A few readers asked for fey-touched Backgrounds as part of my series on the fey (which will eventually be stitched together into a PDF that you can buy with real money, no fools’-gold need apply). I’ll be presenting six new Backgrounds. As they’re explicitly tied to fey magic, I’m looking for new and different things to do with each Background’s Feature, which may rankle the sensibilities of some.

Fey Chivalry | Fey Huntsmen and Leashed Terrors | Faerie Tales: Naiads, Pixies, and Sprites for 5e | A Visit to the Shadowfell – Shadar-Kai & More | In a Goblin Market | Fey of the Elder Starlight | Fey Enchanters and Their Lairs | Treasures of a Fey Market | Archfey Patrons | Archfey Patrons, Part Two | Archfey Patrons, Part Three | The Schemes of the Archfey | The Schemes of the Archfey, Part Two | The Schemes of the Archfey, Part Three | Fey Weapons | Alternate Fey Courts | The Fey Highlord Patron | Fey-Touched Backgrounds, Part One

 

Captive of the Fey

At some point in your life, you were captured by the fey – most likely the Unseelie, but other Courts are possible as well. You were put to work in some fashion: the Seelie might have used you as a personal valet or scullery worker, while the Unseelie might have thrown you in a lightless cell, but generally find more unsavory uses. Perhaps you even spent years as a leashed terror.

How long were you gone? Is it the same as the amount of time you subjectively experienced? How did your captivity end? Did anyone even notice your absence?

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: One type of artisan’s tools or one type of musical instrument
Languages:
Sylvan
Equipment:
A set of common clothes, a lucky charm, a toolkit or musical instrument appropriate to your proficiency, 50 gp of fools’-gold that revert to dried leaves 1 hour after you buy something with them

 

Task During Captivity

Roll randomly or select one of the tasks below for your primary task during your captivity.

D12        Task

1              Cupbearer for the Seelie Queen or the Queen of Air and Darkness
2              Harvested dangerous fruit for the Green Man
3              Mucked out stables for the Silver Knight
4              Target practice for the Good Fellow
5              Pumped the bellows for the Muse of Steel
6              Became a leashed terror for the Lord of the Hunt
7              Bottled dreams and memories for the Night Collector
8              Lured ships to their doom for the Sea Hag
9              Drained of blood to feed the Thornweaver’s garden
10           Scrubbed pots for the Mother of Redcaps
11           Patrolled the hedge-maze of the Dream-Tyrant
12           Rotted in the Winter Lord’s prison cells

 

Feature: Back in Chains

Whatever drew the attention of the fey to you before works on others as well. When you are at the mercy of another, they always prefer to capture you rather than kill you, unless you resist capture to the point of death. They do not necessarily understand their own motives in doing so. If you offer yourself as a hostage (perhaps in exchange for another), almost any non-divine creature accepts this trade.

 

Suggested Characteristics

Captives of the fey usually seek to avoid recapture by any means necessary, as they know better than most how cruel even the Seelie can be. They are slow to trust anyone, particularly those who remind them of the fey. This may extend even to mortal spellcasters, simply because a geas or similar magic could bind them into a similar captivity.

 

D8           Personality Trait

1              Anything I can’t carry with me is just slowing me down if I have to run for it.
2              I have contingency plans for every situation.
3              I don’t shy away from hard work, as long as I can choose to stop.
4              I’ve already been through hell, so I don’t worry too much about the future.
5              I indulge petty vices to excess as a way to celebrate just being alive.
6              The first thing I notice about a building is its exits.
7              I speak often of those I left behind when I escaped.
8              I keep cold iron close at hand, and touch it whenever I’m nervous.

 

D6           Ideal

1              Freedom. All who are in bondage must be free to live their lives. (Good)
2              Might. I’ll pay any price to ensure my personal security. (Evil)
3              Beauty. Because I have known suffering, I protect all that is beautiful. (Any)
4              Independence. I would rather die than be ruled by another. (Chaotic)
5              Accountability. Other captives helped me survive – a debt I must pay in kind. (Lawful)
6              Revenge. I repay every hurt and insult twice over. (Neutral)

 

D6           Bond

1              I must go back for everyone that I had to leave behind.
2              I need to keep moving – they’re after me, to take me back.
3              I want to learn everything I can about the time that passed on the Material Plane, while I was held captive.
4              I was held long enough that everyone I knew is dead. Now I watch over my descendants.
5              Bloody-handed vengeance is all I have to live for.
6              Despite everything, there is one fey that I love deeply.

 

D6           Flaw

1              Anyone could be a glamoured fey, so I trust no one.
2              I would condemn another to captivity if it meant avoiding that fate for myself.
3              I have a taste for the food and drink of the fey that makes me consider foolish risks.
4              The one who captured me still has someone I love, and so has leverage over me.
5              I harbor a deep distrust for enchanters and illusionists.
6              I’m ashamed of what I did to survive while in captivity.

 

Changeling

You are a very convincing duplicate of an actual person, created by the fey and switched when the person was an infant or very young child. You grew up in the society of mortals and carried on your charade convincingly, as you quickly figured out what happens to changelings who get discovered. (It isn’t pretty.)

Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Sleight of Hand
Tool Proficiencies: Disguise kit
Languages:
Sylvan
Equipment:
A set of common clothes, a disguise kit, a clay poppet of the person you replaced, and a belt pouch with 10 gp

 

Changeling Sign

The fey magic that created you is so convincing that you have all of the racial features of a normal member of your race. Every changeling has a subtle tell, though, for fey glamour cannot perfectly match the gods’ works of creation. Roll randomly or choose a tell from the Changeling Sign table.

D10        Sign

1              The sound of church-bells causes you intense pain.
2              While on sanctified ground, you look like you are made of wicker and flowers.
3              Iron objects (not including steel) burn your flesh, dealing 1 point of damage per round of contact.
4              Your eyes are an unnatural color for your apparent race.
5              You can chew up and eat a much wider variety of substances than others of your apparent race.
6              Your teeth are unnaturally sharp-looking.
7              When you hear music, you have to dance; the way you move reveals you as unnatural.
8              Your fingers and toes are each one joint longer than others of your apparent race.
9              Your blood flows slow and thick, like sap.
10           If your bones are ever exposed – perhaps from serious wounds – they look like branches and vines.

 

Feature: Mask-Sense

As you live every day of your life with a sense of your own mummery, you can pick out others who live false lives. When you are in a crowd of five of more, you can ask the DM one of the following questions.

  • Other than me, who here has the persona most unlike their true self?
  • Of the people here, who has the highest Charisma (Deception) modifier?
  • Other than me, do any of the people here have a fey-touched Background? (This only grants a yes/no answer.)

You can use this feature once, and regain use of it when you finish a short or long rest.

 

Suggested Characteristics

A changeling is painfully aware of the artificiality of their lives and attitudes, to the point that many have difficulty separating what they want or believe for themselves from what they want or believe as part of their purported identity. Changelings struggle to hide their true natures from a society that utterly rejects them. Some few changelings find a welcome when they reunite with the fey that created and placed them, but far more find that even the fey regard them as non-beings.

D8           Personality Trait

1              I desperately want to feel natural emotions – whether love or hate or anything else.
2              I have another constructed identity to switch into if this one gets compromised.
3              I am so self-conscious of my Changeling Sign that I accidentally call attention to it.
4              I tell stories of the fey, because I secretly wish they would take me back.
5              I keep my friends’ secrets even more rigorously than I keep my own.
6              I quietly try to dig up secrets about everyone I get to know, in case I need leverage.
7              I ask deeply probing questions, especially when it’s socially awkward, because I want to know how actual people think.
8              I am uncomfortable around mirrors because they remind me of my borrowed face.

 

D6           Ideal

1              Knowledge. What does it mean, to be a real and complete person? (Neutral)
2              Beauty. The only beauty is a mask drawn over the ugly true things of the world. (Chaotic)
3              Honesty. Even telling a half-truth is better than a whole lie. (Lawful)
4              Might. I will gather enough power to carve out a place for myself among the mortals or the fey. (Evil)
5              Generosity. I may not be altogether real, but that just frees me for bold choices that others shouldn’t have to make. (Good)
6              Aspiration. My existence is transient, but I want to leave a lasting mark on the world. (Any)

 

D6           Bond

1              I’ve come to care for the family that raised me, even if they don’t know what I really am.
2              The fey must be punished for their casual cruelty.
3              If I dedicate myself to the gods, they will make me real.
4              I’m driven to find the person that I replaced.
5              I have to keep moving, because my lies will eventually catch up with me.
6              There is one person who knows my secret and cares for me anyway. I will do anything to protect and aid them.

 

D6           Flaw

1              I cannot think of anything that would convince me to trust someone.
2              For the promise of becoming a real person, I am too eager to do anything asked of me.
3              Someone out there knows my secret, and they won’t hesitate to use it against me.
4              At the first hint of things going sour, I am out the door.
5              My Changeling Sign causes me to resent the gods deeply.
6              I’m in a hurry to live hard, die young, and leave a strange-looking body behind.

 

Design Notes

The Changeling goes a bit further afield with mechanical intrusion than I would usually want to see in a Background, with a limited-use feature. That said, it’s made from fey magic and should carry appropriate weaknesses. It’s a deeply risky background if the story embraces the design intent, but you’ve always wanted to play pseudo-Pinocchio, right? The other possible approach to this idea is a subrace, but with a lot of races that would sort of give the game away. “Yeah, sure you’re a real wood elf, where the hell is your Fleet of Foot or Mask of the Wild?” Also, the revenant showed us just how awkward a “universal subrace” can get.

Mask-Sense has limited usage because it stands to be such a mystery spoiler, if you can game it carefully. Social information-gathering is a tricky feature niche to write for, but I think if it’s done right it can help players to feel active and useful in substantial interaction scenes.

The Captive’s Feature is something they probably don’t want to use, but if you’re in the kind of campaign where it gets a chance to work, it can build some cool scenes. It does run the risk of splitting the party. The background itself is inspired by Changeling: the Lost, while the Feature is a close lift of the racial disadvantage of gnimari (“Tasty”) from the Wildlands LARP setting.

I currently have four more Fey-Touched Backgrounds planned, in what will presumably be two articles: the Courtly Ward, the Forlorn, the Inspired, and the Oathbreaker. It’s possible that I’ll come up with more, or that I’ll discover that some of these ideas fall apart as I write them.

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  • Tim Baker

    I particularly like the changeling signs. Nice work. Makes me want to play a changeling….

    • Should be PLENTY of angst and roleplaying grist there. 🙂

    • Manos Ti

      Ditto on that. Generally the Changeling Background is awesome, as it is not actually just a Background, it can also apply for a proxy sub-race as well.

  • Reading thought this, I wonder about the complexities of using the fey touched background and a warlock with the high court of the fey as a patron – would they be compatible?

    • Absolutely! The Player’s Handbook warlock class writeup doesn’t go especially deep on all the possible nuances of patron/warlock relationships, but it does mention that you might be at odds with your patron, and the patron/warlock bond can come about without consent on either side. This is the central fiction of Changeling: the Lost, from which the Captive is derived; in that game, you’re a mortal who was abducted, kept as a prisoner and laborer for a time, and eventually escaped. Because of the changes you experience from this Durance, you can tap into various Fae contracts. To translate that into D&D-speak, you discover that they MADE you a warlock.

      Once you’ve made that leap, well, the fiction necessary to explain a Changeling warlock is even simpler. Fey magic literally constructed you from nothing more than sticks and leaves – is it any surprise that you can direct some of that power to your own ends?

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