Monday, July 22, 2024

Painting In The Mind’s Eye: Chris Perkins On Crafting ‘The Wild Beyond The Witchlight’

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The Wild Beyond the Witchlight was an explosive entry into the canon of Dungeons & Dragons, not just giving a much-needed spotlight on the fan favorite Feywild but also representing a unique approach to the game we hadn’t seen in an official release: nonviolence. Even as we rocket forward towards new and exciting releases this year and beyond, we still wanted to stay a little longer in the strange plane of Prismeer. Luckily, we found Senior Story Designer for Dungeons & Dragons Chris Perkins wandering through wild and he was kind enough to give us a peek behind the curtain to see what went into the creation of 2021’s big adventure.

When did the idea come up to do something with the Feywild? How did you approach this setting compared to last year’s more grounded adventure in Icewind Dale?

Chris Perkins: I’ve wanted to set an adventure in the Feywild ever since D&D Fifth Edition launched. For a while, it looked like it might release in 2019, but it got pushed out to make room for an adventure tied to Baldur’s Gate (what became Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus). Everything worked out for the best, and the extra couple of years gave me more time to craft the Feywild story.

My approach to the Feywild was to build on what we say about the location in the Dungeon Master’s Guide while keeping it friendly and accessible to new DMs. The big question I kept asking myself is, “How can we make this location feel different from the Material Plane without making it so weird that it’s unrelatable or unplayable?”

The Feywild seems to exist parallel to the Domains of Dread profiled in Van Richten’s Guide To Revanloftperhaps even as a mirror to themIs this an intentional comparison or are we just reading too far into it?
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight wolf art
Prismeer isn’t all whimsy, it’s dark and majestic and more

CP: The Feywild and the Shadowfell are alike insofar as they are both reflections of the Material Plane, but they have very different aesthetics and inhabitants. The Feywild is a whimsical place of unfettered emotion, whereas the Shadowfell is a somber place where emotions go to die. That said, we created an interesting parallel between these two “mirror planes.” Specifically, we created Domains of Delight, which are to the Feywild what Domains of Dread are to the Shadowfell—with a few twists.

Does the Feywild represent any unique challenges as designers when crafting an adventure?

CP: The Feywild is one of many D&D settings. When writing adventures for any setting, it’s wise to explore whatever makes that setting unique. The Feywild is all about embracing the tropes of classic fairytales, turning them on end, and serving up a nice blend of the Eerie and the Cheery. I think the ideal Feywild adventure involves whimsical fey with some sort of underlying cautionary tale (a la the Brothers Grimm). Designers who wish to craft their own Feywild adventures can do worse than emulate some of what they see in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, which, despite the setting, retains all the qualities necessary for a D&D adventure (such as opportunities for combat, roleplaying, and exploration). We also released a for-charity supplement on DMs Guild ( called Domains of Delight, which is designed to help DMs craft Feywild domains like the one featured in the adventure.

This the first time you’ve made it clear in an adventure that it can be completed with absolutely no violence, something that came as a surprise to a lot of the D&D community. Why did you decide to make Wilds a test for that idea, and how hard was it to implement?

CPThe Wild Beyond the Witchlight has elements that skew toward a younger audience and to parents who might want to run D&D for their kids. Patrick Rothfuss, who served as a consultant on the adventure, has children with whom he creates stories. Pat suggested that the adventure could serve as a vehicle to help teach younger D&D players that violence is not the answer to every problem. Given the whimsical and often lighthearted nature of the Feywild, it didn’t seem like a stretch to create a Feywild adventure in which combat could be avoided if the players were kind, clever, or both. To the other writers, I made it clear that I wanted every possible combat encounter to be avoidable. I kept telling them over and over, “Make sure the characters can get farther with a kind gesture than a sword.” Sometimes that required some creative thinking or brainstorming.

There’s a lot of things happening in the Witchlight Carnival, and it’s interesting to see such a big showpiece at the start of an adventure like this. Why start there as opposed to something more conventional like a city?
The Wild Beyond The Witchlight snail racing
Anyone down for a snail race?

CP: So many reasons! First, I wanted The Wild Beyond the Witchlight to begin in the DM’s home campaign setting, as opposed to one of our published worlds. The Witchlight Carnival was designed to be the kind of location that a DM could drop anywhere—on the outskirts of a town, half way between two villages, or wherever. Second, I wanted a starting location where the characters could learn a few lessons about the Feywild before they go there—what better place than a fey-themed carnival. Third, I wanted the carnival itself to be the portal to the Feywild, thus differentiating it from other fey crossings (which are typically fixed in place). Fourth, the carnival offers a safe environment where players can let down their guard and really focus on bringing their characters to life. Finally, the carnival is a bit easier to manage than a city, where a DM might have trouble steering the characters and describing what’s around them.

How did the concept of the stolen attributes come about?

CP: I was playing with the notion of the characters—rather than the villains—being the instigators of the story. I wanted to give them a motivation that wasn’t a reaction to some brewing crisis, which led to the idea of the characters searching for things they had lost as children—an idea that felt like it could’ve fallen out of a fairytale.

What were some of the things you drew on when crafting Prismeer?
The Wild Beyond The Witchlight tree
In Prismeer, mobile homes look a little different

CP: Since Prismeer is the first Domain of Delight every created, I adopted Barovia (the first Domain of Dread ever created) as a model. I wanted something different in tone but similar in scope. The “looming castle” at the center of Prismeer was a gentle “tip of the hat” to Castle Ravenloft. Much as Barovia is shaped by its ruler, Strahd von Zarovich, the domain of Prismeer is shaped by its archfey, Zybilna, whom the players know nothing about. Time is malleable in the Feywild, and time is an important theme in the adventure, which is why Prismeer is split into three smaller realms: Hither (harkening to the present), Thither (harkening to the past), and Yon (harkening to the future). In crafting Prismeer, I wanted the weight of Zybilna’s storied past to impact both the present and the future. Each of my co-writers (Stacey Allan, Will Doyle, and Ari Levitch) were assigned one of these splinter-realms to flesh out, based on a view of Prismeer that I painted in their minds’ eyes. I also asked them, in each of their respective chapters, to include at least one encounter with a friendly Prismeer native, one encounter with a new arrival to Zybilna’s domain, and one encounter that served as a cautionary tale about the perils of doing business with hags.

What emotions or feelings did you want to capture in Prismeer?
The Wild Beyond The Witchlight Bullywugs
Pay respect to Her Highness, The Queen of the Bullywugs

CP: I wanted Prismeer to evoke the same feelings players experience with other D&D adventures: anticipation, wonder, joy, tension, dread, and triumph. I want them to feel like Hansel and Gretel wandering through a forest without any parents around to tell them where to go or what to do.

Another interesting addition was the direct reference to a release on DM’s Guild as an opportunity to explore more of the Feywild. What led you to add this in, and do you have any other recommendations?

CP: In 2017, coinciding with the publication of Tomb of Annihilation, we released a supplement on DMs Guild called The Tortle Package. It raised a lot of money for the Extra Life charity. This year, we repeated that experiment. Domains of Delight was written by Adam Lee at the same time the adventure was being written. At one point, I entertained the possibility of including it in the adventure, but that would have bulked up the book unnecessarily, given that you don’t need Domains of Delight to run the adventure. As with The Tortle Package, all proceeds from Domains of Delight go to Extra Life, which is a cause worth supporting. As for other DMs Guild recommendations … although I’ve seen several other Feywild-themed products on the site, including several short adventures, I haven’t had time to read them!

Favorite place or character from the adventure?

CP: Playtesters really loved the Witchlight Carnival—so much so that many of them wanted to stay there. However, I’m picking the Palace of Heart’s Desire as my favorite location because I’m fond of sprawling castles (but also because it’s full of quirky characters caught in odd situations). My favorite character in the adventure is probably Sir Talavar, a helpful faerie dragon knight with a strict code of honor. He can be a big help for such a little guy.

Sir Talavar
Like fellow helper Lulu from Descent Into Avernus, Sir Talavar will be getting the plushie treatment thanks to Beadle & Grimm’s
What’s your best advice to DM’s who want to run The WIld Beyond The Witchlight?

CP: If you’re a new DM, read the adventure’s introduction carefully—it’s packed with information to help you run the adventure. Beyond that, my advice to DMs is make the adventure your own. Nothing in the text is sacred. Customize the adventure to better suit your tastes and satisfy your players.

The Wild Beyond The Witchlight book

You can grab a copy of The Wild Beyond the Witchlight on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or at your FLGS (where you can get a snazzy variant cover). It’s also available digitally on D&D Beyond, Fantasy Grounds, and Roll 20.

Images via Wizards of the Coast

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