Celawyn’s Guide to Wilderness and Fey: Review

Celewyns’s Guide to Wilderness and Fey is the sixth of Chamomile’s kickstarter series of 5e zines. This one is focused on a wilderness and fey. There are a billion wilderness supplements, and none really do what I want, so I was really looking forward to this one. Chamomiles GM Guide has a ton of great advice on the topic, and hopefully this is more, and 5e specific. Fey are another good topic where folks take one of a few different stances, and inevitably by their third page give up on it and do something else, and then by the end of the edition sort of just don’t do anything with them at all. Having played in a game where Celawyn was a PC, I assumed the Fey portion would be along those lines, which was one of the better, and more consistent takes. I’ve still got a hard copy for the review with screenshots cropped from the pdf (with permission). You can pick one up at Drivethrough or itch, in physical or digital versions.

I love the giant snail in the background. This might be my favorite cover of the series so far.

The book opens with a chapter on Playing the Fey, nominally the players section. We get lots of cool stuff here. Three playable races, two sub-classes, a scattering of feats, and a full class on its own. Its a solid amount packed into 13 pages.

The first option is playable werewolves. This is a bold one to put first, because no one ever does werewolves “right” and they are always amazingly good or bad, but also because folks don’t typically attribute lycanthropy to the fey, and the chapter is Playing the Fey. When put there though, its kind of obvious. Aversion to silver, moon affinity, animal powers. Either way, its a great fit for a wilderness chapter. I still like the elegance of Chamomile’s Attunement based system for powerful racial options. Essentially, you can get minor stuff that doesn’t cost anything. Or you can give up magic items slots, to get more werewolf-ie as you level up. Its sort of like a scaling level adjustment from 3.5. Tier 0 just gives you a wolf form. Tier 1 gives a hybrid form, and vulnerability to silver. 2 adds more powerful forms, and lets you talk to wolves. Finally, 3 gives you dominance over wolves, and awesome transformation powers. Next up are playable Hags. This one I liked, because no one else does playable Hags. The coven spells ability is a really cool way to bring the circle of 3 theme into a PC playable option, and I appreciate the sidebar explaining how to make it work if you don’t have 3 PC hags. The last one is pixies, which everyone makes a variant of. These are tiny, flying, and have pixie dust. What else can you want?

Our first subclass is a Sorcerer bloodline, for Fey. I kind of find it unbelievable we don’t already have one, but its somehow true. It gives some cool fairy powers, like the ability to find fairy circles granting planar travel, charm and stealth bonuses, and most importantly fairy wings. The Ranger subclass, Beast Friend, is basically a redo of a really underwhelming subclass, with enough tweaks that its technically different. This one is good though. It addresses a topic near and dear to my heart, the weird differences between beasts and monstrosities. Chamomiles solution is to say that maybe you just let people pick Yuan-ti animal companions, which is fair enough in its own way.

The class is a Shapeshifter which generally does what it says on the tin. It lets you change shape into hybrid creatures, or full on versions of creatures. Of Chamomile’s new classes this is probably going to require more book keeping at a table, as your stats are shifting around a lot. But if you play a shapeshifter, that’s kind of what you’re asking for. If you turn into a bear hybrid, you want your strength to go up. if you turn into a bear, you need to bust out the monster manual. That’s the whole point. It seems fun to play, and like it does its thing, but you may want to steer newer players into something a little more straightforward.

Running the Fey is our first DMing chapter, and its got its work cut out for it. Chamomile outlines a pretty big problem right out the gate. There isn’t really D&D official Fey lore. People can name demon lords, and occasionally elemental lords, and even construct lords now and again. People can consistently describe Hell, the Plane of Fire, and Mechanus, but the Feywild didn’t even exist until 4e, and players can almost never name a fey lord. Which is wild, because Fey courts are one of the big identifiers of the Fey. So before telling you how to DM fey, you need to decide what sort of Fey you’re running. This section walks you through some common threads, and asks you to pick one. I’m partial to making them Spirits of Emotion of a sort personally (Shameless self plug).

The kickstarter got enough to commission some awesome new art

Wilderness Adventures contains rules and advice for all the sorts of things one has to do in a wilderness game. One of the bigger changes, in my opinion, is the portion on resting. He makes a compelling case for the optional rules in the DMG for week long rests, and flat out just says its a requirement for a wilderness game. The big benefit, is the week spent with light inactivity. Marching through the woods while resting isn’t possible, and now you can’t just hide somewhere for a night, and rest. You’ve got to stay un-noticed for a week, and relatively stationary. This ups the chances you are found, and interrupted, risking even more wasted time and resources. It makes the safe havens, lagoons, hermits huts, sacred groves, and whatnot you find while exploring all the more important. They become a safe place to rest during your travels, and set you up for a nice Hot Springs Episode with whoever lives there or other travelers. The extended long rest also makes it a lot easier to do one random encounter per day of travel, and not just have the party nova blast it to nothing.

Chamomile breaks with the DMG in the next section as well, regarding hexcrawls. Their standard advice is a 1 mile hex, 6 mile hex, and 60 mile hex. Chamomile argues for a 2 mile and 24 mile instead. While I normally applaud the 5e DMG for even including the detail, I tend to side with Chamomile for the right size. For overland travel, you want a hex to be “basically a day”. Then, each choice is a day’s travel, and your players can count on the map quickly and easily without asking you how far travel is. Its also a simple 1 choice = 1 day mechanic. Easy to track and easy to remember. I’ve tried the 6 mile, and it just leads to entire sessions covering a single days travel, but not feeling like we accomplished anything. The 2 mile hex is nice because its “about half an hour” which he uses for what he calls pointcrawls. This lets you move actually explore a region in detail, and let players move about as needed. The key here, is your players can follow clues, and go from point to point within the same day.

Travel and Roles is something a lot of supplements try to include, and I’m not sure they are wrong to make the attempt. Making travel something other than a fast travel event means you need to give players choices, and bonuses or penalties for making those choices. Which means you need rules to actually exist. Chamomile introduces the forager, navigator, pack herder, scout, and sentinel. Essentially, this gives folks an extra action they can take, or some additional capacity in the overland travel minigame. Things like the navigator helps make sure you don’t lose progress for the days travel, and things like the scout let you spot random encounters. This has a secret benefit, of not having to ask the whole party roll spot checks, and then bogging things down while everyone figures out if they have -1, or +0, and then the person good at it rolls as well (and addresses an annoying trait of bonded accuracy, where those -1’s have a decent shot at getting the highest result)

Eating and Encumbrance. I have a difficult relationship with them. I love the idea of tracking this at a detailed simulationist level, but in practice I hate tediously ticking off a box every day. Chamomiles rules say to ignore it in town, which is fantastic advice. They also use an inventory slots system for out of town. I’m not sure where I stand on that honestly. Systems like this are popular, and probably a practical method for it. But I like when we find a thousand pounds of cinnamon, and haul it back to town to upset the spice trade. Chamomile’s solution to my problem is the first I’ve found that I like. He presents three options, which ultimately boil down to calling a treasure inventory slot a measure of 750gp worth of treasure. I can say slot 2 has my 600gp worth of raw honey and be done with it. But if I get 800gp worth of pearls, that’s 2 slots.

Here we enter the “how do I run the game” portion of the book. Traditionally, that’s usually under the DM rules sections, but that’s also a big part of why I like Chamomile’s guides so much. He goes through the trouble to tell you what you, the DM, will have to do at a table. We start with two overland travel checklists that include the things you do each day during overland travel, and questions you ask the players. Then we get into the types of games you can run, and advice on how to actually prep them. With real numbers for stuff, like “You want this map to be 91 hexes, each of which is 2 miles across”. Its a real for dummies level of directness, that a lot of DMing guides just assume you’ll figure out on your own.

To wrap up, the book contains a collection of Fey encounters, which are sorely needed if you’re playing core 5e, additional spells, and a couple of backer content feats. We see more of the Boss monster mechanic from the other books in the series, and I’m still a big fan.

Celawyn’s is probably my favorite of the books released so far. Wilderness campaigns and hexcrawls are some of my favorite campaign types, and while there’s tons of content out there to make them, most of it’s worse than just forging it on your own. It’s usually a random encounter table, and rules to make weapons break. Celawyn’s has a great combination of cool stuff for players, cool stuff for the DM, and cool new mechanics to help the supposed third pillar of D&D that they sort of forgot to release any content for. If you get one of the Chamomile’s Guide to Everything series, this is my pick.

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