Friday, March 4, 2011

The Lords of Fairy

Next week I'd like to post the Realm of Fairy as part of the framework for my Greyhawk cosmology.  Recent posts have discussed Chaos and Law, and earlier this week I posted game stats for the Sidhe.

I have some ideas on the rulers of Fairy, but I see this as a good way to hear ideas from readers and see how others have used Fairy in their game.  Check out some of the approaches laid out below, then feel free to sound off in the comments or vote on the new poll.

Unfortunately, I don't have any primary sources for Celtic fairies in my library.  I'm familiar with the idea of the Seelie and Unseelie courts, and the idea of sharing ruler ship of half the year; this seems to align with summer and winter.  Seelie fairies tend to be merry pranksters, and would include leprechauns, pookah, brownies, pixies, and Sidhe nobles.  Unseelie faeries are the malicious ones; they'd have their own lords, and would be joined by red caps, quicklings, boggarts, and goblins.

A Midsummer Night's Dream gives us that merry wanderer of the night, Puck, along with his King and Queen (Oberon and Titania).  Who can forget Mercutio's Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet?  Note that the Shakespearian approach isn't incompatible with the Seelie and Unseelie courts.

Dresden Files
When I read The Dresden Files a few years ago, I noted how fairies played a large role in the series.  Dresden divides the fairies between Summer and Winter courts (loosely mapping the Seelie and Unseelie) ruled by women.  There is a matron, maiden, crone thing going on - the wise ex-ruler, the ruler with all the power, and the lady who is queen to-be.  In addition, the two houses each have a Knight - a supernatural agent that advances their cause in the mortal realm.

Jim Butcher just builds on the source literature, naming his Winter Queen, Mab, for instance, and using Titania in the summer role.

Alien and Bizarre
Another approach is to go alien and bizarre - use the standard fairies and Sidhe as the rank and file, but the rulers of Fairy are straight out of Pan's Labyrinth - give them whimsical names like the Prince of Shattered Dreams, the Lady of Mordant Wishes, or Queen of the Thousand Screaming Eyes.   (Reinforces the fairies = pagan demons trope).

Medieval France and Law vs Chaos
The romances of Medieval France depict a realm of Fairy ruled by enchantresses, luring knights astray.  Morgan le Fay is a principle character.  This is very much in line with the approach in Three Hearts and Three Lions, one of my main inspirations for the Sidhe.  The lords and ladies of this Fairy have titles similar to their mortal medieval rivals - Dukes, Kings, Queens, etc.

Drop me a comment if there's an approach you like for Gothic Greyhawk - should it take a classical, whimsical approach, really emphasis a cosmic war between Law and Chaos, or dip into madness and horror?  A new poll has been placed as well.

I'd love to hear if some other DM's have built their own approaches to the realm of Fairy.

Edit:  Maybe I should have a David Bowie as the Goblin King option, too?


  1. I like the law vs. chaos idea the best, although nothing says you can not take elements of the other ideas too.

    The Fae can be alien/jolly/celtic types all at once. Maybe that is their "summer face" and then in the winter they have a "winter face" which is somber and more grim. Either side is interested in taking men to die in their realm, either for fun, or as sacrifices for dark purposes. Maybe both. There are two courts, but made up of one body of followers, and the courts switch with the seasons. Today's queen is tomorrow's follower, and then back again. I think that it could seriously mess with players' heads to have the freindly fae scullery maid be the brooding blood drinking queen the next time they happen into fairy land.

    Anyway, just some ideas.

  2. As a big fan of Changeling the Lost, I have to go with Alien.

  3. I'd go with alien & bizarre too, but under the trappings of Seelie and Unseelie, although the differences might not be all that obvious to outsiders.

    If you wanted to go really alien, throw in a touch of Lovercraft and make the rulers really alien.

  4. I like a more animistic approach, inspired by Shinto and similar mythologies, with a good touch of Russian and Nordic myth. The Spirit Realm intersects with the Mortal Realm in many places, and there is a vast number of minor "gods" and spirits, each limited in its power (and in many cases bound to a location - the "God" of a Mountain, Dryad of an ancient tree and so on) and not necessarily "good" or "evil", but fickle and unpredictable.

    Mortals honor spirits in many cases, or, at least, respect them; in some cases, however, Shamans or warriors would have to drive away a particularly angry or malicious spirit which torments the Mortals.

    This is religion with a face to it - "Gods" you interact with like with any other NPC, "Gods" with feelings and agendas, "Gods" with limits to their power.

  5. I am a big fan of... maybe too many of the above to pick just one, but I'd add Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to the list of Alien fairies. The man with the thistledown hair is scary and amazing, and Lost-hope is really cool. If we're talking Gothic, I think this is a good way to go.

  6. I'm for the law v. chaos dynamic, but you should make it as horrific as possible. The fairy queen should give your players nightmares.

  7. Depends on whether you want Faerie to be weird and hard to access, or a constant simmering influence in the world around it. I personally like the second one, just for keeping people on the edge, and would play it with the Law vs. Chaos and Dresden Files dynamics sort of interwoven. There aren't many of them in 'our world', but those that are present are constantly at work to advance their own cause, and hold considerable status in both realms.

  8. What about Nixies? If I remember correctly they traditionally fall under the influence of the Unseelie court, but aren't really malicious. Then again, it's been a while since I looked all this stuff up.

  9. Hey, if you are looking for reference material concerning the Celtic outlook on Faeries, then you might be interested in a drabble I'm writing on GoogleDocs. It's my attempt to compile a comprehensive document about the Faery Folk. Currently it's in a dreadfully unfinished state, but there's still a fair bit of information. Here's the link:

  10. "Maybe I should have a David Bowie as the Goblin King option, too?"

    Absolutely stealing that idea for my next King Arthur Pendragon campaign.