Van Richten's Guide to the Shadow Fey
Authors: Brett King, Rucht Lilavivat, Tadd McDivitt and Penny Williams
Summary of content:
Chapter One: Origins of the Endless (history of the SF, distinction between SF and Sylvan fey)
Minor errata: the Fir Finger feat should say 'fir ancestry' as prerequisite (confirmed by Brett King, author, on the FoS boards).
David "Jester" Gibson
The most recent of the VanRichten Guides, written in-character by Laurie and Gennifer Weathermay-Foxgrove and based on notes left by the dearly departed doctor. The book brings back the Shadow Fey, featured originally in the mega-adventure The Shadow Rift and also partially detailed in Denizens of Darkness/Dread. However, this book gains much of its inspiration from classic tales of fae and their courts and their nature to expand upon the fey’s abilities while not contradicting anything previously published. This includes such well known sources as Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, so it is now quite possible to make a Puck or turn someone’s head into that of an ass. Love potions, however, are not dealt with.
Chapter One: Origins of the Endless: This chapter dealing with where fey come from and the distinction between sylvan and shadow fey. After this chapter there is very little said about the sylvan fey, which is a shame. There is very little said and done regarding the place of such creatures as leprechauns, dryads, nymphs and the like in Ravenloft. It would have been interesting to see them incorporated into the Arak, especially with the reference to ‘the Twilight’ tempting and twisting fey. Instead the aspects of their corruption are simply hinted at and not followed up upon later. Something that I found to be an interesting addition in this chapter is the introduction of the ‘folkloric fey’ template. The template can be added to traditional D&D monsters that have a historical or legendary connection with the wee folk. Such as goblins and kobolds that are considered fae in many old stories.
Chapter Two: Common Powers: Another short chapter that deals with the Shadow Fey’s immortality and unique derivative of unkillability. Like liches, fiends, and vampires you cannot simply hack one into pieces to stop it for all time. Although it still can dispose of most fey threats. This chapter also briefly deals with the reliable ways to permanently kill a fey.
The fey’s immortality is an interesting idea, although it was not included into the Shadow Rift book it is done in such as way as to be non-contradictory. This chapter and version of immortality does somewhat alter the creation of new fey. In the Shadow Rift adventure it is suggested that fey breed much like other races do and simply choose their breed at birth based on their personality. However, this book changes this significantly, and, in my opinion, for the better. Here, over the centuries even immortals change.
Chapter Three: Extraordinary Powers: Easily the largest chapter of the book save for the DM appendix. This chapter is supposedly on the powers not possessed by all breeds of Arak, but only by specific breeds. It then starts with the creation of Changelings, which all Arak can create. Why this is included here instead of in the Common Powers or Interaction With Mortals chapters is unknown.
This chapter is fairly bland but quite useful and contains a wide range of fey powers. These are not salient abilities as found in previous Guides, nor are they power boosts as found in the Guide to Walking Dead. They are simply innate and varied abilities based on the power of the fey. The end of the chapter simply gives a very large list of Spell-like abilities to pick and choose from. It is worth noting the twins in the In-Character text do not touch on the vast majority of these spell-like abilities.
However, it is in this chapter than the largest problem with the book shows up again. Editing. Bad editing that results in confusion of rules or ideas that are mentioned and never clarified or followed up on later (such as alignment based sunlight damage or destruction of fey'’ homes in their vulnerabilities). Here the problem is the customized Alven and the distribution of ‘spell points’. It is never clarified if these spell-like abilities are already assigned to the sample fey at the back of the book or if they are added on top. If the latter should the CR be adjusted if not done so or increased to compensate. Furthermore, when comparing the customized Millefleur with a generic Alven it is apparent that Mill does not posses the Hallucinatory Terrain power, however a generic Alven does not have enough points to select that power three times as suggested in the Appendix and the caster level is also too low.
Chapter Four: Vulnerabilities: Chapter IV starts with an unduly long story demonstrating the need to know your enemies’ weaknesses before confronting them. Something that has been touched on in ever other single guide before this so it’s inclusion, while an interesting read, goes on quite long. Also, Nikolas, from the Guide to Walking Dead makes a return appearance here. The twins are developing a supporting cast.
The chapter divides weaknesses into Physical and Metaphysical banes and further divides those into Common (that affect all Fey) and Uncommon (that affect individuals). The banes also affect the fey in a variety of different ways. This is all nicely laid out and generalized to allow lots of customization and wiggle room for DMs. Nicely done.
Chapter Five: The Breeds: A simple chapter dealing with the nine breeds of Arak, but that also includes some oddly placed paragraphs of fey priests and black mithral. This chapter is little save description of the fey and the general personalities of the breeds. Very little here seems to have changed since the Fey appeared in the Shadow Rift book.
Chapter Six: The Immortal Mind:As the name of the chapter suggests this deals with how the fey think and pass the many years immortality bestows. It also deals with the courtly world of the Arak and how the twins know about individuals such as Maeve and Loht. And this also hints at the canon ending to the Shadow Rift adventure.
This section also includes a section on alignments as they apply to the fey, a very usefully idea which is thankfully included. Creatures as alien and strange as the fey should not be bound by the same rules of morality as humans.
Chapter Seven: Interactions with Mortals: This chapter deals with how fey of various alignments and dispositions treat mortals and how they view them. This is a fairly diverse chapter with emphasis that the fey can be helpful or troublesome at a whim. Something I am glad is emphasized in this volume, that fey are not simply more sword fodder to throw at players. They are both good and evil, with just as many possible adventures could revolve around or include a helpful or benevolent fey.
Changelings come up again here with more talk of how they are made and the process of selecting potential changelings. Why this information was separated from the other changeling information is beyond me. There is enough to have formed a separate section on changelings, or simply have bound all the information in one place.
Chapter Eight: Confronting the Shadow fey: An interesting chapter that is less about advice and more a story of the twins fighting a shadow fey. The story does a good job of portraying the twins as still young and inexperienced adventurers. It also highlights the unusual nature and personality of the fey. And it feature’s Talon’s artwork, which is always a welcome addition to a book.
DM’s Appendix: Standard listing of rules for making unique fey, half-fey, quarter-fey, etc. As well as the monster stats for all nine major breeds. I was mildly disappointed that all the breeds were still considered separate, unlike the guide to Ghosts or Walking Dead the sub-varieties of Shadow Fey are still separate. There is also no mention of talk of crafting the sub-types using the rules. In fact several of the breeds bend the rules. For example it states that all fey have spell casting abilities as a sorcerer, however Sith cast their spells as a necromancer.
There is also a tenth breed introduced called a waff, which is more of a sub-breed. It is introduced abruptly at the end with no prior mention at all in the book so its inclusion seems extraneous.
The Guide to the Shadow Fey is a good product and a worthy Ravenloft book. Not an absolute ‘must-buy’ such as the Core Books or Gazetteers, but for any long-term campaign looking for something different it works great. While there are many small editing mistakes, some strange layout choices and the rules could have used a tad more editing generally the mechanics appear fairly solid. . The book is filled with story ideas and one cannot help but remember classic legends when flipping through the pages. Personally, with the references to True Names and bargains I found myself thinking repeatedly of Rumplestiltskin. Which is what a game sourcebook is meant to do, inspire you and help your own ideas flourish. And this book does that. Hee hee hee 4 out of 5.
Faeries have always been in huge demand in my Ravenloft campaigns, especially by my female gamers. So it came as a huge relief that I acquired this Guide in early 2004. I don't have "The Shadow Rift" so I previously didn't know what to make of that hollow domain's inhabitants. It turns out, however, that I got more than I bargained for with this Guide: within it are nine main breeds of the Shadow Rift's inhabitants, their culture and psychology, and a few handy instructions on how to create your very own shadow fey creature, which is the main reason why I find it a bit surprising it isn't titled "Van Richten's Guide to Faeries" Plus, Talon Dunning's art is amazing, as always.
Four out of five powrie heads.
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