Archives of Candlekeep: Planar Tour: Feywild
This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Five on 29th January 2020.
Lennon: Oh dear gods why?
Killer DM: Ryu’s faerie dragon’s gone back to the feywild for a bit.
Ostron: And she didn’t want to go with it?
Killer DM: Oh goodness no. Every time she goes there I get into a fight.
Lennon: I thought most feywild creatures were a little less aggressive than that?
Killer DM: First of all, are you kidding? Second, I didn’t say Ryu got into a fight; I get into a fight.
Lennon: Don’t tell me you have outstanding geases or something.
Ostron: I thought you dealt in flaming horses. You’re doing birds now?
Lennon: What? Oh, wait are you kidding? Do I know more about the Feywild than you do?
Ostron: Maybe for the moment…Libby!
Ostron: Thanks. Okay, what do I need to know?
From a game perspective, the Feywild is one of those unique jewels of D&D where it was created in 4th edition and was not only kept for 5th edition, it made the transition largely intact. Based on certain attributes that the Feywild exhibits, it seems that the previous editions “plane of positive energy” and “Plane of Faerie” were the primary sources of inspiration, with slightly more emphasis on the Plane of Faerie.
Along with the Shadowfell, the Feywild is another “parallel” plane that exists alongside the material plane and very closely mirrors it. Most of the geography in the Feywild will mirror what is found on the material plane, and the Feywild is one of the rare planes where the landscape remains more or less static, so if you find a mountain in the material plane, not only will there be a mountain in the Feywild, it will still be there later when you come back.
But while the basics of the geography and landscape will be the same, one will not look like the other. Everything in the Feywild is the definition of “Extra”. Where the regular world has horses, the Feywild has unicorns. A volcano will be a mountain full of glowing red crystals in the Feywild. A set of ruins in the material world will be an unbearably gaudy fey palace on the other side. A large forest will be even larger, more overgrown, and have plants that are every color in the rainbow, along with 400 others. Also the sun never sets or rises; it’s permanently stuck in that setting position where the sunlight is orange and shadowy and you get all those colors in the sky.
I can’t tell you how desperately I want to set the entire thing on fire.
However, despite looking like the kind of thing you’d find in a children’s book designed to entertain and distract, the Feywild is anything but safe. While there are some flavors specific to D&D, a significant amount of stuff in the Feywild has been…borrowed…from traditional Celtic folklore about the land of faerie. They have the mushroom circles, the amnesia and the age problems, the Seelie and Unseelie courts-
Okay hold, hold, stop. For those of you who haven’t studied Celtic traditions, we’ll break some of that down. First of all, the mushroom circles refer to how one gets in and out of the Feywild. Being a parallel plane, it isn’t as difficult to get to the Feywild as it is to get somewhere like the Astral Sea, but it’s not quite as easy as it is to get to the Shadowfell. There are a lot of passages to the Feywild, some of them being mushroom circles or gaps in trees, or even something innocuous like a small still pool of water. The trick is that the doors aren’t always open; Fey Crossings, as they’re called, tend to open only during specific events, like a full moon or a memorable day or time of year. They also rely on the quality of being perfectly mirrored on both sides, so if something significant changes, like say the pool of water being drained or filled in, the crossing vanishes.
The memory and time stuff actually brings up some game mechanics, I can get behind. Any non-fey creature that leaves the feywild is at risk of losing their memory of the time spent there completely. In D&D terms, characters make a wisdom save to retain their memory. You know, if they remember to.
The other effect the Feywild can have is to seriously mess up time. Due to magical influence, time in the Feywild is completely separate from time in the material or any other plane, and on top of that it doesn’t consistently move faster or slower; it can vary for each visitor, each time (Remember what I said about the whole place being extra?). So you could spend an hour in the Feywild and come back to the material plane with only a minute having passed, or you could come back a year later.
The only way to fix either of those problems is with high level spells like Remove Curse and Wish. Which brings us to the inhabitants of the Feywild.
Listing the creatures in the Feywild would take far too long; just go to D&D Beyond or any similar resource and filter by fey origin. All of them are in the feywild, except the elves who’ve largely moved out by now, but you can still find a good number of them there.
Now in addition to being there, many of the creatures will belong to either the seelie or unseelie court. Many people skip those labels and just call them light or dark Fey, but do not assume those labels have anything to do with light or dark sides of the Force. The Light Fey are, in general, untrustworthy and not your friends, whereas the Dark fey are not your friends and they’re untrustworthy. There’s no moral conflict between the two courts; it’s just a matter of the leader of the Seelie, Queen Titania, and the leader of the Unseelie, just called the Queen of Air and Darkness at the moment, not liking each other.
Most of the creatures belonging to either court are sapient and will happily converse and deal with mortals. However, the only creatures that rival the fey at twisting words and redefining the definition of “help” are the devils, but at least they tend to have the same agenda; when you die, they get your soul. Fey creatures simply like to play around with mortals’ lives for the fun of it. Agreements or bargains with them will be deviously twisted around for the fey creature’s benefit, and owing a “favor” to a fey creature can be a truly terrifying prospect; they will sometimes request something and hold the creature fully responsible for failure, even if the creature had no chance of completing the task in the first place.
The only reprieve, other than bringing an army of lawyers with you any time you talk to a fey creature, is usually to play off the seelie/unseelie conflict and try to get a fey creature from the other side to help you in the interests of screwing over the fey on the other side that got you into a bind.
All of which annoys me to no end. Obviously I should be the only one doing things like that, and I do it better anyway. The other problem is that most of the fey have no filter; they will come up and say the first thing on their mind, but try to do the same to them and they get angry. If it’s a pixie, whatever, just backhand it into a tree, but when an archfey princess starts crying and throwing radiant lightning at you because you pointed out her dress was falling off and maybe moss isn’t the most sturdy fabric, it can get tiresome. The entire plane is full of posers and histrionics. Bury it in rocks.
That said, there are a few denizens of the place I can respect. Fomorians are misshapen giants that attempted to conquer the Feywild at one point which, hey, more power to them. Unfortunately there wasn’t, and so they ended up cursed. A lot of them are stuck in the Underdark now but some still make their way back into the Feywild. I’m also fond of the Hags, who are possibly the most honest creatures you can find in the feywild, but they are obsessed with their threes and symbolism and I don’t really fit in their hierarchy anywhere.
Unfortunately the Feywild is another plane that currently doesn’t have much in the way of official information. There’s a small section on it in the Dungeon Master’s guide, and Mordenkainen’s tome of foes touches on it when discussing the history of the elves, but there are still a lot of gaps. Wizards has suggested that the 4e resources are still valid sources of lore, but again they’ve already begun contradicting themselves to an extent; in 4e there were more than two courts, and the name of the leader of the seelie fey was different, so your mileage may vary with that.
If you want more inspiration, the D&D community has frequently suggested that the Dresden series of novels by Jim Butcher are a good source for additional lore and character archetypes, along with the movie Labyrinth.
Ostron: Okay, so just as a hypothetical, what do you think would happen if a fey tried to talk to ROSTRO.
Killer DM: Ohhhhhh! Let’s Try it!
Lennon: No, no, I’m putting a stop to that one.
Killer DM (warningly): Lennon…
Lennon: Okay fine, are you immortal?
Killer DM: Why does that matter?
Lennon: How long do you expect you’re going to have to wait while a fey creature tries to find loopholes with a machine that literally does nothing but come up with rules and logic?
Killer DM (sighing): fine, but you’re still a spoony Brit. And now I’m going to make you wait before you can go back to the scrying pool.
Lennon: Really? We’re sinking to that level now?
Ryu (hat pops off): There we go. Sorry, she gets cranky about the Feywild.
Ostron: Gets cranky?
Ryu: Do you want her to come back? Then let’s get over to the scrying pool.