On DMing Faeries and Fey Pledges

Think of faeries as “magic elementals” in the game world: Just as an earth elemental is to stone, or a fire elemental is to flames, so a faerie is to pure magical energy (quintessence, mana, the weave, or whatever a setting calls it). Faeries do not have natural forms, but instead shape themselves in response to what they find and understand about the mortal world. Many develop “habits” that keep them in familiar forms. In most worlds, iron (especially meteoric iron sometimes called “star iron”) acts as a “conductive ground” for such magical energy, causing physical harm to faeries’ forms.


As a DM, ask yourself: How would a 5-year-old child react to the way the player characters are behaving? (If sad, do they need cheering up? If mean or not generous, is a tantrum going to change that? Do they have anything the faerie wants to have right now?)

From Monsters & Animals, 2nd Edition by Kevin Siembieda, for the Palladium Fantasy role-playing game:

“Faerie Folk usually seem to be lost in their own business. By civilized standards, these bizarre creatures of magic seem quite insane, content with a vagabond life of mischief and wandering. Volatile in temperament, Faerie Folk can exhibit extraordinary degrees of emotion and malice for the most trivial of matters (trivial to humans, that is). Like spoiled children, they do, say, and act as they damn well please and woe to the person that dares to interfere in their play. It is during the vengeful temper tantrum of a perturbed Faerie where malice comes to the fore. Their mischief stems from their selfish, carefree, wild, scatterbrained antics and complete lack of concern for non-Faerie folk.”

“Remember, when playing these characters, they don’t have a good understanding about the human condition, strengths or weaknesses. Most tend to be innocent and child-like, always inquisitive and more than a bit hyper. They are easily bored, and when bored they get into mischief by playing pranks, going where they aren’t supposed to go, doing what they were told not to, etc. When they can’t get their way or are scolded, teased or mocked, the little fellows will often extract childish revenge which may get their comrades into serious trouble. They also tend to say and do things without thinking about the conse­quences or how it might affect those around them (they are great at inciting arguments and brawls).”


From James Cambias and Phil Masters’ GURPS Castle Falkenstein, based on original game design work by Mike Pondsmith:

“The history of faerie activities in the several universes they have visited is not generally known in New Europa, with good reason from the faerie point of view; they have been terribly destructive and careless in their past, and few of them are good at learning from experience, even when they are defeated. However, they have formed incredibly powerful habits, some of which dictate the shape each takes and the powers they display. Because faeries pick up habits from each other, there are a number of defined ‘species.’ Nonetheless, faerie powers and shapes are very diverse, and some faeries look and behave nothing like each other….”

“Although they have sometimes pretended otherwise, the faerie are not gods. They have real limitations, which can sometimes be exploited. To begin with, they are fundamentally uncreative, especially with regard to the use of their powers. The lesser species especially are locked into fixed patterns of behavior and self−imposed rules. However, the most powerful have thousands of years of experience of humanity, trickery, and power, so they rarely need to invent anything new, and their alien objectives and long−term plans make them dangerously unpredictable.”

“Faeries also have essentially physical limitations, some of which result from their underlying nature as energy beings held together by willpower, and some of which are ancient habits hardened into binding laws. The latter vary from species to species, and usually take the form of Repulsions −− objects or phenomena that cause a faerie to back away or even flee in panic.”


Again, from GURPS Castle Falkenstien:

“The other well−known but sometimes misunderstood faerie weakness is the fact that they cannot break their word. This is literally deadly serious for them; once they have given a solemn promise or vow, breaking it can destroy them forever. This is because faeries are, by nature, bundles of raw energy held together by will and personality; to break a solemn promise disrupts the pattern they have created for themselves. Note that the promise must be genuinely tied to their self−image; an obvious joke or an opinion given as such is not enough, but a firm promise given under duress or while drunk is binding. Faeries can sometimes survive a lapse, but no immortal being risks True Death lightly (the mere attempt is worth at least a Fright Check), and surviving once does not eliminate the promise.”

“All this has practical consequences for faerie behavior. For one thing, faeries −− even benevolent or stupid individuals −− tend to be very good at phrasing promises and contracts, employing numerous conditions and open clauses. Promising to do something ‘to the best of my abilities’ or ‘unless prevented’ leaves the faerie fairly safe, after all. Conversely, humans must remember that asking a faerie to give its word or promise on anything is a serious matter. What from a human is little more than a courtesy, is a commitment unto death from a faerie. Even a friendly, good−natured faerie will take such a request badly, and one who was not a friend to begin with will be extremely angry. Sensible folk do not ask other beings to commit their lives over trivia.”

In the role-playing game Changeling: The Lost by White Wolf Game Studio, rules for a faerie pledge involves specific steps:

1.) What are the tasks involved for each party of the pledge? (Examples include an alliance to lend aid or avoiding hindering the other party, to offer protection in dreams, to perform or forbid a very specific action, or to place an ensorcellment upon a mortal to see the true form of faeries behind their apparent glamour illusions.)

2.) What boons are involved for each party of the pledge? (Examples for holding to the terms of the pledge may include an ability boost or new ability, acquiring treasure or a magical item, gaining the promise of a favor to be redeemed at a later time, or being granted access or membership to a faerie group such as a court or freehold.)

3.) What sanctions are involved for each party of the pledge? (Examples include suffering ability penalties due to curses and bad luck, banishment from a faerie domain, a permanent loss of ability points, gaining a new character flaw or vulnerability, or a combination of all such effects. Alternatively, the “poisoning of the boon” option causes the exact opposite intended benefit of the pledge to occur instead.)

4.) What is the duration of the pledge? (Examples include “a day,” “a week,” “a moon” of 28 days, “a season” of 89 days, “a year and a day” of 366 days, “a decade” of exactly 10 years, “lifelong” until one party’s death, “generational” until the death of all the party’s children, or “eternity” for all time.)

5.) What cost will each party give up to make this pledge? (In the Changling rules, the point value of each answer creates the Willpower cost required to invoke the pledge, but other game systems can account for character “costs” in other ways.)

Examples pledges:

“A favor for a favor. I’11 get things done for you this week, you just give me a little something to indicate we’re still friends. If you can’t do that much, then you’ll be all the poorer.”

“See the things of dream. Grant me the right to ask a boon within the cycle of that moon. Swear that you shall grant it to me, so long as it does not bring you harm. Let he who is forsworn in this wake find thorns of this oath in him. Madness and ill luck follow you if you are false; I shall grant thee a boon, and be followed by misfortune should I prove false. Do you agree?”

“Hand to hand we stand, and side by side. Though my brother and I may quarrel, none may quarrel with my brother and not quarrel with me. This is my oath: friendship, assistance and the blessings that come of both, until the year has spun anew. May our prosperity desert us, and our talents fail us, should we break this vow of brotherhood.”


The 5th-level enchantment spell Geas offers a good template for a faerie pledge, though that spell is a one-sided deal: The caster forces the target “to carry out some service or refrain from some action or course of activity as you decide” for exactly 30 days, else suffer 5d10 psychic damage each time the target fails to live up to the command. (A Wisdom saving throw can avoid falling under this spell, and actions that would result in the target’s certain death end the spell’s effect.)

As a template for faerie pledges…

“I swear upon my true name…” (or the name of faerie’s archfey master, or a deity)

1.) What are the tasks involved for each party of the pledge? (Task must not be suicidal to either party.)
* act in a way that helps the other party when needed
* promise to avoid hindering the other party
* cast a specific spell on the other party or on another target
* do something else not listed here

2.) What additional boons are involved for each party of the pledge?
* gain a proficiency or expertise
* gain the Lucky feat
* gain the use of a specific spell once between long rests (bless, curse, and enhance ability are common, as are enchantments and illusions)
* find treasure (gold or a specific magic item)
* gain the promise of a favor (and automatic charm over the pledge maker)

3.) What sanctions are involved for each party of the pledge should the task not be done?
* gain a level of exhaustion that cannot be removed by rest or magic
* lose treasure worth twice the value of items gained by the boon
* suffer 1d10 psychic damage equal per Challenge Rating of the aggrieved party
* gain a new character flaw
* gain vulnerability to one damage type

4.) What is the duration of the pledge?
* “a day” (24 hours)
* “a week” (exactly 7 days)
* “a moon” (28 days)
* “a season” (89 days)
* “a year and a day” (366)
* “a decade” (exactly 10 years)
* “lifelong” (until one party fails three death saves)

5.) What cost will each party give up to make this pledge? (Whatever is lost is regained when the duration of the pledge ends or if the other party is slain.)
* lose proficiency or expertise in one skill or tool
* lose the use of one spell slot
* lose the ability to use Hit Dice to heal during short rests
* reduce an ability score by 2 points
* lose the use of one Sorcery Point, Martial Point, or Ki Point