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What To Do With Changeling: the Lost

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Trespass"Trespass" by eilidh (resized) is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0

 

 

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 as to why and some guidance.

Why Is It Like This?

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, and return to earth with disparate goals. They can be menaced by a dizzying array of foes, but what one changeling encounters constantly might be unknown to others. And with pledges, dreams, and Contracts, non-combat changelings can work, 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. 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 and will do all they can protect unwary humans. They might make decisions together, like a motley that guards 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 refrain from joining them. Changelings cannot help but see fae things 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.

What Players Can Do

A key to figuring out what changelings do is choice. There are many combinations of kiths, seemings, Contracts, and items you can pick from, and for some players, that variety is exciting. But for others, Changeling may seem boring or impossible to play because too many possibilities can be paralyzing, especially when you’re new to a game. Worse yet, it can feel like the coolest things have already happened when changelings live in the real world and their Arcadian experiences are behind them.

The first step is to use the character creation process to build interests and goals. Choose your kith and seeming as soon as you can. They might suggest a fairy tale you can use to establish the character’s Keeper and background. If you’re not sure which combination to pick, base the character on a reference picture, find a combination with complimentary powers, or ask your Storyteller for help. Then you can ask yourself:

  • What do they want to do about their background (family, friends, job)?

  • What do they want to do about their Keeper, its realm, and its minions?

For these questions, consider the basic reactions to a threat: Fight, flee, freeze, appease, and negotiate. How does your character tend to react?

Next, decide your character’s ratings in attributes and abilities. These ratings will show you where a character’s strengths and weaknesses are, and you can use them to generate interests. Consider the following:

  • Which attributes or abilities do they want to master?

  • Do they want to find a teacher to help them improve?

  • Which attributes or abilities would they like to teach others?

Merits that deal with the human world can help you consider what your character wants to do there. Having ideas about the family and friends they left behind can also be a boon. Think about these things:

  • What role do they want to play in the normal world?

  • How normal do they want to appear to be?

  • What kinds of everyday life goals (love, marriage, children, education, travel, art, money, ownership, etc.) do they have?

Contracts, supernatural merits, and pledges can help flesh out fae motives. Most changelings will have to deal with the fae world, and all of them are attracted to some part of it, even if they don’t want to be. So ask yourself:

  • Do they want to be active in a Court, freehold, or entitlement?

  • What do they want from other fae (changelings, goblins, dream creatures, and so on)?

  • What are they drawn to, and how do they feel about that?

  • What do they value in the worlds they have access to?

Once characters are in play, they will encounter plenty of things they want to explore or conquer. The first goals you come up with may change, be resolved or abandoned - but you should rarely run out of things to do.

What Storytellers Can Do

Storytellers also have decisions to make that should not be underestimated or ignored. There is likely to be unfinished business that will resurface when a changeling least expects it. They will face a world of fae intrigue and have two other realms - the Hedge and dreams - to explore. And unlike vampires, mages, and most other supernaturals, changelings live with a price on their heads. Their Keepers bear undying grudges, loyalists lurk, and other creatures can be sent to hunt them. If a player ever flounders for what their character can get into next, a Storyteller should have ideas ready.

Setting

First, spread fae seeds across the setting. A Storyteller can do this on their own or ask for input from their players as they flesh out main locations.

  • What are the major fae influences at work, and where are they located?

  • How strong and organized are the local Courts?

  • How active and close-knit are the local freeholds?

  • Are fae factions close to or at war with each other?

  • Are certain Keepers known to hunt the region?

  • Is there a goblin market?

  • How many gates are in the city?

The answers to these questions will lead to many early tales. If there’s a strong Court system in an active freehold, the player characters will probably have to deal with Court duties and politics. If the freehold is about to go to war, player character goals 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.

You can narrow down the scope of a game by deciding what is and isn’t prevalent in the area. Not all cities suffer common incursions by the True Fae, for instance. Not all locations are riddled with gates or trods, and Hedges vary widely. If the players express a desire for an element that isn’t around, see if it can be added. Likewise, if players despise something, see what can be done to resolve it. But these features should be able to be interacted with, giving changeling characters particular things they can do.

Preludes

The next step is to build hooks in character preludes that can be accessed later in the game. A prelude is a great tool in many ways. It provides a montage of a character’s life before the starting date of the chronicle, stringing together vignettes from childhood, supernatural incidents, points of connection, and scenes of emotional importance. Some matters that arise in a prelude will be resolved by its end, but there should be a few issues which can be reignited by the character or NPCs.

The best and easiest way to do this is to look at the player’s character sheet and ask them some of the questions posed above. You can then weave their feedback into the prelude. After the prelude concludes, ask the player which aspects they would like to see come up again in the chronicle or which parts of their prelude they really do not want to revisit. Ultimately, these hooks will probably fall into three categories: people, events, and goals. You can draw from them as a chronicle develops, ideally focusing on a different character’s past each time and weaving it into the present.

From Magic Realism to Fairyland

Since Changeling: the Lost is a game about how fairy tales encroach on the real world, it helps to weave the magical into the mundane. But just how enchanted does your group want the setting to be? The frequency and urgency of fae influence established at the start of a chronicle will be the baseline for a while, so it’s worth taking a moment to think about your game’s style. We can envision this on a spectrum which can apply to any World of Darkness game, with a few small changes (based on character type):

Just a Pinch: In this approach, mystical forces make brief and rare appearances (but may be more powerful or strange as a result). Player characters may not rely on their supernatural gifts often or see many powers used by others. They will probably be more dedicated to their old lives and trying to fit in with mortal society. This could mean that they avoid other changelings, stick to a motley, or barely interact with freeholds and Courts. Trips to the Hedge will likely be limited, and visits to dreams will focus on symbolism more than fae incursions. Fae threats will be uncommon but can be more dangerous because they are unexpected and most characters will not be ready to meet them.

A Favorite Spice: This style makes regular use of magic and strange creatures without losing sight of the real world. Fae flourishes are woven into the mundane but everyday problems can still be significant. Player characters will use their unusual abilities but not first and foremost. Because otherworldly forces are more pressing, changelings will have a harder time blending into normal life, but it’s not impossible. They will probably spend half their time in the company of other fae, visiting the Hedge, or diving into dreams, which will lead to more encounters with fae threats. Since they participate more in the fae world, however, the player characters are more likely to have access to tokens, hedge fruit, and other enchanted goods that can boost their power.

Pour it on Everything: At this end of the spectrum, fantasy reigns supreme. The player characters spend most of their time dealing with magical matters and rely on supernatural solutions. Enchanted objects are everywhere, along with passages to the Hedge and dreams. Changelings are more likely to encounter - and become - living legends, while mortals are more likely to be helpless victims. Real world threats make brief appearances and leave little impact; on the flip side, mystical dangers will likely be potent and elaborate. Characters will spend more time cultivating their standing in the fae world than anything else, investing heavily in Contracts, Court Status, tokens, and Hollows. Adventures in other realms are frequent, and taking the fight to Arcadia is a real possibility.

You can ask players about their preferences outright or take hints from their character goals. If players want their characters to have day jobs and try to recapture their mortal lives, they probably want hints of the fae, at least to start with. If most of their goals are supernatural in nature, they want to engage with the fae more often. If they have particularly grand fae schemes and give little attention to mortal affairs, they may want a lot more fantasy.

But never forget: Magical details can help every kind of Changeling game. Changelings are living fairy tales and fairy tale patterns follow them wherever they go. Just when they seem to be free from the fae world, they will be drawn back in. Reading fairy tales can provide a storehouse of tropes and twists to use. 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. Variety, in the end, is the ultimate spice.

Stories

One way to help focus a chronicle is to have a larger plot at work in the background. This should be something the players will be interested in and which will affect the characters eventually, like a political coup, a new freehold, or a Loyalist plot. The story may have a beginning, a middle, and an anticipated end, but the player characters should be able to have a major impact, if they choose to get involved. If they do not, there should be consequences, but these should not aim to punish the players. Instead, the fallout should shape the next chapter in good and bad ways. Some players, particularly new ones, might be grateful for a larger story to react to while they’re learning how to use their characters.

You can break your game down to the most basic types - combat, political, or stealth - and present options through that lens. In a combat-heavy chronicle, for instance, fighting will be a way to overcome most obstacles and may be hard to avoid. Considering a genre for your game can also open up things for characters to do. In a romantic chronicle, relationships affect everything, form obstacles, and are goals, and what you do in one relationship can make or break another. Lastly, you may want to try alternative stories to the main Changeling narrative. A chronicle that features fetches, Loyalists, or privateers will provide unusual challenges. How will the player characters abduct, hold, and transfer people to Arcadia or goblins? How does a fetch respond when the person they replaced returns and begins to hunt them?

In the End

Adaptability and imagination will be honed by running or playing Changeling: the Lost. Even if you’re in the best Changeling game of your life, at times you might feel lost. This is not a flaw; it’s a feature. The choice really is yours, and you can pick a new direction at any time, the way we do in dreams. You can draw inspiration from anywhere and translate anything into Changeling’s terms. Whenever you’re not sure how to proceed, don’t hesitate to use your dreams, take a trope from a fairy tale, or grab a tarot deck and see how a card strikes you. The only way to lose at Changeling: the Lost is to give up.

So, what do changelings do?

They hide, explore, and defend. They compete and avenge. They create wonders even if they’re falling apart. They try to negotiate and sometimes take the bait. They punish, torture, and ravage. They rule and serve, and might even try to become one of the Others. They get in over their heads but always find a way to fight back. They escape and bind. They lose and lie. They struggle to understand and be understood, to hold onto the past and create a future. They learn to trust, love, and revel in life. They reveal the truth more than they like. They aid the weak. They stalk the guilty and otherworldly. They age and die. They are born again in legends.

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 keep on going and nothing they do ever has to be boring.

 

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