Dungeons & Dragons’ Future Is Full of Carnivals and Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons’ Future Is Full of Carnivals and Dragons
Everything's getting big and (fey)wild in the next few releases for Dungeons & Dragons. Image: Chris Rahn and Tyler Jacobson/Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons & Dragons is a world of imagination, from the vast realms and planes of existence your adventures can take place on, to the characters your parties build over the course of their travels. The next two releases for the game’s Fifth Edition are going to put that imagination to the test — in ways epic enough to dive deep into the game’s most revered creatures and in ways much more whimsical.

Revealed as part of this weekend’s D&D Live, a multi-day celebration of the Forgotten Realms (and far beyond), the next two chapters in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition will be The Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, an adventure book and sourcebook respectively, that will provide two very different experiences for players.

Witchlight will take lower-level parties on a whimsical trip to the rides and splendors of the Witchlight Carnival, where the stakes are not quite so cataclysmic and more about which magical adventure — or magical fairground ride — you’ll go on next. Fizban, meanwhile, will dive deep into the mythology of D&D’s legendary titular beings, introducing epic-scaled ways to bring draconic themes to your campaign as foes, through new subclasses and subraces, and even exploring what it means that dragons are so important to D&D that they’re literally in the title.

But before players get their hands on dragon lore, D&D is taking a trip to the fair with The Wilds Beyond the Witchlight. Coming this September, it’s a chance for D&D to bring in some light-hearted escapades after the mysteries of Candlekeep and the dread domains of Ravenloft through a familiar location: the Feywild, the plane of the fairies. “[Witchlight] is our first, full-length Feywild adventure for Fifth Edition, and I’ve been wanting to do a Feywild adventure for about 11 years now,” senior game designer Chris Perkins told press at a recent event. “So this is the dream come true for me and an absolute joy project to work on.”

Image: Hydro 74/Wizards of the Coast, Other

Image: Hydro 74/Wizards of the Coast, Other

Witchlight will primarily take place in the realm of the Fey, but it’s anchored in the titular Witchlight Carnival. “This adventure, unlike some of our previous adventures, is really designed to launch from whatever world you as the dungeon master consider to be the home world for your campaign. The Witchlight Carnival cruises around the material plane, visiting world after world after world, touching down on a world about once every eight years,” Perkins noted. “It’s a wondrous, whimsical fantasy carnival, very strongly themed, and it kind of gives characters their first taste of what the rest of the adventure is going to be like. The carnival is also the place where the characters learn the quote unquote ‘rules’ of the Feywild, basically what they need to know before they get there in order to be successful.”

Designed for characters to go from level one to around level eight, Witchlight’s adventure may set the stage for a trip into the Fey plane, but that doesn’t mean the carnival is just set dressing to the main event. It’s a place filled with new characters and spectacular attractions for a party to explore, spending an evening at the fair while influencing the mood of the celebrations taking place — dictated by the Carnival’s owners, Mr. Witch and Mr. Light.

“Mr. Witch is a shadow elf who has a magical watch that he uses to basically keep the carnival on schedule; it’s got to unpack and pack at certain times, and he also watches over the staff to make sure they’re doing their job,” Perkins explained. The two characters are glimpsed on the standard cover for The Wilds Beyond the Witchlight. “His companion, his compatriot, his long time friend is Mr. White, and he’s more like the ringmaster of the carnival. It’s his job to keep spirits high, and to make sure that the shows and the attractions are as wondrous and divine as they can be.”

These mechanics are replicated in the world of the Witchlight Carnival itself, utilising an included poster map of the carnival to not just track the time a party spends there, but also the vibe of its revelers. “Every single time it gets unfurled, it can have different configurations — but essentially, [the poster] is kind of a standard configuration. [It’s] done in a style of a lot of amusement park maps that you get that you’ve probably seen, and it shows all the key attractions,” Perkins explained.

“It’s got two features that make this poster map interactive — one is a time tracker in the top left-hand corner and the other is a mood tracker in the bottom right-hand corner. These are devices that the DM uses to keep track of how much time has actually passed during an evening at the carnival and how the characters can, by their actions, affect the mood of the carnival, which can have benefits or drawbacks.”

Image: Stacey Allan and Will Doyle/Wizards of the Coast Image: Stacey Allan and Will Doyle/Wizards of the Coast

But as the title of the adventure implies, adventurers will be sent beyond the carnival’s bright lights into an altogether more mystical place: the Feywild, the plane of Faerie and Fey beings suffused with magic. There, Witchlight takes on more of the style of the recent sourcebook Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, providing dungeon masters with the format to tell a story in a new pocket of existence.

“After you’ve crossed over, you land in a what we call a Domain of Delight, and it’s a new term — [D&D principal rules designer] Jeremy Crawford actually coined it and I sort of ran with it,” Perkins laughed. “It’s the Feywild equivalent [to Van Richten’s] Domain of Dread in so far as a Domain of Dread is like a pocket of the Shadowfell that is sort of completely contained and difficult to get out of. The Feywild actually has a similar concept in this Domain of Delight, except instead of being a Darklord trapped in it, there is an Arch Fae who rules it. The Arch Fae has the ability to sculpt and manage their own domain, and this adventure introduces a Domain of Delight that we’ve never seen before in the history of Dungeons and Dragons, brand new.”

Except, instead of the horror inspirations found in Ravenloft of course, Witchlight leans into altogether lighter inspirations. “Well, there are a lot of inspirations, of course, from just old fairy tales to… The Wizard of Oz was a huge influence,” Perkins said of the team’s inspirations for the lands of the Feywild. “One of my favourite novels of all time is Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I think that there’s glimmers of that story popping up in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight as well. I don’t know anybody who’s read the Bradbury story, but there’s a character named Mr. Dark, and you know, we’ve got a character named Mr. Light. They’re not the same, but there’s kind of a connection there!”

Image: Robson Michel/Wizards of the Coast Image: Robson Michel/Wizards of the Coast

As interesting as the Domains of Delight can be, players don’t have to leave the carnival behind if they don’t want to. “Because it’s so portable, [Witchlight] can show up in multiple different campaign worlds. If you’re running multiple campaigns, you can have it show up and use it for other purposes, or just as an evening’s entertainment,” Perkins clarified.

“We discovered with our playstesters that they just loved spending time in the carnival. They wanted the whole playtest to just be there — they didn’t want to go into the Feywild, because they were having so much fun exploring this space. I think DMs will find that they can just take this carnival and drop it into another campaign entirely.”

That was important for Perkins, because to him The Wilds Beyond the Witchlight is embodied by the spirit of weird, fun D&D adventures above anything else. Balancing the room to offer more whimsical adventure scenarios alongside a space for more typical campaign adventures was important to the design team, with Witchlight finding a way to provide both an adventure to move players along, but also — once again, like Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft before it — a loose guide to a plane for dungeon masters to play around in.

“Hopefully it’s the magical combination of both [providing structure and freedom],” Perkins said of Witchlight’s approach to highlighting adventure in the Feywild. “I think one of the appeals of Curse of Strahd is it is sort of a contained setting — you’re exploring the realm of Barovia, but it’s got borders and you can’t really go past them. So there is a lot of playground in there, but it’s not so big that it becomes daunting. The same is true for the Feywild’s main domain, Prismeer. Prismeer, like a Domain of Dread, has boundaries, it has borders, and so a DM can run the adventure and not feel like the characters are going to stray too far beyond where they should go. But that said, Prismeer, like Barovia, is a big place and there’s lots of stuff inside it to explore, you can get a good long campaign out of just exploring that space. [It’s] also kind of a microcosm — it kind of shows off what the world has to offer. But in a kind of a contained way, Barovia is very much the same showing off what the Shadowfell has to offer, and I think that’s both appealing and also sort of keeps the campaign from getting out of hand.”

Image: Titus Lunter/Wizards of the Coast Image: Titus Lunter/Wizards of the Coast

But the whimsy is a big part of the appeal as well, especially as Witchlight is aimed at new characters and even new-to-D&D groups, offering an adventure where not all things are defined by sinister stakes, and not all confrontations need to be solved by martial combat. “It’s a very light-hearted adventure, and something we did with this adventure that we haven’t done before is make sure that all of the challenges of any adventure can be handled without combat,” Perkins revealed.

“That’s not to say you can’t get into a fight if you don’t want to — there’s lots of fights here if you go looking for them — but every encounter has a nonviolent solution eventually or rather a solution that doesn’t require you to throw down with swords and fireballs. It’s easier to get through this story with a smile than with a sword.”

But after adventurers are done exploring the mystical lights and sounds of Witchlight, one month later in October they’ll be delving deep into the history of the greatest creatures of the D&D multiverse, with a little help from a Dragonlance icon, in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. Fizban, like Tasha, Mordenkainen, and other “narrators” before him, will guide readers through the mythological nature of all kinds of draconic elements in D&D, from godlike beings to explorations of draconic concepts in classes and player races, providing rules and details to bring more dragon-flavour to, well, your dungeon adventures.

“Fizban, as Dragonlance fans know, is basically a human incarnation of the god Paladine, who is better known on many D&D worlds as Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon,” James Wyatt, one of the principal writers on Treasury of Dragons, explained of the theme. “He’s literally a dragon walking around in one form, so he’s got the inside scoop on dragons. His perspective is sometimes eccentric, or inexplicable, but he’s always entertaining.”

Image: Chris Rahn/Wizards of the Coast, Other

Image: Chris Rahn/Wizards of the Coast, Other

Image: Anato Finnstark/Wizards of the Coast, Other

Image: Anato Finnstark/Wizards of the Coast, Other

Although Treasury of Dragons is the first time Fifth Edition has had an entire book dedicated to draconic theming, D&D has of course previously done many dragon-themed supplements. But Treasury of Dragons wants to make itself stand out by being not just about the lore of dragonkind, but in providing a lot of rules, stats, and details for dungeon masters to build their own stories around, or for players to have draconic elements influence their characters — whether they play one of 5e’s most beloved player races, the Dragonborn, or otherwise.

“It’s comparable to Volo’s Guide to Monsters or Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. It’s got a hefty section of monsters at the end, that’s about a third of the book,” Wyatt said of Treasury of Dragon’s structure. “Another third is really aimed at the dungeon master, who’s building an encounter, or an adventure, or a campaign, around a specific kind of dragon, and goes through focusing on each of 20 different kinds of dragons in the course of that chapter. Many of them get lair maps, and they’ve got tables of personality traits and adventure hooks and the sort of objects you might find in their layers — all this stuff intended to help you flesh out the dragon that you’re using. Then the remaining third is player character options and more DM tools that apply to dragons more generally.”

“There’s a definite focus in this book on stuff that you can use at the table right away, everything from dragon lair maps, to tons of new dragon stat blocks and non-dragon stat blocks, various dragon-related monsters show up,” Wyatt continued. “We try to take a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to talking about dragons, so rather than talking to you for a while about the personalities of dragons, we give you a table of personality traits you can randomly roll on or choose from as you’re creating a dragon in a way that gives the dragon a flavour quirk. There’s also a lot of player-facing content, but really that focus of giving you stuff you can use right away is what [Treasury of Dragons] would stress.”

But even if Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons leans more toward showing than telling, what it does want to tell can include some very interesting thematic questions for players to ask, diving into the grand cosmology of what makes D&D’s biggest, most powerful dragons so special. And some of the most special and vital kinds of dragons in the book are some of the most powerful beings in all of D&D’s multiverse: the Great Wyrms.

“We have a couple of stat blocks in the bestiary section for our Great Wyrms — dragons that have advanced beyond the power of even an Ancient Dragon from the Monster Manual,” Wyatt teased. Oh, and of course, if you’re brave enough, you can fight them. “These use the mythic monster technology that we debuted in Mythic Odysseys of Theros, to be the exceptionally challenging encounters on their own — almost like fighting two monsters back to back, both of which are of Challenge Ratings above 20. They are tremendous forces of magic in nature that bend the world around them, and wreak havoc wherever they go.”

Image: Crystal Sully/Wizards of the Coast Image: Crystal Sully/Wizards of the Coast

Great Wyrms aren’t just going to be some of the most intimidating foes you can fling an adventurer party against, they provide the answer to a question a lot of D&D players have probably had, even if they don’t think about it too much. Why is Dungeons & Dragons called Dungeons… and Dragons, specifically? Why them, above all creatures?

“There’s an idea running through this book that every dragon has echoes of itself and other worlds and material planes. This really is a book about dragons in every D&D and not just any D&D world, but every D&D world. So dragons have these echoes that link them through some mysterious means to dragons on other worlds,” Wyatt teased. “And the idea behind the Great Wyrm is that at least to some extent, some of their enhanced power comes from combining the power of multiple echoes into a single dragon.

Dragons that we know from legend, like Ashardalon, or Chronepsis, or Aasterinian, who have been presented as Dragon Gods in the past sometimes — we’re describing them as these Great Wyrms who have managed to extend their power and influence beyond the single world and combine the power of multiple echoes to become these incredibly powerful creatures. A given dragon in the Forgotten Realms may have an echo on the world of Greyhawk, and develop the sense of Dragonsight in order to be able to communicate, in a waking dream sort of way, with their echo in that other world, and then eventually perhaps combine that power into a single being.”

It’s that power, not just in one material plane but stretching across multiples, that makes dragons so fascinating in D&D — and for Wyatt, it plays an important part of the mythos underpinning Treasury of Dragons. “There’s a little mythic origin story at the beginning of the book — I wouldn’t call it a major part of the book, but again, just sort of a minor theme running through — it talks about the creation of the first world, which is a notion we touched on in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything,” Wyatt reflected.

“The focus really is that dragons are an essential part of the material plane. They don’t come from outside it, they were there when it was made and that’s why they have such a tremendous influence on the world around them. When they establish their lairs, their magic seeps out into the terrain around them, their horn is a focus for that magic… dragons are just in the world, an essential part of the world, which is really why we named the game after them.”

Image: David Auden Nash/Wizards of the Coast Image: David Auden Nash/Wizards of the Coast

It’s not just the big hitters of the D&D cosmos that get a focus in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, however. Another kind of dragon in particular gets a highlight on the sourcebook’s cover, the Gem Dragons. The book reintroduces the five kinds of Gem Dragon — Amethyst, Crystal, Emerald, Sapphire, and Topaz — as well as their emphasis on psionic attacks, or non-traditional breath attacks that eschew traditional damage types for esoteric fields like radiant, necrotic, force, and psionics. But Gem Dragons also factor into the rules-forward focus, in the form of one of a few new sub-races included in the book: Gem Dragonborn.

“There’s race options in this book!” Wyatt teased. “If you’re playing a Dragonborn character, you can choose one of these three race options as an alternative to the Dragonborn that’s in the Player’s Handbook to be a Dragonborn, and it’s got a distinctly prismatic, metallic, or Gem heritage.”

Beyond race options, Treasury of Dragons also includes two popular subclasses previously tested by players in Unearthed Arcana — the Way of the Ascendant Dragon for Monks, and the Drakewarden for Rangers — and a host of other ways to make a character feel thematically aligned to D&D’s most influential of creatures.

“There’s spells and magic items or characters or their opponents to use as well. [We also] try to address the possibility that any character might have a tie to a dragon,” Wyatt clarified. “It’s not just if you’re choosing one of these new subclasses like the dragon-blooded Sorcerer, but you might be a cleric of Bahamut or Tiamat, and have a dragon-y feel that way. Or you might be a warlock with an archfey patron, which happens to be a Gleamstone Dragon, which is a feywild dragon introduced in this book — so you’ve got a dragon-y feel that way while you’re using any of the subclasses or other rules in the game already.”

Image: Zoltan Boros/Wizards of the Coast Image: Zoltan Boros/Wizards of the Coast

And that, even more than the mysteries of the dragons, is what appeals about Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons for Wyatt. “I think this really has a gigantic toolbox full of stuff for players and DMs alike to use. Even as we’re in the final stages of getting it ready to go to the printer, I’m marking up printouts on one side and writing notes for my next campaign on the other side!” Wyatt laughed. “Maybe a toybox is an even better way to think about it. It’s just full of stuff coming out of ideas and story nuggets.”

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight hits shelves September 21, while Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons will follow a month after, on October 19. Stay tuned to Gizmodo next week for more from D&D Live’s biggest reveals.