Let's get something out of the way. When I first approached Bart Carroll about an article about the new book coming out, I had "The Manly Art of Pixie Dust" as a working title and thought I'd focus on how to make macho or at least serious characters with what lurks between the pages of Heroes of the Feywild. Instead of me going my original route, however, I think this article is better served by providing one last peek into Heroes of the Feywild before it materializes on your local gaming table. Because it will. Sure, I'm biased (the check's in the mail, right, Bart?), but I'm going to dive into some highlights hidden (or just plain easy to miss) in the book that I think will help you get the most out of this particular tome.
Enough exposition, let's do this thing. And in no particular order -- why not?
The protector druid is our third variation on the druid theme. The joy of protector druids? They can choose a Primal Aspect (Primal Guardian or Primal Predator) just like the Player's Handbook 2 druid, meaning they qualify for all sorts of options and they can benefit from the bonus effects of certain powers. The thing is, the protector has all sorts of cantrips (Primal Attunements) and . . . the ability to make plants grow with a power called nature's growth. Don't laugh. This power makes difficult terrain that scales to cover 49 squares in the epic tier, and you can use it every encounter. Nothing says "I am a controller" quite like growing a vineyard every encounter for the rest of your career.
One highlight from the druid's Primal Attunements (not cantrips):
Senses of the wild
lets you detect the following in close burst 5: Diseased creatures or plants, traps that deal poison damage, mundane animals and plants, and corpses. "My Druid Smells Dead People," said the player, who was not certain he was happy with the current state of his game.
The protector druid's only daily power is summon natural ally, a power that lets you choose between a couple of different creatures to summon, depending on your Primal Aspect. Druids can use this power multiple times as they rise in level and tier. The creatures all have a defender/controller flavor (well, a melee controller is often just a defender, right?). Although you don't have the summoning options that the original druid receives, all these creatures have instinctive effects (actions they take if you don't command them to do anything) that will never hurt your own allies. Previously, many of the druid summoning powers had instinctive effects such as "If you didn't command the dinosaur to do anything, it eats your friend (save ends)."
As for druid summoning, the protector druid synergizes again with all those summoning feats and paragon paths, which will make those who essentially didn't get into Essentials pretty happy. DMs who don't like a character who can summon velociraptors and land sharks? Less so.
On the Question of Souls
One of the other themes found throughout the book involves bargaining with your character's soul. Yeah, I know it sounds like I'm about to bring up the old "Warlocks are Evil but tolerated" chestnut, but I'm serious. By "throughout the book," I mean that multiple classes, themes, and more involve making pacts with creatures Seelie and Unseelie, to our gain and detriment. You'll find a lot of great roleplaying advice for those already playing eladrin (or gnomes, to a lesser degree) if you look for it. Eladrin rarely make oaths or promises, because such agreements are binding and, if not upheld, can backfire with dire magical consequences. Sure, it's narrative fluff, but if you're afraid of it, make sure your DM doesn't get his hands on Heroes of the Feywild.
Take the Sidhe lord theme, for example. Sure, you're royalty in the Feywild and, besides having a bodyguard you can summon whenever you want and a feature that means people have to give you up to three servants to do your laundry while you're in town, that means you have power. Not everyone takes the new concept of racial or theme power swapping too seriously, but if you're willing to use them, the Sidhe lord can feel like the archfey you want them to be. Two of the powers you can take let you make fey pacts with other players: stealing action points or healing surges at the expense of your standard action or daily/encounter powers. With a simple handshake, your fate is bound to another player like any sort of patron. In my local game (I have a rule of playing anything I'm going to rant about -- it's a flaw, I admit), I played one of these and convinced the infernal warlock in the party that the Winter King would be more than willing to buy his contract from Asmodeus.
Speaking of bargaining with your soul, let's talk about witches. Heroes of the Feywild puts it very clearly: There are witch hunters out there. Some of them are pious clerics and paladins who are coming to kill your witch. (Please note that while witchcraft was originally presented as a psionic thing for ardents in Psionic Power, the book never clearly stated that people were out there trying to hunt you down.) Warlocks don't even have it that bad and witches are, technically wizards. The key here is the witch's familiar. Every witch gets one, and this is exactly why people are afraid of them.
No, really. You see, witches learn magic from their familiar, which is the envoy of . . . something. Maybe it's a god of magic. Then again, maybe it's Orcus, slowly trying to craft a new spellslinger to add to his demonic cause. And that's the gimmick here.
With their focus on cursing, turning folk into frogs, and having coven meetings beneath the wavering moon at midnight, there's enough drama going on there without pointing out that your witch learned all about the arcane arts from a vessel of an unknown creepy patron that might or might not be a demon bent on destroying the world. When you choose a familiar, think like a warlock without restrictions. You've gotten your power from another source and no matter what you do, you can't escape your familiar for very long. That's right. What works as a cute little bonus to other classes acts as the eyes of some other creature that you can't get rid of no matter what you do. Personally, I went with Oso de la Fez as my familiar: having a witch hunter after you because Shelly Mazzanoble is muttering dark arcane secrets through the lips of a circus bear is too hard to resist.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, there are totally male witches out there. I'm sure some coven out there might suggest another term, but the art for the witch clearly shows a gentleman listening to the unholy secrets his owl won't stop whispering in his ear.
While we're on the topic of souls, don't forget to check out the Unseelie agent theme. It says that one day your spooky patron is going to ask you to do something more serious than "holding that package for him while the heat is on him." There's a lot of fun tricks to this theme (a favorite being that your character might have just grown hooves, but you're pretty sure the sensation goes away after a few minutes), and the ability to send an umbral report to any creature on the same plane as you (or any plane if you want to send a quick voicemail to your Unseelie caregiver) is pretty iconic. Man, with all these options for corrupting your own character, I'm looking forward to seeing who brings a shade witch multiclassed into warlock with the Unseelie agent theme to my game first. You know, because why compromise your soul and morals one way when you can split it into four?
Berserker and the Bard
On the topic of compromise, let's talk about the berserker. Yes, she's a defender. Who can also be a striker. Which is pretty keen. There's a lot of flexibility here, because, quite frankly, the berserker is a brutal defender, doing more damage than anyone else in town with defender aura plus the vengeful guardian power. Although you certainly can stick to the defender role (which you rock at), if you don't start frothing at the mouth at some point during the encounter, you might be putting the berserker name to shame. The concept behind the berserker here is that you're pretty much a fighter who can "give into the dark call of primal spirits" and start defending with the strategy of "dead trolls can't attack my friends, so that counts, right?" It's definitely got a bit more of the classic barbarian feel to it . . . without so many "I turn into a primal crocodile man made out of fire" stances and more "I hit it with my axe" flavor. If you were wondering why Two-Handed Weapon Expertise debuts in this book, the whole "hit it with your axe" aspect of things is your answer, carnage fans.
As for the bard, the original Player's Handbook 2 bard had a focus on singing the praises and tales of your fellow adventurers. Enter the skald. The skald focuses on the stories of yester-age . . . and stabbing things in the neck with your sword. Funnily enough, you get encounter and daily powers, but each and every one of them is a no action, free action, minor action, or immediate action of some variety. This book also introduces new features for bards everywhere, giving them a mechanic that provides them with the reputations and prestige that was lacking before. Part of the concept of a bard is that they're welcome in any community and are more a part of the D&D setting than other classes. Free food (Welcome Guest) is fine, but I suspect Travel in Style will be a pet favorite. Being able to acquire mounts for the entire party as a class feature is something that's hard to pass up. Just remember to buy the insurance: If you break the horse, it means you bought it, and breaking horses is more than likely when dealing with dungeons and dragons.
Satyrs . . . and Storytelling
What can I say about satyrs? I could go on about the fact that a 3-week-old satyr has the body of an infant but the speech patterns and mobility of a teenager. I could go on about how they're a race that can take a feat to appear as a member of a different race, meaning the party doesn't need to know you're a hedonistic, selfish fey with a reputation for wine and mad lute skillz. But, instead, let's take a look at Andronus. You might have noticed that the Essentials line brought back the notion of iconic characters -- examples of certain classes/races that would show up in multiple illustrations. Heroes of the Feywild, however, is the first book to take it to the next step and tell stories with them, rather than just showing off the cool castle they fought in on last Thursday. The book follows what could be a single adventuring party, assuming people have kids and are bad at showing up to game (since most pictures show only two of the five party members). It's a great feature that makes me want to gush about art direction, but that's my own cross to bear. So who is Andronus? Andronus is the satyr skald who helps illustrate the personality stereotype of satyrs in action.
"What . . . you wanted help? I'm a bard. Wasn't my 'don't forget to get the food from the sinking ship' aria inspiring? So what's for dinner?"
This might be my favorite picture in the book, so much so that if you see a guy with it tattooed onto his face next Gen Con, that'd be me. Look at it closely. "Sure, this lady looks like the most evil stereotypical crone, and we suspect these cookies might be poisoned but they smell so good I don't care. Man, these are great cookies." Which hammers home the hedonistic curiosity that every satyr embodies.
This is the moment where the player of the witch asks, "Did your character really just eat the cookie?" The player of Andronus just says, "Andronus is hungry."
And that invariably leads to the moment where you hear, "Roll initiative to see if you can stop the satyr from eating the cookie he just said he's going to eat."
Okay, the specifics might be different at your table, but in a nutshell we've all been at the table when someone throws out some crazy talk and sticks to their roleplaying guns. Of course, in a normal D&D book, that'd be the end of it. Not so in Heroes of the Feywild.
So Andronus got turned into a rabbit. You can tell by the goat horns. Well played, art director. Well played.
You might be thinking I'm just blabbing about art, but since the theme of the book is how the Feywild is a storybook land, this narrative helps hammer home the theme of the book. Instead of inspiring hardcore action (and featuring only one character being awesome on their own), we have roleplaying moments that, were it your table, you'd remember for ages. By the by, the opening of the book does a great job of elaborating on the storybook land concept. Bards familiar with the Feywild can almost be expected to address the classic plot diagram you find in most fantasy adventures. Some of the feats presented, such as Fey Thievery, are literally the stuff of legend, allowing eladrin to steal from people's pockets from up to 25 feet away. If that doesn't scream "mythic thief," I'm not sure what does . . . or what'd fit into a storybook world more perfectly.
The tuathan theme, which I suspect most folks will remember as the one that lets you turn yourself into an animal at-will if you take the utility power, isn't the story of a bloodline of shapeshifters. It's a theme that embodies the notion of being the fey-blessed hero of the story. A character who exploits this theme (again, I seriously suggest looking to these utility swap options) is going to be the plucky and lucky adventurer who is almost built to be mythical. Due to having everything from shapeshifting (one of many powers) to the ability to form a pact (again, we're making fey bargains!) that punishes both parties if they lie, the tuathans are more a physical narrative force in the Feywild than anything else. And again, while their word is binding and has dire magical consequences, if it's broken, there's no mechanic to the punishment. Which means your DM has to, like the bards say, do what's best for the story at hand.
Even the new items presented in Heroes of the Feywild have a narrative flourish to them. The ray of Feywild sunshine consumable (which creates light/heals plants) requires you to bait a playful sunbeam. That's not a figure of speech. Although I doubt we'll see "playful sunbeam double rainbow wielder" in the next Monster Vault, the laws of the universe just aren't the same in the land of elves and fable. It might also explain why so many eladrin are vegan. When everything can talk/be playful (including the trees now that I think about it -- creepy), one's diet can get complicated very quickly.
And Then There Were Pixies
In my research for Stupid Monsters Part 3, I was first introduced to pixies in their mob form known as "petals," friendly pixies who put any adventurer they see to sleep, take off all their clothing, and do their laundry. Um . . . yeah. I think I see the hurdle here. Yet that's a bad frame of reference. I mean, it's not like anyone who's into fantasy isn't familiar with pixies already, right? If you've read the Dresden Files or Terry Pratchett's Nac Mac Feegle/Wee Free Men novels, or got into Peter Pan (or Hook, why not?) a little too much, you're already familiar with a vision of pixies that isn't necessarily the adorable jester stereotype that seems to haunt this tiny race. Due to the fact that they have no penalty to Strength and no penalty for attacking Large targets, one has to reevaluate their ability to share a space with an enemy due to their size. How do you blast the pixie that keeps headbutting you in the stomach when he won't leave your square? Oh, 4th Edition, your lack of racial penalties makes pixies just as brutal in combat, at least mechanically, as any human. Which should terrify you.
Pixies are the blue collar workers of the Feywild, charged with making flowers blossom, rainbows sparkle, carving intricate patterns of frost in the winter months, awakening sleeping stars in the sky as twilight falls, and all sorts of fairly hippie things. Sure, they're mischievous little sprites that thrive on defeating boredom at every turn, and although there's no mechanic that lets them trick mortals into falling in love with their enemies or ugly beasts, they're still known for it and do it to make sure others don't fall victim to boredom. At the same time, pixies are divided among the fey courts (unless they're wild pixies, which will eat your eyes right out of your face for trespassing) and serve their leader's faction with enthusiasm. There's something to be explored here, but let's get to that in a moment.
One thing to note here is the fact that there just aren't hard and fast rules for Tiny characters, meaning it's up to the DM to make things work for the story. For example, if my pixie Captain FlikaFlak hides in the archlich's pocket, do I have total cover? If I lock myself in an invulnerable case, can I open it from the inside later? Seriously, can the ranger tie me to an arrow so I get shot into the villain as he tries to escape in his carriage? Tiny characters open up weird possibilities that you have to account for . . . and you might find it hard to do so.
ProTip: Get a bag of holding. I learned too late in my game that many, many mundane items are bigger than my pixie. While we're sharing tips, keep in mind that even if your pixie paladin is the best defender in town, a good DM is going to have problems roleplaying why they shouldn't just ignore the action-figure sized champion until he's crawled the enemy forces a few times. Sure, my lurker is marked, but he's marked by a pixie. There's a price break on the threat, somehow.
The biggest aspect of pixies is their childlike nature. Heroes of the Feywild presents, several times, the idea that each pixie is a reflection of a human life, keeping their childhood alive even after they've grown up. If each pixie is a reflection of a mortal, there are all sorts of story hooks for the brave. Is your pixie plagued by visions of his or her counterpart's demise? Has your reflection grown to become something evil, and were you cast out from the Feywild due to your mirror soul's sins? The concept of pixies being linked to specific mortals creates all sorts of possibilities, from the comical to the incredibly dark.
Of course, when we think "childlike," a lot of people zero in on being immature and naïve. I highly suspect that we'll see gamers who have kids roleplaying pixies just a little bit differently than gamers who don't have them. One of the best styles I've seen is just asking "obvious questions no one would dare think of asking," because that's what kids do. "If you wanted to negotiate a peaceful end to the blockade of Naboo, why did you send two laser-sword wielding warriors who have mind control powers?" Or simply, "Why is it okay to break into this castle, but not the one not swarming with the undead? Wouldn't that one be easier to loot?" Although this is definitely an option, it's good to think about how children play, traditionally. Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, Team Rocket against the World, Ninja versus Pirate -- children play crude mockeries of war. In a world of "big'uns" and danger, why wouldn't the resilient fey folk create larger games for them to play? This ended up being the angle I went with. The pixies are already in different factions that aren't necessarily at war with each other, but what's to stop them from organizing something grand to battle the tidal pull of boredom? Pixies are reflections of mortal children while at the same time charged with responsibility by the lords of the fey. What do children do when they try to act like adults? How did I try to make it work?
Oh, the new mount rules, I do so love you. In case you missed it, the mount rules now say you can use any creature as a mount as long as it a) is willing and b) is larger than you in size. Although naturally this means my gnome will be riding our party's cleric into battle from here on out, this is glorious news for Tiny and Small characters across Faerûn and beyond. The fey beast tamer theme lets these races ride on the back of a displacer beast, or straddle a young owlbear before charging into battle. Pixies, being Tiny, have even more options. Want to ride a falcon? Play a beastmaster ranger and be a deadly archer of the skies! Did you miss halfling outriders? Now's your chance to bring them back to 4th Edition in style. It's an interesting spin on the new rules, and I can't imagine a better book to bring it to light than one about over-the-top narratives. Of course, it's a bit off-topic, but I think we'll survive.
Say hiya to Captain FlikaFlak. He's got an armada.
Pictured here is Captain FlikaFlak who sails the queen's mustang across the sea of the world under the flag of the Prince of Frost. Combining a touch of NeverNeverLand lore with how a tiny fey might choose to explore the world, the joy and horror that is the pixie pirate brought up all sorts of roleplaying possibilities, with the comedy of calling a hand crossbow a ballista aside, naturally. While dropping anchor for a short rest is cute, the whole childlike thing grew into something at the table that I wanted to share. In our group it inspired rivalries between other pixie factions that focused on adopting a specific culture or mannerism. And that's what kids (or my version of pixies) do. Want to play pirates? Ninja-obsessed? A kid playing a ninja (with real katana and maybe the assassin class) can be irresponsibly terrifying, jumping out from a hiding place too small for an expected assassin. When I was a kid, I think for about two months I was a ninja turtle. Then a robot. Then Mallrat . . . but I digress. My in-game fey nemesis at our gaming table showed up a few games later with the BitterWings, a group of pixies who became obsessed with the undead in the same way that the British obsessed upon the Japanese in Victorian Times, a la Orientalism. Sure, it was trendy to dress and act Japanese, but they didn't quite "get" it. Similarly, a vampire pixie (a combination that is frighteningly optimized) can almost be roleplaying what pixies think a gritty and tragic creature of the night would be like, without actually becoming "one with the night."
Entire pixie kingdoms thus exist on the branches of a single tree and even the lords of Faerie know better than to come between pixies and their pastimes. When you make your pixie, be sure to invent his or her people too. They don't have to be like the above. A pixie trying to emulate a barbarian tribe dwelling at the nearby fey crossing is just as viable. Maybe your family dwells inside the skull of a long-dead fomorian wizard and is working on rebuilding knowledge by building an arcane library inside it. The best part of this last idea is that in the Feywild, childlike logic could actually work. I mean, if you can take sunbeams home in a jar, what's to stop you? Think of it as a pixie playing "D&D Adventurer," and you're on the right track. Don't just roleplay someone acting like a kid. Be a kid with purpose.
And there you go. By all means check out Heroes of the Feywild -- if for nothing else but a book that explains the setting that is a storybook world. You know, because if you're going to go adventuring in a fantasy world, you might as well dive right into the deep end that is the Feywilderness. So sell your soul for faerie gold, kiss your true love before the stroke of midnight or she turns into a troll, and pray you don't wake up with the head of a donkey. Not all stories are as fun when you're in the middle of them, and that's something an adventurer in the Feywild should never forget. Also, if you have any plastic Vulcan ears left over from Halloween, I'd slap those boys on before hitting the local fey crossing. It couldn't hurt, right?
-- Jared . . .
. . . who is really resisting the urge to point out that the fey beast tamer theme lets you at level 10 potentially become a moonkin, because sharing that kind of information doesn't help anyone but those with a passion for owlbears.