In the last article, I created Backgrounds for those who had been Captives of the fey, and Changelings who had been left behind by the fey. (Not to be confused with Eberron’s doppelganger-like race.) Today I’m continuing with the Courtly Ward and the Forlorn. The Courtly Ward is the inverse of the Captive – still unable to leave, but showered with riches and privilege in the court of the Highlords rather than toiling away. The Forlorn has experienced the wonders of the fey and longs to regain them.
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 | Fey-Touched Backgrounds, Part Two
The Courtly Ward
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
–W.B. Yeats, “The Stolen Child”
Willingly or unwillingly, you left your life in the mortal world behind and dwelt among the fey. Something about you intrigued or amused them, so they granted you a place at court – perhaps a noble’s or Highlord’s personal court, or perhaps in the court of the Seelie Queen or the Queen of Air and Darkness. You may have longed for the life you left behind, or perhaps you rejoiced at such luck, but nothing lasts forever.
How long were you gone? Is it the same as the amount of time you subjectively experienced? How did your position at court end? How does the court regard you now?
Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Persuasion
Tool Proficiencies: Calligrapher’s supplies and one type of gaming set
Equipment: A set of fine clothes, calligraphy supplies, one type of gaming set, a favor given to you by a fey noble or Highlord, 50 gp of fools’-gold that revert to dried leaves 1 hour after you buy something with them
Feature: Courtly Privilege
Whether you departed from court in honor or disgrace, some of the ancient laws of the fey still work in your favor. You can usually call upon these privileges to demand a peaceful parley with dragons, elementals, elves, fey, and gnomes. Beasts and plants that are able to talk honor this privilege as well. With a small amount of additional leverage, you can demand a peaceful parley with celestials or fiends. Once they have agreed to peaceful parley, you receive safe passage to and from the parley as long as you do not initiate violence or otherwise violate terms to which you have agreed. If you gain a reputation for initiating violence during a peaceful parley, or for refusing to honor terms agreed upon during one, you lose the use of this feature until your reputation improves.
Your long exposure to the heights of luxury, living alongside beings of enormous power and vanity, leaves a lasting imprint on your outlook on the world. Even a mortal count or duke does not have the breadth of your political and planar perspective. You have been abruptly thrust back into the concerns of day-to-day life as a mortal. Such an adjustment – a total loss of stature and support structure – is rocky at best.
D8 Personality Trait
1 A steady stream of flattery was a survival skill at court, and it works well with mortals too.
2 If I’m in shabby clothing or accommodations, I prefer to hide my identity entirely.
3 I am as vindictive as the Queen of Air and Darkness herself, especially with oathbreakers.
4 I tell stories of the fey, because I wish they would take me back.
5 My knowledge of my mortal homeland is charmingly dated, because I was gone so long.
6 I still expect and strongly prefer the finest in food, drink, and entertainment.
7 I think in terms of fairy-tale logic and moral lessons – things really did work like that at court.
8 Everything I do has a long-term political angle.
1 Beauty. The Material Plane could be as beautiful as the courts of the fey, if we work to make it so. (Good)
2 Honor. Among the fey, oathbreaking is the root of all sins. My word is my absolute bond. (Lawful)
3 Free Spirit. Today’s beggar is tomorrow’s king. Anything can be granted or taken away at a moment’s notice. (Chaotic)
4 Pride. No one will ever respect me if I allow slights to go unavenged. (Evil)
5 Aspiration. The fey showed me the nature of power, and I will put those lessons into practice. (Any)
6 People. The fey taught me that high ideals can hide a treacherous nature. Deeds matter more than pretty words. (Neutral)
1 I must go back for someone that I had to leave behind.
2 I need to keep moving – I made enemies, and they’ll settle scores now that I’m no longer protected.
3 I want to learn about the time that passed on the Material Plane, while I was away.
4 I was held long enough that everyone I knew is dead. Now I watch over my descendants.
5 I owe deep debts to my fey liege-lord, and I mean to pay them.
6 I fell madly in love while at court, and I must become worthy of my beloved once more.
1 I thought my time with the fey would never end, and I did things that I’m ashamed of now.
2 The world revolved around me at court, and I think that it still does.
3 I have a taste for the food and drink of the fey that makes me consider foolish risks.
4 My former liege-lord has leverage over me, and a desire to use it against me.
5 The fey and their desires are more real to me than any mortal could be.
6 I seek to hoard the treasures of the fey, which is sure to draw their ire.
The legends say that mortals must not taste the food or drink of the fey, for if they do, they will ever after hunger for it, and nothing found in the mortal world shall sate them. This is true, as it happens, but incomplete: all of the glamour and pastimes of the Hidden World have the potential to bewitch a mortal and create that desperate sense of longing. Art, dance, the cultivation of a garden, and carnal pleasures can all have such an effect, and the Forlorn suffer its pangs daily. Their lives are a constant struggle against the misery of separation from their material desires, and they try many things to fill that void.
Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Sleight of Hand
Tool Proficiencies: Brewer’s supplies and cook’s utensils
Equipment: One piece of artwork worth 25 gp, one set of common clothes, one set of fine clothes, one stoup of cheap liquor, and a pouch containing 5 gp
Feature: Unnatural Sustenance
You often have to go long periods without that which you most desire, and your physiology no longer has much to do with that of other members of your race. If you desire fey food or drink, mortal versions of those goods offer no particular sustenance, but you suffer deprivation on a scale of weeks rather than days. (That is, take the number of days you could normally go without food or water, and change that to weeks.)
If your desire is anything else, you no longer consume food or drink at all, but suffer deprivation after a number of weeks equal to 2 + your Charisma modifier. Exposure to a particular piece of artwork or performance can satisfy your desire up to 3 times; after that you need something new. If your desire is sex or romance, you are sustained by any number of encounters with the same partner, so long as you do not imprison them. An imprisoned partner loses their ability to sustain you after sating you once.
One thing that you consumed or experienced in the Hidden World became your all-consuming desire and the only thing that can sustain you. Roll a d8 or choose one of the options below. (If you are uncomfortable playing the option you roll, roll again or just choose. It’s okay.)
5 Perfume or flowers
6 Music or dance
7 Sex or romance
The life of the Forlorn is as bleak as the name suggests, a constant battle against an accursed need. Most of the Forlorn simply cannot be trusted when the object of their desire is at hand, any more than one dying of thirst could be trusted around one who was withholding water. They balance these flaws with a deeper understanding and drive to save others from their fate.
D8 Personality Trait
1 I try every kind of mortal vice and excess at least once, just in case one of them finally helps.
2 I try to give up every kind of desire completely, to sever the addiction.
3 I keep my emotions on a tight leash.
4 I forget trivialities like personal hygiene when I am deprived of what I need.
5 I want to be more reliable for my friends, but… deprivation gets in the way.
6 When I work, I throw myself into it as hard as I can, just to think about something else awhile.
7 I perform a harsh daily exercise regimen to punish myself for past weakness.
8 Markets and trade have become my life, in order to acquire a steady supply of rare goods.
1 Freedom. I will free not just myself, but all who suffer, from the curse of the Forlorn. (Good)
2 Self-Knowledge. When I understand the weakness that caused me to falter, I can finally shake off this curse. (Neutral)
3 Vengeance. Shedding a river of fey blood may not solve my problem, but it should make me feel better. (Evil)
4 Discipline. With rigid self-control, I can survive long enough to end my dependency. (Lawful)
5 Reparation. One must pay the balance of every debt and misdeed. (Lawful)
6 Death Wish. I don’t believe I’ll outlive this curse, but I’ll leave as much of a mark on the world as I can first. (Chaotic)
1 I received my curse because I tried to cheat the fey, and now I must repay them threefold.
2 My loved ones have borne the cost of my curse, and I will make it up to them.
3 Someone I care about disappeared into the same curse I bear. Saving them may yet save me.
4 I will build powerful defenses against the schemes of the fey, for the sake of all mortals.
5 My curse will end when my fey lover is free to be with me.
6 I have deepened my commitment to the gods, for they alone might free me.
1 I am particularly short-tempered when I have been deprived of my desire for any length of time.
2 Once I let my anger get going, I don’t know how to stop.
3 I have worrying gaps in my memory where my sleepless nights should be.
4 I try to get other people to make deals with the fey, just so I won’t be alone in this.
5 I am vicious when it comes to treasure, because I could spend it for a moment’s peace.
6 I believe that I deserve this, and I believe that everyone else who suffers deserves it too.
As with the Captive and the Changeling – and really for all Backgrounds – it’s up to you to make the Courtly Ward’s feature do anything. If you’re never in a situation where honorable parley with a supernatural enemy is useful, well, this won’t get you much. It’s very much up to the players and the DM to meet halfway on guiding the story toward situations where these features are fun.
I had a really tough time with the Forlorn. They’re a very specific kind of angst-ridden fun. Let’s face it, you’re telling stories about addiction, and it’s often not going to be pretty or easy. Pay serious attention to what you’re getting into when you choose the Forlorn, but my hope is that it can be the start of some compelling stories.
The Unnatural Sustenance feature is sort of the whole deal of the Forlorn. You don’t often find a Background feature that is 80% curse and 20% blessing, but here we are. I think racial features might be the more customary place to store a feature like this? You know, like the drow? Anyway, let me know what you think of this implementation.