Fae Empowerment

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The following is a short rules set I worked up for an offer from a sidhe noble in my Beyond the Wall game: when the fae really want to tempt you to do something for them, they can offer up some of their own ability scores to give yours a permanent boost. The gift tends to come with quite a bit of the resonance of the sidhe, making it a bit of a mixed blessing and pulling you closer to becoming fae yourself. Permanent ability score boosts are obviously a pretty big reward for most D&D iterations; in my game, this was the gambit for the fae asking for ownership of the ancient crown mentioned last week (which the players, some with more regret than others, passed on taking).

Basic System

The fae can offer up to +4 to a particular quality, such as might or beauty (noted in parenthesis and mapping to an ability score). You may choose to give the player full control over how much is taken, the faerie may only offer a point or two, or you might offer it on a sliding scale (e.g., characters starting with a low score can get a bigger boost than those with a high score already).

Taking +1 has no ill effect. Characters that accept +2 gain the cosmetic side effect for the trait. Those that accept +3 gain the cosmetic and the minor side effects. Those that accept +4 gain all three side effects.

If you take one less increase, you also gain the boon. Thus, if you want the boon, you could take it, no ability score increase, and no side effects all the way up to the boon, +3 to the score, and all three side effects.

Qualities of Nature Fae (Spring/Summer/Seelie)

Strength (Might)

  • Boon: Weapons you wield made entirely of plants (e.g., clubs, staves, etc.) increase damage by a die size. Double your progress rate when using force to move or alter plants (e.g., blazing trails, hauling wood, etc.).
  • Cosmetic: Your muscles creak like tree branches when exerting themselves.
  • Minor: Treat iron as adamantine for the purposes of bending/breaking it (i.e., basically impervious to brute force).
  • Major: Iron or steel weapons you wield are at -1 attack penalty and iron or steel armor you wear is at -1 AC (due to feeling heavier than they are).

Dexterity (Grace)

  • Boon: You always Pass without Trace through forest environments (includes immunity to the Hedge).
  • Cosmetic: You exhibit unearthly thinness and a great degree of androgyny.
  • Minor: You are helplessly immobilized when bound in iron.
  • Major: You must save vs Spell or dance when exposed to certain music (as if Tasha’s Hideous Laughter in 5e).

Constitution (Health)

  • Boon: Double all healing (natural or magical) when outside in a natural environment, and gain +2 to saves vs. Poison from natural sources.
  • Cosmetic: Your skin takes on the appearance of bark.
  • Minor: You automatically hibernate when sleeping in Winter (each day you must be woken forcefully or you will sleep until Spring).
  • Major: You suffer vulnerability to Iron.

Intelligence (Wit)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Glamour Weaving or Second Sight cantrips (Minor Illusion cantrip or Detect Magic as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Flowers and vines twine through your hair while sleeping and are difficult to remove.
  • Minor: You must save vs. Spell to refuse a riddle game (Cha save in 5e).
  • Major: You are incapable of telling an outright falsehood (this may impose situational penalties to Deception if not well-roleplayed).

Wisdom (Intuition)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Druid’s Touch or Beast Ken cantrips (Druidcraft cantrip or Speak with Animals as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your eyes and ears transform to strongly resemble those of the fae.
  • Minor: You can be commanded by someone who knows your True Name (you may be able to save to resist commands).
  • Major: You must save vs Magic Item or be paralyzed by sound of bells (Str save in 5e).

Charisma (Beauty)

  • Boon: You learn the spells Commanding Word, False Friend, Inspiration, and Word of Courage and may cast +1 spell per day (Cast your choice of Bless, Command, Charm Person, or Heroism at 1st level 1/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: You take on a fae cast to your features and assume the skin and hair coloring of the donating faerie.
  • Minor: You become a physical duplicate of the donating faerie (less any fae traits not assigned from other side effects).
  • Major: You become unnaturally aged during the Winter, taking -1 penalties to most physical actions.

Qualities of Ice Fae (Autumn/Winter/Unseelie)

Strength (Might)

  • Boon: Weapons you wield made entirely of ice and spell attacks you make that deal cold damage increase damage by a die size. Double your progress rate when using force to move or alter ice or snow (e.g., sculpt ice, break through ice walls, blaze snow trails, etc.).
  • Cosmetic: Your muscles creak like stressed ice sheets when exerting themselves.
  • Minor: Treat iron as adamantine for the purposes of bending/breaking it (i.e., basically impervious to brute force).
  • Major: Iron or steel weapons you wield are at -1 attack penalty and iron or steel armor you wear is at -1 AC (due to feeling heavier than they are).

Dexterity (Grace)

  • Boon: You treat snow and slick ice as solid ground when you desire to do so.
  • Cosmetic: You exhibit unearthly thinness and a great degree of androgyny.
  • Minor: You are helplessly immobilized when bound in iron.
  • Major: You must save vs Spell or dance when exposed to certain music (as if Tasha’s Hideous Laughter in 5e).

Constitution (Health)

  • Boon: You take half damage from cold/ice attacks and treat temperatures down to freezing as comfortable (adjusting sub-freezing temperatures as if freezing was room temperature)(Cold Resistance in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your skin takes on a bluish pallor.
  • Minor: You automatically hibernate when sleeping in Summer (each day you must be woken forcefully or you will sleep until Autumn).
  • Major: You suffer vulnerability to Iron.

Intelligence (Wit)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Glamour Weaving or Second Sight cantrips (Minor Illusion cantrip or Detect Magic as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Frost patterns form on your skin whenever you are exposed to cold.
  • Minor: You must save vs. Spell to refuse a riddle game (Cha save in 5e).
  • Major: You are incapable of telling an outright falsehood (this may impose situational penalties to Deception if not well-roleplayed).

Wisdom (Intuition)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Blessing or Hexing cantrips (Guidance cantrip or Bane at 1st level 2/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your eyes and ears transform to strongly resemble those of the fae.
  • Minor: You can be commanded by someone who knows your True Name (you may be able to save to resist commands).
  • Major: You must save vs Magic Item or be paralyzed by sound of bells (Str save in 5e).

Charisma (Beauty)

  • Boon: You learn the spells Obscurement, Petrifying Gaze, Terrifying Presence, and Whispering Wind and may cast +1 spell per day (Cast your choice of Dissonant Whispers, Fog Cloud, Hex, or Tasha’s Hideous Laughter at 1st level 1/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: You take on a fae cast to your features and assume the skin and hair coloring of the donating faerie.
  • Minor: You become a physical duplicate of the donating faerie (less any fae traits not assigned from other side effects).
  • Major: You become sluggish and uncomfortable during the Summer, taking -1 penalties to most physical actions.
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Items of the Hedge

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We’re 15 sessions into my Beyond the Wall game at this point, and I’ve given out enough treasure that it’s time to reflect on my itemization rules as well as include some significant treasure that my players seemed to really like.

Minor Items

At this point, I’ve given out most of the example weapons on the minor weapons post:

  • They found a Blood Drinker axe buried in an ancient battlefield. They’re so creeped out by it that they might opt to not use it even if someone was a primary axe user.
  • I think they now have five or six Coffin Nails in various states of discharge (and one is currently pinning down a revenant at a crossroads, so it’s not really available). The primary user is the party rogue, who seems to enjoy managing the monthly discharge/recharge cycle now that he has enough of them that a budget of uses is a realistic thing to consider.
  • They found a Commoner’s Holdout knife at some point, and I’m not sure they remember they have it when it’s useful. Honestly, they don’t get seriously injured enough to make the trigger condition frequently available. Maybe I should try to change that…
  • The Landless Noble’s Family Weapon was a big help earlier in the campaign, when they stumbled on a demon that could only be hurt by magic. Overall, the infrequency of magic weapons seems to have helped keep magic-vulnerable monsters special for longer: because most enhanced weapons aren’t technically “magic” it makes the ones that genuinely are more special.
  • They recently got a Hedgecutter under less-than-ideal circumstances (off of the corpse of one of their higher level NPC allies who they’d had to kill because he’d been vamped). They haven’t gotten to use it to actually travel through the Hedge, but will soon, and probably would have loved to have it a few sessions ago when they had to run and hide from a Shambling Mound.
  • No Sidhe Swords have come into play yet, though they’re on the hex map to be discovered. The Fae Foundling in the party would probably love to get her hands on one, though she is normally a ranged combatant.
  • They recovered a Siegebreaker fairly early on (well, stole it from goblin storage and are hoping the owners don’t notice it). It’s being used by the Gifted Dilettante (rogue/mage), who shouldn’t really be in melee at all but, if he’s going to be, he might as well swing a really big weapon. He doesn’t actually connect with it all that often, but does seem to enjoy the option of smashing through doors and walls like the Kool-Aid man.

I believe I’ve also given out a couple of other weapons using the same minor weapon rules: a bow that is extra harmful against beasts, some arrows with one ability each, and Siegekeeper: a longbow that’s Magic and extra effective (Penetrating and Warning) against soldiers of their rival empire.

Overall, I’ve been pretty pleased with the minor weapon rules: keeping the players from chasing pluses allows them to use weapons that fit their styles.

I’ve also given out quite a few of the items from the minor items post:

  • I believe that most of the main PCs have, at this point, at least one reroll item. I seem to remember putting in play items of Cantrips, Hunting, Perception, and Rituals. Most of them are one charge per day, and I don’t see them get used that often (mostly because those checks are so good for the bearers that failure is unlikely).
  • An item of Warmth and one of Sustenance have come into play and are interesting curiosities, but haven’t been used to great effect yet. In particular, the Chalice of Sustenance (turns liquid put into it into a satisfying meal) has picked up a bad connotation of “Dysentery Chowder” after the bearer experimented with “I wonder if it can turn this awful sewer water into a meal?”
  • The single-charge Belt of Stoneskin has already saved the Gifted Dilettante’s life twice (though I think I need to pay more attention to making sure he declares activating it up front rather than as soon as he takes a big hit). It’s probably the MVP of items so far.
  • The rogue seems to really enjoy the Gem of Seeing in principle, but hasn’t gotten much actual use out of it.
  • They just got an item of Protection this past session which may also find a lot of use. The item of Regeneration is currently in the hands of a character that doesn’t get injured much, but she seems glad to have it in the event that she does get injured.

Ultimately, the minor items aren’t getting used nearly as much as I expected, but the players seem to enjoy receiving them and figuring out how to distribute them to take advantage of party roles and number of fortune slots for each character. I’ve begun handing out items with more than one charge per day, which may increase their overall utility.

Significant Items

The following items are named treasure, mostly with strong links to the game backstory. Like the other items, they don’t carry pluses, just modular effects. They ought to port over fairly easily as items for D&D; feel free to add the enhancement bonus of your choice in that case.

The Ancient Crown

This crown is suspiciously non-magical, particularly coming from the long-dead ruler of a magically potent ancient empire. For certain, it’s valuable enough: it would be an extremely good find for a low level party just taking it apart for its platinum and gems. As an art object, it’s worth even more.

But the real potency of the crown is in its political weight. The inheritor state of the ancient empire craves trappings of legitimacy. A long-lost crown could be enough to elevate a minor claimant to the national stage, by brokering a deal to give it to the current rulers or treating it as proof of a previously significant bloodline. Simply handing it over to a friendly noble NPC to deal with should be a major quest reward, and trying to figure out how to use it for themselves could be a campaign-spanning PC goal.

Beyond the purely mortal parties that would love to get their hands on such a valuable item, there is also the question of immortal interest. Faeries, demons, and other such beings have a great use for items that are important even if they aren’t technically magical. What rituals could they wreak upon the fabric of the empire with such a token of rulership? They’d probably go to great lengths to find out…

The Anydress

In some ways little more than a toy, this dress is woven of glamour by a skilled faerie tailor. For most fae, it’s a long-term savings on fashion. For shapeshifters and other infiltrators, however, it can be a vital tool of the trade…

When unworn, this looks like a simple shift of nice but unremarkable fabric. When donned, however, it adapts to properly fit anyone of roughly humanoid size and shape, and transfigures seamlessly into a dress appropriate for the wearer and the environment. On the streets of the merchant district, it’s fashionable but not ostentatious. In the bad part of town, it seems respectably plain. And at a royal ball, it’s festooned with gems and needlework.

Obviously, none of this lasts if separated from the item, and it can sometimes have its own whimsical interpretation of what’s appropriate rather than strictly appearing as the wearer desires. But, unlike many such faerie crafts, it’s remarkably durable and can last indefinitely without deteriorating or losing its powers.

A little known component of the dress’ whimsy is also the ability to tune into times of significance. For example, if curious adventurers were to try on an ancient crown while wearing the Anydress, it might give them a hint as to what might happen if they claimed the crown by adapting to reflect what kind of ruler they could become.

Wælcyrie’s Raiment

This suit of leathers is fitted for a woman and extremely well made. It features dozens of long, dagged strips hanging from the mantle and skirt. It is strongly magic (for any effects that interact with magic on armor), ghost touch (spectral entities cannot bypass its AC bonus), and grants +2 to saving throws the wearer makes against the attacks of any kind of undead or spirit. The strips writhe in the presence of ghosts, even unmanifested/invisible ones.

If a ghost can be convinced to voluntarily grasp one of the strips, it becomes infused into the armor. It is always considered to be in Protective stance: the ghost will interrupt and take the next hit against the wearer. Most ghosts can only take one such hit before being discorporated; more powerful ones may be able to take multiple hits, and may grant additional abilities to the wearer while infused. Discorporated ghosts seemingly pass on for good. The armor can support multiple ghosts at once; generally the one that has been infused the longest will be the one that takes hits.

Græfenrót Banner

This silken banner was seemingly wielded by the outriders of the Wælcyrie. The horses of any allies under the banner suppress their natural fear response to undead, and even mundane horses can keep up with supernatural horses within the cavalry.

When grasped by someone with authority over mindless undead, those undead will never attack allies of the bearer within sight of the banner, even in the bloodlust of battle. The bearer and all allies within sight of the banner gain +4 to saving throws against any mental (fear, charm, etc.) effects generated by undead/ghosts.

Allies slain within sight of the banner always leave a weak and somewhat confused ghost (which will usually pass on at sunrise unless infused into the Wælcyrie’s Raiment), which is generally still friendly and will continue to fight beside its original allies if it can be effectively directed. This effect may intensify other necromantic auras, causing the fallen to rise as physical undead instead of ghosts.

Beyond the Wall: The Monk

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In the course of making what was initially one of several simple options for hirelings, I realized it would be very easy to hack in a workable monk variant for Beyond the Wall. The overview and playbook are below.

The Monk (Warrior/Mage Variant)

Basics

Monks follow all progression for Fighters (hit dice, attack, saves, XP, skills, and abilities) except as noted below:

  • Unarmed Combat must be your first level trait choice.
  • You must spend your initial Weapon Specialization on Unarmed Combat.
  • You may use your Dexterity bonus to determine attack and damage for Unarmed Combat (if your Dexterity is better than your Strength).
  • You cannot wear any armor.
  • You can learn special variants of rituals (see below). You automatically learn one ritual of your level or less upon obtaining each new level (including one first level ritual at character creation).

Monk Rituals

Monk ritual variants are almost always self-only (even if the normal version of the ritual could affect someone else or the whole group). They do not have material costs, but otherwise follow the normal casting time requirements (performed in meditation, martial arts exercise practice, or other genre-appropriate ritual action). They always use Wisdom as their casting ability.

Suggested rituals include:

  1. Bind Familiar, Circle of Protection, Goodberry, Mage Armor, Naming Ceremony, Staff of Might, Wanderer’s Fortune
  2. Cleansing Ritual, Endure the Elements, Magic Stones, Traveler’s Blessing
  3. Bear’s Endurance, Friends, Nepenthean Drink, Skin of the Treant, Strengthen the Bond
  4. Augury, Heart of the Ox, Wizard’s War
  5. Arcane Sight, Dispel Magic, Greater Bond, Ritual of Healing
  6. Full Restoration, Shape of Stone
  7. Determine True Name, Master’s Bond, Word of Truth

The Martial Artist Playbook

While the other warriors of your village practice with arms and armor, counting on steel to save them from the dangers of the world, you rely only upon your own body. While your neighbors often don’t understand your decision to turn yourself into a weapon through discipline, practice, and meditation, they cannot help but admit the results.

You are agile and introspective. Your Dexterity and Wisdom begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

What was your childhood like?

(Use the standard villager playbook charts for What did your parents do in the village?, How did you distinguish yourself as a child?, and Who else in the village befriended you while you were growing up?)

Somehow, you learned of the possibility to perfect your fighting ability without arms and armor, and began to practice. You become a level 1 Warrior/Mage. You gain the class abilities Weapon Specialization, Knacks, and Monk Rituals, and the skill Athletics. You gain the trait Unarmed Combat (this is your first level trait selection) and your initial Weapon Specialization is in Unarmed Combat. The tables below will further define your class abilities.

How did you begin your journey?

How did you learn martial arts?

  1. A fae trickster calling himself the “Monkey King” chose you as a special subject for torment. After months, you realized these trials were teachings. +3 Str, Monk Ritual: Staff of Might
  2. A strange traveler from far away wandered into your village one day and chose you as an apprentice after seeing your promise. +3 Dex, Monk Ritual: Mage Armor
  3. You were trapped in a deadfall and were not found for several days. A hallucinatory vision taught you secrets of how to survive and fight. +3 Con, Monk Ritual: Goodberry
  4. You uncovered an old book of martial techniques unlike any fighting manual you’d seen before, and diligently practiced its forms. +3 Int, Monk Ritual: Mage Armor
  5. You left home and wandered the world for several years with only the clothes on your back, learning to fight and survive without armaments. +3 Wis, Monk Ritual: Wanderer’s Fortune
  6. You felt at home in the wilderness around town, befriended a strangely intelligent beast, and learned to fight as it did. +3 Cha, Monk Ritual: Bind Familiar

How did you integrate your new skills into village life?

  1. You spar with the other young warriors, and they can rarely lay a blow upon you. +2 Dex, Knack: Defensive Fighter
  2. You man the town’s defensive perimeter, because you can respond to approaching danger faster than anyone else. +2 Dex, Knack: Fleet
  3. You tend to find yourself getting into brawls frequently, as the other youths of the town try to test themselves against you. +2 Str, Knack: Great Strike
  4. As part of your discipline, you take on the most grueling physical tasks without complaint. +2 Con, Knack: Resilience
  5. Your awareness of the world is uncanny, and you can almost shoot a bow blindfolded, making you an excellent archer. +2 Wis, Knack: Weapon Specialist (Longbow)
  6. You spend much of your time in introspection and meditation, knowing that you must only act when necessary, but then with great certainty. +2 Wis, Knack: Fleet

What inspired you to finally end your trials and meditations and go forth into the world?

  1. You have exceeded the challenges the village has to offer, and need to test yourself against harder problems to continue improving. The friend to your right has long been your friendly sporting rival and sparring partner, and gains +1 Str. +2 Str, Skill: Athletics
  2. You travel light and thus can easily move quietly and unseen, so the village has great need of you as a scout. The friend to your right helped you learn to travel without being detected, pointing out when you could be seen, and gains +1 Dex. +2 Dex, Skill: Stealth
  3. Your exercise and contemplation frequently takes you far into the wilderness around town, and you’ve begun to see things that could be threats if not dealt with. The friend to your right has been with you on some of these camping trips, and gains +1 Con. +2 Con, Skill: Survival
  4. You learned that, throughout the ages, there have been others that also practiced martial arts, and that you might find ways to improve yourself by visiting ancient and far-flung sites. The friend to your right found the first history book that set you on your path, and gains +1 Int. +2 Int, Skill: Ancient History
  5. Assassins with strange features tried to slip into town undetected, with deadly intentions for your village elders, and you saw them and rallied the town before they could strike. The friend to your right found a symbol they left behind that hints at the threat to the village, and gains +1 Wis. +2 Wis, Skill: Alertness
  6. The town’s leadership has long been intrigued by your ability to fight when arms and armor are not permitted, and have been encouraging you to do whatever you need to become a more effective envoy or bodyguard to diplomats. The friend to your right helped you practice your social graces, and gains +1 Cha. +2 Cha, Skill: Etiquette

Long ago, you found an item with hidden mysteries, that has long been your focus for meditation and a symbol of your quest. What is this token?

  1. A staff taken from the heart of a a lightning-struck tree, covered in subtle natural patterns. +2 Str, a fine quarterstaff
  2. A bow covered in intricate, interlocking carvings, hinting at the unity of the cosmos. +2 Dex, a fine longbow
  3. A platinum-and-gold ring, delicately knotted in strange runes in a language no one can read. +2 Dex, an ornate ring
  4. A belt of several strands of colorful leather, braided through silver and iron charms. +2 Con, a braided charm belt
  5. A strand of large beads of a variety of materials and colors. +2 Wis, a necklace of beads
  6. A tunic of a fine, silken weave, patterned with designs too complex for local weavers, obviously made in a far-away land. +2 Wis, a fine woven shirt

Come Buy, Come Buy (Part 3)

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Apparently, I had a lot more to say on this topic than I thought, and it’s taken me until the third post to get to the item list that was the core of why I started writing this series in the first place. So without further ado…

Types of Items for Sale

Trinkets

Not every vendor in the market has epic items that will change your life forever. Probably the majority of them are a lot like their mortal counterparts: selling the everyday things that visitors to the market might need. Depending on the weirdness of the average customer, this could vary from goods that wouldn’t be out of place at any mortal market to items that have similar functions but alien appearances. Mostly, for mortal visitors, this winds up basically being tchotchkes: the kind of slightly unusual token you bring back to show your neighbors that you’ve seen wonders they couldn’t even imagine.

They might even accept your own coin or unusual goods for trade, letting you dip your toe in the market without bartering anything you aren’t prepared to part with.

Snacks and Merriment

It wouldn’t be a fair without delicious food, drink, and revelry to part you from your coin. As mentioned previously, they’re probably not glamoured fruits that will make you sick to death or tricks that keep you from ever leaving faerieland. At least the reputable vendors don’t sell that kind of thing. But the foods are delicious, empty calories, often spun into daring shapes that can’t be accomplished in human ovens with mortal gravity, and the entertainments are… extremely memorable.

Many of them are even touched with magic and might give you a small bonus to something relevant for an hour or two.

Exotic Goods

Beside the trinket vendors are the merchants with the things that are truly beyond what you can get in the mortal world. They sell bolts of cloth or fully-tailored clothing better than anything you’ve ever felt, metals that mortal metallurgists wouldn’t believe could exist, gems made of captured light, and chemicals that would make a mortal alchemist or baker weep at the possibilities.

Many of these things don’t last long outside of the market, falling apart under coarse mortal hands or turning into leaves with the dawn. If you can keep them up, the maintenance requires care and/or magic almost (almost) beyond what it’s worth. But they still might be useful for as long as they last, particularly if you’ve been invited to an event and aren’t properly attired.

Some of them might last, of course, if it suits the whimsy of the GM for them to persist. In particular, raw materials might survive into the mortal world… what better way to vex mortal crafters that try and fail to work them?

Secrets

If you need to know a particularly useful and hidden bit of lore, the market is the place to ask around. As noted previously, information at the market changes hands like physical goods: you’re paying not just to know something, but to be the holder of an exclusive (or, at least, extremely limited) piece of data. You can get weaknesses of your enemies, quest hooks, lost histories, and even spells from the right vendor for the right price.

Of course, the fact that you were asking around for these things is strangely free of the limited nature of secrets… the fae might gossip about your desires to almost anyone. That might particularly include someone who desperately wanted to know a secret that you now exclusively own.

Enchantment Shifting

To mortals, “permanent” magic is static, but, to many of the fae, it’s much more fluid. Have a curse you need taken off of you? Have a magic weapon that’s not your specialized type? There may be someone that can help you move that enchantment to a home more to your liking.

Magic as Commodity

The standard consumables are just the start for the types of magic you can buy at the market. Virtually any spell could find a home in a crafted good: to the fae, it’s not enchantment, just their own particular brand of handiwork. As noted previously, these should often be much easier to get than the rules expect, because of the spoilage factor.

Memories and Talents

Of course, the core currency of the market can also be an end in itself. Need to boost an ability or skill? Someone else may have paid in the right qualities that a merchant could distill the draught for you.

These bonuses should range from the slight to the overwhelming, and from the momentary to the permanent. Maybe you only need the memories of a genius or the muscles of a troll for a moment to solve a problem, or maybe you’d like a slighter bonus for longer. The pricing for this should probably start similar to a potion that boosts an ability for a short period, adjusted for magnitude and duration, and discounted for drawbacks.

In addition to the normal drawback of spoilage, the hidden drawback of this kind of thing is the danger of taking in someone else’s identity.

Mental ability scores and skills tend to come from a constellation of memories and emotions, not all of them healthy. Is it worth it to be smart, if you suddenly have a genius’ pedantry and arrogance? Is it worth it to be incredibly charismatic and artistic, if you are suddenly wracked with depression engendered by a long-lost muse?

Physical ability scores and skills can be even more troubling, drifting into the realm of body horror. The muscles of a troll may come with many of the troll’s other physical characteristics. And sometimes the stories of being turned into frogs are just an offended merchant selling a particular distillation of a potion of agility…

Teaching a Mortal to Fish

Perhaps the most efficient purchase you can make, if you’re mystically inclined, are the secrets used to build containers and fill them with currency. With sufficient dedication, you can spend the weeks until the next fair gathering dross from your own home town out of dreams, emotions, and secrets no one will even miss, and save up for something at no cost to your own identity. For the patient and industrious, it’s the best investment you could make.

Of course, some people say that many fae were once mortal practitioners with a greed for faerie things and the right start down the slippery slope…

Come Buy, Come Buy (Part 2)

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Last week, I talked about the overall themes and possibility space of market items, and this week I’ll delve more into mechanics.

The Economy of the Market

While it may move away from keeping the workings of the market seeming totally alien, it does help to have some kind of rational economic basis in your head as a GM. The fae merchants absolutely haggle, and some things may be arbitrarily expensive or cheap as a way of modeling alien values, but this is theoretically still a place where fae merchants do what mortal merchants do: sell items for a price that covers their expenses plus profits. Thus, having some kind of math in the background gains in verisimilitude what it loses in inscrutability. You don’t want the players getting pissed off that everything happens to cost either a negligible amount or slightly more than the most they intended to pay. Sometimes, they should just be able to buy the thing with the items of currency they’ve collected.

These items of currency are what I find interesting. This is another area where I feel like more of a mechanic provides a big gain in verisimilitude. If even the least fae merchant can, at a whim, transform core pieces of a person into coin, why are they wasting their time doing so with peasants rather than kings? Instead, I postulate the following (tweak for the nature of the fae and mechanics in your own campaign):

  • Many fae, and some mortals, can learn various tricks to see and touch the stuff of mortal identity: your dreams are real to them, your secrets have a presence, and your personal traits linger like a cloud around you flickering with signifiers. This can give them an uncanny insight into your nature, for the things you believe are hidden within the darkness of your skull are plain to see for those that know how to interpret them. More importantly, with the right tools and right circumstances, seeing someone’s trappings is just the first step of taking them.
  • These tools are made through ritual and expense, from rare material and great skill. The least fae can weave webs to hold nightmares, prepare flasks to decant lesser memories, and bake a juicy secret into a pie. Stronger fae can make much more potent containers, which can hold trappings of much greater value. And even the least fae can fill a container given by a greater crafter.

Ultimately, I divide the currency of the fae into two rough categories:

  • Dross items have purchasing power similar to a gold piece or two (or silver for games like Beyond the Wall that have more conservative adventuring economies): each one was basically a day’s work for a lesser fae to craft and fill with a trapping. They can only hold the most minor of signifiers: stolen nightmares, captured applause, the least of secrets, and pieces of your competency easily given and hardly missed. They’re the pennies of the fae world, used for small purchases and sweetening a deal, but it’s somewhat gauche to try to make a big purchase with a lot of them.
  • Unique items were made with much more expensive and time-consuming rituals to hold trappings of real significance. Each has its own story, and, once filled, mutates from its original raw form into something fitting the significant piece of identity stored inside. Each has a base value that may change based on whether the alien needs of a particular fae values that trapping for some inscrutable purpose beyond use as a currency. After all, these things aren’t just a fun version of coin: they have value because some faerie, somewhere, has a real use for them. And if you want them back, you’d best find them before they reach their final buyer.

What this means is that lesser fae probably can’t buy your youth, your health, your love’s affection, or any other things of real value to you, unless they’re shiftily working as a front-fae for a much more powerful buyer that wishes to remain unnamed. Once you start asking what of yourself you can give up for that extremely pricey item, many fae merchants may have to direct you to a more powerful trader who has the requisite container to bottle what you’re selling.

This should really give you some time to rethink the trade you’re trying to make.

Another thing to keep in mind about the fae economy is that it has its own peculiar form of DRM: mortals are used to information being easily copied, so might think nothing of sharing a secret or a memory. Most of the time, though, this is an exclusive deal: if you trade in information, you no longer have it yourself. The lesser fae make a point of only trading for data you haven’t “backed up” by sharing with someone else, so when you forget it you can’t easily get it back. The more powerful traders can absorb information from everywhere else it exists, be it minds or writing, as long as it was actually yours to trade.

So how much can you actually get by shaving off pieces of your character’s identity?

As a core rule, trades should be inherently lossy: the merchant has to pay for market overhead and ritual components, at least. Even with the best haggling roll, if you think you’re getting an even swap (say, two points of one ability score for two points of another), you’re probably missing something. It’s more likely that even the best deals will leave you over 20% in the hole when comparing apples-to-apples (e.g., trade five points of ability scores for four).

Dross should be pretty easy to come by, and only start to have major effects if the characters try to create a lot of it from their identities in a very short period. The market’s no fun if you have to worry about the long-term negative effects of minor trades. By all means be very descriptive about the lost memories, emotions, and other personal qualities spun into dross, but they probably shouldn’t have any real, long-term mechanical effect on the character (perhaps some small penalties in the short term).

Unique items, however, should quickly transition into dear purchases. Brandes is hesitant to assess permanent ability score penalties, but I think they’re on the table as long as the currency you buy with them can be used to get something whose utility closely balances the regret at permanent lost character potency (possibly just through being something otherwise unavailable through prescribed system means). In 5e or other games with systematized personality traits/aspects, those are also good to spend. Skills/skill points can go as well. Secrets are good to use if they have real in-campaign utility (e.g., the secret way into your stronghold, your own true name or that of a powerful entity, etc.). Spellcasters can give up learned spells.

And, of course, “permanent” may be relative. Most of the boosts you can buy in the market are fleeting, so actual mechanical stat penalties may last just long enough to be super annoying and then gradually recover (as you make new memories/accrue replacement identity signifiers).

Like with the nature of items, the nature of fae currency is figuring out how to get player characters to do something the characters might regret forever, but which doesn’t actually permanently ruin the players’ fun. A lot of it will come down to your own players’ tolerances for roleplayed misery.

Come Buy, Come Buy (Part 1)

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My Beyond the Wall players, as mentioned in a prior post, finally decided they had enough of a handle on the campaign world to go into the Hedge searching for the market they’d learned of from a pack of defeated goblins. Their treasure from that encounter was a chest of stolen nightmares: clearly only the kind of thing human adventurers are going to get much use out of if they can find the place where commerce of that type happens. This meant I needed to think out exactly how I wanted the goblin market (really more of a faerie market in general) to work.

I’d done some improvisation on this score using Don’t Rest Your Head’s bazaar, which functions quite similarly. But what works for an extremely rules-light game doesn’t work as well for games like D&D that have a lot of assumptions built into player access to items and magic. Brandes has articles on goblin markets in general and ideas for what to find there, and you should read both of those articles before this one to be working from the same playbook I am as to what I still felt like I needed to create.

Themes of a Faerie Market

While I typically prefer the term “Goblin Market,” the poem with which that term is most linked is not exactly what I’m talking about (though well could be the pastime of the less savory merchants when they’re not at the big show). I tend to think more of the markets of Stardust and Hellboy II: massive gatherings of strange merchants with exotic wares, where you might wind up paying in coin you didn’t know you possessed.

In this kind of market, there can certainly be the wicked danger proposed by the poem, if your game wants to emphasize the Victorian morality involved. But I think you’ll often get more out of it by playing a bit more fairly with the players: purchases aren’t an inherently bad idea, but can still be extremely risky if you don’t know what you’re getting or spending. This is a fully functioning economy, just using rules that may defy the PCs’ intuitions from more mundane markets.

For my own purposes, I think the major themes to keep in mind when running such a place are wonder, consequences, and identity.

  • Wonder: At its core, visiting such a market is an opportunity to inject wonder into a game. Beings normally only encountered in frightening combats, legends, and as historical remnants are packed into a small space and going about their own personal shopping trips. You get to see them up close and may not even have to fight them. They may trade with you. This may be your best opportunity to gain information from primary sources, if you can ask the right questions. And it may be your opportunity to piss off a huge swath of powerful entities all at once, if you’re not careful.
  • Consequences: While the market may not inevitably be that of Rosetti’s goblins, tricking you into trading that which is most important for pretty poison, such an outcome is not off the table. Some merchants will outright try to cheat you, and even the “honest” ones are happy to take advantage of your ignorance to get a better deal for themselves. In particular, if you are rude or brash, you are unlikely to profit. If it looks like you got an excellent deal, far better than what you expected, there are probably hidden consequences. And, with a handshake bargain, there’s not even any fine print to read.
  • Identity: One of the classic things the market trades in is trappings of identity. You can pay with memories, beauty, youth, vigor, secrets, and many other types of coin that you didn’t even know were available to spend. The consequences are usually smaller but more obvious than a classic devil’s bargain for your soul: you get to spend the rest of your life understanding something about yourself that you didn’t realize was essential until it was gone. If you’re lucky, you can figure out how to buy it back. From the other side of the deal, what does it mean to profit from the trappings of someone else’s identity? Any boost you purchase may be powered by an essential trait of another person, taken into yourself.

The Nature of Market Items

The interesting thing about the market is the juxtaposition of seemingly fabulously powerful magics with an implied hidden drawback. Items that are normally the trappings of epic adventurers seem to be available for quite reasonable prices, even once you’ve gotten a handle on the true meaning of fae prices. How do you put such things into the game without breaking the itemization math upon which D&D is based?

I think the key is to keep most purchases fragile, fleeting, evanescent, and/or ephemeral. Not only should they mostly be consumables (as Brandes notes), they should defy the traditional D&D logic of consumables by including spoilage. In my experience, potions, scrolls, and charged items accumulate, becoming dangerous to game balance in their ability to be saved until their moment of greatest advantage. Part of their costing is based on being a reserve spell when the math said you should be out of daily resources. Making fae purchases into something that must be used now, or at least soon, can go a long way toward eliminating worries about whether they’re too cheap. Especially if the fae traders are on a schedule that doesn’t suit the whims of the PCs, it’s pretty easy to give out items that are lots of fun to use, but which won’t be available to wreck scenarios set a few days or weeks later.

Also, as noted under themes, items purchased from the fae are likely to have hidden drawbacks, not the least of which is being spun from the trappings of someone else’s identity. What shortcuts did the fae crafter take to make something so powerful that can be sold so cheaply? Does its core still carry the intentions of its originator, making it unexpectedly hard to use? Will it, even in the best case scenario, begin to warp your own identity through leakage or as a core principle of how it works?

If you can get your players into a deep anxiety about whether they were cheated or got a fabulous deal, and whether they can risk using this thing vs. risking letting it expire, you’ve properly created the item.

Beyond the Wall: Ally Playbook

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Based on last week’s notes, this week it’s a playbook (similar to PC playbooks in provided stats and skills) that allows allies to transition from null-stat hirelings to fully fleshed out characters that could serve as replacement PCs if the existing PCs die. Apply these stat improvements when it’s appropriate to answer the questions (i.e., one per adventure completion with the party).

What are your native talents?

Pick two ability scores to start at 10, the rest start at 8.

What happened the first adventure after you became an ally?

  • You had to flee and/or get help. +2 Str, +1 Dex, +1 Con, Skill: Athletics or Riding
  • You had to help scout/stay on guard duty. +2 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Wis, Skill: Alertness or Stealth
  • You were deep in hostile wilderness. +2 Int, +1 Wis, +1 Con, Skill: Animal Lore or Survival
  • You mostly got to stay out of danger and help with the food. +2 Cha, +1 Wis, +1 Con, Skill: Cooking or Hunting
  • You had to help with the injured or sick. +2 Con, +1 Wis, +1 Str, Skill: Healing or Herbalism
  • You helped with terrifying ancient mysteries. +2 Int, +1 Str, +1 Cha, Skill: Ancient History or Forbidden Lore
  • You got deeply embroiled with the fae or other strange creatures. +2 Cha, +1 Dex, +1 Int, Skill: Faerie Lore or Folklore
  • You were involved in mystical or philosophical weirdness. +2 Wis, +1 Str, +1 Dex, Skill: Magic Lore or Religious Lore
  • You had to be on your best behavior among polite society. +2 Wis, +1 Int, +1 Cha, Skill: Etiquette or Politics

After your second adventure as an ally, what’s your favorite part of adventuring so far?

  • The fights! +2 Str, +1 Wis
  • Games and riddles. +2 Dex, +1 Int
  • Proving your toughness. +2 Con, +1 Cha
  • Learning lore and secrets. +2 Int, +1 Dex
  • Learning about strange new folks. +2 Wis, +1 Con
  • Making new friends. +2 Cha, +1 Str
  • Being generally helpful and needed. +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha
  • Learning a little from everyone. +1 Dex, +1 Int, +1 Wis

Now that you’ve been on three adventures as an ally, which of the party members do you look up to the most?

  • The strongest warrior in the party. +2 Str, +1 Cha
  • The most nimble scout in the party. +2 Dex, +1 Wis
  • The most stalwart protector in the party. +2 Con, +1 Int
  • The smartest and cleverest person in the party. +2 Int, +1 Dex
  • The most patient and considerate person in the party. +2 Wis, +1 Str
  • The one that you have a crush on. +2 Cha, +1 Con
  • The one that’s lost without your help. +1 Str, +1 Int, +1 Cha
  • The one that doesn’t need you, but lets you help anyway. +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Wis

After four adventures as an ally, the party is clearly starting to expect you to fill a role. What do you see your purpose in the party as?

  • The muscle, standing firm on the front lines. +2 Str, +1 Con, Skill: Athletics or Intimidation
  • The scout, hanging back and looking for opportunities. +2 Dex, +1 Wis, Skill: Alertness or Stealth
  • The protector, taking hits so the weaker ones don’t have to. +2 Con, +1 Cha, Skill: Riding or Survival
  • The brains, knowing details and secrets. +2 Int, +1 Dex, Skill: [Any Lore]
  • The heart, keeping track of and coordinating the party. +2 Wis, +1 Str, Skill: Healing or Socialize
  • The soul, keeping everyone happy and helping with outsiders. +2 Cha, +1 Int, Skill: [Any Social]

After five adventures as an ally, some of your negative tendencies are starting to become apparent. What’s your biggest problem?

  • I’m lazy, and don’t like to do my fair share. -1 Str, +2 Dex, +1 Int
  • My clumsiness tends to get us all in trouble. -1 Dex, +2 Con, +1 Cha
  • I keep getting sick and injured. -1 Con, +2 Cha, +1 Dex
  • I can’t remember all the things I should have learned. -1 Int, +2 Wis, +1 Str
  • I just don’t pay much attention and break things. -1 Wis, +2 Str, +1 Con
  • I’m secretive and distrustful. -1 Cha, +2 Int, +1 Wis

After six adventures as an ally, you’re starting to seamlessly blend with the hero that serves as your leader, learning from her example and shoring up her weaknesses.

Add +2 to the ability that your leader has lowest, and add either +1 to the ability your leader has highest or add the skill your leader uses the most.

After seven adventures as an ally, you’ve learned almost as much as you can in a subordinate role and are getting ready to strike out on your own.

Add +1 to your highest ability and +1 to your lowest ability.

Example Hirelings

The following were the blurbs I presented to my players as their starting local options for hirelings.

Mages

  • The Ostra-Goth (Witch): A weird guy in his late twenties that likes to wear all black and who doesn’t have many friends. He badgered the Witch for some training a few years ago, but she quickly got tired of him. He has the Hexing cantrip, the Call the Swarm spell, and no rituals.
  • The Chamber Maid (Order): A teen serving girl at the manor who was around the room a lot when the Apprentice Court Sorcerer was being taught by the Court Sorcerer, and seems to have picked up a few things. She has the Second Sight cantrip, the Abjuration spell, and the Sorcerer’s Steed ritual.
  • The Fae-Struck Boy (Fae): A touched young man in his late teens that barely responds to stimuli but is mostly biddable, he’s been like this ever since he wandered out of town as a child. Many think he was bewitched by the fae, as he has strange powers. He has the Glamour Weaving cantrip, the Obscurement spell, and no rituals.
  • The Imperial Novice (New Sun): An overly-cheerful young Imperial girl who came to town with the imperial priest and serves as his altar girl and gofer. She doesn’t seem to have any understanding of why people are so distrustful of her. She has the Blessing cantrip, the Inspiration and Word of Courage spells, and no rituals.
  • Horse Girl (Witch): This girl LOVES HORSES. She is really, really annoying about it. The innkeepers started paying her a small wage because they couldn’t stop her from helping out in the inn’s stables. She’s picked up some things from doggedly following the Assistant Beast Keeper on her rounds with the Witch’s menagerie. She has the Beast Ken cantrip, the Wild Call spell, and no rituals.
  • Mr. Helpful (Pagan): This guy is possibly in his forties. He has a polite smile for people, helps them get to their homes at night, and is just on the good side of being creepy about it. Most suspect he worships some weird old god of hospitality. He has the Mage Light cantrip, the Phantom Skill spell, and the Goodberry ritual.

Fighters

  • The Huntress: A woman in her thirties, she’s remained happily unmarried and spends her time out with the other hunters. The villagers joke that she’s married to her bow. She’s specialized in longbow and has the Great Strike knack.
  • Sword Guy: He’s slender, getting older, he’s not nearly as sexy as he thinks, and, yes, he does a weird dance where he balances his sword on various body parts to try to impress people. He’s specialized in longsword and has the Defensive Fighter knack.
  • The Ol’ Battleaxe: She probably shouldn’t have gotten married to a guy that thinks he’s as funny as her husband does, because the kind of woman that works as a woodcutter has a particular nickname that’s appropriate. She’s specialized in greataxe and has the Resilience knack.
  • Big Mouth: Big guy, big mouth, won’t shut up about how much he’s going to kick your ass, never really does, has about the reputation you’d expect because of it. Nice enough guy, when he’s not drinking. He’s specialized in battle axe and has the Great Strike knack.
  • That Weird Flippy Kicky Girl: She’s your age, just kind of washed up in Heimbach with traders a few years ago, barely seems to speak the local language or any other anyone knows, and wakes up every morning at dawn to practice her martial arts forms. She’s specialized in unarmed combat (and seems to have the Unarmed Combat trait) and has the Fleet knack.
  • Infantry!: He’s been in the wars, man. He won’t stop telling people about it. And they’re like, yeah, man, a lot of people have seen war, what makes you so special? And he’s all, I was part of an elite polearm fighting team, man, you wouldn’t understand the camaraderie of the training. He’s specialized in halberd and has the Defensive Fighter knack.

Rogues

  • Comrade Stinky: This guy has an imperial accent, lives like a hermit out in the woods, and doesn’t bathe, but seems to know what he’s about. He has the Animal Lore and Survival skills.
  • The Gumshoe: This young teen is an extremely middle child, and Nancy Drews her way around the village solving “mysteries” and would love to go solve a real one. She has the Alertness and Investigation skills.
  • The Freerun Artist: Heimbach has just enough architecture that some kid was going to invent Parkour, to the great chagrin of business owners across town. He has the Athletics and Stealth skills.
  • The Oldest Professional: Sliding gracefully into middle age, but cognizant that her future employment prospects are waning, she might be amenable to some adventuring to try to lay in a nest egg for her retirement. She has the Pickpocketing and Seduction skills.
  • Major Bored-o: One of the heralds at the manor is pushing thirty and has heard about a lot of great people, but seems to wonder if there’s something more than this provincial life. He has the Ancient History and Etiquette skills.
  • Ms. Science!: One of the town’s schoolteachers is a whip-smart young woman in her early twenties that has learned some surprising things about machinery through unknown methods of experimentation. She has the Engineering and Trapping skills.

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