RPG Reviews – Changeling: The Lost 2nd Edition

Changeling: The Lost Second Edition

You were in the wrong part of town at the wrong time…

It looked like a shortcut…

The path led you to a world of nightmare and wonder beyond your imagination.

You may never be completely certain what drew them to you. Maybe they had been watching you for a while, or you caught their eye in passing. Was it your actions? Or something they could sense deep inside?

Regardless of the why, you were abducted. Taken beyond the borderland of the Hedge, the labyrinth that exists just outside our world, the Faerie took you to their realm of Arcadia, a land that reshapes itself to their whims, allowing them to enact twisted stories and demented theatre. Whatever the reason, they had a role for you and forced you into servitude, catering to their story.

But eventually enough was enough. You found the strength inside to run – and you ran hard and fast. Past the brambles and thorns of the Hedge, which scratched and tore at you, until you found yourself back in our world. Only things weren’t exactly the same. Time may have passed – hours, days, centuries even. If you returned contemporary to your abduction you found that nobody had noticed you missing, for the Fae had molded a Fetch in your form: a creature of sticks, leaves, bits of cloth, and a portion of your shadow. It acted like you, looked like you, and everyone accepted it as you. At the same time you had been changed, molded by your experiences in Arcadia, and those who had been close to you no longer recognized you.

Lost, you wandered until you discovered you were not alone. Found by others like you, you entered into a new community of survivors – other “changelings” who had undergone the same experience and now aimed to rebuild their lives and ensure they would never be victims again.

But the Faerie never forgot you. You belonged to them after all, and the Huntsmen, relentless pursuers in the servitude of the Fae, enter our world, determined to return you to your masters.

Disclaimer: This title has been provided for purpose of review.

Changeling: The Lost began in the reboot of the World of Darkness. It’s predecessor, Changeling: The Dreaming, was often criticized for not being “dark” enough to fit in a world of vampires and werewolves. While I personally vehemently disagree that The Dreaming wasn’t a good fit, there is no way that Lost could ever be considered “not dark enough.” Where Dreaming was a modern fantasy, Lost is modern fantasy/horror, and is explicit about such from the start. You could not go wrong drawing inspiration from Coraline, Labyrinth, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. You would also find strong parallels with Netflix’s Jessica Jones, as Jessica and Kilgrave’s relationship is a perfect model for the relationship between a changeling and their Fae captor.

The People, merely players

Changelings are people who were abducted and taken to Arcadia, warped over time by Faerie magic. Depending on the whim of the True Fae, also known as The Gentry, this transformation may manifest in a variety of ways. By the start of the game, the changeling’s escape may have further altered their form and nature.

Essentially, the Fae give their captives a role to play. There’s no consistent rule – two completely identical abductees may play two very different roles. For example, the Fae may have been attracted to the human’s inner spark and vitality. They may then interpret it literally – and transform the human into a living candle, or the candle flame itself. They may also feel that their new captive could inspire others and choose the changeling to lead their armies, or govern their household. Alternately, this may be viewed as inner beauty and the human is transformed into a statue or other work of art/precious item.

The possibilities are incredibly varied, even if they begin from templates, called “Seemings.” These include Beasts, who had their humanity replaced with animalism; Darklings, those who stay just out of sight and walk hand-in-hand with dread; Elementals, forces of nature and matter – ranging from living conflagrations to animate statues; Fairest, the most cherished and commanding of all – those created to capture attention; Ogres, brutes and defenders – loyal and devoted monsters; and Wizened, industrious and ever-busy. To further refine the nature of a changeling there are “Kiths.” In the First Edition, Kiths were an expansion on each Seeming, so an Ogre might be a “Bloodbrute”, who was forced into vicious combat, or a “Gristlegrinder”, who had a persistent and consuming hunger. In the Second Edition, however, Kiths are not isolated by Seeming and anyone can have any Kith. This means a “Bright One” Darkling is akin to a Will-o-the-wisp and a “Bright One” Fairest is like the classic Sidhe Lord or Lady. Previously though, this was solely a Fairest Kith.

I don’t mind this as an option, but it’s probably the only thing I’m not wild about in this edition, or at least not wild about its execution at this specific point in time. Of the Kiths presented, examples are only given for a few Seemings each, when I feel it would be more helpful if it showed how they all can combine. But there are rules for creating your own Kith, and an upcoming book will include plenty of new ones.

The World, A Stage

Having found the drive to escape their captivity, known as their “Durance”, the changeling fights their way through the Hedge back to our world. Here, they join with other changelings in Courts, organizations bound by faerie magic, that protect and unite changelings, giving them a purpose in the world. On a more political level, changelings belong to Freeholds, made up of members of the various Courts in the area.

The “default” Courts are known as the Seasonal Courts.

Spring is ruled by the emotion of Desire. Spring Courtiers live life to the fullest, reveling in every available minute.

Summer is governed by Wrath, and often find themselves the War party of a Freehold. They have determined never to be victims again, and their magic backs them up.

Autumn is the Court of Fear and mystery. They delve into the secrets of magic and the world, hunting for ways to ward off the Gentry.

Winter is the Court of Sorrow, and many changelings find themselves in Winter when they first return. Winter is made up of spies and those who would help changelings hide from the world.

Because the Courts are established by faerie magic, they have mystical weight behind them, and depending on who currently rules the Freehold (a rotating position), they force certain restrictions upon the Huntsmen, agents of the Gentry, as they operate in our world.

The Changeling world can vary greatly of course, and other Courts exist. Among these are the Dragon Court, rulers of Hong Kong, comprised of the Societies of Morning, Day, and Night, and based in Confucian ideals, and the Tide Courts of Ipswich, Massachusetts – a very flavorful community tied deeply to the fishing tradition of the area and the movement of the ocean.

The Hedge is an important part of the world of the Lost. While it is treacherous due to its psychoreactive nature, it is also a source of power, as changelings can make deals with its denizens and even carve out sections of it for their own domain.

Stage Directions

Though repeated in this book, the basic mechanics of the game function as described in my review of Chronicles of Darkness. Naturally, the Lost abide by different rules than mere mortals and have access to the powers of fae magic, so we’ll look at those here. In addition to the universal ones there are changeling-specific Conditions revolving around the Hedge, Dreams, and faerie magic.

Taking the place of human Virtues and Vices are Needles and Threads. A changeling’s true self is represented by their Needle and informs how they handle problems and challenges. These include archetypes like Teacher, Daredevil, or Bon Vivant. Threads are archetypes governing motivation, what a changeling draws on to keep attached to reality and stay grounded. Examples include Anger, Honor, Memory, Joy, etc. Like Virtues and Vices, acting in accordance with their Needle and Thread will allow the changeling to regain Willpower points.

Considering the importance for changelings to stay somewhat attached to the mortal world, they have Touchstones – people, places, or things that helped them readjust after their Durance.

Changeling and faerie magic is governed by the Wyrd and Glamour. Wyrd is the “power-stat”, the ineffable force begins faerie magic, which determines the amount of Glamour (fuel stat) that can be held or spent each turn. It also establishes how connected you remain to Arcadia and how many traditional faerie vulnerabilities you possess. While “cold iron” is the best-known weakness, a changeling can develop other Frailties, like the compulsion to count spilled grains of rice, aversion to one’s name spoken backwards, and so on.

Glamour allows the changeling to power their abilities, manipulate the Hedge, and a host of other things. Glamour itself is born of and shapes anything ruled by emotion. changelings can harvest it by experiencing strong emotion firsthand, or forcibly tear it out of a target, leaving their victim lethargic and listless.

While mortals have Integrity and Vampires Humanity, changelings have a slightly different stability track in Clarity. Clarity is the ability to trust one’s perception and memory of their past. At higher levels the changeling is secure that everything they witness is actually happening, but as it lowers their ability to distinguish reality in any form is threatened. Breaking Points, instances that threaten Clarity, are often caused by events that cast doubt on perception or by becoming too invested in the faerie world. As these events happen, changelings take Clarity damage, lowering their overall score.

The core book includes a number of changeling-focused merits flavored by the Courts and dreams, and mortal merits centered around existing in the “real” world.

Changeling magic also includes Contracts, which is where PCs become more distinct from each other. These are literal deals made with concepts and forces that have existed since time immemorial, allowing incredible supernatural effects. They are grouped thematically into Regalia: Crown governs leadership, Mirror perception and transformation, Shield protection, and others. Certain Seemings favor different Regalia, and individual Contracts are diverse enough that the flavor text is mutable, the effect is the key element. I like the flexibility inherent in this. It means that the Shield Contract “Fae Cunning”, which reduces damage, manifests differently depending on the Seeming casting it. An Elemental May flow around the blow, but an Ogre will harden their skin and shrug off the attack. Courts also provide Regalia and Contracts related to their theme. I really like Contracts/Regalia as a construct for powers. They are very thematic and flavorful and allow changelings to pack a serious punch – they enhance combat abilities, alter the flow of time, all sorts of things!

Changeling magic doesn’t just end with Contracts. The concept of making deals and extending bargains also includes Pledges and Oaths – supernatural agreements bound by the Wyrd. These powers are useful to the Lost as they help tie them to each other. Oathsworn can receive some significant benefits, but the consequences of breaking that Oath can be equally severe.

As so much of fae magic surrounds perception of reality and the in-between places, it’s fitting that they are able to practice Oneiromancy – dream magic. The realm of dreams is connected to the Wyrd and changelings can enter them, replacing their physical attributes with their mental ones. They can will the dreamscape to shift around them and harvest glamour from the dreamers. Since I absolutely love the Gaimanesque, surreal nature of Oneiromancy, I’m really happy with how it’s presented here. It’s one of the many elements of the Second Edition that I feel has been improved on and clarified from the First Edition.

Loathed Enemies

Great enemies are just as important to enjoying a narrative as great heroes, especially in RPGs, and the enemies of Changeling: The Lost are fantastic, whether utterly alien, painfully tragic, or terrifyingly sympathetic.

Many dangers await changelings in the mortal world. Beyond the difficult of trying to live in both worlds, causing them to run afoul of human institutions and antagonists, other changelings can be just as threatening: not all who escaped feel they made the right decision. Those Loyalists may still serve the Gentry and will capture other changelings to curry favor with the True Fae. Privateers don’t even do that out of loyalty, but for promise of reward.

In the liminal spaces of the Hedge exist entities shaped by it, either born whole cloth from the psychoreactive borderlands or warped after becoming trapped there. Hedge Ghosts are ephemeral entities much like traditional ghosts, and there additional, Hedge-specific Numina (ghost powers). Hobgoblins are the actual inhabitants of the Hedge, again some are created by the Hedge, others came from our world, got lost, and transformed over time. They are incredibly diverse in appearance and ability and are able to make deals with others, including offering quirky Goblin Contracts – the use of which accumulates Goblin Debt, which will eventually be called in.

Finally there are the Huntsmen and the True Fae. Though present in the First Edition, the Huntsmen take a much larger role now, venturing from Arcadia to capture escaped changelings and bring them home. The True Fae control these Arcadian beings by holding their heart captive, imbuing them with a portion of their own power and nature. Unlike other fae creatures, the Huntsmen suffer no disadvantages in the mortal world, making them ideal agents of the Gentry. The Huntsmen are relentless and terrifying, but even they are understandable, as they have a known goal.

The Gentry are the villainous stars of the game, the alien, ineffable, eternal monsters of Arcadia. There’s plenty to work with in building your own True Fae to pull the strings of your PCs’ world, along with a number of sample Gentry to insert into a Chronicle. They are structured around Titles and Roles, as if they were the directors and stage managers of a surreal theatre – which sometimes may hold the clues to their (temporary) defeat. They are immensely powerful, with near-total control over their respective themes. There’s a lot for the Storyteller to work with, including clear mechanics, and the writing conveys their menace perfectly.

In the Wings

The Storyteller’s section is exceptionally good. Changeling is very upfront about the themes of the game, including the thread of abuse that runs through the setting. This wasn’t hidden in the First Edition, but considering, it’s good how directly it’s been presented.

Following structured advice on how to work through the various backstories of the PCs and the experience of their Durance, the writers make a point of discussing safety concerns – from how to handle comfort levels, to the X card, and debriefing methods after a session (or story) wraps.

I admit to being a bit dense when I began playing the First Edition; I saw the surface of the setting and not the deeper elements. Once I realized the undercurrents of the game it gave me a lot to think about in terms of presentation and moderating. I love the horror genre and personally find it fun, but I have my own limits, as most people do, and don’t want anyone to leave the table uncomfortable and worried about the next session. This section is invaluable in guiding the Storyteller to maximize everyone’s enjoyment and abate harm or discomfort. Ultimately this hinges on good communication with your group, which should probably be present in any horror game, but I think it’s really important to have it mentioned upfront in the rulebook – these are serious elements that should be taken seriously.

In terms of game mechanics and the world, the chapter also guides Storytellers through establishing their setting – creating Freeholds, deciding how the Courts operate, and even includes guidelines on how to create your own Kiths, Courts, and Contracts, which is incredibly appreciated, since it is stressed that there is a greater variety than what is presented here.

Curtain Call

I’ve covered a fair bit of the content of the book to pique your interest, and editorialized here and there to state opinion instead of just fact, but I’d like to conclude with more of the latter.

Changeling: The Lost First Edition is one of my favorite games. Others rival it for “favorite” but only because they are a different genre or play experience. I was blown away when I cracked the thorny covers years ago and was giddy as each new element was expanded on over the line – it is the first full game line I’ve ever acquired. It’s a harsh, scary, beautiful, and hopeful game featuring characters with a powerful inner strength.

The Second Edition is an excellent book. As a set of core rules it details the mechanics clearly and, equally important, presents this surreal, nightmarish setting so very clearly. Elements I felt were vaguer in the First Edition became incredibly clear and it has been refined to maximize the style of play it aims for. While I’m excited for further books to be released I don’t feel there’s anything missing here that will only become clear once it’s respective supplement arrives. If you want a fantasy/horror game of beauty and madness, of hope and pain, of identity and survival, you will not regret picking up Changeling: The Lost Second Edition which you can do in PDF or Print-On-Demand from DriveThruRPG. You can also purchase a traditional print copy here from Indie Press Revolution!

I also want to briefly mention the Jumpstart product: Hearts on Trial. It’s a great demo for Changeling, which I ran in about 3 hours to players mostly new to the system. It includes enough rules to give one a taste of the full game and while there isn’t a shortened character creation system, the 5 pregenerated characters are excellent – a Motley (small changeling group) tied together due to all having been held captive by the same Faerie. They escaped roughly simultaneously and now live in one of the Philadelphia Freeholds. The sample story is pretty good too, as each scene allows the players to make use of various game elements; doling everything out in good measure. I don’t know if there’s necessarily enough physical combat for certain characters, so keep that in mind when running it. Overall though it offers fun scenes to play and puts the PCs in various moral quandaries. You can also pick it up at DriveThruRPG.