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D&D General How to design fairies without them looking like tiny humans with bug wings?

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Hummingbird centaurs.

Moth-humanoids with animal heads

Cuter twig blights/the Green Knight but a few inches tall

fricken bats

tiny dark blue creatures with oversized hands and long tails they can swing on and faces that look like a painted wood mask

4e wilden, but wee

floating octopodes made of light

tiny versions of cute animals with unnatural coloring and human eyes, that just seem to run on the air
 

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jgsugden

Legend
We're talking a lot about the physical bodies, but I wonder if the answer you seek is less about the physical body and more about the non-physical aspects of what makes creatures what they are and their significance in the greater universe?

Anthropocentrism isn't so much about the physical appearance of things. The "humans in funny hats" issue can be a secondary manifestation of the human centric beliefs, but I think the starting place for getting away from a human centric setting is likely not the physical side of things. It is exploring how they interact with the world, and how the world interacts with them.

That is the area of world building I've been rethinking for my own campaign setting over the past couple years.
 


grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
I like plant/flower fairies but I am warming to Moth folk for fairies.
Disney has some good plant examples, either Fantasia or Alice in Wonderland. Having the fairies dismissing the players as 'Weeds' is always fun.
alice_in_wonderland_scene_by_animeangelartist1990_deiw1gt-pre.jpg


Or moth-y
moth pope.jpg
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
I think a good starting point is to think about what niche fairies occupy in your world.

Are they alien-seeming trickster types with orange-and-purple morality?

Are they personifications of nature? If so, do they represent both its nurturing and pitilessly destructive qualities in equal part, or do they lean toward one or the other?

Are they aristocratic hedonists who view humans as their own personal playthings?

Are they delightful beings who bring joy into an otherwise grey world?

Are they basically benevolent (though prone to anger if slighted) or basically malevolent (though capable of occasional kindness)? Are they beautiful? Scary? Are they tiny or human-sized? Do they steal children?

Fairies/fae have been and done all these things and more, and that's just in European folklore. I think if you figure out the core "vibe" of your fairies, you'll have an easier time choosing an appropriate visual form to convey the feeling you want.
 

Quartz

Hero
but I'm trying to avoid applying this to every other species that DnD describes as humanoid.

Simple: make them hybrids. Giants are what you get when you cross a tree with a human. At the other end of the scale atomies are what you get when you cross humans with small flowers like daisies. Fairies are what you get when you cross a butterfly with a human,. so they can range from a butterfly with a tiny human head to a mini human with wings (a la Tinkerbell) to a full-sized human with butterfly wings. (How does she fly? Magic.) And a fairy that has a Red Admiral ancestor is different from one with a Cabbage White ancestor.

How does the crossing work? I'm sure you can think of something.
 


AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
hayao miyazaki GIF by Maudit

The kodama from Princess Mononoke (and broader Japanese mythology) might be a good reference point for a different take on "fairies" and forest spirits.
Those remind me of Chwingas, for some reason.

Edit: If you want the same "fairy" theme, @Bird Of Play, Chwingas could work. They're whimsical and fairly humanoid, but do have inhuman characteristics (the whispy hair, masks, no-language, charm-giving, etc)
 
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Casimir Liber

Explorer
Aside from insects, fairies as plant-creatures that look like flowers until they move can work pretty well. I know I've seen this done well in a couple of films, coming off as creepily non-human, but I can't remember titles right now.
There was a book, Amaranth, about a mystical land where plants mimicked animals
 

Casimir Liber

Explorer
I mean like, tiny forest creatures/spirits. The ones that my 2nd edition DnD manual shows like this:


Which by the way would be a perfect approach to fairies.... I like them.... anthropomorphic insects. Perfect. It's just that there's already been enough bugs and insects so far in the campaign. Unless maybe I postpone to fairy encounter to much later on so it doesn't feel like they keep meeting bug humans.
grigs in 1e?
 


Bird Of Play

Explorer
Thanks so much for these ideas!!
I really appreciate, this kind of braingstorming helps a lot in getting out of the "writer's block" and defining how faeries should look.

I didn't know about chwingas. They certainly seem like a way less creepy-looking version of the Mononoke Hime's little dudes, and that's roughly what I was looking for. I'd like for the faeries to not look very unsettling, because there's already plenty of unsettling stuff in my campaign.
I like the fact they wear a mask because it ties up with my version of dryads. My version of dryads is a living being (90% of the times, an elf) that magically bounded with a treant (in my campaign, treants are just tree, except they're imbued with magic and can sometimes even move, but they don't have a face or any humanoid shape). I've already planned a dryad elf lady that's the priestess and leader of a hidden elf city, and she was inspired by this image:


Notice the mask. Now, you guys gave me the idea that I could use the same mask concept, for the faeries. It'll make a visual link between them.

And then I could use the idea of the kakamora in that the faeries -are- the mask. The rest is spirit, magic, and perhaps wines and rocks that give it a shape?

The result could be something like this:

 


Bird Of Play

Explorer
I think a good starting point is to think about what niche fairies occupy in your world.

Are they alien-seeming trickster types with orange-and-purple morality?

Are they personifications of nature? If so, do they represent both its nurturing and pitilessly destructive qualities in equal part, or do they lean toward one or the other?

Are they aristocratic hedonists who view humans as their own personal playthings?

Are they delightful beings who bring joy into an otherwise grey world?

Are they basically benevolent (though prone to anger if slighted) or basically malevolent (though capable of occasional kindness)? Are they beautiful? Scary? Are they tiny or human-sized? Do they steal children?

Fairies/fae have been and done all these things and more, and that's just in European folklore. I think if you figure out the core "vibe" of your fairies, you'll have an easier time choosing an appropriate visual form to convey the feeling you want.
By the way, I really appreciate this food for thought.
 


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