The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is the newest adventure and setting offering from Dungeons and Dragons. This adventure feels like a marked departure from prior adventures for D&D 5e, both in tone but also in content and mechanics.
At 256 pages, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight includes new player options originating in the Feywild, an adventure that takes characters from 1st to 8th level, new bestiary of unique monsters and adversaries from the Feywild, and finally new tools for DM’s for running ongoing campaigns with plentiful non-combat encounters and non-combat resolutions.
I’ve had access to a press copy of the adventure for a few weeks now, and man oh man do I have a lot of thoughts about it.
If you’re debating on picking up this book, do not wait on my thoughts to decide. Get it! I promise you this one is something special. The Wild Beyond The Witchlight is a truly unique kind of adventurous romp that we rarely get with D&D.
Beyond The Pages Of A Fairytale
The Wild Beyond The Witchlight (TWBTW) presents a world where characters have lingering ties to the Feywild. Either they were a native to the plane of fairie, or as a child they happened across the Witchlight Carnival and had something precious stolen from them by the servants of a coven of hags (or both). The adventure begins with the characters visiting the carnival after many long years, seeking the things they lost.
The Witchlight Carnival is a thoroughly detailed collection of whimsical midways, games, rides, and events, run by a colorful cast of Fey NPC’s. Goblins, gnomes, fairies, merfolk, even a cyclops and a centaur act as performers, carnival barkers, and staff.
From there, the player characters are whisked away to the land of Prismeer, a small domain in the Feywild that’s been taken over by the Hourglass Coven, a powerful trio of hags that are slowly corrupting and poisoning the land for their patron Iggwilv. These hags have what the characters seek, and it’s up to them to find what was taken from them, and hopefully free Prismeer in the process.
The adventure proper is a trek across a domain filled with mirth and magic. Both in content and tone, it’s sort of the other side of the coin to Curse of Strahd; an adventure small in scope but big in personality and character. It also follows a similar kind of structure and pace to Curse of Strahd, as the PC’s enter a land unfamiliar to them filled with a cast of characters that are larger than life.
It eschews Ravenloft’s gothic horror for the whimsy of fairy tales and turn of the century high adventure. At first read through it has a lot of the same DNA as Frank L Baum’s Oz stories, as well as a lot of Alice and Wonderland. TWBTW is a straight up tale of characters transported into a fairy tale, and it rewards those who lean into that theming hard.
The Perfect Homage To D&D’s Past, Without Sacrificing It’s Present
I’ve often heard that critics of D&D’s fifth edition feel it has moved too far away from the game’s ‘original’ tone and trappings; trading more on big character moments and story-focused roleplay than the grind of dungeons and the terror of dragons.
TWBTW is the closest we’ve come to a complete homage to D&D’s past. Other adventures like Tales from the Yawning Portal and Ghosts of Saltmarsh have sought to reinterpret and convert AD&D adventures from the 80’s, but TWBTW does them one better. It perfectly presents the spirit and aesthetic of 80’s D&D, while eschewing the actual content.
TWBTW gives us updated versions of the heroes and villains of Greyhawk (Igglwiv and Kelek), as well as characters primarily known from the 80’s D&D action figures: Warduke, Elkhorn, Mercion, Ringlerun, and Strongheart have all been given a place within the adventure and story, as well as the central antagonist of Igglwilv the Witch Queen and her magical legacy.
The Witchlight Carnival itself evokes the style and trappings of the 80’s D&D cartoon. There’s even a recreation of the roller coaster that transports the central characters to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. It wouldn’t be hard to run this adventure as a ‘Normal people get transported to a fantasy world’ kind of campaign, and I find so much appeal in that.
TWBTW gives us bright, colorful fantasy vibes that feel right out of the 80’s, without feeling retrograde or old fashioned. It presents the best of D&D’s past while maintaining the roleplay and character-centric feel of more modern D&D adventures.
A Campaign Filled With Conflict (But no combat?)
In the land of Prismeer, there is a clear line between good and evil in the actions characters take. Just like in a fairy tale, overcoming evil isn’t always a matter of beating or killing the antagonist. One of the smart and innovative things that TWBTW does is present encounters with antagonists that either don’t require combat and death, or present alternatives to it.
Players have the option of fighting and dispatching any antagonist they encounter, but many of these encounters have non-combat solutions as well. Encountering an evil hag that rules one portion of the land of Prismeer may be ended by killing her, or instead by bargaining with her or by deceiving her.
Most of these encounters have a way of completing them through bargaining, negotiation, deception, or through some kind of non-lethal competition. Players are encouraged to think outside the box and vibe with the setting’s fairytale logic and atmosphere to come up with fitting fairytale solutions to fairytale problems.
This is a welcome addition to D&D’s large arsenal of encounter building.
A Kaleidoscope of Colorful Art and Maps
D&D 5e’s track record of good art and maps has been steadily improving over the past few releases. This book features a double-sided poster map with maps of the Witchlight Carnival and the land of Prismeer. Both are lavishly illustrated and hold helpful game trackers in their corners that can be used by Dungeon Masters to track time and mood.
The art in the book is some of the most plentiful I’ve ever seen in a D&D release, and all of it is top notch. The Witchlight Carnival is rendered as a colorful, whimsical collection of delights, where ever performer and busker is a unique character with distinguishing features. The land of Prismeer is as diverse and varied as any domain I’ve seen in D&D; filled with contrasting marshes, mountains, forests, castles, all greatly detailed and filled with wonderful little touches.
Every character and monster in this book looks to be lovingly rendered. They are all expressive and animated, and perfectly fit into this setting.
Stay For The Bestiary
My favorite part about TWBTWL is its cast of whimsical characters and its plethora of new Feywild monsters. Some are brand new for the book, others are old favorites from AD&D and Basic D&D. All of them are full of character and present interesting challenges for players.
The Hourglass Coven, the primary antagonists of the adventure, are three unique hags with amazing designs personalities that fill the room. The League of Malevolence is a comic book worthy rogues gallery of evil spellcasters and murderous mercenaries straight out of the 80s. Valor’s Call, the NPC’s based on D&D action figures, are true to their toyetic roots. All of them make for fantastic encounters and interactions for players.
The creatures included are exactly what you want from a fairytale land: smiling talking mushrooms, bullywug knights and royalty, fairies, pixies, giant snails, redcaps, quicklings, darklings, a treent who’s also a living treehouse, and so many more.
But chiefest of all of them is the adorable displacer beast kitten.
I’ve been putting displacer beast kittens in my games for almost a decade now, and to see them realized in D&D 5e, along with adorable art to match, does my heart so good. They’re an absolute delight.
The Wild Beyond The Witchlight is a rare and marvelous thing. It’s the kind of D&D adventure that makes for the best kinds of player stories, but its setting and world building will make it an iconic classic with the best of D&D 5e’s adventures. The Witchlight Carnival is sure to become a D&D multiverse fixture like Sigil, Castle Ravenloft, and the Tomb of Horrors.
If you’re jonesing for a more light hearted D&D adventure, this is the best possible offering. It’s the perfect amount of joy and whimsy, with enough sinister darkness in the background to keep you on your toes. I’d also recommend this book for parents or adults looking to run an adventure for younger kids and tweens. It’s got 90’s pre-teen adventure energy and I’m here for it.
Be sure to check it out. The Witchlight Carnival awaits!