Save Against Fear

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This weekend, starting Friday, I will be attending Save Against Fear, the gaming convention and fundraiser hosted each year by The Bodhana Group. TL;DR: The Bodhana Group uses tabletop games in therapy. They are awesome. 

I’m going to be running two RPG sessions myself: Arcade Showdown on Friday at 12:30pm and then The Long Night on Saturday on 4:30pm. I will also be moderating the Game Designers Interactive Panel at 2:30pm on Saturday, which should be fun.

Sunday is my day to actually get some playing in, and I’m signed up for Fifth World – The Monster and then ending things off with Retrostar run by Jack Berkenstock Jr. himself.

If you are not going to be at Save Against Fear this year, you have made a terrible mistake. But it’s not too late! You can still register, or get your badge at the door. There are still slots in the games I’m running and, I believe, in the games I’ll be playing, as well as lots of other games. We’ll have our first celebrity guest, Martin Klebba, and you will meet a lot of great people who are not only huge gaming nerds but are also huge gaming nerds who are using their games to make people’s lives better.

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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.

Changeling the Lost House Rules

In planning on running a Changeling the Lost one-shot, I’ve come up with some house rules which I think enhance the game and also simplify it somewhat. What Changeling the Lost has is a lot of great fluff and atmosphere and color. What it lacks is a coherent system, seeming as if each power and special ability was designed by someone who only had cursory contact with the other designers. This is my little attempt to not only add some flavor but also to change some of that.

First I wanted to change how Virtues work in Changeling. It makes sense to me that Changeling Virtues and Vices would be a little different from the Thomistic ones presented in the base system.

Virtues
Love/Romance: for the most part, romantic love (Love is everything)
Joy: pleasure and happiness for their own sake or for others (Follow your bliss)
Honor: filial piety, fealty (Honor is life)
Wisdom: seeking knowledge, teaching, learning (Mind is sharper than steel)
Balance: peacemaking, something like temperance (All things in measure)
Hope: inspiring others, defying despair (After darkness, the dawn)
Courage: self-sacrifice (Never surrender)

Vices
Hatred: (Destroy your enemies)
Pettyness: squabbling without a larger goal (Accept no disrespect)
Lust: (Take your pleasure)
Gluttony: (There is always more)
Sloth/Banality: (Let others risk)
Arrogance: (Humility is weakness)
Despair: (Hope is a lie)


Next I changed the blessing and curse for each Seeming

Seeming’s Blessing and Seeming’s Curse are both handled differently. Each Blessing has a constant effect that is usually a roll-again. The player can invoke their Curse against themselves at one critical moment to gain one extra Glamour per session. They can invoke their Blessing once per session at the cost of one Glamour.
Beast: 9 on Wits; spend Glamour to speak to animals for a scene; gain Glamour when instinctual urges impose a dice-penalty (equal to Wyrd)
Darkling: 9 again on Manipulation rolls; spend Glamour to manipulate shadows for a scene; gain Glamour when bright light enforces a dice-penalty for a scene
Elemental: shrug off one attack per session; spend Glamour for Wyrd in bonus Health for one scene; gain Glamour when penalized trying to socialize
Fairest: 9 again on Presence; spend Glamour to charm one target for a scene; gain Glamour when their Clarity falls and -1 dice to Clarity pool
Ogre: 9 again for Strength rolls; spend Glamour to double Strength for one roll; Glamour for penalty to Intelligence/Mental skills for a scene
Wizened: 9 again on Dexterity rolls; spend Glamour improvise a device or tool for one scene; Glamour for times when equipment malfunctions around you and imposes a dice penalty for a scene


Kith’s Blessing
To call on these, you call upon your Kith and drop your Mein for a scene. You hope that the Wyrd takes care of people who might see you.
[Beast]
Broadback: ignore ‘encumbrance’, lift and carry much more than usual
Hunterheart: unarmed lethal
Runnerswift: +2 Speed, +3 to Athletics rolls for pure speed
Skitterskulk: Dodge to triple defense rather than double it
Steepscrambler: +3 to climb and can try to climb anything
Swimmerskin: hold breath for 30 minutes and swim at normal move speed
Venombite: once per session, make an unarmed attack. If it hits, the target is poisoned
Windwing: spend Glamour to glide, take falling damage every 15 yards instead of 5


[Darkling]
Antiquarian: 9 again for Academics and Investigation
Gravewright: Changeling can see ghosts for one scene
Leechfinger: drain one lethal to heal one bashing or lethal or downgrade one agg per session
Mirrorskin: +3 to Wits + Subterfuge disguise attempts, can mimic anyone s/he has met
Tunnelgrub: can fit through spaces others couldn’t and roll Dex + Athletics to get out of bonds


[Elemental]
Airtouched: add Wyrd to Initiative
Earthbones: add Wyrd to Strength out of combat for a scene
Fireheart: 9 again for Wits for one scene
Manikin: learn Contracts of Artifice as favored, Craft without penalty untrained
Snowtouched: 9 again on Intimidation and Subterfuge for a scene
Waterborn: breathe water for one scene (and not! air)
Woodblood: 9 again for Stealth and Survival outdoors with growing things


[Fairest]
Bright One: light for a scene, can be brightened to impose -2 penalties (-4 to Darklings) for any targeting the Fairest for a scene
Dancer: 9 again for Expression and Socialize using dance and +1 when dodging
Draconic: one extra Health that functions like armor
Flowering: 8 again on Persuasion and Socialize
Muse: grant +2 for a scene to Craft, Expression, Persuasion, Socialize, Subterfuge


[Ogre]
Cyclopean: have one handicapped sense but gets 9 again on Wits perception rolls
Farwalker: 9 again on Stealth and Survival to travel and get around
Gargantuan: add Wyrd to Size for one scene, granting temporary Health and bonuses for contested Strength
Gristlegrinder: bite for +2 lethal after a grapple
Stonebones: Wyrd as armor for one scene, subtracted from Dexterity rolls
Water-Dweller: hold breath for 30 minutes, no perception penalties for seeing underwater


[Wizened]
Artist: 8 again on Crafts
Brewer: ferment a brew of Glamour in order to store it for later use – brews up to Wyrd score at any one time
Chatelaine: 9 again when depending on proper etiquette
Chirurgeon: 9 again on Medicine, can improvise medical tools
Oracle: once per chapter, can fortell one event
Smith: tinker with a tool to get a +1 equipment bonus from it for a day
Soldier: 9 again on Weaponry
Woodwalker: 8 again on Survival, can eat poisonous plants


Mantle functions differently:
Blessing of the Green: Gain extra Glamour when harvesting
Challenge of the Black Spear: Gain Glamour for defeating an opponent
Harvest of Whispers: Gain Glamour from things learned during a session
Feast of Ashes: Glamour to Willpower
–>all limited by Mantle level per session

On Production Values

An aspect of gaming that is often overlooked is presentation of the game itself. When buying a game book we certainly pay attention to the quality of the art, layout and printing. Why not pay attention therefore to the quality of the other materials we use in gaming? What about having beautiful character sheets, beautiful dice, beautiful tokens or markers etc…? Why not be concerned about the gaming environment as well? Isn’t it cooler to game in a dank dungeon with flickering candles than in a room with doilies and floral print sofas?

Some things are beyond our control obviously, when we game, but some things can be done with a limited budget and plenty of creativity.

For example, Doug and I recently ran a game of Changeling: the Lost for our local game store (a perfectly brilliant place called Gamescape North Bay). To make the game more immersive and enjoyable we covered the tables with cloths, and set out candles and props suited to the game’s setting. Then we spent a good amount of time and energy making sure the character sheets and materials for the game looked fabulous and set the tone.

The Character Sheets looked like this, unopened:

And we had special character sheets to represent the Others (the True Fae) who appeared late in the gaming session:

We even had special 3×5 cards made up for single use items, Trifles, and Goblin Fruit that we handed out in game:

Changeling: The Lost

Changeling: The Lost is the most recent game released by White Wolf. It is Changeling for the NWoD, and is actually quite different from the original Changeling: The Dreaming.

In Changeling: The Lost, you play the part of mortals who were taken to Arcadia to serve the True Fae but who have escaped, returned to the mortal world, to find that the world has moved on without them. The game seems to be about finding your identity in a world you no longer quite fit into, finding a way to return home, while avoiding the notice of the forces of Faerie which would like nothing better than to find you and capture you again – or worse.

Like Requiem and Forsaken, character creation in Changeling begins with creating a mortal and then adding the Changeling template. This comes with some advantages, of course. Wyrd is essentially the power of your Fae magic – similar, actually, to Blood Potency in Requiem, because Wyrd determines how much Glamour (magical energy) you can hold and how quickly you can spend it. Clarity is the ‘moral’ attribute for a Changeling – it is the ability to tell dream from reality, essentially. High Clarity sharpens perceptions and allows kenning – discerning what is magical around you clearly. Low Clarity means you are essentially a lunatic.

Instead of Arts, Changeling magic is expressed through Contracts. Each Changeling has one special affinity Contract based on her Seeming (Beast, Darkling, Elemental, Fairest, Ogre, Wizened) as well as her Court (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). Contracts have Catches – things that must be done in order to use them that are special limitations – having thread from someone’s bedclothes to affect their dreams, for example.

All Changelings also have affinity for the Contracts of Dream, Hearth (traditional blessings and curses), Mirror (changing appearance), and Smoke (stealth). When using your Contracts, you roll Attribute + Wyrd in dice, and even may high-level Contracts are pretty subtle.

New Merits include: Court Goodwill, Harvest (allows you to gather Glamour), Hallow (special housing, including the sub-Merit Hallow Amenities), Mantle (connection to a particular Court), New Identity and Token (magical objects).

If you’re looking for similarities with Changeling: The Dreaming, there are many to be found. Beasts are somewhat like Pooka or Beasties, animalistic fae with nature-attuned powers. Darklings are similar to Sluagh, nocturnal lurkers. Fairest are similar to the Sidhe, beautiful manipulators. Ogres hearken back to…well, Ogres, as well as Trolls. The Wizened are artificers somewhat like Nockers.

The similarities are not very direct, however – Lost is very much a new game. The book, of course, is absurdly beautiful and well written. On first reading it seems easy to use, though like any WoD book the rules are spread out and interspersed with flavor text and examples. The game is dense with setting and tone, and it needs to be. It is quite evocative – reading it, I feel like I get a sense of what the designers and writers were going for in the game.

There’s a great deal I won’t get into here – Fetches and Hobgoblins and Goblin Markets, Entitlements. There is also the Freehold in the second Appendix, which is in this case Miami, presumably the iconic city for the Changeling setting – an interesting choice. Really, I need more time to read the book again, and ideally, I need to run a Changeling game, or play in one, to really get a handle on how everything works together. Just reading the book, however, gives the strong impression that this is an excellent game. It definitely, in my opinion, lives up to what I expected from another edition of Changeling.

Without even playing it yet, I give it 4 out of 5 stars, and that’s partly because I actually prefer the dice mechanic of the Old World of Darkness. This game is dense with story, and is probably the best of the NWoD thus far.