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the wight land

July 20th, 2012 by paul

"The Ill-Made Mute" by Cecilia Dart-Thornton is somewhat of an odd novel. It's sort of the counterpart of "The Night Land", which I described as a better Shadowfell sourcebook than it is a work of fiction. The Ill-Made Mute is practically a Feywild sourcebook. It suffers some of the problems that you might expect if you tried to express a D&D sourcebook entirely as flavor text: it's a bit of a world tour, and there are enough monster encounters to fill a bestiary. The upside is that there's a lot of D&D inspiration to be mined.

You really could construct very full Fey monster encounter tables just from the encounters in the book. Fey creatures are called "wights" (confusing to my D&D-trained ear), and each plays by its own rules. It works very well with the rules I offered for giving every Fey creature its own ritual.

Here's an essay in the novel that expresses the fundamental rule-bound nature of fey creatures:

Wights, he had told Imrhien, had to obey their own natural laws. Just as men could not become invisible or shift their shape in the manner native to wights, so wights--save, perhaps, for the most powerful--could not move against mortals unless certain conditions were fulfilled, certain actions taken or words spoken. If fear was shown, or if a mortal should be foolish enough to let his senses be tricked, or should he break certain silences or reveal his true name or answer questions ignorantly, or if he should transgress against wights by trespass or other means, then the creatures of eldritch could strike. Then the unfortunate man might be torn apart, drained of blood, crushed, hung, or slain by any manner or means, or he might simply die of fright. Yet even then, there was a chance he might still be saved by fleetness of foot, quick-wittedness, valor, intervention from others, or pure luck.

There are wight-encounter set-pieces of all kinds in the novel, but here's a throwaway detail of some fairy creatures that can be used for some by-the-way fey flavor:

Here, where fantastic dragonflies and glittering midges played, more of the little wide-mouthed toads with bat-wings were skipping over the water's surface, making free among tall rushes growing along the shore. They were quite lovely in a loathsome way, their froggy hides spangled gold and green, their tails long and thin, barbed at the tips. The veined vanes of their wings were so translucent that light shone through them. Their eyes were great, glowing, amber jewels, their teeth were many, tiny, and pointed.

Possibly this is a sight that can be seen on the way to the Temple of the Frog.

Here's a set-piece to be found in one of the book's underground dungeon environments:

Driven by an engine of rusted cogs forced into action, the portcullis began to descend, squeaking and clamoring with the reluctance of old age. It was halfway to biting the floor when, like an outrageous firework, a force came roaring around the bend and slammed into it. A current surged. Sparks exploded in a blistering snarl, and Diarmid was flung backward up the passage, where he lay motionless. Rent and twisted, metal screamed.

The "wight" here is a being made of lightning. It could be expressed as a pretty cool D&D monster. It does electrical damage, obviously, and it's incredibly fast. Its weakness is that it can't pass close to metal without being diverted into it - and then it bounces the way it came. Therefore, a portcullis, even a half-open one, is an impassable barrier: it will try to pass through the gap but will be diverted to bounce off the bars (electrocuting anyone touching the portcullis).

Another interesting combat effect of this power is that, if a wizard and a mail-clad fighter are standing next to each other, the electrical being can't possibly attack the wizard: it's, perforce, attracted to the fighter.

I'd like such a fight to offer lots of possibilities for trapping and channeling the monster.

Also handy: there's an appendix describing the author's sources for all the fairyland monsters, so you can skip the novel and go right for the folklore.

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