“O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone; the lash of film;
Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid:
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plaits the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—”
— Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene IV
In light of KV Taylor’s desire to dismiss the myth that the Fae (fairies) are Tinkerbell type characters, dispensing goodness the world over (even though Tinkerbell herself was not too friendly to mortals upon their arrival in Neverland – but that’s for another post), I decided to discuss the darkest of the Fae in the gaming world – the Quicklings.
The Quickling has been a favourite of the D20 canon of monsters, featuring in all but one of the versions of the various game systems available. The ideas behind the Fae have changed during the versions but the overall concept remains the same.
In saying this, however, I have yet to meet one in my 26 years of playing various RPGs (on and off this is, and very seldom of late) so regardless of whether they are a favourite of the D&D creators, nobody running games that I have been involved in thought them as interesting as I do.
In truth in the gaming world of D20 or Dungeons and Dragons or even D&D (as it is affectionately known) the fairies are generally a goodly bunch, albeit a little mischievous and occasionally wicked (too many to name and describe here), it is the Quicklings that are the epitomy of that which casts a deep dark shadow over the D20 fae.
My inclusion of the above speech from Romeo and Juliet, is in regards to the opinion that Quicklings are Brownies that have been corrupted by The Queen of Air and Darkness, also known as Queen Mab. Brownies have various names in folklore but are seen as a helpful fae in D&D, cleaning homes while the owners are away or sleeping (perfect!). This doesn’t mean that the Quicklings are responsible for messing the homes back up – if only that were the case. No, Quicklings involve themselves in much more sinister deeds and ally themselves with all sorts of nefarious characters.
Not wanting to get into the technical details of the Quickling (as in game mechanics), they are rather weak and an easy kill, that is if you can catch them. It is here where the Quickling’s strength lies, as they are incredibly small and incredibly fast and their speed pretty much makes them invisible to the human eye.
I only used a Quickling in a game once, although he appeared to the characters much later than expected, as he had made sure to keep himself at a distance and out of sight (see above) whilst helping his chosen master, a black paladin. The characters when eventually put into a situation where they had to deal with the Quickling found him impossible to catch, deal with or subsequently kill. He was a menace for two or three sessions before he finally made a blunder, falling prey to his own ego and being caught by the party’s sorcerer. The sorcerer was not aware of what the Quickling was, however, (being as my groups were used to the not using of out-of-game knowledge) and was tricked into believing he was a Pixie, thus enabling him to go free. However, he plagued them no more, as after being caught by the heroes once he was aware that there was a risk of this happening again. Ignoring his pledge to the black paladin, he left the campaign and returned to the Sylvan lands to tend his bruised ego, before his return to the realm, some two hundred years later.
As mentioned earlier, the idea with Fae Awareness Month was to remind us that the Fae aren’t really the loveable, helpful creatures that some would have you believe but usually have a hidden agenda, one which as well as benefitting the giver, almost certainly has unwanted side effects for the recipient. The Quickling is a step beyond the Fae in that the Quickling is very rarely in a mood to help and will only do so for its own gain and to the detriment of goodly beings (rather than helping for a price). They have a deep hatred for their Brownie kin and will generally attack their cousins on sight.
Taken at face value the Quickling is one of the less interesting Fae, as its role falls into a classic fantasy trope of pure evil. In reading the descriptions in the various monster manuals, it has no redeeming qualities and is utterly without morals or remorse…that is if you want to read that way. I see the Quicklings as the black sheep of the Fae family, misunderstood and mistrusted, leading to deep seated resentment for their failure to be accepted as true Fae but rather described as deformed and twisted Brownies.
If you’re worried about the Fae and their tricky deals and offers of help then you best hope to god you don’t come face to face with the Quickling.