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I am in process of building a world for upcoming campaign. As I already know some things in D&D rely on the fact that the Shadowfell and the Feywild are present.

But what would be the consequences of removing them entirely? I am asking both from mechanical perspective considering player options and inner working of the world as a whole. As in, what parts of options presented in official books considering races, class and subclass options, and spells or other features would not work without re-flavouring or rewriting Shadowfell and Feywild as something else?

  • I do realize that creatures that are fey would probably not exist, or in very limited number.
  • I do also know that Warlock patrons of Archfey and Hexblade, and the Fey Wanderer Ranger, would not be available, as well as Shadar-Kai subrace of elves. I think there are some spells that use one or the other, but I am not sure.
  • Spells that have either of them do not need to be brought up. The implication of their removal for plane shift would be simply not being able to teleport there, and that is pretty obvious.
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Historically, neither plane existed until 2008

D&D went without these planes for 30 years; they were invented for 4e’s wildly simplified ret-con of the planes. The Shadowfell combined the Plane of Shadow and the Negative Energy Plane, while the Feywild combined a greatly-expanded Plane of Faerie with the Positive Energy Plane. Moreover, before 4th edition, Faerie was just an idea for DMs, and prior to 3rd edition, the Shadow was just a demiplane.

So far, 5e has two uniquely Feywild/Shadowfell things

Thomas Markov’s answer lists everything in 5e that has an explicit reference to these planes—and literally all but two of the list items predate the existence of these planes. (The two exceptions are the harengon and the Hexblade warlock patron; see below for details.)

(The other caveat is that 5e’s system of “subclasses” isn’t really something that prior editions of D&D did, so there wasn’t usually a “warlock of this” or “druid of that,” so older editions’ content isn’t going to be exactly the same. In many cases, however, subclasses were, in 3rd edition, “prestige classes,” which were special classes you had to multiclass into after meeting certain requirements. In other cases, it’s more of a stretch, and I’ll readily admit my match for the druid’s Circle of Dreams is weak.)

Fey without the Feywild

Fey creatures have always existed in D&D, even when a dedicated plane did not. They were generally associated with the Material Plane rather than any other plane. This is particularly true of 5e fey, because the 5e fey designation is broader than it was in past editions and includes what had once been known as “native outsiders”—the Material analogue to celestials and fiends. 5e turned these creatures into fey and moved several of them to the Feywild. So if anything, these had more prominence in a typical (Material Plane) campaign prior to the introduction of the Feywild. Fey-based warlocks and rangers absolutely existed without it.

Specifically, to quote Thomas:

  • College of Glamour Bard

Bards date back to the ’70s, and have always had a strong association with glamours. The 3rd-edition bard had a feature to captivate an audience by default, for example, that was very similar to Enthralling Presence. Precise analogues to Mantle of Inspiration, Mantle of Majesty, and Unbreakable Majesty are harder to find, however.

On a flavor side, 3rd edition also had a couple of prestige classes for nature-themed druid/bards, the Fochlucan lyrist and the green whisperer. More notably, perhaps, is the troubador of stars, who performed in the Court of Stars for the eladrin—who are named specifically in the College of Glamour. (Then again, eladrin were very different.)

  • Circle of Dreams Druid

Dream-magic has always existed in D&D, and the druid has long had access to some of it. That said, I’m not sure there was ever before a specific druid dedicated to it. There was an earth dreamer prestige class in 3rd edition that druids could qualify for and benefit from, but so could pretty much any other spellcaster. Also, as the name suggests, there was a heavy earth theme that the Circle of Dreams doesn’t have.

  • Circle of the Shepherd Druid

Druids have always had a strong summoning theme, and their summons have always included fey creatures. The 3rd edition druid was basically the same as a 5e druid, except that they had all of the core circles at the same time—plus Shepherd, which was for a while the one the 5e druid was missing.

  • Arcane Archer Fighter, Banishing Arrow feature

Arcane archer was literally a 3rd edition prestige class, and had banishing arrow.

  • Fey Wanderer Ranger

Rangers, like druids, have always had an association with the fey. For more specific material, there was a wildrunner prestige class, which at the end of the class turns you into a fey, but otherwise it’s more elf-themed than fey-themed, and it’s kind of a combo ranger/barbarian than pure ranger (ranger is the easiest way to qualify for the class, but then it revolves around a similar-to-Rage-but-Dexterity-based ability).

  • The Archfey Warlock

The debut of warlocks as an independent class in D&D was in the 3rd-edition Complete Arcane, and even then it noted that many warlocks got their powers from pacts with fey creatures (this version of the warlock didn’t actually get different powers based on who their patron was, though).

  • Elf

The degree to which elves are or are not related to the fey varies considerably across D&D history and campaign settings. But suffice to say it’s been a thing, at least kinda-sorta, for a long, long time.

Elves were also in the original 1977 Monster Manual.

  • Half-Elf

See Elf. Half-elves were also in the original Monster Manual.

  • Satyr

Satyrs also appear in the very first Monster Manual from 1977.

  • Bugbear

More entries from 1977. Note that prior to Monsters of the Multiverse—that is, even in 5e—goblins, including bugbears, were not fey.

  • Centaur

And again with the original Monster Manual, and again with things that weren’t previously considered fey.

  • Changeling

In real world folklore, changelings are fey creatures that are substituted for kidnapped babies. This idea—often with the name “changeling”—appears in D&D from time to time, but were never a major monster.

And since 3rd edition, “changeling” in D&D has referred to the Eberron race, which then traced their shape-changing abilities to their doppelganger heritage, and were completely unrelated to fey. But now Monsters of the Multiverse states that these changelings “first appeared in the Feywild, and the wondrous, mutable essence of that plane lingers in changelings today—even in those changelings who have never set foot in the fey realm,” which is a rather serious ret-con of the race (and appears despite the fact that Eberron: Rising from the Last War associated changelings and doppelgangers in its introduction of Eberron’s new races on page 5). For my money, Monsters of the Multiverse should be ignored with prejudice on this subject.

Either way, even Monsters of the Multiverse explicitly embraces changelings who have never personally seen the Feywild.

  • Eladrin

Eladrin are, to my mind, probably the biggest travesty in Wizards’ ret-conning of D&D’s lore. Originally, they were the “exemplars” of Chaotic Good, creatures made out of literal, incarnate Chaotic-Good-ness. That is, they were Celestials, not Fey. This made them cognate to, say, LE devils or CE demons. Their elf-like qualities were largely coincidental.

Then 4th edition for reasons unknown didn’t have elf as a playable race in the original Player’s Handbook, and instead had eladrin, who were now elves but not called “elf” for some reason. That edition got an actual “elf” later, but that honestly only added to the confusion.

And now in 5th edition, elves are back where they should be, but eladrin are fey now. Since 5e doesn’t have the “outsider,” and other exemplars (the LN exemplars, modrons) have occasionally been messed with in similar ways (modrons are not constructs, however construct-like they seem). This seems to indicate that what were previously known as “outsiders” can, in 5e, be labeled as types we don’t ordinarily think of as outsiders. Maybe.

You can see some of the fallout from this nonsense in the Forgotten Realms Wiki entry for eladrin, which splits into four different options:

  • “fey eladrin” are the 5e ones
  • “eladrin-as-another-name-for-high-elf” is the explanation for 4e
  • “noble eladrin” are a reference to 4e-era high-elves-who-lived-in-the-Feywild, which would become the “fey eladrin” in 5e, I guess
  • “celestial eladrin” are the original pre-4e celestials

None of these terms are clearly delineated in the official books; this is just the Wiki’s attempt to navigate the fact that the word “eladrin” keeps getting redefined.

Anyway, point is, the eladrin have certainly existed for a long time, dating back to 2e, but they keep changing what exactly they are.

  • Fairy

D&D has had all different kinds of “fairies”—brownies and pixies and sprites—for decades, though it is astoundingly difficult to search for just “fairy” because that’s usually a synonym for “Faerie” (which D&D has used as the plane) and “Fey” (the category that includes all of these creatures). It may be that until 5e, D&D avoided using “fairy” to refer to any one creature, since there were so many different kinds of “fairies.”

Still, the general concept has been around forever. The 1977 Monster Manual had brownies, pixies, and sprites.

  • Goblin

More stuff from 1977. As noted under bugbears, goblinoids weren’t considered fey until Monsters of the Multiverse. Even 5e goblins weren’t fey until that book.

  • Harengon

@Groody the Hobgoblin reports an interview with Chris Perkins in which he states that the harengon were originally created by one of the other authors of The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, so “harengon” per se seem to be 5e originals.

As for the more general concept of rabbit-people, that might also be new but it’s very difficult to determine this for sure. I haven’t managed to find any references to rabbit-people in D&D before 5e, but absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence—there might be an obscure rabbit-folk race out there buried under all the 5e results.

Still, D&D has had animal-people from the beginning; the fact that “rabbit” might not have been used before doesn’t necessarily mean much here. If the Feywild didn’t exist, it would be trivial to give the harengon a new home.

  • Hobgoblin

As with the goblin and bugbear, hobgoblins have been around since the beginning, but weren’t considered fey until Monsters of the Multiverse.

  • Shadar-Kai

Originated in 3rd-edition’s Fiend Folio, and they were fey then, too. They were always native to what was then the Plane of Shadow, however.

  • Fey Teleportation

3rd edition had a Fey Legacy feat that granted, among other things, the ability to cast dimension door.

  • Fey Touched

3rd edition had both a Fey Bloodline feat and a Fey Heritage feat; both had the same idea.

Shadow with a limited Demiplane of Shadow

Shadar-kai also predate the Shadowfell, debuting in the 3rd-edition Fiend Folio, where they were fey associated with the Plane of Shadow. Shadow is a long-standing part of the D&D cosmology, though its original status as “just” the largest demiplane in existence in 2e is less than it is in later editions.

Importantly, 2e had rules for what did and didn't work if you were outside the limited reach of the Demiplane of Shadow. You may want to look into these. For example, if you weren’t on a plane that touched Shadow, the shadow walk spell wouldn’t work.

  • Shadow Magic Sorcerer

Sorcerers, of course, were always (well, since their 3rd-edition debut in 2000) welcome to select shadow spells. But shoutout to the shadowcraft mage, an incredibly broken 3rd-edition prestige class that did ridiculous things with the powers from the Plane of Shadow.

3rd edition also had a shadowcaster class. It was... weird, and not very good, and not, actually, related to the Plane of Shadow really?

  • Hexblade Warlock

Hexblade is a 3rd-edition class (an awful one, but it exists). It actually predates the warlock, which debuted 11 months later, so of course it has nothing to do with warlocks, and isn’t involved in any kind of pact making, whether as patron or beneficiary. The 3rd-edition hexblade didn’t really have much of anything to do with Shadow, either, though there was a really cool “alternative class feature” for them called Dark Companion which created a shadowy figure that debuffed enemies’ saving throws with its mere presence. (It couldn’t actually do anything, it just stood there being shadowy and menacing and creatures around it took penalties on saving throws.)

The “mysterious entity […] that manifests in sentient magic weapons carved from the stuff of shadow” that is the actual 5e Hexblade patron doesn’t appear to have any pre-5e analogue, though the concept of sentient weapons certainly does, and “The mighty sword Blackrazor” that Xanathar’s Guide to Everything calls “the most notable of these weapons” was a major plot element in the 1979 adventure module, White Plume Mountain. (It’s perhaps most famous for appearing in the computer game Baldur’s Gate, though this is considered something of a non-canon appearance and White Plume Mountain was set in Greyhawk while Baldur’s Gate is in the Forgotten Realms.)

  • Shadar-Kai

Covered above under fey, originated in the 3rd-edition Fiend Folio but were always associated with the Plane of Shadow.

  • Shadow Touched

The list of shadow-themed 3rd-edition feats is long, and includes Shadowbound and Shadow Heritage, which are both quite similar. There was also the “shadow creature” template, which is perhaps even closer.

Also, bonus, Darth Pseudonym pointed out that we have

  • Ravenloft, the Demiplane of Dread

which per Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is in the Shadowfell. Just ignore Van Richten’s—on this, and really on most things—the Demiplane of Dread, like (nearly) every other demiplane, belongs in the Ethereal Plane. Though, to be fair, it barely matters in this case, since you certainly cannot leave the Demiplane of Dread to go exploring whatever surrounds it, whether that’s Ethereal or Shadowfell. Technically, you can enter it that way, but that’s madness of the highest order, and no one should ever, ever do that for any reason.

Conclusion

Just about everything 5e associates with the Feywild or Shadowfell, are in fact older than both of those planes. The Shadowfell “is” the former (Demi)Plane of Shadow, and some of these things (shadar-kai, spells like shadow walk) really are from there or rely on that plane, so those would be out. But for the Feywild, D&D has had fey all over the place for ages prior to there being any Fey-dedicated plane, and it was fine. Many of the Shadowfell-associated beings are likewise. Thus, I would suggest that nearly everything associated with these planes would still exist in D&D without them, just found in other places.

The only things I really can’t find anything comparable to are harengon, the Hexblade, and Circle of Dreams druid. But all kinds of animal-people are found throughout D&D, long before the Feywild, and dream-magic has been there from the beginning, there just didn’t happen to be a druid dedicated to it. The Hexblade, as in the mysterious entity somehow behind sentient weapons, that could of course be anywhere else, but also hexblade warlocks could just as easily be based on any sentient weapon, rather than some “mysterious entity” that’s associated with all of them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin Cool, that confirms what I seemed to be finding. Still, I’d be pretty surprised if there weren’t any kind of rabbit people in D&D prior to Wild Beyond the Witchlight, even if the harengon per se were original. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 14 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, and a very light nitpick on your glamour bard entry, bards date from the 1970's; the first bard class was in the Strategic Review in Feb 1976, Doug Schwegman, and the first AD&D 1e bard was in the PHB in 1978 (Gygax). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I forgot to add: enjoyed the comprehensive answer. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's Monsters of the Multiverse that has made goblinkind Fey. Prior to that book there was no mention of Fey in their description or stat block. They previously had the creature type "humanoid (goblinoid)". This is true for the Goblin, Bugbear and Hobgoblin races. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jul 14 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ For pre-5e rabbit-people, I only know one example off the top of my head: the were-lagomorph from Dragon #156 (April 1990). It's not really the same as the harengon at all (is a weretiger a type of catfolk, or a werehippo comparable to a giff?), and also there's the minor detail that it's an April Fool's joke, but it's something. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15 at 7:13
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Simply create new origins for things from those planes.

As per DMG p.43, "Putting the Planes Together", the Feywild and Shadowfell aren't strictly necessary to a cosmology. The Feywild wasn't even a standard part of the D&D cosmology until D&D 4th edition (2008).

A few spells use these planes, but not in insurmountable ways. For example, dispel evil and good used as dismissal sends undead and fey to the Shadowfell and Feywild, respectively.

The main effect is that creatures who come from the Feywild or Shadowfell either don't exist, or come from somewhere else in your cosmology. Some already do this, such as pixies, which appear on the Material Plane. You just need to adapt the lore to give them an origin in your setting.

Another issue is that other D&D books, including future D&D books, will assume that the Feywild and Shadowfell exist. You'll need to adapt those too as they appear. This is particularly the case if you use adventure modules, which may have the players visit the Feywild or Shadowfell, particularly the Ravenloft content.

One problem you may experience is that players may want to use content linked to those planes, such as races or patrons. You will have to adapt these features in order to allow it, or else players may be disappointed. It will help to specify ahead of time, before character creation, that these elements don't exist in your world, so players won't try to use them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ ...why does Ravenloft content reference the Feywild or Shadowfell? The entire point of the Demiplane of Dread is that you cannot leave for another plane. I swear, every copy of Van Richten’s needs to be burned... (+1, mind you, not shooting the messenger here, just, ugh. Terrible book.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 16 at 15:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Van Richten's doesn't say you can go to the feywild or shadowfell from Dread, it just references them, as in "this character came from the feywild originally". The only way it really matters is according to VR's, the Domains are realms deep in the Shadowfell, but have their own metaphysical rules so they aren't subject to any general rules of the Shadowfell. You could easily transplant them to anywhere, or nowhere. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 18 at 0:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Ah. Like (almost) everything else in my answer, the Demiplane of Dread is far older than the Feywild or Shadowfell—it’s even older than the Plane of Shadow. The Demiplane of Dread belongs in the Ethereal—along with just about every other demiplane. (A few rare demiplanes can be created by very-high-level shaper psions in the Astral Plane instead, but outside of that demiplanes are an Ethereal phenomenon.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 18 at 4:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I'm not sure what that means by 'older'. You mean in terms of publication history or in terms of the cosmogony of the game-universe? If you're referring to publication history, then who cares, because that's just a question of how you decide to fit Dread into each edition of the game. If you mean cosmogony, then that can change depending on whose table you're at. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 18 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym The Plane of Shadow didn’t exist before 3rd edition, which is to say, it didn’t exist prior to the events of the Die, Vecna, Die! adventure. The rules update from 2nd edition to 3rd edition—including the development of the Demiplane of Shadow into the Plane of Shadow—is treated as an in-character historical event. (The updates from 3rd edition to 4th edition—which includes the creation of the Shadowfell—were also treated this way, though the precipitating events that caused it were only described for the Forgotten Realms.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 18 at 13:29
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Feywild

Classes and Subclasses

The following subclasses have some explicit connection to the Feywild:

  • College of Glamour Bard
  • Circle of Dreams Druid
  • Circle of the Shepherd Druid
  • Arcane Archer Fighter, Banishing Arrow feature
  • Fey Wanderer Ranger
  • The Archfey Warlock

Races

The following races have some explicit connection to the Feywild:

  • Elf
  • Half-Elf
  • Satyr
  • Bugbear
  • Centaur
  • Changeling
  • Eladrin
  • Fairy
  • Goblin
  • Harengon
  • Hobgoblin
  • Shadar-Kai

Feats

The following feats have some explicit connection to the Feywild:

  • Fey Teleportation
  • Fey Touched

Shadowfell

Classes and Subclasses

The following subclasses have some explicit connection to the Shadowfell:

  • Shadow Magic Sorcerer
  • Hexblade Warlock

Races

The following races have some explicit connection to the Shadowfell:

  • Shadar-Kai

Feats

The following feat has some explicit connection to the Shadowfell:

  • Shadow Touched
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Kenku have the following connection to the Shadowfell in monsters of the multiverse "Whatever their true origin, kenku are most often found in the Shadowfell and the Material Plane [...]", which would have 0 impact on their use of the Shadowfell as a plane were removed. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jul 14 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure Shepherd druid is really dependant on the feywild. Certainly not to the same extent that Dreams is. While it does have features interacting with fey, it would seem to me similar to how plane shift can't go there, that you wouldn't have fey to summon \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Jul 14 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil Dependent? Probably not. The subclass introduction describes them as keeping company with fey creatures, so the reflavour would be that now they don't. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan They are fey as of MotM. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan "The first changelings in the multiverse appeared in the Feywild, and the wondrous, mutable essence of that plane lingers in changelings today—even in those changelings who have never set foot in the fey realm. Each changeling decides how to use their shape-shifting ability, channeling either the peril or the joy of the Feywild." -Changeling race description, Monsters of the Multiverse. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14 at 18:42
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There's nothing about fey that means they have to come from a specific other plane. If you remove the feywild, it's not complicated to just state that fey are nature spirits that originate from the prime material plane.

That is to say, Oberon and Titania can still have their faerie castle, it just would be in some distant place on the material plane rather than being "through the looking glass" in the Feywild. Baba Yaga's hut can still be wandering the dark forest on its chicken legs, ready to offer the power of the warlock to anyone foolish enough to make a pact with an arch-fey. Certain groves could be populated by sprites and faerie dragons. It doesn't really change anything that I can see, and there's hardly any reworking involved -- no more than it's "reworking" to decide where mines are and which ones contain goblins or dwarves.

Even spells and abilities that might explicitly touch on these planes could need only very tiny tweaks to still work normally. Change "feywild" and "shadowfell" to "astral plane" or "ethereal plane" as needed.

If you want to remove fey as a creature type then that's a different question that has different implications, but removing the plane is not really a big deal at all.

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