Friday, December 11, 2015

Changeling: MOOOOOOOOOO

I probably won't blog much over the weekend (got a party tomorrow and a game to run on Sunday), but I wanted to talk about Changeling: The Dreaming a bit more, since there's this Kickstarter on.

Changeling got a reputation early on as being kind of light and fluffy. Some of that is inappropriate; I actually think that in a lot of ways it's the most tragic of the classic World of Darkness games, but that's a discussion for another day. I think the "light" attitude comes mostly from the artwork (the infamous "bears with balloons" picture springs to mind), but let's not forget that the Black Dog Game Studio meta-equivalent of Changeling was initially Human: The Protagonist and it was created by Günter Haagen•Daas (Autumn People, p. 41). Changeling had an inconsistent tone. Sometimes it was silly, sometimes it was adventurous, and sometimes it was truly tragic. Hell, it would switch between those tones in the same book. One of my favorite fiction pieces from the line is "Butterfly," by +Brian Campbell, and it's in the same book as Günter up there, but it's heart-rending and captures the inherent tragedy of Changeling perfectly.

Which I said I was going to talk about. Ahem. Moving on.

In first edition, Changeling used cantrip cards. When you cast a cantrip, you drew a bunk at random. Second edition changed that to a much more reasonable "you can make up your own bunk" system, but there's something to be said for a stuffy sidhe noble needing to ensorcell someone and having to do a silly dance to manage it.

One of my favorite bunks from first edition, just because it was easy but so ridiculous, was "Moo." Much like it sounds; you had to let out a loud "MOOOOOO" to activate the bunk.

I mentioned in my last post that the first Changeling game I ran was set at an abandoned summer camp. That place was real; it was a summer camp I attended as a boy, and man, I've really milked that goat in my games over the years (I should actually do a post about that place; maybe next week). Anyway, the characters arrived there to find a natural freehold, tucked away from Banal eyes. I'm pretty sure there was a purple cow chimera. But there was also a dragon chimera lurking nearby, and so the characters went a-questing to...kill it? Beat it in riddles? Something traditional.

Anyway, my brother (who is working on 20th Anniversary Edition, revising the magic system alongside Holden Shearer) was playing a ferret pooka, and at one point was hiding in the hair of one of the other characters (a troll childling). He went to cast a cantrip, drew that bunk card, and the result was a ferret leaping out of a troll's hair going "MOOOOOOOOO!"

You know, call it silly if you want, but that was a moment that made Changeling sing for me. Yeah, it's weird, it's surreal, it doesn't always link up. Dreams are like that. You can make it make more sense if you want, but you lose some of the purity in the process.

I've always felt that Changeling was a big enough game to accommodate both the bear with balloons, and the Undone changeling sitting on her bed, weeping over the remains of her butterfly wings. You can be silly and then serious. You can moo like a cow to activate a cantrip, but you can also slice your hand and swear on your life's blood. Childlings can - should - have snowball fights, and use Legerdemain to throw flurries of snowballs at once.

One of the advantages to roleplaying is that it gives us, as adults, a way to experience, or at least glimpse, the kind of free play that we knew as children. We could talk about the loss of innocence that comes with growing up in the World of Darkness, or how Banality increases as characters age even as their activities become more sophisticated, but none of that decreases the value of play.

So, some folks have asked if the new edition of Changeling is going to include the sort of "bear with balloons" style of play. And to that, I can only reply: MOOOOOOOO.