We’re back with another “Ten Things” about a Chronicles of Darkness game, this time for Changeling: the Lost. This is currently in the process of getting a Second Edition but I don’t think it’ll change things much. Like the “Ten Things” posts for Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage this is more of a “general themes” list than anything. It builds off the original list of seven items, with specifics for Changeling below!
6. X Splat is both seeming and kith, Y Splat is Court
The inherent axis (X Splat) is the form that your character was changed into during their time (their “durance”) in the otherworld of the Fae. As you can imagine there are many, many, many different hells that you could have survived and so the game spurts many, many, many different shapes of characters. Whereas games like Vampire and Werewolf feature extra customizations (bloodlines and lodges respectively), and Changeling had something similar, but the variety in just standard character creation is on a whole different level, which can be intimidating.
When you make your character in Changeling: the Lost you first pick a seeming, which is the general type of changeling you are. After that, you pick a kith within that seeming which is the specific type of changeling you are. Both parts of this aspect have mechanical changes associated with them and each and every seeming/kith combination can be interpreted in countless ways so each changeling really is unique. There are about a half-dozen kiths for every seeming in the core rulebook, plus more in various sourcebooks so… let’s just say there are lots of choices.
The six seemings, and their kiths, are these:
- Beasts are atavistic changelings with animal features. Kiths include the strong and stubborn Broadbacks, the insectile Skitterskulks, and the poisonous Venombites. You can look like whatever animal you want and play up that aspect of your character, as well as why the Fae might have changed you to look like that.
- Darklings are those with ties to shadow and darkness. This isn’t just things that live in the dark, there are creepy crawlies already among the Beasts, but things that live the darkness. Some of their kiths are Antiquarians who live for the past, Mirrorskins who change their faces to hide in plain sight, and Tunnelgrubs who crawl through the tiniest opening.
- Elementals are made of pure substances, and not just the four Greek elements. With kiths that include Woodbloods, Waterborns, Earthbones, and Snowskin they’ve got a lot of variety. They can also be the most striking changelings for those that can see their true forms: crazy eyes and mirror skin is all well and good but someone who’s literally on fire or who crackles with lightning can really command a room.
- Fairest are beautiful. Pure and simple. Of course there are many different ways to be beautiful and their kiths include Dancer, Draconic, Flowering, and other bizarre beauties. It’s easy to imagine why the Fae would make some beautiful arm candy to have around and that specific trauma might not be what you want to cover at your gaming table. That’s fine, there are plenty of ways for Fairest to shine at the gaming table in their new form as well.
- Ogres are the big, dumb brutes of the changeling world, but that doesn’t mean that they’re just doing other people’s orders. They are often underestimated, which can actually be a strength of theirs. Kiths include the yeti-like Farwalkers, the hulking Gargantuans, the super-tough Stonebones, and the ravenous Gristlegrinders. Of course, for every one of the Ogres who defy expectations there are those who follow suit and will gladly break your spine for fun.
- Wizened are those changelings altered to excel at a particular skill. Of course, that skill depends on the kith which includes Artists, the butler-like Chatelaines, the divinatory Oracles, or the vigilant Soldiers. They were valuable servants to their Fae masters but whether they are willing to continue fulfilling that service now that they are free or if they want to try something new… well that’s up to you.
The social axis (Y Splat) of your character is their Court. Changeling society bands together by having rules and agreements to make sure no one is endangering the rest. Their politics can be Machiavellian, and not just because they are scared and desperate: they actual trend to form Courts complete with monarchs, judges, courtiers, etc. The four standard Courts are:
- The Spring Court of Desire is a hedonistic group that believes living well is the best revenge. They foster community and hope in the Lost but they can also be judgemental pricks.
- The Summer Court of Wrath are the warriors of the Lost, those deadly fighters who are eager to take the fight back to their tormentors. They are hardasses but you want them in a fight.
- In their own way, the Autumn Court of Fear also wants to take the fight back to the Fae, they just want to fight fire with fire. Their time in Fairie filled them with nightmares? Well let’s weaponize those nightmares and make them pay!
- The Winter Court of Sorrow just wants to hide. They believe in secrets and staying hidden and if you make a big deal and bring the Fae down on them they will slit your throat for it.
This is an area, though, where alternatives are well-known and abound. Various sourcebooks have offered different systems than the Seasonal Courts like Courts based on the traditional cardinal directions of Chinese folklore, the Sun and the Moon, and so on. Even Storytellers who have no interest in dipping outside the core book for admins or powers might try some alternative Courts so keep an open mind.
8. You’re not human and also a refugee.
Changelings started out human but then they were stolen away to the nightmare realm of Faerie. The game is pretty cagey about the general structure and nature of Faerie (even how it relates to the mages’ Supernal Realm of Arcadia which also features Fae) but it’s clear that every Fae’s home is its own unique aspects and landscape. One Fae lord might have an ironbound realm of metal towers and flowing lava, while a Fae lady might have a deep wood perfect for hunting and a third noble has an endless library where silence must be kept. They are strange places that reflect what an alien intelligence might think of our world, but what the true nature of Fairie and the Fae themselves might be is left to your particular campaign.
A little more detail is given to the Hedge, a transitional realm that separates the mortal realm from Faerie. Generally it’s a twisting realm of thorny vines but this can shift a bit to reflect the “neighboring” space in the mortal realm (grittier near a city, salt crust near the ocean, etc). The Hedge is the pathway to Faerie that changelings were dragged through when they were first taken and it’s a realm that generally only the Lost and their enemies can access. This makes it both a place of opportunity and a place of danger. Changelings often travel to the Hedge to get magical items or help from the residents of the realm (known as Goblins) but they also have to worry about the huntsmen of the Fae Gentry coming through to drag them back.
On the mortal side of things, changelings tend to gather together in Freeholds governed by the Courts (on a rotating schedule or by some other agreement). You live a shadow life keeping hidden from mortals even if you choose to maintain some sort of human guise. There’s no going back to your old life, though: partially because you’re something other than human now but also because when you were taken you were replaced with a fetch. Whether you were gone for years or days (and time-weirdness means it might be both) the Fae put a copy of you in place to keep up your life. Your family might not even know you were missing, although they probably know you started acting a little “different” at some point. Still, you’ve got your life as a changeling now and that should be enough.
9. Less Rumpelstiltskin, more House of Cards.
This is the thing about Changeling: the Lost. You can play it in a number of different ways from a modern fairy tale to a harsh struggle with PTSD to a scheming court drama. Regardless of where you take it, though, your the game lends itself to convoluted plots and hidden secrets. Players will have many different threads to keep straight (their ties to their friends, their responsibilities to their Court and freehold, and the obligations they put themselves in to survive) and NPCs will have even more tangled webs. The character lists of published Changeling scenarios are typically shown as graphics for this reason; there are just too many connections to keep track of linearly.
This isn’t really a break from genre since any mythology you pick will have stories within stories and connections all over the place. This person is that person’s brother and also the one who betrayed the first person’s best friend during the war between everyone’s grandparents, etc. It’s good to keep in mind, though, especially when the campaign seems to be following tropes. Does the old Goblin woman you’ve been dealing with seem like she’s borrowing aspects from Baba Yaga? There’s a decent chance she is Baba Yaga and you should watch your back. Think you’re safe because you haven’t done anything to directly piss off the Winter Court? They might still be holding a grudge against the person who held your position a generation ago and they’re willing to hold you liable for your predecessor’s crimes.
It’s a tough world but don’t let your paranoia slip.
10. Make oaths all the time.
Promises are a big thing with changelings. Partially this is because they are a big thing with the Fae and the Goblins of the Hedge and those cultural norms rub off on the Lost. The other reason, though, is that there is a powerful magic inherent in the pledges of changelings and other fey creatures that make them more than a matter of honor. Changelings get their powers from Contracts which are promises with fae creatures (though thankfully not the Gentry of the True Fae) that provide some magical abilities in exchange for something from the changeling. They can also make Pledges which are binding agreement sealed with a bit of the changeling’s altered, faerie nature (their Wyrd).
In Changeling: the Lost, players and Storytellers use a simple mechanical system to make pledges that provide boons to both parties of the agreement in exchange for something being accomplished. There are simple Vows which are for singular tasks (“I’ll get your ring from the Tower!”) and more complicated Oaths (which have mystical consequences for breaking them) and Corporals (which have physical consequences for breaking them). In Changeling, the odds are stacked pretty well against you so having these benefits really help you out. You should feel free to suggest them and enter them all throughout the chronicle but also keep good track of whom you’re beholden to so that you don’t accidentally break them.