I am distressed to discover that it has been almost two months since I wrote the last article in this series. It has been a very busy time, and here we are again. This time, I’m offering custom features for the Mother of Redcaps, the Dream-Tyrant, the Winter Lord, the Muse of Steel, and the Eldest. Even more than the previous articles, not all patron archetypes are right for every setting’s version of the fey. On the other hand, Archfey (like any cosmically-powerful entity) get shoved into itty-bitty living space all the frickin’ time, so if you’re going along in a campaign and suddenly realize that one of the more obscure Archfey would be great to introduce right now, it’s easily done.
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
Mother of Redcaps
I saw this archetype explored in the Atlanta-area LARP King’s Gate, where Mamau Gwrach was a particularly bloodthirsty Aruth (KG’s fey) that was more or less similar to a very powerful hag from D&D. (Grace Hagood Downs wrote Mamau Gwrach, and Cari Merola portrayed her.) Since hags are called out in the text as suitable Archfey patrons, and gwrach literally means “hag or witch,” I think I’m on good footing for bringing the Mother of Redcaps into D&D usage.
There have been some great fan updates of redcaps into 5e, but in general the idea is that they are small but vicious bastards who want to bathe their caps in the blood of… whomever, really. Notably, they’re often depicted as being on much friendlier terms with iron (weapons and other objects, like iron boots) than other fey. I see the Mother of Redcaps as being a lot like the fey version of a crime boss: Ma Barker, or a number of different characters played by Kate Mulgrew. Anyway, the short version of the Mother of Redcaps is… way too easy to boil down to a body type, but it’s about being really good at violence, enjoying the hell out of it, and organizing mobs of followers to do more of the same. (Sure, we never see Helen Donnelly do anything overt, but I think that’s because The Black Donnellys only got one season. Anyway.)
There’s something to be said for blurring warlocks and barbarians here. Also, it isn’t easy to come up with two of the existing Archfey features not to change, because a warlock following the Mother of Redcaps probably doesn’t play a damn thing like other warlocks. What’s worse, Fey Presence is the one thing in the whole of the default Archfey that does kinda fit, but I’d much rather “free up” that slot to define a playstyle.
But… maybe I can make this work as a barbarian subclass? What I want is a lot closer to the Berserker in concept than the Totem Warrior, so I’ll use the former as a baseline.
Well, Frenzy has to go, because Frenzy is kinda bullshit. Until greater restoration is on the table, accumulating levels of exhaustion for using your first subclass feature is just awful. Don’t get me wrong: extra attacks, especially with a two-handed weapon, are crazy good. You can afford one level of exhaustion in a day, but probably not two and definitely not three.
At 3rd level when you choose this path, you strike a bargain, or stumble into an arrangement, with the Mother of Redcaps. Her patronage grants you one Pact Magic slot. After you complete a long rest, you must soak your cap or other garments in the blood of an enemy before you may use your Pact Magic. To do so, spend a bonus action adjacent to an opponent that has blood and has been slain or knocked unconscious within the last minute. The level of this spell slot starts at 1st and increases to 2nd at 5th level, 3rd at 10th level, 4th at 15th level, and 5th at 20th level.
You know one cantrip of your choice, chosen from the warlock spell list. You learn a second cantrip at 10th level. You may use cantrips without soaking your cap in blood.
At 1st level, you know two 1st-level spells of your choice from the warlock spell list. You learn a third spell from the warlock spell list at 5th level, a fourth spell at 10th level, and a fifth spell at 20th level. A spell you choose may be no higher than the Slot Level of your Pact Magic. When you gain a barbarian level, you may choose one of the warlock spells you know and replace it with another spell from the warlock spell list, which must also be of a level no higher than the Slot Level of your Pact Magic.
Constitution is your spellcasting ability for your warlock spells, so you use your Constitution whenever a spell refers to your spellcasting ability.
Normally, I would hate the Berserker’s Mindless Rage, as it confers immunity (even retroactive immunity, by suspending the effects) to the charmed and frightened conditions. I’m at least tempted to use this for the Path of the Redcap, because I have a pretty easy time seeing redcaps, and those inspired by them, doing a full-on Jack Torrance.
How about this instead:
You’ve Got Red on You
Starting at 6th level, you suppress the effects of the charmed or frightened conditions on yourself if the source of the condition is a creature whose current hit points are less than half of its maximum hit points.
Further, while your current hit points are less than or equal to half of your maximum hit points, you can maintain concentration on a spell or effect while raging.
Beginning at 10th level, you can spend a bonus action to douse your cap or other garments in blood while adjacent to an opponent that has blood and has been slain or knocked unconscious within the last minute. Choose one enemy within 30 feet. That opponent must pass a Wisdom saving throw (DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma bonus) or become frightened of you until the end of your next turn. If the creature succeeds its saving throw, you can’t use this feature on it again for 24 hours.
Once you have soaked your cap or other garments in a creature’s blood, you cannot use that creature’s blood again for 24 hours.
Magic and Mayhem
Starting at 14th level, you gain a second Pact Magic slot.
Further, when you spend your action to cast a cantrip, you may make one weapon attack as a bonus action.
Is there a way to be a warlock bound to the Mother of Redcaps? Eh, probably, but the kind of stuff those characters should be doing sort of goes around the bend into “this is not for PCs” for my tastes. Call me a stick-in-the-mud (I get that a lot), but it’s one thing to kill your sapient enemies and quite another to toss them in the stewpot. Being the muscle killing for the Mother of Redcaps is a lot less outré than being the witch behind the awful Unseelie scheme. Even so, it would be easy for the Path of the Redcap to veer into party-unfriendly territory, so make sure you talk to everyone at the table before playing one of these psychopaths. (But let’s not kid ourselves, Berserker barbarians are pretty frickin’ psychopathic by themselves.)
What I’m imagining here is a lot less “Neil Gaiman’s Sandman” and a lot more “Henson, Froud, and Bowie.” (…the Old Firm: obstacles obliterated, nuisances eliminated, dammit I’ve gone recursive.) Anyway, this is the master of nightmares and the connection between the Feywild and dreams. If you’re coming from a particularly White Wolf/Onyx Path kind of place, you’ll be wondering why this is a discrete archetype and not an element of every major fey. Maybe the Dream-Tyrant is just the best at using dreams and nightmares. In particular, the Dream-Tyrant gives you what you want, ideally at the expense of what you need.
The standard Archfey patron features are a good fit for the Dream-Tyrant, just as with the Seelie Queen, but the Expanded Spell List is a lot less ideal here. Let’s start with a couple of new invocations.
Requires Archfey Patron: Dream-Tyrant
You may choose up to three sentient creatures who are sleeping within 100 feet of you to have good dreams. You must choose at least as many characters, or up to six characters, who are sleeping within 100 feet of you to have nightmares. You may not grant yourself good dreams. If two separate warlocks target the same creature with both good dreams and nightmares, the effects cancel one another.
If this is part of a short rest, good dreams grant a creature temporary hit points equal to your Charisma modifier, and if it spent any Hit Dice to recover hit points, add your Charisma modifier to the number of hit points regained. Nightmares impose disadvantage on the creature’s next Wisdom saving throw, and it expends one Hit Die without effect.
If this is part of a long rest, good dreams grant temporary hit points equal to one of the creature’s Hit Dice, plus your Charisma modifier. Further, if the creature does not currently have Inspiration, it is 50% likely to gain inspiration. Nightmares force the creature to reroll the first Wisdom or Charisma saving throw that it succeeds. Further, if the creature currently has Inspiration, it is 50% likely to lose it.
Requires Archfey Patron: Dream-Tyrant
You are experienced in the mental discipline and mysteries of walking a labyrinth. You gain advantage on all saving throws against the charmed condition, the frightened condition, and the spells compulsion, confusion, and maze. When you fail a saving throw against one of these effects, you may spend a reaction and a Pact Magic slot to succeed instead.
For the Expanded Spell List, I’m getting the hell rid of faerie fire, calm emotions, and plant growth. In their place, I’m going back to the well of dissonant whispers (side note: “Well of Dissonant Whispers” is my Soundgarden shoegaze cover band, and also a pretty good magical location name), magic mouth, and sending. That’s a lot of communication themes, all here because Jareth uses all kinds of tricks to taunt Sarah.
The Winter Lord
Whether you call him Jack Frost, the Prince of Frost, or any number of other things, winter is the season of the Unseelie, and the Queen of Air and Darkness probably has a son or something. Really, what I’m looking for is an excuse to see what I get from an ice-themed warlock, and the Prince of Frost is 5e canon in the Player’s Handbook. (Also, Colin has done some interesting exploration of the Prince of Frost in his new EN5IDER article, “Armament of the Courts.”)
Like all Unseelie, the Winter Lord is all about fear, and perhaps the slow dread of starvation or freezing to death in particular. What can I do with that in his patron features? Well, Fey Presence is a good one to leave alone here, and probably Dark Delirium as well. Misty Escape and Beguiling Thoughts are much less on-message for him.
Cruel as the Frost
Starting at 6th level, you gain resistance to cold, and a creature affected by a hex spell that you cast is denied its resistance to cold. You ignore the effects of environmental cold, frigid water, slippery ice, and thin ice. Terrain covered in ice or snow is never difficult terrain for you.
Starting at 10th level, when you cause a creature to become frightened, you may also force it to succeed a Constitution saving throw against the same DC or gain one level of exhaustion.
The Expanded Spell List is a big deal here, because warlocks have some ability to deal cold damage (armor of Agathys, hunger of Hadar; frostbite and investiture of ice in the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion), but the Winter Lord wants more. How about we drop faerie fire for ice knife, calm emotions for gust of wind, plant growth for sleet storm, greater invisibility for ice storm, and seeming for cone of cold. Yes, that’s a lot of replacements and a lot of spells in roughly the same family of effects, but it’s hard not to go ultra-narrow on a seasonal villain’s theme, and a lot of the spells for broader themes are already warlock spells.
Muse of Steel
This is sort of an odd archetype, but as much as anything it draws on nockers from Changeling: the Dreaming, and various kiths in the Elemental, Fairest, and Wizened seemings from Changeling: the Lost. It’s a common enough idea that the fey inspire the arts, but the Muse of Steel takes particular interest in metalwork and invention. She is fascinated with mortals. Specifically, she has come to the conclusion that they desire self-destruction, and she plans to help them with that as much as possible while also bringing strange and beautiful new things into the world. At least in my setting, the Muse of Steel inspired the first gunsmith; she also has many goblin followers, because my goblins are fey creatures who love devices, and especially guns.
I’m not all that keen on hanging a whole Patron on crafting in D&D, though. I love crafting systems enough to tell you that 5e can only barely be said to have one, and it’s not one you’d want to make the centerpiece of a character concept. For the Muse of Steel, I’m reasonably happy with Misty Escape and Dark Delirium; Misty Escape has a sense of fluidity that feels right here, while Dark Delirium could be the fugue state of a crafter lost in thought – it narrows the target’s focus down to just the caster, the Muse’s proxy. Fey Presence and Beguiling Thoughts, though…
Gift of Forge-Lore
At 1st level when you choose the Muse of Steel as your patron, you gain proficiency in medium armor, smith’s tools, and two other tool kits. Your proficiency bonus with any tool kit you are proficient in is doubled. You may apply your proficiency bonus to damage dealt to inanimate objects.
You learn the mending cantrip.
Starting at 10th level, when you spend a Pact Magic slot, you gain resistance to piercing, bludgeoning, and slashing damage until the beginning of your next turn.
Further, add magic weapon to your Spells Known; it does not cost a Spells Known slot. When you cast this spell, it has a range of 60 feet, targets three weapons, and resolves as if you spent a spell slot one level higher than you actually used. You may cast this spell without expending a spell slot; you must complete a short or long rest before you do so again.
For the Expanded Spell List, I’m replacing sleep with identify, calm emotions with magic weapon and find traps (because of the function of Bladeturn), plant growth with elemental weapon, dominate beast with fabricate, and dominate person with creation. It’s a lot of changes, but the Muse of Steel is very much unlike other Archfey.
Here there be spoilers for Sandman: Overture. You have been warned. If you missed the memo that there is a six-issue Sandman prequel series, go deal with that information first.
Now, each of the Eldest are individually as impressive as any Archfey, and they should really get differentiated just as much as this series of articles has done with the Archfey… but let’s be real, that is probably not useful for most settings. If one of the Eldest is your Patron, you probably came into contact with one of the prisons holding them, or you were changed by contact with elder starlight.
For thematic references, now is the time to look to Neil Gaiman’s oeuvre. The Endless occupy a fairly similar role, and their parents (OMG SPOILERS WTF. If you haven’t read Sandman: Overture and care about spoilers, quit reading now) are even better examples. It’s funny, when I wrote the original article on the Fey of the Elder Starlight, I forgot about Sandman: Overture and Night completely, but she is about as perfect a conception of the Eldest and elder starlight as I could want. It’s almost embarrassingly on-the-nose. In the impossibly unlikely outcome in which Neil reads this – I apologize, you’ve taken over my imagination much more deeply than I anticipated.
For the Eldest, I want to define an alternate playstyle from the core Archfey warlock, which means I need to change Fey Presence, and I have some ideas that fit in right around 6th level, so there goes Misty Escape. I can live with that.
At 1st level when you choose the Eldest as your patron, when a creature within 30 feet casts a spell, you may spend a Pact Magic slot and your reaction to cast the same spell with a new target of your choosing. You must expend the same components as the original caster. You cannot take an action on your next turn, though you may still move up to your speed and take a bonus action. The level of your Pact Magic slot must be equal to or greater than the level of the spell slot the original caster expended. Once you use this feature, you may not do so again until you complete a long rest.
Bathed in Starlight
Starting at 6th level, you gain resistance to radiant damage. Add moonbeam to your Spells Known; it does not cost a Spells Known slot. You may cast this spell without expending a spell slot; you must complete a short or long rest before you do so again.
The Expanded Spells List seems fine for the Eldest.
Eh, what the hell, how about an invocation for the Eldest too?
Heir to the Eldest Dominion
Prerequisite: Archfey Patron (The Eldest)
You speak, read, and write Sylvan. Gain advantage when you make a Charisma ability check against elemental, fey, or plant creatures whose CR is less than your warlock level. Against spells you cast, such creatures roll Wisdom saving throws with disadvantage.
Whew, five Archfey are a lot of work! There are all kinds of places where I’ve taken risks in the design, starting with Constitution as a spellcasting stat for a barbarian partial-caster class. Really, every part of Mother Merciless is up for critique. You’ve Got Red on You and Bloody Mess are variant approaches to the Berserker’s Mindless Rage and Intimidating Presence. I’m not sure there are that many times that you want to use the barbarian’s whole action to possibly crowd-control one enemy, so I cut it down to a bonus action that requires a downed enemy and can’t be sustained. Magic and Mayhem is, obviously, War Magic under a different name, plus a second Pact Magic slot because you’re 14th level – of all the features, this one should be tolerably safe, unless Mother Merciless has to get scrapped.
Dream-Threading was originally named Move the Stars, which is more or less the source of moving bad dreams from one person and dumping them into one or more other people. I went through a few other mechanical options before settling on temporary hit points as the “morale boost” effect of good dreams; part of my problem with the effect of nightmares is that I don’t want the effect to be so bad that you won’t at least consider using people you like as a dumping-ground for them.
Labyrinth Walker is an invocation that I released in Harbinger of Doom some time back, along with a bunch of other invocations. It is somewhat modified from that form to increase its appeal, though I think there are situations where saving your Pact Magic slot and just dealing with the consequences of a failed saving throw are fine.
Cruel as the Frost is adapted from the Winter Kin sorcerous bloodline that I released in Harbinger of Doom back in April. Also, I needed some kind of hook for denying cold resistance, and hex seemed like the way to go. Winter’s Dread comes out of images of freezing to death and starving in the mountains. I don’t know, Alive really messed me up as a kid, without even watching half of the movie – just knowing what was coming freaked me out too much.
Gift of Forge-Lore grants a lot of relatively little benefits; I assume that a warlock of the Muse of Steel becomes the party’s locks-and-traps person, while also wearing metal armor. There’s definitely an element of the Eberron artificer here, though it’s downplayed in the current implementation compared to an earlier version of Bladeturn. The earlier version sort of backed its way into borrowing a lot from Bardic Inspiration, while the current version does two different reasonably nice things rather than the really flashy effects of many patrons’ 10th-level features. The bit about “one level higher than actually used” is an awkward way to make sure single-class warlocks get the 6th-level spell version of magic weapon, but multiclass warlocks don’t have an opening to unintended usage.
Mirror Magic is a much more limited version of the Eldest’s Mystic Mirror legendary action. It still has some possibly serious potential for abuse, but mostly it’s a once-per-day “dude I’m a Blue Mage woo!” thing. Bathed in Starlight is all about the moonbeam-inspired powers I gave the Eldest, plus a damage resistance that won’t come up super often in most games. Heir to the Eldest Dominion is about emulating your patron, and specifically their Masters of the Lesser Fey trait. It was important to make it an invocation rather than a patron feature, because it’s limited by creature type – you should opt into it only in campaigns that feature some significant number of elementals, fey, and plants.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the fourteen Archfey I’ve presented. Next time in my series on the fey, I will present as many plot seeds for entangling the PCs in the schemes of the Archfey as I can come up with, some for one-off adventures and some for story arcs or whole campaigns.