"What is it?"
"The usual. Cat's breath and fish scales and moonlight on a mill-pond, melted and smithied and forged by the dwarfs."
-Neil Gaiman, Stardust
hen the assignment to lead the design of Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild was handed to me, I was ecstatic. The Feywild is one of my favorite additions to D&D lore. Although all editions of D&D have had fey creatures, the Feywild brings the fey into greater focus. This book was a chance to explore new areas, which can be rare in a game with as much history as D&D.
As with most books, Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild started with a broad outline. I worked closely with Steve Townshend, and then later Claudio Pozas, to craft an outline about was going to be in the book, how that material would feel, and what the book's message would be.
Here is an excerpt about the major themes of the book:
Land of Legends: The Feywild is the source of many of the common fairy tale tropes, mostly because they are true. The Feywild is a place where you can be put under a spell to sleep for a hundred years, be transformed into a horse and made to serve as an evil witch's mount, visit mysterious cities built into the trees, and become lost of a hedge maze the size of a city.
The Perilous Fey: This book should emphasize the danger of the Feywild and fey magic. This book should communicate the idea that the heroes who adventure in, or come from, the Feywild are accustomed to dealing with magic and creatures that are strange and dangerous, and which defy explanation.
Magic and Superstition: This book should communicate that fey magic doesn't necessarily follow the rules one would expect from the world. A charm made of fish scales and the reflection of sunlight off a pond has real, magical power—even if that defies logic. Superstitions might seem hokey in the world, but in the Feywild, they can save your life—and that's why you follow them!
During the outlining process, we steeped ourselves in the existing lore about the Feywild (from Manual of the Planes to D&D Insider articles), reread classic fairy tales, hunted down copies of fantasy novels with a Feywild feel (such as Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions), and read contemporary fantasy fiction like Neil Gaiman's Stardust, Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, and Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. (Let me tell you—when reading classic fairy tales and works of fantasy counts as research, you have a good job!)
This research led me to a few conclusions that shaped the outline of the book. First, I wanted the book to read like a primer for stepping into the Feywild from the perspective of a character, not a Dungeon Master. Two, I wanted this book to give players some ability to generate their own fairy tale origins for their heroes. Three, I wanted the book to flood the reader not just with raw information on the Feywild, but to include the right stories and language to put the player in a fairy tale mindset.
These three goals manifest in the book in different ways. The opening chapter of the book is about the Feywild from the perspective of what characters would know. It addresses the Feywild from two different perspectives: that of a Feywild native, and that of someone from the natural world stumbling upon the world for the first time.
The second goal manifests in the last chapter of the book. This chapter uses a combination of the choose-your-own-adventure-style books and Traveller-style character generation to help players generate histories for heroes that are already heavily invested in the Feywild. This method gives a character a rich history that a player can draw on for roleplaying, and it provides a Dungeon Master with lots of plot hooks for a campaign centered on the Feywild.
The final goal of the book can be seen everywhere in the text, but nowhere more than in the Bard's Tale sidebars. To communicate the feel of the Feywild, we needed more than just raw information about the plane. I hit upon the idea of taking the old standard adventure hook and character hook sidebars, a common feature of many roleplaying game sourcebooks, and transforming them into a vehicle for expressing the setting's essence. The Bard's Tale sidebars communicate stories as though told by a wandering bard. Each uses language designed to evoke the pacing and ambiance of fairy tales while also generating adventure and character hooks. Rather than coming out with an adventure hook and saying, "Here's an adventure you can run," these sidebars weave an adventure hook into a story; when read by a player, the story creates a sense of the Feywild's atmosphere, and when read by the DM, the story inspires adventures that are then familiar to players.
In essence, I wanted to make players familiar with the fairy tale mythology of the D&D world. That way, when players experience an adventure tied to that mythology, they feel the same sense of familiarity that their characters feel.
Of course, the meat of the player's option books comes in the sections about classes and races. For this book, I wanted to look to familiar archetypes from fairy tales and to touch on some archetypes that hadn't yet been expressed mechanically in 4th Edition.
Another goal for the book was to provide support to a wide swath of classes and races from the last three years' worth of 4th Edition supplements. Since the Feywild can encompass many character options and multiple power sources, it wasn't difficult to touch on a lot of different material in the same book.
We modified the presentation of our new class builds to more closely match that of our earlier books. That's one reason the builds list their new class features as alternate class features; however, instead of choosing piecemeal from the features, they come as a bundle. As a result, you might not be able to cherry-pick class features, but you can pick up feats that allow the new build to blend with the older builds.
One of our first ideas was a barbarian build that changed between roles based on its rage. We imagined that this new build would create a more drastic change in play style. We built the story of this new barbarian based on the idea that fey crossings are in the wilds or the fringes of civilization. The barbarian tribes that live near fey crossings must deal with all kinds of nasty creatures coming through from the Feywild. As a result, these barbarian cultures have developed means of defending their homes against such incursions, and then, once a defense has been mounted, calling upon the primal spirits of the natural world to drive back invaders. Thus, the barbarian starts out as a martial defender and, when the time comes to rage, transforms into a primal striker (not unlike Logen Ninefingers from Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy).
Mechanically, this new build allows us to support the existing barbarian through the primal powers included in this section, all of which have striker damage built-in, like barbarian powers from Player's Handbook 2. However, these powers are not rages, allowing the barbarian to use two daily powers in an encounter without having to overwrite a rage or diminish the effect of rage strike. This new design also allows us to make the barbarian a better multiclass or hybrid option for fighters and other martial classes. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the build lets us introduce options into the game that can help speed up the sometimes slower latter half of combat encounters. At the beginning of a fight, when enemies are likely to be numerous, a barbarian of this type can act as a defender. Once foes are diminished, the barbarian can switch to a striker to speed up the end of combat.
The bard class was an obvious choice for inclusion, largely for its Gaelic roots and its ties to tales relating to the fey. The existing bard material does a good job of conveying the archetype of the magical bard, but I'd heard some demand for a traditional, non-magical bard, so we created the skald. This bard is based on the Gaelic bards, which are more poets and historians than singers.
The skald bard combines the knowledge and wisdom of a well-traveled historian, with a focus on arcane "tricks" that ride on top of basic attacks. We also added the skald's aura, a class feature that subtly tweaks the way the bard acts as a leader. To ensure maximum compatibility with the existing bard, all of the bard's level-based powers can be swapped out for existing powers (and vice-versa), and the book includes a feat that lets a non-skald bard obtain skald's aura in exchange for majestic word.
The decision to include a druid build came about for a few reasons. First, although the Feywild is infused with arcane magic, it still contains a strong primeval nature. I wanted to reflect that quality with a character class dedicated to manipulating and defending unspoiled regions of the plane. Second, since the book also focuses on the impact the Feywild has on the world at fey crossings, it made sense to describe the kind of guardian that would take up residence near a crossing to defend against incursion. Lastly, given the strength of arcane power in the Feywild, I wanted to play with the concept of a clash of power sources by including a class that could stand against such power.
The result is the protector druid. This druid focuses on the "nature spellcaster" aspect of the druid, emphasizing area control spells and summoning. Like the bard, almost all of the druid powers in the book are compatible with the class' incarnation from Player's Handbook 2. The summoning ability was one piece that remained exclusive to the new build.
The witch build for the wizard was tricky. From the beginning, we knew we wanted to create a build to support the witch archetype. However, we weren't sure which class to put it in. We briefly considered making the witch a sorcerer, but the story behind the classic witch didn't fit with the bloodline-focused story of sorcerers. Moreover, we wanted a build that was more of a controller than a striker. Given a witch's connection to a patron from whom it learns lore, the warlock seemed like a good choice. However, we already had fey pacts for both the hexblade warlock and the Player's Handbook warlock.
In the end, the witch became a wizard build, largely because the wizard's existing powers provided a solid foundation of controller options. We also added the idea that the witch learned spells from a familiar rather than a spellbook. Still, since the warlock was a good candidate for this archetype, we created a fey pact for the binder warlock build, which first appeared in Player's Option: Heroes of Shadow. The fey pact binder build will appear in Dragon some time in the next few months.
We had more race options than we could feasibly fit into one book. In the end, we chose races based on their story ties to the Feywild and for the new mechanical opportunities those races presented.
Making the hamadryad a playable race presented immediate challenges, due to the race's connection to home trees. Rather than shy away from the issue, we instead confronted it head-on, making the home trees into an element to drive adventure instead of stifling it. A hamadryad could be called away on a quest to save her forest home, just as a human fighter might journey to distant lands to protect the village where his or her family lives. We presented the hamadryad as a variety of nymph that has begun the transformation into a true dryad. As a result, the race draws upon the strange beauty of nymphs as well as the woodland-warrior aspect of 4th Edition dryads.
The pixie was easy to include from a story perspective, yet it was a mechanical challenge, due to its size and ability to fly. With this book, I felt like it was time to meet those challenges head-on. As a result, we had to put some limitations on their flight, and create some special provisions for their Tiny size.
The satyr was the safest race to include, in that it was most like existing playable character races. In designing the story of the satyr, I wanted to focus on adventuring through the eyes of a hedonistic race. We had to answer some fundamental questions. It's easy to see why a satyr would seek out riches, but why would one put himself in danger for it? How does a satyr react when meeting a potential enemy, when so much of satyrs' focus is on making merry? We also had to address their appearance. Although we opted to give the playable satyr the traditional human-with-goat-legs appearance, we also introduced the satyr of the night, which draws influence from darker depictions of fey creatures.
At one point, the book had a fourth race, the tuathans. The original concept for the tuathans was to make them like catfolk. Here's what Steve Townshend had to say about why we should include a race like this:
"Creatures of the Feywild can be both benevolent and savage, and sometimes both at the same time."
Over time, our discussions evolved catfolk into a humanoid race that can transform into animals. Many fairy tales describe creatures that look like small, innocuous animals, but which transform into humans at surprising moments. We wanted to include a race like that, and tuathans were the result: humanoids who could transform into cats, dogs, foxes, and other small animals.
As the book moved through development, we started questioning whether or not tuathans were truly a race, or more of a culture. Eventually, it was decided that the tuathans would become a theme, using the mechanics introduced in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting. This change meant that a player could choose a race of his or her liking and still gain the benefit of this classic, fairy tale archetype.
Finally, in addition to new fey races, we also had many existing races tied to the Feywild. To help out players of those races, we decided to include new racial feats for races such as elves, eladrin, gnomes, and wilden.