Review – The Wild Beyond the Witchlight (Dungeons & Dragons)

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight: A Feywild Adventure is the first in a rapid succession of D&D books hitting before the end of the year (we’ve got Fizban talking about dragons and a visit to Strixhaven yet to come). Wild Beyond the Witchlight is, just like the title says, an adventure set primarily in the Feywild, home of faeries and fairy tales and Lewis Carroll. Although the book bills itself as an adventure for characters of levels 1-8, it’s really for levels 1-7, as character’s won’t reach level 8 until the adventure is over.

Note that, as an adventure book, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is primarily tailored towards DMs. However, this review isn’t going to spoil anything more than you would learn by reading the back of the book or attending a session 0. But if you want to go in completely blind, you’ve been warned.

The “Witchlight” of The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is the Witchlight Carnival which, like its more sinister companion from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, pops around the planes, and in stopping near the PCs, will become the jumping off point for this adventure. And it’s a fun opening act that does a good job setting the tone for the adventure. The bulk of the adventure then takes place in the Feywild itself, in a domain of ‘delight’ known as Prismeer. Of course, not everything is entirely delightful in Prismeer, or it wouldn’t be much of an adventure. There’s a pull-out map in the back of the book with the carnival on one side and Prismeer on the other, but of course you won’t get to look at that until your DM says so.

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight leans heavily into the thematics of its inspiration. Like it says on the front of the book, the adventure is whimsical, but it is a wicked whimsy. There’s a real helping of Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass inspiration here, and I’m reminded of the movie Labyrinth as well. There are cute things and riddles and wonder … but also things that will lop off your head or smile while leading you to your doom or entice you into some bad bargains. This is D&D, so there are battles, but heroes rarely prevail in fairy tales by stabbing everything they see. Did Sarah Williams rely on force of arms to prevail over Jareth, the Goblin King? I think not. Nor did she save Toby by acting alone, or stomping through the labyrinth without regard for the rules of that place.  The Wild Beyond the Witchlight really captures that feel. Characters must understand and play by the rules of the realm they’re traversing. They must figure out when to trust and when to stab first. Even for the friendly characters, they must piece together desires and motivations, for rarely is “10 gold” the price for what they want. They must be able to solve riddles and figure out plays on words. All together, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight does a wonderful job of conveying a sense of place that’s quite distinct from other Dungeons & Dragons adventures.

Another great thing about The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is the way that the character’s actions matter. Not just in a ‘we’re responsible for defeating the bad guy and saving the world at the end’ sort of way. I can’t tell you what without spoilers, but there’s an interlocking to the adventure. NPCs have interactions with each other, they can appear again, and the rules of the fey have a mind of their own. What the characters do early in the adventure can reverberate to their benefit or detriment later on. To help manage this, the DM is provided with a ‘story tracker’ to keep these things in line. Pages and pages of NPCs get roleplaying help cards for the DM (presumably to be downloaded and printed out from online, although I suppose you could try to copy them). Again, there’s a lot more than bashing skulls at work here.

There is some limited mechanical content, aside from the new monsters, which you’ll also have to wait to hear about from your DM. The main attraction is two new playable species – fairies and harengon. Fairies are probably what you’d be looking for in a fairy – they’re Fey, they’re Small, and they can flat-out fly. They can use druidcraft at will, and can eventually light things up with faerie fire or go all Julia-Roberts-as-Tinkerbell with enlarge/reduce. Harengon are rabbit-folk. They get a nice selection of bonuses – a boost to initiative, increased Perception, a bonus on Dexterity saves and, a few times a day, a bonus action ‘rabbit hop’ around the battlefield. I think the concepts of these species will have appeal to a significant number of players, and I think they’ve god solid mechanics to boot.

There are also two backgrounds, but I would discourage using them for this adventure, especially the Witchlight Hand, who literally works at the carnival. The other option, the Feylost, grew up in the Feywild. The Feylost’s familiarity with the Feywild is general enough to not really be a problem – there’s just a slight degrading of the sense of wonder and oddity if one of the characters is used to this stuff. The Witchlight Hand kicks this up a notch, as the entire first part of the adventure is just a day at the job for them, unless the DM contrives to have the Witchlight Hand not actually know anything about the carnival or the people who work there. So, personally, I would suggest saving these backgrounds for use with a character in a different adventure.

But The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is really fun. If you’re looking for a traditional hack-and-slash or dungeon delve, it isn’t going to be the adventure for you. But it’s just really effective at what it sets out to do – capturing this sense of ‘faerie’ and fairy tales and translating that in a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. That’s combined with a helping of interesting and well-developed NPCs, and an interlocking setting that can really shine in the hands of the right DM. If that sort of thing interests you, I would highly recommend The Wild Beyond the Witchlight.

Promotional consideration in the form of a review copy. Strange Assembly may earn commissions from affiliate links in this article.

 

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