IN THE WORKS

THE WILD BEYOND THE WITCHLIGHT

by Matt Chapman

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Something wicked this way comes! The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, the next hardcover adventure for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, releases September 21, 2021. And according to Principal Game Architect Chris Perkins, who revealed more details about this Feywild adventure at D&D Live 2021, it’s been over a decade in the making!

“I very much wanted to write a full-length adventure that shines a spotlight on the Feywild for fourth edition, because we’d never done one before. But when we started working on fifth edition, our priorities shifted. I was finally able to circle back around to focus on this project again once we were deep enough into fifth edition. So this idea has been percolating in my brain for around 11 years,” Chris tells Dragon+.

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Chris kept notebooks of his Feywild ideas during that time, in anticipation of being able to return to the project. These included the makeshift plot he’d written, maps he’d drawn, and lists of unusual items that could be found in that setting. When he re-pitched the idea of a Feywild story in 2017, Larian had started working on Baldur’s Gate III, and the D&D Team pushed ahead with Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus to tie into that product. It was another two years before Chris finally got to reopen those notebooks.

“When I went back to my notes there were page after page of ideas for this setting. Here’s a bunch of plants and mushrooms native to the Feywild, here’s a list of fey trinkets. I kept adding to those lists and I started to flesh out the plot with some new ideas about how this could be a story about the passage of time,” he remembers.

ADVENTURE HOOKS

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight draws players into its adventure in two ways. A more traditional story hook (which Chris calls “the warlock’s quest”) is available, with characters helping someone in return for a reward. But the “lost things” story hook uses the idea that when their characters visited the Witchlight Carnival as children, something was taken from them. When that traveling show returns, they see this as their chance to get that lost item back.

What they lost might be something immaterial like their artistic creativity, or it could be something tangible like a beloved toy. They can either roll randomly to determine what they lost at the carnival or choose it during character creation.

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“In 2017 I was chatting with Patrick Rothfuss and when it became clear that he was keen on fey-themed stories I asked if he’d be interested in helping me flesh out this Feywild concept. The Witchlight Carnival came out of those discussions, because the Feywild is a wacky place and creatures don’t behave the way that they behave in the Material Plane. We realized that before the characters get to the Feywild, it would be helpful if they understood its rules. A fey-themed carnival that serves as a gateway would be the perfect place to school them. The party could explore the carnival as their first step and learn some of the Feywild’s basic concepts before they travel there. The quirky characters they meet there will reflect in many ways the unusual characters that they’ll meet in the Feywild.”

Time is another important factor in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and the three hags of the Hourglass Coven at the heart of the story are tied to the concept of past, present, and future. Their kingdoms of Hither, Thither, and Yon also reflect the three sisters’ different manifestations of time. Each of the hags exerts power over their realm—and when they’re displeased, their realm is displeased and things can go awry.

  • Eldest sister Skabatha, also known as Granny Nightshade, is a recluse who lives mostly in the past. Her dwelling is in an ancient forest. She passes the time by making toys for children and is part toy herself. Woe betides adventurers if the wind-up key sticking out of her back runs down.
  • Bavlorna Blightstraw, also known as Slack-jawed Lorna, is a toad-like hag who embodies the present. She can create miniature manifestations of herself, which run around her and perform odd tasks. She exists in the here and now and doesn’t dwell on the past or pay much mind to the future. She lives in the swamp settlement of Downfall, among a court of bullywugs.
  • The third hag is Endelyn Moongrave, also known as Bitter End (“I adore her art,” Chris says, “and hers is a fascinating story”). Endelyn is a prognosticator who can see the future. She lives in a mountaintop theater, where she has plays performed for her amusement. But she also wears a dress that can double as a theater contraption so she can perform plays telling the future of those she meets.
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INCREDIBLE ART & CHARACTERS

Ellywick Tumblestrum (played by Girls, Guts, Glory’s Erika Fermina), bard of the multiverse, and guest of the Summer Queen, showed off two versions of the book’s artwork featuring some of those individuals as she introduced an adventure storyline she’ll be part of.

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Yet there are many more characters still to be introduced, with some sure to be fan-favorites before the Feywild adventure is complete. They will often provide much-needed support for the party and continue an education about the fey that began in the Witchlight Carnival.

“One of the key things about this adventure is that the characters can—if they’re clever and paying attention—complete the entire storyline without ever engaging in combat. And in order to pull that off, of course, we have to seed the adventure with a bunch of characters like Sir Talavar and Jingle Jangle,” Chris explains.

“Sir Talavar, a favorite of mine, is a knightly and gallant faerie dragon, while Jingle Jangle is a goblin key collector who wears a coat of keys. What I like about Jingle Jangle is she’s very representative of goblins in the Feywild in that they’re complex creatures. She’s also kind and helpful. In the course of the story, she reminds the characters that the Feywild is worth saving.”

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Folklore and other classic tales about the fey also often include children. That might be tales of fey abduction or of younger children being lured into wonderous fey realms and disappearing from their homes. Chris says childlike innocence plays well in the Feywild.

“In Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, the urchins served to show that people of all ages lived in the city and there’s a reason to defend it. Similarly, children show up in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight because fey stories and children go hand in hand. The Getaway Gang is a small band of children brought to the Feywild who live in a treehouse built into the boughs of a treant. They’re fun because they’re resourceful and they can be immensely helpful to a party, as they have some unconventional solutions that adults might not think of,” he says.

“Star, who was an attraction at the Witchlight Carnival and accidentally found its way into the Feywild and is now lost there, lives with this group of runaway children. This displacer beast kitten has the potential to win over a lot of new D&D fans, because she’s just so darn adorable and makes such a cute companion.”

A storyline that uses time as a key component also cleverly draws upon the rich history of Dungeons & Dragons. Chris says even if people don’t always recognize these little nuggets from the past, they’ve become part of our shared language.

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“D&D is over 45 years old and it’s become a multi-generational game. We’ve included tons of D&D Easter eggs that nod to the theme of time echoing throughout the story’s past and Thaco the clown is one of them,” he says, noting that he’s also been able to pull in creatures from ancient D&D lore.

“The jabberwock appeared in a second edition Monster Compendium, and that’s what we went back to when revising it for fifth edition. The only official D&D adventure the creature ever appeared in was called The Manxome Foe, when I was asked to create an adventure tied to Planescape. It’s another instance of us reaching into the past and pulling something forward to reinforce that theme of time.”

Characters and monsters aren’t the only element of The Wild Beyond the Witchlight that benefit from incredible art. The standard book cover art was created by Tyler Jacobson, while the soft-touch, variant cover—available exclusively in game stores—features work by former Dragon+ cover artist Hydro74. Plus, a poster map (created by Will Doyle and Stacy Allen, which Chris describes as “stunningly gorgeous”) is included with the book, featuring a map of the Witchlight Carnival on one side, and a map of the Feywild domain of Prismeer on the other. Expect to find a few hidden delights within both of those images, including a character on the Prismeer side that friends and followers of Chris might recognize.

“We’re also planning to create something similar to The Tortle Package, which we released on the DMs Guild to coincide with Tomb of Annihilation,” Chris reports. “This will be inspirational material that’s completely standalone and will explain how to create your own archfey and their Feywild domains. Once you’ve had a taste of what we’ve created in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, you can go off and create your own.”

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight releases September 21, 2021 and is available for pre-order now at your local game store, bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million, or online at retailers such as Amazon. A digital version is also available at D&D Beyond, and Roll20.