Faeries: A Complete Handbook of the Seelie, by Sarah Link and John Snead. Five out of five for art, information, and worldbuilding potential; yes, it’s a White Wolf gamebook, but the writers dug deep into old fairy lore and it’s old enough (circa 1991) that it missed most of the infestation of “woke” afflicting too many modern gamebooks.
This book was originally written to go with the Ars Magica setting, and has stats and scenario suggestions accordingly. But if you want to sink your teeth into fairies before the Victorians got hold of them, this is an excellent place to start and find out about creatures and magic you want to research in more detail.
Straying into and out of fay realms? It’s here. Typical fairy abilities, flight, glamour, potion-brewing, shape-changing, and many others? Lots of those. The difference between Seelie and Unseelie, and what fairies don’t give two hoots about the Courts? Got it. Sea-fairies, skin-changers; fay of forests, wind, mountains, guardians of churches and households, faerie animals, plants, fungi, and less definable things? All here.
Chapter 3 on the Faerie Realm is particularly intriguing if you want to write a story where a magical world “overlaps” the mundane one. That’s exactly what the regio setup handles. Some areas of reality have multiple “layers” from the mundane base to the mystical “topmost” layer that may lead into the greater dimension of Arcadia itself. Different times of day and days of the year are more or less magical, making the barriers between the levels either more permeable, or less. So a hapless mortal wandering a faerie forest on Halloween might trip right into fairyland, but if he tries to get back out on All Saint’s Day… he’s going to need some help.
(And help is oh, so perilous to come by, when you deal with the fay.)
One of the neat stray bits in the book is, “your characters are lost in Arcadia looking for the Tuatha de Danann’s Caer Arionrhod, which is the constellation Corona Borealis. What do they do?” Several ways of giving the players hints are suggested, plus some odd solutions they might come up with on their own. I particularly liked the one where the astrologer reasoned they must already be in the sky, so she could use her star-charts as a map.
Fairy weaknesses, bargains, and changelings are covered in enough detail to make a good story start. Note, though, that this is a gamebook, so it simplifies things by giving all fairies a weakness to religion. Dig into actual lore and you’ll find varying accounts of what fay are weakened or destroyed by prayers, and which are simply annoyed.
All told this is an excellent sum-up of how fairies were perceived in Europe prior to Tolkien’s elves and Victorian sprites with butterfly wings. If you can find a paperback copy (there are some on eBay, and warehouse23 apparently has a PDF) it’s worth adding to your library of fantasy inspiration.
A/N: Yes, I’m reviewing some older books lately. Part of that is finally unpacking some things! And part is going through older stuff deliberately in case some of it comes in handy for newer ideas I’ve been poking. This one, in particular, is giving the bunnies twitches about “may be useful for building a Western cultivation-style fantasy”, if I can assemble a few more elements!