Changeling, the Dreaming: imagine taking the elements of the Chronicles of Narnia, the story of Bridge to Terabithia, and the crushing weight of real life baring down on you, then making a game out of it. That, my friends, is what you can expect to find in the role playing game of Changeling, the Dreaming.
Set in the classic World of Darkness series, Changeling is a game about exploring the limitless possibilities of imagination and keeping that imagination alive in a world that, by its very nature, will do everything it can to stamp it out. When playing Changeling, you take on the role of the fae, magical creatures who are born from humanity's dreams and aspirations. So long as the spark of creativity exists within the hearts and minds of humanity, the fae can survive in this world in some fashion. But should humanity ever lose that spark, the Dreaming will dissapear, and the fae along with it. So it is your job to keep that spark alive, and give mortals something to believe in!
Unfortunately, this is the World of Darkness, which means that this game is anything but sunshine and rainbows. The Age of Reason, a time in our history when humanity started to put faith in the hard sciences instead of belief in the supernatural, has weakened our capacity to dream over the centuries. No longer do we blindly put our trust in miracles and superstitions, but now we quantify such things as being impossible. There are no such things as dragons, or fairies, trolls, satyrs, boogeymen, floating islands, migrating castles, sentient weapons, or wish granting genies. That stuff is all fantasy, and fantasy has no place in real life!
Or at least... that's what the mortals have come to believe...
Many fae died once mortals stopped believing in them, and the most privileged among them chose to abandon the world of mortals to seek shelter in Arcadia, one of the fae's oldest and most powerful freeholds. Those who stayed behind, whether by their own volition or because they were abandoned by the selfish aristocracy found an alternative method to survive in the Age of Reason. Pooling their magical knowledge, they invented a ritual that would allow their fae spirits to merge with human bodies, shielding them from the harmful effects of Banality. This ritual was called the Changeling Way, and it allowed the fae to continue living in a world that no longer believed in them, so long as they maintained their connection to their faerie side. In the event that their mortal body perishes, the spirit lives on, eventually finding its way to a new host as part of a cycle of reincarnation.
Should a Changeling grow too attached to the human way of life, Banality sets in. In small doses, this is merely a frustrating obstacle that can be resolved through dedication and hard work. But in large quantities, Banality can have long lasting and even permanent consequences. In the worst case scenario, the Changeling's fae spirit is utterly destroyed by their Banality. If this happens, the Changeling becomes completely human and can no longer reincarnate themselves through use of the Changeling Way.
Worst of all, the game makes it a point that sucumbing to Banality is an invevitable destiny of the world. The fae can delay its progress, but they ultimately can not stop it. Eventually, the Autumn World will pass into Winter, and everything will become stale, repetive and with no capacity to see beyond concrete evidence of the world around them.
That is the personal horror that surrounds Changeling, the Dreaming. It is the fear of being forced to grow up. The weight of the world bares down on you as you realize that most of your dreams will never come true. Eventually, you'll have to put away your childish fantasies and face the cold, harshness of reality. Because the ones who refuse to do so... well, let's just say they don't get a happy ending.
The Resurgence: The vast majority of fae who escaped to Arcadia were members of the nobility. Almost all of those left behind were commoners and servants who were deemed expendable by their heartless masters.The nobles locked the gates to Arcadia behind them, which prevented those on earth from trying to follow them. For centuries the commoners fought to keep the spark of creativity alive in the hearts of mortals. Barely clinging on as the world became more and more banal.
And then on July 20th, 1969, we achieved the impossible. We put the first man on the moon, and we broadcast it to billions of people all over the planet. On that day, for just a few moments, humanity experienced a surge of imagination. If we could put a man on the moon, what else could we accomplish? For just a few moments, we believed that anything was possible, and a few moments was all it took for the nobility to thrust open the gates to Arcadia and come flooding back into our world.
But time flows much differently in Arcadia than it does in our world, and the nobles were unprepared for the changes they encountered. Desperate and confused, they enacted the Changeling Way ritual on the first hosts they could get their hands on. Those who refused to do so, or were simply unable to grab a body in time were destroyed as humanity began to return to its secular mindset. The nobles were back, and they intended to pick up where they left off.
As if nothing had happened in the last 1,000 years, they brazenly demanded that the commoners return their holdings and treasures while pledging fealty to those who abandoned them. Needless to say, the commoners were having absolutely none of this shit and a full on rebellion took place. Ultimately, the nobles claimed victory, but the defeated commoners did not come away empty handed. The aftermath of the war saw a change to the status quo, and commoners were granted new opportunities that they had never been presented with before. But more on that will be discussed later.
The Chimerical Reality: changelings exist in two different worlds at the same time. The world that mortals perceive is known as the Autumn World, or sometimes the Gray World. But the world that the fae perceive is the Chimerical World, or more commonly known as the Dreaming.
A simple explanation is that the Dreaming is a world where imagination comes to life. A child's pillow fort becomes a literal fortress that repels invading armies, while a flimsy tube of cardboard becomes a gleaming sword ready to cut a bloody swathe through your enemies. But the Dreaming isn't just a place full of children's fantasies, either. It is home to all of humanity's creativity, both young and old.
The Dreaming is a place of both great wonder and great danger. While many beautiful and fantastical places, things and creatures reside there, it is also home to the stuff of nightmares. What mortals claim to be an unfortunate accident could actually have been caused by wicked monsters. Was it really a half finished cigarette that started that wild fire, or did somebody manage to piss off a dragon? In Changeling, the Dreaming, both scenarios are possible!
The problem with the Dreaming is that it is always changing itself, based on the minds of those who sustain it. Just because something is true now does not mean it's going to be true a year later, or even in the next five minutes. The one exception to this is called a freehold, which is a fixed point in the Dreaming that continues to sustain itself. Freeholds are incredibly rare and valuable, and there is not a changeling alive who will not fight to the death to defend one from their enemies.
People with a high level of Banality (rating of 7+) can not interact with the Dreaming in any meaningful way. In fact, they can't even perceive it at all, as they are too engrossed in the Autumn World to look beyond the mundane. The only ones who can reliably perceive the Dreaming are the changelings themselves. However, there is a way to get around this, as the fae are capable of opening a mortal's eyes to the chimerical reality for a time. Enchanted mortals, as they are called, have had their minds awakened to the possibilities of the Dreaming and may interact with it as such.
This effect is usually temporary, but the fae can maintain it, if they choose to do so. In long term cases, the enchanted mortals went on to become servants and even companions of the fae. Enchanting mortals is by far one of the easiest ways to maintain their connection to the Dreaming, but it does not come without its own risks. Normal mortals are probably not going to react well to seeing somebody rolling around in the dirt while fighting invisible monsters, or hovering in mid air as they ride around on the back of a giant bird.
But mundane humans aren't the only problem, as the Dreaming is protected by a supernatural force known simply as the Mists. As if waking up from a hazy dream, the Mists cloud the minds of anybody who has been recently exposed to the Dreaming. The higher a subject's Banality rating, the stronger the effect will be. Those with very high Banality will have distorted memories about their experiences within the Dreaming, or even forget them entirely. This applies not only the mortals, but changelings as well. Should a changeling ever succumb completely to the effects of Banality, the Mists remove all memory of their existence as part of the fae. Whatever fantastical adventures they went on in the past, the former changeling believes they were just stupid, childhood fantasies.
Additionally, there are different levels of the Dreaming, which include Near, Far and Deep. The further in you go, the more potent the effects of the Dreaming become, and the more it will try to resist you. Before the creation of the Changeling Way, the fae were happily welcomed by the Dreaming, for it was their place of origin. But after merging with human bodies, they became tainted by banality. The Dreaming no longer fully accepts their presence and it will lash out against them if they venture too far inside. As dangerous as that sounds, Changelings find their abilities becoming more powerful the deeper they go, so some consider it worth the risk.
Changeling Society: Although the game takes place in the modern world, the fae are still very much immersed in a medieval caste system that recognizes a difference between aristocratic nobility and simple commoners. In the past, the nobility ruled over the commoners as the undisputed lords of the Dreaming. But recent decades have forced a change in the power structure. Commoners now have the opportunity to join one of the great noble houses of the fae and earn themselves positions of status, as well as holdings to go along with it. While it is difficult for them to rise to the same levels as a true blooded noble, only the most disgruntled of commoners would make a big deal about it. After all, they've spent countless millennia being forced to live in quiet servitude, so even receiving a minor title is a great honor for them!
While stories of the fae exist all over the world in some fashion or another, the game's base setting takes place in the western parts of the world. In these places, the fae are divided up between the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court, with the occasional addition of a third Shadow Court. The western world is also home to 12 noble houses, who are split evenly between the two courts. While it is possible for house members to join the opposite court, it is generally considered bad form to do so, and those who are willing to go against their family's allegiances are looked upon with suspicion.
All Kithain species of changelings possess both a Seelie and Unseelie legacy, which guides their story and growth throughout development. Whichever legacy they follow, however, depends upon which court they belong to. Switching between courts will cause the changeling to switch to their alternate legacy as well, which depending on the circumstances may either be an improvement or a setback.
The Seelie Court is often characterised by outsiders and inexperienced kithain as being the good court. In truth, however, the Seelie Court is more defined by the virtues of honor and love, rather than any real distinction between right and wrong. While it may sound nice at a casual glance, knightly chivalry may conflict with the morals of the modern world and the fae idea of courtly love is sometimes much removed from the reality faced by mortals. In many ways, the Seelie Code is rooted in martial traditions and the mostly forgotten dreams of the medieval world. In the old days, the Seelie Court ruled during the seasons of Summer and Spring, but in the modern day, it maintains its political power all year round.
The six noble houses that are aligned with the Seelie Court are House Beaumayn, House Dougal, House Eiluned, House Fiona, House Gwydion and House Liam.
The Seelie Code is as follows:
1. Death Before Dishonor - Chivalry still lives. Honor is the most important virtue and the source of all of a changeling's glory. Personal honor must be kept stainless. Sometimes death is the only way to erase dishonor.
2. Love Conquers All - Love is the very heart of the Dreaming. True Love transcends all and is the epitome of what it means to be Seelie. Courtly Love is the best expression of love. It's highest form, though familial love and love of friends also serve as pure embodiments. Anything is permitted in the name of True Love. Oaths such as Oath of Truehearts and Oath of Clasped Hands flow from this value.
3. Beauty Is Life - Beauty is a timeless, objective quality that cannot be defined, but is always recognized for itself. Beauty is the muse of creation; the ultimate flowering of the Dreaming, and when it is found it must be protected for it is both fragile and eternal. To die for beauty is an honor and privilege.
4. Never Forget A Debt - One gift deserves another and the recipient of the gift is obligated to return the favor. In the same way a curse should be returned in kind. An Oath of friendship should be returned in kind. Never refuse to help someone to whom you are indebted. Never forget a kindness or a cruelty.
The Unseelie Court, however, are generally considered to be dark and evil by members of the Seelie Court. This, however, is an over simplified interpretation and does the court a diservice. The Unseelie embraces change and balk at the idea of following traditions simply because that's the way things have always been done. They also believe that the Dreaming has forsaken all Changelings and so they, in turn, have forsaken it. The way of the Unseelie is passionate and pragmagic, satisfying both need and desire alike. In the old days, the Unseelie Court held power during the seasons of Autumn and Winter, but in the modern days, it wields very little political power over the fae.
The six noble houses that are aligned with the Unseelie Court are House Aesin, House Ailil, House Balor, House Daireann, House Leanhuan, and House Varich.
The Unseelie Code is as follows:
1. Change is Good - Security doesn't exist. The smallest circumstances can turn a king into a peasant or vice versa. Change is the only constant in the world, so nothing is certain. One must embrace change or fall before it. Chaos and discord rule the universe. Adapt or die.
2. Glamour is Free - So long as there are humans in the world, there will always be dreamers, and by extension there will always be Glamour. Acquire it by whatever means possible and you'll never be without a constant supply.
3. Honor is a Lie - In the modern, Autumn world, honor has no place; a faerie tale constructed to cover the essential emptiness behind most traditions. Only through enlightened self-interest can truth be attained.
4. Passion Before Duty - Passion is the truest state of the fae spirit. Follow your instinct and act on impulse. Live life to the fullest without regard for the consequences, which will come about no matter what you do. Youth passes quickly, so have fun while you can. Death can come at any time, so live without regret.
Because there are so many noble houses, who each have their own cultures and way of doing things, I will discuss them separately in future uploads.
Finally, the Shadow Court are often misunderstood as being a sub-faction within the Unseelie Court, but actually has a culture and philosophy entirely of its own. They wish to restore the tradition of Seelie ruling during the summer and Unseelie ruling during the winter. They are also more willing to cooperate with darker powers and often have more controversial members among its ranks. More than a few Thallain species of changelings find themselves among the Shadow Court.
Types of Changelings: According to the rule book, there are as many potential species of Changelings as there are creatures in mythology. However, the book provides us with a list of some pre-made species who come with their own strengths and weaknesses. These species are also divided up into different categories, which are based on cultural or regional backgrounds.
Kithain - The faerie folk of central Europe, and the base game's main protagonists. They are born from humanity's dreams and higher aspirations. Over the centuries, the Kithain have gradually spread themselves across most of the western world. They claim to be the children of the Tuatha de Danaan, who mortals once worshiped as pagan deities.
Thallain - The faerie folk of the mythic ages, they predate even the ancient Kithain. Born from nightmares and savage impulses, the Thallain were sealed away from the world by the Kithain for eons until they finally managed to break free of their prisons. While normally used for antagonists, the Thallain are still playable characters for those who want to try a more 'evil' themed story. Instead of possessing both a Seelie and Unseelie legacy, Thallain replace one (usually their Seelie) with a Nightmare legacy.
Dark-Kin - Mysterious faerie folk who had an opposite reaction to the events of the shattering. Cut off from the Autumn World, these changelings remained trapped within the Dreaming for centuries and were affected by the chaotic environment that surrounded them.
Nunnehi - The faerie folk of native American folk lore, the Nunnehi were almost completely wiped out in the aftermath of the shattering that separated mortals from the Dreaming. Their society is organized into tribes, instead of noble houses, and they draw their power from Medicine, instead of Glamour. Although the native cultures have largely recovered over time, inter-tribal feuds keep the Nunnehi quarreling amongst themselves.
Menehune - The faerie folk of the Hawai'ian islands. They are closely related to the Nunnehi and have also suffered greatly over the ages as human belief in them dwindled. They now draw their power from nature, instead of mortals and their connection to the Dreaming has been replaced with the spirit world.
Hsein - The faerie folk of the far east, who claim to have an origin and a purpose that is completely different from their western counterparts. Though not completely unscathed, the Hsein have fared much better over the ages than western fae. The people of eastern Asia revere them as minor deities and fuel their powers with ceremonial worship.
Inanimae - Another race of fae who have been around since the mythic ages. Inanimae originate from a time when everything possessed some level of consciousness, for it was the dreams of nature itself that gave them life. Their ways and intentions are often dramatically different from those born of human minds.
Kiths: Let me say that there are A LOT of different species of changelings to play as in the 20th anniversary edition. In fact, the book says that there are as many potential species of fae as there are creatures in mythology, and provides a guide for creating your own. However, the book is nice enough to provide us with a list of pre-made species that come with the base game. European species refer to themselves as Kiths, and are predominantly associated with the Kithain. The base game has 12 pre-made Kiths, which I have provided a brief preview of them below.
Boggans - dreams of home and hospitality gave life to these friendly little creatures. Boggans are a species of house faerie who enjoy hard work and entertaining guests. As long as nobody is watching them work, Boggans have the magical ability to complete a chore in only a third of the time it would normally take. Because of this, the Boggans often find themselves employed as manual laborers by the fae community.
Clurichaun - the original inspiration behind the leprechaun myth. Clurichauns are a species of faerie native to Ireland who eventually spread further out into the world. They love music, drinking and brawling. Clurichauns have the magical ability to analyze personalities during battle, and they often start first fights with new acquaintances in order to get a sense of who that person is.
Eshu - dreams of adventure and exploration gave life to these wayfaring nomads. Eshu are a species of wandering faeries who travel both the Autumn World and the Dreaming in search of new experiences and stories. Upon arriving in a new location, they share stories of their adventures to any who are willing to listen. Because they are moving around so often, Eshu also find themselves valued as travel guides by the fae community.
Nockers - dreams of creation and ingenuity gave life to these tinkerers. Nockers are another species of house faerie who are famous for their magically imbued craftsmanship. Unfortunately, their amazing talent is offset by their poor social etiquette. Nockers are almost always in a foul mood, and they have the foul language to match.
Piskies - lovable mischief makers, Piskies are a species of shapeshifting faeries who always look like they belong in the crowd. They are great listeners who will let you ramble on for hours without losing interest, and they have a magical talent for swiping things that don't belong to them. Because of these qualities, Piskies are often used as spies and couriers by the fae community.
Pooka - dreams of playfulness and laughter gave life to the pranksters. Pooka are a species of shapeshifting faeries who share a connection to a specific animal species. If nobody is looking at them, they can take this animal's form, or revert back to their regular state. Despite their reputation for being compulsive liars, Pooka love to make other people happy and are usually a welcomed addition to the fae community.
Redcaps - dreams of hunger and violence gave life to these voracious rebels. Redcaps are a species of ill behaved faeries who have a reputation for being disruptive miscreants. They have the magical ability to safely digest anything they can swallow, which is quite a large list, due to their teeth being razor sharp and strong as metal. Redcaps have an innate hatred for authority figures and are constantly lashing out against those who hold higher status than themselves. Their name comes from the now abandoned practice of dipping their wool caps in the blood of their enemies.
Satyr - dreams of passion and excess gave life to these rambunctious party animals. Satyrs are a species of bestial faeries who possess the horns and legs of a goat. Self restraint is not one of their strong suits, and when a Satyr finds something to amuse themselves with, they dive into it head first. Although the common depiction of Satyrs is that they are male, they can actually be either gender!
Selkies - dreams of the sea and its mysterious allure gave life to these enticing amphibians. Selkies are another species of faerie who are native to Ireland, but eventually spread further out into the world. All Selkies possess a chimerical seal coat, which allows them to take the form of that animal while they are in contact with salt water. The coat is linked to their spiritual life force, and destroying the coat will instantly destroy their faerie spirit as well.
Sidhe (Arcadian) - dreams of skill and beauty gave life to these most esteemed aristocrats. Arcadian Sidhe are members of the nobility who chose to abandon the Autumn World and took shelter within Arcadia, only returning to our world during the events of the resurgence. Because they are nobility by birth, all Sidhe belong to one of the noble houses, where as membership is optional for commoners. They have not adapted well to the social changes of the modern world and are seen by many commoners as being snobbishly arrogant.
Sidhe (Autumn) - not all members of the nobility abandoned their servants to save themselves. Autumn Sidhe are those who stayed behind in our world and worked together with the commoners to ensure the safety of all fae. While their exposure to our world marked them as tainted in the eyes of their Arcadian cousins, the Autumn Sidhe earned a great deal of respect from the commoners. They have proven themselves worthy of being called nobles, instead of having the position handed to them on a silver platter.
Sluagh - Dreams of darkness and death gave life to these creepy scholars. Sluagh are a race of terrifying faeries who enjoy their reputation of being creepy. They pride themselves on collecting knowledge, especially if it has to deal with the occult. Adding to their creepiness factor is the fact that a Sluagh's voice is never raised louder than a whisper, meaning that people have to be very close by in order to hold a conversation with them.
Trolls - Dreams of honor and duty gave life to these stalwart defenders. Trolls are a species of Nordic faeries who often serve as warriors and guardians of the fae community. A Troll's mind and body are literally as strong as their word, and once they have sworn an oath, there is almost nothing capable of deterring them from upholding it.
In Closing: While I've talked about the basic jist of things, the 20th anniversary edition for Changeling, the Lost has a crap load more content to read up on. I didn't even go over species from the other types of changelings, such as the Nunnehi's Rock Giants, or the Hsein's Tanuki (yes, you can be a magical raccoon dog!)
Like most of the 20th anniversary edition rule books for the classic World of Darkness, this one is quite pricey, selling for roughly 60 American dollars. It also places more emphasis on explaining the mechanical rules of the game, instead of going into detail about its surrounding lore. However, if your main concern is learning how to play the game, then this book has virtually all the mechanical rules you would ever need (or want) to know about.
Changeling the Dreaming, 20th anniversary edition (or just C20, if you want to shorten it) is the second book I purchased for the classic World of Darkness series and so far I'm enjoying it. Even if there's nobody around to play with, the content alone still makes for great writing material. In fact, I'm considering writing some Dreaming related stories in the future, once I figure out how I want to do them.
That does it for this basic introductory. Next time, I'll talk about my other 20th anniversary book, Vampire, the Masquerade!