Spring Again At Last: The Return of Changeling: The Dreaming

Now out for public consumption!


When most people describe the World of Darkness the first thing that tends to come up is gritty street wars fought between the undead and other horrors of the night. Sometimes that includes hyper violent Garou burning with deep bloody passions trying desperately to stop creeping death from consuming mother Earth, or Nephandi seeking to corrupt all they touch. However, for some, the World of Darkness is very different.  

Underlying the horrors of the first 4 WoD titles is the hidden chimerical world of Changeling: The Dreaming. When I started gaming in my mid-teens, I lived in a town where Changeling was so popular, our local LARP crew built home brew Mind’s Eye Theatre rules because they couldn’t wait for Shining Host to dive into the capricious machinations of the fae.  

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When I left my early gaming bubbles I was surprised to discover that Changeling is not the universally loved game I was familiar with. I have heard from more than a few people that Changeling is a fine game, but it doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness. So when the Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Kickstarter succeeded with flying colors I was excited, not only that Changeling might have another life, but that with a 20th Anniversary edition the full scope of tragedy and horror Changeling represents might be brought into focus for a wider swath of players.

In many ways, the writers for C20 faced greater challenges than previous 20th Anniversary developers. Changeling never got a Revised edition, but unlike the other games in the World of Darkness, Changeling changed focus and central themes more than once during its life. There are several corners of the world that haven’t received any meaningful attention since 1st edition. The result was almost every Changeling book broke new ground, creating a much broader array of content than the line’s relatively modest word count would indicate, with several concepts and rules that were woefully out of date.

Themes

C20 tackled this challenge head on, and accomplished transforming one of the most diverse and honestly inconsistent games in the World of Darkness into a poignant, modern role playing experience. The greatest testament to this accomplishment is the sheer number of WoD fan posts I’ve seen talking about how they didn’t like CtD, but they are loving C20.

Changeling is 1 part politics, 1 part Cthonic horror, 3 parts psychological tragedy built on a pathological fear of death and loss, and some indeterminate amount of whimsy and wonder which serves more than anything to bring the first three elements into deep and painful contrast. C20 is the first Changeling book that captures every emanation of that often indescribable, unshaped mass and weaves it into a coherent whole.

Woo Hoo by Lydia Burris (http://www.lydiaburris.com)

Rules

While the thematic cohesion is a huge win, C20’s greatest accomplishment is tackling the often misunderstood rules system of Changeling. This is done, not only by tying it up into a much more balanced and manageable package, but actually expanding on the system with the concept of Unleashing. Changelings from previous editions were powerful, but deeply limited in how they could apply that power.

With the new magic rules, they now feel much more like the fae of myth and legend, able to wield the raw force of creation, but with often unpredictable and occasionally terrifying results. I have run and played in con games that used the early version of Unleashing shared during the Kickstarter and it adds a satisfying and mythic scale to the game. Beyond Unleashing, the Arts and Realms received an extensive cleanup. They were expanded in some areas, and minimized in others, resulting in a far more coherent and thematically engaging whole.

Storytelling Banality

C20 also borrows a page from modern narrative systems and builds explicit systems around your character’s emotional relationship to the world. This emphasizes the omnipresent threat of banality. In previous editions of the game, characters had a toxic (but often generic) relationship with banality. Now when you build a character, you select a variety of banality triggers, including a trigger that is unique to your character called your antithesis.  

This trigger is something the rest of your motley may find to be a minor nuisance, or in extreme cases may even garner glamour from. To you, it is the epitome of the creeping death of the coming winter. Some of the trigger dynamics could stand to be broader than they currently are, including the seeming triggers, which feel entirely too specific to me and are occasionally inappropriate for Thallain or Gallain characters, but the overall system adds a deeply personal relationship to banality that meaningfully enriches the game.   

Changes in the World

There are several other accomplishments in this edition including the expansion of the Thallain, the reworking of the Dauntain and the Autumn People, and actually wrangling Hsien Alchemy into what feels like a sleek approachable magic system. While I would love to expound on all of the edition’s strengths it would paint an unbalanced picture of the text as a whole. Much like the systems, C20 takes an often radical approach to the backstory of Changeling, and dramatically changes the canon in several areas. Some of those changes were sorely needed, such as the reframing of House Leanhaun, which changes them from arguably more evil than the Baali or Nephandi,to deeply parasitic, but playable. However, some of the changes to the canon feel unnecessary, and more problematically aren’t always well explained.

The flavor section reframes the Sidhe as being split between the Autumn Sidhe who stayed behind during the Shattering and undertook the Changeling Way, and the Arcadian Sidhe. The Arcadian Sidhe came back with the Resurgence and refused to soil their souls by fully bonding with humans. Effectively this was performed as a more violent and incomplete form of the Changeling Way where they displaced a human soul and took its place.

The Autumn Sidhe

Occasionally the text reads as though only House Scatthach and Liam took part in the Changeling Way, sometimes it frames the Autumn Sidhe in generic terminology that could  be read to imply Sidhe from any house might have gone through the Changeling Way. In the House section intro, Liam is listed as a returning House, and only Scatthach is listed as having stayed behind, and then in some of the house writeups there are subtle references to other Sidhe who stayed behind, but often in ambiguous language. The final result is honestly confusing.

During an exchange on Facebook, one of the C20 writers confirmed that any Sidhe that stayed behind became an Autumn Sidhe, which clarified things a bit, but ultimately those sorts of exchanges shouldn’t be necessary. A few explicit sentences in the Autumn Sidhe two page spread would go a long way towards providing clarity on this point. This change also wipes out broad swaths of story centering on the tragedy of the Sidhe who died in the years after the shattering because they were either trapped or chose to stay behind.

I love the addition of the Autumn Sidhe as a general concept, but less absolute framing about how all Sidhe who stayed behind became Autumn Sidhe, and all the Sidhe who returned refused to go through the Changeling Way would have cut off far less existing canon, and created messier, but more diverse plot hooks.

History Convoluted?

While the confusion about the Arcadian/Autumn Sidhe is definitely the most pronounced example of muddled narrative, there were several other smaller moments in the setting and history section that didn’t make a lot of sense, and occasionally even seemed to contradict material that appears elsewhere in the book. There is a lot to love in the C20 setting material. The conflict between the Tuatha and the Fomorians is far more dynamic than I remember in previous texts.

The role Christianity played in transforming the stories about the fae is included, which is something I’ve wanted to see in the game for a long time, but the history and setting content in C20 is best read with a strong eye towards the golden rule, especially if you have any investment in existing canon.

I’ve talked about the good and the bad of the edition’s treatment of Arcadian fae, but then there is my favorite and arguably the messiest part of Changeling, the Gallain. The Gallain are fae who are not a central part of Arcadian society. While there are a few European faeries who are considered Gallain, the term generally refers to non European faeries. Changeling has traditionally framed these spirits as either not being part of the Dreaming, such as the Asian Hsien, or in the case of the Nunnehi and Menehune, as being cut off from the Dreaming due to acts of genocide and violence committed against their dreamers. I’ve never been terribly comfortable with this framing, but I knew the writers wouldn’t have the leeway to dramatically change the way these groups functioned, but I was really hoping for a few more inclusive tweaks to the status quo.

Sprites Dance by Lydia Burris (http://www.lydiaburris.com)

Who is a part of Whom?

Occasionally the approach to non-European Changelings went above and beyond my expectations. The introduction of non-European Thallain gave the Nunnehi and Menehune a much more robust representation in the setting, but also occasionally drifted toward centering the Gallain around European stories more strongly than previous editions. The most pronounced instance of this is changing the Higher Hunting Grounds from being the Nunnehi Dreaming, which is invoked in the Changeling Player’s Guide as an equal but separate place from Arcadia, to being the Nunnehi’s home in Arcadia. On the surface this is a small change, but it recontextualizes the Nunnehi in a way that intentionally or not makes them a part of something fundamentally rooted in European mythology. The other examples of moving towards an even more European centering narrative are less blatant, but I honestly hope they are rectified in future texts.  

Overall, C20 brings Changeling into the 21st century. It is a deeply innovative take on the Storyteller System, and provides a more robust foundation to build a future line on than the game has ever enjoyed. It has done a huge service to the game by inspiring more fans to consider including Changeling in their personal World of Darkness. What C20 needs more than anything else is a full game line. It needs Gallain stories written by authors who have lived the truth of the myths being invoked, and full text expansion on the concepts that were completely reinvented for C20. This book is a monumental achievement, and it would be a tragedy of Arthurian proportions if this resurgence isn’t followed by a lasting and inspired spring of new material.

 

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An Interview with Chill and Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary Developer Matthew McFarland

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According to the Onyx Path development Blog the Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary edition is nearing completion, and rumors about that the Monsters Sourcebook for Chill 3rd edition is nearing completion.  Given these exciting developments it only made sense for Victor Kinzer and Simon Eichhörnchen to ask Matthew McFarland who is leading development on both of these projects to talk a little bit about these projects and he graciously agreed.

Victor: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.  For anyone who isn’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history developing games?

Sure! I started writing games professionally in 1997. White Wolf Game Studio had an all-call for writers, and I sent in the first bit of a novella I was working on. That novella is thankfully lost to time, but it did get me a job writing on Giovanni Chronicles IV, and then I slowly infiltrated the rest of the World of Darkness lines and eventually got a full-time job as Dark Ages developer.

I left White Wolf in 2004, and went to grad school to become a speech-language pathologist, because while you can have steady work in the RPG industry, it was a little too unstable for me as a new dad. In 2012, my wife Michelle Lyons-McFarland and I started our own small press games company, Growling Door Games, Inc. We published two single-book story games (curse the darkness and A Tragedy in Five Acts), and then 2014 we obtained the license to publish a new edition of the classic horror RPG Chill.

Simon: What was it that attracted you to the projects you’re working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a couple of freelance projects for Onyx Path Publishing (which licenses the World of Darkness from the new owners at Paradox)[Editor’s Note, The World of Darkness is a property of White Wolf, AB a subsidiary of Paradox Entertainment Inc.], including the Beast Player’s Guide for Beast: The Primordial and the second edition of Hunter: The Vigil. Can’t talk much about Hunter; that’s Monica Valentinelli’s show, and I’m just a writer. Beast is very much my show; the game was mine pretty much from the ground up (though of course I had a really awesome team of people helping to put it all together), and I’m excited about the Player’s Guide. It’s a chance to flesh out the areas of Beast that I don’t think came through as well as we wanted in the core book, and also follow the time-honored tradition of adding new cool powers, new “splats”, and new toys for players to use.

Outside of Onyx Path, I just finished up writing a sourcebook for Chil called Monsters. It’s a bestiary book, in a way, but it’s also a look into the world of Chill and how the organization dedicated to fighting the Unknown, SAVE, approaches creatures that don’t fall into easily understandable categories (vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc.). Monsters is the first book in a good long while that I’ve written entirely myself, and it was fun flexing those muscles again. (Monsters should be available for sale in August, by the way.)

Victor: The Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is the first new edition of the game since 1997.  Can you talk about what your approach was to updating Changeling to the world of the 20teens?

The 20th Anniversary Edition games were meant to keep the feel of the old games, but to update the world around them and (in the case of Changeling) become the revised edition they never got. As such, our approach was to look at what made Changeling awesome. We tried to keep the whimsy, but also the tragedy. One of the greatest explanations of Changeling I ever heard (from a friend and player in Atlanta many years ago) was that it’s like someone pointing a gun at your head and saying “be happy.” We tried to keep that notion, that dreams are hard to maintain in the face of the crushing pressure of the “real world,” but they’re all the more important because of that.

The other thing we wanted to do give changelings a little more magical “oomph.” I’m not a believer in “game balance” as it’s usually defined (that is, given a featureless white room, could two characters stand an equal chance of killing each other), but I do think that changelings in previous editions were a bit too fragile. We changed magical mechanics a bit, and brought in the notion of Unleashing (originally from Dark Ages: Fae) so that changelings have the chance to court disaster with the power of Glamour.  

Victor: One of the major focuses of Keep is inclusivity in gaming, so we have a few questions about the Gallain.  In a blog post about your early playtests for Changeling, you said the theme for the edition is  “powerful nobles hiding in freeholds and staying young while the changelings outside freeze”.  In previous editions the various groups of Gallain were presented with either less oppressive nobles or no specifically noble kith.  Since C20 includes all the Fae how are you including the non European kiths in the theme of this edition?

That’s one theme of the edition, and it definitely resonates more with the European Kithain than the Gallain. The Gallain are in the book, but they’re not the focus of the game (they’re in the Appendix and while there’s enough to play them, it’s severely truncated due to space constraints). I know that’s a roundabout way to answer the question, but the answer is that Gallain don’t get included in the same way, except perhaps insofar as to note that even the “commoner” Kithain, who are the bottom class of that particular system, still get to participate in that system. Gallain don’t, necessarily (which might not matter, depending on where they are).

Simon: Part of any good story is compelling antagonists. Changeling’s ultimate enemies, the autumn people, the people who disbelieve the fae out of existence, are a powerful metaphor for the destruction of culture. With that in mind, how do you go about creating autumn people that speak to that kind of horror while at the same time being sensitive to real world colonization experienced by the cultures reflected by the Gallain?

What’s scary about the autumn people, to me, is that they don’t have to confront the fae to destroy them. They’re not aggressive (necessarily), they’re confirmation bias made manifest. They’re a form of privilege, if you will, because they don’t see what they don’t need to see. I think that’s pretty relevant for the Gallain and their cultures, too (though of course, not all Gallain use dreams and Glamour the same way as Kithain).

Simon: Given that the Inanimae can reflect how different cultures perceive their environments how do you see the Inanimae fitting into the 20th Anniversary of Changeling?

One of the notions that the book brings up is that during the Mythic Age, everything dreamed, including the world. Bearing in mind that, like the other Gallain, the Inanimae don’t get a lot of space in Changeling 20th, I think the takeaway is that part of ignoring dreams and Glamour is ignoring the natural world. That’s something that people (both in the World of Darkness and in the real world) do at their peril, but it’s hard, and again, what makes autumn people scary and frustrating isn’t that they go out of their way to ruin the world (a la Pentex) but that they can blithely ignore the problems.

It’s easy to imagine an Inanimae looking at a changeling and saying, “well, sure, whine all you want, but people still write books, using paper that they make from the mulched-up bodies of my family.”

Womb of the Earth by Lydia Burris


Victor: When I first started playing the World of Darkness I was in a community of gamers where Changeling was incredibly popular, but in more recent years I’ve discovered that a lot of White Wolf fans feel Changeling doesn’t fit into the broader World of Darkness.  Where do you think this sentiment comes from, and did you make any changes in C20 you can tell us about that help the fae interact literally and thematically with the broader World of Darkness?

So, personally, I never had any trouble making Changeling fit into the greater World of Darkness. I used to do a lot of crossover (still do, for my Chronicles of Darkness games, where it’s much easier), and what it boils down to is that themes unique to one game might not work for all the others, but there are themes that are intrinsic to the World of Darkness as a whole. The death of creativity and passion is strongest for Changeling, of course, but tell me you couldn’t make that work for Vampire, too. Hell, “our way of life is dying” is perfect for Werewolf as well as Changeling. “Discovery and passion are intoxicating but dangerous:” Changeling and Mage.

Mechanically, of course there are some things you have to work around (not everyone has the same Traits, for instance), and if you’re doing crossover, you can’t just throw any old characters together and think they’ll work. I happen to think that’s true no matter what game you’re playing, though.

Simon: Throughout the CtD line the three major Gallain groups, the Nunnehi, the Menehune and the Hsien, are either excluded from or not a part of the Dreaming. Has this dynamic changed at all in C20?

We don’t get into the cosmology of it very much, due to space. Nunnehi and Menehune still deal more with spiritual expressions of Glamour than Dreaming-based expressions, though.

Victor: I’d like to talk briefly about another one of your upcoming projects, the Monsters sourcebook for the Chill Role Playing game published by your company Growling Door Games.  Can you tell us a little bit about Chill, and the Monster book specifically for anyone who isn’t familiar with the game?

Chill is an investigate horror RPG in which players take on the roles of members of SAVE (the Eternal Society of the Silver Way). SAVE is an organization dedicated to protecting people from the Unknown (the supernatural in general), which feeds on humanity’s fear, misery, pain, and sometimes just flesh and blood. Our first sourcebook, called SAVE: The Eternal Society, delved into the history and current state of the organization.

Monsters, like I mentioned earlier, is a bestiary book, but it’s also mostly written in-character, from the perspective of a SAVE researcher working on a classification system for monsters. It was a lot of fun to delve into how SAVE saw these creatures when she was writing it (in the 1980s) and then add commentary from a more contemporary agent. There are a lot of fun “Easter eggs” in the book that refer back to the Chill core book and to SAVE, and I think it will be fun for readers to see these characters’ stories as they read about these monsters.

The second edition of Chill presented adversary books in this format (Lycanthropes, Vampires, Apparitions), and I was always impressed with how skillfully the in-character information evoked the horror of the setting. I’m trying for something like that: Fun to read, evocative for players and Chill Masters.


Victor: I saw you comment online a few months ago about tweaks you were making to the Monsters in the book to remove some of the invisible bias that was present in previous editions of the game.  Can you talk a little bit about how you approached this and in general how you approach making those kinds of revisions to RPGs with established fan bases who may be resistant to any changes in their favorite games?

As far as making changes to games with loyal fanbases, I’ve always found that if you try to please everyone, you please no one. I love the 2nd Edition of Chill, and our edition draws very heavily on that one. I’ve always been very clear about that, and while I do get fans of the first edition sometimes who complain that our version isn’t enough like that one (the first edition drew more inspiration from pulp-horror and Hammer films), for the most part folks grasp what we’re doing and are with us.


I think the comment you’re referring to was in noting that there were quite a few creatures in previous editions that presented as female, and were said to “tempt” or “deceive” men. If you look at how female-presenting creatures appear in horror generally, you see a lot of that, so it’s by no means unique to
Chill or to RPGs, but since one of the big themes of Chill is that fear becomes manifest in the Unknown, I wanted to address that. I play a lot with the notion of unreliable narrators in Monsters, talking about SAVE making assumptions that it really has no business making, and members letting their own biases creep in. The kind of meta effect of that is that we wind up hanging a lantern on some of the sexist implications of previous work; Dr. Garrett, the narrator of Monsters, notes that female-presenting creatures are consistently described in certain ways that male-presenting or genderless creatures are not.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands

Let’s Talk about This Con Game Thing Part 3: The Challenges of Running Public Games

Part 1, Part 2
ChangelingIn my last article I discussed the difficulties of planning a con game that tackles difficult subject matter in a responsible way while creating a welcoming environment where everyone is comfortable voicing any concerns or boundaries they have related to the game.  Ironically, of the two games I ran at Valor Con, it was not the Wraith game where I ran into these dynamics.  It was during the Changeling game, which acted as a prequel to the Wraith session, I ended up running into a player’s boundaries, much to my surprise.

My Changeling game was set in 1925 Chicago during the opening of the Uptown Theatre cinema palace.  This is a significant moment in Chicago history during the escalation of tension between Al Capone’s gang, The Chicago Outfit and the Northside Gang, which was Capone’s primary opposition at the time.  Chicago was embroiled in an all out gang war after arranging the assassination of the Northside Gang’s leader a year prior.  There was nowhere entirely safe from the violence spilling into the streets.  However, despite the violence, Uptown was relatively peaceful.  At the time, Uptown was the primary entertainment district of Chicago.  It was home to the Arcadia Ballroom and skating rink, the Green Mill jazz club, which was larger in 1925 than it is today, and the Riviera theatre.  As magnificent as the district was, its peak was still years off.  The Uptown Theater, the largest cinema palace in the country was opening on Broadway and the expansive Aragon ballroom was already under construction across the street from the Lawrence el stop.

Original Ad from the Uptown Theatre's Opening Night

Original Ad from the Uptown Theatre’s Opening Night

One of the many reasons all of these entertainment venues were able to flourish is both gangs loved the nightlife and they knew if their war spilled into Uptown and the adjacent neighborhood of Edgewater, where visiting performers were housed, then their night life would fall apart.  If you can’t enjoy the spoils of your illegal empire then what’s the point after all?  The opening scene of my game has the players in the Green Mill, and as it’s a one shot I broke one of my personal ST rules and went for a simple quest giving dynamic.  The local “ruler” among the Fae, a mostly kindly, but terrifyingly powerful Boggan told the characters about a plot to destroy the Uptown theatre on it’s opening night.  He suspected the RedCaps in the Northside gang were involved, but he couldn’t prove it and he had to stay in the Green Mill to keep the peace.

This was the setup I had scripted in advance, and I really didn’t think there would be any particularly problematic aspects of this story.  I generally follow my players lead in terms of tone and boundaries and didn’t think I’d run into any problems as long as I stuck to that approach.  The first question of the night was posed by the one female player at the table, who chose the Pooka I based off of Josephine Baker.  She wanted to know if there were any RedCaps in the Green Mill, when I confirmed that there were, she decided to to team up with the female Sidhe in the group and attempt a seduction roll to try and get some information out of them.

This point in the flow of the game demonstrated to me that “following my player’s lead” doesn’t work nearly as well when I don’t know my players.  I decided to take the opportunity to perform a little bit and put on my best best gangster flirting with a girl in a club.  These were unseelie RedCaps, so I went for hardline trope as opposed to subtle.  The NPC wanted to get the two PCs to go over to the Arcadia Ballroom (my attempt at giving them a hook into the next scene) and do some dancing.  Josephine (I’ll use her character name from here on out for convenience and anonymity) immediately cringed at my performance.  I gave the exchange a line or two more before it was definitely clear that she didn’t know what to say and was uncomfortable acting out this dynamic.  So I immediately dropped character and affirmed that they were supposed to be pretty disgusting unseelie RedCaps, and not a representative of anything desirable.  Josephine seemed happier when I dropped the hard rp approach and she said she didn’t want to go dance with them, but really just wanted to get info from them.  So I said “That’s cool, I’m not going to make you LARP through this.  You can throw a Charisma+Expression roll to try and get the information you need out of them.

Archival Shot of Josephine Baker

What is a Pooka to do when the ST goes off course?

Once I changed my approach the rest of the session went very well, but in the back of my head I realized I had made a huge assumption thinking the Changeling game wouldn’t have the same sorts of dynamics my Wraith game had, especially given the genre it was set in.  At the end of the session Josephine thanked me for running and seemed to have legitimately enjoyed the experience.  She had a couple stellar character moments (one right after the exchanged described above), but unfortunately she had another session that started right as ours was ending. I wanted to chat with her and ask her about that moment and see if she would have liked me to handle it differently but I was not able to have that exchange due to her tight schedule.  For future con games I will likely hand out a link to a Google Form so players can give me feedback even if there isn’t time after a session, or they aren’t comfortable being critical in person.

When you run a game for yourself and your friends you have a good sense of what your boundaries will be, and it’s easy when running a public game to use that experience as a map for what territory you should approach delicately.  The truth of the matter is public games are much more fraught, especially with a setting like the World of Darkness that emphasizes a decayed world filled with all manner of horrors.  Had I been in a session with someone who wasn’t as expressive, or who had learned to hide their feelings on topics like this one I may not have noticed that I needed to change my storytelling approach and left one or more of my players feeling unsafe or unwelcome at my table.  An incident like that could also easily have run afoul of the ValorCon standards of behavior, which I am very happy to say are quite comprehensive.

Looking back at my experiences running both games I am glad things got close to running off the rails without actually running off the rails in my Changeling game because it served as a solid lesson on the dynamics of public play.  I am spending the next few months cleaning up the mini modules I created so I can use them at future cons and I will be including a disclaimer on my Changeling module that is similar, if slightly different in scope to the one in the Wraith writeup.  Despite seeing reminders in countless White Wolf books about negotiating boundaries before playing one of their games it is a very easy step to forget, but an important one not to.

The Tabletop Floor at ValorCon

The Tabletop Floor at ValorCon

Planning and running a game in a public space with unknown players is every bit as dynamic and invigorating as I describe in the first installment of this con game series.  As with all public narrative it is also a more delicate dynamic than telling stories around your table at home, and should be approached more carefully.  I highly recommend finding a way to run a few public games if you generally wear the storytelling hat.  Just remember to set a stage for your players where they feel like you took the time to learn about their boundaries, and feel comfortable letting you know if those boundaries are being pushed.  As Game Runners we aren’t just playing these games.  We are introducing new people to our favorite worlds, and we want that experience to draw them back again in the future.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS CON GAME THING PART 2 THE CHALLENGES OF PLANNING PUBLIC GAMES

2016-10-15-11_24_22-valorcon-2016-exhibitor-sponsorship-guide-pdf

Part 3, Part 1
In my last article on con games I talked about my experiences playing at Gen Con, and designing two con game modules with a focus on making them approachable to new players at Valor Con.  I’ve talked a lot about the fun, exciting aspects of the con game format, but con games also come with some very unique challenges that I think are worth exploring.  The con game format turns the subject of the Social Contract between gamers that is being explored in depth in Scott E. Vigil’s series on the subject on its ear, and much of that is connected to these specific challenges.

Scott talks in his last article about finding a space that’s acceptable to everyone, and choosing a game that everyone wants to play.  At a con game all of those questions are swept away.  The con tells you where you will be playing, likely including a specific table assignment.  Whoever submitted the session pitch to the con decides what game will be played.  This person may or may not be the storyteller.  So in many ways the social contract for these games is templated and packaged for you when you take part in a con game.  One of the topics Scott mentions in his first Social Contract of Gaming article was very much in play at my Valor Con games though, “Are there any topics or themes that are to be off limits in the role-playing setting?”.

There is a lot of talk in all corners of the internet about representation in media, both the need for more representation, and the damage that can be done by poor representation of groups that have a history of being stigmatized by negative stereotypes and systematic oppression.  The tension between representation and quality representation weighed much more heavily on me than it normally does when I’m planning a game.  The potential for sloppy representation to cause damage either through someone feeling unwelcome at my table, or by reinforcing a negative stereotype, albeit unintentionally with a completely random group of players is significantly higher than with the troupe I usually play with.  I know my friends well and have an understanding of how they will engage with my content.  At Valor Con, I was walking into a situation where I would be running Wraith: The Oblivion, which is one of the darkest games I have ever played, with a completely unknown group of players.  As I developed my modules, the complexity of these dynamics became abundantly clear to me.

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

For readers who are not familiar with Wraith, you play ghosts who are still tethered to Earth by some form of unfinished business, which is a classic theme in ghost stories from several different cultures.  The society of the dead though, is something entirely unique to Wraith, and poses a series of significant problems for the type of game I wanted to run.  Wraith society is based on an economy of souls.  There is a vibrant slave trade, and the vast majority of “physical” items in the underworld are made of smelted down souls.  While it appears at first glance that this is cheap shock horror, there are very compelling reasons for this atrocity, and the game is deeply founded in inspecting the human potential for atrocity in high definition, and really grappling with it.

I am the only person in my immediate gaming circle who has ever run Wraith for more than a few sessions, so I know the lore fairly well, and I love it dearly because I love stories that shine a stark unflinching light on the darkness inherent in the human soul and don’t give into the aggrandizement of “humanity”.

I wanted to set the game in my neighborhood of Uptown, Chicago because Valor Con has a very strong local Chicago brand and I wanted to incorporate that brand into my games.  Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in America, except for Uptown.  In a city where almost everyone lives around other people who look more or less like they do, Uptown stands out as a diverse neighborhood with representations from a variety of nationalities, sexualities, and economic classes  This is a big part of why I love living in Uptown as much as I do and I really wanted to highlight my neighborhood.  I wanted to tell a story about Wraiths from the different generations, and communities that have built Uptown into the neighborhood it is, and who have connections to major changes in Uptown’s history.  There is a large African immigrant community in Uptown and I was halfway through making the character I wanted to represent the local African Diaspora community when I stopped typing and thought about the core themes of Wraith and how they could very problematically interact with an African character.  This was the weekend before the convention and there was no way I had the time to redesign everything before the Con.

uptown-theater

The inside of the Uptown Theatre reminds us what the shadowlands must be like.

My game focused very specifically on soulforging and the commodification of souls that is common in the underworld.  I wasn’t playing with the themes in Wraith that half justify those actions because no one is entirely good or evil in the Underworld.  I was approaching soulforging and the Thrall slave trade as intrinsic evils, but I was still incredibly concerned about the story I was about to tell.  I decided that I didn’t want to back away from the core themes of Wraith or accurate representation of Uptown because I was walking into difficulty territory.  It was time to hold myself accountable to telling this story, even in a public venue like a game con properly.  So the first thing I did was put a content warning at the top of the setting writeup that read:

wraithoblivion2ndlogoThis is a game that deals with incredibly dark societal themes.  It is fundamentally a game about the atrocity that lives deep in the human soul and can never be truly excised, it can at best be vigilantly managed.  These themes include slavery, murder, xenophobia, and a literal commodification of the human spirit.  I tried very hard to balance representing the myriad communities of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where this session will be set, against those themes in an honest and respectful way, while leaning into the full atrocious horror that defines Wraith.  I am open to critical feedback of areas where that goal might not be fully realized in these writeups, or in how the session ends up playing out.  Please know that if you read the rest of this setting and the character writeups and would rather not engage in this session that is fine.  If you want to engage, but would rather I downplay certain themes I am also 100% fine with that conversation as I feel it is essential to any positive Wraith experience.

I know some people are not fans of content warnings, and I don’t want to open that whole conversation here, but in a con game setting where people want to have fun, and by the nature of the format may not know anything about the games they are sitting down to play, I feel this kind of notice about the primary themes being tackled is appropriate.  This also made it clear to my players that I welcomed them bringing up concerns as the game session went on.  When we sat down to play the game I explained the specific thematic juxtaposition I was concerned about.

I also went through my session plan before the con and made sure I wasn’t aligning the themes related to the commodification of human soul with my PC’s identity as a Black woman.  While there were abductions, and soulforging of clearly unwilling victims in the game, they did not reflect any particular racial makeup, and as I opened my game session with a frank conversation about the themes I would be exploring, I felt I had prepared the most inviting space I could for this kind of horror session.  I was entirely prepared to improv changes to the setting if anyone felt uncomfortable.  As it turns out, no one did.  We had a dynamic session, where the diverse relationships the characters had with the story and the setting came into play surprisingly well for a one shot game.  It is worth nothing, the players ended up being all white men, but they were all very positive about the fact that I opened the game the way I did, and I received good feedback on how I structured the session.

Ironically, despite the content being seemingly less fraught than the Wraith game, I ran into more tricky game dynamics in my Changeling session than I did in my Wraith session.  My Wraith game ended up being an excellent example of how to plan navigating difficult content in advance.  In my next article I will talk about my Changeling session and how I went about navigating unexpected player discomfort mid-session, and what I will be doing differently in future con games based on that experience.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

THE FUTURE OF DARKNESS: AN INTERVIEW WITH WHITE WOLF PUBLISHING

white_wolf_publishingThe staff at White Wolf were willing to do an interview with the staff of columnists here at Keep On The Heathlands. Some of the following questions reference discussions had at The 25th Anniversary Grand Masquerade event in New Orleans over the Labor Day Weekend. Videos to the Keynote and the Q&A are now available to give context for anyone reading this interview. We want to thank White Wolf for taking the time to do this interview. Our staff are huge fans of the World of Darkness and other games created by White Wolf over the years. 

We’ve seen a lot of commentary regarding the White Wolf Keynote at The Grand Masquerade – specifically around the statements made regarding the content presented within the World of Darkness and the call for games and communities to not censor various topics with a broad brush. Would you be willing to share exactly what was said, as well as the follow-up statements that were made during the beginning of the Q&A session at The Grand Masquerade?


dhaunaeDhaunae De Vir (Manager of Availability – Business Development):
Of course. We have just released the full-length video for the keynote and the Q&A at The Grand Masquerade. Additionally, I would like to reiterate once more that no clubs were targeted at the keynote, that we do not intend to meddle in fan clubs management, and that we fully support the idea that game spaces should be safe for everyone.

With the One World of Darkness, it seems like cross genre play will be integrated from the beginning. How do you anticipate having this work?


martinMartin Ericsson (Lead Storyteller and Brand Architect):
 We’re imagining a world where the shadows are shrinking. The awakened monsters have always brushed shoulders, but the vastly different art direction and surface tonality (not to mention the slightly messy rules) of the different game lines have made crossovers run a risk of being a bit campy. This time we try to place them all in our own world, in dangerous and fascinating places where their rising conflicts makes WoD’s mysteries, political themes and menacing horror come to the forefront. For example, we are developing Werewolf in close parallel to Vampire, hoping to make the most of the tension between the cold corporate predation of the Camarilla elite and the just but oh-so uncontrollable just war of the Garou Nation. The games will be perfectly standalone, but still manage to link up in specific ways. We’re not imagining a game made for multi-creature parties, rather set them up as perfect antagonists and philosophical counterpoints, as well as rivals for the fate of humanity in desperate times.

What, if any, less explored books, supplements, or ideas from the original game lines are you planning to bring back or explore deeper in the One World of Darkness?

Martin: There are many early books that deserve to be updated to contemporary times and get hooked into the development of the metaplot, a lot of great but underused ideas that popped up in fiction anthologies have also caught my eye. To name some personal impulses: ”Shoah: Charnel Houses of Europe” and ”Gypsies” (Should be called something like “Opre Roma!”) could use new editions in our age, as the horrors of the fear of the Other is again on the rise in Europe. I read a lot about the Ashirra and Middle Eastern WoD for obvious reasons. I think a lot of greatness is found in books like ”Love Beyond Death” and ”Ghouls – Fatal Addiction” and you’ll probably see us inspired by stories where the supernatural meets the mortal world a lot more. Also, Dark Ages of all kinds! Holy shit, there’s a lot of treasures there. I also love the first and second edition of Mummy…

One World of Darkness

White Wolf has talked about increasing and supporting diversity of thought, and identity, at the same time, you are not shying away from using role-playing to explore the darkness in the One World of Darkness. Can you tell us how you are planning to address both of these?

Dhaunae: We are going to give voice to groups that did not have a voice before. This means some topics might be revisited from a different point of view, and some new topics that were never considered before that are relevant to these new voices will be brought up. I personally think it will be thought-provoking to see what darkness means for these new voices, and what dark topics they consider interesting and appropriate to talk about. It might be something that we never thought about before, it might be an eye-opener, and it might even be helpful to understand other human beings better by walking on someone else’s shoes.

At the same time, when exploring dark topics, everyone should be free to choose what experiences and what level of intensity they want to be exposed to and participate in. If some topics are not interesting or if the subject matter is too harsh, there should always be the possibility to opt-out. I want to clarify when I say “too harsh”, I don’t necessarily mean rape. We are role-players, and our imagination is vast and ever-growing.

Martin: Write about what you know! We will continue to represent all ethnicities and the legends of the whole world as basis for our creatures and we will make sure to do it with less rose-tinted goggles and prejudice than maybe done before and really do our best to have people with relevant experiences writing about it.
lore-of-the-clans

Martin mentioned at Grand Masquerade that he sees the World of Darkness in a similar light to important literature. This may tie into the previous question as well, how do you see the World of Darkness having a literature like impact on players, storytellers, and other consumers of WoD related media?

Martin: WoD has always dealt with the most difficult questions in life, from the unflinching exploration of addiction, loss of self-control, transgressive and inhuman morality in Vampire, the price of violent activism and the lure of heroic fascism in Werewolf, lost vulnerable souls on the brink in Changeling, dealing with our fear of death in Wraith as well as constantly challenging and smartly transgressive expressions of sex, love, death, toxic relationships, depression, class and gender inequalities, monsters as metaphors for personal insecurities, exploration of insanity and all the other worthy themes of great culture. Personally, I think these issues were handled best in early supplements, but the desire to mean something to players and readers, with loaded themes and moods is a core part of the setting. We want WoD to be the thinking person’s fictional universe, where the questions ”what is this is real” and ”what important questions can we ask” constantly guide us. With an eye to social justice issues we shine a light in the darkest places and assume monstrous perspectives on the real world to learn more about it and ourselves. In practice it also means working with excellent writers and be obsessive about artistic quality.

 

sfwa

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America organization recently changed their membership rules to include game writers. As this gap between game writers and speculative fiction writers shrinks (around the world), what value do you see in integrating game writing into the broader writing/publishing industry?


tobias
Tobias (CEO White Wolf): Isn’t it about time that cultures around larps, RPGs and similar forms of entertainment finally get the credit they deserve? Look at the impact World of Darkness had on the modern vampire and werewolf myth today established in numerous film, television and other forms of entertainment. This is serious work by great authors and we do appreciate and applaud the recognition of it.

White Wolf has talked about moving the emphasis of the World of Darkness to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia due to the previous focus being in North America. Has there been any discussion about what process you’ll use to determine who to provide a license to write content for other underrepresented parts of the world, such as Central and South America, or Australia?

Tobias: About moving the emphasis, there is an unfortunate misunderstanding there, so I am very happy to elaborate and clarify that. What we have said is that we will now include stories and perspectives from the rest of the world, which means adding more but definitely does not mean to lessen then number or importance of products or stories taking place in North America. We are not slicing the pie differently, we are making a new much bigger pie. At The Grand Masquerade we announced that our distributor in South Korea have written a Seoul By Night book* which they will publish, and I think that is a great example of how to create content that is relevant to the specific audiences. Have people who knows about the actual place and cultures to write about it.

We are constantly searching for and being approached by talented people from all over the world who want to do amazing things with our IPs including Russia, the Middle East, and Africa to the places you mention in your question. We are working actively to increase our number of content creators all over the world as well as keeping the strong core markets filled with new, relevant and exciting content.

*Random Editor Burst of Excitement: THIS SOUNDS AMAZING!

The World of Darkness setting was brought to video games with mixed results. Do you have any ideas on how to successfully bring the WoD setting to this medium, and what sort of games are you considering developing?

bloodlines

We’ll wait while you reinstall it.

Tobias: Bloodlines from Activision is still played and patched 12 years after its release, which I think is pretty amazing. Personally, I have spent well over 20 years in the computer games industry so what I bring to the table is the network and profound understanding of that industry. By presenting the IP and our vision for World of Darkness at various game industry trade shows and events around the world, in addition to travelling and visiting game developers and publishers, we have already received  unbelievably positive and enthusiastic responses.

Our goal is to find computer game developers and publishers who can do fantastic games for various genres and platforms. Our goal in the next few years is to eventually release games on a yearly basis. I see no limit to what kind of games might be produced, the World of Darkness lends itself too many genres and cross promotional opportunities. For example, at The Grand Masquerade one of our partners EarPlay showcased a voice controlled choose-your-own-adventure game based on the Orpheus property. Isn’t that cool?

How can we, as fans, support and encourage White Wolf moving forward?

Dhaunae: We share a common goal, we can work together, and I think that is beautiful. I am a long-time World of Darkness fan myself, and I know what it feels like not to know what White Wolf’s next move will be. If it will be something that I will applaud, or if it will be something that will hurt me. So I would say trust is crucial here. We would ask you to trust that we at White Wolf really want the best for World of Darkness and its fans. We might make mistakes down the road, because we are human, but we are working like crazy and very enthusiastically to take World of Darkness to the place it very much deserves. In order for trust to happen, good communication is essential, so please feel free to contact us: write us e-mails, talk to us at events… We do want to know what you think.

jp

Admin Josh Heath as Jean-Pierre at The Grand Masquerade

In some rare occasions, the path forward to get to this fantastic place with

World of Darkness might not seem logical from the outside, and we might not be in a position to disclose all the information just yet. We hope that, by then, we will have gained your trust.

Other than that, keep doing what you are doing. We trust you and think you are also doing your best to make World of Darkness a great hobby.

Martin: Let your black flag fly. With so many exciting things around the corner, this is a good time to talk to people
about why we need a smart and grown-up horror universe as a part of the geek-cultural landscape next to lighter adventure-style fare like Star Wars and Marvel. Come meet us at cons, run that game you’ve been thinking about for years and send us the very best thing you’ve written, drawn, etched, carved or sung about the dark world. Army of the Abandoned; the time has come to rise! Blood and Souls!

Considering the joint statement from US based LARP fan groups, would you like to address how you will be working with those groups on the issue of player safety? 

Tobias: Player safety is naturally absolute key to any business, no one should have to feel unsafe at an events. We don’t organize events ourselves but in our contracts we do our best to set the level for what we consider is required by our partners in terms of quality.  But contracts aside, we always talk with our partners about how they can ensure the best possible experience at their events.

What we did our best to message at The Grand Masquerade was that even though our world is dark and mirrors all kinds of really heavy topics it is important that when larping or participating in any our products, that people do it on the level they think is ok and safe for them. We are also absolutely behind the fan groups playing our games in a way that fits their individual preferences. I mean, how could you possibly have it any other way?

We do our very best to work closely with our event licensees, and we will as originally planned from the start eleven months ago get into the nitty gritty with our fan clubs very soon. We had great initial meetings with the fan clubs at The Grand Masquerade and look forward to working with them in the future as we now have the resources available to focus on that.

But in specific as to what we can do, I think the best use of White Wolf as a licensor (except setting a clear level in our contracts as to what is acceptable and what is not) is as a coordinator between the different LARP licensees and the fan clubs to make sure they share their experiences and best practices regarding safety and consent and all other aspects of participatory entertainment. In the end it is them who deal with the players on a daily basis, and it’s our responsibility is to support them as much as possible and to help make what they do easier. The goal is to have the best possible and enjoyable events set in the World of Darkness.

 

Final Editor Comments
We believe White Wolf takes a positive stance here. They are dedicated to shining a reflective light on our reality to ensure that we recognize the darkness in our own lives and create methods to change or eliminate that darkness. Safety of players is supported, at the same time as encouraging a deep investigation into human behavior, identity, and action that is as beneficial as great literature. Please reach out to us or White Wolf if you have any questions or concerns. 

 

 

 

A CASE FOR QUEER CHILDHOOD HORROR IN THE WORLD OF DARKNESS

Changeling

Tell me if you’ve heard these before. “I liked Changeling the Lost so much more than Changeling the Dreaming because they got rid of all the childhood garbage.”  “When I read Changeling the Dreaming, I turned and ran and never looked back.” “Changeling’s a fine game I guess, but it doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness.”

I have seen or heard every statement above when WoD players talk about Changeling the Dreaming.  I am a long time fan of Changeling, and specifically I am a long time fan of the horror themes inherent to the game.  In truth it can be the darkest setting in the line, but the themes are difficult to approach for a variety of reasons.  Some of those reasons are tied to how the game was developed, but some of the problems have to do with the perspective players bring to the game.

Changeling the Dreaming fundamentally speaks to a distinctly queer experience.  No, I do not think Changeling is exclusively queer, but I think the horror of the game is particularly resonant with the lived experience of queer gamers.  I do not know if this was intentional on the part of the developers, but I want to take some time to really dive into the horrors of Changeling through my experiences as a gay man, and how I feel these experiences show up in Changeling.

There are a handful of moments in my life that I think about when I think about Changeling.  When I was in 7th grade I was at the counter of a small kitch store with my mother in front of a cashier than I am now quite certain was a gay man.  A box of rainbow rings sitting next to the register caught my eye so I picked one up and asked what it was.  The cashier told me they were gay pride rings and I dropped them like my hands were on fire.  I don’t know how the cashier responded (I can’t imagine well), but my mother awkwardly tried to tell me I shouldn’t react that way, while at the same time obviously not wanting to be angry because she wanted to cultivate empathy in me, not shame.  As much as her reaction was the right one, she didn’t understand why I dropped them.  She hadn’t spent years on the playground with me, and she didn’t understand the fear of the slurs being true that only really exists when they are.  Until I finally started dating guys I never thought about that moment, but it lingered in high resolution in my mind.  Now it defines how I understand gay men before they accept who they are.

 

I had that dream again.  The one where I tower over all the bullies on the playground.  I’m also blue, with horns and . . . it’s a weird dream.  I didn’t have it while I was asleep though.  I had it on the playground.  Steve was getting it again for taking all the toys apart and trying to make them better.  Chuck was leading the chant, and it was the same insults the kids always used.  Geek, Dweeb, Tinkling Tinker, Queer.  My vision went red, my skin went blue and I swung.  I was huge.  I towered over them.  They couldn’t possibly win. . . Except they did.

 

Steve and I both ended up in the dirt, filthy and bruised.  I got up first and tried to help him up but he smacked my hand and started screaming at me.  Why did I stick my nose in his business? They would have been happy to just scare him if he’d played along, and then I butted in.  His cheeks were red with tears and rage.  For a moment I saw two red spirals twirl out of the flush on his face.  I cringed back and closed my eyes, trying not to listen to him screaming.  I don’t want to be this anymore.  I don’t want to care about him.  I hate myself.

Victor

When I was in high school I fell for my first boy.  I mean, I’d crushed a few times before that, but I always found a way to convince myself it was something else.  I can’t say we “dated” or that he was “my boyfriend”.  His parents were Pentecostal.  That was just never going to happen.  Not in any way that normal people get to have boyfriends or girlfriends.  We fooled around though.  Did the sort of things 16 year old kids do with each other that their parents like to pretend “kids” that age don’t do.  I loved him as much as a 16 year old is capable of coherent love.  It was messy though.  His relationship with his adolescent sexuality was complicated and capricious, and as hard as it was for me to accept liking boys because of the children I’d grown up around my entire life, I knew I could never understand what getting that from my family was like, so I was ok with it.

Then his parents found out.  Not about us specifically, but that he liked boys.  I wish I had learned about conversion therapy in a book or from the news in college like most people.  I learned about it from our mutual friends when I found out why he wasn’t living at home any more.  I am forever grateful his parents never knew we had messed around, because when he finally got home after months “at camp” I was able to see him.  We joked about his stories.  Made fun of the idea of all the boys at this camp being forced to bathe together. They wanted to stop him from being gay right?  Clearly they were morons.  We didn’t joke about the majority of what happened though, because he didn’t talk about it.  He wasn’t quite the same as before.  It wasn’t until years later that I really wrapped my mind around what that “not quite the same” really meant.

http://www.lydiaburris.com/

(http://www.lydiaburris.com/)

 

I sit in my dorm room thinking about Steve and Chuck.  It’s been a long time since I traded blows with Chuck on the playground, but for whatever reason here I am thinking about it.  I know now I wasn’t just dreaming that day.  I can be tall now, huge beyond measure, and Steve isn’t just some kid who’s good at putting things together.  I’m a Troll, Steve’s a Knocker, and laughably enough Chuck’s a Redcap.  He doesn’t smell out other Changelings to torment anymore.  Now he eats the fear of the assholes who made him afraid enough of his blood soaked dreams to turn on his own.  I shouldn’t relish the nightmares he dredges up in those wastes of skin.  I’m a seelie Troll.  I’m honorable, respectable.  Not every Autumn Fae gets a happy ending though and I can’t help but think he’s due a little payback.

 

Every other Troll in the court might shove their unseelie legacy down when it comes knocking, but I understand what that simmering hatred that locked me away from my chrysalis does to a person, and I understand what it drove Chuck to do.  So when he feeds, he’s feeding for every Changeling he smacked around as a kid, and I savor his feasts almost as much as he does.  It’s just one of those truths about being a fae in this world you don’t admit in polite seelie company.

 

My phone chimes.  It’s Steve.  He’s back from his break with his family.  I can’t wait to tell him what happened in court while he was gone.  It was an epic summer.  He’s living off campus now, and I thought it was going to be awesome.  I’m standing on his stoop waiting for him to answer the door and I can tell something’s wrong.  When the door opens I see what it is.  His face . . . the spirals on his cheeks that glow a deep candy cane crimson when he works are grey and dull.  His seeming is there . . . kind of, but I wish it wasn’t.  The mists are kinder than whatever I’m looking at.  He’s happy to see me, but everything is wrong, and I don’t understand what’s happening.  We go downstairs into his workshop and it’s immaculate.  No knocker has an immaculate workshop.  He’s building something and he sits down to start working on it again as if I’m not even there.  I watch him counting holes and rows on a prototype circuit board over and over again.  He’s counting exactly 3 times before putting his circuits in and I uncomfortably lean over him and joke, “whatever happened to the kid who always knows where to put the wire?”

 

He looks up at me and smiles, “Yeah, I was a pretty sloppy kid wasn’t I?  But after the work I did for my dad this summer I know that if it isn’t perfect it isn’t worth making . . . right?”  

 

Changeling’s themes aren’t only queer, but the horrors come into deeper, more vibrant contrast when you are.  The Nephandi of Changeling wear psychologists outfits and tell you you’re wrong, and the hardest part is the people telling you to listen to them aren’t motivated by some Wyrm tainted Bane curled up deep in their gut.  The people telling you to listen to them are your parents, and girlfriends, and family.  They are telling you to listen because they are afraid of you.  They are afraid for you, and most painfully they love you.  So they can’t just sit by and not do something.  In the worst situations they are just like you.  They are victims of the world around them and that’s the very thing that makes them so dangerous.  Most people don’t understand that experience.  It’s easy to see childhood silliness in Changeling if you don’t look too deeply, or if you’ve never taken a knife to your own ability to love because you’re more afraid of what the people in your life might think than the loneliness that haunts you.

I’m a gay man, and the words above are about my experience, but I will say I’ve seen these themes even more starkly and painfully when I hear my trans friends speak about their lives.  This rabbit hole is so much deeper than I can ever pretend to illuminate and for that I am uncomfortably grateful.

If you’ve ever found yourself saying Changeling doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness, or that it’s full of silly childhood themes, take a second and think about it a little more carefully.  I don’t ask that you dive in and drag the horror out of the game.  It’s a game after all, and no one should tell you what should or shouldn’t speak to you. Instead of saying the game doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness though, I just ask that you take a second to be appreciate why you weren’t able to see that horror and be grateful it doesn’t belong at your table.

 

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.