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Elves and Dwarves  |  Petty-Fays  |  Nymphs and Elementals


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Lanthil & Beyond

There is a rough taxonomy of fays according to mere appearance. Giants and trolls are bigger than humans, elves, or goblins; elves and goblins are about human size; halflings and hob-goblins are about the size of human or elven children; petty-fays are smaller than that. Obviously, the boundaries of these classes are fuzzy, but the terms are still useful.

There are two broad classes of petty-fays -- high and low. High petty-fays belong to diminutive wer-houses and have two natural shapes. Low petty fays are usually hybrids of different breeds of high petty-fay and have a single natural humanoid shape.

Low Petty-Fays

The gnomes of Poortvliet and Rien are good examples of Low Petty-Fay -- tough and wily little masters of small-scale woods-craft. They seldom live in exclusive communities of their own kind, but rather in an ethnic mix of other woodland folk.

More settled petty-fays -- brownies, nissen, some bogeys, leprechauns, lares, and the like -- live in the homes of larger folk, as servants, or live migratory lives in towns or settled countrysides, circulating from house to house, running errands in return for food and lodging. This group and the more sylvan petty-fays look down on each other, town-mouse and country-mouse fashion.

Some petty-fays are malicious -- gremlins being the best-known examples. The name "bogey" is sometimes given to these small renegades, or "petty-goblin."

The subterranean kobolds, nickles, or gnomes (not to be confused with the "gnomes" of Poortvliet and Rien, that name being an attempt to translate the Dutch "nis") have dwarven blood and often live among dwarves, drawn together by economic ties and common interests, despite the contempt of the dwarves and the consequent gnomish resentment.

Gnomes also form small subterranean communities of their own kind. They look like miniature dwarves, but often much thinner in proportion. As with dwarves, females are rare among them.

High Petty-Fays

High petty fays fall into two main groups: those with a vertebrate animal form and those with an invertebrate one.

Fairy Beasts

The vertebrate group are usually seen as "fairy beasts." If you meet a talking mouse, rabbit, frog, or song-bird, and it isn't a shapeshifted elf or magician, it is probably one of these petty-fays. Technically, they have a proper humanoid shape, but they very seldom use it, and the shapeshifting skill may be nearly or quite forgotten by them, except for the minor blending of shapes necessary to speak, or to use forepaws as hands.

These fairy beasts form the bulk of the forest community to which the low petty-fays often belong. They live lives like those of common woods-elves, though scaled down and with appetites colored by their beast aspect. They very seldom prey on each other. Carnivorous breeds hunt the mortal beasts that also live in Faerie.


These are the fairies everyone thinks of when they hear the word "fairy." The were-bugs. The ones with gauzy wings and optional antennae. The inventions of Renaissance and Victorian fantasists. Tolkien and Kipling spoke of them with contempt.

But now go watch PBS nature shows, and hear about insects being the "invisible empire," the unacknowledged masters of nature. Imagine insects equipped with intelligence, magic, and immortality. Feel uneasy? Maybe you ought to.

Nor were insectile fairies strictly the inventions of literature. "Real" fairy mythology speaks of bees as "brownies," of moths as the souls of unbaptized babies and hence fays, of ants as the final form of a race of fays doomed to dwindle with each transformation they make. Folk have always known these tiny things were sometimes uncanny.

It must be admitted that there are disadvantages to being a bug. Sight and hearing are often poor. Manipulation is clumsy. And, while there are advantages to being small, there are definite DISadvantages to be THAT small.

So, many pixies cultivate the blended form, the well-known, tiny humanoid with the gauzy wings. Others concentrate on learning size-shifting and often assume a fully elven shape and stature.

It must also be admitted that, even though pixies are intelligent, their insectile nature colors this. They are often hyper and obsessive. Their tastes and interests are often eccentric, even by general fay standards. They are not often terribly deep sages or powerful mages. But there are a hell of a lot of them.

Since size is a major problem in their lives, it is natural that pixies should use their glamours, seemings, and shapeshifts to remove its barriers. Visit a pixie home, for example, and you may find it built under a mushroom but ornamented with flower gardens to scale. A giant mushroom or miniature flowers? The housepets may include a cat and a beetle, the same size. Which has been altered? And you, as you face your gauzy-winged host -- are you shrunk, or is she enlarged? The answers are often made as obscure as possible.

Most pixies lead lives very like those of other petty-fays, mingling with them in the arcane undergrowth communities of Faerie lands. Petty-fays derived from social insects may be an exception. In addition to the general community, their energies and attention are taken up by the affairs of the hive.

Hive pixies' lives are variable blends of humanlike and insectile. For instance, the birthrate is below human, not to mention below that of, say, a queen termite. Hives of bee-pixies are not nearly as populous as mundane bee or wasp hives, though the clan may well number several dozen. The architecture and furnishings feature flowers, paper, wax, and hexagons a lot, but are basically for humanoid forms.

Pixie drones decline to die immediately after mating. Instead, they simply leave. Any female, human or fay, who takes up with a drone usually finds he loses interest after the first passionate night. He generally circulates among the workers, who have only a mild and passing interest in sex, anyway.

Species barriers are thin. Just as there are solitary bees and wasps, there are pixies -- especially male ones -- of the Bee and Wasp houses who don't live in hives, but they may well have relatives who do.

They may mingle with their insect-kin. Often, pixies of the Bee house themselves keep bees -- but more as humans keep cattle. Wasp-pixies may hunt with real wasps, like a human with hawk or hound. Pixies of the non-social insects seldom have any great affinity for their insect-kin; their sociality is on the humanoid side.

Updated: 7-Oct-06
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.
The Pantope Campaign  |  Stickers On Our Luggage  |  New Blood Logs
Tom Noon's Tale  |  Puck's Tale  |  JT's Tale  |  Adventures in Babysitting
Of the Races of Earth  |  Faerie Geography  |  A Dialogue on the Demi-Spirits
Elves and Dwarves  |  Petty-Fays  |  Nymphs and Elementals