Fey Feature 04/11/2003

Immortality and Mortality

This month's column examines fey campaigns, looking at the issues of immortality and mortality.

The Immortal Life

The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

-- "Intimations of Immortality" by William Wordsworth

Folklore and legends often portray fey as immortal, but the core D&D cosmology is silent on the issue of fey immortality. If a Dungeon Master chooses to make fey (or any broad category of creatures) immortal in her campaign, she needs to carefully consider the consequences.

First, the conditions of immortality should be defined. There's a full menu of ways to implement immortality.

I. What happens after a fey reaches adulthood?

A. The fey does not advance age categories and aging has no effect.

B. She advances age categories, gaining both the positive and negative adjustments to ability scores due to aging. This results in fey who grow wise but older and less physically able -- making long life both a blessing and a curse.

1. She advances at a very slow pace with age categories spanning hundreds (or even thousands) of years, rendering her virtually immortal.

2. She advances identical to elves or another long-lived race.

C. He advances age categories, gaining solely the positive adjustments to ability scores due to aging. Following this philosophy, fey mostly benefit from their long lives.

1. He advances at a very slow pace with age categories spanning hundreds (or even thousands) of years, rendering her virtually immortal.

2. He advances identical to elves or another long-lived race.

II. Can a fey die from disease and disease-like afflictions?

A. Yes, the immortality applies only to aging effects.

B. No, fey have immunity to diseases (specify which of the following).

1. Natural diseases

2. Supernatural diseases (such as mummy rot)

3. Supernatural afflictions (such as lycanthropy)

III. Can a fey ever lose her immortality and begin to age (like a human or other creature)?

A. Yes, through a personal ritual, she can renounce it and become mortal.

B. Yes, as a dire consequence of an acquired template, poison, disease, spells, or other forces, a fey can lose his immortality.

1. The loss is permanent.

2. Immortality can be restored.

C. No, fey are always immortal creatures.

Poison Type Initial Damage Secondary Damage Price
Kiss of the Grave Contact DC 20 1d4 Con Mortality* 5,000 gp

Crafting this poison also carries the prerequisites of Craft Wondrous Item and bestow curse. *The secondary damage causes immortal creatures, such as fey, to become mortal and renders all creatures unable to be raised or resurrected. The secondary damage is permanent and can be reversed only with a miracle or wish spell.

Depending upon the options you choose, fey in your campaign are likely a bit stronger than in a baseline campaign that assumes fey are mortal like other creatures. The differences described above are not sufficient to increase a fey creature or NPC's challenge rating, but optimal combinations may merit an increased level adjustment for fey player characters.

Supposing fey are immortal, why haven't they become so numerous as to crowd out other types of creatures? Immortal beings capable of reproducing (as fey certainly are) logically need some sort of limitation on their population growth rate. Possibilities include:

  • Low fertility rates, causing children to be rare and special.
  • Lack of interest in having children, leading to low birth rates.
  • Susceptibility to disease or illness, especially as infants or children.
  • Lack of maternal and paternal interest, leading to high infant mortality.
  • A violent society with deadly duels and/or murder as a political/social tool.
  • Civil strife between factions, possibly between the Seelie and Unseelie courts.

The Immortal Life

Fey possess a worldview that differs dramatically from that of humanoids. Some attribute this difference to fey immortality, or the reasons may be much more complex.

Now vs. Later

Fey care intensely about the moment and little about the future. Both Seelie and Unseelie fey who participate in court life devote substantial time and energy to keeping up with the latest fads and fashions (most of which are set by the respective queens and their closest associates).

Longevity (or immortality) causes daily activities to become stale and unexciting, requiring change and novelty to relieve the tedium. One week, riding clothes may be haute couture, with the fashionable folk discussing their mounts and equipment. Racing exotic mounts on tracks of various terrains is the most popular entertainment, and betting on the races provides much amusement and competition. The next week, the topic is passé and those who continue to focus on riding and mounts develop reputations as being unfashionable bores.

Good vs. Evil

Chapter 6: Description in the Player's Handbook discusses alignment and the topic of good vs. evil. This text does apply to fey creatures, but one must consider the issues from the perspective of fey folklore. Faeries are often portrayed as egocentric and little able to think beyond their own needs. Their focus is on the pursuit of pleasure, and consequences are rarely calculated.

Consider the story "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving (full text at http://www.bartleby.com/195/4.html).Rip accompanied a fey gentleman to faerie revels, spending one night among them, and awoke 20 years later to find his wife and friends long dead, his children grown, and his house in ruins. Was bringing Rip to a place where time passed differently an evil act? The fey may have felt he acted kindly, bringing this lonely mortal to a party with dancing and drink. It was merely an act of the moment without regard for future consequences.

Consider also the poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci" by John Keats (full text at http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem1126.html). The pale knight, like many mortal men before him, falls in love with the beautiful fey woman. When he wakes without her, he pines for her and lingers longingly by the lake waiting for her unlikely return. Was she evil for letting the knight fall in love with her?

Fey morality is a thought-provoking topic. How do you define good and evil for nonhumanoid types of creatures? Each DM will develop her campaign using a personalized approach based on her perceptions of the species' roles in her world. This can be of negligible import or something which drives the campaign, informs her players' actions, and provides the basis of many adventures.

About the Authors

Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrelis an editor for Wizards of the Coast's Roleplaying Games R&D department. Recent credits include editingFaiths and Pantheons,Oriental Adventures, andMagic of Faerûn, and designing part of theBook of Challenges. She's a frequent contributor to the Wizards of the Coast website. Also, check out the website she created for her fiancé, Andy Collins, at www.andycollins.net.

Faith M. Price accidentally fell into the adventure game industry nine years ago. Since then she has worked for two game manufacturers, and has written for numerous magazines. She currently lives in Washington with two RPG designers and two cats, all of whom require regular feeding and attention.

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