Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Changeling the Lost and DramaSystem

I posted my FATE reframe of Changeling the Lost, but I’ve been considering other approaches to the setting. CtL hits the kinds of stories I enjoy- mixing of sympathetic character stories and discovery of the strangeness of the world. The personal drama of the setting and the suggestion of PTSD click for me. DramaSystem offers a set of rules to emulate dramas, with HBO series like Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, and The Sopranos as the model. You can use DS to reframe and refocus existing games, especially those with more rp than combat, more interactions than procedural notes- like Changeling the Lost. We’ve seen a number of Changeling-like shows in the last few years- Once, Grimm, and Lost Girl. While I wouldn't use this as the basis of my current campaign switch-over, I can easily see running a DS/CtL campaign. You have a group of people put together by circumstances, “political” interactions with other groups, secrets, built-in personal dichotomies, and a looming threat (the Keepers). Here’s how I would structure a pitch for that.

Stolen away from the real world, the characters have survived years of magick, manipulation and torture at the hands of the Keepers. A mysterious figure rescues them from the Hedge, dropping them in the city of Wayward. There these strangers discover the hidden Hollow and a pledge requiring them to restore it. They discover it once belonged to the Court of _______ which mysteriously vanished years before. The players must find a way to work together and recreate the Court to bring balance to the city. To do so they must contend with the agendas of the remaining three Courts, the weirdness of the city, the machinations of the Keepers, and their own nightmares.

Obviously this campaign frame works best with a group which knows the Changeling the Lost backstory and set up. It might make a useful second campaign. This structure hand waves a good deal of the magic, such as the Contracts and Kith abilities. It assumes the players can negotiate the extent of those abilities (with the GM as judge). Interestingly, petitions can become concrete in the form of pledges. Players may struggle with those choices- especially when they have not only personal but magical consequences. I love the idea of a secret pledge creating an extra dimension of pressure in a scene. An obvious dramatic pole arises from the tension between a character’s instincts from their Seeming and their humanity. An Ogre’s gullibility and their drive to use physical force balanced against stubbornness and desire for peace. More generally desire for acceptance in changeling society vs. human society can motivate the characters.

You can have the players develop the city through play (as happens in Hillfolk and similar DramaSystem pitches). Alternately, you may wish to have the players build the city before or after character creation. You could use the urban-variation on Microscope, with factions representing power groups in the city. Alternately, The Dresden Files gives a great framework for collaboratively creating a city and deciding what stories interest the players. Choosing the Court’s also important. Each has its own tenor and feel. If the players will be rebuilding the Winter Court, that makes for a quite different game than if they must found a new Summer Court. That also affects their primary rivals. I especially like the idea of the players collectively coming up with a new spin on the themes of a Court. (My earlier post on Courtly Campaigns may be useful). 

A good deal of the starting work will focus on the internal life of the Court as players test out those relationships. I think generally the other Courts should be a more distant and looming threat. They’re wary of the upstarts, but can’t really critique the concept of returning balance to the Freehold. Eventually one or more of these Courts may become important, especially based on player interests and choices (villains or allies). So what kinds of NPCs might the PCs play around with early on? Most obviously people from their past lives, depending on when each character vanished. I’d encourage each player to have at least one friend, relative, lover, or enemy from their past life as a possible source of interactions. Fetches offer another flip side to that. As a GM you should decide if the players will choose their Fetch’s nature or if you will. I prefer the latter as it introduces some interesting tension and mystery. “Free” changelings offer the other major early bloc of characters. These aren’t affiliated with any of the Courts for various reasons: enemies made, see as unworthy, actually a spy, etc. Some might seek out the new Court looking for aid, some for someone to ally with, others with more nefarious reasons. Eventually the PCs will assemble a community out of these changelings.

The starting point's a tougher question. I think you have two basic choices. On the one hand, you could suggest that all of the characters had the same Keeper, but ended up with different Seemings. Perhaps they were all traded to or stolen by another Keeper. That would allow the players to build some relationships before their escape from the Hedge. Perhaps they forged those bonds in the process of escaping? On the other hand you could start the game with the Changelings in the real world, with those ties established. They arrived a little while ago (perhaps a few weeks) and have made those connections. Early scenes could be called to explore the players past- i.e. a focus on flashbacks and revelations.

As I mentioned above, we have several recent TV series which offer inspiration. Lost Girl’s probably the one which feels like someone actually played Changeling. Grimm and Once both lift from Bill Willingham’s Fables series. That’s another great resource. The 4400, at least early on, deals with the question of people out of time and returning to a world which has passed them by. Most modern urban fantasy has something to offer, including books like Grossman’s The Magicians. Serial novels usually have more procedural elements to them, but they can easily be borrowed from. In the end the best possible resource is the Changeling the Lost material itself. There’s a pleasure to reading those books and ignoring all of the mechanical stuff.

Obviously any kind of kith and seeming could work in this setting. Having a diversity of types will make the game stronger. They also offer some archetypes which everyone can work with and play against. I don’t think I need to offer a list, just flip through the CtL core book- and the Lord of Summer supplement which focuses on the Courts.

Having the group build or even just sketch what they want in the city setting gives the richest approach. The city should be big enough to have lots of interesting places, but not so huge that we don’t have a sense of place. Notice how these shows with a static city usually end up returning to key places. The city feels small and we usually cut out travelling times unless they’re used to showcase a conversation.

More importantly consider what the players Hollow looks like. How big is it? Does it have secrets? Perhaps it is in an abandoned museum, hospital, or university. Why did it close down? A mysterious mansion works as well, perhaps with a parallel and reversed mansion in the Hedge. It should be spacious enough that NPCs can arrive and stay. You want to be able to call multiple scenes in different locations over time.

The starting theme of the game is "Who Am I?" and "Building a Shelter." It depends on how where and when you decide to begin the story (as mentioned above). Other classic stories include:

Not Without My Family
Am I Human?
The High Cost of Living
Avoiding Authorities
The Changeling Seeking Sanctuary
Hints of a Keeper
Rumors of Slavers
The Hedge Goes Weird
Hob Equality
A Fetch Crosses the Line
Who will be the Prince?
Maintaining Sanity
Bargaining for Contracts
Searching for Glamour
Protecting the Innocent
Why Was I Taken?
Dark Secrets
Instincts Take Over
Building a Refuge
Taking on the Courts

Oddball magical incidents and strange events can easily be used to prompt incidents. GMs have access to a variety of magical McGuffins.
Episode Crisis:
  • One of the Other Courts Takes Umbrage at the PC’s Efforts.
  • A dangerous mortal learns their secrets.
  • Another kind of supernatural threatens them.
  • Their physical sanctuary comes under threat (redevelopment or the like)
  • A comrade turns out to the an agent of the Keepers

Season Threat:
  • One of their Keepers returns for them
  • A rival Court declares war
  • They must venture into the Hedge to save someone dear

Abyssinian Max  
Always There                    
Ashwine Klocke                                              
Carpenter Husk
Darling Pitch
Doc Porcelain                     
Easting Eon Rat                                 
Gloriana TwoFold
Haberdash Quinn             
Katarina Skin                      
King Falling                          
The Larker
Maven Fellows                                
Mr. Q                                    
Neversung Knots
Old Grummy                     
Phantom Tom                   
Queen Jitters                     
Simon Maggots
Sister Coin                           
TenPenny Down                              
Unbecoming Tim

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