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A Problem with Fey
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

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.

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.)




I have a problem with fey creatures. Okay, maybe not all fey creatures, but I have an issue with dryads and nymphs as described in the history of D&D. Did you take a moment to read through the above descriptions? Did you notice anything unusual? I've got two creatures, both are about the same size, both have elf-like features, and both look like beautiful women. As a visual guy who is trying to create unique and interesting creatures, I'm left wondering "what is the difference?" after reading these two descriptions.

Okay, sure, one is not just beautiful, but is supernaturally beautiful. Can anyone tell me what "supernaturally beautiful" looks like? I have friends who will argue for hours about whether Cameron Diaz is average, pretty, cute, or beautiful. Then you've got the whole issue of cultural differences of beauty, generational differences of the standards of beauty, and even differences about body types as related to beauty. I don't even want to start trying to define what supernaturally beautiful might look like. Just sounds like a nightmare to me.

Hmm, I got myself sidetracked there for a minute.

So one is beautiful and the other is supernaturally beautiful. We've also got that one of them might have green hair or skin that is like burnished wood (and that's beautiful—wait, don't get distracted again . . .). So, is that the only visual difference between these critters? Is there no D&D lore or history that makes them more visually interesting and different from each other?

Okay, let's step back for a second and look at some real world mythology and see if we can find some way to inject some visual clarity into the critters. We've got a problem. It seems that those crazy Greeks say that a dryad is actually a tree nymph. In fact, nymphs were subdivided depending upon where they lived: dryads (forests), naiads (springs and rivers), nereids (the Mediterranean), oceanids (the sea), oreads (mountains), limoniads (meadows), limniads (lakes, marshes, and swamps), meliads (ash trees), epimeliads (with sheep?), and napaea (valleys and glens).

Hmmm . . . time to go talk to the expert.

After a conversation with James Wyatt on this subject, I've come up against a visual conundrum. You see, this is kinda the way the discussion went . . .

Me: "So we've got nymphs, and we've got dryads. I get that a lot of D&D comes from real world mythology, but why do we have 'generic nymphs' and then call out dryads specifically? Doesn't that leave a lot of nymph subraces out there?"

James: "In case you haven't noticed yet, I'm working really hard at trying to confuse and baffle you."

Me: "No fair! You know I'm easily confused and distracted. In fact, the nymph discussion is just another . . . is that a new mini there on your desk? Where did you get it? I just picked up. . . ."

Actually, the conversation that James and I had went quite differently. The truth is simple: the history and reasons behind why things were done in the past in D&D are often shrouded in mystery, and "I'm not sure what they were thinking" moments. Who can say why the 1E Monster Manual ended up the way it did? James seems to believe that "nymphs" (in general) and "dryads" are words that have worked their way into common parlance more than the other distinctions of nymphs, although that might be an effect of the Monster Manual rather than a cause.

So here we are again, back at our starting point. We've got two fey creatures that have a common historical basis and a very common visual look. So how do we differentiate them?

When James thinks of the monster called a nymph in D&D, he tends to think about the sort of generic nymphs of Greek myth—the ones that attended Artemis as she was bathing, for example. That makes the D&D nymph closest to naiads then. Are you familiar with that classical story line? This type of scene has been captured numerous times during the ages. Some of my favorite depictions are the ones that follow.

Artemis and Callisto by Sebastiano Ricci

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

When you dig through the art of the ages, the nymph has pretty much been depicted as some lovely, semi-nude female figure. The depiction of "beauty" has depended upon the age in which the art was created. Ricci adopted the classical full-figured nude associated with his age. Waterhouse took on the more waifish young Euro beauty the Pre-Raphaelites seemed to adore in their romantic paintings.

Waterhouse might actually be a great place to center this conversation then. He also threw some paint at the dryad, or hamadryad, in this case. So, how did the brilliant painter Waterhouse differentiate the two nymphs? Well, simple. He put the dryad in a tree! Yep, still a beautiful, semi-nude young woman, but this time she's been integrated into a tree.

Hamadryad by John William Waterhouse

Is it that simple? Is a nymph just a beautiful young woman depicted in different ways to designate the type of nymph she is? Give her a tail and she's a mermaid or oceanid, put her in a tree and she's a dryad, drop her in a stream and she's a naiad. Is it truly that simple? Seriously?? Well, if any of the feedback about the contemporary D&D dryad is to be considered, you might think that folks in the D&D realm were more comfortable with the classic concept of the dryad than they were with the re-envisioning of the dryad as a monstrous creature as depicted by William O'Connor.

So what do you think?

 Which of the following best represents the way you envision nymphs and dryads?  
The nymph is a stunningly beautiful generic fey creature with elf-like looks, while the dryad is a specific type of nymph that is associated with a tree.
The nymph and the dryad are completely different creatures and should have different visual representations.
Other (comment below).
I have no opinion on this.

 What do you think of the idea of the dryad being depicted as a monstrous creature (like in the painting by William O'Connor above)?  
The nymph is a stunningly beautiful generic fey creature with elf-like looks, while the dryad is a specific type of nymph that is associated with a tree.
The monstrous dryad is not a good visual direction for the D&D dryad.
Other (comment below).
I have no opinion on this.

Oh, and take a look at the dryad art again . . . there's our male counterpart to the nymph playing the flutes for Waterhouse's little dryad.

Previous Poll Results

Which artist, in your opinion, fulfilled the art description the best?
Adam Lane 84 8.8%
Alex Dai 7 0.7%
Anita Night 2 0.2%
Anna Christenson 24 2.5%
Arturo Aguirre 1 0.1%
Autumn Rain Turkel 11 1.2%
Brian DeClercq 8 0.8%
Brian McElligott 0 0.0%
Brian Valenzuela 69 7.3%
Brynn Metheney 4 0.4%
Chenthooran Nambiarooran 46 4.8%
Chris L. Kimball 34 3.6%
Christian Schwager 29 3.1%
Christopher Johnston 7 0.7%
Christopher Reach 5 0.5%
Christopher West 31 3.3%
Claudio Pozas 17 1.8%
Cori Dietsch 9 0.9%
cornelius cockroft 33 3.5%
Craig J Spearing 69 7.3%
Dace 1 0.1%
Dana Henderson 9 0.9%
Daniel Kling Lorentsen 2 0.2%
EAST 3 0.3%
Eric Belisle 18 1.9%
Eric Collins 11 1.2%
Felicia Cano 23 2.4%
Florian Stitz 15 1.6%
Gee Hale 1 0.1%
George Semionov 24 2.5%
George Vega 1 0.1%
Gordon Napier 7 0.7%
Grant Cooley Illustration 1 0.1%
Hrvoje Colic 5 0.5%
illworx 2 0.2%
Jason Juta 24 2.5%
Jason Zampol 1 0.1%
Jeff Lee Johnson 8 0.8%
Jennifer Kearney 1 0.1%
Joe Wilson 12 1.3%
Jonathan Roberts 14 1.5%
Jordan Patchak 1 0.1%
Joshua Venis 1 0.1%
Kari Christensen 5 0.5%
Krisztian Balla 15 1.6%
Lee Smith 11 1.2%
Liz Clarke 5 0.5%
Luis Vazquez 11 1.2%
Lukasz Jaskolski 8 0.8%
Lydia Rae Black 0 0.0%
Mark Molnar 8 0.8%
Mathias Kollros 15 1.6%
Matt Hansen 2 0.2%
Micah Stone 5 0.5%
Michael Ng 23 2.4%
Nate Furman 0 0.0%
Nathan Stoltenberg 2 0.2%
Nick Egberts 7 0.7%
Nico Photos 16 1.7%
Nicole Jekich 0 0.0%
Noah Bradley 23 2.4%
Patrick Jones 1 0.1%
Pedro Jorge Magalhalles 1 0.1%
Peter Lazarski 2 0.2%
Peter Reed 3 0.3%
Ryan Fox 0 0.0%
Ryan Hall 32 3.4%
Ryan Harasym 0 0.0%
S.C. Watson 25 2.6%
Samuel Flegal 3 0.3%
Sean Sullivan 1 0.1%
Stan! 8 0.8%
Stuart Hatt 2 0.2%
Thom Scott 9 0.9%
Timothy Phillips 1 0.1%
Tracy E Flynn 0 0.0%
Travis Neal 4 0.4%
Victor P Corbella 13 1.4%
Zach Schoenbaum 14 1.5%
Total 950 100.0%

Which artist interpreted the assassin devil the best for use in D&D, without regard for the art description?
Adam Lane 110 12.5%
Alex Dai 4 0.5%
Anita Night 1 0.1%
Anna Christenson 11 1.3%
Arturo Aguirre 4 0.5%
Autumn Rain Turkel 10 1.1%
Brian DeClercq 9 1.0%
Brian McElligott 0 0.0%
Brian Valenzuela 104 11.8%
Brynn Metheney 3 0.3%
Chenthooran Nambiarooran 49 5.6%
Chris L. Kimball 28 3.2%
Christian Schwager 11 1.3%
Christopher Johnston 12 1.4%
Christopher Reach 8 0.9%
Christopher West 24 2.7%
Claudio Pozas 5 0.6%
Cori Dietsch 5 0.6%
cornelius cockroft 28 3.2%
Craig J Spearing 50 5.7%
Dace 2 0.2%
Dana Henderson 7 0.8%
Daniel Kling Lorentsen 2 0.2%
EAST 3 0.3%
Eric Belisle 20 2.3%
Eric Collins 11 1.3%
Felicia Cano 11 1.3%
Florian Stitz 15 1.7%
Gee Hale 0 0.0%
George Semionov 13 1.5%
George Vega 0 0.0%
Gordon Napier 3 0.3%
Grant Cooley Illustration 3 0.3%
Hrvoje Colic 6 0.7%
illworx 4 0.5%
Jason Juta 13 1.5%
Jason Zampol 1 0.1%
Jeff Lee Johnson 1 0.1%
Jennifer Kearney 2 0.2%
Joe Wilson 1 0.1%
Jonathan Roberts 9 1.0%
Jordan Patchak 1 0.1%
Joshua Venis 0 0.0%
Kari Christensen 4 0.5%
Krisztian Balla 19 2.2%
Lee Smith 23 2.6%
Liz Clarke 4 0.5%
Luis Vazquez 15 1.7%
Lukasz Jaskolski 5 0.6%
Lydia Rae Black 6 0.7%
Mark Molnar 3 0.3%
Mathias Kollros 4 0.5%
Matt Hansen 1 0.1%
Micah Stone 5 0.6%
Michael Ng 27 3.1%
Nate Furman 0 0.0%
Nathan Stoltenberg 2 0.2%
Nick Egberts 11 1.3%
Nico Photos 8 0.9%
Nicole Jekich 1 0.1%
Noah Bradley 24 2.7%
Patrick Jones 0 0.0%
Pedro Jorge Magalhalles 0 0.0%
Peter Lazarski 2 0.2%
Peter Reed 1 0.1%
Ryan Fox 0 0.0%
Ryan Hall 49 5.6%
Ryan Harasym 0 0.0%
S.C. Watson 12 1.4%
Samuel Flegal 2 0.2%
Sean Sullivan 0 0.0%
Stan! 7 0.8%
Stuart Hatt 0 0.0%
Thom Scott 8 0.9%
Timothy Phillips 1 0.1%
Tracy E Flynn 1 0.1%
Travis Neal 6 0.7%
Victor P Corbella 12 1.4%
Zach Schoenbaum 11 1.3%
Total 878 100.0%

Which artist created your favorite image, without concern for the art description or appropriateness for D&D?
Adam Lane 164 16.2%
Alex Dai 10 1.0%
Anita Night 2 0.2%
Anna Christenson 12 1.2%
Arturo Aguirre 4 0.4%
Autumn Rain Turkel 7 0.7%
Brian DeClercq 13 1.3%
Brian McElligott 1 0.1%
Brian Valenzuela 104 10.3%
Brynn Metheney 3 0.3%
Chenthooran Nambiarooran 51 5.0%
Chris L. Kimball 30 3.0%
Christian Schwager 8 0.8%
Christopher Johnston 14 1.4%
Christopher Reach 7 0.7%
Christopher West 24 2.4%
Claudio Pozas 7 0.7%
Cori Dietsch 7 0.7%
cornelius cockroft 38 3.7%
Craig J Spearing 51 5.0%
Dace 0 0.0%
Dana Henderson 4 0.4%
Daniel Kling Lorentsen 1 0.1%
EAST 3 0.3%
Eric Belisle 28 2.8%
Eric Collins 26 2.6%
Felicia Cano 9 0.9%
Florian Stitz 9 0.9%
Gee Hale 3 0.3%
George Semionov 13 1.3%
George Vega 2 0.2%
Gordon Napier 2 0.2%
Grant Cooley Illustration 1 0.1%
Hrvoje Colic 5 0.5%
illworx 4 0.4%
Jason Juta 11 1.1%
Jason Zampol 3 0.3%
Jeff Lee Johnson 2 0.2%
Jennifer Kearney 1 0.1%
Joe Wilson 4 0.4%
Jonathan Roberts 8 0.8%
Jordan Patchak 0 0.0%
Joshua Venis 0 0.0%
Kari Christensen 6 0.6%
Krisztian Balla 12 1.2%
Lee Smith 30 3.0%
Liz Clarke 3 0.3%
Luis Vazquez 13 1.3%
Lukasz Jaskolski 3 0.3%
Lydia Rae Black 2 0.2%
Mark Molnar 3 0.3%
Mathias Kollros 3 0.3%
Matt Hansen 0 0.0%
Micah Stone 4 0.4%
Michael Ng 79 7.8%
Nate Furman 0 0.0%
Nathan Stoltenberg 5 0.5%
Nick Egberts 5 0.5%
Nico Photos 6 0.6%
Nicole Jekich 0 0.0%
Noah Bradley 24 2.4%
Patrick Jones 0 0.0%
Pedro Jorge Magalhalles 0 0.0%
Peter Lazarski 3 0.3%
Peter Reed 3 0.3%
Ryan Fox 1 0.1%
Ryan Hall 42 4.1%
Ryan Harasym 1 0.1%
S.C. Watson 21 2.1%
Samuel Flegal 0 0.0%
Sean Sullivan 1 0.1%
Stan! 16 1.6%
Stuart Hatt 0 0.0%
Thom Scott 4 0.4%
Timothy Phillips 0 0.0%
Tracy E Flynn 4 0.4%
Travis Neal 2 0.2%
Victor P Corbella 12 1.2%
Zach Schoenbaum 10 1.0%
Total 1014 100.0%

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
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