(Still) Missing Fey

D&D’s fey game is weak, and I blame the humanoid goblin (and gnome, and elf). But it didn’t do itself any favors; compared to the 1e MM, the 5e MM (and followup volumes!) still haven’t printed the brownie, leprechaun, nixie, nymph or sylph!

1e fey

Brownie

At half-a-hit-die and described as half-halfling, half-pixie at 1-1/2 feet tall, the brownie is a sprite which casts the following 1 each per day:

  • protection from evil and good
  • ventriloquism (minor illusion)
  • dancing lights
  • continual flame
  • mirror image
  • confusion
  • dimension door

They are explicitly never surprised and have an 18 dexterity; they use “natural cover and speed to become invisible” which sounds very like either cloak of elvenkind, mask of the wild, or similar powers.

Verdict: the pixie is pretty close; it’s hard to complain that this is missing, since it’s really only slightly a different spell list. It’s a little more manageable, since it lacks polymorph, but not by a lot, since it still has confusion. All-in-all, this would have made a good sprite sidebar IMO. Swap out the spells and have done.

Leprechaun

Another nonstandard hit die. Call it 1-1 hit die, or 1/2 a hit die +1. They are two feet tall, and can:

At will:

  • invisibility
  • polymorph (non-living) objects
  • create illusion (major image)
  • ventriloquism (minor illusion)

Unsurprisable. Has a one-off stealing technique using percentiles. “At will” is distinguished from “as often as they like”, so it’s very likely that it’s supposed to mean “without an action”. So that’s kind of cool.

Once again, the libel that they are pixie/halfling crossbreeds is repeated. Why is it that we think the gnome is so magical when this sort of keeps cropping up? Where do these couples keep meeting?!

You could probably make this a sprite leader; sprites already have invisibility. I don’t mind adding silent image which is probably what create illusion should translate to; adding major image instead gets to be a problem. A racial trait to duplicate the Wizard Illusionist’s Illusory Reality would finish it off (“When you cast an illusion spell of 1st level or higher, you can choose one inanimate, nonmagical object that is part of the illusion and make that object real. You can do this on your turn as a bonus action while the spell is ongoing. The object remains real for 1 minute. For example, you can create an illusion of a bridge over a chasm and then make it real long enough for your allies to cross. The object can’t deal damage or otherwise directly harm anyone.”), to replace the polymorph thing, which is cute but even more terrifying than what I suggested.

Nixie

Pretty explicitly “just” a half-hit-die water sprite. 10 nixies can charm, individuals grant water breathing. That’s about it. I guess I want this printed, but not very much.

Nymph

Interestingly, I think this is the same thing that I want out of a Sidhe or other high-fey creature. They’re beautiful and terrible to behold, they are highly magical individuals, and they are a real-world easily-pronounceable name.

For their gaze, I would take inspiration from the medusa:

Blinding beauty: Any humanoid that starts its turn within 30 feet of the nymph and can see the nymph’s true form must make a DC 11 Wisdom saving throw. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is charmed for 1 minute and, if charmed, instantly blinded or set to 0 hp (nymph’s choice). Otherwise, the creature is charmed for 1 minute. (Repeat saves; failure blinds/kills, ending makes immune, you can avert your eyes)

For their spells, I’d make them actual mages, not innate casters. I think you could easily have woods nymphs, high nymphs, sea nymphs, dark nymphs… easy peasy.

And I didn’t have to say “nude”.

Sylph

Winged nymphs, apparently — still 7th level casters, invisibility (again at will!), and a friendly air elemental.

No description on the blinding or killing front. I’m guessing they lack that.

2e fey

And that’s not all! The 2nd edition of the game added yet more mythological fey to the roster, also not brought forward into 3e. I can’t say I miss them overmuch, but it’s still weird.

Atomie

Another kind of sprite. My guess would be a desire for a faerie halfway between sprite and game-ruining-pixie.

Grig

A subtype of sprite, a sort of cricket centaur. They have satyr-pipe-like fiddles. I guess that’s fine. Note these did make it into 3e, so… whatever, I guess.

Jermlaine

An early stand in for “gremlin”, and filed under this name because kobold was already taken. The description makes them pretty kobold-y, but they’re still not super magical, so what was the point? By the way, I am assuming this isn’t just a made up name, and giving it credit for “gremlin” and “kobold”. If this is just made-up, I’m disappointed.

Closing

I can more or less see why the 2e additions (except the Hybsil, a sort of elf-centaur, which should be a player race) got dropped. But those 1e missing fey are just a tragedy, and with 2 MM “extensions” behind us, we still don’t have them.

Fey adventure when?

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Other Conditions

The list in the PHB is pretty good. But it’s missing a few.

Berserk

That’s my secret — I’m always angry.

Barbarians obviously are all about rage. A barbarians rage is advantage on Str checks & saves, a damage bonus on melee weapon attacks, and resistance to damage types; it inhibits spellcasting, and requires either sadism or masochism each turn lest it lapse. I think it’s somewhat unlikely that a real berserk condition would carry all of that.

Also a strong case for rage are the Barbarian’s Reckless Attack and the Berserker’s Reckless trait (same effects in both cases: advantage on all melee attacks during their turn, disadvantage on armor class).

The accursed Berserker Axe is another clue. While it has several effects, it explicitly creates the Berserk condition: it requires you use your action on each round to attack the creature nearest to you until you are out of attacks. This ends (for the axe) if you start your turn unaware of creatures within 60 feet. The axe also gives you your level in hit points, which is another callback to the barbarian’s damage reductions.

This is not the only version of such an effect! Crown of madness has the same effect, charming the target and allowing the caster to make attacks of the caster’s choice on each turn. Notably, that spell allows the victim to dance away and specifies melee weapon attack, so it’s possible for a victim to isolate themselves.

The madness table includes an entry with a requirement to attack the nearest creature each round. Timing and resolution are a little less clear there — can they just move away?

So all told, what do we have? Berserk has a relationship with causing and receiving pain. It sort of boosts your strength (attacks, damage, checks, saves) and con (extra hit points, damage reduction) at the cost of your dex and int (action denial means no spellcasting; barbarians can’t cast or concentrate, a few effects debuff AC). It ends when you stop attacking, but might compel you to keep attacking.

Berserk

A berserk creature is charmed by the source of its rage.

A berserk creature has advantage on its strength-based melee attacks on its turn, and attacks against it have advantage.

A berserk creature must use its movement and action on each of its turns to close with and attack the nearest creature (ties resolved by the source of its rage). If it cannot attack a creature on its turn, it can use its action to act freely; however, a berserk creature cannot cast spells or maintain concentration.

I, personally, would rewrite Crown of Madness to inflict the Berserk condition, and ditto the actual madness effect, and triple-ditto the axe.

I don’t require melee attacks — let the archers have this one. I retain the strange charmed-by-the-source because that lets me have the enrager egg on the berserker from the sidelines, picking their targets for them.

Conditions don’t generally specify their end, uh, conditions. But in this case, the boilerplate should probably include:

A berserk creature which has neither made an attack nor taken damage since the start of its last turn ends the effect on itself.

Confused

Pikachu was confused! Pikachu flailed and hurt himself in his confusion!

This is sort of a condition, and sort of a spell effect. Consider: the confusion spell does a pretty good job, but it’s also inflicted by powers like the umber hulk’s confusing gaze (which for some reason uses a d8?), the faerie dragon’s euphoria breath, and of course the DMG’s table of random insanities. A lot of times madness effects actually just deal psychic damage (consider the Allip).

There’s an emphasis on half-the-time-does-nothing, random directional movement, and of course a love of the random table of effects. Let’s talk about the spell’s table: 20% of the time, the creature might as well have made their saving throw. 20% of the time, they attack the nearest creature, which was probably why we cast this. 50% of the time, it just immobilizes and incapacitates the target. A measly 10% of the time it randomly shuffles their placement!

This has a long pedigree — the 1st edition spell had humorously similar text, with a 10% chance to “wander away for 1 turn”, 50% “stand confused for 1 round”, 20% “attack nearest creature 1 round”, and 20% “attack caster and party 1 round”. What’s interesting is that 1 turn wander thing — I’m pretty sure it means one 10m dungeon turn, and so given enough time, they always wander away.

And the odds on the short term madness table are similar! I don’t want to dwell on it, but about half the effects incapacitate, about 20% leave the victim capable of attacking their enemies, some percentage forces attacking their friends, and 10% leaves them frightened and compels movement.

I think I’d reduce the number of rolls: these effects always permit a save, either to inflict or to end; let’s use that.

Confused

Confused is always connected to a saving throw, which is always made at the start of the turn. For lack of a better value, use a DC 15 wisdom saving throw.

Success on the save: Creature acts normally (may end effect).

Fails on the save by 5 or more: Creature uses its movement and action as directed by the source of the effect. Actions per command.

Fails on the save by 4 or less: Creature is incapacitated with laughter, sobbing, shouting, etc.

This nicely covers all the usual cases. I might want to have the confusion spell require 3 successful saves to end — it’s a concentration effect, and the save each round is a real debuff — but at the same time, who wants to track that?

Doom

I sense in him the same fear that would have the heart of me.

D&D needs more negative emotions. Actually, it has them, but I’m just pointing out that it could use them more.

Doom is, like exhaustion, a series of steps towards a death spiral measured in levels. It’s an ongoing and hard to crack condition, brought on by long periods of stress, fear, and despair.

Despair Levels & Effects

  1. -1d4 on all checks and saving throws
  2. -1d6 on all checks and saving throws
  3. -1d8 on all checks and saving throws
  4. -1d10 on all checks and saving throws
  5. -1d12 on all checks and saving throws
  6. -1d20 on all checks and saving throws

As an exception to the above, self-destructive (or treacherous) actions do not suffer the penalties.


Simplified damage types

Obviously don’t do this for real, more of a continued thought experiment.

5e’s types

D&D5e has a lot of damage types, more even than we think:

  • Acid
  • Bludgeoning
  • Cold
  • Fire
  • Force
  • Lightning
  • Necrotic
  • Piercing
  • Poison
  • Psychic
  • Radiant
  • Slashing
  • Thunder

But! Also (and more importantly) things like:

  • Magical weapon
  • Silver weapon
  • Adamantine weapon
  • Wielded by a good aligned creature
  • Spell
  • While standing in dim light or darkness (!)

Aren’t those second set more (much, much more) interesting? Why, then, is every attack assigned a granular damage type if every monster ignores half the list? And if the only really gameable set of conditions ignores the damage types entirely? Now, of course, I’m being unfair. Fire elementals have to ignore fire damage, and so you have to decide if that includes dragon turtle breath (steam). But that doesn’t justify the sheer number of types we have.

Isn’t radiant basically force? Force effects translate ethereally, but as far as I can tell it’s very rare for damage to be able to make use of that; maybe blade barrier? Acid, necrotic and poison are technically each different, but in the fiction, I have a hard time seeing super sharp delineations; I think you could probably get away with

And for all the unnecessary detail on weapon damage, couldn’t we have gotten more detail on psychic damage types — mind thrust, ego whip, id insinuation, psychic crush, and psionic blast? And of course emotional attacks along the lines of frightened and charmed, or confused — damage types analogous to poison:poisoned.

Simplified damage types

  • Weapon
    • Cutting (piercing, slashing)
    • Bruising (bludgeoning, some force, thunder)
  • Elemental
    • Freezing (cold)
    • Burning (fire)
    • Shocking (lightning)
    • Corroding (acid)
  • Arcane
    • Rotting (poison, necrotic)
    • Radiating (force, radiant): rare, powerful, unresisted.
  • Psychic
    • Charming (persuasion)
    • Frightening (intimidation, also thunder-based roars)
    • Confusing (deceit)

In this model, I’ll still need to figure out how to do silver damage, but at least some of the lesser-used types are cleaned up.


A Guidebook to Faerie & Shadow

I’ve been thinking about planes again (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes –> Blood War –> Why are demons & devils different?! –> planes). My current realization is that elementals and fey are not so very different at all, and that most of what I want out of the elemental chaos I could actually get out the plane of faerie.

Consider the relationship between the border ethereal plane and the deep ethereal plane (DMG 48). A creature on the border ethereal can see a few feet into the material, and travel in any direction and through walls, with space-warping effects. Major risks include cyclones, which waylay traffic, shunting one into another plane. So let it be with faerie: a mix of different “interdimensional weather/terrain effects”, rather than a single governing ruleset. Here’s a rough exploration of that:

Faerie

At the innermost edges of the 5e elemental planes, they “resemble places in the Material Plane”. The four elements mingle together as they do in the Material Plane, forming land, sea, and sky. But the dominant element exerts a strong influence on the environment, reflecting its fundamental qualities” (DMG 52). This is pretty much a description of faerie (especially if we permit more exotic elemental planes — Song, Wine, Love, Honor and so forth).

Faerie is divided into “near”: a sequence of kingdoms each more fantastical than the last which lies just behind the material world… and “far”, the lands at the edge of the Maelstrom where the world gives away to the raw and destructive energies of creation.

The map matches that of DMG 57, that is, earth to the east, fire the south, air the west, and water the north. The great genie cities of Aaqa, the City of Jewels, The City of Brass and the Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls lie at the center of each of their nations, and at the center lie the faerie nations of the Summer Court, Gloaming Court, Bytopia, Beastland, Arborea, Ysgard and Arcadia.

However, it isn’t literal; one can also walk to heaven and hell from certain locations. Read on.

Hazardous Conditions

Memory Loss

Time Warp

Labyrinth Winds

Pervasive Good Will (alignment shifts); also, Abyssal Corruption

Intense Yearning (when leave, cha save DC 5+days, failure disadvantage on checks or return)

Hunter’s paradise (advantage on animal handling, perception & survival)

Beast Transformation (slaying a beast cha save or polymorph into slain form, repeat per long rest, fail 3 permanent)

Immortal Wrath (killed, restored each day at dawn)

Limbo Maelstrom (things turn into other things, lots of elemental damage) + Power of the Mind (various checks to create/alter elemental material). Githyanki are riders on these storms, and travel with them across the land, and back into the Maelstrom.

Planar Vitality (creatures immune to disease, poison, fear)

Shadow

Shadow is always near; it is the dark land behind the campaign world. It is a place of desaturation and corruption, half-light and gloom. Its themes are entropy, ossification, and hostility; at its innermost edge, one reaches the Singularity: the negative plane.

This sucking void is always visible on the horizon, if not closer. The plane of shadow is cramped, and danger lies nearer than you wish.

The many lower planar adventuring locales dot this plane, often larger on the inside than the outside.

Hazardous Conditions

Shadowfell Despair

Pandemonium (mad winds, exhaustion and madness)

Vile Transformation (exhaustion, turn into grub)

Cruel hindrance (can’t help anyone)

Bloodlust (temp hitpoints on kill)

Prison Plane (difficult to leave)

Stranger Realms

The Ethereal and Astral

Each of the realms above are contiguous streams of matter, streaming from the positive and into the negative plane. However, there is also empty space, surrounding and containing this matter. The ethereal realm is created at the boundary between this state of being and unbeing. Explorers and mystics who travel between planes are exposed briefly to this interface when they use planar travel magics or “go ethereal”. Should they reach the Astral (also called the Deep Ethereal), they are effectively deep space explorers: they may geographically be in Faerie, Mundanity or Shadow, but they are physically in a liminal space.

It is a starry, new-agey type of space. It rejects travelers, providing them with planar portals to other destinations with increasing gravity and vigor. However, it does have native life of its own, deep sea creatures and alien aberrations. And, somehow, space pirates.

This space contains realms like Mechanus, the plane of Law; it contains the Graveyard of the Gods, and also

Hazardous Conditions

Astral winds

Ether cyclone

Heaven and Hell

Viewing the mundane world as the interface between Shadow and Faerie, Heaven and Hell respectively are a finger of law cast from the Maestrom through to the Singularity. There are several interesting facts this suggests. For instance, the campaign World is closer to creation than entropy (Avernus, the first layer of Hell, is “true neutral”, eight layers from both the positive and negative planes). Also, law is an aberration in this view, since chaos surrounds and created it, but also more stable than the rest of faerie, which is thought-provoking.

So anyway, the heavens and hells are reachable through faerie and shadow. Worse, hell was once within faerie and was cast into shadow — many roads and gates remain, and so even though hell is in shadow, it does retain fey neighbors!

This arrangement has many names — the Lathe of Heaven, the Great Wheel, Jacob’s Ladder.

The Abyss

There isn’t just one. Where ever you want a demon prince and particularly those previously published, simply have a sealed realm of faerie and shadow intermixed under the care of a godling. Poof; abyssal realm. I’ve commented before on the incongruity of D&D demons and their princes; this mostly resolves the problem, since these realms contain whatever sort of being the DM wishes.

The demons themselves are likely relegated to being plane of shadow foes or, indeed, members of their own realm.

It’s true that this loses the D&D image of the infinite stack of the abyss. But I frankly don’t need it: I have the finite stack of hell, and the infinite web of abyssal realms. Good enough.


Hell Hounds: Fish or Fowl?

So OD&D didn’t have a whole lot of (what would later be come to be called variously) Outsiders, Celestials or Fiends.

When they did get added, it was tentative at first — hell hounds and separately things like succubi, and then six types of mystical and powerful entities. There’s a clear implication that the hell hounds are quasi-terrestrial; they pal around with fire giants.

So why did D&D make the hell hounds outsiders? I guess it’s the “hell” in the name, but it’s not like death dogs are undead, nor are “all hags fey”. I would guess something to do with summoning hell hounds, but then anything that leveraged that would also give access to the nightmare — that’s a potent trans-planar beastie; I wouldn’t want one spell to give access to both!

If you look at what they do, hell hounds are a lot like gargoyles. They’re a semi-mythological beast with a very visual behvior. The could very easily have been elementals, if it weren’t for their catchy and stupid name. It’s not like we’re hurting for fire-type elementals, but they’re somewhat more similar to azer and salamanders than they are horned devils and pit fiends.

One could even make them monstrosities (like their cousins, the Winter Wolf). That would also be a sensible change.


Mordenkainen’s: Dwarves & Duergar, Gith, and the rest of the book

So, to start with: I don’t need two psychic dwarves, but D&D has two psychic dwarves, so I know I’m going to have problems.

I love dero as mind-flayer-twisted-abominations. But I really, really wish that Duergar could be sort of redcaps or nordic selfish dwarves or something — asshole dwarves because they’re just asshole dwarves. Exposure to the underdark, whatever. And I feel like this book struggles with that same problem; that the dwarves aren’t a very psychic chassis. The story plays with it a little, but it’s committed; duergar are bound up with mind flayers.

There’s some good themes here around “Dwarves see their works of art as their children — like, literally, they are closer to them than their flesh and blood, and also they’re pretty close to their flesh and blood”.

The rest of the book didn’t really impress me more than this (up to the monsters, which I don’t feel like reviewing but were good).

The gith had some good stuff; I don’t know lore well enough, but it states that the githzerai revolted against Gith claiming she was evil. Is that new? It also proposes a gith unification body, but I’m a little unclear how that could work, given the unified political nature of the githyanki. I love the Melnibonean character of that latter, and can see myself using Tu’narath (though christ it’s hard to say Tuna Wrath at the table…).

The halflings and gnomes are as easy to overlook as they’ve ever been. Nice roleplaying fluff, maybe?


Mordenkainen’s: Elves

As widely reported, the Corellon origin story is… well, it’s not capital-G Good. Chaotic Neutral, say. And Lolth, true to form, argues for structure and a coherent action to the benefit of all elves — Neutralish or even Lawfulish, albeit probably Evil. I can’t say I care much for their origin strife — it’s got a lot of moving parts and doesn’t interest me very much.

Elves are serially reincarnated and, as children, can remember their past lives. They use the Minbari defense as a reason why the elves don’t outbreed the humans, but (unlike Babylon 5), their stance on half-elves is distinctly wishy-washy. They do present “half-elves have human souls” as an option, but omit “half-elves have a fragment of an elven soul”. Kind of dark, but given the long-term views of elves, anything less and there’s no reason to get worked up about it.

I don’t much care for the elven whobegats — I’m sure it’s interesting that they have their own religion, but I won’t use most of it. Or, uh, read it. Skimming, ho!

I don’t have room in one campaign for both high elves and for eladrin. But during 4e I learned that I just do not like teleporting elves. But this presentation makes them less “mundane”, which does make the teleporting trick easier to swallow. Actually, I’m not even sure I have room in the same campaign for the high elf and half-elf. Given the hyper-magical eladrin, aren’t high elves just half-eladrin? Sure, they might not have literal human genetics, but like archetypically, they’re just fey with the mundane dial turned up? I would have liked a PHB that put “elf” front and center, and particularly the “half-elf” (flavor targeting wizard, to get in touch with their roots and meld native magic with mortal effort); it would relegate all the other flavor of fey to the extended section of the PHB, and frankly that would be fine by me, since by definition half-elves focus on the extra skills and languages longevity gives them.

Bleh. Wood elves are fine, great. A wood elf druid does everything I need. But high elves are in a weird place, and weirder now (I haven’t even gotten to their brainspace competition with gith!).

Arborea remains a cognitive collision with Faerie (which gets a namecheck) or “The Feywild” — as does Evermeet. I love the fading/journey west that it gives the elves, but we definitely have the same thing represented in multiple ways. All in all, this whole caught in a strange and self-contradictory place. It wants to have elves be “fey” (capricious, strange), but is stuck with them being the ~second most popular player race, with contradictory and poorly thought through fluff. And couldn’t the Demonweb Pits be in the Feydark, instead of the Abyss? It feels like such an accident that it would be located there; even Hades would make more sense (silent darkened halls roped in spiderwebs…).

As I see it, this whole thing could have been salvaged if the wars of the elven deities had happened in the other order.

First there is Corellon, who makes the eladrin on purpose. They’re somewhat fixed in form, because that’s what lets them be something other than the orgiastic torrent of creation that is Corellon, but they’re hyper-magical and not *very* fixed in form; seasons, dreamings, etc.

Then some of the proto-seldarine fall to warring amongst themselves. Lolth started it, further refining her cadre into the drow and fixing their forms. They’re all exiled when they lose.

Then-then, the battle between Corellon and Gruumsh, where Gruumsh wounds Corellon. The droplets of blood that fell on eladrin fix their forms into the elves, and Corellon is very sorry but he couldn’t fix that without destroying them. So he doesn’t.

Everyone does the things they needed to do, and in particular, the right people are guilty of the right things. Lolth is a traitor and invented something new, Corellon isn’t a giant abusive jackass, Eladrin are *actually* the first-born (as opposed to yet another adaptation leaving yet another ancient elf type out there!), etc.

And yet there’s still room for high-CR fey like LeShay and ancient hags; not all eladrin have to be immortal or the same age, and I am fine with the first ten generations being crazy powerful. Or whatever.

Okay, but: the section the raven queen and the shadar kai is amazing and I have no further critique. I’m using that directly.