For whatever reason, my mind has been back in the 1990s lately and specifically in the World of Darkness – the Original World of Darkness. Perhaps it is the launch of the fifth edition Vampire RPG, but I wanted to revisit the World of Darkness, and in particular what is arguably the most divisive of that line – Changeling: The Dreaming.
Changeling: The Dreaming was the fifth of the five World of Darkness core games put out by White Wolf Game Studio in the 90s which began with Vampire: The Masquerade. It was a unique game even within what was at the time a rather revolutionary game design being used by White Wolf and created a fervent fan base but one that was smaller than the other games. Despite a second edition, Changeling was transitioned to the Arthouse imprint White Wolf developed to maintain lines and properties that were not generating sufficient profit to be in the main line. Arthouse failed, however, to really advance the line or even put out much in the way of new books. Changeling:The Dreaming had the brightest colored books in the OWOD line because it was, in my opinion, also the most tragic. In working on this project, my love of the game and setting was rekindled and, as has happened with other Card Catalog series, it’s inspired me to go spend some money on the Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary book from Onyx Path Publishing (and the Boggan Kithbook promised to us 20 years ago but only just delivered in 2018).
Usually, I would save this for Setting Notes, but the way in which Changeling ended and it’s absolutely polarizing status deserves some discussion. What I saw in Changeling was the inevitability of loss – you were going to lose your fight against banality as a concept eventually. There wasn’t really anything you could do. It provided the immediacy of imagination and the value of it, in an almost metadefense of tabletop role playing games when it still needed a defense, while providing the biggest differentiation from the other WWGS games. Changeling was a victim in some ways to having the least clear metaplot of the OWOD setting; the First Edition had stories but no overarching movement to the world. This left some supplements and writers to take things in different directions that fed that confusion. While steeped heavily in Celtic mythology, it wasn’t solely tied to it with the Core rulebook incorporating character types from Africa, Russia, and Nordic folklore. As the books expanded, the folklore available exploded the potential character concepts and a game born of imagination that was showing an explosion of imaginative concepts suffered for showing too much.
The Second Edition began to show some metaplot and to create some dynamism in the setting, but it also suffered from having a rehash of the other plots being foisted upon it in the midst of a larger direct plot. No longer was the inevitable winter the danger that was an existential threat, which couldn’t be seen, but the precursor evil and powerful beings were stirring and making their way back to the world. This just felt like a retread of the Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse metaplots. The imepnding fae civil war from the kidnapping of High King David never really came to fruition. Players seemed taken aback by the concept of courtly love and Romance creating a difficult time for the writers who faced a world built around courtly intrigue where these Romances and romances would matter. While shuffled off to the ArtHouse imprint of White Wolf, Changeling at best only maintained the niche but passionate fan base. Changeling:The Dreaming wasn’t given a nice wrap up like Wraith: The Oblivion, the other underperforming core OWOD book, and instead slowly withered on the vine with releases petering out and support dwindling until it was just one chapter in a book that collected the end of all the leftover lines in the OWOD. Sadly fitting to the larger themes of Changeling:The Dreaming.
We took a look at the Storyteller System a bit when we looked at the offshoot Street Fighter setting published by White Wolf. As a refresher, if you don’t want to go reread my magnum opus of street fighter stables, the Storyteller System builds dice pools by combining a an Attribute with an Ability for a number of d10s. IN the first edition of the Storyteller System games, the target numbers were variable allowing a Storyteller to set the difficulty but in the Second Edition, White Wolf streamlined the system by setting a static target number and having Storytellers adjust how many successes were needed. A ranking of 5 is considered the best a normal human could achieve in an attribute or an ability.
Before you reach your actual traits to score, the game asks you to consider your Fae Legacies, which take the place of other games Nature and Demeanor – because the Seelie & UnSeelie courts now mirror each other and Fae shift between them, you have two legacies to help shape your character. The Seelie are the classical nurturing and honorable fae while the Unseelie see Honor as a lie and ravage human dreamers for their own sustenance. This is also where you make some initial choices like what kith, or species of fae, you will be playing and what age- Childling, Wilder, or Grump. These three choices – which Court your currently follow, your kith, and your Seeming – are the most consequential in shaping your character to follow.
Attributes are divided into three categories, with three attributes in each. Your physical Attributes encompass Strength, Dexterity, and Stamina while your Mental Attributes included Perception, Intelligence, and Wits. The Social Attributes were Charisma, Manipulation, and Appearance. The OWOD Storyteller System games had a set of 10 Abilities in each of the three classifications of Abilities – Talents, Skills, and Knowledges. The specific Abilities would change from game to game, as the core focus of the game may have different concerns but they could all be used together or imported between games easily.
Each of the five OWOD Games differentiated the greatest in the Advantages Section. This includes the Backgrounds, special powers, and virtues that changed from game to game. Where a Vampire would have a Blood Pool and a measure of Humanity, Changeling for example tracked both Glamour (imagination and inspiration) as well as Banality (the mundane day to day dreariness). Changelings magic system was unique in OWOD. Changeling Cantrips are combinations of Arts, which define an effect, and Realms which define the targets of the effect. To accomplish these also requires a Bunk, or some sort of action invoking the glamour behind the Cantrip. In First Edition, you bought or made a deck of cards with the various Arts, Realms, and Bunks and would need to draw a hand to see what you had to cast them. If this sounds familiar, that would be because WWGS also used a Card based concept in Street Fighter around the same time as Changeling was released. While the idea of combining an effect with a target is great and we’ve seen it carry through into other aspects of gaming since then, the card and the complexity of the original Cantrip rules were a bit of a barrier. Second Edition did away with the card and the more random part of that system, standardizing the effects somewhat. For the purposes of Card Catalog, we will be using the Second Edition rules (and setting) We’ll talk more about the specific Arts and Realms in the individual Character Creation sections to come.
Changelings Virtues included the aforementioned Glamour and Banality, but you determined the starting values based on your age. Changeling very much leaned into the idea that the youthful are more imaginative and that growing old means growing up and leaving behind your “imaginary” friends. I’ll make one Childling and one Grump in the characters just for some diversity while we are at it.
To recap, a pool of d10s ranging from 1 to 10 made by adding up an Attribute score and an Ability Score is rolled against a static target number to determine an effect. Changelings can cast magic called Cantrips through the interaction of their Arts and Realms which are fueled by Glamour and Willpower while trying to resist acquiring too much banality which would undo their chimerical essence.
Born of the magic of imagination and belief, the Fae were always with us and shared our world. It wasn’t until the Sundering, when imagination was limited and the trods to Arcadia closed that the Changelings ever had to deal with being trapped here with us. They adapted, and shared bodies and souls with us to insulate themselves from the banality of our realm – the very lack of imagination and wonder would slowly undo them. The nobles, for the most part, had tucked tail and ran back to Arcadia while the Commoners made their way through the world for hundreds of years with the Sidhe’s high handed rulership. It was harder now, where there was no retreat to the land of pure wonder and dreams. The banality of this world beat down on the fae at every turn and grew heavier with every year of their life. The commoners found a way to share be born into the bodies of humans, shielding them from the worse effects but forcing them to live a double life ever balancing between the chimerical fae world just beneath the surface the the banality inducing day to day life of their body.
All that changed in the summer of 1969. When humans landed on the moon, the trods long closed tore open and through those passages came nobles who had long abandoned our world. The sidhe returned and tried to reassert their feudal structure. This did not go well. A war broke out between the Commoners who stayed behind and who had adapted to this world and the newly returning Sidhe lords and ladies seeking dominance. Something had them fleeing Arcadia, but what and why was left unanswered. The sidhe were not as inured to the ravages of banality, but this did not stop them from claiming newly reinvigorated Fae Freeholds.
The war wound down when a young sidhe found possession of Caliburn, the legendary sword that was the basis for excalibur. As the war finished and this young David was crowned the High King, he made overtures to the Commoners and to the disgraced House Liam. He spoke for more than just the returning Sidhe as a world born new wildling. The War ended, some Commoners found Noble rank, and the Kingdoms of Concordia pledged their fealty to the High King of Tara Nor – David Ardry. It is only lately, as tensions mount that the High King’s future comes into question.
In the decades since, the High King holding on to his fae mien through judicious time in faerie freeholds holding banality at bay, the Shadow Court has arisen as a true faction. The Gallain – creatures of pure nightmare without any part of the higher hopes and dreams – returned as well pushing on the shaky foundations of the faerie world. Noble Houses engage in backstabbing and plotting to try to take over the Kingdoms and Duchies that populate this chimerical phantasm of a world they straddle. And then High King David was kidnapped. And Caliburn is in the hands of a commoner – an Eshu … War is brewing in Concordia and the fae can not stop a war of their own making.
The Uncovered Vale
It gets complicated when freeholds show up from nothing. While the Sidhe were away, the commoners took the Freeholds and they kept the Commoners alive. When the Sidhe returned, the trods opened just as Freeholds awoke leaving more for the nobles to claim. The Accordance War may have left feudal structures intact, but the Common fae held more voice and power now than ever before. So when a Freehold no fae knew of is found in the County, there is a rush to claim it.
A freehold alone could elevate a Knight to a Baron or make a Baron far more powerful. Which House should hold this new Freehold, and as the intrigues swirled, the answers become more and more complicated. Baron Godfried of House Gwydion certainly made a strong claim to a Freehold in, though just at the edge, of his Barony! The Parliament of Commoners proposed a truce and a stop gap – a Noble commoner could keep it safe with an Oathcircle of their closest fae. It wasn’t a returned Sidhe gaining more power but neither was it a commoner motley thumbing their noses at the Sidhe. This was a plan that worked.
The Oathcircle formed around the Freehold as an exercise in political machinations. The Countess Brianna of the Shattered Lance of House Fiona needed a Noble commoner that wouldn’t be objected to but that also was not deep in the pockets of another House and a luckily she had a way to meet this need and weaken House Gwydion at the same time. Squire Denys, a Troll Grump that she knew was of the oathbroken House Liam, could elevate to Knighthood if he stood as Seneschal over this Freehold. His status as squire to a Gwydion Knight was what kept him in service and in him there was not only a Noble, that the Commoners would accept, but one whose time was short as grumps were well on their way into the clutches of banality.
Baron Gottfried saw the weakening refusal to grant him the Freehold as an attempt to weaken House Gwydion and, in fit of pique, saddled Squire Denys with one of the greatest oddities of his Barony – Niklaus von Eatenbachen. How could this odd Seelie redcap, with little in the way of fighting skills, be anything but a burden to Squire Denys – at least it would be driven out of the Court and that damnable three piece suit would no longer intrude on the protocol of Court. Niklaus was accompanied by a Childling Sluagh, Maggie Pie, though for what purpose is known only to those secret mongering Sluagh. A precocious and cute child, though silent as the Sluagh are, her place in pageants was second only to her unsettling stare when she wriggled her way into your lap. A boggan just showed up, chubby and pleasant, but possessing a fierce spirit and set about cleaning the Freehold. Paul was just there and frankly welcomed by Denys. Finally, an errant Satyr …. Swearing an Oath to each other and the Freehold, this seemingly disparate group of Kithain set about keeping the peace and protecting a new reservoir of fae power.
All seemed to be proceeding apace and perhaps in the long term, the commoners would find this Freehold permanently held … but then the High King was kidnapped. Pulled from the Kingdom of Willows and Caliburn abandoning its owner to the hands of an Eshu. What now for this Oathcircle, precariously balanced between a jealous Gwydion Baron on one side, malcontent motleys fomented by the Shadow Court on the other, and the drum beat of an impending war of fae succession?
Seelie Grump Troll Squire of House Liam
Denys still doesn’t see himself as a leader. Sure, in high school he was the center of the football team, with the Gwydion Knight, the Quarterback, behind him. He knew how to rally protection and knew how to follow orders. He never saw himself as a leader. Unlike his charge, he advanced to Grump, always shouldering more responsibility and duty than others realized on his broad shoulders. A painter in his heart whose clear eyes saw the slow slide of Concordia towards war Denys is now in a position he never expected – the forefront of the political jousting between Sidhe houses and even the Shadow Court. Thankfully, an unlikely Oathcircle of commoners, formed as part of the compact agreed upon while the Freehold’s proper place in the Kingdom of Concordia, caretaking the Freehold are fending off these challenges for now.
Niklaus von Eatenbachen
Seelie Wilder Redcap Courtier
Indeed it is strange, and perhaps most uncommon, to pass witness to a Seelie Redcap. Stranger still is one who feels more at home in the Court than in the alleyways. Niklaus von Eatenbachen exemplifies a nightmare few ever admit to having – that even a monster can sit at the table with dignity; that even the contours of etiquette don’t hold the creatures at bay. Niklaus takes his place in stride, knowing how hard it is for a Redcap to be taken seriously as a courtier, but he has been the greatest asset to Denys by using shrewd political knowledge and an astounding mastery of Courtly etiquette to keep the Troll aware. His dear friend, Maggie Pie, is really a price he pays for secrets he bought but who would ever ask why a Sluagh would be palling around with a Redcap ….
Margaret “Maggie Pie”
Unseelie Childling Sluagh Problemchild
A Sluagh High Tea is a sight to behold, but the price for what information came at the sideboard before the tea was poured may not have been what was expected. Margaret was the price Niklaus paid. Margaret seems listless, despite her Catharsis. She sees the chimerical realm, but something doesn’t move her like the other Sluagh expect. She lacks any real urgency or concern, save when she enters the beauty pageants to hear the backstage gossip. Her nickname came about as she seemed to have a dour or at least doomed observation whenever queried. It is certainly a tale of sound and fury … so the Sluagh decided to have her better trained. A Sluagh is no good if she cannot navigate High Tea and to seek out the secrets that hold the truth, so who better to teach this lesson than a remarkably mannered Recap?
Seelie Wilder Boggan Questor
Inspiration strikes in the strangest of places at times. Whoever expected a kid from the city to find old VCR tapes of 1970s Kung Fu Action Theatre flicks? Even more, whoever expected that kid to really be a Boggan changeling? It is strange enough for people to see a Boggan leaping around with a grace that defies a Boggan’s rubenesque physique, but even more so when Paul takes the chance to be the first into the fight. Paul’s inspiration is hard to share as VFX has taken over for actual physical stunts … but Paul keeps fighting to inspire people and to protect people as long as he can.
Unseelie Wilder Satyr Sage
Passions drive all of us, and the fae doubly so. Alexandra exemplifies the embrace of passions that the Satyr Kith are known for. Alex has excelled at athletics, track and field, for so long that it is second nature to her. The exceptional physicality of the Satyr’s shows up in her movements and in her joy. Alex has dove deep into the world’s passions and come out, while protecting her Oathcircle, with a deep hunger to pull and wrest every ounce of life and Glamour that she can. She is a challenge at times to the Oathcircle, but has been a forceful, if strident, voice to protect the Freehold and a Radicalist in her philosophy of equal fae rights. She fights this fight after seeing what already exists fail both her parents … one a Fae who became Undone and another who fell to a fate even worse.
World of Darkness, Vampire: The Masquerade, Vampire: The Dark Ages, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion, Changeling: The Dreaming, Hunter: The Reckoning, Demon: The Fallen, Mummy: The Resurrection, Orpheus, Exalted, Chronicles of Darkness, White Wolf, and their respective logos, icons and symbols are trademarks or registered trademarks of White Wolf Entertainment. © held by White Wolf Entertainment AB, Västgötagatan 5, SE-118 27 Stockholm, Sweden. Seize the GM is a fan work and is not affiliated with White Wolf Entertainment. This work is made as criticism and review of the published work – no claim of ownership is intended or implied. Please visit https://www.white-wolf.com/ or http://theonyxpath.com/category/worlds/classicworldofdarkness/ for more information.