Hacking Initiative, Part 3

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This final installment is an inventory of some of the commonly used initiative systems, at least in games I’ve played, and what I find to be their strengths and weaknesses.

The Modern D&D Standard

Since 3e, D&D has been using pretty similar variations on Declare and Act in Order-style: each character gets a unique imitative score once per combat that’s the sum of a d20 roll and modifiers (usually Dex modifier plus miscellaneous bonuses from feats). The GM then counts down from the highest to the lowest each round, with some ability to ready and/or hold to reset initiative. Your order seldom changes within a given battle.

Strengths: The main advantage of this style is that it allows you to use “until the [start/end] of your next turn” as a counter that means “this will give everyone else in the fight the chance to go before it ends. If it’s something defensive, it lasts through a full set of enemy actions. If it’s a group buff or debuff, it affects everyone else once. If it’s something that can be interrupted, all the enemies get a chance to interrupt it. There’s also low overhead after the first round: once you get everyone’s order worked out, you can just cycle through it until the fight ends without further delay from recalculation/reordering.

Weaknesses: This initiative system is so powerfully boring that the current lead designer is publicly trying to replace it. After the first round, you just get locked into the same cycle over and over again, and having a really good initiative bonus really only gets you one round of benefit due to the continuous cycle (e.g., if you go first and can’t get to an enemy, it’s almost like you’re going last). While subsequent rounds are easy enough to keep track of, the first round actually takes a non-trivial amount of work to figure out, as you have to write everyone’s name down with their initiative result and make sure you leave enough space to fit in the players that tell you a result that’s between two existing results. If you have enough actors, you can inculcate further delay as players forget when they’re going to go, get distracted, and don’t start planning their actions until called upon by the GM.

Beyond the Wall

The system used in Beyond the Wall is very similar to D&D, with a crucial difference: initiative score is fixed rather than rolled. All PCs have an initiative score equal to level + Dex mod + class bonus. Most NPCs just use level unmodified (so will often go last unless they outclass the PCs, and won’t go first unless they significantly outclass the PCs, due to PC rogues often getting a +4 or better to their level for this score).

Strengths: In addition to most of the strengths of the standard D&D mechanic, the crucial benefit is that you don’t have the first round calculation drain. It’s even recommended that you have the players sit around the table in the order of their PCs’ initiative scores, so you can just whip around the table, pausing for wherever the monsters are inserted.

Weaknesses: This has most of the same weaknesses as standard D&D, with the addition of losing any kind of variation at all. In practice, however, this isn’t much of a drawback. I don’t really feel like the variations due to rolling mean that much in the long run when you’re only randomizing once per combat (and characters with good bonuses are going to go first more often than not anyway), and the speed in this method is a big help. Additionally, by placing the players in order around the table, it’s much more obvious when your turn is about to happen, so it’s not a surprise when you get called on (and, thus, you’ve often started planning your action, further speeding things up).

Group Initiative

As mentioned previously, when running D&D/Pathfinder I actually tend to use group initiative for the reasons outlined by Ben Robbins. In my particular variation, I average out the NPCs’ initiative bonus, have everyone roll, and the players with a higher score than the enemies get a free turn, the enemies go, then all the PCs go, and so on, alternating between NPCs and PCs. Players are free to strategize and trade their order within the PC turn.

Strengths: This preserves most of the advantages of the standard D&D initiative, while encouraging much more tactical play as players coordinate. Particularly in 3.x/Pathfinder, when you could freely delay your action and lower your initiative score, players could choose to coordinate in this way if they wanted to anyway. Players tend to consider their overall strategy and cooperate much better, in my experience. It’s also a little faster than the standard, because the GM doesn’t have to write anything down, just figure out who gets a free turn before the NPCs.

Weaknesses: There could be some disruption in the timing of effects (players can decide to go before or after their allies, depending on whether stretching or shrinking the duration of an effect is helpful). If a lot is going on, you may need some kind of marker to remember to get to everyone (“Wait… did I go this round already? It’s been so long since I’ve gone…”). Pushier players can dominate play, always going first and/or puppeting the choices of less opinionated players (though, as discussed in the previous posts, this might not always be the worst thing).

Balsera/Popcorn

Used first in Marvel Heroic and later in various other projects including Atomic Robo, this system includes a few varying mechanics to decide who goes first and sometimes to break the order, but otherwise simply has the last player to act declare the next character to act (from a pool of characters that haven’t acted yet this round).

Strengths: This is extremely fast to set up, and has even stronger tactical play than group initiative: there’s a lot of strategy in picking an order that provides synergy to your team and disadvantages the choices of the enemies. It generally results in a natural shakeup of the action order each turn, without any randomization required.

Weaknesses: It’s very hard to do much with bonuses in this system (unless they’re constructed to allow you to seize the initiative somehow). You cannot reliably use “until your next turn” mechanics with it, as the length in between turns can be extremely variable.

Shadowrun

Superficially a Declare and Act in Order system similar to D&D, Shadowrun’s system features multiple turns within a single round as a core feature. Essentially, while basic characters will usually have an initiative result under 10, enhanced characters can easily exceed this limit (possibly getting initiatives in the 20s or even 30s). Once a full pass through in decreasing order of initiative has happened, everyone deducts 10 from their score, and those that still have a positive result get another pass for additional turns (e.g., if one character has a 22 initiative, and the rest have under 10, the 22 initiative character will go first, everyone else will go, and then the 22 initiative character will get to go twice again before the end of the round). Initiative is rerolled every round, and there are other actions that can cost initiative (making it less likely to get an additional turn).

Strengths: Shadowrun is the pinnacle of focus on how character speed grants a huge advantage due to the imitative system: it’s a really good system to advantage playing fast characters. Since each round can include multiple passes, effects that use your action but last for the remainder of the round can actually be hugely helpful if you’re going to get to go again while the effect is still active. Due to rolling each round, and the breakpoints in results that means a great initiative roll can get you an extra action beyond just a good roll, the order remains meaningful and interesting.

Weaknesses: The system is hugely time consuming and fiddly. It has all the time delay drawbacks of D&D’s initiative, and beyond. There’s a tremendous amount of bookkeeping for the GM. Effects that last for the rest of the round can matter hugely, or not at all, depending on how many actions are left.

Classic Storyteller

The Storyteller initiative mechanic, which solidified in the Revised editions and seems to be more or less intact in the 20th anniversary editions, is a Declare First, Act in Order system with reverse declaration of actions and a general intention of rerolling each round. The roll is unusual for the system: in an attempt to speed up the slowness of it all, you roll a single d10 and add your relevant traits instead of rolling a dice pool. Multiple actions (very common in most of the games) work a lot like Shadowrun, in that everyone with additional actions takes them after the first normal pass through the initiative.

Strengths: Honestly, there aren’t really a lot of pluses to this system, unless you really, really like reverse action declaration and re-randomzing each round.

Weaknesses: It’s slow and cumbersome. It is key to the system’s defensive death spiral (in that you have to sacrifice your upcoming action to try to dodge or parry an attack, which still might do a little damage, and now you don’t have an action to fight back so you really just hope you go first next round to put the enemy on the defensive). It really only works at all because combat tends to be very rare in the World of Darkness compared to D&D. And, honestly, I don’t think anyone I’ve every played with remembered that you’re supposed to reverse declare, implicitly turning it into a Declare and Act in Order system.

Fading Suns

The initiative system in Fading Suns is clearly derived from the same 90s sensibilities as Storyteller’s, but takes it in a different direction (possibly because combat was supposed to happen a lot more in the setting). Initiative is a pure comparison of whatever primary skill you’re using for the round (e.g., if you’re shooting someone, your initiative is equal to your Shoot skill), with ties broken by speed-related traits. It’s technically then a Declare and Act in Order system, except that you’ve implicitly at least made something of a declaration by choosing which skill you’re using.

Strengths: It’s almost as fast as Beyond the Wall’s system, and easy to understand, with some interesting room for variation.

Weaknesses: Practically, it’s just Beyond the Wall’s fixed initiative system: you’re almost always just going to use your best combat skill in a fight, so your initiative is going to vary extremely rarely.

The One Ring

The latest Middle Earth-themed RPG has a very straightforward and interesting initiative system: your initiative order is purely based on what “stance” you take each round (which is basically your position + intention; in order to make a ranged attack, for example, you have to take a particular stance and have party members that are taking melee stances to screen you from the enemy). Each stance has its own mechanics, so you’re picking it for tactical reasons and your initiative order just falls out of those decisions.

Strengths: Unlike most other initiative systems, there’s an extremely strong tactical component: your turn order is intimately linked to your action choice, but in a way that’s faster than typical declarations or weapon speed rules.

Weaknesses: Practically, there’s a very limited range of initiative results, so there could be some annoyance breaking ties in big fights. I don’t have enough playtest experience with this to fully understand further limitations.

One Roll Engine

An interesting variation on a Declare First system, the One Roll Engine games (e.g., Wild Talents, Better Angels, etc.) get everyone to decide what they’re trying to do, everyone rolls their actions, and then the order is determined by the results of the roll (the system generates success results with both a “width” and a “height,” so one can be used for effect and one can be used for speed). Your intended action can be invalidated by your opponent getting a faster result (taking damage tends to also damage your success total if you  haven’t acted yet).

Strengths: As far as actually simulating the chaos of a “realistic” combat, ORE’s mechanic is probably a much better model than any other system where everyone takes discrete turns. It collides intention and execution in a way that nothing else does.

Weaknesses: ORE is confusing as hell. As discussed previously, we wound up converting my Better Angels game to Savage Worlds because everyone was so baffled by the system. I suspect that it all becomes very cool if you have a group dedicated to really learning the dice paradigm and using it effectively, but that was not my group. I may try it again at some point and hope for a better result.

Savage Worlds

Speaking of Savage Worlds, its initiative system is the one that’s pretty much completely divorced from in-game traits or decisions: you draw cards from a deck each round and Declare and Act in Order from the best card to the worst (with a Joker giving you a bonus and the ability to act at any point in the round).

Strengths: Since it’s so divorced from the rest of the system, it’s probably the fastest way to re-randomize each round if that’s your bliss. It’s extremely easy to mod further to your tastes, because it’s so detached from the rest of the mechanics.

Weaknesses: It’s very detached from the rest of the mechanics. You’re not really modeling anything more than, “It’s exciting when we go in a different order every round!” It’s ultimately the epitome of randomization equaling fairness: sometimes you go first, sometimes you go last, and you’ll probably get to do both within a fairly short collection of combats.

The Rest

Most of the other games I’ve played with any regularity are very similar to one of the ones above, or are games with such little relative space devoted to combat rules that the initiative system is basically “go in the order that makes sense; if you have a disagreement, break ties this way…” Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’m interested in hearing from commenters about other games with interesting initiative mechanics.

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Hacking Initiative, Part 2

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Last time, I laid out the components of common initiative systems. This time, I’m going to look deeper into the potential ramifications of hacking the initiative system in your own game.

Integrated Systems

The first step to take before tinkering with initiative in an existing game is to consider what other elements of the game system are integrated into initiative: if you make major changes, what other rules are you going to have to alter as well?

Since D&D is the inspiring example, the following are the major follow-on effects of changing initiative:

  • A number of effects in the game have their durations set to the activating player’s next turn. The intent with these is often that every other character in the combat will get to take a turn before the effect completes. How does changing the fixed initiative order affect these durations?
  • All characters normally get to add Dexterity and potentially other bonuses to initiative. Will you be changing the perceived value of Dexterity if you change how initiative works? Will you have to adjust feats or class abilities that previously gave a bonus to initiative to keep them worthwhile?
  • Some mechanics trigger based on permutations of the initiative round. For example, Assassin Rogues get a bonus to attack anyone that hasn’t acted yet; does this class feature become less valuable with a different initiative system?

You can also have these problems in reverse. For example, in Savage Worlds, by default initiative isn’t tied to any stats or other major mechanics (in core, a couple of powers make changes to the system). If you changed it to a more traditional initiative system, you’d be giving a new bonus effect to whatever traits enhanced your initiative result.

Especially if you’re tinkering with a game where your players have already made build choices, it’s important to get buy-in for any changes: your players might have made different purchases if your house rule had been in place from the start.

Speed and Coordination

The more often you make decisions and randomizations in your initiative system, the more time it’s going to eat up at the table. This can be entirely related to time to employ the system (e.g., rolling and adding each round is obviously more time than just doing it once at the start of combat). It can also have to do with the coordination overhead involved (if you’re using a system that allows players some discretion in who goes next, there’s much more impetus for table chatter to work out the optimal order).

Even beyond the speed involved, degree of player coordination is a major component of different initiative systems. In team initiative and Balsera/popcorn-style, almost the entire point is to get the players to figure out what order makes the most tactical sense. Conversely, in declare and act in order and tick-based styles, there’s not often a lot of control other players’ needs can have on when you get to go. In the middle, declare first systems can have some level of up-front coordination (e.g., “I’m almost certainly going to go first and kill that guy this round, so don’t declare your attack on him.”), but less than when the players have precise control over who goes before someone else.

Due to the level of coordination allowed, your group makeup can have a huge impact on what makes sense for your initiative house rule. If you have players that aren’t comfortable thinking tactically within the system, choosing a style with more coordination can help get players to work better as a team. Conversely, if you have players that are too comfortable thinking tactically, you might want to limit coordination out of worry that they’ll boss the other players around. Meanwhile, you should also consider how long your turns wind up taking. If your players are generally very fast to choose and resolve actions, you have space to change initiative to something that takes a little more time. But if your rounds already drag under a faster initiative system, it can create further slog in your combats to change to initiative that requires more time.

The Simulation Trap

Ultimately, a lot of initiative tinkering seems to me like it happens out of a desire to fix combat on a simulation level. Initiative, as mentioned in the last article, is a huge abstraction with results that are highly counterintuitive if you’re looking for something that simulates reality (or at least would make sense in a movie). In real fights (and even the “real” fights of popular entertainment), everyone acts at the same time, and the more people that are involved the more chaotic everything becomes. It can be very tempting to try to fix the obvious fakeness of RPG fights by coming up with an initiative system that’s a better simulation of reality.

However, the closer you get to something that feels genuine, the more complex your initiative system will become. It’s probably a Zeno’s paradox of systems design: something that gets halfway closer to perfection takes twice as much time and effort at the table. If you could create a system that perfectly matched your expectation of what can happen in a “real” fight, it would likely require minutes for every in-game second for each person in the fight. Given that so much of combat is a huge abstraction in the first place, when attempting to hack initiative, make sure you’re not turning your fights into a boring slog in pursuit of a level of simulation your players won’t really care about anyway. The end result of lovingly creating a voluminous rules engine that captures an element of the world in a thorough way is almost always to have your players avoid it as much as possible because it’s way too confusing and time consuming (see, also, D&D 3e‘s grappling rules).

Next time, I’ll do a lightweight review of initiative systems in various games I’ve played, and why I like or dislike them.

Hacking Initiative, Part 1

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I’ve been thinking about initiative systems lately, after an excellent article by Brandes and a video by Matt Colville (responding to Mike Mearls’ short initiative house rule). In this first post, I lay out the various components and styles of initiative I’m aware of, for hacking your own initiative system.

Initiative’s Goals

Why even have an initiative system in the first place?

The first (and probably most important) reason is simply to mechanically simplify the chaos of decisions in an action scene. In many video games, action happens in real-time, so there’s no need for an initiative system: the computer is fast enough to run all the math for making decisions without a discernible delay. But, obviously, tabletop games lag real time resolution by various factors such as the number of acting players, the complexity of the rules set, the assumed duration of the action round, and the math talent and rules memorization of the group. Initiative systems, at root, strive to ensure that everyone in the action scene gets to act at a cadence that makes sense. Without one, there’s much more pressure on the GM and players to use their best judgements to “play fair” with only taking actions that make simulation or narrative sense within a given time frame.

A secondary goal is to simulate quicker characters within the scene. Any system that attempts to prioritize characters based on Dexterity or other speed- and wits-related stats follows this goal, while several systems forego it almost entirely to simplify resolution. This goal becomes important if you subscribe to the idea that certain individuals (either depending on their innate capabilities or the choices they’re making) will tend to have an advantage in simulated action. Most games with initiative systems tend to resolve actions completely for one character before moving on to the next one, instead of having action resolution for each round be “simultaneous.” In the latter kinds of system, simulating speed is less important, because weakening, incapacitating, or otherwise hindering a character on an earlier initiative step doesn’t actually affect them for that round. But it’s far easier to fully resolve each action before moving on to the next, and in those cases going before your opponent is a big advantage that it’s common to award due to character traits or other important system elements.

Finally, an often overlooked goal is to firewall individual player decisions. When an initiative system presents a player with a straightforward question of “it’s your turn, what do you do?” it’s much easier to be certain that player has full agency over the outcome. Fuzzier systems that allow for more player-to-player collaboration can inadvertently create a hero-and-henchmen scenario where more invested players wind up overtly stage-managing other PCs as part of a group declaration of actions. When each player has a designated turn for his or her PC, it becomes much easier for the GM to prevent that player from losing agency, because the structure makes it more obvious whether the player is doing what he or she actually wants, or just what the group’s loudest member suggested. This may be more or less of a problem for different groups, and GMs should be on guard against someone having less fun because of lost action scene agency regardless of initiative mechanism. Some players with lower investment and/or rules knowledge may actually prefer being given orders by other players.

Initiative Styles

There are so many RPGs in existence at this point that the actual range of initiative styles is probably far beyond the capacity of a single article to enumerate. So I’m going to try to list the most popular styles of which I’m aware. If you think there’s a really cool style that I left out, feel free to note it in the comments.

  • Declare and Act in Order: Likely the most common style these days, in this style each character in the action scene gets a turn that is fully established and resolved when the initiative order reaches the character. The character’s action decisions must incorporate everything that was resolved on previous turns and all successive turns will include the resolution of this turn’s actions.
  • Declare First, Act in Order: Another fairly common method, in this style all players declare their general or specific intentions for the acting characters at the start of the round (possibly with faster characters getting to declare actions later after hearing what slower characters intend to do). Characters then take their turns in initiative order, but must attempt what they’d originally declared even if the results of earlier turns change the tactical value of the action (the system may involve some ability to change actions with a penalty when the situation changes).
  • Team-Based: In some ways a subset of the first option, in this style there is only one “turn” per side within the scene (typically PCs vs. NPCs). Each team can vary the individual order of each character’s actions within the turn to create the best synergy and coordination. The turn ends when everyone on that team has taken the granted number of actions.
  • Tick-Based: In this style there are no formal rounds once an action scene has begun. Instead, each possible action has a cost in units of time (often referred to as “ticks”); when the character acts, that character can then act again at a time equal to the starting value plus the action cost. Characters taking faster actions may wind up acting many times more than characters taking slower actions, and may even get to act multiple times between turns for the slower character. There is typically some kind of system for breaking ties at the start of a round or when characters land on the same tick.
  • Balsera/Popcorn: This style works similarly to the first style, in that actions are declared and resolved fully in a character’s turn. However, rather than having an overall order, after resolving a turn, the player of the character that just acted chooses another character that hasn’t yet acted this turn to act next. When there are no more characters that haven’t acted, the round resets and the person that ended the last round gets to decide who starts the next.

Initiative Permutations

The overall styles also have specific permutations that change their exact implementations:

  • Fixed vs. Random: Any of the styles that sort characters into an initial order can do this via a fixed or random mechanism. In a fixed permutation, given the same choices, characters will always go in the same order (this might be truly fixed by a stat that changes infrequently, or based on some kind of decision like active skill/weapon or action type/stance). In a random one, players must use dice or other randomizer (likely plus a trait) to determine order each time initiative is determined.
  • Frequency of Ordering: It has become increasingly common to decide an initiative order only once, at the beginning of combat (with each subsequent round of combat featuring a repeating order unless there are actions or events that can change the order). However, many games expect initiative to be re-determined anew each round, changing the order of actions within each round of the fight.
  • Multiple Segments: There are certain systems (like Shadowrun and Feng Shui for all characters, and Storyteller for characters with bonus actions from speed powers) that allow characters the possibility of getting multiple turns in a single round. This can work similarly to the tick-based style, with an action’s time cost deducted from total initiative (so characters with high initiative and fast actions can go multiple times before slower characters), or resolve everyone’s first turns once in order before then resolving second turns in order (and so on until no one else has a bonus turn).
  • Source of Advantage: The choice of what traits add to initiative make a big difference in how players prioritize choices within the system. Many games simply give a fixed advantage based on some combination of quickness-related attributes and modifiers from bonus traits and gear/magic. Others make the decision based on action/skill type, action/weapon speed, stance, or other element that is a much more tactical choice (and is, thus, frequently combined with reordering each round).
  • Ally-Swappable Slots: Common to Fantasy Flight Games RPGs, in this permutation a turn may be traded to any ally that hasn’t acted yet that round. Fast characters may choose to go later in the round if slower allies can make better advantage of an earlier turn.
  • Delaying, Holding, and Reacting/Defaulting: Most initiative systems have some concept of ways to break the turn order. Commonly in Declare and Act in Order, faster characters can choose to skip some or all of their turns to interrupt an enemy’s action once declared (or just to better coordinate with a slower ally). There is often also some concept of reactive action choices, either as essentially an extra action when needed or as a way for slower characters to give up an active turn to defend against a faster attacker.
  • Resolve at End: Very uncommon these days, virtually any initiative style can choose to have any changes in status not take effect until the end of the round (as if everything happened simultaneously even though the system handled it in a fixed order). This method reduces the advantage of going faster and in-round coordination: trait changes (including being incapacitated/killed) won’t actually affect the current action, but will only take effect starting the next round.

Next time, I’ll look more at the potential effects of altering styles or permutations of existing games.

Alternate Changeling: Lucidity

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Independent of the setting changes I’d made for my update, the major rules change was the introduction of Lucidity. I’ve always thought Banality is a very strange decision for the Changeling system: AFAIK, it’s the only character sheet trait in the WoD that you don’t want to go up. So my goal was to revise and replace the systems related to Banality to introduce a mechanic that could be much more analogous to Glamour and Willpower.

This has follow-on effects on several other systems.

Lucidity and Glamour

Changelings are two-fold entities, belonging to both the lands of dreams and of waking. As such, their abilities are determined by two contradictory traits. Glamour measures the power of their dreams: the amount of Dreaming energy that can be brought to bear to fuel the magic of the fae. Lucidity measures the strength of their waking minds: the amount of focus that can be brought to mortal pursuits. Without Glamour, a changeling would lose her fae self and become fully awake and mortal. Without Lucidity, a changeling would lose her mortal side, and her fae soul would spiral off into the Dreaming with no anchor on the mortal world. Yet changelings bring synergy to their two halves, the whole becoming greater than its parts.

By being partially wakeful, changelings possess a focus that cannot be achieved by creatures purely of the Dreaming. They can give the necessary attention to learning things, they can resist faerie magicks at need, and, perhaps most importantly, they can use mortal logic to transcend fae stereotypes and the force of narrative. True fae and chimera tend to act according to a theme and a script that drives their actions. A changeling is lucid enough to recognize this trend and to make plans to work around its limits.

By being partially asleep, changelings can reach a creativity that is not often seen among mortals. Overflowing with imagination, they can create beyond points where normal mortals would be burned out. This imagination gives them a spark of greatness that many mortals don’t understand, and which some fear, but which allows them to surpass mortals of great ability. A changeling is a composite being, half awake and half asleep, and made stronger for this fact.

Lucidity

Lucidity can be spent for the following tasks:

  • Fighting off Bedlam: One or more points of temporary Lucidity can be spent to restore sanity being chipped away by the Dreaming.
  • Resisting Fae Magic: A character can spend a point of Lucidity to subtract a success from an attacker’s arts roll, or to add a success to her resistance roll. Doing this too often might gain the character Banality.
  • Attention to Detail: A character can spend Lucidity like Willpower for a bonus success on any Perception-based roll because the waking mind is adept at noticing details that a dreamer might miss.

Lucidity can be recovered in the following ways

  • Natural Renewal: The character regains a point of Lucidity for every night of sleep in the waking world. This renewal does not happen in freeholds or the Dreaming.
  • Sobering Company: A character in the company of mundane but insightful individuals recovers one or more points of Lucidity per hour spent in conversation.
  • Force of Logic: A character at 0 temporary Lucidity can be talked back to reality by friends. Effectively, they must roll their Lucidity against her permanent Glamour, success restoring a point of Lucidity. Most mortals are assumed to have five Lucidity.

A character cannot use any abilities higher than her permanent Lucidity. Abilities can be bought as high as the character’s Lucidity rating (optionally, for more powerful changelings, characters with more than 5 Lucidity can transcend mortal limits to their abilities as another benefit of the hybrid souls).

A character that runs out of temporary Lucidity must roll permanent Lucidity against permanent Glamour (+1 to +4 difficulty in the Dreaming, depending on the depth). Failure on the roll indicates that the character has fallen fully asleep. She loses all access to abilities, forgets mortal commitments, and tends to act out stereotypical behavior for her kith as well as losing many inhibitions about proper behavior. She may slip into the Dreaming the first time the Mists become very low, and is in a lot of trouble should she already be in the Dreaming. This condition persists until at least one point of Lucidity is regained, possibly requiring the intervention of friends, at which point she returns to being half-awake. When in a lost one’s hold or when dealing with individuals already in Bedlam, the difficulty of the roll to resist this state may be increased.

Most mortals can be assumed to have Lucidity 5.

Other Uses for Glamour

Glamour can be spent to Inspire Creativity: The character may spend a point of Glamour to get an idea for an artistic creation (essentially +1 success to artistic rolls for each Glamour spent) or to get an idea/clue based on her current information as to where the plot of the story is headed, due to treating reality like a narrative.

A character cannot buy any fae Arts, Realms, or Redes to a level higher than her Glamour, though they are still normally capped at five.

Banality

Banality is the antithesis of dreams, representing the complete absence of creativity, hope, imagination, and fear. While it is not unusual for many mortals to build up a small amount of Banality when burned out, it is incredibly rare for anyone to have high levels of Banality for long periods.

Banality replaces temporary Lucidity, filling the Lucidity track from the bottom up. Points of Lucidity turned into Banality cannot be spent until the Banality fades. A changeling whose Banality exceeds Lucidity immediately loses all temporary Glamour, waking fully, and cannot recover Glamour until all Banality fades. Typically, one level of Banality is lost for every week in which the character got plenty of dream-filled sleep. Fae gain Banality by denial of dreams, permanently killing fae, dealings with very Banal individuals, and other methods (as per Changeling 20th).

All fae magicks have the target’s Banality in successes subtracted from their effect or are added as automatic successes to the target’s resistance roll (if applicable). They are automatic successes for the Mists to wipe the mortal’s mind.

(Any game systems that currently reference Banality can either use the revised Banality total, which will usually be lower, or some other dice pool as the storyteller thinks is appropriate.)

Bedlam

A less dangerous, but more prevalent, counterpart to Banality, Bedlam represents a changeling’s tendency to slide towards madness when not spending enough time in the real world.

Bedlam fills the Glamour track exactly as Banality fills the Lucidity track, and also makes these points unusable. Bedlam is a penalty for all of a changeling’s social and mental dice pools when dealing with mundane situations. It is acquired when a character spends extensive amounts of time in a freehold or the Dreaming without dealing with anything in the mundane world, usually at one level per week. In the Deep Dreaming or a lost one’s freehold, this increases to one point per day. Characters that have sworn the Oath of the Long Road typically do not gain Bedlam if they spend their time in pursuit of that quest.

One point of Lucidity turns a point of Bedlam back into a point of Glamour. A character whose Bedlam exceeds her permanent Glamour must spend any remaining Lucidity to buy it back down to her Glamour or less. If the character has more Bedlam than permanent Glamour and no temporary Lucidity, the character goes completely insane, driven by her court and kith, and is controlled by the storyteller until other characters can rescue her and return her to the Waking world.

Alternate Changeling: The Fae Experience

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(See the previous two posts for background on this series.) This section is a little more rulesy, and describes the experience and perks of being a changeling.

Chimera

The entirety of the Dreaming is composed of chimera, though most is inanimate. Rocks, trees, metals, water, and more all seem entirely real when in the Dreaming but are simply figments of the imagination to the waking world. Animate chimera represent dreams of living things, and may resemble animals, people, or mythic creatures of all kinds. These animate chimera typically come into being for a brief period of time and disappear after the dreamers that created them move on to other dreams.

Some learn to manipulate their dreamers for continued existence while others learn, eventually, to tap the essence of the Dreaming itself. They can exist until slain by some other chimera or fae. Chimera typically form in the Waking world, soon fade into the Near Dreaming, and eventually migrate deeper into the Dreaming, finding areas and realms that best suit their temperaments.

Chimera are deeply based in the dream that created them. Even the sentient ones have a kind of tunnel vision. While they can think, discuss, and plan within the scope of their personal theme, they are easily outwitted and confused by taking actions that are not part of their existence. Spider chimera are baffled by prey that watches carefully to avoid their webs, hunting chimera will never think to burn a settlement’s crops, and so on.

Chimerical creatures also tend towards chaos, even when they are dreams of order, and lack the ability to devote genuine focus to things not “programmed into” their natures. As such, they are unable to learn abilities. Many learn the Dreamer’s Skill rede to compensate for this weakness, while others build their attributes to mythic levels.

Most chimera that are slain die just as a mundane creature would die, and leave behind a corpse that can be used as materials or which rots into the Dreaming. Sentient chimera, when slain, can expend a permanent Willpower to reform elsewhere in the Dreaming, which may or may not leave behind some of their corpse (depending on the chimera in question). Potent fae rituals can sometimes trap these chimera before they reform.

Chimera cannot buy Arts and Realms, but many old chimera, especially dragons, tend to develop unique redes that can simulate the magicks of the fae.

True Fae

The difference between true fae and sentient chimera is a hard one to judge. All true fae are at least partially humanoid in appearance, and all seem to have a somewhat broader focus than most chimera. Many point out the difference as one of creation, claiming that the Tuathans and Fomorians gave the first of the true fae some crucial spark of divinity that has been passed through their lines since the War of Trees.

Technically, the real difference is that true fae have two distinct advantages. The first is that they can develop Arts and Realms to enact magicks that chimera cannot perform without very unique Redes. The other is that they are intimately tied to humans. True fae worshiped by humans can regain Glamour, and they may become changelings to protect themselves from the detrimental effects of the Waking world. Some specialized Arts exist to possess a mortal without becoming a changeling, but these are very rare and little used.

True fae, like chimera, cannot buy Abilities and rarely have a Banality score, but can buy redes. If a true fae possesses and adult mortal, subsuming her identity, re-spend points spent on redes to buy abilities (likely ones known by the original mortal) and add a starting Banality score appropriate to seeming.

Possessing an unwilling or unaware mortal to become a changeling requires an extended, contested roll of the fae’s Glamour against a difficulty of the target’s Willpower. Each roll is a day of game time, requires the expenditure of a point of Glamour, and the fae needs one to ten successes (depending on how compatible the mortal’s personality is with her own) plus additional successes equal to the target’s Banality. The fae cannot recover Glamour or leave the presence of the mortal while this process is ongoing, and will fade back into the dreaming upon running out of Glamour. A fae trying to possess a differently temperamented, strong willed, and Banal mortal might wind up discorporating before achieving enough successes, and the process might be detected by clued-in individuals who might try to exorcise the fae.

Changelings

Changelings are true fae incarnated in mortal bodies, gaining strength and weakness from both. Changelings, protected by their mortal forms, are ideally suited to living in the Waking world, resisting many of the detrimental effects thereof.

Changelings that have not undergone the Changeling Way ritual eject their body’s soul on incarnation, possibly sending it deep into the Dreaming or onto reincarnation, keeping only mind and body. On death, their souls are lost into the Dreaming. Those that have undergone the Way bond to mortal souls and reincarnate on their body’s death. They do not roll to possess a body, but must bond with a soul that is either an infant or already similar in temperament. Typically, their soul remains dormant for a period, until their fae nature reasserts itself in the Chrysalis.

The Chrysalis

After incarnating in a new mortal, a changeling soul under the Way typically enters a period of dormancy similar to that experienced due to waking up due to chimerical death. This period can last many years as the fae and mortal souls integrate more fully with one another. Much of the fae’s old knowledge from previous lives is transferred in some intuitive way, which tends make children with fae souls extremely precocious. The mortal will typically understand that something is strange about her from the bonding onward, but will not usually realize exactly what it is.

Eventually, the character will experience some kind of traumatic circumstance that starts the Chrysalis. Possible events are: seeing another fae Wyrded, being Enchanted, puberty, the death of a family member, losing one’s virginity, or any other emotionally charged experience. Over the next few days or weeks, the fae soul will begin to assert itself and gather Glamour. Every night, the mortal will have very strange dreams. The character will typically accrue Glamour at the rate of one every number of days equal to the area’s average Banality (e.g., if local Banality is 7, the character gains one Glamour per week), but may absorb Glamour from other areas if it makes sense.

When the fae soul manages to gather enough Glamour to equal the mortal’s Banality, the sleeping mortal is surrounded by a corona of chimerical special effects, her fae mien develops, and her unconscious mind quickly replays all the former lives of her fae self (only some of which she will consciously remember). On waking, the character will now be a full changeling, and her personality and identity will be a composite of the two souls. If she had her dormant soul since birth the change will usually be incredibly minimal, while characters who acquired their soul more recently may be greatly changed. She is now in possession of all the traits bought by the fae soul on incarnation, and can begin to learn more.

The Chrysalis can be sensed by other fae creatures with a Perception + Kenning roll, at the difficulty of the local average Banality, up to [new changeling’s Glamour dots] miles away. This usually means that the new changeling will be surrounded by local curious chimera and possibly other changelings as well. Many changelings consider it their duty to track down and protect new changelings in dangerous areas and to bring them up to speed on any aspects of fae society they may have forgotten. Potent Soothsayers can often track down pre-Chrysalis mortals, and may take it upon themselves to accelerate their Chrysalis while they are in a safe location.

The amount of information the new changeling actually remembers about fae society depends on the Remembrance background. Most newly Chrysalised changelings will at least need some kind of basic refresher course from another changeling on various aspects of changeling existence, but will typically know intuitively when the tutor is being misleading about these facts.

Being a Changeling

The experience of being a changeling is very much like having just awakened from a dream. Changelings are fully in possession of rational mental faculties, but are also credulous and accepting of things learned and seen. Changelings are prone to following good ideas, no matter how nonsensical, and have a muted edge on their inhibitions. Many have dreamed of something that seemed like an excellent idea on first waking only to have its interest fade through the day. Many have dreamed interactions with friends and family that made them especially mean or friendly after waking. This is how a changeling exists all the time. The world at once makes perfect sense and is completely confusing. Ideas that are irrational are nevertheless the best course. Actions that would never be taken by a fully conscious and sane human are one step removed and thus can be pursued from a safe vantage point.

To outsiders, a changeling seems at once both insane and yet strangely in touch with the world. The following are other important factors of being a changeling and living in fae society:

Sense of Time

Each changeling is at least a little bit unstuck from the typical progression of time, the nobles even more so. While events occurring in the current time are easily followed, looking back on the past is confusing. Events precede causes, and linear narratives reshuffle themselves in the memory. It is hard to remember if the dream you dreamed last night was a continuation of another dream, or if the entire dream saga happened in one period of sleep. This is how fae feel about nearly everything in the past, having to really focus on the order of events. Characters with Glamour higher than Banality + Willpower are impossible to trust on the exactitudes of time, while those with higher Banality or Willpower are more able to put cause before effect.

However, since they are constantly confused about the progression of time anyway, fae are very hard to manipulate with temporal magicks. Altering a changeling’s sense of time requires extra successes equal to her Glamour, and a character can spend a point of temporary Glamour to ignore time acceleration or deceleration.

Aging’s Grip

Changelings age at the normal rate for mortals, but typically seem far more youthful than they actually are. Time spent in a freehold or in the Dreaming does not count for changelings or for mortals, and thus changelings active in the fae courts or in Dreaming quests may live far longer than they normally should.

Supernatural effects to divine the age of a changeling automatically fail. A careful changeling can live to be as physically old as any mortal, but many reincarnate before that time due to death on adventures or in order to avoid waking fully for extended periods.

Death’s Embrace

In general, full changelings do not really fear death. From the point of view of the dream, it is only partially real. From the logical point of view, it is only temporarily inconveniencing. Changelings may fear the abandonment of friends, family, and goals but they have no reason to fear the loss of their own life to anything but iron, for they will simply reincarnate. Those that have not undergone the Changeling Way are typically much more protective of their existence, but still often forget their mortality after centuries of living and due to the oddities of dreaming.

A changeling that is killed chimerically in the Waking world, a freehold, or the Near Dreaming loses all temporary Glamour, falls into a deep sleep, and fades into the Waking world if not there already. The sleeper cannot be awakened for at least a number of hours equal to her permanent Glamour, and will sleep a number of days equal to Glamour if not wakened by outside events. The fae soul becomes dormant, and she will not remember her fae nature until temporary Glamour is once more at full. The stronger the fae side, the worse a chimerical death. After this period, no further penalties apply.

The Bane of Iron

Many fae seem to think that Cold Iron is their bane because it represents the onslaught of Banality. This is only partly the truth. In most cases, iron harms changelings because mortals believe iron harms changelings. In all the tales of the fae for hundreds of years, iron has been their undoing, and so it is. This refers to any iron forged in the old way, cold or not, and excludes any alloys, such as steel. There are very rare creations of so-called “Cold Iron,” implements made by those without any creativity or joy in the craft whatsoever. These must be forged by a mortal with high Banality, and are especially harmful to the fae. Iron, cold or not, has several effects on changelings and other fae creatures.

Attempting to enter a location warded with iron, be it a wrought-iron fence or a horseshoe over the door, requires the expenditure of a point of Willpower (to force through) or taking on a point of Banality (to realize that there is no barrier). Cold Iron wards require two points spent or taken. This expenditure must be paid no matter how the character enters (even magically or by being thrown over the barrier) unless there are other unwarded entrances.  For example, a house with a horseshoe over the door could be entered by another door or by hacking through the wall, but a property surrounded by an iron fence would require the expenditure no matter how a fae creature tried to enter. A character that refuses to make the expenditure bounces off the entryway as if off of an invisible wall.

Touching an item of iron causes intense pain to fae creatures, imposing a -1 to a -5 penalty to all rolls (depending on how much of the character’s skin is touching the iron). Additionally, a character touching Cold Iron loses a point of temporary Glamour every turn of contact.

Being damaged by iron is terrible for the fae. All wounds dealt with iron weapons do an equal amount of chimerical aggravated damage. If the wielder of the iron weapon is attacking a chimera or true fae with no physical presence in the Waking world, the successes on the attack is the amount of damage dealt. A character hit with Cold Iron also loses a point of temporary Glamour. Any changeling, true fae, or chimera that dies chimerically from Cold Iron damage has her soul destroyed utterly. This effect does not occur from normal iron. Chimerical iron is incredibly rare, but has the same effects as normal iron except for the fact that it only does non-chimerical damage when Wyrded and is never Cold. Some believe that the rarity of Dreaming iron is because agents of the Fomorians have long been gathering and hoarding it.

Alternate Changeling: Recent History and Politics

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(See last week’s post for more details about this project.) One of the main reasons I wrote up all of this stuff is that my conception of the setting changed based on the LARP I ran in college. I’d had to make some major world decisions before War in Concordia came out, and I found myself still liking my decisions and wanting to roll them forward. So what follows is the “recent history” (circa 2001-2006) and politics I’d set up based on the fallout of that chronicle.

Dreams of Darker Days

Things were beginning to fracture amongst the courts of the fae. Recent events had seen an upswing in the number of fae hunters and the prophecies of darkness were growing daily. Rumors spoke of a Shadow Court working actively behind the scenes to sow chaos. The bizarre summer of 1999 saw nightmares spreading across the Dreaming and emerging from hidden realms. Only the strong hand of the low kings and the hope of David’s return brought hope to Concordia. And even this hope was shattered.

In early 2000, King Meilge fell to a bizarre Iron Plague that had struck the Kingdom of Willows. With the death of his fae soul, the anti-divinatory magicks protecting his role in David’s disappearance also fell. David, weakened from months of captivity without Glamour, was found and brought to be rejuvenated at the hold of Willow’s Shadow. Just as Seif the swordbearer was about to hand over Caliburn, David too fell in moments to the Iron Plague.

Caliburn embedded itself in the freehold and war began. The king’s sister, Morwen, his wife, Faerilyth, and his heir, Lenore, began to fight over who would be the new High Queen. Neither House Fiona nor the Red Branch would choose a side. Faerilyth was assassinated, and blame was spread across all the remaining sides. None could pull Caliburn from the stone of the Freehold, and so the war drew on.

The new millennium began and the unthinkable happened. Another wave of true fae emerged from the Dreaming, the silver road snapping and tearing behind them. Fergus, King of the Red Branch, emerged at Willow’s Shadow and drew Caliburn, proclaiming that Arcadia had fallen to the Fomorians and that now was the time to create a last bastion for the children of the Tuatha de Danaan on Earth. Most kingdoms on Earth were put under the control of a noble loyal to the Red Branch, and they began to prepare.

Now is the era of the darkest days.

The Factions of the Fae

In the new millennium the fae are divided into several governments, each with a different agenda. A character can often hold membership and title in as many factions as will accept her.

The United Kithain Empire

An alliance between the Western fae, the United Kithain Empire controls most of the Near Dreaming in Concordia, Albion, Caledonia, and the smaller fae monarchies of Europe and the near East. Essentially an organization of Celtic and Greco-Roman fae, the UKE is headed up by the Reformed Parliament of Dreams whose speaker is High King Fergus of Concordia.

The UKE was created in early 2001 when Fergus returned from Arcadia, and its stated goal is to protect kithain from the coming onslaught of the Fomorian hordes. To this effect, it offers membership and training to any kithain that swears an oath to stand against the Fomorians when the time comes, and also sponsors frequent trips to gather chimerical resources from the Dreaming. The largest faction of European changelings, many members are part of the UKE by default, as former membership in most kingdoms now means membership in the UKE.

A sketch of some of the more important areas of the UKE follows.

Concordia: United under the Red Branch and the Crystal Circle, the High Kingdom of Concordia controls most of the freeholds in North America. Queen Laurel of Northern Ice and Queen Mary Elizabeth of Grass have been admitted into the Crystal Circle, while Chief Greyhawk of the Burning Sun and Queen Mab of Apples have been sworn to the Red Branch. The Kingdom of Willows is currently governed by King Riordan Fellbane of the Fiona, a Red Branch knight that served as Fergus’ champion on his return to the Waking. The Kingdoms of White Sands, Pacifica, and the Feathered Snake are no longer under the rule of Concordia, while the Fiefs of Bright Paradise are only nominal allies in the best of times, as always.

With the snapping of the Silver Path, most American freeholds were reconnected to the Sideways Trods of the Nunnehi. Concordia’s lack of trod-based connections to the European dream has made quick transit to the rest of the UKE a matter of trusting in modern conveyances. Fergus is believed to make extensive use of airliners in his mortal seeming during his frequent trips to the parliament meetings at Stratford on Avon. Many others resort to tracking down masters of Wayfare to aid their transit.

The British Isles: The Isles remain a patchwork of fae governments, Britain alone divided into at least 16 small kingdoms. After pressure from Fergus, Lenore of House Dougal was placed as the High Queen of Britain. Her control, as a foreigner, is even more ceremonial than the mortal queen’s. In actuality, Britain has its own parliament, headed up by Edgar Whitestone the Lord Chancellor of Roses and King Ross of Dalriada.

The Rest of Europe: Many of the freeholds in Europe, including France, Spain, Germany, Scandinavia, Greece, Italy, Eastern Europe, and West Russia have joined the UKE on an individual basis, and they elect leaders to speak at the Parliament. There are few actual kingdoms of any real size in Europe, as long centuries of freehold possession and experimentation with different governmental styles left little homogeneity amongst the changelings of the continent. The returning nobles did not as easily press a feudal government on the local fae. They will still honor titles with the UKE, and expect their own titles to be honored, but do not often hold with the rigid hierarchy that is present in many freeholds of Britain and Concordia.

The Nation of Khemet: Citing long traditions of friendship, the mysterious rulers of the Egyptian freeholds have also joined the UKE, though none are quite certain of their true reasons for joining, as they have offered little knowledge of themselves.

The Independent Fae of Concordia

Created after the formation of the UKE, the stated agenda of the IFC is to create an organization for changelings that wish to concentrate on their own interests and problems in the Waking world, rather than being mobilized by doomsayers to fight in a war against Dreaming-based bogeymen. A large number of freeholds in Concordia have joined the IFC, as have many individuals without their own hold. The Kingdom of White Sands is the only large collection of freeholds under the IFC, and it is still ruled over by Queen Morganna.

The organizer of the IFC is Morwen ap Gwydion, sister of former High King David and major contender for the throne of Concordia before the return of Fergus. Many have accused her of forming the IFC out of sour grapes for losing the throne of Concordia, though she claims to have the interests of earth-bound fae in mind. The IFC, while having titles, is much more relaxed about the enforcement of protocols and etiquette than the UKE, and has attracted many converts for this fact alone.

The IFC spends most of its efforts promoting artistic endeavors, following imaginative trends, and making sure that its members have access to dreamers. It is believed that the Ranters faction also joined the IFC, but who can tell with such a mysterious group?

The Shadow Court

Finally announcing their existence after the formation of the UKE, the Shadow Court pulled out their members from that organization to found a government of their own. The Court has members and freeholds scattered throughout the world, but their primary power base is currently in the Kingdom of Pacifica where Queen Aeron has finally turned to their side.

The visible leaders of the Shadow Court are Count Vogon and Duke Dray, though many suspect that there are far more invisible leaders amongst the Court. Dray’s inclusion seems to indicate that the Beltaine Blade has decided to back the Shadow Court, as it follows a feudal structure far more rigid then the parliamentary urges of the UKE. Those who have dealt with the Court before tend to believe that some elaborate game is being played and this is just another move on the chess board.

The Shadow Court’s stated agenda is to accept members who want to avoid the senseless preparation for another War of Trees while also avoiding giving in to the near-anarchy of the IFC. Their real agenda is, unsurprisingly, hidden from all but their highest ranking members, but they have been accused of consorting with the Fomorians, inspiring Banality, consorting with the Wyrm, attempting to force the Long Winter, and even worse crimes. So far they have done nothing of those kinds that can be proven, and their worst seems to be fighting off kithain that try to take their freeholds.

House Fatae

In the past several years, the Norns of the Deep Dreaming seem to have been gathering members for their own faction. All members of the house gain the Bard’s Tongue and instruction in several powerful fae Arts. They are discouraged from belonging to other factions, but are allowed to lend their services on a case by case basis to those that require them. Fate-bound have traveled across the Waking world and the Dreaming with important messages for kithain leaders and commoners alike. None currently understand just what purpose the fates are building their resources to accomplish.

The Adhene Courts

Composed largely of the denizens of the Dreaming that were formerly members of the Fomorian armies, the adhene claim that they have no further part in the schemes of the Fomorians. They just wish to be left alone by the kithain and allowed to go about their businesses. They hold freeholds in out of the way places such as parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia, but have members scattered across the Waking. They have no unified agenda, other than mutual protection against those kithain that would hunt them for their former role in the War of Trees.

The Inanimate Empire

The only faction composed primarily of chimera, the Inanimate Empire is the government of the Inanimae. Each Inanimae is a sentient chimera of a particular natural formation or element, and many have developed unique and potent Redes. Some are even believed to have developed a way to form a mortal husk in which to Wyrd for long periods of time and to ignore the effects of dissolution. They do not hold freeholds as such, instead living in representations of their elements in the Dreaming. They send frequent envoys and diplomats to the other factions of the fae, with requests that seem to indicate an agenda unfathomable by flesh-bound minds.

The Nunnehi Nation

Now that the Nunnehi can again access the Higher Hunting Ground (their version of Arcadia within the Deep Dreaming) through the returned sideways trods, their numbers and power have been growing. Militant Nunnehi have been actively taking freeholds in Concordia through the sideways trods, while others have been seeking forgotten lore within their Deep Dreaming. They claim to receive guidance by the Phoenix itself, and have had an unpredictable relationship to most of the factions of the kithain in the Americas.

The Submarine Kingdoms

There is a vast political structure of chimera and piscine fae beneath the oceans of the Earth. Their envoys are rare, their politics as unfathomable as their depths, and they don’t seem to have any agenda that directly affects the land bound fae over the long term.

The Hsien

The fae of Asia are just as bizarre as their Dreaming. They largely ignore Western fae, though vacationers in the East have had run-ins both friendly and unfriendly with the natives. There have been some unhappy interactions between them and the Naraka and other adhene of the Orient, but their dealings do not impact most of the kithain.

Prodigals and Others

The term Prodigal refers to supernatural creatures that have a long history with the fae. It does not so much indicate that many changelings believe that these creatures were once fae, but means that many fae feel that these supernaturals have squandered the friendships and oaths that once bound them to the fae. Other supernaturals, as well as mortal hunters, are more recent occurrences and share no ancient ties to the fae, making them harder to affect with fae Arts.

Vampires

The undead are some of the only creatures that a changeling can really count on being constant from life to life. This can make them great friends or great enemies. Older vampires sometimes meet the same changeling in life after life, and can be a boon in recalling forgotten memories. However, some vampires find changeling blood addictive and others find them useful in their labyrinthine plots, making them dangerous. Perhaps the most harmful thing about long-term association with vampires, however, is the tendency for older undead to become set in their ways, jaded, and full of the ennui that leads to Banality. A creature that lives only out of habit is deeply depressing to the fae.

Werewolves and other Lycanthropes

Lycanthropes have had a long and turbulent history with the fae. Many honor the old ways, and even more remember ancient oaths between themselves and the fae. Others remember slights done to their ancestors. While the modern werecreatures and changelings share a common cause—the eradication of pointless stasis and corruptive decay—both sides have completely different opinions on how and why to pursue this quest.

Mages

The mortal magi have long been an enigma to the fae, one which many have sought to explore in great depth. While the traditional practitioners recall oaths with the fae, modern philosophies care nothing for the old bonds. Some mages versed in ancient lores attempt to manipulate the Dreaming itself, for good or for ill.

The Dead

Only one kith of fae is truly good at interacting with ghosts, and these often have long-running pacts with departed spirits. They note that recently ghosts have been in far shorter supply than times past, whispering of a great upheaval in their realm as well. Other changelings care little for the politics of those souls trapped without reincarnation, only dealing with those they cared for in life.

Hunters and Reckoners

There have long been individuals that hunted the fae for personal reasons, be it revenge, religion, or a Banal hatred of the unnatural. They are often purely mortal and easily dealt with by use of simple illusions and the Mists. Recently, however, new hunters have arisen with strange powers of their own. They seem to be able to shrug off fae magicks and are even partly resistant to the Mists themselves. Changelings that know of them avoid them at all costs.

The Reborn

Some of the undying of Khem have long known the fae of that region. New magicks have been brought to bear to create a breed of mummy that seems very similar to changelings in their serial immortality. For this reason, changelings that know of them have gone out of their way to make their acquaintances, sometimes endangering themselves as the chaos of the fae does not always mesh with the balance of Ma’at.

Demons

As yet, the changelings know nothing about new creatures from hell.

Alternate Changeling: Backstory

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Changeling: the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is out in PDF to the Kickstarter backers (and will probably be available soon to all). It is very good, and everyone should pick it up when they can. I think it’s the strongest 20th anniversary update of the ones I’ve seen so far (which, admittedly, is really just Mage with a light perusal of Vampire and Werewolf).

It’s good enough that it even has me thinking about whether I could actually try to run another Changeling chronicle. And that had me looking back at some of the old documentation I’d put together in college (when I’d made my own run at updating the material when no Revised version was forthcoming). To my surprise, I still approve of a lot of my decisions from fifteen or more years ago, so I thought I’d post some (lightly updated) sections from them.

This week is the summarized backstory I put together for new players. It takes some liberties with events (and references a few background elements that were highly relevant in the Changeling LARP I ran in college), and should prove a decent grounding for my own take on the setting (which is slightly idiosyncratic to the canon).

A History of the Fae

In the beginning were the first dreams. None know whether these were the dreams of the first humans, the dreams of the animals, the dreams of the spirits, or the dreams of Gaia herself. Nevertheless, these dreams spawned the Dreaming: a vast sprawling realm of ephemeral thoughts and transitory impressions.

Thence came the chimera: beings that mirrored the dreams of the sleepers, but which were merely figments, with little in the way of true form, following the script of the dreams that created them. These chimera were just another part, indistinguishable from the landscape of the Dreaming, save that they seemed animate because they represented dreams of moving things. In those days the realm of dreams was not far from the realm of waking, and the Mists were still very thin.

In time, reoccurring dreams crystallized into the first of the fae. Taking the themes of the Dreaming to heart, they represented the deepest thoughts of the dreamers. These first fae were Seelie and Unseelie, creation and destruction, hope and fear. Immediately, or perhaps later, these first fae became the Fomorians and the Tuathans. One represented the power of creation and the other the might of destruction. Yet which was which is far more arguable.

For unknown ages, they took turns governing over the dreams of mortals, being exalted as gods, becoming more and more powerful as their continued existence caused further dreams to come into being that included them.

Yet this could not continue forever.

The War of Trees

It is uncertain which side broke the cycle of Summer and Winter first. It is known that the Tuathans overthrew the Fomorians, but it is not clear whether this was a first strike or in response to former wrongs. Nevertheless, the Tuathans ruled unquestioned for longer than their share of time.

This event is retold in nearly every mythology. The Greek gods overthrew the Titans. The Judeo-Christian God and Angels cast the Fallen out of Heaven. The Norse Aesir defeated the Giants. Egypt’s Osiris defeated his brother Set. Finally, in the terms which have been most used, the Celtic Tuathans overthrew the Fomorians. Each culture places the event in a different era, and it is possible that the Dreaming, shaped and re-shaped by mortal dreams, replayed the event many times. In each instance, the Tuathans were victorious, reigning endlessly, or so they thought.

If the human conception of time can be trusted, iron began to be discovered near the time of the dark ages of Greece, at the end of the age of heroes. That this was an era surrounding the death of the Phoenix only placed more importance on the discovery. Fomorians that had long been re-building their power in the East noticed the importance of the metal ahead of their ancient foes. Humans ascribed great power to the metal that would not bend, and so it gained power from their dreams.

Lesser fae and chimera, those that had turned to the side of the Fomorians and which would later be called the Adhene, began to gather weapons of iron. When they struck the first blows of the Tessarakonta it was with an unbeatable edge. As iron proved its ability to slay the gods, it became even more potent when put towards that use.

The war continued through meaningless instances of time. Eventually, the Tuathans and their children recovered from the initial onslaught and began to bring weapons of their own to bear. Armies of fae and chimera clashed on the plains of the Dreaming and in the mortal world.

Many believe that the sympathies of the fall of Rome heralded the end of the war, for the participants in the fight were unable to truly deviate from the dreams of mortals: the fate of the gods would only be in question should the fate of the Roman Empire be at stake. Regardless, the final battle is remembered to have been on the Kureksarra plain, where the Red King of the Fomorians brought his final weapon, the Triumph Casque of Sorrows, to bear. Against impossible odds, he was defeated, or some say that he realized the folly of his actions and simply surrendered.

The Fomorians accepted the rites of binding, their followers were trapped behind the Silver Path, and the Tuathans also retreated to unknown locations. Some say that the Tuathans retired to Arcadia to heal their grievous wounds. Others say that the Tuathans were all slain during the War of Trees, and only their children survived to defeat the Fomorians. None can now remember the truth, but the war ended all the same.

An Era of Darkness

In the age that would later come to be known as the Dark Ages, the fae were without leaders and without power. The ranks of the fae nobility were growing as more mortals dreamed of what it would like to be a knight or lord, yet governing true fae turned out to be harder than the metaphor of herding cats. Without the power of the Tuathans or the Fomorians, nobles that had once been functionaries and priests now had to fend for themselves.

Adding to the trouble was the lack of enough sustenance to go around. The truly great hopes of mankind had dwindled to a mere desire to get by from day to day, with a distant dream of someday doing enough good deeds to avoid being damned to Hell. Were this not enough, the demonization of the fae by Holy Mother Rome made patronizing dreamers incredibly difficult. Many peasants still remembered the old ways, leaving out the remnants of food, placing small tokens at hidden alters, and other gestures, but gestures is all they were. The church grew in power and belief, and the mostly pagan fae felt the sting of lost worship.

Yet the end was not yet come. Gradually, the fall of Rome and the fallout of the War of Trees faded into memories. A new era of development started, and martial nations with the divine right of kings set forth to establish their dominance. Works of literature such as Beowulf and the Song of Roland found their dreams spreading across the face of Europe. Dreams which had once been comfortable with a king, priests, and a senate began to be re-molded into a feudal line. Urged to mimic the growing dreams of mortals, the fae began to arrange themselves in strict hierarchies beneath those claiming to have the Divine Right of the Tuathans to rule. Great works began to be possible, and the fae reached deep into the tales of mortals.

Yet things were soon to become much more complicated.

The Shattering and the Rebirth

The Black Death shook the very foundations of the Dreaming. Arriving from distant lands, it spread like an invisible spectre over the face of Europe. Some thought that it was another attack by the Fomorians, others thought that it was some weapon in the wars of the prodigals, while still others believed that it could only be a sign of the end of the world and the Second Coming.

Some say that the Shattering that followed was due to lack of dreams caused by the plague, but this is only partly true. Those beset by the plague were often struck with nightmares so potent that their dark Glamour could feed a faerie for days. The problem was not the lack of dreams, so much as the eventual lack of people to do the dreaming. Even the most conservative estimates tend to suspect that at least a third of the population of Europe died within only the briefest of spans. So many lives, ripped away in such a brief interval, began to tear away the building blocks of the Dreaming. Landscapes crumbled, the silver path stretched nearly to breaking, and everywhere the firchlis spun madly trying to cover up each rift left by a missing dream.

The fae did not know what to do in the face of the dilemma. Many thought that the Dreaming was finished while others thought that its heart was the only safe place left. A contingent formed; primarily composed of nobles, it contained many other fae as well. Some of them were abandoning the Earth like a sinking ship, others were hoping that, by reaching the gates of Arcadia, some magicks could be found that would halt the chaos, and some thought that they could find the Tuathans and beg them for help.

Later incarnations would claim that those left behind were cast off by the nobles and forced to their fate, but only in a few cases was this true. Those that stayed behind largely thought that retreat was a fool’s option, and so they remained.

Times grew very hard for the earthbound fae. As the last rath slammed shut behind those who fled so did the Mists rise to overpowering strength. Fae that had long depended on the constant revitalizing Glamour of the Dreaming realized that they would have to look for new sources or fade into nothingness. Some went into their freeholds and cocooned their last supply of Glamour around themselves, slowly becoming the mad lost ones. But this was not a course that many would choose for themselves.

Long had the fae known that they could incarnate themselves by replacing the souls of mortals, becoming a hybrid entity referred to as a changeling by European legends. This process, unfortunately, had the side effect of making the changeling as mortal as her host body. When the mortal body died, the soul disappeared into the Dreaming, possibly discorporating entirely. This did protect the fae soul, but it was a temporary protection at best.

The greatest remaining fae sorcerers began to work on the problem. Eventually, they reached a breakthrough, which they referred to simply as the Changeling Way. Vast sorceries empowered a series of oaths and simple rituals that could be disseminated amongst fae-kind. By undergoing the ritual, a faerie’s soul was reshaped and wounded, creating a rift that could be sealed by the compliment of a mortal soul. When such a faerie incarnated in a mortal, the soul was not replaced but incorporated. On the mortal’s death, the fae soul would be freed by the escaping mortal soul and could immediately seek out another mortal to bond with. By making themselves incomplete, the fae could continue to enjoy immortality.

The era of the Changelings began, as more and more of the remaining fae on earth underwent the Way. Protected from dissolution by their mortal hosts, they could pursue the sustenance of Glamour at their leisure. With the swiftly on-coming Renaissance, this process began to grow ever easier. Changelings across Europe began to steadily muse the growing mortal talents, increasing their efforts to works of true mastery. The Dreaming was still inaccessible to the changelings, but the dreams of mortals were overflowing with new ideas.

The Interregnum

The years passed and the world began to change. Having thrown off the yoke of the Catholic Church and of the other tenets of the status quo during the Renaissance, new ideas emerged almost daily. More and more discoveries were being made about the composition of the universe itself, discoveries that pointed out that it was, in fact, a mystery that could be solved.

The changelings were deeply conflicted about these changes. While the new dreams of progress and hopes of a better future inspired enormous amounts of Glamour, these dreams accompanied discoveries that more and more relegated the mystical and the religious to mere superstition and untruth. Some fae moved with the times, musing scientists and inventors across the world, while others continued to support the old ways, fading into the fringe groups that lived throughout the countryside. Great arguments were had over which was the best way, especially when the Industrial Revolution began to crush the dreams of its workers while spurring the dreams of those that fueled it.

These arguments became especially heated with the growth of a new force called Banality. Banality had existed in some form or another throughout human memory. Yet not until the modern era had it truly become a force of power against the fae. In the eyes of many workers at the new factories, a cold light of utter resignation burned. For them, there was nothing worth hoping for, no future to dream of, and nothing more that could be taken away to fear. Each day was the same, each minute was slavery to a whistle, and each night was a dreamless oblivion of rest for the body but not for the mind.

Amongst others, the case was growing as well. Some were left behind by progress, and became completely apathetic about anything as the world changed and left them behind. Some were jaded by the ease of production, and no longer bothered to dream, for they figured that the scientists would produce everything within a few years. Some became deeply nihilistic, following the new brand of philosophy that claimed that God was dead. Banality grew and the fae discovered a new enemy.

Yet there was hope as well. Gradually, the Mists of the Dreaming decreased to less impassable strengths. Changelings began to again be able to use potent arts of travel and dream to force their way through the Mists and cross fully into the Dreaming. The Mists were still high, the raths were still closed, and the Dreaming was still broken and dangerous, but it seemed to be under repair.

Enterprising changelings set out to clean up the dreamscape and to rescue chimera and chimerical materials from the Near Dreaming. Some never returned, but many came back with grand tales of adventures and beasts and resources long unseen in the waking world.

The changelings began to reorganize their forgotten associations. New ideas for government were taken from dreamers and put into practice. New works were made of chimera to create truly impressive freeholds and accoutrements. Changelings began to feel like a part of a society. Some even went on missions to the Deep Dreaming to look for their vanished relatives. The world was still much limited compared to the ancient days, but it was getting better.

The Resurgence and the Accordance War

The first two-thirds of the Twentieth Century had been of mixed effect on the fae. Two world wars had created a surge of Banality as the dream of heroic warfare was shelled in the trenches and burned in a nuclear blast. The Great Depression had crushed the lives and hopes of many. Yet technology proceeded at great speeds, and every day another creation that had been merely science fiction in the 1800s came into being. By the 1960s there was no doubt that there would soon be a man on the moon, and from there, to the stars.

Changeling sorcerers were certain from auguries and predictions that the actual event of the moon landing in the summer of 1969 would create a surge of Glamour. They planned to harness this event to achieve a long-anticipated goal: the re-opening of the raths to the Dreaming. Each freehold had a doorway that had long been shut to egress from the Dreaming, and with these raths reopened travel to and from the Near Dreaming would become much easier. As one man made his small step that was mankind’s giant leap, the ritual went off, blowing the doors into the Dreaming wide open.

It turned out that sorcerers on the other side of the Mists had received prophecies of this event as well. The first true fae stepped through the raths only a few hours after the moon landing. Large contingents of fae, primarily dreams of Nobility and their chimerical retainers, began emerging in freeholds across the world. These returning fae had lost much of their memory to the Mists, and could not recall whether they had been cast out of Arcadia for crimes or whether they came with an important message.

They did have, however, centuries of unbroken experience to draw upon, Glamour to burn, and a will to power, and thus many of them set about reclaiming freeholds that they had long abandoned. Many changelings were forced into oaths of vassalage that had not been used in centuries, while others were slain outright, and the Night of Iron Knives truly was an atrocity. The war of Accordance had begun.

Later talespinners would paint a very black and white picture of the Accordance War. Years of military conflict during the 70s did, in fact, promote an “us versus them” belief amongst both fae and mortal souls. However, things are never truly homogeneous amongst the chaotic fae. In some places, there were, in fact, epic battles between commoners and nobility with chimerical weapons on empty and appropriate battlescapes.

But in just as many places, there were commoner sit-ins, or changelings that called the mortal police when some noble with a sword was threatening their existence, and even changelings that were completely oblivious to the war. Many of the truly epic battles actually involved commoners and nobles siding together against thallain and nightmare chimera that had come pouring out of the Dreaming through the opened raths. There is even a tale of one “battle” which was decided by two powerful sorcerers playing a very involved game of chess with perfectly ordinary pieces and rules.

The Accordance war came to an end not out of some grand gesture, or the rise of David Ard Rhy, or any of the quoted reasons. The real ending of the war came from simple pragmatism. Most of the returning fae had become changelings to avoid dissolution (though few had undergone the full ritual of the Changeling Way). The vast array of changelings had mortal identities and mortal concerns and they began to treat the war as little more than a weekend event of sport.

Eventually, most commoners conceded that yes, dreams of rulership were probably better suited to being in charge, and the nobles conceded that yes, the commoners had done a pretty good job running the place while they were gone. The fae settled into a comfortable series of oaths and arrangements and only the most radical on either side really thought that the war needed to be continued.

The Age of New Adventures

The eighties and nineties saw an era of adventure come over the fae. Reconnected to the Dreaming and re-organized, their power became much greater than it had been since the ages of legend. Now changelings could contend with the prodigals for influence over the fate of the world. Old alliances were re-formed, old rivalries re-instated, and new friends and enemies were made out of factions in the world.

Banality was still a fear, and some doomsayers talked of a Long Winter, but few were truly worried about their chances of running into an Autumn Person or a Dauntain. High King David ruled with a gentle hand, realizing that his governance was most effective when it was non-intrusive into the very individualistic roles of the commoners. Some worried about prophecies of the future, but most were content to work on improving the present.

Then, in 1998, David disappeared and the Dreaming changed once more.

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