Most mortals see life as a straight line. You are born, beginning the line. You live your chosen path, and then you die: the end of the line.
A few, more philosophical, souls realize that life more closely resembles a circle than a line, with birth joining together with death to complete the cycle. Very rare mortals understand that life is not just one circle, but rather a series of endless, interlocking circles, many of whose circumferences an individual will not live long enough to traverse.
Fey, on the other hand, with their millennia-long lifespans, see life and time as cyclical. Cycles, like the seasons of nature or the phases of the moon, surround one's destiny. At every point, one is beginning a circle, ending a circle, and traveling around the midpoint of countless other circles. Birth is just the beginning of one such circle.
Love, loss, betrayal, honor, fame, friendship: A true fey knows that each one of these begins a cycle and ends a cycle. One might have his honor held in the grasp of a rival, only to later hold the honor of an enemy in his hands. One might betray a friend, only to find herself, decades later, betrayed by a friend. These small circles join with the larger circle: the rise and fall of houses, the birth and death of gods and planets and planes. All part of circles that even the oldest fey will admit they do not begin to know or understand, or hope to live long enough to see completed.
When Fey are Immortal
In a campaign where fey are immortal, they disregard the prospect of a natural death. Their births are the beginning of an endless spiral of emotional highs and lows, triumphs and failures.
An Untimely End
Unnatural deaths occasionally occur among the fey. An accident in the wilds or a misstep in the mortal realms are unusual, but expected every century or two. The death of a fey at the hands of another fey is rare. It is common, during travels to other planes, for fey to take part in raids or adventures that cause the death of a mortal; for the most part, those are overlooked, as mortals are not considered to possess the same level of sentience as the fey. But murder amongst the fey is nearly unheard of.
There are several possible reasons for this unspoken taboo. The first is that the strict punishment imposed upon a fey committing such a crime is strong enough to deter most attempts. Indeed, any fey responsible for a death, even inadvertently, can expect not only to be punished as an individual, but also to have his or her entire house dishonored for a several millennia. Most times, committing murder results in the fey becoming an outcast from his or her family, stripped of name and status. If the death was accidental, the fey may be banished from the fey realms until a new queen takes the throne. If the death was premeditated, the fey can be given to the bereaved family for enslavement and torture.
Another potential reason for the rarity of murder is that fey generally prefer humiliation with a good dose of violence to lethal force. With careful planning, revenge over a slight can be enjoyed for centuries,. The monotony of endless days can be filled with schemes, whispers and delicious thoughts of one's enemy twisting on the end of a string like a puppet forced to dance. Death, in its finality, brings only a quick release.
Of course, the worries of the fey concerning their small numbers also increase the value of every fey life. With low birth rates making new children a rarity, many petty squabbles that might lead mortals to kill are never considered possible justifications for murder among the fey.
When Fey are Mortal
Life is a beautiful symmetry, to be celebrated and embraced. And among the rarest and most celebrated cycles of the fey, is the final journey of an elder fey.
Death, natural death, when it comes for the fey, is neither fast, nor surprising. A fey can tell -- through seers, through the feeling of his skin as it thins over his bones, through the dreams of the moon on a cold winter night -- that death will come in another several decades. This short time left is spent in transferring wisdom, history and knowledge to the next generation of the family and in celebrating the events of life. Feasts, dances, and months-long celebrations held at the family's lands are all part of the last days. If the elder fey is in good standing at the court, the queen herself may arrange for a party in his honor, or the planting of a garden that will forever bear his name.
In the final weeks, a scribe is commissioned to sit with the fey and listen to the story of his life. This written history is added to the family treasures, as it is considered the essence of the person: all the good and bad done over a lifetime, all the cycles delineated with pen and paper. Because of the longevity of the fey, even the largest of families possess only a few hundred volumes at most.
After the last party has ended and last song of honor has been sung, the elder is ready to depart. Any personal magic items are passed to the younger generation, to be used for the good of the family. Ceremonial robes are donned, and a solemn procession glides into the forest. A favorite granddaughter or great-great-great nephew is chosen to spend the final hours alone with elder fey. Seated in a circle of flowers, trees or stones, they spend the last hours together until the moon rises full overhead. In the morning, the young fey comes back alone, and the elder is gone forever.
The Rite of Ultimate Passage
When death approaches, a fey may choose to undergo a complex rite to pass on her knowledge to her heirs. The ceremony is both time-consuming and costly: It takes a week to complete and costs 1,000 gp per participant (including the elder fey).
The rite of ultimate passage must be undertaken willingly by a fey with at least 10 Hit Dice or class levels or any combination of the two that totals 10 or more. She declares that upon her death, her chosen heirs will benefit from her knowledge. For every 5 ranks in a Knowledge skill, she can grant an heir a +1 bonus in that Knowledge skill. The bequest functions only if the fey dies of old age.
The recipient need not be a fey. No individual may receive or possess bonuses totaling more than +2. If the individual later becomes an heir to another fey, the beneficiary decides which bonuses to keep. Once a recipient refuses or gives up a bonus, it is forever lost.
For example, Elodoria, an ancient matriarch, has 13 ranks each of Knowledge (arcana) and 17 ranks of Knowledge (nature). She may choose to honor up to 5 individuals with the gift of some of her knowledge. (Thirteen ranks of Knowledge [arcana] provide 3 points of bonus on Knowledge [arcana] checks that Elodoria can distributed. Seventeen ranks of Knowledge [nature] provide 3 points of Knowledge [nature] bonus that can be gifted.) Elodoria chooses to give a +2 bonus to Knowledge (arcana) to her favorite niece, Adrianna. She gives her dear friend M'hele a +1 bonus in both Knowledge (arcana) and Knowledge (nature). She decides that no one else is worthy of the talent she can bestow. The old fey continues to live another decade. Both Adrianna and M'hele now have as many bonuses as they are allowed from death rites. When Elodoria dies, Adrianna gains her bequest: a +2 bonus on Knowledge (arcana) checks. M'hele had been the recipient of another bequest and already possesses a +2 bonus on Knowledge (history) checks at the time that Elodoria dies. M'hele chooses to keep a +1 bonus on Knowledge (history) and add the +1 bonus on Knowledge (nature) checks left to her by her friend. The +1 bonus on Knowledge (arcana) checks from Elodoria is lost, as is the +1 bonus on Knowledge (history) checks that M'hele gave up.
About the Authors
Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrelis a managing editor for Wizards of the Coast's Roleplaying Games R&D department. Recent design work includes Planar Handbook: A Player's Guide to the Planes, Underdark, and Dragon Magazine articles. Editing credits include Book of Exalted Deeds, Draconomicon, and Fiend Folio. She's a frequent contributor to the Wizards of the Coast website. Check out her website.
Faith M. Price accidentally fell into the adventure game industry ten years ago. Since then she has worked for three game manufacturers and has written for numerous magazines. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.