Friday, May 13, 2011

More Kith and Kind: Continued Brainstorming on Changeling the Lost

Some thoughts on new Kiths- part one here.

Darklings always feel to me like the catch-all Seeming in Changeling? Why is there an Antiquarian as a kith here, rather than under the Wizened, who seem to be more about professional tasks and roles. The distinction I have in my mind is that Darklings are about isolation and loneliness. I think a Wizened Librarian would exist in a desperate, swarming community of archivists- all desperately trying to catalog all of the details of a jar of beans or creating a revised travel guide to Uqbar. TheY fight, compete and join together in the face of other professions. On the other hand, the Darkling Antiquarian lives alone in the wing of a dimly lit library. Perhaps he hears movement in other sections, but his dread keeps him from going there. Anonymous requests come down- are they from the Keeper or something worse? At night they fold themselves up and hide in the pages of a book, like a silverfish. Rules are not taught by peers for the Darkling, instead they have to guess them- subject to constant lessons from an awful and arbitrary universe.

Hider: I imagine this as being the product of some horrible, continuous game of Hide and Seek. They’d perhaps gain a bonus for locating obscure places of concealment- to find things and to hide themselves. I imagine these Darklings constantly observing their surroundings. Alternately, perhaps they can stand very, very still- desperately quiet and silent in hopes that they won’t be seen by the Terrible Seekers. Could they hide in plain sight?

Assemblyman: I find the idea that the Keepers echo cultural concepts (or perhaps cause them...?) particularly disturbing. The notion of a Keeper realm that looks and feels like a Grey abduction center out of a Whitley Strieber story makes me nervous. That whole ‘greys’ as a nightmare fiction gets under my skin (wasn’t there a movie recently with them as owls or something?). An Assemblyman’s a Darkling raised and built in some kind of facility- lab, factory, whatever. They’ve been built out of the leftover parts of other Changelings. They contain many memories and identities, which may mean some real problems for later real world issues with clarity. I like the idea that they have to create an identity for themselves, they don’t have enough of any single past to rely on. I would think that they would be excellent pledgecrafters, able to weave together disparate elements into a unified whole.

Undertow: Have you ever walked out into mucky water and felt your feet sinking? Was there ever a moment when you imagined something under that mud and dross reaching up and grabbing your bare feet. Being pulled and dragged under and then the water going still. That’s what these Changelings had to do to survive. They hid away there among the kelp and garbage in the murk and dim light. This could be done as a kind of Darkling/Elemental as well. You already have a couple of kiths with living underwater as an ability. Perhaps these changelings would have the ability to maintain a grip underwater. Or perhaps they have the ability to sieve through muck and mud to find lost things.

Middle Child: I have no idea what this would be, but I love the name. It suggests the ignored and forgotten member of a family. Perhaps this would be better as a spooky supernatural adversary...

I find the Fairest some of the most difficult of the Changelings. More than the other Seemings they carry over the in-fighting and power struggles of their durance to the real world. Or at least that’s the read I get on them. I think they have a difficult position- and one has to wonder how other Changelings view them, knowing their access to social abilities and manipulation. They also have a problematic drawback in the form of increased susceptibility to Clarity loss. That disadvantage has a significant mechanical cost- it takes experience points to buy it back up. So GMs may be a little gunshy about imposing that. It is also a disadvantage requiring the GM to legislate morality, an area which can put players on edge or make them feel put upon. Players who run Fairest need to be thicker skinned because they will be tangling with social plots and have the risks of clarity loss hanging over them. Some of my negative reaction does come from seeing them in play as a player and a GM. I suspect seeing a good player work with their ideas could rehabilitate them for me. I’d note that given that some of the drawbacks for the Fairest as presented in the book rely on player judgments, a low-empathy player can probably exploit them. In contrast, a high-empathy player may find themselves frozen because of that.

Gladhander: I like the idea of a Fairest who desperately had to make sales in their durance. They found themselves stuck in a nightmare Glengarry Glen Ross Hedge domain. In the real world, they’d present themselves as the ultimate smooth sellers, trying to cover over their own nervousness and need to win. I imagine they’d either have a bump to tests involving sales or else have some sixth sense leading them to likely marks. It isn’t a great idea but could make a decent NPC kith- someone who wants to supply things to the players and could tie in with an existing Goblin Market. One thing this idea does remind me is that players should know why their durance was horrible. In a couple of cases I had players who glorified their durance, creating some play problems. I’ll probably come back to that in another post.

Piper: Again, perhaps too on the nose? The Pied Piper as a classic myth figure would obviously be a Keeper. What would he make of his subjects- perhaps they would be literal instruments? Perhaps they would be smaller echoes of him, also able to lead people along and draw them in certain directions. I imagine this kith ability would revolve around leading a certain group or class of people towards something. And not necessarily a social leading, but an actual leading- playing a haunting tune that only those people can hear (like Nurses, Barristas, Hipsters, etc). (Image from Jana Schirmer on deviantart)

Clotheshorse: We have the Manikin among the Elementals and the Treasured among the Fairest covers a lot of ground. I’m imagining someone who played dress-up, who had to take on and disguise themselves, bury themselves in a uniform or costume. They’d have the inherent ability to make anything they wear, no matter how shabby, look good on them. They’d also have the Contracts of Uniform as an affinity. That’s new contract set we have for our game I’ll post up later.

Sock-Puppet: I need a better name for this kith. These Changeling fairest have the ability to weave a story in the minds of their targets. They make them believe that the Changeling is lovely, wonderful, handsome, beautiful, whatever. They’re able to convince them to do things for thing. The trick is that they can only do this at a distance and through a medium- via letters, over the phone, through texts, over the internet, etc. The target desires the Changeling, and that pull has to be carefully balanced- as the target will try to find the Changeling. If they do actually see them, the illusion is broken and reversed- making them loathed and hated. It echoes Cupid and Psyche a little bit, but I have to think of how a Changeling like this would balance their clarity with the exploitation.

I have a fondness for the Ogres, I think they get short shrift- written off perhaps as the dump brutes of the game. Their Seeming disadvantage of poor impulse control doesn’t have to be violent or make them stupid/gullible. We have an Ogre NPC in the campaign who considers himself a Buddhist- and he can’t help but proselytize and comment on other people’s choices in light of that. He also casually says the most obnoxious things in the name of "just speaking the truth." He’s a difficult NPC and a mix of helpful and irritating to the players. We have another Ogre who’s poor impulse control extends to bad decision-making in regard to the object of their affection. Ogres do pick up some other interesting Seeming details- the idea of them being the noblest and the ones given over to hunting down oath-breakers. That reminds me a little of the old Changeling the Dreaming approach to them. On the other hand, it also reminds me of the way in which colonial authorities would choose one tribe to rule and become the bully-boys in areas- inciting local hatreds over general resistance. They also have the Witchtooth seeming, once which suggests some other approaches, tied up with Curses and general witchery. That reminds me of Baba Yaga and Yubaba (from Spirited Away).

Trolls: Again, one of the interesting things about the Keepers of Changeling is that they can adapt more modern conceits. Not that they have to, this could be just a kind of bad pun. The Troll Ogre possesses the uncanny ability to irritate, annoy and enrage a target. They do this through naysaying, snide comments, passive-aggressive behavior and playing the martyr card. Trolls are among the smallest of the Ogres, but typically wear glasses which they can push up when correcting someone. Again, not a great PC kith, but could make for an excellent NPC, especially an adversary. (And yes, I do know that "trolling" as a term comes from fishing, but it just works so well here.)

Minotaurs: A classic mythic creature, they have a kind of subtle and sinister kith ability. If they set up a location, a kind of den (but not in the Hollow sense) they can make their own labyrinth. When anyone enters into that maze they will either find their path difficult to navigate or else be drawn towards the center. I’d imagine the Minotaur wouldn’t be able to separate people using this ability, but would affect a group. Minotaurs would be hermits, as I imagine many of the Ogres are. Their durance would have been spent living isolated and having to defend themselves against interlopers.

Watchmen: You know the old man in the woods, the strange lighthouse keeper who lurks around the fringes, the big homeless vet who cleans up the park? They’re the gruff and grizzled Ogres who have attached themselves to a place and keep it intact. They make a kind of pledge with a location, that if they can keep it secure and free from interlopers, they can gain glamour from it and have an anchor for their clarity. Some of them might actually take up jobs as security, park rangers or even winter caretakers for hotels.

Ahabs: These Ogres would be monsters, misanthropes in the Romantic tradition. They would live in pursuit of some goal or quest which would drive them, regardless of cost or question. Contracts of Oath and Punishment might be an affinity, as might Contracts of the Seeker (another one I have to post). Again, I think these would make a better NPC kith. An Ahab Ogre might roll into town seeking their Great White Whale (perhaps even their Keeper). He might drag the PCs into his quest. The narrative line would probably be obvious, but could be good fun for an arc- especially with a good twist about his target. There’s a great fantasy version of this plot in the classic module Strangers in Prax.

Musclebound: So some of the Keeper-imposed durances clearly have a karmic aspect to them- the "be careful what you wish for" that lures someone into the Hedge. There’s been a focus on physical perfection in the last half-century that revolves around excessive development, hence the problem with steroids. These Ogres would be those people who sought an even better, stronger means to gain that body. Perhaps they answered one of those comic-book Charles Atlas adds (and didn’t end up as Flex Mentallo). Now they’re hulks, with heads and hands buried beneath masses of muscle. I imagine that they can lift a weight vastly beyond their normal means, plus they might be able to flex and throw off anyone grappling or holding them. I like the idea, but I hope it doesn’t sound too jokesy- it’s actually kind of awful when you think about an Ogre who walks around carrying all of that extra weight and muscle on them- lumbering slowly through the Freehold.