If you’ve played any 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons adventures, chances are you’ve encountered something that Chris Perkins was responsible for. He was one of the designers for Tomb of Annihilation, the lead designer of Curse of Strahd, and the story creator and lead writer on Rime of the Frostmaiden. You might also know him as the Dungeon Master for Penny Arcade’s Acquisitions Incorporated podcast series.
Perkins is Dungeons & Dragons’ principal game architect and one of the guiding hands responsible for The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, a new adventure module that takes D&D 5th Edition into the magical plane known as the Feywild.
This new adventure kicks off after your party visits the Witchlight Carnival, which acts as a magical gateway to the Plane of Faerie. Something wicked has to come to this land of fantasy and whimsy, and it’s up to your intrepid adventuring party to stop the mysterious Hourglass Coven and save this domain of delight.
Ahead of The Wild Beyond the Witchlight‘s upcoming release, Kotaku Australia spoke with Perkins about what we can expect from the new module, how he balances the old with the new when designing a D&D campaign, and the appeal of the Feywild, along with an exclusive preview into the realm’s fantastical bestiary.
Kotaku Australia: The Feywild has always been a major location in Dungeons & Dragons. Why was now the right time to introduce it into the 5th edition?
Chris Perkins: Despite being a major part of the D&D cosmology, the Feywild has gotten so little attention of late. I think the Feywild has a sort of lighthearted optimism that many of us crave right now.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the over-arching story for The Wild Beyond the Witchlight? What can players expect?
Perkins: There’s a lot of whimsy, with a few grim surprises. The Feywild is a great place to tell a story that is both lighthearted and a bit sinister. At its core, the story deals with themes of time and theft, with the heroes instead of the villains driving the narrative. The characters are on a mission that puts them at odds with a coven of hags. Along the way, they learn things about the Feywild and make a few new friends. If they’re clever and willing to play by the Feywild’s rules, the characters can get through the adventure without having to resort to bloodshed.
How does the domain of Prismeer stand out from other adventure settings, like Icewind Dale and Chult?
Perkins: Prismeer has never been seen before. It was created specifically for this adventure, so the players won’t know what to expect until they get there.
The 5th edition has done a great job of introducing pieces of classic D&D into a modern setting. What classic elements or characters does The Wild Beyond the Witchlight introduce?
Perkins: Time is an important theme in the adventure, so one of the things I did was reach back into D&D’s past and pull forward some old characters and ideas. For example, did you know that the original bugbear (as illustrated in the 1974 Dragons & Dragons boxed set) had a pumpkin for a head? I paid homage to that bit of D&D lore by giving one of the bugbears in the adventure a pumpkin helmet. The Wild Beyond the Witchlight also reacquaints D&D fans with some relics from the 1980s, such as the characters of Strongheart and Warduke.
How do you balance years of D&D lore with fresh new takes, so it appeals to old and new players alike?
Perkins: Any piece of D&D nostalgia that we pull forward is re-contextualized for the story so that, to old players, it feels familiar yet new at the same time. We also make sure enough information is given so that new players don’t feel like they’re missing anything important. For example, one of the monsters we updated for the adventure is a singing mushroom called a Campestri, which first appeared in 1993. Everything you need to run the monster is in the adventure, and singing mushrooms are just as fun now as they were 30 years ago.
Every adventure module adds something new to the D&D experience, from gameplay mechanics to subclasses. What is The Wild Beyond the Witchlight’s biggest addition to the game?
Perkins: The adventure strives to make Domains of Delight as big in the minds of players and DMs as Domains of Dread already are. The Feywild has never had a line of products tied to it, but maybe The Wild Beyond the Witchlight will help DMs and players see what a fun place the Feywild is, and how varied in tone a Feywild adventure can be.
Witchlight introduces two new playable races, fairies and harengons, which are anthropomorphic rabbits. What do they bring to the game?
Perkins: Fairies and harengons embody the magic and whimsy of the Feywild. If you ever wanted to play a character who sees the multiverse in a slightly off-kilter way, these races lend themselves well to that sort of outlook, since nothing in the Feywild is ever quite as it seems.
I read that all encounters in the adventure include a non-combat option. Why did you decide to include this as a gameplay mechanic?
Perkins: The adventure has a quality that lends itself well to younger players, and taking that one step further, it seemed like a fun challenge to build encounters in such a way that younger players could solve problems without having to resort to violence. Of course, you can hack-and-slash your way through this adventure like any other, and if you make too many goof-ups, you might have to!
Rime of the Frostmaiden was influenced by movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing, and stories like Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness. What were your biggest influences when creating The Wild Beyond the Witchlight?
Perkins: The Wizard of Oz and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes were probably the two biggest influences on The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. There’s even a Ray Bradbury quote buried in the adventure.
I know a few people who have started playing D&D for the first time during the last 18-months. What is your best advice to the first-time players picking up The Wild Beyond the Witchlight?
Perkins: Don’t be too quick to leave the Witchlight Carnival. A lot of fun and prizes can be had there. Also, you don’t need to run the whole adventure. Maybe the carnival is enough to start, or maybe you can skip ahead to your favourite chapter and run it as a standalone experience. The characters could wake up in Prismeer and spend a few sessions looking for a way back home. I imagine lots of fun stories might come out of that.
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight: A Feywild Adventure will be released globally on September 21, and available in Australia from October 15. You can pre-order a copy here.