One of the things that has made Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition the most popular version of the game so far is the way that it has embraced how diverse its fanbase can be. They are lots of different ways to play D&D yet for years the game catered primarily to a hack and slash approach. Subtler, more character focused styles of play where encouraged over time, but the core game was still a blunt tool. The latest adventure for D&D, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, moves very far away from this approach, so much so that it’s apparently possible to complete this adventure without a single fight.
The book is both an adventure and supplement of sorts detailing D&D’s whimsical world of fairies, pixies and wild adventure. The Feywild is the setting that let’s you play games inspired by things such as Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, Alice in Wonderland and more classic fairy stories. The weird creatures that lurk here have teeth and both the foolish and unkind should beware, but adventure also beckons. The story focuses on a reality wandering Witchlight Carnival, organised by the titular Mister Witch and Mister Light. As you might expect, the opportunity to talk your way into and out of trouble lurks at every corner.
As the story unfolds, the players find themselves in weirder and stranger situations. Whereas previous D&D adventures have had themes of Gothic Horror or Survival and Isolation, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is a heady mix of whimsy and self-discovery. We get racing snails, bee-keeping cyclops, hordes of tin-soldiers, cursed actors and of course the Jabberwock. There’s even a mine-cart ride that’s a nod to the classic D&D cartoon and a few NPCs from that show as well. This is D&D riffing on the likes of Time Bandits, Stardust, The Princess Bride and The NeverEnding Story, but also its own mythology.
There’s plenty of action through out and some the scenes are memorable and unique. Rather than an epic fight, we get subterfuge, performance and investigation. (You can fight your way through the whole adventure as well, of course, they are plenty of villains to challenge.) More to the point, this book has been designed to help Dungeon Masters give their players permission to have fun and go wild. This is a book that’s great for gamers of all ages, and it’s very accessible; ideal for both new and old players.
There’s been a lot of commentary about how people getting into D&D via shows such as Oxventure, Critical Role and Questing Time often find it hard to emulate the talented actors in these shows. Witchlight attempts to address this by providing the Dungeon Master with scenarios and tools that let the players get comfortable enough to really get into the roles they’ve chosen.
It would have been easy for this to simply be a riff on the idea of a creepy carnival, but instead we get something a bit deeper, mixing the wild and the wonderful with pathos and character development; this is an adventure that puts the players first whilst tempting them with all sorts of ridiculous things to do.
We also get a little bit of cool rules stuff; they are some nice new monsters and two new races. Fairies are small winged humanoids with powerful innate magics, Harengon’s are rabbit people who pack quite a punch. The magic items are mostly style over substance but are likely to delight your players anyway.
As you’d expect, the book itself is gorgeous, it’s crammed with art and is a soundly put together hardback. There’s a very pretty alternate cover version that features an adorable Displacer Beast, a sort of magical panther. The only drawback is that it’s really designed for levels 1 to 8, and you can even start at level 3 if you wish. This means the adventure will be over before you know it, but isn’t that true of any fairy tale?