Tomorrow starts my “A Faerie a Day in November” project. Each day, I plan to create a faerie creature for the Ars Magica rpg. Over the weekend I told my son, who was so excited he asked if he could draw some of the illustrations. Of course I said yes! I showed him my ideas from Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, and he set to work. His drawing are fantastic and I can’t wait to use them. It’s a family affair.
I did a few test creatures and realized that making these creatures faeries isn’t a perfect fit. Some make better magic creatures. What is the difference? The simple diffidence is that faeries want to interact with humans and magic creatures don’t. They avoid people, meandering through their own lives guided by their own interests. Faeries actively seek people and want to be involved in a person’s life. Well, a faerie wants aperson involved in its life, and it wants to vicariously feed off the human emotions generated by the faerie-human interaction. Many of the beasts in The Book of Imaginary Beings don’t necessarily desire human interactions, forcing me to be creative in making these creatures faerie.
Realizing that I need an additional source, I scooted over to the used book store. One of the benefits of living in a university town is having good second-hand books stores. My favorite book seller had the day off, which was slightly disappointing, but a real treasure was waiting for me in the Folklore section. For only $20 I bought a copy of Katherine Briggs’ An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. Long out of print, this book contains hundreds of entries. Most if not all of the creatures herald from England, Scotland, and Ireland, which is just fine for this project.
I already have a very cool “B” creature, for November 2nd, so I’ll share a very cool “B” entry from Ms. Briggs’ work. The Bean-Nighe (ban-neeyah) is a faerie washer-woman, the faerie ghost of a woman who died prematurely and must now wash clothes for the normal span of her lifetime. She is horrifically ugly, with a single nostril, one protruding tooth, and breasts that sag down to her waist. Like her kin, the Bean-Si (ban-she), her presence presages a death in the family. Unlike the Bean-Si, the Bean-Nighe brings a potential boon, and I quote: “a mortal who is bold enough to creep up to her as she is washing and lamenting and suck her long breast can claim to be her foster-child and gain a wish from her.”
There you go. Who thinks up this stuff? That’s why real folklore is better than modern rpg fiction. Can a multi-class fighter/magic-user sneak up on any Greyhawk monster and suck a wish from its teat? I don’t think so.