Monday, January 6, 2020

Strange, Dangerous, and Inhuman: The Fey and Fairie

When I was a boy I loved fairy tales. Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, Rumpelstiltskin - I devoured all of it. My fascination that there was a strange and magical world full of fantastic creatures just beyond my senses drove the imagination of a young boy who was forced to stay inside due to childhood illness. It was no wonder that I would later develop what has become a lifelong passion for fantasy, mythology, and role-playing games.

As I grew older, I became more interested in fairy tales - but in their original forms. The truly strange and unnerving fairie stories of the Brothers Grimm and the like. This lead to an interest in the mythology of the British Isles and what are sometimes called the Fair Folk. They were magical and powerful, beautiful and terrible, and above all they enchanting. It was only natural that the Fey would feature prominently in The Hero's Journey 2e.
Tesh, Changeling Warrior

Because of its roots in British folklore and Celtic mythology, the Fey are more present in The Hero's Journey than in more traditional fantasy role-playing games. In fact, right from character creation, players have the opportunity to take up the role of a Fey character through the Changeling lineage. But make no mistake, this lineage is no shapeshifter. A Changeling in The Hero's Journey is a strange being that has been left behind from the realm of Fairie in place of a mortal child stolen long ago. Though life in the mundane world has muted their strange nature, it is still ever-present and they are almost always regarded as vagabonds, miscreants, or cursed by most "civilized" people. But their Fey nature grants them some unique benefits which range from being ever so slightly out of touch with the flow of time to the ability to remain unnoticed and ignored by mortal eyes.

In addition, The Hero's Journey features a myriad of Fey creatures in Chapter Eight: Menagerie. Each of these creatures is designed to cleave very lose to the folklore that inspired the game. Kobolds are not cowardly trap-smithing lizard-dogs. They are tiny wizened men that dwell in the deep places of the earth, guiding and condemning underworld travelers with their strange knocking. Fey Cats are not panthers that cast strange illusions, but innocent seeming felines that will suck the soul from a mortal body as it sleeps. And a Fey Queen is as beautiful and terrible as the season she commands and all who comes into her presence know only fear and awe.
A kobold, passing between the deep places of the earth
 as it returns to its hidden city of stone. 

Magic itself is also infused with the energy of Fairie, particularly illusions and phantasms. All deceptive magic has ties to the realm of Fairie, for they are the masters of power and perception with little heed for the constants of the Mortal Realm. Wizards and bards that dare to dabble in the magic of the Fair Folk may find themselves making promises to fairy ladies and fey lords in return for magical knowledge, only to be bound forever by the unintended consequences of a promise.

By the same token, the strong presence of fairies and their ilk by no means mandates their inclusion in a Narrator's legendarium. They are simply tool in the wardrobe to color the adventures being told. That being said, it is my firm belief that the strong presence of the Fey in The Hero's Journey 2e can create a gaming that is both at once familiar and deeply unsettling -  just like any good fairy story.

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.
A Fey Queen, vain and glorious, entertaining the affections of
a Fairie Dragon.


  1. Big pet peeve of mine. "Fey" is an adjective meaning doomed or otherworldly. "Fay" or "Fae" are acceptable English spellings for "beings from Faerie."

    They're unrelated, with "fey" having a Germanic origin and "fae/fay" both coming from Latin "fata" (fate).

    1. My family's from the Orkney Islands and I see how they're related e.g. the Trow and Trolde are doomed/undead and for faerie - resulting from the mixing of Scandinavian and Scottish lore.

    2. Yes, but I'm saying the word "fey" doesn't mean anything at all to do with fairies, and it's rather a shame that WotC used the term in 3rd edition D&D, because now everyone misuses it. It has a meaning; none of them involve pointy ears or dragonfly wings.

      It's not a noun. It's not even the sort of adjective that lends itself well to being a poetic substantive.

  2. Awesome post. My D&D 5E games involved a lot of these strange and weird elements gleaned directly from fairy tales, rather than the common RPG tropes. I'm looking forward to the Kickstarter tomorrow and to seeing how you handle the Fey.

  3. I really like the picture of the Fey Queen. It's my favorite piece of art so far.

  4. It's great how well the KS is going, I'm waiting for the International Backer pledge level and then I'm in :)
    Total digression - but is Undiscovered Dungeons still going to be published sometime ?

  5. Hi, i am a backer and i have a question about your (excellent) game. There is no multi-classing option but no human character can be very limited in level for some archetype, it's a choice of game design ? it can prevent a player from choosing certain fun options because they are too limiting (for exemple a dwarf bard or a halfling knight)

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