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Bound in Dreams: Freeholds

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A freehold can be a many splendored thing, even when it is a treacherous or broken group, because it is made up of such fascinating pieces.  At its simplest, a freehold is a gathering of more than a handful of changelings who band together to deal with difficulties in the real world and supernatural incursions.  It also provides a support structure for the newly returned, since changelings fresh out of the Thorns can be traumatized, out of step with the present day, and dangerous to themselves and others.  But beneath the surface, freeholds give changelings a place to be themselves, to reveal (and even revel  in) their magic and their madness, and to obtain a dose of the strangeness that has become a part of their being.  While smaller freeholds are more easily hidden and protected, larger freeholds have a lot more to offer, from magical services to mundane benefits like a place to stay.  And although an area might only have enough changelings to make up one freehold, a larger metropolitan region could have several groups vying for resources, territory, and respect.  Whether they like it or not, changelings need each other and most will eventually end up requiring a freehold’s aid.

Coming up with a nuanced organization of changelings isn’t necessarily a simple task, however.  Although the core book provides basic details and Lords of Summer goes further in-depth, the different aspects you need to consider can seem maddeningly spread out.  It can be difficult to know where to begin, what to include, and where to end, particularly if you don’t have a strong mental image to work from.  It’s for this reason that I came up with a worksheet and something of a flow chart for freehold creation.  I needed an organized way to approach the whole process and I’ve honed it over four freeholds now.  While some Storytellers won’t need a recipe to follow, others might be glad to have a breadcrumb trail through the woods.

Download: blank freehold worksheet in PDF
Download: editable freehold worksheet, courtesy of Nin
See an example of a (mostly) completed freehold worksheet

Name: Changelings tend to shy away from deeply fanciful and fairy-tale oriented names for their freeholds, if only to avoid drawing the attention of the Others.  Instead, many are christened in honor of founders and local heroes (like Arlene’s Gather in the C:tL main book).  Some assemblies choose names that reflect their places of origin, from city nicknames (like the Hornet’s Nest in Charlotte) to street names (such as The House of Bourbon, based on Bourbon Street, New Orleans), area codes (The 310), neighborhood designations (the Back Creek Bishops), and the like.  A few Autumn courtiers believe that naming freeholds after real world features and places links them strongly to the earth and provides an extra layer of protection.  Freeholds with a heavy presence of a particular seeming might have names that reflect it, with beasts referring to animals or their best-known features, for instance.  Some use archaic terms (Galimaufry) or nonsense words, while others try to make sure the name blends in and doesn't sound too outlandish (The Moros Motor Lodge).  A few fall back on gang names (often involving ‘locos’) or on titles that reflect the major focus of the freehold (The Bargain Hunters).  
For on-the-spot or quick freehold names, consider adding the following together:

  • description (colors, directions, new/old, substances, temperament) + thing (The Iron Thorns)
  • action + thing (The Roaming Rule)
  • thing + thing (The Shield of Rust)

Population: The number of changelings based out of a particular freehold will depend on a number of factors, from the prevalence of gateways in the area to the volatility of the people involved.  If there are few ways in and out of the Hedge then few changelings will emerge from the Thorns, which will probably keep the freehold’s numbers low.  Lords of Summer provides some extra insight into the permeability of the Hedge and how it can go against what many of us might expect.  In short, cities that are burgeoning with mortals do not necessarily burst at the seams with changelings.  On the other hand, while many refugees are too scared and paranoid to move away from the place they first arrived, some will take their chances elsewhere for many different reasons.  A well-established but public fetch can make it difficult to stay in the same city, while the regular presence of one’s Keeper (or his minions) might drive anyone away.  If the freehold is unbearably oppressive or out of sync with what a changeling wants and needs, she might choose to flee rather than fight to change things.  But even the best gatherings will see some turnover as members die, move, decide to go stealthy and stay away for a while, or mysteriously disappear.  

It helps to know who has been in the freehold the longest, which roles (if any) they have played, and what their attitudes toward newer members are likely to be.  If all of the long-standing (and likely high-ranking) members are irascible and horrible to deal with, don’t be surprised when player characters seek to get rid of them or start to avoid the freehold.  It also helps to have an idea of how long it will take before members will start trusting new inductees enough to trade information or favors without swearing pledges.  A little paranoia can go a long way but too much paranoia can be overwhelming for players to have to handle at every turn.  If everyone is always accommodating, however, player characters will start to take advantage and any believability will start to suffer.  A careful balance is important for the freehold a chronicle is based out of, while Storytellers should feel free to experiment with freeholds the player characters happen upon elsewhere.  After all, sometimes a good look at another person’s living situation is all you need to appreciate your own.

Another thing to consider is how many sworn members there are, since that will give you a rough idea of the freehold’s variety of services and its influence on the mortal world.  While smaller groups can be quite influential, they will probably have to rely more heavily on pledgebound mortals, powerful Contracts, pacts with goblins, or perhaps other, less savory dealings.  More members makes it more likely that the freehold has connections to major elements like local hospitals and jails, at least through one or two changelings.  Temporary hangers-on are usually going to be new escapees who have yet to be sworn in.  Most gatherings make some allowances and provisions for those fresh out of the Thorns, providing information, shelter, and some monetary support to get the new refugees started.  But most freeholds are not inexhaustible charities and after a set period of time, they will ask changelings to be sworn in or to move on.

Temporary guests could also consist of ambassadors from other freeholds or even nobles who are hoping to find someone suitable to join their entitlement.  Messengers might stay over for a time, and it is not unheard of for particularly damaged changelings to be passed along from one caretaker to the next.  Some changelings who have lost everything might move from town to town looking for a place to fit in.  A few are quite aware that they are valuable assets and want to see first-hand what a freehold can offer them before promising anything.

Inception: Freeholds aren’t created every day and the era in which a gathering was formalized can say a lot about what it is like now.  It can be an easy Storyteller tool to take the myths and tones of an era and apply them to a freehold conceived during that time, from the paranoia at the heart of the Red Scare to the rampant greed and glitter of the 1980s.  Some groups come together in direct response to greater historical events, such as the freeholds that sprang up in the wake of World War II, while others were influenced despite their desires to remain separate (as with the great and unwilling changes in some freeholds following the Civil Rights movement).  The very age of the organization can give indications of its development, as well.  Venerable freeholds might be a lot more stable, with well-set meetings and locations as well as tightly scheduled obligations.  Fresh groups tend to be openly turbulent, testing their limits both within and without and trying to gain the resources they need.  The reasons for a group’s creation will also influence its stance on many things, such as local freeholds and goblin markets.

Dissolution: Every society has its history, and that progression includes failed experiments and outright mistakes.  Some groups have been formed after other freeholds have fallen apart, been scattered by enemies, or been abandoned by enough members.  A few assemblies seem to be doomed from the start, sometimes due to actual curses or vendettas laid by changelings, goblins, or Keepers.  Many are destroyed by toxic Court politics, backstabbing, and Court leaders who have gotten well out of control.  Other freeholds never really get off the ground or gain traction, leaving members disappointed and on the drift.  At worst, it ends up like many divorces: messy, angry, and fraught with resentment and misunderstandings.  At best, it’s a sad occasion marked by acknowledgement of failure and loss.  

Virtue/Vice: Knowing the virtue and vice of a group gives a quick guide to its overall tone and reactions.  Members whose virtues and vices are close to the group’s are likely to approve of the freehold’s methods and aims; members whose virtues and vices oppose the group’s are likely to be on the fringes and uncomfortable with the way things are run.  The predominant virtue and vice of a freehold might shift radically with the seasons, depending on how tight a rein each Court has when it’s in ascendance.  

Those rooted in envy might regularly lash out against other freeholds, neighbors, or other rivals who have things the freehold craves.  Changelings can be quite underhanded in this, however, using dreams, pledges, and Hedge gateways to harm targets before they even know what is going on.

Freeholds given to gluttony can be quite understanding of drug and alcohol addictions, eating disorders, and other compulsive habits - and can enable them a little too often.  They might hold parties that devolve into pits of intoxication that leave the freehold or its allies open to attack.

Greedy freeholds can be filled paranoia that leads to reinforced underground bunkers, hoarding of survival supplies, and ATF investigations.  Others build up extensive properties and networks, all for the freehold's good, of course (and never mind if it garners unwanted attention).

Lustful freeholds might do a steady business in catering to the desires of mortals, and are also likely to have a freehold prostitute whose services are open only to changelings.  But they also flirt with dangerous diseases when they get carried away - and they have a penchant for throwing caution (and condoms) to the wind.

Prideful assemblies have a way of biting off more than they can chew.  Perhaps they threaten the police, or worse, other supernaturals in the area.  Perhaps they take the juiciest tract of real estate beside the best local trod and ignore how bad the repercussions could be from the goblins who used to live there.  Either way, they won’t see the payback coming.

Slothful gatherings tend to leave freehold business in the hands of mortal servants as much as possible, only to find things sold or spent without permission when it’s too late.  They even try to maneuver other supernaturals into striking against Keepers or unwittingly defending targets important to the freehold.

Sometimes wrathful changelings direct their anger at each other, bullying their way into some kind of pecking order.  Other times, freeholds strike out at targets even when they should be conserving their strength, or when they risk drawing the attention of every cop for miles, putting everyone in danger.  But they are filled to the brim with anger that must be spent somehow...

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