through the white forest to the house of the fae lord
weird stuff happening in surreal places
weird stuff happening in surreal places
It’s a fact-finding / retrieval mission into faerie as Melvin Finefeather looks for his missing parents. They were last seen being entertained at Holiday House, home of the fae lord Alberon.
Piabon, Prince of Flowers, has agreed to act as a guide for him and his friends at the behest of his patron Qaanaaq, the cat-sized, ancient faerie dragon, who they plied with shinies and nibbles of the highest quality.
Piabon first guides them through a naming ceremony. For if you enter faerie without knowing your true name, you will become hopelessly lost and unknown even to yourself.
He then leads the party through a misty box canyon, through a thinny, and into the White Forest1, through which lies Holiday House.
This is a character driven sidequest for my players, a break from the main plot of our Strixhaven campaign.
It takes place in the feywild, but not. I want my faerie to be a lot more wild, not just “the material plane but with a summer court and a winter court.” After our session in the White Forest, one of my players described it as a “fever dream”, which is precisely what I wanted from this experience. I want faerie to be alien, dream-like, slightly uncomfortable, entirely unknowable. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will always be my gold standard for what a faerie should be: terrifyingly strange and alien. More Lovecraftian than Disney in its indifference to and understanding of man.
Your true name describes the essence of your true self, laid bare. It is a source of power, but also a vulnerability. If you are foolish enough to enter faerie without your true name, you risk being dominated by the fae. One who gives you a true name, but keeps it for themself, keeps you, in spirit, mind, and body.
What is a true name?
Example true names:
A ritual for finding your true name:
Now you have a place, a dwelling, a multitude of selves, and some treasure.
What is your true name?
A gravity-reversed forest where ancient white trees grow down from above, reaching toward the sky below.
The ground above doesn’t love you. It will not hug you to itself. And below you are the Azure Depths, an endless sky full of whales, flying fish that brush the tops of the trees, and tiny jellyfish medusae that float just out of arm’s reach. A large red sun hovers on the horizon, neither rising nor setting.
All of the trees are vaguely sentient and seem to be aware of you. Each silver leaf contains a small vignette of everyday life made of criss-crossing veins: a family sitting at a table having dinner, a boy chasing a dog, a woman with a parasol stepping out of a building.
Disorienting and dreamlike.
Up is down. The sky is the ground is the ocean.
A d666 table allows for some truly random encounters. While there is some thematic cohesion across each row, we’re going to shake that up and make weird stuff: roll 3d6, one for who, one for what, and one for but. Now you’re mixing and matching subject, motive, and complication. For example, rows 3, 6, and 8 are basically Snow White, Moby Dick, and Hansel & Gretel, but you might end up with seven dwarfs who want revenge on a whale, but who also want to secretly eat you? Or maybe feed you to the whale? A lot of this stuff you get to riff on and interpret in the moment. It aims to spark your imagination, not deliver a perfectly tidy encounter.
Time was not a luxury I had in the White Forest. I added 1 to each roll to speed things along. e.g. encounter 1 = 1d6 + 1, encounter 2 = 1d6 + 2, 3 = 1d6 + 3, etc.
If you roll on a cell you’ve already done, just skip down to the next one you haven’t.
When any of your dice roll on the final row, Alberon, you arrive at the edge of the White Forest. Holiday House can be seen up on a hill.
|1||white four-armed gorilla||territorial||afraid of loud noises|
|2||polite daisy||wants to be picked up||turns into a troll!|
|3||seven redcaps||must break the curse||mourning|
|4||pixie corgi patrol||on patrol||bureaucracy|
|5||your own shadow||runs away||certain doom|
|6||a one-legged ship captain||revenge on a sky whale||doesn’t have a ship|
|7||honeybear2||just wants to rest||driven mad|
|8||dream witch||fatten you up||wants to eat you|
|9||a cute little kitty||wants to join you||surrounded by dead bodies|
|10||canoe ghost and tiny horse||fell from the sky||pursued by a fire lion|
|11||neon technicolor frog3||constantly reincarnated||wants a satisfying ending|
|12||a lazy mushroom||wants to grow and multiply||plagued by thought|
|13||beetle ranchers||get to the market||cattle rustlers|
|14||twin cobblers||heated argument||the princess is waiting|
|15||ghost pumpkin||follows at a distance||so incredibly sad|
Highlight of our session: “constantly reincarnating beetle ranchers”. For some reason, we decided the ranchers are crab people. And they constantly self-immolate, burn to ash, and then rise back up. Phoenix crabman beetle ranchers. They were immediately adopted by the party. They also for some reason adopted Captain Ahab, surrounded by dead bodies, wants to join your party. Because he wasn’t suspicious at all…
Every morning at Holiday House, the flowers and trees bloom and blossom. The heat rises and peaks at midday, and by evening time it cools off and the leaves turn color and start to fall. It is All Hallow’s Eve. Every night is Yuletide. And each morning it is Spring again.
Alberon hosts an endless masquerade ball at Holiday House. Feasting all day, and dancing all night. His guests never leave. And though they may tire, they never cease celebrating. He insists on it.
In a lot of ways Alberon is like a child playing with a bug or a small animal. An all-powerful child, who doesn’t understand when he’s hurting you, or why their playmate doesn’t move anymore.
He delights in the pleasures of his never-ending ball, and doesn’t realize his guests see themselves as prisoners.
He’ll give you pretty much anything you want, in exchange for a gift or a promise.
Alberon will slowly, bit by bit, reveal the story of Delvin’s parents, One Thousand And One Nights style, one chapter each night, in exchange for one gift and/or one promise each night.
All gifts should be appropriately monkey-pawed.
Breaking a faerie promise has profound consequences.
Bonus points for making potentially conflicting promises. e.g. Never refuse food + never eat flesh; never refuse hospitality + never sleep indoors.
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Inspiration and sources
I stole the broad strokes of this setting—the reversed gravity, and the sea-like sky—from a blog post I read recently that I cannot for the life of me find again.↩︎
The honeybear from YCDONWAPBIACRBA: a zombified husk of a bear being piloted by parasitic, flesh-eating bees. Black honey drips from its orafices. Honeycomb erupts from its back like sails.↩︎
The rainbow frog sits on a stone. As you watch, a snake slithers up and swallows the frog whole, and then coils up to digest. The snake swells and knots itself into a ball, and its skin splits. Crawling out of the shed skin, a rainbow colored frog. A snake slithers up and swallows the frog whole …↩︎