What To Do With Changeling: the Lost
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One of the most persistent questions I’ve seen about Changeling: the Lost over the years has been: “But what do changelings do?” I’ve noticed that it’s not just asked by newcomers, but also by those who have read the main book cover to cover. Many times, this lack of direction frustrates gamers who are intrigued by what they’ve seen and heard about Changeling but cannot imagine how it should be played. They can’t find an intended goal for the whole experience. They want to wrap their minds around it but need a place to start. And worse yet, the books seem determined not to give them any easy answers.
I am here to offer some explanation why and some guidance.
One of the main reasons for this trouble is the way the game is designed. The very concept of what a changeling is can shift dramatically from one character to the next. They are snatched from diverse backgrounds, shaped by fae magic for a multitude of tasks in Arcadia, and return to earth with disparate goals based on their circumstances. They can be menaced by a dizzying array of foes, but what one changeling encounters constantly might be unknown to other changelings. Further, their pledges, dream abilities, and Contracts make non-combat changelings viable characters even in violent settings.
There isn’t one overarching role or duty for changelings to perform because of this variety. That’s not to say that they never have anything in common or that some themes aren’t prevalent. Some changelings grew up in the same era, others had similar tasks in Arcadia, and a few escape together. Many changelings despise privateers and loyalists as a rule and will try to do something to help protect unwary humans. They might also make choices together, like a motley that works together to guard a favorite neighborhood. But a group of changelings that works together is called a motley because the members often vary widely from one another.
Changelings also have no mandated mission from on high. They have no gods or spirits urging them to do something in particular. The books suggest that Courts and freeholds are too valuable to pass up, but a changeling can try to refrain from joining any of them. The books point out that changelings cannot help but see fae things at work in the world around them, but they have no prescribed way to react to what they see. Generally speaking, no one is going to punish them for not being “fae enough,” so hiding out from the Hedge or other fae experiences is possible.
A key to figuring out what changelings do is choice. Changeling can seem boring or impossible because too many possibilities can be paralyzing, especially when you’re new to a game. Worse, it can feel like nothing worthwhile or interesting is available when changelings live in the real world and their Arcadian experiences are behind them. It can help to ask players what they see their characters doing, not just in the real world but with other fae creatures. Do they bother with a day job or do they use fae tricks to get by so they can enjoy other projects? Do they try to take their old lives back? Who are they hoping to reconnect with? Their character builds can also reveal what they want to do by the skills and powers they invest in.
But Storytellers also have decisions to make that should not be underestimated or ignored. The setting and the fae parts of it can shape the type of stories that are most likely to come from those elements. If there’s a strong Court structure with a lot of intrigue, the player characters will probably have to deal with Court duties and politics. If there are many gates in the city, new changelings are probably going to show up more often. If the freehold is about to go to war with another freehold suspected of harboring loyalists, whatever the player characters are doing might get interrupted by the chaos. Even if the players help build the setting, the Storyteller’s descriptions and reactions guide the process of what gets highlighted and what falls into the background.
It is important, then, to be open to making the mundane a magical experience. Changelings are living fairy tales in their own right, and fairy tales follow them wherever they go. Strange stories grow out of whatever they do, no matter how normal it seems. It might sound terribly boring if a player wants to their changeling character to have a day job, but that doesn’t mean the job will stay dull. It might have more going on behind the scenes than the changeling knows from the very start. Reading some fairy tales and keeping those fairy tale tropes and twists in mind can also open up novel situations. If things seem to be stagnating, inject a fairy tale element. If things are getting too hectic and strange, play up the normal aspects of life.
And it helps to remember that while everything seems available, only so many possibilities are likely in a given situation. One way to help focus a game is to have a bigger plot thread to work from (something that the players will be interested in). You can have a Changeling game with a beginning point, mid-point, and even an end in mind, and while the players should be able to shape the game, too, this can help focus some of the action and sessions. Some players, particularly new ones, might also be grateful to have a larger story to react to while they’re learning how to best use their characters.
You can narrow down the scope by deciding what is and isn’t a big deal in the area. Not all cities have common incursions by the True Fae, for instance. Your town might not have heard of one showing up for fifty years. Not all locations are riddled with gates or trods, either. Some Hedges might have more sentient hobgoblins, though, or they might have frequent patches of goblin fruit that ripen with new treats. If the players express a desire for an element that isn’t around, see if it can be added or played up. (Likewise, if players begin to despise something, review that aspect and what can be done with it carefully.) But these features should be able to be interacted with, giving changeling characters particular things they can do.
You can also break the game down to the most basic types. If you want to have a more combat-oriented experience, play up conflicts and the need for fighting skills. If you’re hoping for more sneaking and intrigue, offer different ways to take down obstacles and highlight skills and merits that help keep the changeling from being directly threatened. If you want or need the changelings to be good guys, give them some awful villains to fight and define themselves against. On the other hand, letting players portray loyalists or privateers will provide other challenges. How do they abduct, hold, and transfer people to Arcadia or goblin contacts? How do they keep off the radar of other changelings?
Regardless, adaptability and imagination are traits that will be called upon often and cultivated by running or playing Changeling: the Lost. And even if you are flexible and in the best Changeling game of your life, at times you might feel lost as to what to do or where to go next. This is not the worst thing that can happen or a flaw in the game; it is a human inevitability. This is where the brilliance of Changeling can shine through, though. It never needs to be a simplistic experience in which A always leads to B and then to C because the character is X. You can use fairy tale ideas and dream-like associations to figure out the next step. Pick an NPC and twist something about them. Take something from the character’s back story and bring it up to see where it goes. Grab a tarot deck and build the next story from the luck of the draw.
Try taking one of the threads below and dreaming up a fae story from it, taking whatever comes or using a randomizer to help you. Asks the journalist’s questions of who, what, where, when, why, and how to fill things in. What do your changelings do?
They fall apart
They take the bait
They get in over their heads
In the end, you will see that the proper questions are: “What don’t changelings do? Dear God, when do changelings ever rest?” Because even when they sleep, they can keep working and having adventures and nothing they do ever has to be boring.