&D Encounter season, which has obvious parallels from the original adventure. In his notes for the 4th Edition version, Steven explains:

"Nearly thirty years ago, UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave became the first Dungeons & Dragons adventure of its kind. Designed by British writers Dave J. Browne, Tom Kirby, and Graeme Morris, it was also the first module produced by TSR Ltd, the recently formed United Kingdom subsidiary of TSR, Inc.

"The UK series of modules focused on a different play experience from the standard combat-oriented style of early D&D adventures. Roleplaying, problem-solving, and folklore were key elements of the UK modules, and in some adventures -- such as the original Beyond the Crystal Cave -- combat was rather severely punished. The original adventure transplanted the Romeo and Juliet story into a Faerielike subdimension called Porpherio's Garden, which existed on an island in the world of Greyhawk. The characters in the adventure had Shakespearean names and motivations. There were no villains whatsoever, and apart from a few dangers in the cave leading to Porpherio's Garden, the adventurers had no true adversaries."

In the original adventure, Porpherio's Garden served as its own version of a fairy realm. Magic did not work as expected (particularly fire), time did not pass as normal, and encounters were largely composed of animals and fey creatures -- all very much in the fairy spirit.

The latest version, as Stephen goes on to explain, makes use of many of the locations and encounters from the original, as well as provides an important focus on "interaction, puzzle-solving, mood, flavor, and story elements." And although it does follow the original, this version now adds villains into the mix. Finally, when it comes to the Feywild -- and its part in fairy tales -- story is very much an essential component. So with the season just underway, we don't want to present any extensive spoilers, but we will say that there's the welcome inclusion of certain muddy monsters as well as fey said to dwell where wishes and gold are close at hand.

(Still more information on the original adventure can be read at Grognardia, and The Busybody.)

1st Edition Fey

Of course, what would the realms of Faerie be without fairies? As stated repeatedly, D&D populated itself with creatures from a wide range of sources, which included folk tales about fairy folk. We conclude this month with a brief survey of the game's earliest fey, several of which return in Heroes of the Feywild.

Brownies and Leprechauns

What do these two races have in common? Plenty. Both were thought to be half-halfling, half-pixie descendants, and -- like most fey -- were hard to find and even harder to catch. Both were impossible to surprise due to their acute hearing and other senses, and a brownie could use dimension door while a leprechaun could turn invisible at will.

They both also conveyed a sense of background folklore. Brownies, although shy, could be helpful if treated well; they could make or repair wood, leather, and metal items, or serve as guides. The 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual further expanded on them (and a good many other monsters, owing to the mandate that monster entries fill a complete page) with the information that brownies lived by gleaning grain from farmers' fields, and they paid for it by performing small, secret tasks (think of the story called The Elves and the Old Shoemaker).

Leprechauns said nothing of their Irish origin, but much was made of their treasure. More mischievous than brownies, leprechauns functioned as the original ethereal filchers (or later boggles) by stealing small valuables from characters before turning invisible and running away. They also had a penchant for wine, which could be used to outwit them and possibly aid a party in stealing a leprechaun's treasure. Instead of a pot of gold, however, D&D's leprechauns had Treasure Type: F, a potentially rich hoard (the same type held by rakshasas, vampires, and type VI demons -- or balors).

The 2nd Edition further detailed a leprechaun's treasure: The treasure always contains gold, and if it's found, a leprechaun would bargain ferociously to keep it, offering three wishes to the party. Tricksters that they are (and following whatever fey laws of the world they followed), you also had to consider this text: "After all three wishes, the leprechaun will flatter the intruder and declare that the three wishes were so well-phrased that he will give a fourth wish. If the fourth wish is pronounced, the leprechaun will cackle with glee, the results of all the wishes will be reversed, and the intruder plus his group will be teleported (no saving throw) to a random location 2d20 miles away. No member of that party will ever be able to find that particular leprechaun again."

Pixies and Sprites

These two fey shared even more in common -- so much, in fact, that in 2nd Edition, pixies fell into the category of sprite, which also included nixies, atomies, and grigs. Both were shy and reclusive, with sprites becoming invisible at will and pixies being naturally invisible. (In the original edition of the game, dragons and high-level fighters could see them, and others saw them only by using the proper spell.) To defend their privacy, pixies and sprites carried bows and used arrows that caused a comatose sleep that lasted for 1-6 hours.

Unfortunately for adventurers, the bows and arrows weren't their only defense. Pixie arrows could also cause a complete loss of memory, and their mere touch created permanent confusion in the target. As for sprites, once their opponents were put to sleep, the sprites would outright slaughter any evil creatures among their foes and haul good creatures to a new location. Not even Tucker's kobolds could hold out against these fey.

So why would anyone bother them in the first place? As the Monstrous Manual stated, "the most famous by-product of pixies is pixie dust, also known as dust of disappearance. Crushing 50 pixie wings into a fine powder creates one dose of dust of disappearance. Naturally, pixies frown on this use of their wings."

Dryads, Nymphs, and Satyrs

Can you guess the similarities in this trio?

Answer: Members of the opposite sex who had high Charisma scores could sway them.

Dryads and nymphs inhabited their own special homes, with dryads intrinsically tied to a single, specific tree. (In 2nd Edition, rumors stated that dryads were in fact the souls of these very old trees.) As with other fey, they disliked intrusion and could use dimension door away as needed. And yet, they could still be tempted.

If near a male with a Charisma score of 16 or higher, a dryad could use charm person to try and lure that person away. The person would either never be seen again (a more pleasant version of a save-or-die effect) or would return 1-4 years later. Nymphs, likewise, could be favorably inclined to characters, but only males with a Charisma score of 18 or higher snagged their attention -- and at an even greater cost. Looking at a nymph could cause permanent blindness. Looking at a nymph that had disrobed (a line that always drew my attention as a kid) caused outright death.

Satyrs, on the other hand, would play their musical pipes to charm any group with a comely female (though, if pressed, they could also use their pipes to cause sleep and fear). Drawing further from their folklore, satyrs were largely bacchanalian, "interested primarily only in sport -- frolicking, piping, chasing wood nymphs, etc." Like leprechauns, they too could be lured or bribed with "superior" wine.

The 2nd Edition of D&D went so far as to note that there were no female satyrs. Instead, satyrs and dryads might be mates (along with pixies and halflings, apparently), their children becoming the next generation of satyrs and dryads. It's a detail that might have continued in Heroes of the Feywild, where satyrs are always male, and dryads are always female.

But that's not for us to state definitively. Go ask the fey for the answer . . . if you can find them.

A Final Quiz

Just how good is your knowledge of the fey? Let's see if you can guess the following. Which fey were originally said to reside in the following locations (answers below):

  1. Only the most secluded places; only near oak trees.
  2. Only sylvan woodlands.
  3. The most idyllic of woodlands.
  4. Meadows and wooded glens.
  5. Fair, green lands with lush hills and dales for them to frolic through.
  6. The loveliest of wilderness places, grottos in the sea, clear lakes and streams, and crystalline caverns.
  7. Quiet pastoral areas.

Answers

Click to see answers:

Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.
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