[Let's Read] 4e's Faces of the Planes

Davies

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One thing I don't like about the article is that it kinda takes away some of the Raven Queen's awesomeness. Earlier versions of the story had her ascend to godhood and steal the Death domain on her own, IIRC. Here the one who does that is Nerull, with the Queen only managing to gank him because she had the help of three other gods and possibly of a curse. The impression here was that the Raven Queen was just a tool, which I don't like. So in my games I'd remove these particular details.
I would suggest keeping them, but as things that the followers of Nerull tell themselves -- which need not have any relation to how things actually happened.
 

VoidDrifter

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One thing I don't like about the article is that it kinda takes away some of the Raven Queen's awesomeness. Earlier versions of the story had her ascend to godhood and steal the Death domain on her own, IIRC. Here the one who does that is Nerull, with the Queen only managing to gank him because she had the help of three other gods and possibly of a curse. The impression here was that the Raven Queen was just a tool, which I don't like. So in my games I'd remove these particular details.
I would suggest keeping them, but as things that the followers of Nerull tell themselves -- which need not have any relation to how things actually happened.
In fact, it's actually meta-canon that 4e articles often deliberately contradict each other to some extent, because the DM is encouraged to pick and choose which facts are true and which are nothing more than in-universe rumors, misbelief, etc.

Further, the article is actually prefaced by fluff text stating that this article is an in-universe text written by a priest (of which order, is unknown) based on information they received from a Nerull priest on his deathbed. So it already is potential canon that the version in which Nera was used as a weapon by Nerull's enemies is actually propaganda believed by at least some Nerull worshippers, usually those who want to focus their enmity on Pelor, Moradin and Corellon instead of the Raven Queen.
 

VoidDrifter

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So, yeah, taking requests on which article I should cover for this next? To refresh memories, this is what we're up to: I'm most interested in the Channel Divinity: Corellon - The House of Flowers and Court of Stars: Selephra, the Bramble Queen, personally, but I wanted to give readers a chance to have their say.

Demonomicon of Iggwilv
  • Dungeon #188: Jubilex, the Faceless Lord
  • Dungeon #208: Fraz Urb'luu

Codex of Betrayal
  • Dragon #365: Beleth, Prince of Imps
  • Dragon #427: Levistus, Prince of Stygia
  • Dragon #428: Amon the Wolf
  • Dungeon #176: Geryon, The Broken Beast
  • Dungeon #197: Glasya, Princess of the Nine Hells

Court of Stars
  • Dragon #420: The Carrion King
  • Dragon #420: Thrumbolg, First Lord of Mag Tureah
  • Dragon $428: Cerunnos, The Horned Lord
  • Dungeon #186: Selephra, The Bramble Queen
  • Dungeon #205: Tuxil, The Trinket Lord

Deities and Demigods:
  • Bane (DR372)
  • Bahamut (DR378)
  • The Raven Queen (DU171)
  • Torog, the King that Crawls (DU177)

Channel Divinity:
  • Bahamut's Champions (DR378)
  • The Raven Queen’s Champions (DR380)
  • Kord's Fury (DR383)
  • Avandra's Fortunes (DR384)
  • Moradin's Faithful (DR385)
  • Ioun (DR385)
  • Corellon - The House of Flowers (DR386)
  • Sehanine - Arrows of Moonbow (DR386)
  • Pelor - The Students of Aurtus (DR387)
  • Erathis (DR387)
  • Champions of Kord (DR392)
  • Corellon’s Devoted (DR394)
  • Vecna (DR395)
  • Windswept Lord (DR395)
  • Ioun - The Sages of the Swan Tower (DR397)
  • Avandra - The Ever-Forking Path (DR398)
  • Melora (DR401)
  • Zehir, the Midnight Serpent (DR415)
 
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ru

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Not one of the two suggested, but Erathis would be interesting - I've always thought her an interesting party of 4e mythology.
 

CaliberX

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The Bramble Queen sounds interested. I'm playing a Kordite currently, so that article is probably at least somewhat of interest. And honestly, I enjoyed Zehir as another 4e newcomer, wouldn't mind seeing more about him.
 

VoidDrifter

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Okay, then let's take another look into the truly new Faces of the Planes with Court of Stars: The Bramble Queen, from Dungeon #185 - NOT #186, as I mistakenly said in my post!

Opening Thoughts
I actually missed this entry for a long time, because it's mistitled in the issue's index as "Court of the Bramble Queen", and combined with its description, it made me think it was another adventure. It wasn't until I made my epic 4e magazine read-through to create a definitive index of all 4e magazine content that I learned I'd actually been passing by a Court of Stars all along!

Needless to say, I was very disappointed I'd missed it, and excited to be corrected.

Even just looking at the opening page, we're presented with a description too good not to quote, which further strengthens my interest in this article.


Throughout the world, often uncomfortably near to isolated towns struggling for survival, stand patches of woodland which ignore the turning of the seasons. The leaves are crimson and gold year round; they crunch underfoot when outsiders pass but remain silent as plush carpet beneath the paws, hooves, or boots of predators. Roots protrude from the soil like nooses around the necks of buried corpses, grasping at passing ankles. Moss and branches shift without benefit of breeze, making even experienced rangers lose their way; tiny animals dart across the paths, erasing evidence of footfalls; the calls of distant birds echo without direction and without end.

Here, in the deep shadows where the sun never peers and where even the most innocent of berries grow plump with venom, the poor, lost traveler may find himself confronted by a pack of wolves more hostile than any natural beast. Another may stumble upon the grove of a vicious dryad, the den of a wood bride, or the cottage of a hag.

But if you are truly unfortunate, if the moon and the stars and the wind are just right, if the doors between worlds gape wide, you may find yourself in the demesne of the Bramble Queen, in the shadow of her so-called Grieving Palace. There, the rustling of the leaves is contemptuous laughter, the howling of the wind the echoing cries of those who have come before you.

And like them, oh my friend, you will most assuredly never leave.

History of the Bramble Queen
As with all things relating to the fey, the history of Selephra is a garbled and uncertain thing. Nevertheless, this article presents what is probably as close to the unvarnished truth as one can get.

Selephra began her existence as a favored offspring of Oran, a beautiful fey maiden who may have been either one of the first dryads or a member of the now-lost race who became the hags. Whatever her race, Selephra was flighty, joyful and impetuous, a state perpetuated by the way her doting father indulged her whims. Fortunately, she was the stereotypical harmless fey; pampered without being spoiled, passionate without malevolence, preferring to explore the wilderness to politicking in the Court of Stars, even going so far as to stay in a bucolic cottage rather than her father's oaken abode.

But all that changed the day she met Torrheval.

Now, who Torrheval was is a detail that changes from story to story. He might have been a mortal, a fey, or a halfbreed. He might have been Selephra's lover, her long-lost half-brother, or even both - the ways of fey are not the ways of mortals. But what is known is that he was the first man she truly loved, perhaps they were so different; whereas Selephra was capricious, Torrheval was possessed of a rigid sense of honor, dedicated to duty and two his people. He was also strong-willed, and though he loved her, he would not schedle his life around her whims, in contrast to the fawning friends, servants and petitioners she usually experienced.

The love Selephra felt for Torrheval saw her maturing in a way she hadn't done over centuries, much to the delight of her father, who used this to push her to take a more active role amongst the Green Fey. They were happy - for how long, none can say, as time does not flow in the Feywild as it does in the mortal world. But it was not to be.

There came a time when the warriors and soldiers of the Court of Stars were mobilized for war, to twhart the efforts of fomorian-led witches in the mortal realm. Though Selephra feared to let him go, Torrheval was chosen to lead a brigade of Green Fey into battle. She would have followed him, but her father forbade her. So, she went to the edge of her wooded demesne, and watched her lover ride off into the distance. From that day forward, she would return every day to that spot and watch for his return.

But Torrheval did't return. Selephra spent longer and longer times waiting for him with each passing day, ignoring her duties, and ignoring her friends. Ultimately, she declared she would never abandon her vigil. She sat down there in the woods, her back to an ancient tree, and vowed to wait for Torrheval, however long it took.

Long years passed. Branches, roots and thorns from the forest grew through her flesh and wrapped themselves around her heart and her bones. She listened to the voices of the animals and the whispers of the leaves and learned to understand them. Though her father, Oran, begged her to return to her old life, she ignored him and continued to wait.

Finally, one of Oran's chief advisors, an old satyr named Enkaros, came to her and told Selephra of the tales he had heard of a mortal sorceress who had allied herself with the fomorians and taken a general of the fey armies as a prisoner. When he offered to take her there, to see if the tales were speaking of Torrheval, Selephra finally rose - roots and ivy tearing from the earth and dangling from her flesh, vines steadying her on her feet as she grimly followed Enkaros to the mortal world.

Dozens of fey flocked to follow their princess, but she hardly needed them; an archfey in her own right, her power had only grown as she conducted her long vigil, allowing it to steep and coalesce into something more potent. When she reached her goal, she tore through the castle's defenders and wards with equal abandon - obliterating whole towers, slaughtering regiments, and slaying the sorceress with her own hands. As soon as her path was clear, she climbed to a room in the highest tower, where she found her beloved Torrheval. He had aged in the years spent beyond the Feywild - but he hadn't changed as drastically as Selephra herself. When he saw the creature of vines and brambles she had become, he recoiled.

And that was when what was left of Selephra's mind crumbled. Decades of patient waiting exploded into fury, hatred and resentment burning through her mind. She was outraged by Torrheval's "audacity" in rejecting her, after all the time she had waited for him; she convinced herself that he had betrayed her, that this was no prison but a bedchamber.

The Selephra of old died that day. The Bramble Queen was born. And when she returned to the Feywild, she left behind nothing but ruins and death; no wall stood upright, no tower rose above the rubble, and split stone lay atop broken corpses.

For a time, the Bramble Queen involved herself in the politics of the Green Fey, seeking to coax them into sharing her hatred and her bitterness. She urged the court to move against mortals, to torment and destroy them without cause, and her influence caused many lesser fey to grow spiteful and deceitful - it was the Bramble Queen who taught the dryads how to take on their illusory human guises. Many of Oran's advisors begged the Green Lord to expel Selephra from the court, but he couldn't bring himself to do it... fortunately, her rage eventually overwhelmed her patience, and she abandoned the day-to-day governance to pursue their own twisted goals.


The Bramble Queen Today
At a first meeting, Selephra appears to be a beautiful, red-haired eladrin maiden, clad in a green-and-gold gown but barefoot. But this is only an illusion, cloaking her in an echo of her original appearance. In truth, the Bramble Queen can only pass as her original self from a substantial distance. Her body is riddled with brambles and thorn-covered vines, which protrude from the flesh of her feet and back, moving of their own free will. Jagged bark claws and fangs further mar her beauty, and sap flows in a constant stream of faux-tears from her eyes.

The Bramble Queen is a creature of hatred and malice; she despises all creatures to some extent, although the absolute peak of her ire is reserved for mortal males. Her only joy comes from tormenting others, taking a particular delight in stripping victims of their loved ones or causing them to become lost in the wild, where she can fill their last days and hours with grief and fear before moving in for the kill. Her rage-fueled transformation stripped her of any ability to charm or dominate others, but she enjoys having followers who have those abilities use them to turn friends, families and lovers against each other.

Selephra is most directly associated with the dryads, but she has become a patron in general for fey who use deception to hunt for victims - particularly those who use illusion and shapeshifting. Her personal cabal of followers is made up predominantly of dryads and wood brides/grooms - altered fey and transformed mortals who're essentially huldras, and will be described more thoroughly below - as well as hags and lamias. Even malicious trickster fey who are not direct vassals of the Bramble Queen often pay her a degree of homage, especially since she asks little of them beyond enticing mortals to emotional slavery or death.

But Selephra isn't content to let her minions have all the fun; she loves getting her hands dirty, and particularly enjoys destroying famous heroes or beloved leaders through the pain and grief of unendurable loss. She and her minions have destroyed communities and ignited wars with a few well-plotted murders and kidnappings.

Perhaps worst of all, Selephra has recently returned to the Court of Stars, seeking to guide the Grreen Fey to turn down the same path of violence and viciousness she has followed. She plays upon the mighty pride of their kin and stokes the flames of old grudges in order to turn otherwise reasonable and peaceful fey against mortals. She ruthlessly seeks to expand her power, her authority in the court, and her cabal of vassals, all for no goal greater than the chance to spill more mortal blood and enlarge her stable of slaves.

Selephra herself can be found in her "Grieving Palace" - a moniker more ironic than anything. In happier days, it was the cottage she favored over the Green Fey's courts. Now it's a rotting ruin; peeling walls, filthy windows, and a roof full of holes. Guests who arrive can expect to be seated on dust-covered chairs and offered weak tea and sour wine in cracked cups. Not playing along with Selephra's claims that she is in a wonderful palace is one of the countless ways to offend her.

Malevolent though she may be, Selephra isn't stupid. Her political aspirations and machinations ensure that she is sometimes willing to cooperate with rival fey, or even mortals, if she believes that not killing them will do more to advance her agenda. This is an extremely trying situation for her, and she will usually take an excuse to slaughter her "allies" rather than endure their presence. She favors using the labyrinthine traditions of fey honor and courtly behavior to justify outbursts of violence, as well as to break agreements or treaties; it's anyone's guess how much of this offense at such violations is genuine and how much is feigned for the excuse. It's definitely at least partially an excuse; whereas most fey develop a grudging respect for mortals who are capable of negotiating the convoluted traditions of the Court of Stars, the Bramble Queen simply grows more resentful of anyone who refuses to provide her with an excuse for bloodshed.


Enemies, Allies and Minions
As can be inferred from the above, the Bramble Queen's malevolent "court" is made up of fey who use shapeshifting, illusion and similar deceptions to hunt their prey. One notable example is that her court is predominantly female, especially amongst the ranks of her closest advisors and most potent servants - Selephra hates fey males less than she does mortal men, but she still despises them. About the notable male servitor of the Bramble Queen is a vile creature named Rheusendrous; this vassal seems to combine the worst aspects of hag and formorian, and serves her as a counselor, a personal servant, a bodyguard, a messenger, and an assassin.

A sidebar addresses the lack of stats for Rheusendrous, explaining that his "appearance and capabilities are often shaped to the task at hand". A good starting point is noted to be a Fomorian Butcher, elevated to level 25 and with the Feywild Denizen monster theme added, specifically the Distracting Illusion and Change Shape powers. It also has this to say about him:
Rheusendrous is a wily and dangerous opponent who never is caught unprepared. While he would not hesitate to die for Selephra if a situation demanded it, he has never been cornered into such a situation, and probably never will.
In addition to her fey vassals, the Bramble Queen keeps a large number of mortal slaves, captured by herself or her followers; they serve as menial laborers and convenient victims. Those who remain in Selephra's presence too long are corrupted by her fey magic, and become fey plant-creatures known as Wood Brides (or Wood Grooms, for the males). This state warps their mind, at which point they become willing servitors of the Bramble Queen, and are elevated from slaves to vassals.

A wood bridge looks like its old self, but their back gapes open to reveal what appears to be a hollow carved of wood rather than muscle, flesh or bone - an obvious nod to the Huldra of... I think it's Scandinavian? mythology. In addition to serving her explicit commands, Wood Bridges spend much of their free time trying to capture mortals to join Selephra's slave pens. A monster template for the Wood Bride is provided as part of the article.

The Bramble Queen's court makes up a significant minority of the Green Court, as established by this point. They constantly press other fey to fall in with them by calling in debts or intimidating them; they get away with this because Lord Oran refuses to move against Selephra, beyond curtailing her most outlandish schemes, or allow his vassals to do likewise. This gives Selephra an inordinate amount of power over her father's court, and forces those who work against her to oppose her in secret.

And there are many Green Fey who do stand against the Bramble Queen. One tiny faction is particularly noteworthy; a family of satyrs descended from Enkaros, who blamed himself until the day of his death for Selephra's transformation. His children have sworn to undo their ancestor's mistake, and work constantly to curtail the Bramble Queen's evil - and, more importantly, to find some way to undo her transformation and make her return to the joyful creature that she was.

In addition to the Green Court, the Bramble Queen is served heavily by fey of the Gloaming Court, who relish her crusade as an excuse to give vent to their more sinister instincts. Especially since the Green Court takes all of the blame for the actions of Selephra's vassals, meaning that the Gloaming Fey in their ranks can act without fear of repercussion.

Ironically, though they share a disdain for mortals and a taste for violence, the Bramble Queen has few official relations with the Winter Fey. Her vassals and those of the Prince of Frost often work side by side, but the two archfey are not allies. The slow, methodical, patient, and emotionless ways of the Lord of the Long Night are anathema to Selephra’s hot-blooded, impetuous wrath.


Closing Thoughts
Facing the Bramble Queen is no easy task. She's a level 27 Solo Skirmisher (Leader). In battle, or merely when displaying her power or her wrath, Selephra pushes herself high above the ground on the vines that protrude from her body, attaining heights far above any Medium creature. These tendrils are not only the source of her startling reach but also her ability to shift almost impossible distances and to climb at great speeds.

The Bramble Queen prefers to remain in motion and always keep several squares distant from her foes so that she can attack them without being hit in return. She’s particularly fond of battling from behind a wall of her allies, making it that much harder for foes to close on her. She has no qualms about putting allies in harm’s way and uses parasitic germination and prodding briar without care for the consequences to the target if it puts her in a better tactical position or allows her to foist off an ongoing effect.

Worse still, Selephra is never encountered alone. Whether traveling, hunting, holding court, or brooding in her woodland abode, she surrounds herself with at least a handful of vassals. These can range from other fey to animate plants to abnormally large or powerful animals. Some of her favorites include earthrage battlebriars, wild hunt hounds, and various eladrin, hags, and treants (advance these creatures to very high levels, as desired). She also keeps company with all manner of wood brides.


Closing Thoughts
This was an awesome article, and I'm really sorry I missed it for as long as I have. It's got a great "dark faerie tale" theme to it. Highly recommended.
 

VoidDrifter

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The Bramble Queen sounds interested. I'm playing a Kordite currently, so that article is probably at least somewhat of interest. And honestly, I enjoyed Zehir as another 4e newcomer, wouldn't mind seeing more about him.
Which Kordite article, specifically? Or do you want all three?

In fact, I actually covered the article "Channel Divinity: Windswept Lord" in my Let's Read of the racial articles from Dragon, as it's about the faith of Kord as worshipped by the Dwarf race. Shall I cover it again here with an attempt at a new perspective?
 

VoidDrifter

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What are the Bramble Queen's abilities like? High level boss monsters often have some interesting stuff.
Okay, looking at her statblock...

She has four Standard Action attacks:
* Claws of Bark is an At-Will Melee 1 attack that does ongoing damage.
* Writhing Briar is an At-Will Melee 4 attack that can either slide the target 3 squares or knock the target prone in addition to inflicting damage - unless she's bloodied, at which point it does both effects simultaneously.
* Branches and Thorns is an At-Will attack that lets her use up to 3 Claws of Bark and/or Writhing Briar attacks, in whichever combination she likes.
* Lashing Briars is a Close Burst 4 attack that recharges when she's first bloodied. It's a more powerful version of Writhing Briar that simultaneously pushes the targets 3 squares and knocks them prone on a hit, and pushes them 2 squares on a miss.

As a Minor Action, she can use Deceptive Veil (disguise herself as a Medium humanoid) at-will or use Parasitic Germination (swaps positions, conditions and ongoing effects with 1 Plant ally within 10 squares) as a Recharge 6 ability.

As a Move Action, she can use Vine Step, which is an 8 square shift that ignores difficult terrain, can move through creatures' squares, and lets her make a single Claws of Bark or Writhing Briar attack along the way.

Finally, she has two Triggered Actions, both of which she can use At-Will. When an enemy within 4 squares leaves a square or makes a ranged or area attack, she can make a Writhing Briar attack against that enemy as an immediate interrupt, thanks to Unseen Briar. And when an ally begins its turn within 4 squares, she can slide them 3 squares as a free action, thanks to Prodding Briar.

Her statblock also looks like this:
Medium fey humanoid (plant) XP 55,000
HP 896; Bloodied 448 Initiative +28
AC 41, Fortitude 39, Reflex 39, Will 40 Perception +19
Speed 6 (forest walk), climb 6 low-light vision
Resist 25 poison tremorsense 10
Saving Throws +5 (+10 against charm effects)
Action Points 2

So, yeah, she earns her level 27 Solo status, no arguments there!
 
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