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Modern Fairy
Tracy Hurley

P oisoned apples. Dark curses. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Something about fairy tales calls to us, as evidenced not only in their continued popularity but through our desire to retell them. Each generation modifies these tales to fit their own fears and sensibilities.

This month sees the release of Heroes of the Feywild, which draws heavily from fairy tales and folklore. In addition, D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave recently began, with heroes daring enter an enchanted garden of the Feywild.

So with much of recent D&D lore and events coming from these tales, we wanted to look at more modern versions of old tales in ways that might inspire and enhance our games.


Once Upon a Time: In Once Upon a Time, familiar fairy tale characters find themselves caught in a terrible curse. The Evil Queen transported them to the real world, their original lives forgotten. Emma Swan, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, escaped the curse and legend tells that she will one day save them. A classic hero’s tale, Emma is unaware of her destiny… until the son she gave up for adoption 10 years ago appears at her door. One of the interesting parts of the show is that they take the relatively simple characters from fairy tales, the jealous Evil Queen, the beautiful Snow White, the handsome Prince Charming, and give them more detailed backstories, making characters out of the more traditional fairy tale archetypes.

Grimm: In another series styled as a hero's journey, the main character of Grimm, Nick Burckhardt, learns that he is one of the last Grimms. His ancestors, the Brothers Grimm, were more than scribes; they could literally see the monsters in our midst. Their descendants inherited this trait. As a result, the family became a tribe of monster hunters, passing down their lore through the generations. The official website for the show includes information about the mythical beasts used in the series, details on what fairy tales they used for inspiration, and examples of how they modified the stories.


Puss in Boots: Continuing in the style of playful fairy tale mash-ups used in Shrek, Puss in Boots follows the title character as he hunts down the object of his desire, magical beans that will lead him to treasure beyond belief. It’s a trick you might consider for your own games: cameo appearances by well-known characters can appeal to players, serve as signposts, and set the mood without requiring playing through a fairy tale adventure.

Snow White and the Huntsman: Often forgotten from the Snow White tale is the Huntsman, the man charged by the Evil Queen to kill the girl. In this retelling, not only does the huntsman refuse to kill Snow White, he teaches her self-defense. The trailer alone has some great visuals for a fantasy world, and Snow White in her armor would be right at home on the Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor site.


Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror, Mirror: While many of Gregory Maguire's novels focus on the land of Oz, two of them focus on classic fairy tales. His second novel, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, is a retelling of the Cinderella story from the point of view of one of the ugly stepsisters. In Mirror, Mirror, Bianca de Nevada, a reimagining of Snow White, finds herself the subject of the vain Lucrecia Borgia's ire. In the woods below her family's farm, Bianca meets the seven dwarves, who are awaiting the return of their eighth brother, a man away on a quest. Telling a tale from a lesser known point of view can give it new life and meaning.

A Look at the Past

Corey Olsen, also known as the Tolkien professor, taught a class called Faerie and Fantasy. He put the syllabus and lectures online. A resource he uses for the class is the collection of the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, available online for free.


Several recent D&D products include retellings of these famous tales and the creatures that populate them. Monster Manual 3 has nymphs, hags, giants, and gremlins. Monster Vault explores dragons, dryads, elves, gnomes, dwarves, medusa, and trolls. Boggles, goblins, witches and the wandering tower appear in Threats to the Nentir Vale. For players, Heroes of the Feywild details a number of races from fairy tales and folklore, including pixies and satyrs.

Have you run games using fairy tales for inspirations? What sources have you found useful? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Tavern Tales

Each post, I'll gather tips and tricks from the known realms and post them here. If you see an article or post you really enjoy, please share it by posting it in the comments.

D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave

In the Feywild, the heroes must explore an enchanted island garden and unravel the plot of a foul hag, before she and her fiendish companion can perform a ritual to seize control of the island. Every Wednesday, you and your companions face a new challenge, playing through an ongoing D&D campaign—one epic encounter at a time. Find out more about this season of D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave.

About the Author

Tracy Hurley is a D&D blogger, podcaster, and freelance game designer. On any given night, there is a 50% chance you will find her on twitter as @SarahDarkmagic, a 10% chance you'll find her on the Tome Show, 4Geeks4e, or the DM Round Table, a 25% chance she's home plotting world domination with her husband, and a 15% chance she's planning a sneak attack. She is rarely surprised, never flat-footed, and uses Encounter powers as At-Wills.

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