If you’re a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master, and your campaign goals are a Venn diagram where courtly intrigue and the politics of fey intersect, you’ll find Courts of the Shadow Fey from Kobold Press in the space where those circles overlap. The campaign for 7th-10th level characters begins with an assassination attempt and leads adventurers from the mortal world to the realm of fey. They’ll learn how fickle and capricious the Courts of the Shadow Fey can be, while earning Status and discovering opportunities both alluring and treacherous.
Dangerous liaisons await in the Courts of the Shadow Fey
Full disclosure: I only received a special limited edition copy of Courts of the Shadow Fey from Kobold Press yesterday, so I have not had an opportunity to thoroughly peruse the 145-page adventure. But, there’s some things I typically look for in an adventure, and I’m of a mind a person can find something useful or inspiring in just about any adventure. The credits page gives me plenty of confidence in the book, with design by Wolfgang Baur and Dan Dillon, editing from Kim Mohan, Marcel Mercado cover art and interior along with Bryan Syme and others, and of course art direction and graphic design from Marc Radle. I’ve been a big admirer of his work for a long time. The design on Courts of the Shadow Fey has the really cool window-like corner borders I first noticed in Tomb of Mercy.
Images of heraldry for different houses and factions in the adventure are on display before any of the adventure material, which has the neat effect of giving you visual information before any written content. Without reading or knowing anything about this adventure, I already have these heraldic devices to reference and they tell me something about these groups.
The adventure is designed in a four act structure, but I’m going to think of the conclusion as a fifth act. That puts it closer in structure to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and makes it feel more magical to me. Courts of the Shadow Fey is written like a play, with acts and scenes, and I really have to hand it to the very first page with the table of contents and heraldry for fixing this quality in my mind. As the adventure continues, adventurers find themselves in the Shadow Realm, and the adventure looks to do a great job of presenting the whimsical and perilous atmosphere you’d expect from a fey dimension.
I recently re-read my favorite story arc of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman — The Kindly Ones — so the faerie courts are fresh in my imagination to begin with and Courts of the Shadow Fey plays right into it. In the campaign I started a few weeks ago, the characters’ story seems to be leaning towards fey-like interests so I think this Kobold Press adventure will come in very handy along the way.
What fools these mortals be
Beyond the intriguing plot and fantastic locales, Courts of the Shadow Fey introduces an exciting element for roleplayers and gamists through the Status and Prestige system. D&D 5E characters navigating their way through this adventure will encounter the usual mix of combat, exploration and socialization, while earning treasure and growing in power. But they’ll also develop their Status characteristic as their positions in the fey hierarchy rises and falls. To support this system, there’s tables to guide gain and loss of Status and what this prestige means.
There are consequences of high and low status, affecting social rolls and opening opportunities to unique abilities, quests and gifts. One of the coolest tidbits of this system is the section on Fey Trade and Barter, which describes how fey prize ephemeral over gold. Strong emotions and memories are powerful commodities in the Courts of the Shadow Fey.
Of course, the adventure takes advantage of the huge wealth of creatures created by Kobold Press. I spotted one of my favorites, the empty cloak, during a flip through and a healthy amount of new creatures as well. Most notably there are a ton of NPCs. So Game Masters — prepare to get your roleplaying on big time. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of good ol’ fashioned monster fights too. Looking at you, eye golem. Also spotted: a lunar devil. Both of these monsters from Tome of Beasts are ones I particularly like from Tome of Beasts so Courts of the Shadow Fey wins some points for including them.
If your D&D 5E adventuring party is ready to travel to the Courts of the Shadow Fey, you can of course pick up a copy (hardcover or PDF) in the Kobold Press store, and it’ll be at DriveThruRPG soon as well. You can also order a copy and help Nerdarchy at the same time when you add this treasure to your collection through Amazon.
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
Thou dost stay nerdy
— paraphrased from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1, by William Shakespeare