Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Changeling: The Lost- A Guide for New Gamers

I hope this post will serve as an inventory and guide for gamers thinking about picking up Changeling: The Lost. Where I've previously reviewed something I've included a link to that review. I've also included links to a couple of other reviews and the RPG Geek page for each item.

In Changeling the PCs take on the role of people who have been kidnapped from our world. Through trickery, bad choices or random happenstance, they have been pulled over by The Keepers into an otherworldly realm. The process strips away much of the victim's soul, caught on the thorns of the Hedge they're drawn through. The Keepers represent dark and awful versions of the fairy stories and the fantastic. During their "durance" these kidnap victims become transformed by their service. Then, somehow, they manage to escape from their service only to return to the real world, a changed person. Time has passed, in many cases they've been replaced by a simulacra or Fetch. Now the characters must hide their changed appearance beneath a mask of illusion. The barely remember what they suffered in the Hedge, and when they do, then run the risk of a breakdown. They must run the thin edge between trying to adapt to human society and embracing their changed nature-- all the time living in fear that their Keeper may hunt them down and steal them back. Players select from one of six seemings to define their character, and a kith or sub-type within that seeming.

The list is organized as follows: core books; accessories; supplemental books in order of publication; PDFs; and related materials

For more game overview lists, please see RPG System Metageeklist

Used as the basis for the various World of Darkness sub-rpgs (Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, etc) this book also works as a stand-alone rpg for modern games, especially those with a horror or fantastic bent. If you plan to play Changeling using the existing system, you will need to purchase this book. Gamers who played one of the older White Wolf games using Storyteller should have no problem making the transition to this version. There are several crucial system changes, but the basic approach of a dice pool based on Attribute + Skill remains the same.

For newcomers, World of Darkness should be relatively easy to pick up. The core mechanic of the dice pool works across most elements of the game. Players will only need a set of d10s to play. The system is semi-point based- meaning that players have points to spend in various categories, but those aren't interchangeable (a set for skills, a set for characteristics, etc). Experience points earned during play can be used across character aspects. While the system stresses role-playing, it does have a significant mechanical component, with rules governing reactions and compulsions, areas which some gamers may be less interested in having defined. WoD offers a relatively easy to grasp system, but the complexity comes in some of the specifics. Powers, special abilities, talents, and so on presented here and especially in the latter specific rpg books often have lengthy, complex, or highly detailed rules. These often deviate from the base rules and from one another. This means that play will often require players and/or the GM to be familiar with the situations, resolutions, and exceptions presented there or look them up in play.

Reviews: A new look at an old standard; Discovery of the New World (of Darkness)

The core book for the Changeling: the Lost rpg. This hardcover provides more than enough for a GM to build a campaign: character creation, player powers, adversaries, setting, background, sample freehold and gamemastering advice. GM's who want to convert CtL over to another system will only need this book to work from. GM's who wish to use the included rules systems will additionally need the World of Darkness book mentioned above. The Changeling corebook offers a ton of material- really everything to run a long-term and substantive campaign. Well written and well designed, it provides a unique modern urban fantasy setting, with horror trappings dependent on the GM's taste. The horror here can be particularly personal, with each character having gone through an extended traumatic experience which reshaped them. More than most WoD rpgs, it offers a personal experience with a chance to grow. GM's working with other modern games (weird, horror, fantasy) may find the concept of changelings presented here useful as a resource for NPCs (allies or adversaries)

Essential purchase for GM & Player 

Changeling: The Lost Review

Done with heavy stock and featuring the classic hedge image on the front, how useful you find this will depend whether you find screens an aid or a barrier.


The antagonist book for the Changeling the Lost line. It offers enemies in four broad categories: mortal enemies, keepers, fetches, and hobgoblins. In total it presents a couple dozen enemies, each given an extensive write up, plus stats and powers. The balance leans towards narrative and description over mechanics. This expands the relatively decent bestiary of the core book. Autumn Nightmares is less a "monster manual" than a sourcebook for session and campaign ideas. GMs who want some more seeds for the kinds of opponents they can throw at their players will find decent stuff here.

Recommended for GMs 
This serves primarily as a player-focused book providing additional seemings and kiths. It spends some time examining the roles, natures and possible origins of those from the core book. Some of this offers mechanics, but it primarily focuses on story questions. After this it presents a number of new kiths for each of the seemings. These come with a little bit of background and a new power for each. Some other general PCs options are provided as well. Strangely the last third or so of the book provides what ought to be GM-oriented material, a discussion of what the Courts and Freeholds look like across the globe.

Recommended for Players & GMs- expands choices for character creation and background 
Another player-focused sourcebook, this time offering many new options for mechanics and player abilities. Some concepts, such as how changelings interact with other supernaturals of the setting, might have been better reserved to a GM book. But the resources and expanded choices offered to players make this the first book gamers ought to buy beyond the core book. More useful for players are new rules and options for dream magic and for pledges. The latter rules revise significantly those presented in the core book, making them both easier and more balanced. Further discussion of the concepts of the mask, Wyrd, and Clarity offer both specific mechanics and new ideas for play. New contracts appear, as well as new merits and flaws. Finally there's an expanded discussion of the Hedge, with new suggestions for how players can interact with it and new options for abilities and equipment based on it.

Highly recommended for players and GMs  
A GM-oriented sourcebook covering courtly politics in general, and each of the seasonal courts in particular. Some material covers the general structure of freeholds, giving GMs significant guidance on how to construct one for their campaigns. The material on the seasonal courts provides material which the GM will have to parse and decide on. Some of it feels fairly prescriptive, while other parts offer more seeds and ideas the GM can use. New contracts for each of the courts offers the most specific mechanics for the GM. The last third of the book offers an expansion to the "entitlements" mechanics from the core book. These are optional 'secret societies' which players who follow a particular path can join to gain access to new allies, resources, and powers. They can also serve as interesting adversaries and NPCs for the GM. They're smartly put here in a GM book so that they can choose what to present.

Recommended for GMs only 

A sourcebook for high-level play in Changeling and for campaign endgames which take the PCs back into the Hedge to fight their Keepers. GMs will get the most out of this book, and players probably ought to avoid it for fear of giving away secrets. It does offer several new mechanics and rules sections: high level Wyrd, new merits and flaws, and player created Contract sets. Most of the book, however, deals with storytelling. It offers many answers and ideas about how to present the various realms of Arcadia and how to make a campaign epic. The book ends with a lengthy campaign outline for how to create a series of capstone adventures and finish out a chronicle. This book will be most useful for GMs deeper into a campaign, and those who have already bought the other books in the series.

Recommended for GMs only  
A second antagonist book for Changeling: The Lost, offering 26 foes with several based on classic stories and legends. Each foe gets an significant narrative write-up plus stats. Also intended as a sourcebook for faerie foes to be used in other World of Darkness games. And, quite frankly, not very good. For completists.

Highly Optional, for GMs only


The Changeling line had originally been intended to end with Equinox Road. Reception to the line encouraged White Wolf to produce three more books, plus a significant pdf-only supplement. That choice does mean that this and its companion book, Swords at Dawn, mix together player and GM-oriented material. Thematically, this book considers how to bring more darkness and foreboding to a Changeling campaign. The actual material is a hodge-podge: dreams, dream realms and dream foes; fate & curses; Hedge geography; and darkening a chronicle. It does offer some interesting new mechanics in the form of expanded dream rules, curse mechanics and new contracts. It also offers a new court and some additional entitlements. The material is interesting, but not essential.

Optional for players and GMs 

The final hardcover Changeling sourcebook. Like Dancers in the Dusk this book is a loose collection of new ideas and materials for campaigns, aimed at both players and GMs. The stated theme of this book is hope and renewal. Despite that, the book opens with a lengthy section on duels and warfare, especially between changelings. This is mostly background material, but a couple of pages of new mechanics are offered. The second section talks about shared narrative power at the game table, based on the idea of stories and story-telling. This is an odd set of mechanics rather than an invitation to approach the game from a more indie perspective. There's a section on new and legendary items, followed by advice on how to had more hope to a chronicle. Scattered throughout gamers will find a new court, new contracts and other new mechanics.

Optional for Players and GMs 

A really excellent 48 page pdf exploring the idea of Goblin Markets as a place and an adventure starter. Intended as a GM resource for chronicle building, there's little in the way of new mechanics. It does offer a guide to how markets work, example markets, new NPCs, plot hooks, and a discussion of the kinds of things players might find in the market. As well it offers some ideas for how to handle players "buying" new and potent things at markets.

Recommended for GMs 
A starter complete Changeling adventure, using the simplified SAS mechanics. This is streamlined version of the core World of Darkness rules. This pdf offers a good sample adventure for a GM to start with in order to get a taste of the setting and mechanics. Several other pdfs, including a couple of adventures have also been published, based on the SAS mechanics (but adaptable to the core rules).

Optional for GMs 
GM's may find good material and ideas in some of the generic World of Darkness sourcebooks, especially for those looking to expand the material or find new approaches.

Antagonists a generic foe book
Armory Reloaded a weapons and combat styles book for GMs who like detailed options and crunch in their games
Asylum the discussion of asylums as locations is probably more useful than the madness rules which Changeling already deals with through Clarity
Glimpses of the Unknown collection of story seeds for all of the different WoD rpg lines
Mirrors grab-bag of new options as well as alternate takes on the WoD background
Mysterious Places collection of creepy places
Reliquary collection of creepy things
Urban Legends collection of creepy adventures


  1. Great work! I know a few people who might find this useful.

    Any ideas on popular culture references that inform and/or evoke the ideas of Changeling? An "Appendix N", as it were?

  2. There's something of the Changeling as a community of refugees vibe in Bill Willingham's Fables graphic novels series.

    Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child I've heard good things about.

    But Changeling's feels fairly unique in its treatment of characters as a escapees from a horrible world trying to live in again and deal with magical PTSD.

    I should have probably mentioned/put an entry in about the radical difference between Changeling: The Lost and Changeling: The Dreaming they are completely different beasts- with radically different premises, tone and focus. Unlike some of the other nWoD books, CtL completely retools the concept and- I think- does it in an amazing way.

  3. Ooh, both a collection of links to reviews of the various books and a brief overview of the game itself. This is just the link I was after for my own blog as I've been putting up Changeling materials but didn't want to do an overview myself. Thanks for this!

    1. Now I need someone to do this for Mage or some of the other WoD lines.

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