Mini-Review: All the Dream’s a Stage, and the Changelings Merely Players…

The Player’s Guide for the 20th Anniversary Edition of Changeling: the Dreaming kicks off by talking about how the 20th Anniversary Edition is very much designed to be adaptable for your own tastes and needs, and certainly the Player’s Guide delivers on that general approach as far as I’m concerned. Take, for instance, the matter of Banality – truly the Marmite of Changeling: the Dreaming, the part of the system which people tend to either angrily reject (as you’d know I do if you’ve seen my review of the 20th Anniversary Edition and 1st Edition) or consider to be a core part of the experience; I was impressed by the extent to which, to my eyes at least, the Player’s Guide almost never mentions Banality except in contexts where it’s absolutely necessary to, making much of the material here useful to deploy in campaigns where you’re not buying into the Banality idea very much (and equally viable in campaigns where Banality is of supreme importance).

In fact, they throw a brand new PC type in here – Lycians, a particularly persistent type of chimera which are inanimate objects or abstract concepts that are special enough to someone or have enough resonance in the Dreaming to end up with some sort of life. (An example given is a child’s teddy bear who protects them from dark forces when they sleep, for instance.) The sheer range of things which can conceivably become Lycians – a badass car, for instance – this further puts Banality into the background, since if the Dreaming can be expressed through literally anything, then you can no longer say an entire category of thing is necessarily Banal by its nature; it’s only Banal if it doesn’t bring light and joy and wonder into anyone’s life.

Beyond that, you get a grab-bag of useful bits here – stacks of details on Changeling politics (including a deep dive on the Shadow Court), an overview of the Changelings of other cultures around the world, and various other interesting bits and pieces and details. There’s even details of those Changelings who have managed to overcome the tug-of-war between Banality and Bedlam to become effectively immortal, and how you can become one of them.

What it’s most intensely stuffed with, however, is atmosphere and inspiration, which is what you want most for a Changeling: the Dreaming supplement really.

Fairfolk’s Freeholds

Some games need a little extra something before they really click with you. Changeling: the Dreaming largely didn’t click with me until its 20th Anniversary Edition, but its recent supplement, the Book of Freeholds, finally helps give me a picture of how I’d actually envisage a Changeling campaign functioning.

The supplement, as the title implies, is an in-depth look at the subject of freeholds, including a detailed system for designing your own for your PCs to manage. It’s not a thick thing – it’s less than 60 pages, in fact – but it’s really helped me get a handle on what I want out of Changeling.

Specifically, once you make sure to add in a freehold focus to your Changeling campaign, what you end up with is a sort of whimsical modern-day Ars Magica. Freeholds are basically Changelings’ sanctuary from the banal world where they can let their fantastical side all hang out, just as in Ars Magica your covenant is a sanctuary from the chilly reception wizards otherwise get in Mythic Europe. Likewise, adventuring to defend the freehold against threats, stave back Banality and harvest Glamour is much like the way Ars Magica characters seek to defend their covenant against threats, ward off antithetical sources of power, and gather magical power for their own purposes.

Other World of Darkness games had played on this idea to a certain extent, of course – particularly Werewolf and its cairns – but it feels to me like Changeling freeholds seem closer than anything to Ars Magica covenants in terms of how the inhabitants are supposed to buy into them and the sort of interactions that they set up with the outside world.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changeling! (Turn and Face the Dream…) Ch-Ch-Changeling!

Of the big five original World of Darkness lines, Changeling is the one it’s taken me the longest to warm to. I think it’s because I had the feeling that to some extent Changelings were a bit redundant. The basic faerie myth being played on is that there’s a race of creatures with magical powers who exist in a place that’s in the shadows of the everyday world where they conceal themselves from the rest of us, but who can have a profound effect on those who stray into their sphere of influence. Right there, I have described most of the other major World of Darkness splats – what is the clear thematic distinction between a vampire court and an Unseelie court with a particular focus on blood economics?

Having had an opportunity to pick up the 1st edition of Changeling: the Dreaming for cheap and flipping through it, I have ended up changing my mind. It helps that the 1st edition of any particular classic World of Darkness game tends to form the most clear and distinct statement of the game line’s intentions*, with0ut the accretion disc of clutter that comes out as a game line progresses – though at the same time, the recent 20th anniversary editions remain excellent collections both of somewhat tuned-up rules and nicely complied heaps of stuff for you to use directly for gaming purposes. 1st edition convinced me that there was merit to the concept – a dip into the 20th anniversary edition would later convince me that Changeling is actually something you could run a solid, viable game around.

(* Interestingly, I tend to think that the reverse is the case for the pre-God-Machine Chronicle entries in the Chronicles of Darkness series. There, the 2nd editions of the respective games have so far seemed to be less cluttered presentations of a particular vision than the 1st editions – because the 1st editions tended to have the baggage of needing to simultaneously offer something new whilst at the same time providing a bit of comfort to fans of their discontinued classic World of Darkness equivalents, like how Vampire: the Requiem had to fill the gap left by the cancellation of Vampire: the Masquerade. Now that the classic World of Darkness is a going concern again, the 2nd editions are doing a much better job of standing on their own two feet as their own particular things.)

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