Wish granting fairy godmothers, mysterious strangers offering dangerous bargains, monstrous beasts, shape-shifters, children with strange powers, well spoken animals, and prank loving fairies along with countless others all appear in many of the stories we learn as children. These stories teach us simple morals that are intended to imbue us with life lessons that we will carry with us for the rest of our days. They also prove how pervasive lore about fairies has become within countless cultures around the world. It’s hardly surprising that with so much source material to draw from fairies have taken a prominent role in tabletop games since its inception.
Although the precise details about the fey can vary wildly from one version to the next some remain present throughout most of them. All of the fey abhor the touch of iron which can be used to injure, repel, or imprison them. Iron is the kryptonite of all things fairy and it often proves their undoing in the storybooks. Names and words have far greater power over fairies than they do over humans. A fairy’s name can be used to summon them, compel them to carry out someone’s bidding, or bind them to a place. No matter what a fairy must abide by the terms of any bargain that they make, this should make dealing with them safer but it generally has the opposite effect. Since many of these beings live for hundreds of years, if not eternally, they use the passing centuries to perfect the skills of deception and wordplay. Gifts are never free when given by a fairy, anything that they offer you comes with a spider’s web worth of strings attached to it. A hungry traveler who gratefully accepts food and shelter from woodland fairies may found himself bound to their service. There are courts, usually presided over by a king and queen, that act as the governing bodies for the fey. These are some of the most common traits associated with fairies, but there are many more.
In Dungeons and Dragons an expansive realm known as the Feywild is inhabited by elves, gnomes, fairies, unicorns, fomorians, satyrs, and countless other fantastic creatures. Gaining entrance to the Feywild is no simple feat, and those who manage will find that escaping can be even more difficult. Breathtaking forests, idyllic rivers, treetop cities, and other sites unique to the Feywild make it a uniquely beautiful realm. Hunting packs of blink dogs, xenophobic fey, man eating plants, and hideous giants who enslave anyone who crosses their path are just a few of the threats that a visitor might face in an adventure that brings them through the border between dimensions. It’s interesting to note that fairies in this system don’t have a special vulnerability to iron which makes sense. Mechanically speak very few people would be interested in play an elf or a gnome in a game where most of their adversaries will be wielding iron weapons of one sort of another. Since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were heavily influence by J.R.R. Tolkien’s work and his portrayal of elves also lacked this characteristic that may be another reason it was omitted. The fey do however gain heightened increased physical attributes, an affinity for illusions, and an extended lifespan.
White Wolf’s Changeling: The Lost presents a very different take on the beings from fairy tales. In this universe true fey abduct people then carry them off into their realm, a thorny labyrinth called the hedge. Once they’re trapped with the hedge their minds and bodies are twisted to suit whims of their captors. Some become servants digging networks of tunnels, brewing drinks, and maintaining endless libraries. Others are altered to serve as companions and entertainment. A few even take on bestial characteristics and spend their days in the menageries of the true fey. Of course in folklore changelings are fairy babies who are left in place of human children, these mewling infants make their adoptive parents every waking moment a living nightmare. In Changeling: The Lost the captives are replaced by a creature called a fetch, a duplicate that looks just like them, however fetches sometimes act very differently than their human counterparts. Upon escaping from the hedge a changeling must make the choice as to whether or not they will confront their fetch and reclaim the life that was taken from them. This system presents fairies as sinister kidnappers who regard human beings as little more than playthings that exist only to suite their whims. The really scary thing is that this had a place in the stories that we hear about these creatures.
The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game based on The Dresden Files series written by Jim Butcher also presents an interesting version of fairies. In this universe all of the supernatural creatures from myth and legend reside in a place called the Nevernever that rests on the border of our world. In places where the border between world is weak creatures and people sometimes slip through causing the stories of fantastic beings that we’ve been telling one another for centuries. Courts play a major role in the politics of the Nevernever, and most of the power is divided between either the Summer or Winter Court. Although the members of the Summer Court are more benevolent than their wintry counterparts that doesn’t make them Tinkerbell. The Summer Court represents life, heat, and the power of all things green and growing while the Winter Court represents decay, cold, and the predatory aspects of nature. Wyldfae who are not part of either court also dwell in the Nevernever, including the goblins who are ruled by the Erlking. During times of war all of the wyldfae are forced to choose between the courts. Changelings are also present in the Dresden Files universe, but they’re the offspring of humans and creatures from the Nevernever. Most changelings aren’t aware of their unusual parentage and their inhuman progenitors usually have little interest in them. At some point changelings are forced to choose to become entirely human losing all of their superhuman abilities or become entirely fey.
There is so much material related to this subject I could go on and on about it forever, but I would like to point out a few resources for people who are interested in the topic.
Heroes of the Feywild, Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition
The Manual of the Planes, Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition
Your Story, The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game
Our World, The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game
Summer Knight, A Dresden Files novel written by Jim Butcher
Small Favor, A Dresden Files novel written by Jim Butcher
Cold Night, A Dresden Files novel written by Jim Butcher
The Grimms Fairy Tales, by the brothers Grimm
Changeling: The Lost, World of Darkness
The Rites of Spring, World of Darkness
The Equinox Road, World of Darkness
A Field Guide to Irish Fairies, by Bob Curran
Stardust, Neil Gaiman
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare