Fae Empowerment

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The following is a short rules set I worked up for an offer from a sidhe noble in my Beyond the Wall game: when the fae really want to tempt you to do something for them, they can offer up some of their own ability scores to give yours a permanent boost. The gift tends to come with quite a bit of the resonance of the sidhe, making it a bit of a mixed blessing and pulling you closer to becoming fae yourself. Permanent ability score boosts are obviously a pretty big reward for most D&D iterations; in my game, this was the gambit for the fae asking for ownership of the ancient crown mentioned last week (which the players, some with more regret than others, passed on taking).

Basic System

The fae can offer up to +4 to a particular quality, such as might or beauty (noted in parenthesis and mapping to an ability score). You may choose to give the player full control over how much is taken, the faerie may only offer a point or two, or you might offer it on a sliding scale (e.g., characters starting with a low score can get a bigger boost than those with a high score already).

Taking +1 has no ill effect. Characters that accept +2 gain the cosmetic side effect for the trait. Those that accept +3 gain the cosmetic and the minor side effects. Those that accept +4 gain all three side effects.

If you take one less increase, you also gain the boon. Thus, if you want the boon, you could take it, no ability score increase, and no side effects all the way up to the boon, +3 to the score, and all three side effects.

Qualities of Nature Fae (Spring/Summer/Seelie)

Strength (Might)

  • Boon: Weapons you wield made entirely of plants (e.g., clubs, staves, etc.) increase damage by a die size. Double your progress rate when using force to move or alter plants (e.g., blazing trails, hauling wood, etc.).
  • Cosmetic: Your muscles creak like tree branches when exerting themselves.
  • Minor: Treat iron as adamantine for the purposes of bending/breaking it (i.e., basically impervious to brute force).
  • Major: Iron or steel weapons you wield are at -1 attack penalty and iron or steel armor you wear is at -1 AC (due to feeling heavier than they are).

Dexterity (Grace)

  • Boon: You always Pass without Trace through forest environments (includes immunity to the Hedge).
  • Cosmetic: You exhibit unearthly thinness and a great degree of androgyny.
  • Minor: You are helplessly immobilized when bound in iron.
  • Major: You must save vs Spell or dance when exposed to certain music (as if Tasha’s Hideous Laughter in 5e).

Constitution (Health)

  • Boon: Double all healing (natural or magical) when outside in a natural environment, and gain +2 to saves vs. Poison from natural sources.
  • Cosmetic: Your skin takes on the appearance of bark.
  • Minor: You automatically hibernate when sleeping in Winter (each day you must be woken forcefully or you will sleep until Spring).
  • Major: You suffer vulnerability to Iron.

Intelligence (Wit)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Glamour Weaving or Second Sight cantrips (Minor Illusion cantrip or Detect Magic as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Flowers and vines twine through your hair while sleeping and are difficult to remove.
  • Minor: You must save vs. Spell to refuse a riddle game (Cha save in 5e).
  • Major: You are incapable of telling an outright falsehood (this may impose situational penalties to Deception if not well-roleplayed).

Wisdom (Intuition)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Druid’s Touch or Beast Ken cantrips (Druidcraft cantrip or Speak with Animals as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your eyes and ears transform to strongly resemble those of the fae.
  • Minor: You can be commanded by someone who knows your True Name (you may be able to save to resist commands).
  • Major: You must save vs Magic Item or be paralyzed by sound of bells (Str save in 5e).

Charisma (Beauty)

  • Boon: You learn the spells Commanding Word, False Friend, Inspiration, and Word of Courage and may cast +1 spell per day (Cast your choice of Bless, Command, Charm Person, or Heroism at 1st level 1/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: You take on a fae cast to your features and assume the skin and hair coloring of the donating faerie.
  • Minor: You become a physical duplicate of the donating faerie (less any fae traits not assigned from other side effects).
  • Major: You become unnaturally aged during the Winter, taking -1 penalties to most physical actions.

Qualities of Ice Fae (Autumn/Winter/Unseelie)

Strength (Might)

  • Boon: Weapons you wield made entirely of ice and spell attacks you make that deal cold damage increase damage by a die size. Double your progress rate when using force to move or alter ice or snow (e.g., sculpt ice, break through ice walls, blaze snow trails, etc.).
  • Cosmetic: Your muscles creak like stressed ice sheets when exerting themselves.
  • Minor: Treat iron as adamantine for the purposes of bending/breaking it (i.e., basically impervious to brute force).
  • Major: Iron or steel weapons you wield are at -1 attack penalty and iron or steel armor you wear is at -1 AC (due to feeling heavier than they are).

Dexterity (Grace)

  • Boon: You treat snow and slick ice as solid ground when you desire to do so.
  • Cosmetic: You exhibit unearthly thinness and a great degree of androgyny.
  • Minor: You are helplessly immobilized when bound in iron.
  • Major: You must save vs Spell or dance when exposed to certain music (as if Tasha’s Hideous Laughter in 5e).

Constitution (Health)

  • Boon: You take half damage from cold/ice attacks and treat temperatures down to freezing as comfortable (adjusting sub-freezing temperatures as if freezing was room temperature)(Cold Resistance in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your skin takes on a bluish pallor.
  • Minor: You automatically hibernate when sleeping in Summer (each day you must be woken forcefully or you will sleep until Autumn).
  • Major: You suffer vulnerability to Iron.

Intelligence (Wit)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Glamour Weaving or Second Sight cantrips (Minor Illusion cantrip or Detect Magic as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Frost patterns form on your skin whenever you are exposed to cold.
  • Minor: You must save vs. Spell to refuse a riddle game (Cha save in 5e).
  • Major: You are incapable of telling an outright falsehood (this may impose situational penalties to Deception if not well-roleplayed).

Wisdom (Intuition)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Blessing or Hexing cantrips (Guidance cantrip or Bane at 1st level 2/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your eyes and ears transform to strongly resemble those of the fae.
  • Minor: You can be commanded by someone who knows your True Name (you may be able to save to resist commands).
  • Major: You must save vs Magic Item or be paralyzed by sound of bells (Str save in 5e).

Charisma (Beauty)

  • Boon: You learn the spells Obscurement, Petrifying Gaze, Terrifying Presence, and Whispering Wind and may cast +1 spell per day (Cast your choice of Dissonant Whispers, Fog Cloud, Hex, or Tasha’s Hideous Laughter at 1st level 1/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: You take on a fae cast to your features and assume the skin and hair coloring of the donating faerie.
  • Minor: You become a physical duplicate of the donating faerie (less any fae traits not assigned from other side effects).
  • Major: You become sluggish and uncomfortable during the Summer, taking -1 penalties to most physical actions.
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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.

Come Buy, Come Buy (Part 3)

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Apparently, I had a lot more to say on this topic than I thought, and it’s taken me until the third post to get to the item list that was the core of why I started writing this series in the first place. So without further ado…

Types of Items for Sale

Trinkets

Not every vendor in the market has epic items that will change your life forever. Probably the majority of them are a lot like their mortal counterparts: selling the everyday things that visitors to the market might need. Depending on the weirdness of the average customer, this could vary from goods that wouldn’t be out of place at any mortal market to items that have similar functions but alien appearances. Mostly, for mortal visitors, this winds up basically being tchotchkes: the kind of slightly unusual token you bring back to show your neighbors that you’ve seen wonders they couldn’t even imagine.

They might even accept your own coin or unusual goods for trade, letting you dip your toe in the market without bartering anything you aren’t prepared to part with.

Snacks and Merriment

It wouldn’t be a fair without delicious food, drink, and revelry to part you from your coin. As mentioned previously, they’re probably not glamoured fruits that will make you sick to death or tricks that keep you from ever leaving faerieland. At least the reputable vendors don’t sell that kind of thing. But the foods are delicious, empty calories, often spun into daring shapes that can’t be accomplished in human ovens with mortal gravity, and the entertainments are… extremely memorable.

Many of them are even touched with magic and might give you a small bonus to something relevant for an hour or two.

Exotic Goods

Beside the trinket vendors are the merchants with the things that are truly beyond what you can get in the mortal world. They sell bolts of cloth or fully-tailored clothing better than anything you’ve ever felt, metals that mortal metallurgists wouldn’t believe could exist, gems made of captured light, and chemicals that would make a mortal alchemist or baker weep at the possibilities.

Many of these things don’t last long outside of the market, falling apart under coarse mortal hands or turning into leaves with the dawn. If you can keep them up, the maintenance requires care and/or magic almost (almost) beyond what it’s worth. But they still might be useful for as long as they last, particularly if you’ve been invited to an event and aren’t properly attired.

Some of them might last, of course, if it suits the whimsy of the GM for them to persist. In particular, raw materials might survive into the mortal world… what better way to vex mortal crafters that try and fail to work them?

Secrets

If you need to know a particularly useful and hidden bit of lore, the market is the place to ask around. As noted previously, information at the market changes hands like physical goods: you’re paying not just to know something, but to be the holder of an exclusive (or, at least, extremely limited) piece of data. You can get weaknesses of your enemies, quest hooks, lost histories, and even spells from the right vendor for the right price.

Of course, the fact that you were asking around for these things is strangely free of the limited nature of secrets… the fae might gossip about your desires to almost anyone. That might particularly include someone who desperately wanted to know a secret that you now exclusively own.

Enchantment Shifting

To mortals, “permanent” magic is static, but, to many of the fae, it’s much more fluid. Have a curse you need taken off of you? Have a magic weapon that’s not your specialized type? There may be someone that can help you move that enchantment to a home more to your liking.

Magic as Commodity

The standard consumables are just the start for the types of magic you can buy at the market. Virtually any spell could find a home in a crafted good: to the fae, it’s not enchantment, just their own particular brand of handiwork. As noted previously, these should often be much easier to get than the rules expect, because of the spoilage factor.

Memories and Talents

Of course, the core currency of the market can also be an end in itself. Need to boost an ability or skill? Someone else may have paid in the right qualities that a merchant could distill the draught for you.

These bonuses should range from the slight to the overwhelming, and from the momentary to the permanent. Maybe you only need the memories of a genius or the muscles of a troll for a moment to solve a problem, or maybe you’d like a slighter bonus for longer. The pricing for this should probably start similar to a potion that boosts an ability for a short period, adjusted for magnitude and duration, and discounted for drawbacks.

In addition to the normal drawback of spoilage, the hidden drawback of this kind of thing is the danger of taking in someone else’s identity.

Mental ability scores and skills tend to come from a constellation of memories and emotions, not all of them healthy. Is it worth it to be smart, if you suddenly have a genius’ pedantry and arrogance? Is it worth it to be incredibly charismatic and artistic, if you are suddenly wracked with depression engendered by a long-lost muse?

Physical ability scores and skills can be even more troubling, drifting into the realm of body horror. The muscles of a troll may come with many of the troll’s other physical characteristics. And sometimes the stories of being turned into frogs are just an offended merchant selling a particular distillation of a potion of agility…

Teaching a Mortal to Fish

Perhaps the most efficient purchase you can make, if you’re mystically inclined, are the secrets used to build containers and fill them with currency. With sufficient dedication, you can spend the weeks until the next fair gathering dross from your own home town out of dreams, emotions, and secrets no one will even miss, and save up for something at no cost to your own identity. For the patient and industrious, it’s the best investment you could make.

Of course, some people say that many fae were once mortal practitioners with a greed for faerie things and the right start down the slippery slope…

Come Buy, Come Buy (Part 2)

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Last week, I talked about the overall themes and possibility space of market items, and this week I’ll delve more into mechanics.

The Economy of the Market

While it may move away from keeping the workings of the market seeming totally alien, it does help to have some kind of rational economic basis in your head as a GM. The fae merchants absolutely haggle, and some things may be arbitrarily expensive or cheap as a way of modeling alien values, but this is theoretically still a place where fae merchants do what mortal merchants do: sell items for a price that covers their expenses plus profits. Thus, having some kind of math in the background gains in verisimilitude what it loses in inscrutability. You don’t want the players getting pissed off that everything happens to cost either a negligible amount or slightly more than the most they intended to pay. Sometimes, they should just be able to buy the thing with the items of currency they’ve collected.

These items of currency are what I find interesting. This is another area where I feel like more of a mechanic provides a big gain in verisimilitude. If even the least fae merchant can, at a whim, transform core pieces of a person into coin, why are they wasting their time doing so with peasants rather than kings? Instead, I postulate the following (tweak for the nature of the fae and mechanics in your own campaign):

  • Many fae, and some mortals, can learn various tricks to see and touch the stuff of mortal identity: your dreams are real to them, your secrets have a presence, and your personal traits linger like a cloud around you flickering with signifiers. This can give them an uncanny insight into your nature, for the things you believe are hidden within the darkness of your skull are plain to see for those that know how to interpret them. More importantly, with the right tools and right circumstances, seeing someone’s trappings is just the first step of taking them.
  • These tools are made through ritual and expense, from rare material and great skill. The least fae can weave webs to hold nightmares, prepare flasks to decant lesser memories, and bake a juicy secret into a pie. Stronger fae can make much more potent containers, which can hold trappings of much greater value. And even the least fae can fill a container given by a greater crafter.

Ultimately, I divide the currency of the fae into two rough categories:

  • Dross items have purchasing power similar to a gold piece or two (or silver for games like Beyond the Wall that have more conservative adventuring economies): each one was basically a day’s work for a lesser fae to craft and fill with a trapping. They can only hold the most minor of signifiers: stolen nightmares, captured applause, the least of secrets, and pieces of your competency easily given and hardly missed. They’re the pennies of the fae world, used for small purchases and sweetening a deal, but it’s somewhat gauche to try to make a big purchase with a lot of them.
  • Unique items were made with much more expensive and time-consuming rituals to hold trappings of real significance. Each has its own story, and, once filled, mutates from its original raw form into something fitting the significant piece of identity stored inside. Each has a base value that may change based on whether the alien needs of a particular fae values that trapping for some inscrutable purpose beyond use as a currency. After all, these things aren’t just a fun version of coin: they have value because some faerie, somewhere, has a real use for them. And if you want them back, you’d best find them before they reach their final buyer.

What this means is that lesser fae probably can’t buy your youth, your health, your love’s affection, or any other things of real value to you, unless they’re shiftily working as a front-fae for a much more powerful buyer that wishes to remain unnamed. Once you start asking what of yourself you can give up for that extremely pricey item, many fae merchants may have to direct you to a more powerful trader who has the requisite container to bottle what you’re selling.

This should really give you some time to rethink the trade you’re trying to make.

Another thing to keep in mind about the fae economy is that it has its own peculiar form of DRM: mortals are used to information being easily copied, so might think nothing of sharing a secret or a memory. Most of the time, though, this is an exclusive deal: if you trade in information, you no longer have it yourself. The lesser fae make a point of only trading for data you haven’t “backed up” by sharing with someone else, so when you forget it you can’t easily get it back. The more powerful traders can absorb information from everywhere else it exists, be it minds or writing, as long as it was actually yours to trade.

So how much can you actually get by shaving off pieces of your character’s identity?

As a core rule, trades should be inherently lossy: the merchant has to pay for market overhead and ritual components, at least. Even with the best haggling roll, if you think you’re getting an even swap (say, two points of one ability score for two points of another), you’re probably missing something. It’s more likely that even the best deals will leave you over 20% in the hole when comparing apples-to-apples (e.g., trade five points of ability scores for four).

Dross should be pretty easy to come by, and only start to have major effects if the characters try to create a lot of it from their identities in a very short period. The market’s no fun if you have to worry about the long-term negative effects of minor trades. By all means be very descriptive about the lost memories, emotions, and other personal qualities spun into dross, but they probably shouldn’t have any real, long-term mechanical effect on the character (perhaps some small penalties in the short term).

Unique items, however, should quickly transition into dear purchases. Brandes is hesitant to assess permanent ability score penalties, but I think they’re on the table as long as the currency you buy with them can be used to get something whose utility closely balances the regret at permanent lost character potency (possibly just through being something otherwise unavailable through prescribed system means). In 5e or other games with systematized personality traits/aspects, those are also good to spend. Skills/skill points can go as well. Secrets are good to use if they have real in-campaign utility (e.g., the secret way into your stronghold, your own true name or that of a powerful entity, etc.). Spellcasters can give up learned spells.

And, of course, “permanent” may be relative. Most of the boosts you can buy in the market are fleeting, so actual mechanical stat penalties may last just long enough to be super annoying and then gradually recover (as you make new memories/accrue replacement identity signifiers).

Like with the nature of items, the nature of fae currency is figuring out how to get player characters to do something the characters might regret forever, but which doesn’t actually permanently ruin the players’ fun. A lot of it will come down to your own players’ tolerances for roleplayed misery.

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