Disclaimer: This post deals with fantasy, RPGs and mental illness. If you don’t want to read about these things, please skip the post. And while I usually have no problems with critical comments I’d ask you not to post any this time. If you smirk at the thought of somebody thinking of magic and fairies as real in any way this might simply not be the post for you. If you find traces of yourself in this post you’re more than welcome to tell me in the comments, though!
(And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s my glossary)
My first run-in with Changeling: The Dreaming was during my third-or-so semester. Jule, the elfin one, started a chronicle that we sadly never finished due to the usual problem – everybody having different time-tables – but I was hooked nevertheless. I played a punk Boggan named Lilo who had a swearing winged rat familiar.
We tried again later, same problems, same fate, but the fascination stayed (I played an Eshu ethnologist with family ties to the Caribbean this time).
Ever since then this has been my favourite RPG background. Let me break it down for you why.
Changeling: The Dreaming is part of the World of Darkness, a number of storyteller settings that are set in a slightly gothier, darker version (also dubbed GothicPunk) of our word where vampires (Vampire: The Masquerade), werewolves (Werewolf: The Apocalypse), mummies (Mummy: The Resurrection), mages (Mage: The Ascension), ghosts (Wraith: The Oblivion) and a whole lot of other fantasy and horror creatures actually exist and battle each other over dominion in cities like Boston or Dublin or simply for their lives.
If that wasn’t cool enough as a setting, one of the many supernatural things are Changelings. Capital “C” because it’s important to me. To explain the whole Changeling thing I’ll have to go a bit further back in history, to the 12th century, to be precise. Oh, no, wait. Further. *tape rewinding noises*
Back in times long gone by, fae lived among mortals, created by those mortals’ dreams. They had sprung from dreams of perfection, nightmares of hunger, the idea of the thing that goes bump in the night, all sorts, really. Now, abandon the thought that fae are fairies. They are not. Not exactly.
There are many kinds of fae, also known as kithain. There are kith like the Sidhe – the shining host, the fae nobility, those who sprang from the dreams of perfection and beauty mentioned above – just imagine Tolkien elves, or the ones who kidnapped Tam Lin. There are Boggans, helpful household spirits, short and round and good, and Redcaps, the things that rose from the battlefields to dye their hats in the blood of the fallen, Mermaids, Trolls and many, many more. Every culture has its own set of “the good neighbors”, “the fair folk”, “the wee people” (even though they might be taller than your average human), and those are what we call fae in this case.
But back to the story.
When man discovered iron, though, cold iron, no less, something broke. It became easier to tame the world, and with the taming of the world the dreams and the believing in the fae faded. At some point (and here we are in the 12th century again) there was just not enough glamour, not enough dreamstuff left to sustain all fae and even the pathways into the Dreaming and to Arcadia, the fae lands of myth and legend, began to crumble.
The fae nobility managed to escape the dawning catastrophe, most of them, anyway, but the commoners were left to their own devices. They adapted, and what became of that was the Changeling Way.
Their fae souls – immortal as they were – were born again in human bodies into human families, sheltered from the growing banality of the world within two sets of armour against it: the mortal coil and a human soul around the fae one. If they were lucky their fae soul would awaken at some point of the human life, showing them a world much deeper and more fantastic than they could have imagined. The fae soul would have merged with the human soul and it would have been their lot to balance these two souls to neither slip into bedlam nor banality.
If not, they were simply born into another human body after the first one had lived its life, into another chance for their fae soul to re-emerge.
Now, about 800 years passed since this Shattering. Then, in 1969, humanity reached a goal so lofty, so filled with dreams, so eagerly watched by so many, that a wave of glamour swept over the globe: The Moon landing. The gates to the Dreaming burst open once again and the fae nobility, the Shining Host, returned in all its glory.
And all was fine and well again.
Except it wasn’t. Banality was still a thing. The struggle to maintain the balance between fae and mortal soul was still a thing and getting harder and harder every century. Which brings us up to now: The nobility has adapted as well, the gates to Arcadia, the fae utopia, are closed once more, Changelings all over the world are nurturing dreams and inspiration, and the fight for the survival of faekind is still going on. No wonder, if you look at the world around us.
That’s a nice story, you might say now, but why is it so important to you? It’s just another RPG background.
Because Changeling gave me sort of an explanation. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had found something that resonated deeply within me and made things clearer. It might be a metaphor, but I’m a Changeling. I walk the fine line between banality and bedlam and most of the time I don’t feel fully human. I
rarely basically never talk about my mental illnesses here on the blog but Changeling offered me a way to accept myself more than before, to see that, if I define myself as a Changeling, a fae soul inside a mortal body, a lot of things made more sense all of a sudden. Why my emotions seemed too big for my body so often, why the state of the world made me so terrified and sad that I fell into catatonic states now and then, why I have seemed weird and strange to others my entire life, and why I sometimes am really baffled and confused by norms of human society.
I don’t say that you have to be mentally ill to understand the appeal of Changeling: The Dreaming, and I don’t say that every mentally ill person is actually a fae soul in a human body (there are vampires and mages and so forth as well! Joking, folks, joking). I just try to explain why this background means so much to me and how it helped me to cope (in a therapist-approved way, even) with some of my problems.
There’s also the balance between the Seelie and the Unseelie side that every Changeling has to find that makes a lot of sense to me. Seelie is not necessarily good and Unseelie not necessarily evil (many people try to simplify it like that, one of my biggest pet peeves), it’s far more difficult to explain. It isn’t even lawful and chaotic, more like dutiful and passionate, both which are good and important but can turn nasty in a heartbeat.
I think what I want to say is that I love how the game actually manages to do exactly what its goal is in-game: Bringing glamour and magic into a grey, drab world, inspiring to look further than our own shoe tips. How it changes the perspective of how we view places and people, how it concentrates on the beauty of the soul and the idea instead of only the physical appearance but still encourages to create beauty in our everyday life, lest our fae souls wither.
I love this background because it tugs on my very heartstrings, because it makes me want to gather my fellow changelings for adventure, because it makes me want to share my ideas with the world and hope that they might inspire someone to create something themselves, producing glamour, or fairy dust, or simply put: the rawest form of magic.
I’m a Changeling, here to save the world from banality or burn out into bedlam trying.
Anyone up for a game?