A Walk Through the Planes – Part 124: Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild




After last week’s surprisingly good read, I found myself wondering whether I’d been wrong about Fourth Edition’s lore all along. I mean, sure, piecing it together often feels like a scavenger hunt, but maybe it wasn’t quite as different and, frankly, bad, as I remembered it to be. Maybe? But with this week’s pair of articles, we’re back into far more familiar territory. “Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild” by Rodney Thompson (Dragon #366, August 2008) and “Dark Heart of Mithrendain” by Greg Marks (Dungeon #137, August 2008) are both the type of dull, slog of fussy fantasy prose that I expect from this edition. This is Fourth Edition proper, filled with great artistic care and a lovely presentation on top of content that I can only describe as mediocre. If you became enamored with the Feywild in Fifth Edition, then I should warn you that it did not get off to a great start, as this parallel world’s initial presentation felt interminable to read through and made me return to my dread for the next pile of months spent in this rough era. 

Never heard of Mithrendain before now? Well that’s because it’s part of Fourth Edition’s campaign setting, which inexplicably never received a name and as such caught on just as well as you might imagine. I always thought of it as Nentir Vale, but fans never came to any sort of real conclusion about this, and Wizards of the Coast didn’t help with this effort either. To quote a post on RPGNet, “Call it Nentir Vale, Nerath, Points of Light, PoLand, whatever you want; one of the hardest obstacles to surmount for many was the fact there was no ‘Campaign Setting’ splatbook, no ‘Nentir Vale Gazetteer’; instead, the information was scattered across many sources, predominantly magazine articles.” This seemed to be an intentional move, never “forcing” a real setting onto players, but the main result was confusion and messiness. Like, was this Mithrendain location supposed to be universal to all of the Feywild, or just for this base setting? Hell, was the Feywild supposed to be a single plane, like how the planes worked in prior editions, or were they unique to each Prime? For that matter, was there more than one Prime Material Plane anymore? I do not have the answers to any of these questions, and while perhaps we’ll get more clarity later in the edition, as of mid-2008 that sure feels unlikely.


In any case, Mithrendain is an eladrin (i.e fey elf) fortress located somewhere on the Feywild. Where exactly, and how does the Feywild look as a whole? Umm, stop asking questions we don’t have answers for yet. The important thing is that it has no walls, only magical defenses, and that it was built on top of a hole to the Feywild Underdark, a thing that we learned about with the Core trilogy and are unfortunately forced to deal with already. Does this sound exciting to you? If so, prepare to be underwhelmed.

Rob Alexander’s lovely drawing of Rivendell with the serial numbers filed off, i.e. Mithrendain

Of the two articles, Thompson’s piece in Dragon is superior, though this is almost by default. No maps of Mithrendain are included in either article, though there is certainly enough information about this location here for one to have been drawn. Essentially, it’s a magical town filled with elves, who defend their city with “Revelation Spheres” and “Tremor Wards,” both of which are basically rune traps. The most distinctive thing about the city ends up being not its link with the Underdark, which I find unimpressive, but its weird fascism. The city has not only a normal guard, but also a “secret police force” called the Watchers of the Night, who operate as a soviet-style KGB group with unchecked power to oppose “traitors to the city.” They are both horrible and horrifying, especially given that punishment in this city always takes the form of physical disfigurement or worse. “For some crimes, a symbol is branded on the offender’s face, not only to rob the offenders of a clean appearance but also to warn others that he or she is a criminal. In more severe cases, crimes call for one of the offender’s hands to be maimed beyond use, or sometimes twisted with magic to uselessness.” If you ever wanted a fascist interplanar elven city, then I guess Mithrendain is your go-to destination. 

Though 12 pages long, a solid half of this article is devoted to statistics such as new powers for PCs, and it’s difficult to get much of a sense of what life is really like in Mithrendain—outside of the repressive fascism, I mean, that’s certainly clear as can be. How this city fits into the overall ecology of the Feywild, what its inhabitants do for fun, what trade it might have with elsewhere, etc. is generally left to the reader’s imagination. The main thing detailed is the government and the history of the Citadel Arcanum, which makes sense given that these feature prominently in the linked Dungeon adventure, but nothing here is revelatory and overall the town is almost too easy to forget. Yes, the fascism subverts cliches about elves and the Feywild, but I also never got the sense that Thompson realized he was setting up a terrifying, dystopian city of fascist elves, so this isn’t played up in an interesting way. The city has potential due to the inherent contradictions of its populace and government, but the presentation is flat and dull enough that you’ll probably never remember this later.

The Feywild underdark, a location that definitely didn’t need to exist.

“Dark Heart of Mithrendain” reads almost like a parody of a Fourth Edition adventure. Players essentially go down a tube of encounters until they fight a boss. Think Final Fantasy XIII, but in the Feywild, and with somehow less of a rationale for why anyone is acting the way they do. After punching some goblins in the fog, players are inexplicably whisked to the Feywild, where they rescue an important government representative, councilwoman Saffrenia. Why they end up in the Feywild is unclear at best, and for the most part the article says it just happens. It’s also implied that players went through a portal without knowing it, but how exactly this works is messy and dumb. As much as it feels like cheating, I’d prefer no portal at all to one the players trip through completely unknowingly. 


The people attacking Saffrenia were apparently sent there by some other member of the council, and she asks players to figure out what’s happening. Why does she trust them with this? Why not. And why do players care? Also for no real reason. Motivations aren’t this adventure’s strong suit, nor are interesting characters, and Safffrenia and the other eladrin never feel like more than plot devices pushing players towards the next encounter. 


Regardless of whether players figure out what’s going on with the council, they run away and end up coincidentally at the location of the Underdark’s breach into Mithrendain. There, they wander around killing things, until they wind up killing a boss who’d been causing the councilors to go bad. And that’s it. Why the final boss lamia was doing all of this in the first place is never explained, except that I guess she’s evil and that’s the type of thing evil people like to do. 

The Feywild is at this point essentially the same as the Prime, except with a dumber name for elves. Even its dungeons are basic.

Even moreso than the profile of Mithrendain, nothing in this adventure feels remotely planar. This is so true that I fail to understand why any of it needs to take place in the Feywild at all, or what that location adds to things. This is essentially a linear dungeon romp the same as any other, with no twist or otherworldly elements whatsoever. It’s the most neutered, dull planar journey I can recall reading, and at this point I have read through a lot, so that’s saying something. Usually there’s at least one distinctively planar moment even in the least creative, by-the-numbers adventure that uses other planes of existence, but not here, not this time. The Feywild, it seems, is exactly like the Prime Material Plane, only here they call elves eladrin. That’s literally the only difference I could find, and the more I think about this the more depressed I become. 


This is the first we’ve ever seen of the Feywild beyond the briefest of descriptions in the Core rulebooks, and it’s underwhelming to say the least. The plane’s very existence feels unjustified, and I really fail to understand how it differs in any way from the Prime Material world. Admittedly, it is far more accessible than other planes were in previous editions, but when every plane is essentially the same anyhow then what’s the point in traveling to them? Hopefully this will be remedied in the near future, though I fear that this pair of articles might be more indicative of what’s to come for the rest of the edition.

Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild

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