Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Shadow Week: Courts (and Realms) of the Shadow Fey

What is your favorite edition of D&D? Doesn't matter. This is the adventure you need to try.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let's start at the end, go back to the beginning and work our way back to now.

Shadow Fey

Kobold Press has been around now for a bit and has put out some really quality products for various version of the D&D/Pathfinder game via the various open licenses available to them.  

The Shadow Fey are a race of elves known as the scáthsidhe, or shadow fey. Great name. I wish I had come up with it.  These fey are an elitist, snooty bunch, the worse qualities of Elf to be honest and that is what makes them so great.  They are not really related at all to the Shadow Elves of Mystara nor the Shadar-Kai of the Shadowfell and not even the Drow of many worlds.   But it is easy to see they all live in the same sort of world.  If we are to use D&D 4 & 5 terminologies they live in the area where the Shadowfell intersects the Feywild.  Or the darkest areas of the Land of Faerie.

The shadow fey are present in a number of books from Kobold Press, most notably their two large monster tomes for 5e, The Tome of Beasts for 5th Edition and the Creature Codex for 5th Edition.  Even without knowing much of their background, they are a very interesting race.  They look a bit like a cross between an elf and tiefling. So members are elven, but many also have horns.  I suppose that a satyr is a better comparison.  But it is a reminder, visually, that these are not your Grognards' elves. They can be medium or small creatures. 

Kobold Press has gone all-in on the Shadow Fey. Here are a few products that they have published to support these beings and their courts.

Pathfinder

Dark Fey

This is a 22-page bestiary and guide to the creatures found in the realms of the Shadow Fey.  Based on the Courts of the Shadow Fey this really is a must-have if you plan to play any part of the Shadow Fey adventure or even just want some less-that light fey to encounter.

Advanced Races 11: Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)

This 19 page PDF gives us the Shadow Fey as a playable race. There is some history of the Shado Fey here and even a few more creatures. Additionally, there are some new class archetypes, racial powers, and some new feats.  While it says Pathfinder on the cover there is enough here to use in any game. 

This book in particular makes them more than "drow with horns" or "bad tempered elves."


Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Shadows of the Dusk Queen for 5th Edition

This is a short-ish adventure for 8th level characters in a fairy tale romp. Not a "Disney" fairy tale, but a Brother's Grimm one. A shadowy evil, but sad Queen, needs to reconstitute her broken magic mirror that contains her life force. Doing so will make her powerful again. The PCs have found the five magical shards.

A great little adventure full of dark fairy tale tropes. Easy to run in a session or two and makes for a nice side quest after running the Courts of the Shadow Fey. The Dusk Queen herself is an interesting character that might work well in my War of the Witch Queens Campaign.  In that of course she would need to win at the end of this adventure.

Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition

This 12 page PDF is part of Kobold Press' Deep Magic series. It presents a new Sorcerous Bloodline (Shadow Bloodline), a new Warlock Patron (The Light Eater), and a new Rouge Archetype (The Whisper).  There are also, as expected, new Shadow themed spells. Not explicitly tied in with their Courts of the Shadow Fey, but certainly 100% compatible and thematically appropriate.


These books are all fantastic additions, but the place where they got their start was an adventure for the 4th edition of D&D, Courts of the Shadow Fey.

Courts of the Shadow Fey

This adventure began as a 4th edition adventure for Paragon Tier characters designed to take them from 12th to 15th level.  So remember what I was saying yesterday about an entire 4th edition campaign taking place in the Plane of Shadow?  Well, this can be a significant part of that.

The adventure was then converted over to Pathfinder (with some little oddities here and there) for characters of 7th level to 10th.

Sometime later the adventure was rewritten for 5th edition D&D, with new art and layout. Still for characters level 7th to 10th.

All three were written by Wolfgang Baur.  Ben McFarland aided in the Pathfinder conversion, Dan Dillon helped with the D&D5 rewrite.  The first two versions featured fantastic art by Stephanie Law (which makes me want to convert it to Blue Rose!) and the 5e version features art from Marcel Marcado, who captures our two shadow fey sovereigns. 

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition version, 101 pages. 
Pathfinder version, 130 pages
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition version, 150 pages

This is part adventure and part sandbox, which is really fantastic because there is so much potential here. Much in the same way the D series introduced us to the drow via an adventure, this introduces us to the Shadow Fey.  We meet their sovereigns, the Queen of Night and Magic of the Summer Court and the Moonlit King of the Winter Court.  These are NOT the Seelie and Unseelie of Earth's Faerie Realm, although there are comparisons.  We begin the adventure with the town of Zobek against a backdrop of the King and Queen in their exchange of power.  The adventure kicks in when a Priest of the Sun God is nearly assassinated.  This has my attention already.  Zobek is occupied by Shadow Fey and to find the culprit(s) (who soon make an assassination attempt at the PCs!) the party will need to not only navigate the treachery of the Shadow Lands (Shadow Plane, Shaowfell...) they must also navigate the treachery on the Fey Courts!

One of the key features of this adventure/product is the number of NPCs.  This is not a list of names with professions, these are fully stated out NPCs and each version of the adventure takes advantage of the rules being used.


Ok. Pause. At this point, there are several good reasons to get this. There is a mystery. There is the Shadow Plane deal. There are Fey Courts. Plus there are plenty of mechanics involved to aid the GM and Players in navigating the labyrinth that can be high court intrigue.  In some ways, it makes me happy to have all three versions since I can get different points of view on how to handle different things.  Granted the 4e and Pathfinder versions are similar enough to make the differences be system-specific, but the 5e rewrite really gives me a newer point of view.  Yes, in each case I am seeing a lot of repeated text. That is what I am supposed to see. What idiot is going to buy all three versions except for me?

So we have all that, and we have not gotten into duels of honor (there is a dueling system!), various factions jockeying for control, and how the PCs fit into all that. New creatures. New demons! New magic. Survive a duel? Dude...you are not going to survive diner! 

The Pathfinder/4e versions are a little basic to look at since the was the start of Open Design/Kobold Press.  But Stephanie Law's art is so great to look at that I don't care.  The 5e version is several orders of magnitude better in terms of design. The art is still wonderful but I miss Stephanie Law's vision.


This is one of those adventures where I always find something new with each reading.  I have been pouring over this for the last three weeks and each time I am blown away by the shear potential that lays before me. I feel like I need to reread my history of the Tudors to get my courtly machinations down correctly, but this book certainly helps.  

The party's climax comes with gaining an audience with the Moonlit King himself! What happens? There are many potential outcomes and possibilities. 

If I ever run a Shadow themed campaign then this is at the top of my list. 
If I ever run a pure 4e game, then this is at the top of my list.

I plan to steal ideas from this for other adventures even if I run it as is. 

I purchased all three of the PDFs just have them. It is that much fun.  Also whenever I feel the need to run it I am likely to grab the Print version of the 5e rules. Though I might instead print out the PDFs and collate them so that the material I need/want is where I want it.  Use colored sticky tabs for various plot points.

For example, if I were to merge these with other fey related products then maybe I would consider Autumn and Spring courts here instead of Winter and Summer.  Why?  The shadow fey are creatures of well, shadow. Half-light and half-darkness. I am reviewing this on the Autumn Equinox, half-light, half dark. I did this on purpose.  If I use the Summer and Winter courts for the Seelie and the Unseelie then these could be the Spring (Queen of Magic) and Autumn (Moonlit King) courts and little it lost.  In fact, much is gained. Most of my players, thanks to years of Ghosts of Albion, have come to expect certain things out of the Fey courts as I run them. Dangerous to assume really, but still, they do.  By renaming these into Spring and Autumn I can change those expectations. And it gives me four equal and competing courts.

Regardless of which edition you choose, there is a great adventure/sandbox/resource to be had here.

5 comments:

Ben said...

You're welcome-- I knew Stephanie Pui-mun Law's work from Ars Magica, and thought we needed to have her and Wolfgang was the amazing one who made it happen. :D I love her work in there, too.

-Ben.

Ben said...

Also-- several of the NPCs carry over from the earlier _Wrath of the River King_, so there's a chance to establish history with the party when they do arrive

-Ben.

Ben said...

And last note-- you're missing Castle Shadowcrag (d20/3.5) and the 5E revision, Return to Castle Shadowcrag. The 3.5 one is where it starts and the initial text lives. :) And I think artists often draw the shadowfey too pretty, but that's just a matter of taste. :D

grodog said...

I have the 4e book, which was one of the last Kobold Press books I backed---not because I didn't like it, but because I wasn't ever going to run a game in PF or 4e. But I couldn't resist the lure of the shadows, again.

Wolfgang first lured me in with his 3.x adventure Castle Shadowcrag, during the early days of his Open Design platform (a proto-KS/-Patreon model). IIRC it was the second OD project after Steam & Brass, and just before Empire of the Ghouls.

Allan.

Brian I said...

Very cool. I've been thinking about the Courts of the River King, Shadows of the Dusk Queen, and Wrath of the River king as a long campaign arc. Maybe with some of the Tales of the Old Margreve.

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