Changeling 20th Anniversary Edition (C20) Review

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Overall

Changeling the Dreaming has always been a beautiful, broken game. The 20th Anniversary edition is less different from the 2nd edition than I’d expected. It is somewhat less broken, and still beautiful in its way. Lackluster kithain art detracts from it, and I would have preferred a bigger focus on new art in a game that is so driven by imagery (and so flush with new cash from the Kickstarter).

The metaplot is reiterated and updated, but it holds less interest for me than it did 18 years or so ago, when I first started playing the 2nd edition with my friends in college. It remains very US-centric, which is unfortunate, and the rise of David Ardry still comes across as someone’s first brush with fantasy worldbuilding.

All that being said, this remains a game I would run or play, and enjoy. There are solid updates to the rules to help with this, though it remains broken and in need of some house-ruling. If you love Changeling the Dreaming 2nd edition, you’ll love C20. If you already have the various splatbooks, though, I actually think you could skip buying the Anniversary edition. Many of the rules changes can easily be part of house rules, and the stunning new art that I was hoping for in a 20th Anniversary edition just isn’t there.

This is just after a single read-through. I haven’t had a chance to play C20, and I’m sure I’ll find more on subsequent read-throughs. I’ve focused on the main kiths, Arts and some setting updates. I’d like to give more attention to the Hsien updates and other details as well in the future. Still, here is what I found.

Art and Design

A lot of classic Changeling the Dreaming art is carried over, and there are some new pieces. I thought that the new art for the clans in V20 was lacking, and I think that the new art for Changeling often falls flat, especially for the kithain. (For a tutorial in how to do new art for a OWoD line, I recommend M20).

The book is well laid-out and easy to read, and the table of contents has a few, but not enough, links in the PDF version. I prefer M20’s PDF, where all of the page numbers in the table of contents are links – in C20, only the chapter titles are links, which makes navigation a bit more cumbersome than it needs to be.

The Good

Birthrights and Frailties for each Kith are updated, and I like almost all of the updates. No big changes have been made, but they have been cleaned up overall. There are now no Chimerical-only attribute bonuses, which is something that I actually thought made sense for the Sidhe and Trolls, though I might be in the minority there. You can still create a troll with a Strength of 8 (max out Strength on a Grump Troll, add Strength of Atlas merit), but it is all mundane, meaning your Troll is far stronger than the strongest human ever to live. Similar with a side with an Appearance of 7 – so I guess people just collapse screaming in ecstasy in the street wherever you go? I preferred Chimercal attributes that you could manifest by Calling on the Wyrd in 2nd – the sudden reveal was made all the more significant. In actually running Changeling, I would keep those attribute bonuses Chimerical I think.

Arts have also been cleaned up. There was talk, when the rules discussion started on the Onyx Path forums, of eliminating Realms, which I would have preferred; in C20 Realms remain, but it is possible to spend a point of Glamour to cheat and use a Realm you don’t actually have, which is a big bonus to the way the system works. Realms are an element that adds constraints that sometimes drive creativity, but can also easily drive players crazy as they find out their character can’t do what they assumed she could do with her Arts. It’s an annoying element that isn’t present in any of the other supernaturals’ abilities. But the fix of being able to just spend Glamour to affect an Art you don’t have is a step in the right direction.

There is a much better crafting system, which makes up for Infusion being removed from the game. It now makes more sense, how one would create Chimerical objects in-game, something that was profoundly missing in 2nd. Now any Changelings can create Chimerical objects, Nockers are just a bit better at it.

And many things are now under one roof. Gathered up are all the added noble houses, and there are a few new ‘standard’ kith added to the lineup (Clurichauns, Piskies and Selkies) from splatbooks, and they streamlined the Hsien and added them as well. Elements of various metaplots have been brought into C20 together, and I’m not sure they all fit together, but that isn’t a big concern for me.

I like that they kept Naming, though I miss Dreamcraft. The new Contracts Art feels like it was borrowed from Changeling the Lost, but with good effect. It lets you do things that fae are supposed to be able to do, in my view. I think it could have used another pass in development, but, again, house rules.

There are also four new seasonal Arts, clearly drawn from Changeling the Lost, and I like the addition. Autumn, Spring, Summer and Winter each bring different things to Changeling. (As an aside, I personally think the sweet spot for Changeling is somewhere between Dreaming and Lost, but that’s me) Each seasonal Art expands on the idea for that season well, though again, I think they could have used another once-over in development.

The Not-So-Good

Already mentioned, the setting remains US-centric. Understandable, but not good. I mean, it isn’t America of Darkness. Also already mentioned, I don’t like that the Chimerical attribute bonuses are now just attribute bonuses. I get why they did it, but I could see that easily causing problems. I mentioned the poor art for many of the kithain.  The general rule that Changeling abilities are more costly, and have fewer dice, and are less powerful than the abilities of other supernaturals remains true.

Infusion and Dreamcraft both get the boot, among the Arts. Dragon’s Ire is now an Art, and it looks like it would not be a great choice since other arts help you in combat. I prefer the Dragon’s Ire as an ability, since I liked that different kiths got a reduced difficulty to call upon the Ire in different situations. I thought this was a great thematic element – suddenly the boggan is frightening because she is defending her home. Most of the Arts got a once-over at least, and are a bit better balanced with one another, and also stick to their themes more closely (no more using Pyretics to find lost things, that’s Soothsay now).

Unleashing, which is an awesome idea I think, is just not designed well enough. More examples would have been helpful, as there is a lot of hand-waving involved in figuring out what exactly happens. I like the idea of Unleashing – to ‘kick the door open’ to the Dreaming – but the execution isn’t well thought out enough. It’s like a tiny taste of an indie game, where you roll dice to see who narrates the result, and it just doesn’t work as a part of Changeling. Definitely another place where house rules would be required.

The Bad

Bunks that do not take an action are now impossible, which I definitely don’t like. Even the simplest bunks require that a character split their dice-pool for the Art activation roll, Given that Arts are now difficulty 8 base, and that dice-pools will be tiny because of Realms, splitting seems like a non-starter. I see no reason why basic -1 bunks would require one to split their action, and this means that every Changeling fight will be as follows:

Round One: everyone does something silly and waits.

Round Two: the fight actually starts, as everyone’s Art goes off.

Changelings using magical powers would easily be overcome by, say, jock

Combining the fact that Arts require Realms with the fact that no Art can be used spontaneously just feels like a bad relic of the past combined with a nerf. Splitting your first action hardly seems like a viable option, considering how tiny Art dice-pools are to start with – that’s a lot of work to end up rolling 2 or 3 dice at a difficulty of 8 for your magic power.

There are also always issues with the Satyr’s Gift of Pan, and those issues remain. Under their effect, if one fails a difficulty 8 roll (easy to do with low starting Willpower, and Willpower costing twice as much as it does for any other denizens of the World of Darkness), they cannot resit giving in to their secret desires. They just seem to be unable to get away from consent issues with Satyrs, and I can think of plenty of players who would make this until an un-fun evening.

Overall

If you loved Changeling the Dreaming 2nd edition, you’ll also love C20. If you actually played 2nd, you will have plenty of house rules to make the game work, and house rules will still be required for C20, though perhaps fewer of them. You’ll need to figure out what to do with Unleashing, and what it means to have a Strength of 8 or an Appearance of 7 in the mundane world – or house rule those things.

In the end, I love Changeling the Dreaming, and C20 doesn’t change that. I would still play it. Reading through the book still gives me ideas for stories. C20 brings things that were scattered across a couple dozen splatbooks into one tome, and updates some of the metaplot to 2015 or so. On the other hand, I think that someone who already has those splatbooks, and already has some house rules, and could maybe add Unleashing into their game…I’m not sure that person needs to buy C20 at all.