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The Fairie-Folk

by Rodger Burns

Like the Known World, the Empire of Alphatia has its hidden kingdoms of the fae, existing alongside but apart from the mundane realms of human, elf and dwarf. Alphatian wizards don't much like to discuss the matter, though, because the fae of Alphatia are quite independent of the Empire and in fact arguably hostile to it - using ancient cunning, and alien and unpredictable magics to humiliate their would-be overlords and maintain the bounds of their realms. Though the fae of Alphatia have neither the numbers nor the desire to conquer or despoil Alphatian territory, their presence in the heart of the Empire is still an embarrassing threat that most loyal wizards would love to be rid of. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

This realm is the older of the two fae kingdoms of Alphatia, as it was founded some seven hundred years ago by sidhe travelling south and west from an older domain located somewhere in the far reaches of Nentsun. When they first arrived, these fae were greeted warmly by the Alphatians and welcomed into the Empire, for they brought with them great knowledge of their own varieties of magic - apportation, illusions, curses and luck-magic being chief among their arts. In return for agreeing to share their lore, the faerie-folk received their choice of landholdings in the warm land forests of Arogansa and western Eadrin, and for several centuries their presence advanced Alphatian knowledge of magic.

Then, around two centuries ago, things began to go wrong. Faerie-magic, and spells and items reliant on faerie-magic, began to work in unexpected and dangerous ways - they were as powerful as ever, but the effect caused by an invocation of faerie-magic could no longer be easily predicted or controlled. The Alphatian wizards whose reputations and wealth were most dependent on use of faerie-magic asked the sidhe nobles for aid in countering the sudden randomness... and were refused, or asked to pay a price in gold and land equal to the original cost of the faerie-magics. Strife between fae and Alphatians soon broke out, with the fae-folk using trickery, deceit and misfortune as their favoured weapons, and the Alphatians responding with raw force and magical destructiveness. Eventually, the sidhe managed to unleash a curse on the entire kingdom of Arogansa, infecting all its wizards with a habit of sloth and indolence, then withdrew into their hidden realms to avoid further Alphatian wrath.

Ever since then, the Capricious have kept to themselves... mostly. Though they consider Alphatians to be as clumsy, short-shorted and easily manipulated as any human, they're also aware that Alphatians are more dangerous than most mortals, owing to their mastery of magic. As a result the Capricious are absolutely willing to raid isolated settlements and wizards' towers, capturing subjects for interrogation purposes and causing strife and unrest among the Alphatian nobility. The recent arrival of the Vengeful fae has only increased this, as the Capricious seek intelligence on the workings of their more militaristic kin.

The main races of the Capricious are as follows:
- Sidhe: These are the most common type of fae among the Capricious. Many don't have class levels; of the ones that do, nearly all are rogues. Capricious sidhe are slightly larger and more solidly built than their kin in other lands; the most instantly identifiable thing about them, though, is that each is born with some body part missing - an eye, an ear, the fingers of a hand, and so on. This is never a disability, as inborn fey magic compensates for the loss of physical function (providing improved senses or allowing items to 'stick' and be gripped by a naked palm, for instance), and the missing parts are always covered by smooth and unbroken skin, rather than holes or scar tissue. The ease with which the Capricious sidhe accept their apparent afflictions is, of course, all the more unnerving to mortal observers. Without access to metal weapons, the Capricious sidhe generally wield maces, clubs and quarterstaffs when forced into combat. Given a choice, though, they prefer to forgo violence altogether and rely instead on deception and bluff.

- Centaurs: The centaurs of the Capricious are much smaller than usual; their animal-bodies are more like mule deer or mountain ponies than full-sized horses, and their humanoid halves are notably akin to halfling or gnomish form. Despite their small size, though, they're surprisingly tough and agile (full HD and normal stats); they serve most often as scouts, patrollers and kidnappers for the elite among the Capricious. Due to the good graces of the fey court, centaurs of the Capricious have common access to metal weapons and tools; their preferred weapons are light poleaxes, slender sabres, and ensnaring weapons such as bolas and thrown nets. They eschew missile weapons, preferring to use their natural speed to close quickly to melee and their knowledge of their home terrain to avoid engagements not on their terms.

- Leprechauns: The members of this race living among the Capricious have a distinctly feral appearance - unkempt facial hair, orc-like nose and outthrust lower jaw, long apelike arms and a hunched swayback posture. This appearance can be deceptive, though - they are just as agile and clever as their fairer-seeming kin and have voices that are almost hypnotically musical. Leprechauns are the acknowledged masters of luck-magic among the Capricious; they love to spread misfortune among foolish mortals, and sometimes visit unwary Alphatians in order to strike generous-seeming (but secretly trapped and ruinous) bargains with clever but unwise wizards.

- Fauns: Fauns among the Capricious are completely hairless above the waist; their torsos are generally thin and ascetic-seeming, an odd contrast to their heavily-muscled arms and thickly-corded necks. They are counted as some of the best craftsmen and artisans of the Capricious, well-skilled in everything from leatherworking to woodcarving and metal-casting, and their behaviour oscillates between periods of rigorously controlled discipline and bursts of furious anarchic creativity. Depending on the nature of the faun in question and the goals of his work, the extremes of either mood can sometimes lead to great works of craftsmanship.

- Aranea: It's not immediately clear whether the aranea of the Capricious are mere fellow-travellers, creatures that have achieved a measure of faerie kinship through natural or magical means, or something even stranger. Their origins are also somewhat unclear - they are quite probably related to the aranea of Herath, but must have emigrated to Skothar well over a thousand years ago as they had been living among the fae for centuries when the Capricious first came to Alphatia.

Aranea serve the Capricious as interrogators, diplomats and spies - ironically enough in their natural spider-form for the latter role, as 'normal' aranea are rare but not wholly unknown in the Empire and recognised as aristocrats, and the humanoid shapechange of the aranea of the Capricious is into the shape of a wood imp or similar lesser form of fae. When outside the faerie realms, aranea play a somewhat dangerous game, trying to take the part of a loyal Alphatian wizard and learning what they can of matters that might affect the Capricious while not drawing attention to themselves or their hidden fellows.

This kingdom of fey is new to Alphatia, having arrived only within the past fifty years, and is if anything a worse neighbour than the Capricious. Where the Capricious came in peace as unaligned immigrants, the Vengeful have openly proclaimed themselves to be the military arm of an unidentified but powerful kingdom of the faerie-folk located somewhere in the depths of Nentsun. The Vengeful have great enmity for the Capricious, though they refuse to explain the cause of this; they also have equal spite and disdain for the Alphatians, who they view as either collaborators, dupes or pawns of their wayward kin. As a result, the Vengeful are just as willing to make war on any Alphatians that get in their way as they are on the Capricious - and since the Alphatians are far more numerous and visible, they usually bear the brunt of any conflict.

Currently, the Vengeful maintain their main strongholds in the sparse pine-forests of the southeastern Yannivey islands; they have also recently begun claiming a beachhead near the coastal lands of northern Foresthome. As an invasion force, the Vengeful work slowly and circuitously; they use powerful magics to plant enchanted menhirs in the area they want to claim, then warp a pocket universe around the menhir to serve as a stronghold and spread withering, disease and mayhem to crush any opposition. By striking only two or three times a decade and keeping their territorial claims away from major human settlements, they have advanced so far without raising large-scale human attention. Whether this will continue into the future, and whether Alphatian wizardry is able to deal with such a threat, remains to be seen.

Races among the Vengeful include:
- Sidhe: Sidhe are uncommon but powerful among the ranks of the Vengeful, forming its officer corps and elite heavy infantry. They almost always have class levels, invariably as warriors, and carry weapons and armour made of ‘coalsteel' - a hard, dullish-black alloy of iron that is not poisonous to fae. Physically, the Vengeful sidhe are physically almost perfect, but appear almost unnaturally gaunt, their skin stretched grotesquely over their bones.

The spells of the Vengeful sidhe are always either destructive or manipulative, never able to create matter or energy even temporarily; a Vengeful sidhe's magic missile might be a gesture that invisibly opens wounds on the target's body, and their web spell a curse inflicting paralysing muscle spasms, but neither magic would create any form of new matter. It's rumoured that the elders of the Vengeful sidhe possess spells that destroy such esoteric things as memory, ambition and hope as tools to keep their servants under their command and press forward their invasion plans.

- Dryads: Dryads are the backbone of the army of the Vengeful, employing charm magic, longbows, stealth and woodslore to strike mercilessly at a vulnerable enemy and then vanish into the depths of the woods. They are generally bound to willow or ash trees, and have pale skin and blond, light brown or even pure white hair; they do not bleed when injured, and show no signs of anguish or pain. Of all the Vengeful (even more so than the Sidhe) the dryads are the coldest, most ruthless and least prone to any form of human emotion; they experience neither pleasure nor regret, and go wordlessly to war at their masters' command.

- Treants: The 'treants' of the Vengeful are actually massive strands of ivy-vine, which slowly swarm across the trunks and branches of normal trees in order to acquire mobility and power. A treant-vine that has claimed a host tree is treated as a normal treant, able to move, attack and animate other trees; if its host-tree is destroyed the treant-vine may possibly survive and regain the ability to claim a new host after 24 hours have passed. (This is at DM's discretion, and depends on the type of attacks used against the treant-vine; one damaged mostly by swords and axes would likely survive, one whose tree was destroyed by fire or disintegration probably would not). A treant-vine without a host has only 4 HD, moves at a speed of 10'(3') and cannot attack.

Treant-vines serve the Vengeful as heavy shock infantry, as support for dryad skirmishers (animating the dryads' soul-trees to provide the dryads with mobility) and as spies and forward observers. They have almost no ability to converse with non-fae, and no real desire to do so.

- Sprites: Though they sometimes serve as invisible scouts and skirmishers, the true talent of the sprites of the Vengeful lie in the manipulation of magic. They enchant weaponry and wands for their superiors' use, harass enemies with direct-attack spells, and carve the magical menhirs used to advance the strongholds of the Vengeful along with other similar kinds of stonework. Against the Alphatians they have also started to work at magical sabotage such as theft of vital spell components and subtle spell-traps, so far with limited but promising results.

Due to their capabilities and interests, sprites are perhaps the most influential race among the Vengeful, after the sidhe. However, the sprites generally lack the vision to leverage their influence - their focus is on a single project, obstacle or enemy rather than the chessmaster-like grand strategies of conquest, domination and wide-scale destruction enacted by the sidhe leadership. For the moment, there doesn't seem to be any way in which the sprites would ever stop being a supporting race among the Vengeful.

- Brownies: More commonly known as 'whitecowls' for the bone-coloured hooded cloaks they commonly weave for themselves and wear, brownies among the Vengeful are organised, clever with both their hands and their tongues, and extraordinarily wicked. They serve their masters as scavengers, looters and despoilers of the land, light infantry in a garrison role, and (when they are fortunate) jailors and interrogators of prisoners. The most unnerving thing about Whitecowl brownies is their faces - every single Whitecowl shares the exact same set of round, slightly androgynous set of facial features. In practice, though, their voices, build and body language are often enough to distinguish one Whitecowl from another, and they appear to have no talent for deception - though their open, honest and effortless malice is perhaps not much better.

- Giant-Kin: A few of the giant kindred are present in the armies of the Vengeful. Though they are seen but rarely, the few that have been encountered appear to have some hint of fey blood - but from the life they receive as part of the Vengeful they would likely be happy to forgo this kinship. The Vengeful use giant-kin (and 'use' is exactly the right word) sometimes as heavy artillery and fast-moving attackers but more often as slave-soldiers and beasts of burden. A company of giant-kin is usually accompanied by a trio of sprite overseers or a single sidhe as minder, whether on the battlefield or within the menhir-strongholds, and driven forward by pain, magical goads and the fear of future humiliation. Given a chance they would probably rebel against their masters, but convincing them of a chance of success would be a true challenge.

The fae kingdoms of Alphatia are ideal for running a war-story campaign, where PC heroics are needed to change the course of a battle, force the enemy into a trap or broker a favourable peace. The war of the fae kingdoms is an ugly, three-sided conflict without front lines or easily-attacked weak points... perfect for the sort of unconventional escapades that PCs regularly engage in and standing armies avoid whenever they can.

The outcome of the war should hopefully depend on the PCs decisions and successes. If they want to make an alliance with one of the two kingdoms in order to defeat the other, give them the chance to do so (though doing so is not likely to be easy); if they prefer a more conventional direct assault against each enemy in turn, offer them adventures where they can get the weapons, spells and information to overcome the fey. Further adventures might lead the PCs northeast in search of the fae homeland.

A fae PC in Alphatia is likely to be a renegade from his or her home kingdom - willing to believe that humans are not just clumsy tools or obstacles to be tricked into serving the ends of the fae but peers to be (at least somewhat) respected. A fae born of the Capricious may have been exiled by a rival or trapped outside the homelands during a raid; a fae from the Vengeful has likely mutinied against a superior officer or thrown off magical coercion, and is now under a sentence of death. In either case, the fae PC should face difficulty in peacefully coexisting with strange Alphatians, but should also have unique opportunities to shape the course of the war as well.