Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rites of Spring: Reviewing Changeling the Lost


What Is It?
Catch-all sourcebook of character stuff for Changeling the Lost.

Le Sacre du Printemps
Rites of Spring is one of the must-have books for the Changeling Game. In another era, this would have been called the Players Companion to Changeling. It looks like a Players' book, but throughout it throws in concepts that would have been better executed in a GM-targeted book. That being said there's quite a bit here to like. If I had to suggest one book beyond the core book to purchase, it would be this one for all around utility. That usefulness does come at a cost-- the organization is more than a little slap-dash. It brims with ideas but finding them or figuring out the how and why of the sequence may be a little difficult.

The book is 160 pages, of which 10 or so is given over to story fluff and another 7-8 to full page images. It follows the generally high standard for the other Changeling books, but the lack of organization isn't helped by the page design in several places. The illustrations are strong in places, but overall this is a weaker selection than in the other books. On the plus side there's little in the way of grey-scale backgrounds to make the pages harder to read.

The Parts
After a brief introduction and overview, the book opens with its shortest section, “Rhyme and Unreason” (15 pages). This is the least mechanical of the sections-- it presents some theories oddly enough on what the Keepers are. I think the writers are trying to present the kind of folklore which might exist aong the Changelings about them. The book then tries to figure out what other supernaturals look like to the Changelings-- do they assume Werewolves are just a form of Beast? This is a classic section in any of these lines and Rites of Spring does a decent job of trying to create a context. Of course there's the classic “What does a Changeling taste like to a vampire” section, with rules. The rest of the chapter provides some discussion on Wyrd and Changeling magic along with some alternate rules for handling it. Where particular changes might dramatically affect the tone or direction of a campaign, the rules try to note that. Overall the material is interesting, especially some ideas on the seasons and True names, but it isn't especially necessary. Its also hard to see exactly why these discussions are in their own section rather than with like material later.

The second section, “Bound in Dreams” covers Dreams and Pledges (25 pages). The link seems to be that they're two large systems from the core book that require additional revision and explanation. The pledge system in the main rules offers a distinct magic, built on classic forms. However as originally presented it has some built-in assumptions. All pledges cost glamour to activate from both parties, all pledges have a punishment sanction, and all pledges offer a benefit while under their auspice. The goal seems to have the players take on a risk (of failure, punishment) in exchange for benefits and bonuses. The rules presented here offer a number of options for handling those pledges in different ways. Because of the number of different and contradictory options offered, a GM will have to work through these ideas carefully. However the material does a great job of opening up the original rules. The Dream section tries to do the same with less spectacular results. The idea of a dream-based campaign presented doesn't give enough to make it viable. The key problem from the original rules-- dreams being an important part of Changeling life, but dream-entry, requiring the Changeling to actually see the target, remains the same. Still there's some nice GM-side ideas here, which seems a little out of place in a book generally player-oriented.

The third and longest section “The Wyrd” is also the most scattered (63 pages). However is provides a good deal of useful information for players and GMs. It expands the discussion of Glamour and Clarity from the main rules, providing better examples. In the case of Clarity it provides a much better break down of what those levels mean and how they might affect play. It takes the time to walk through how the illusion of the Mask functions in the world. That's a vital topic and one certain to come up in play. Besides several general topics, the book finally gets to some solid mechanics for characters. Several pages of new merits and a few flaws provide some significant additions to the rules. Rites of Spring also provides five new Contract sets as well as a number of new Goblin Contracts. Players will find this part of the book most useful.

The final section “From the Thorns” considers all matters relating to the Hedge (32 pages). It deals less with the geography and locations of the hedge and more with how players might interact with it. Rites covers hedge sculpting and duels, but pretty lightly. More attention gets paid to Goblin Fruits and their harvesting. More rules for the creation and modification of a Motley's Hollow provide a good start, but I would have liked to have seen more. The section spends most of its pages on magic items: both the Hedge-Spun and Tokens. However the problem still exists from the main book of only modest direction about balancing these items. Some seem pretty powerful for the cost, while others seem fairly wimpy. GMs will have to do a double check on those ratings.

Portability
If you're looking for Changeling ideas and mechanics to port over to another campaign, I don't think this book would be particularly useful. Most of the ideas presented here expand those in the main book. The sole exception to that might be the rethinking of the material on pledges. For GMs looking to port Changeling to another system, this book is worth a read- to see variants on the core systems and new applications of those rules. Obviously some of the chrome mechanics of the setting will need adaptation-- like the various contracts. GMs will have to decide if they wish to do a literal or more abstract port of those issues. But a GM will also have to make some key decisions about how to handle some of the other sub-systems in the game. Rites discusses many of those in greater detail: Pledges, Dreamshaping, Hedges, Clarity and so on.

Just a quick note on pledges-- as I think they're one of the most interesting facets of the game, but also the most difficult to implement. In classic stories, the characters take on pledges and only later realize that they've misread or overlooked something in the terms. Players know that and will be extra-careful in dealing with contracts. The GM has to decide how they want to handle that: is that reasonable? Is that the tone of caution they want? If not, then the question of having mechanics for that rears its head. Should there be a roll for constructing a pledge? For analyzing one? If a player doesn't detect anything wrong should they be obliged to take it on? I think that's a tough set of decisions for a GM.

Overall
This is a solid entry, with a heavier focus on mechanics. I'd recommend this to both Changeling players and GMs. It isn't essential, but for players looking to buy one book beyond the core, I'd say pick up this one (and maybe Winter Masques as a second choice).