If you’ve had the pleasure to check out Volo’s Guide to Monsters from Wizards of the Coast, there is a plethora of insight and knowledge about some of D&D’s most iconic monsters, from how their work socially, their organization, and even their mentality towards each other and other races. From mind flayers, beholders, and even yuan-ti are covered and given fairly extensively insight for DMs on how to roleplay and handle them in anything as small as an encounter to overreaching arcs to even entire campaigns. In older supplements, they were plenty of material to cover demons and devils, their origins and even their organization. Storm King’s Thunder expanded and accentuated the Ordening with Giants and even brought about a sense of political intrigue with it. There were some supplements during 4th Edition that expanded and explored more about the Eladrin and the Feywild.
I’m sure that Wizards will touch on this subject matter in later supplements, but the lack of material can seem distressing especially for DMs when most players interact with undead, fiends, and evil humanoids and monstrosities. There are some material covered in the Feywild in the Dungeon Master’s Guide but very little about the behavior and social structures within it. Fey creatures often are left to the wayside and are rarely touched upon, as the Feywild is seen as an alien realm where time is inconsequential there and logic is typically thrown out the doorway with the strict adherent to laws and rules between fey of renown. The fey, or fair folk, are creatures of mystique and allure; their legends and tales are spread across Celtic, Norse, Germanic, and Russian cultures. Most fey are regarded as nature spirits or spirits in general classifications which could loosely tie in with yokai from Japanese-Shinto traditions and the gui (or ghosts) from Chinese traditions as well. The terminology in D&D is very loose and can be affixed to a myriad of creatures, spirits, and entities.
The modern etymology of faerie or fey derives from idea of “enchantment” or wisdom with nature, sometimes invisible folk. English evolved the term to include roguery, knavery, and wizardry. In short, cunning, mischief, and most importantly–magical. Those three aspects are what will often define most fey creatures, not all but for the purposes of our article discussing greater fey and their ilk, these three principles of their being need to be accounted for.
Various Fey and Greater Fey Personality Traits
- Kleptomania (desire to steal without desire for profit)
- Thieving (stealing with the intent of profit)
- Protective (especially if tied to a specific font of nature)
These are just a sample of possible personality attributes that a fey possess. Many of them are just varied as a human individual but the key difference is the heightened or accentuated expression of the particular traits. I suggest that you choose at least two or three distinct key personality traits to help you roleplay any particular fey. Keep it consistent, but still, add natural reactions like anger and sadness. The fey are personifications of abstract ideas, nature, and even emotions. For example, a pixie or sprite are often mischievous, thieving, and elusive but to a heightened degree. They love to cause mischief for their interpretation of fun. Pixies and sprites fall under categories of fey creatures but of opposing courts. The two Courts system was largely devised by Scottish folklore but makes for great material for a fantasy setting like Dungeons and Dragons.
Seelie and Unseelie Courts – The Sun and the Darkness
The current D&D organization of the Feywild establishes two distinct courts for the good-aligned and evil-aligned fey creatures. The Seelie Court (Summer Court) and the Unseelie Court (the Gloaming Court); both are ruled by powerful matriarchal figures known as the Summer Queen and the Queen of Air and Darkness. The two courts have a long mention in various sources of literature, whether in one name or another but ultimately there are always two sides to the fey. Most renditions of the Summer Court follow the mischief part but usually of the harmless variety while the Gloaming Court (or Winter Court) tends to revel in suffering and torment beyond the typical mischief.
Ultimately there are various consorts besides the Summer Queen and the Queen of Air and Darkness, in 5th Edition you have the Oberon, the King of Faerie and the Prince of Frost. Granted there may be a ruler for each season: like a Spring King or Spring Prince along with an Autumn King for example. You may even have all four seasons (or courts) be at odds with each other but make occasional alliances with each other, like spring siding with summer while autumn sides with winter or vice versa depending on the circumstances. Unless you’re willing to spend an entire campaign on the finer nuances and politics within the Feywild, it’s easier to just stay to the basic two courts. Most denizens within the Feywild typically have their affiliation with at least one of these two courts, in most literature, there are seldom entities that remain neutral. Even creatures that seem neutral eventually choose a side but only loosely adhere to the rules or regulations of the court. Think of it like a gang war, actually think of it exactly like a gang war. The two courts vying for control, opposing each other by their very natures, creatures caught in the middle eventually have to choose a side simply to survive and not be destroyed in the wake of the battles and skirmishes. Most of the time, denizens from either court will go into full frontal war but occasional skirmishes may arise or even games of cunning and misdirection.
Things to remember:
- Fey courts are serious about keeping their identities and traditions
- The rivalry of the two courts stems from creation itself
- Neutrality is an illusion for the weak, all must choose a side eventually
- Greater fey may fall into line with a court, often by their nature or choices
- Treat it like a gang war, opposing sides do not like the other and are traditionally very biased about themselves and the other court
And they were never heard from again…
If you’ve ever read the Dresden File series or any old wives tale of faerie, it is never wise to take things from the Fey whether stealing them or given as gifts. Those are physical anchors from which they have a connection to an individual and be abused when desired. Since the Fey deal with politics and intrigue, the idea of favors as currency goes without saying. To owe a favor to a Greater Fey is often considered a fate worse than death, as often the contract or deal is tethered to one’s soul and thus leaves them bound to the entity. Much like Warlocks and their pacts in a similar vein, an individual making favors with a Fey can be both advantageous and dangerous. Many times the individual is whisked or spirited away by the Fey for whatever nefarious game they wish to employ on the unlucky soul when they come to collect on their favor. The Fey, like fiends and celestials, do not like to be bound by mortals and would rather work matters into their favor and possible victory. While the Fey rarely lie (as that would be considered terrible manners), they can omit information or details, sometimes even leave clues through riddles that would take an individual time to decipher. I like to treat the mentality of such greater entities as a labyrinth (or the more iconic, the White Rabbit and its rabbit hole). Again, it varies with the specific fey and the sort of fey that a DM may wish to portray the entity but ultimately the enticement of rewards and favors is always something many Fey creatures desire. But there are entities like the Wild Hunt which is typically a horde of huntsmen are led by an entity who embodies their will, the Wild Hunt does not traditionally curry favors or secrets, rather the creature’s very nature stems from honor and the thrill of the hunt. So keep those sort of archetypes in mind when trying to portray the Fey.
Things to remember:
- Favors are a powerful bargain tool of the Fey
- Never accept offerings or gifts from the Fey, unless you wish to be indebted to them
- Not all Fey care about favors, use your best judgment about a Fey’s instinct and nature
- Fey are true to their very nature, the best way to remain true is to have 3-4 key characteristics or words that embody them, like “fiery, ice personified, as firm as an oak tree”
Hopefully, some of these tips will help you roleplay a Fey or Greater Fey the next time you ever send your players to the mysterious and alien world of the Feywild.
For additional resources about the Fey and their psychology, I highly encourage you to read some of the material written by the people from White Wolf who did the Changeling supplements for World of Darkness. Reading about the myths and stories of other famous spiritual or faerie entities well help draw out more. Some shows or movies to consider as well include Lost Girl, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, Grimm, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Merlin mini-series. Consider also checking out the original Grimm’s Fairy Tale where many iconic fairy tale stories are based from.
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