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The Fair Folk
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

W hat are fey?



It's one of those questions that seems easy to answer until you actually try to put it into words. The category is a sort of strange hodgepodge of creatures from Greek myth, wee folk from folklore, and noble Sidhe from Celtic legend. The 3.5 Monster Manual included the following fey creatures: dryad, grig, nixie, nymph, pixie, and satyr.

Speaking as a guy who tried more than once to design a prestige class in 3rd Edition that made you progressively "more fey," I can tell you that it's hard to identify characteristics those creatures have in common-at least rules characteristics.

Conceptually, in the worlds of D&D, these are all creatures that are strongly associated with nature. Dryads are tree spirits and nixies are water spirits. Nymphs are little godlings associated with places of natural beauty. Grigs, pixies, and satyrs frolic and dance in forest glades.

In 4th Edition, "fey" meant something a little different than it did in 3E. It became an origin, and it meant simply that the creature in question originated in the Feywild, also called the plane of Faerie. The Feywild was probably one of the more popular story innovations introduced in 4th Edition (though Faerie was presented in the 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes), but I always felt it fell short of its potential. I suspect that the best place for the Feywild is right where Faerie lived in 3rd Edition: in a discussion of alternative approaches to cosmology. If you want to build a campaign where fey creatures are really important, where characters who enter a ring of toadstools can find themselves transported to a different realm where time passes differently, then the Feywild or Faerie is a great tool to help you do that. If you just want to throw a nymph into your game from time to time, you don't really need the Feywild.

So that leads us back to my original question: What are fey?

I think fey are highly magical creatures who exist in a sympathetic bond with nature. Fey reflect the characteristics of the natural world where they live, and they alter nature to reflect their own personalities. There is an otherworldliness to them, a numinous quality similar in some ways to the presence of a dragon, though more likely to inspire wonder or confusion than fear.

There are specific places in the world that are strongly associated with a fey presence. In the Forgotten Realms, these include the Forgotten Forest, the Cloak Wood, the Border Forest, the Laughing Hollow, and Turlang's Wood. In the world of Dragonlance, the Darken Wood is a fine example, with its unicorn guardian called the Forestmaster. Some of these places are associated with a single fey creature of significant power, the leader of a group of like-minded fey. Others simply happen to be home to large numbers of fey creatures.

Sages speculate that some natural places in ancient wildernesses have enough magical power to spontaneously manifest a powerful unique fey, something like a spirit of that land. The Forestmaster and Turlang might be examples of such a phenomenon. Archfey such as the Prince of Frost, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Oberon, and Titania might also have arisen in such manner. The other possibility is that powerful fey come into being through more typical means and establish their demesnes in natural places of great power. Archfey are almost always surrounded by many lesser fey who form their "court," and these lesser fey largely share the personality and some of the characteristics of their lord.

Plenty of fey do exist independent of an archfey court. Some types of fey, such as centaurs and korred, are prone to wander far and wide across the world, often actively avoiding contact with any fey court. But any kind of fey might be encountered wherever you (as DM) desire, with no need to invent a fey court to go along with it. Even a band of traveling korred who stop in one place to dance under the full moon for a night's time leave that place changed by their presence, at least temporarily. The earth where they danced sprouts a ring of toadstools, the undergrowth nearby grows as tangled as a korred's beard, animals in the area become more wild (though not necessarily more aggressive), and under the full moon it might become a crossing to the Feywild (if you're using that plane), or allow teleportation to a similar faerie ring nearby or half the world away.

Why Do I Care?

From a certain perspective, fey are not very interesting in the D&D game. Many of them have good alignments, which makes it that much harder to come up with adventure plots that will bring player characters into potentially deadly confrontations with them. An adventure where characters venture into the forest to politely ask the dryads to stop scaring away the woodcutters might work, but it makes little use of the dryad's combat abilities, which leaves us with the question of why the creature takes up space in a Monster Manual.

Well, I have three answers to those concerns.

First, the fact that it's hard to come up with adventure ideas that pit adventurers against fey doesn't mean that it's impossible. For one thing, the fey understanding of ethical behavior doesn't always jibe with mortal understanding, and even good fey can be very dangerous at times.

Second, some DMs run games featuring evil adventurers, and all these "nice" fey make splendid villains for such characters to fight.

Third, and most important, a Monster Manual isn't just a source of monsters to fight. It provides a wealth of information about the worlds of D&D. Like a medieval bestiary, it features all the bizarre, fabulous, and terrifying creatures that inhabit these many worlds and planes. A DM reading a Monster Manual finds monsters to pit against players in future adventures, yes, but the DM is also learning about the D&D worlds. When you read about dryads and nymphs and leprechauns, you learn that these creatures of myth exist in at least some D&D worlds, possibly in yours. Ideally, you also get some good ideas about how those creatures fit into your world and, yes, how you might use them in adventures (not necessarily as combatants).

Now, on to specific fey! I won't go into detail about all the creatures I mentioned above. Instead, I'll just hit the highlights, starting with the dryad.

Dryad

Type: Fey
Level: Low
Environment: Forest

A dryad is a Medium (5' tall) fey creature that looks like a beautiful woman. Her features are elf-like but more pronounced, and she might manifest features that suggest her connection to the forest-green hair or skin like burnished wood.

Dryads are spirits of the forest, and each dryad has a particular tree (usually an ancient oak) within the forest to which it is bound. The tree and the dryad are inextricably linked-if one is killed, the other dies as well, and if the dryad is forcibly removed from the forest where her tree stands, she and the tree quickly sicken and die.

Dryads have the ability to charm or dominate, and they typically use that ability to encourage intruders to leave the wood. In addition, dryads can communicate with plants in their forests and teleport from one tree to another. Occasionally, it is said, a dryad falls in love with a handsome human or elf and uses her nonmagical charms to secure a long-term companion.

Hags

Type: Fey
Level: Medium
Environment:
Annis: Forest, swamp, and wastelands
Green Hag: Forest, swamp, wastelands, and rivers

Hags are powerful, ancient fey creatures, and the evil in their hearts is reflected in their hideous visages. They live in areas that reflect the ugliness of their souls-dark, twisted woods and gloomy swamps. They are fond of eating human flesh, especially children. That said, it is often possible to negotiate with a hag, and they possess great knowledge about the areas around their homes. A deal with a hag is a dangerous thing, however, since hags seem to delight in watching mortals cause their own downfall. A hag's terms almost always involve compromising one's principles or giving up something dear-particularly if the thing lost diminishes the enjoyment of the thing gained.

Hags often gather in covens. These groups of three might include hags of different types.

Annis. An annis is among the most powerful hags. It is Large (about 7-1/2' to 8' tall), with deep blue, iron-hard skin. It has a shaggy mane of tangled black hair, jagged black teeth, and long, clawlike fingernails that look like iron. It wears shabby, tattered peasant garb. It can create a fog cloud and alter its appearance (change self) to confuse and disorient its enemies, while it grabs and rends with its claws. If it gets an opponent into its claws, it bites with its filthy teeth for extra damage.

Greenhag. A greenhag is a little more powerful than an annis, making it the mightiest hag apart from the terrible night hag of the lower planes. It is Medium (human-sized), with green skin, black to olive green hair, amber to orange eyes, and rock-hard talons. Its skin is harder than metal armor. Its claws, in addition to leaving terrible wounds, impose a curse upon the target that leaves it weak and withered. It can turn invisible at will and change its appearance to look like a normal human or humanoid. Its coloration and natural stealth help it hide in the forests and swamps where it likes to dwell. While hidden, it uses the ability to mimic animal sounds or human voices to lure victims to its position. It typically cries for help in the voice of a child.

Nymph

Type: Fey
Level: Low
Environment: Any wilderness

A nymph is a Medium (4'–6' tall) fey creature that looks like a supernaturally beautiful woman. Her features are elf-like but more pronounced. Merely looking at a nymph can blind or even kill a mortal, though this is not so much an effect of her beauty (as is commonly supposed) but a curse she levels on those who intrude into her private sanctum. (Those who catch a nymph bathing are most at risk.)

Nymphs favor natural locations that share their beauty-clear lakes and streams, ocean grottoes, crystalline caverns, forest glades, or mountain peaks. They act as guardians and custodians of these locations, tending the plants and animals that live there and enjoying the animals' protection (and sometimes the plants') as well. They don't have the same link to a single natural feature that a dryad does, but there is a sympathetic connection between a nymph and her home. The place reflects her personality and character, including her capriciousness as well as her gentleness and beauty. For all her wild nature, a nymph is generally well-disposed to elves, druids, and people of good alignment who approach her with respect.

A nymph can dimension door to escape from danger. Her angry glance can momentarily stun one who offends or attacks her, and she can command animals to her defense. She can also cast spells as a druid does.

Wee Folk

A number of creatures fall into this broad category of fey, made up of more or less humanoid creatures between 1 and 2 feet tall. They include sprites, brownies, pixies, leprechauns, grigs, atomies, and more.

By and large, the wee folk are flighty, capricious, and frolicsome fey who like to dance and sing in fairy rings. Their cheerful demeanor can often blind mortals to the real danger these fey pose, however, for many of them delight in pranks and practical jokes that can prove harmful or even deadly. Though they are inclined toward good and hate both evil and ugliness, they're chaotic and have a very different moral sense than humans do. In addition, many of them have more powerful magic than their diminutive size would suggest, including the ability to turn invisible, charm or control other creatures, create illusions, and similar effects.

A few of the wee folk are thoroughly corrupt, such as quicklings, redcaps, and spriggans. These cruel and evil fey play pranks intended to cause pain and bloodshed, and use their magical abilities to kill and maim.

Atomie. Atomies are the smallest of the wee folk at just 1' tall. They're known for occasionally helping children who have become lost in their woods, but they can be fierce warriors (considering their size) when provoked. Wielding spears or tiny swords, they dive into melee and flit back out of reach. They can summon insects to aid them, speak with animals, turn invisible, and teleport from one tree to another.

Brownie. Brownies are friendly but shy. They can often be convinced to aid good characters by making or repairing items at supernatural speed, or by guiding characters through wilderness areas. They can use illusions (such as ventriloquism and mirror image), confusion, and dimension door, and are very stealthy in natural environments.

Grig. Grigs are mischievous and relatively fierce fey with the wings, legs, and antennae of a cricket. They are known for their fiddling, which can magically compel creatures that hear it to dance. They wield swords and darts to drive off their enemies, and they have abilities that allow them to restrain or hinder creatures moving through their forest-plants grow up to hold intruders in place or trip them as they walk, sparks and smoke lead them in one direction or divert them from another, and piping voices come from nowhere to mislead them.

Leprechaun. Leprechauns like treasure and are known both for stealing valuable items and for the legend that a leprechaun can be convinced to give up its gold. In fact, they're very good at tricking mortals into thinking they're giving up their treasure, but the task is truly almost impossible. Like other wee folk, they're mischievous but not malicious. They can become invisible, animate objects, and create illusions. They also have a great fondness for wine.

Pixie. Pixies are naturally invisible, making an encounter with them rare indeed. They use slim swords and tiny bows that launch magical arrows. Their war arrows cause painful wounds, and other arrows make their victims sleep for hours. They also have arrows that cause a complete loss of memory, requiring powerful magic to heal. They have abilities of illusion, polymorph, dancing lights, and dispel magic, and the touch of a pixie can cause lasting confusion.

Quickling. Quicklings are malicious, evil sprites known for their incredible speed. They can run faster than the eye can follow, needling foes with their tiny swords as they go. They sometimes use a poison that leaves the victim in a heavy sleep.

Redcap. Redcaps are sadistic killers that wield oversized scythes to attack without mercy. They wear iron boots and dark red hats that they dip in their victims' blood. They absorb some of the essence of every creature they kill, growing in strength and power.

Spriggan. Spriggans are evil gnomelike fey that can increase their size to giant stature (12' tall) to terrorize, rob, and otherwise work vile deeds. In their small form they have minor magical abilities (scare, affect normal fires, and shatter) and function much like rogues. In giant size, they're brutal warriors.

Sprite. Sprites are tiny winged fey who wield slim swords and bows, coating their arrows with a sleep poison. When intruders venture too near their homes, the sprites use their poison to knock them out, then kill evil ones and remove good ones far away from the sprites' home. They can become invisible, move silently, and discern good and evil natures in mortal hearts.

What Do You Think?

A lot of other creatures fall into the fey category, including centaurs, cooshees, korred, nixies, satyrs, sirines, sylphs, treants, unicorns, will-o'-wisps, and wood woads. But this article's already too long, so let's get to the polls.

I led off this time with a couple of larger bits of philosophy and approach, so please share your feedback about all that in addition to the specific creatures I discussed in detail.

  First, what do you think about the Feywild or the plane of Faerie?  
1-A fey plane belongs in the core cosmology.
2-A fey plane is a fine optional element for building a custom cosmology, and I'd definitely use it.
3-A fey plane is a fine optional element for building a custom cosmology, but it's not for me.
4-A fey plane has no place in D&D.

  Now, what do you think of my description of fey creatures in general?  
1-It is totally off base.
2-I still don't know what a fey is.
3-I think I see what you're getting at, but I'm not sure I like it.
4-It's definitely heading in the right direction.
5-That's exactly how I'll think of fey from now on.

  And do you buy my arguments for including fey creatures in a Monster Manual?  
1-Well, I can think of lots of reasons characters might want to fight one of these creatures.
2-I agree that the Monster Manual needs to describe the world as well as present adversaries.
3-Evil adventurers need stuff to kill, too!
4-All of the above.
5-No, use that space for more things to kill!

  Now, how does the dryad I described fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1-I am repulsed and annoyed.
2-It's sorely lacking.
3-It's getting there, but it needs more work.
4-Yeah, I recognize that as a dryad.
5-It is as beautiful as a dryad itself.

  How about hags?  
1-I am repulsed and annoyed.
2-It's sorely lacking.
3-It's getting there, but it needs more work.
4-Yeah, I recognize those as hags.
5-It is everything a hag should be and more.

  And nymphs?  
1-I am repulsed and annoyed.
2-It's sorely lacking.
3-It's getting there, but it needs more work.
4-Yeah, I recognize that as a nymph.
5-I'm blinded by her beauty.

  And what about the wee folk?  
1-I am repulsed and annoyed.
2-It's sorely lacking.
3-Some of them are dead on, but others still need work.
4-Yeah, I recognize those as the creatures you describe.
5-I've never been happier to see these in the game.

Previous Poll Results

First, do you like our approach to the lore of these creatures?
1-No, demons and devils should have lots of magical abilities. 226 18.4%
2-No, they don't need the strange powers (like the hezrou's stench) they gained in 2nd Edition. 41 3.3%
3-No, there's still too much going on. 144 11.7%
4-Yes, it makes good sense. 820 66.6%
Total 1231 100.0%

How well do the demons we've described here, overall, match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1-These hurt like an unholy word. 35 2.9%
2-No, these barely resemble D&D demons. 36 3.0%
3-It's getting there, but not quite working for me. 294 24.1%
4-Yeah, I recognize them as demons. 669 54.9%
5-This is exactly how I want my demons to work. 185 15.2%
Total 1219 100.0%

How well do the devils we've described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1-Reading them is like being tortured in Dis. 35 2.9%
2-No, these barely resemble D&D devils. 35 2.9%
3-It's getting there, but not quite working for me. 247 20.7%
4-Yeah, I recognize them as devils. 637 53.5%
5-The devils are in the details, and you nailed them! 237 19.9%
Total 1191 100.0%

Succubus: Demon or devil?
1-Demon! 456 32.8%
2-Devil! 439 31.6%
3-They play both sides! 405 29.1%
4-Something else entirely. 90 6.5%
Total 1390 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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