These Are Not Santa’s Elves – GGG’s Review of Heroes of the Feywild

Dear Readers, if you’ve been following my columns, you’ve probably noticed that I have a strong penchant for Faeries and Faerie Tales. Changeling the Dreaming is one of my favorite RPGs, and Fables is one of my favorite comics. I’m following Once Upon a Time on TV, and I’ve read plenty of modern retellings of Faerie Tales, as well as the originals. So when 4E D&D was shown to have a Faerie realm of its own, I was quite excited.

There have been hints of Faerieland in D&D from the beginning, of course. Even the original Chainmail miniatures rules that TSR published before D&D have rules for sprites, pixies, and the like. The Forgotten Realms talked about a realm of Faerie back in the day, there were spells like Faerie Fire and monsters like Faerie Dragons and so on. But it was always very much an abstract concept, without a lot of hard and fast rules around it.

With 4E, the Feywild is not only a major part of the game, but multiple races and classes are tied to it. Eladrin warriors, elven rangers, and Fey-Pact warlocks were soon rubbing elbows with other, more mundane adventurers. With so much attention in this direction, a supplement on the subject was inevitable, and I’m happy to give you my thoughts on the latest Player’s Option book, Heroes of the Feywild.

A Word of Warning

This book is not a guide to the Feywild, any more than Heroes of Shadow was a guide to the Shadowfell. This book is full of material about Feywild influenced characters, but you’ll find little enough about the Feywild’s geography or climate within its pages. For that, I would refer you to the Dungeon Master’s Guide, or the Manual of the Planes. This book is strictly material for creating and developing player characters.

So, Where’re You From?

Having said that this book isn’t a guide to the Feywild, I now make a liar out of myself by saying that the first part, Into the Bright, talks a great deal about what the Feywild is like and what some of the best known locations in it are. It’s worth noting, however, that this info is presented as a kind of guide to what a Feywild native might know or think about these locations. This is especially useful when working with the final section of the book, but I’ll explain that later.

I might as well take this moment to say that the book is liberally sprinkled with sidebars entitled “Bard’s Tale”. These section have excellent little faerie tales that relate to material in the book. They can be used for flavoring, as adventure seeds, and so on. I’m sure that the innkeeper/storyteller NPC in my campaign will probably weave a few of these into his narratives before too long.

Off to the Races

Part 2, Races of the Fey, is one of the more anticipated sections, at least from my perspective. This book introduces full descriptions for 3 new player character races: hamadryad, pixie, and satyr. The hamadryad is presented as an all-female race of fey who are part bewitching beauty and part sturdy oak. In each encounter, a hamadryad decides which part of her heritage to draw on, gaining a distracting loveliness, or a powerful resistance to wounds. Pixies bring a lot of new to the table, being a race that can fly, as well as a race that is Tiny in size. And is there Pixie Dust? Why yes, there is. Finally, we have the passionate and hedonistic satyrs, the all-male race to balance the hamadryads. Satyrs have their own sort of enchanting ways and a spirit of adventure to match.

Besides very detailed descriptions of each race, this section also has Utility powers that a player can take instead of those granted by their class. These powers help to grant each race the powerful abilities folklore ascribes to them without over-balancing the game.

Class Distinctions

Chapter 3 of the book revisits 4 D&D classes, giving a unique spin on each one. While some really work with the Feywild’s faerie tale theme, I’m uncertain why they chose this book as the vehicle to introduce them.

On the plus side, we get new love for the Bard class. This comes in the form of the Skald build, which is kind of a warrior-bard, as well as some great new optional rules called Signs of Influence. These abilities give a Bard the flavor of being a well-respected figure whose travels from place to place reflect the only way some communities have of gaining news about the rest of the world. Bards can use their sign of influence to be welcomed into Inns, borrow mounts to travel from place to place, and gain a short-notice audience with the local lord. Also fitting well with the theme is the Witch build for the Wizard class. Witches always have familiars, have spells to beguile their enemies with, and can change dangerous monsters into harmless frogs. Who wouldn’t love that?

Although the material included for the Barbarian and Druid classes is good, I don’t really see how it matches with the faerie tale theme. The Berserker Barbarian is pretty much the classic barbarian, and the Protector Druid is a Druid who summons animals rather than turning into them. I almost feel like the standard shape-changing druid is more faerie tale like, and I can’t think of any faerie tales with bloodthirsty berserkers in them. I would’ve rather seen some new love for the Ranger (maybe something like the classic Snow White’s Huntsman) or the Warden (who shape-changes into various fey things as it is.) It is what it is, though, and the new material is good.

Decisions, Decisions…

Chapter 4 gives a wide range of Character Options, making this a book that any character with a tie to the Feywild can make use of. If your DM is running a very Feywild-involved game, the Themes in the book (a concept that started with the Dark Sun rules…essentially a flavor-component that mixes with your Race and Class to give various abilities) would be extremely useful.

In addition to the Themes, there are Paragon Paths, Epic Destinies, and Feats to customize your character with. There are also new pieces of “mundane” gear…which is never mundane in the Feywild…magic items, and alternate rewards like Faerie Gifts that can be given in place of magic items.

Story Time!

The final chapter is quite unique. It provides random tables to help you develop your character’s Feywild background. By rolling or choosing options, you can begin the game with a very detailed and interesting background influenced and flavored by the Feywild. This is a great idea, and I hope that similar sections will appear in other books. While I personally don’t like randomly coming up with my character backgrounds, I can see just how useful a tool this would be for a new player. A few dice rolls can give some basic ideas that a player could flesh out, or tell a whole story about the character before he joined the party. It’s a really great idea.

In Summary

If you’re enjoying D&D 4E, then this book isn’t necessarily a must have, but it’s got some great material. If you’re playing a bard, a barbarian, a druid, or a wizrd, there’s lots of great new powers in here for you. The feats are also very interesting, especially for elves, eladrin, drow, and wilden, the existing races with ties to the fey. If you’d like to try a very different approach to the game…sort of mixing D&D and Changeling…this could be a great source of inspiration. I will admit that I rather hoped that a Feywild boxed set would come out, similar to how the Shadowfell Boxed Set came out very close to the Heroes of Shadow book. It doesn’t look like there’s such a set on the horizon, but I’m sure we’ll see more Feywild material in D&D Insider and in other sources.

Your Turn

Have you used the Feywild in your campaign? Do you think I’m off-base with my review? Do you just want to say howdy for howdy’s sake? As always, share with the rest of us.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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