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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Greywander's Avatar

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    Default What's the difference between fey and demons?

    I know that this will depend greatly on how they're being implemented into the setting in question, but I'm starting to get the feeling that, historically speaking, these are two different terms for roughly the same concept coming from two different cultural backgrounds.

    Some context:

    I've been working off and on on what I suppose is an urban fantasy setting (possibly for a webcomic, rather than an RPG). Demons exist in this setting, but I've decided to eschew the more common "fallen angel" interpretation of demons. Fallen angels also exist, but they are still angels, while demons are closer to humans. Originally, humans and demons were created as equals, but either demons rejected God or were rejected by God (depending on who you ask), so humans were favored over demons. The demons are still super salty about this, which is why they hide in the shadows preying on humans for usurping their "rightful place". Point is, demons in this setting are terrestrial spirits, not celestial ones like angels. I've also decided to eschew the typical flaming, goat-headed body builder image of demons, seen in things like Dark Souls and DOOM. Demons don't come from Hell, they live on Earth, and actually fire is rather effective against them. I suppose something like a vampire would be a decent example of a demon in this setting.

    Fey don't exist in this setting; anything that is fey-like is probably some type of demon. Demons aren't automatically evil, but most are pretty salty with both humans and angels (including/especially fallen angels). A big part of the plot would be exploring the interplay between humans, demons, and angels.

    For another setting, I wanted to make something more traditionally medieval fantasy-ish. As a twist, I wanted to make everyone human instead of having separate races. Elves, then, are just humans with a bit of fey blood in them. This means that fey must exist in this setting, but there's still a lot I don't have worked out. I started thinking about including demons, using a similar interpretation as the above urban fantasy setting, likely casting them more as night spirits or something. But it got me thinking: is there actually a difference between fey and demons? Aren't they both otherworldly spirits that might be malicious or benign, and might trick mortals or make deals with them? Visually speaking, there's not even a lot of difference between something like a satyr and many pop culture representations of demons. Why make a distinction between them in the first place?

    Ultimately, the answer will probably lie in hammering out the setting's cosmology, with demons having a different cosmological origin than fey. But I feel like you could easily have a setting where "fey" and "demon" are interchangeable terms. Maybe this is why the DOOM-style of demons is so popular; it is rather radically different from other types of "spirits" such as fey, giving them their own identity.

    Just a reminder before anyone replies that discussion of religious topics generally isn't allowed, so try to stick to fictional depictions of fey and demons. Which is unfortunate, because I think there's a lot of interesting discussion that could be had by including real-world stuff, but the rules are what they are, and I understand why they are that way.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    Well historically there were no benign demons. That pretty much came with the territory. Now there were some who werenít trying to screw you over at this current second. But any deal they made was going to head that way in the long run. While fey were more along the lines of sprites who could be both friendly and helpful or murderous depending on customs. Now during events in European history that should be obvious without me spelling it out. Some fey started getting declared as demons and stories involving them got edited to get that distinction across.

    One of the more obvious and known ones is Merlin. There is some evidence that earlier lost stories had him trained in magic through dealing with fey. Or being fey himself. And we see him doing some strange good and bad things. The rape of Arthurís mom was because of him. But also the training on right and wrong.

    He was then changed into a figure born of a demon father, giving him power and cursing him to wanting to be good (thus his role as advisor to the good king) while always being tempted to evil (explaining away some of the more uncouth things in his backstory).

    So yeah, you can totally make fey and demons the same thing. I know several fictional worlds that make demons just a subtype of a different creature (usually spirits) that have been tainted.

    But if you want to go by a certain defined set of old lore. Fey were fickle and mischievous. They could be bribed or aided for personal benefit and even befriended. But it is a dangerous friendship for they are alien to humans in desires and etiquette. While demons were there to corrupt and kill you. Thatís their end goal.
    Last edited by Dienekes; 2020-09-02 at 03:44 PM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Greywander's Avatar

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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    Well, it's true that demons tend to be "always evil" (although the Greeks had a concept of "daemons" that could be good, evil, or neutral). But is that it? Is a demon just a "bad fey"? I don't find this satisfying, I feel like either no distinction should be made (bad fey are just bad fey), or there should be something fundamentally different between demons and fey.

    Fey are typically modeled as nature spirits. Dryads, for example, are sometimes depicted as a manifestation of the spirit of a particular tree. Cut the tree down, and the dryad dies. The dryad isn't just connected to the tree, it is the tree. This could be extended by employing a type of animism, where everything has a spirit, even things like rocks or blades of grass. This could also explain why iron is effective against fey; something about the smelting process "kills" the fey spirit inside the iron (or alters it in some way), causing it to react differently to fey than "living" iron would. Of course, now we're getting into the realm of "what's the difference between fey and elementals"?

    I did suggest I might look into modeling demons as night spirits, but night spirits could also be a subset of nature spirits, instead of being separate from them. In fact, the moon seems to come up surprisingly often with regards to fey in popular culture. One of the major elf deities in D&D is a moon goddess, and of course there's the night elves from Warcraft. Maybe demons are unnatural night spirits, including a number of monstrous creatures and things like undead. I've also thought it interesting to group Lovecraftian horrors under the label of "demon", if you don't have "aberration" as a category. So something, something, corruption.

    I do like the idea of morally ambiguous demons. It can be nice to have clear black-and-white morality where you know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but it can be a lot more interesting if you have shades of gray. Besides, usually you'd leave the black-and-white stuff to the celestial (or hellish) spirits, otherworldly embodiments of the forces of Good or Evil, while the terrestrial spirits can choose for themselves how they will act. If demons are terrestrial spirits, then they would have the free will to choose to be evil or good, just like humans. However, their understanding of evil and good might be different from that of humans.

    Thinking some more about it, fey, as nature spirits, probably arose with the world's creation. They've just always been there, since the first tree and river came into existence. Humans and demons both either migrated from other worlds to this one, or were created at a later time, thus being separate from nature. This could mean that demons are more similar to humans than to fey.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    It's more of a tonal difference than hard and fast distinction. None of these terms were meant to be slotted together in a cladistic manner.

    Fey (fairies, faerie) are sort of like a poetic form like a haiku: the subject may vary but there's an understandable structure. They tend to evoke or embody a specific feature of the world--sometimes from nature, sometimes from domestic life (think domovoi); to adhere to hard-to-understand "rules" and to obey a very formal and lethally-serious etiquette that people have to learn or face consequences; they live secret, parallel existences which regular folk only occasionally get glimpses of, and while some aspects of that life are fantastical, the forms and customs are recognizable. They are creatures of rituals and cycles that temporarily engage in the norms of normal people as sport. Dealing with these kinds of creatures is generally a matter of learning the rules, the etiquette, and the case-by-case preventative measures.

    Demons tend to invoke less "normal" phenomena and more...things that are threats to people, embodied: disease, death, social taboos, drought, hidden dark impulses. They're more likely to be prodigies: things that come into being, each distinct and alone, with no framework for classification or comparison. They generally do not have the deep engagement with rules and etiquette that fey do...they are things of singular purpose or commanded by impulse to do some thing over and over. They tend to face towards normal people, not have their own discrete existence. Where fey have their very-carefully defined spaces--their specials domains and their hidden homes--demons are creatures that linger in the marginal spaces that make people uncertain: in the demimonde, on the outskirts of town, at crossroads. And the "rules" for dealing with demons tend to involve more avoidance and protection.

    ETA:

    To invent a cladogram: both are "spirits" in the sense of beings that aren't entirely of the material world or its operational logic. However, within the supernature, they have different niches.

    Fey tend to be embedded within the world: they have their places (mounds, rings, trees, rivers, houses) that are clearly understood as their places by mundane people. This concept of a "place" can be somewhat abstract--incorporating things like seasons, weather, moon phase, and various subjective elements--rather than just a map, but nonetheless there is a sense that X fey is found in this kind of location, under these kinds of conditions.

    Demons are more like...fungi of the collective unconscious. They manifest and linger in places where something has happened that has created a certain kind of emotional timbre to the environment: once set into motion, they tend to seek out (or unconsciously arrive at) places (and people) with a similar timbre.
    Last edited by Yanagi; 2020-09-02 at 09:59 PM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    There are many layers of reality. Angels are up, demons are down, and fey are sideways.

    In classical myths, these things usually correspond to "mountaintops/clouds/stars/other places in the sky", "inside volcanoes/on the bottom side of the world", and "hidden around the corner/in the deep forest/buried inside the hills".
    The Curse of the House of Rookwood: Supernatural horror and family drama.
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  6. - Top - End - #6
    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    A lot of this verges on real world religious stuff and mostly a Western view at that.

    Fey isn't really something well defined. We, as gamers as a whole, have sort of given them over to something nature related with various motivations and dispositions based on a number of (mostly) Celtic religions and folklore from the British Isles and where one would reasonably argue had Celtic/Gaulish influence. That's the most one can say on it though a look at the word Fey and its etymology might not go amiss. Before the 12th century Fey didn't have any connotations beyond the use "Fated to Die" and was a Scottish word with roots back to Old German. It's come to mean "Otherworldly" in rather modern times around 1700 as far as I can tell when the folklore of the Gaelic parts of Great Britain were getting wider appeal for...non-board allowed reasons.

    Angel is a translation into English (the world coming through French from Latin itself probably from the Greek Angelos meaning Messenger and beyond. Maybe PIE or an earlier Semitic language) for the Hebrew word Mal'Akh which also means Messenger though...of a very specific person and this is where we hit real world religion and we can't discuss it. Either way, Angels are generally shown to be the envoys and workers of a Divine element, generally good or at least considered morally beyond reproach.

    Demon has its roots in the Greek word Daemon which itself doesn't have evil connotations but through the above mention of real world religion these spirit beings have certainly take on the aspects of calamity, corruption, negative emotions and general no good-ery. Those connotations directly link to, and are first attested in, stuff we're not allowed to talk about. As that all started to spread, also reasons we're not allowed to discuss, demon became a culturally negative term.


    So the short and long of it is

    Fey: A nebuluous and modern term for tricky nature spirits
    Angel: Spirits that serve a good source
    Demon: Spirits that serve a bad source.
    Last edited by Razade; 2020-09-03 at 06:47 PM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    EvilClericGuy

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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    Quote Originally Posted by Xuc Xac View Post
    There are many layers of reality. Angels are up, demons are down, and fey are sideways.

    In classical myths, these things usually correspond to "mountaintops/clouds/stars/other places in the sky", "inside volcanoes/on the bottom side of the world", and "hidden around the corner/in the deep forest/buried inside the hills".
    And aberrations are from OUTSIDE.

    Joking aside, your analogy above is an excellent shorthand for mapping classical myth into D&D. I've often theory-crafted Faerie, the Plane of Shadow, and a Spirit Plane as beside/co-existant/just out of sight of the Prime Material.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Well, it's true that demons tend to be "always evil" (although the Greeks had a concept of "daemons" that could be good, evil, or neutral). But is that it? Is a demon just a "bad fey"? I don't find this satisfying, I feel like either no distinction should be made (bad fey are just bad fey), or there should be something fundamentally different between demons and fey.
    Well no, they were incarnations of fallen creatures of pure goodness swayed by a great leader into standing against their creator. Thatís their lore. You scuff off the parts that are tied to a specific religion you get ďa personification of some evil.Ē If you decide you do not like the always evil part and remove that too you get ďa non-human thing.Ē

    Which is just a vague nothing answer. Which also happens to align with folkloric fey who were remarkably inconsistent in their presentation to the point that if you had to unify all fey under one grand short definition the only possible one is ďa thing that does not follow the same laws of nature and morality as a human.Ē Which is remarkably similar to that stripped down demon definition from earlier.

    But here we get to actual worldbuilding. Iím assuming itís your world weíre working with. So what do you want fey and demons to be?

    Or as I would go with it. What are the emotions and thoughts you want going through the heads of your players when they encounter a fey or demon? And Iíd work backwards from there.

  9. - Top - End - #9
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    "Fey" is a really hard category to talk about because it's very much a mish-mash of a bunch of different bits and pieces of folklore that were not originally part of any coherent whole - they came from different cultures, belief systems, words from different languages that don't quite have the same meaning. It's a bit like when you look at the question "What is a dragon?" for too long you open a tin of worms. There's several lifetimes worth of research you could do if you wanted a comprehensive answer.

    THAT SAID, I think a lot about the fey because I grew up with stories of fey as both demons and as powers unto themselves from my own culture. The threads that connect most fey together imo are that they're:
    • Old - they are from the past not in the sense that we are from the past having moved through time to get to the present but in the sense a time traveller from the future is from the future. Be they demons, nature spirits, ghosts, remnants of a people before ours, neglected gods etc. they are from before. You may have a clear idea of how angels and demons came to be - or are coming into existance still - but this question will never have quite so clear an answer for the fey.
    • Rooted - as mentioned by Yanagi and Xuc Xac, the fey are from somewhere or somewhen or even somehow. Always. By "somehow" I mean they may reside in the experience of nightmares, poor housekeeping, a good person overworking themselves, celebration. They have their niche where they can be found or returned to. These are where/when they are supposed to be and will either become weakened or violent if removed. In contrast, other spiritual beings like angels and demons aren't so much rooted as reaching - they pursue specific goals and may be found wherever, whenever or however they need to be to pursue that goal. This feels like it fits with Old in the sense that if they are made to progress, to go forward, they will cease to be fey. Also why fey may seem childlike or immature. You can only interact with the fey as they are by connecting to their native past by being in the same place, feeling the same autumnal breeze, etc.
    • Strange - fey are alien. They think differently to mortals and not in the sense of having the perspective of an immortal on a cosmic scheme for power or good vs. evil. They are just weird. You can learn about them, their customs and how to cope but you never really understand why they are the way they are. They are wild and anathema to mortal comprehension. Any truths learned of the fey - like true names - are weapons you can threaten them with. Afterall, if you could understand a fey then, figuratively speaking, you could bring them into the lab or library in the here and now - and they would cease to be fey.

    But these things can be interpreted in a bunch of different ways. Are they good strange or bad strange? Neither? Both? Personally, I've had great success portraying fey as beings of aesthetics where angels and demons are beings of good and evil morality - just on an entirely different axis to everything else going on. Or you could just as easily have fey as the equivalent of native eldritch abominations - aberrations that somehow belong. Or as demonic influnces of a place or time. Or as angelic meddlers trying to help mortals through loopholes in cosmic law making a mess of confusion in the process. Or as psychic shadows of dreams from peoples long gone.
    Last edited by GaelofDarkness; 2020-09-06 at 10:57 AM. Reason: Spelling
    According to easydamus, I'm a 4th level CG elf wizard. Str 9 - Dex 11 - Con 9 - Int 18 - Wis 14 - Cha 16.

    Homebrew setting (or part thereof): Phaunia and the Twilit Between

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    Fey spirits in folktales can be the the spirits of natural things, a lost race of magical people, the souls of the dead, people who traded their souls away, demons, or some combination of the aforementioned.

    It's a bucket term covering thousands of years of folktale creatures over a huge amount of land. Even in just UK folktales they can be the spirits of natural things, people who sold their souls, a race of lost magical people, ghosts, demons, genius loci, servants of the gods, manifestations of concepts like retribution, or even have no explanation at all.

    Trying to divide them and demons is difficult, and honestly kind of pointless most of the time, there was little distinction in human history between them, unless you narrow things down to a specific cultural inspiration.

    If I had to divide them then I'd have demons be from outside and before the world, fey be beings from the past eras of the world who made deals with the demons or learned magic that Should Not Be Known and have been bound by various rules and conventions as a result.
    Sanity is nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: What's the difference between fey and demons?

    The thing is, back in Ģe olden days people didn't really bother making these sorts of distinctions. I think this becomes more obvious if you start including Kami, Jinn, Loa, and the relevant near-equivalent term from a wider variety of cultures. It just means "the vague, supernatural stuff." Demons being fallen angels is another example of this: angels were what already existed in the local lore, so if demons were in the same ballpark of supernatural beings one of the likely explanations is that they were once angels.

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