Fey Contracts 2


The Diabolical Deals section of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus offers something that… frankly it’s kind of weird that we haven’t seen yet in 5e, where warlock is a core class: bargain-making guidelines. In this post, I’m exploring what a fey version of the same thing would look like. I’m not recapitulating the whole of DiA’s Appendix A here, so let me just note its mechanical moving parts.

The Fey Hierarchy

From the least among sprites, boggans, and pixies to the Archfey and the Eldest, all of the fey have a place relative to the Courts – though sometimes that place is commoner or exile. Naturally, all fey have more power to offer if they are in the Feywild, but for exiles that may not be an option. It’s not unknown for ambitious fey to offer more than they can deliver right now, which risks putting themselves in breach of contract, but the wealth or favors garnered from lucrative contracts are one of the main ways the fey advance within the Courts.

In ascending order of power, the Courts recognize the following ranks. Within a rank, power levels vary by the individual more than the type of fey. This list combines the Summer Court and Winter Court. Rarely, individual fey may have gained so much status that they are a full rank higher in the Courts’ esteem than others of their type.

  • Commoners and exiles
    • Any fey of a higher rank could be exiled to this rank.
    • Blink dog
    • Pixie
    • Redcap
    • Satyr
    • Sprite
    • Talking animal
  • Pages
    • Dryad
    • Nereid
    • Hag (Green, Sea)
    • Siren
  • Knights
    • Eladrin
    • Fomorian (technically a Giant, but recognized by the Courts)
    • Hag (Annis, Bheur)
  • Lords
    • This rank is made up of eladrin, formorians, hags, and others who have been exalted in the Courts’ esteem.
  • Archfey
  • Eldest
    • The Eldest are currently bound, in one way or another. This rank applies only to one that gains their freedom.

Proposal

Fey bargains are much more often verbal than written down, which gives the fey more room to maneuver with misleading language, riddles, and the like, rather than the fine print that devils favor. It is possible to induce a fey to write the bargain down instead, but they pretend to be insulted by such a demand and attempt to extract more from it as a result.

Mortals can still contest a fey’s Charisma (Deception) with Wisdom (Insight). Because of the allusions and riddles in a fey’s speech or bargains, a mortal could also use Intelligence (Arcana) or Intelligence (History) to understand what the fey is really saying.

What Fey Want

Fey have, at best, a dubious understanding of souls. The permanence of a soul conflicts sharply with their mercurial nature, such that many cosmologies suggest that they fey have no souls. This may or may not be true, but what matters is that the fey don’t collect mortal souls the way devils do. They do occasionally collect them as currency to trade to night hags for things they can’t get any other way, but that’s not a general preference. Instead…

Memories

Fey live in the rhythms and cycles of the Courts and the seasons, and in the timelessness of the Feywild. They crave memory, experience, and the strong emotion of a moment. Most fey would care little if the loss of memories left a mortal confused or entirely hollowed-out – after all, the fey will undoubtedly enjoy it longer than the mortals ever could.

Among their favorite memories to claim:

  • Your first love, or a first kiss
  • Devastating losses, such as the death of a parent or a child
  • A legendary victory
  • The moment you decided something life-changing (potentially undoing that change, at least in your own mind)
  • The last time you felt truly loved and secure

The fey who engage in the memory trade almost never take a memory without it leaving you significantly worse off than you were before. That said, there are fey who are willing to help you forget things that you need to lose, for a price.

Services

There are places a fey can’t go or prefers not to go, deeds that require deniability, risks best not taken. For such things, many fey – especially knights and above – prefer to use mortals. Such services often enmesh the mortal ever deeper into the politics of the Courts, or leave the mortal in such a place that they have no choice but to strike a bargain with another fey.

Examples:

  • For the honor of an Archfey of valor, injure an ancient red dragon in its lair and leave it alive.
  • Deliver a pouch of baby teeth to a monarch who unwisely bargained away their firstborn.
  • Silence the church-bells that hurt the ears of a clan of sprites.
  • Learn the true name of a powerful devil and give it to the fey.
  • Reignite the spark of romantic passion between two former lovers who have now married other people.
  • Persuade a mortal to become a warlock, or a group of mortals to become a cult, in service to a high-ranked fey.

Prohibitions

The fey live by a complex list of prohibitions, from rigid rules of hospitality to a deathly vulnerability to cold iron, salt, or the sound of church-bells. When they wish lure a mortal into a breach of contract, fey push for prohibitions as an element of their contracts. The Winter Court takes a particular perverse joy in bargains that establish two prohibitions, and then manipulating the mortal so that the prohibitions come into conflict.

Examples:

  • Never refuse an offer of hospitality from a particular kind of person.
  • Never cut your hair.
  • Never touch a dead fey or humanoid body.
  • Never speak on a certain day of the week.

Fealty

Fey knights and lords accept new warlocks (with the Archfey patron) into the service of their own lieges, while Archfey bargain directly – and can be incredibly difficult to refuse, owing to their supernatural glamour. Service to an Archfey, especially of the Summer Court, isn’t the unremitting horror of service to a devil, but it does often take the warlock away from those they care about, or require things the mortal would greatly prefer not to give.

Yielding one’s firstborn to the fey is the most traditional of fealties, though often inappropriate for a tabletop game. Consider carefully before using this as a price.

What the Fey Offer

As with devils, what a fey can offer is limited by its station and esteem within the Courts. The Fey Hierarchy describes the ranks according to the type of each fey.

Fey offer mortals beauty, delirium, inspiration, magical power, or temporary wealth. Magic items gained from the fey reflect the Court that granted them. Inscriptions written in Sylvan are common, including riddles or prophecies. For the Summer Court, this means glorious and beautiful things made of gold, silver, mithril, and crystal, cloth of gossamer, and the like, down to the homely and home-spun work of brownies. The gifts and crafts of the Winter Court range from the darkly beautiful and obviously dangerous to the purely horrific.

Fey sometimes agree to serve mortals, though no fey would willingly serve a mortal of lower status than the fey believed they deserved. As a result, fey knights and lords only serve through compulsion, or as a display of humility before the Court following a disgrace. Archfey, on the other hand, are often pleased to take an ambitious underling down a peg by granting the knight’s or lord’s service to a particularly lowly mortal.

When the fey offer wealth that is not an art object, it is usually fairy gold, a glamour placed over dried leaves or rubbish. The glamour ends when the fey wishes, usually a short time after its recipient spends it.

Commoners and Exiles

A commoner or exile can offer any or all of the following:

  • Up to 50 gp worth of art objects or fairy gold
  • A common magic item
  • Loyal service for a year and a day

Pages

A page can offer any or all of the following:

  • Up to 500 gp worth of art objects or fairy gold
  • A common or uncommon magic item
  • Loyal service for a year and a day, or the loyal service of a commoner for 1,001 nights.

Knights

A knight can offer any or all of the following:

  • Up to 5,000 gp worth of art objects or fairy gold
  • A common, uncommon, or rare magic item
  • Loyal service for one cycle of the moon (usually new moon to new moon), or the loyal service of a page for 1,001 nights.

Lords and Archfey

A lord or archfey can offer any or all of the following:

  • Up to 50,000 gp worth of art objects or fairy gold
  • A common, uncommon, rare, or very rare magic item
  • A secret known only to the fey
  • A single task the lord or Archfey can complete within the next cycle of the moon, or the loyal service of a knight for a year and a day.
  • A supernatural gift manifesting as a charm (see “Fey Charms” below)

Additionally, Archfey can grant the service of a lord for up to a fortnight, the service of a warlock for up to a year and a day, or the benefit of a wish spell.

Fey Contracts

Once the fey and the mortal have come to verbal agreement (with or without a written contract), the fey gives the mortal an object, a kiss, or the like to signify the sealing of the contract. From that moment forward, both parties are bound by the contract, even if the mortal loses the signifying object.

Breach of Contract

Common penalties for breach of contract by a mortal include:

  • The mortal must serve the fey for period of time (anywhere from a fortnight to 1,001 years). This may also include the mortal’s descendants, or the mortal may be automatically granted agelessness while they remain bound in service.
  • The mortal forfeits memories, up to all of their memories. Forfeiture of memories never deprives a character of basic knowledge such as speech, vocabulary, skills, or class levels, but can include knowledge of specific spells, or the mortal’s name.
  • The mortal grows unusual or embarrassing animal features, such as a donkey’s ears (”Midas has ass’s ears”) or head, a fox’s tail, a wolf’s tongue, or a rat’s nose.
  • The mortal loses physical grace in the form of 4-8 points of Dexterity, or social grace in the form of 4-8 points of Charisma. This never reduces the ability score below 3.
  • The mortal gains a new flaw.

Common penalties for breach of contract by a fey include:

  • Fairy gold granted to the mortal becomes real.
  • The fey must serve the mortal for a period of time (anywhere from one night to a year and a day, or thrice the length of the originally-promised service).
  • The fey restores some number of memories to their creators. (This is often just as traumatic and strange as the original memory loss.)
  • The fey loses one or more ranks within the Courts’ esteem, or becomes an exile.
  • They fey gains a new vulnerability or seriously debilitating trait, such as weakness when bathed in moonlight.

Voiding a Contract

When a fey receives memories in trade, they are often transferred to another fey before long, so it quickly becomes impossible (or nearly so) to restore everything that was exchanged in the bargain to its original owner. In other cases, a fey might be persuaded to void a contract whenever they are offered something of obviously greater value, such as a higher-value memories, fealty of someone more powerful or significant, or a service that they badly need. Only an Archfey can void a contract if the contract form (see below) is not returned to them in reasonably good condition.

Fey absolutely never void a contract to save their own lives from threat by the mortal who entered into the contract. Such an idea is utterly anathema to all fey and would endanger the very concept upon which they base their power. Additionally, most fey can utter some form of death-curse upon anyone who kills them in an attempt to void a contract.

Contract Forms

The following table lists a number of objects or actions that a fey might give to signify a contract. Some objects are made indestructible, while others are both fragile and subject to decay, to indicate some kind of time limit.

Contract Forms

D8         Contract Form
1            A single sparkling or glowing rose
2            A ring of twisted gold and silver
3            A sword covered in fine inscriptions
4            The preserved head of the mortal’s ancestor
5            A painting or tapestry of the mortal
6            A kiss (on the hand, forehead, or lips)
7            A songbird in a cage
8            A chalice with finely-worked pictures or inscriptions

Fey Charms

For a general description of charms, refer to chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. This section describes several new charms that fey lords and Archfey can grant. The Charm of Agelessness and the Charm of the Fated Ones are often paired with prohibition terms.

Charm of Agelessness (see DiA)

Charm of the Fairy Rade
When you receive this charm, your hair grows twelve inches in length, and it always comes out of any braid or binding when you move. You can cast find steed (fey only) once, and regain the use of it when you finish a short or long rest. This charm ends when you cut your hair.

Charm of the Fated Ones
When you receive this charm, you gain certain knowledge of a way in which you could meet your doom, which the DM describes. While you have this charm, when you would die of any means other than the doom that the DM describes, you instead plane shift to the Feywild, at 1 hit point, often missing one of your most treasured possessions. This charm ends if you die while in the Feywild, or if you die as the result of your described doom.

Charm of the Grim Hound
When you receive this charm, your fingernails and toenails blacken and harden to resemble a hound’s claws. Your walking speed increases by 10 feet, and you gain immunity to the frightened condition from creatures other than the Archfey that gave you this charm. While you have this charm, dominate beast affects you as if you were a beast, and this fact is immediately obvious to anyone who can cast the spell. This charm lasts until the Archfey that granted it withdraws it.

Charm of Many Farewells
Your eyes turn mist-gray for as long as you have this charm. This charm allows you to cast misty step as a reaction when you are hit with a weapon attack. The thirteenth time you use this, it invariably teleports you into unexpected danger or bad luck, the charm ends, and your eyes return to normal.

Charm of the Muses
You are filled with inspiration for one or more forms of artistic endeavor. For the next thirteen ability checks that you make as part of a creative project or until you finish a project, whichever comes first, you can roll 1d12 and add it to the result of your check, and you complete twice as much work as usual in a day of labor. When this charm expires, you have disadvantage on all ability checks that use artisan’s tools until you finish another project.

Charm of the Salt Sea
When you receive this charm, you reek of brine and rotting fish. While you have this charm, you can’t die of drowning in saltwater. When you would otherwise drown, you fall unconscious and float toward the surface. You can remain alive and unconscious in the water indefinitely, but if you are not otherwise restrained, you eventually wash up on shore, regain consciousness, and cough up an improbable amount of saltwater. When you do, this charm vanishes.

Charm of the Shadow-Vault
When you receive this charm, your clothing and any room you sleep in become full of cobwebs and dust, and lights around you seem to shine less brightly. You can cast Drawmij’s instant summons, using the object of your fey contract in place of the normal material component of this spell. Once you have cast this spell thirteen times, it vanishes from you.

Design Notes

When this makes the leap into a work I try to sell on the DM’s Guild, I plan to double the number of Charms, fold in a bunch of the fey magic items I’ve written for Tribality over the years, and expand some of the explanatory and descriptive text. It’s my hope that it already feels pretty satisfying in breadth of content, so adding more stuff feels like getting more for you money.

It’s one of the oddities of the warlock class that by default, you’re engaging in a one-time bargain, after which neither the warlock nor the patron can meaningfully alter or sever the contract (other than level advancement and respending Eldritch Invocations, I mean). I particularly want this to appeal to Archfey warlocks, so that it looks fun and reasonable to enter into other bargains. Playing a warlock should probably feel like balancing on a knife’s edge, and a web of bargains and terms might carry some of that.


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2 thoughts on “Fey Contracts

  • CaduceusIV

    Like the rest of your work on the fey, this is all really great stuff! And very timely for the campaign I’ve been planning.

    Out of curiosity, given a setting where all non-human humanoids are fey, mortals corrupted by dark forces, or fey corrupted by dark forces, where would you place elves, dwarves, halflings, and goblinoids in the fey hierarchy? I imagine goblinoids and halflings would be commoners, but I’m less certain about where I might place elves and dwarves as a default. (Not sure dwarves truck with either of the main courts, either, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      Oh, interesting setup. I’d probably split elves between pages and knights, by subrace – here I’m thinking of the Sundering of the Elves, where your Calaquendi cognates are knights and your Moriquendi cognates are pages. The breakdown there is pretty self-evident.

      For dwarves, there are a lot of different, interesting Big Statements to make, based on how you position them.

      • Dwarves are corrupted brownies
      • Dwarves are commoners to the Seelie and pages to the Unseelie
      • Dwarves are officially not part of either Court, because both Courts depend on them for crafts. They’re commoners because they are laborers, but they hold informal status and wealth wildly out of proportion with their status, and bargain like knights.