What A Kith Is: A Brief Overview
A changeling’s seeming1 is an extensive physical response to a magical environment or the manipulations a True Fae. Sometimes a Keeper will mold a captive directly; other times, being exposed to a Keeper over time will cause the captive to take on traits that the Fae possesses or desires. For some changelings, being forced to eat, drink, and dwell in the ambient magic of Arcadia is enough to warp them permanently. The shift also seems to be influenced by the changeling’s inner nature once it’s awakened in Arcadia. (Even if their seeming feels alien to them, chances are it reflects something hidden or subconscious about a changeling.) Either way, if a human can’t return to Earth quickly, her entire body is forced to react to her alien surroundings. These changes fall into six mythical categories, from the Automata2 to the Wizened, and affect a changeling from head to toe.
A kith, on the other hand, is a refinement based on what a changeling does the most while she is in Arcadia. Some come about by accident when a changeling develops a winning survival strategy and starts to be shaped by it. Most kiths are directly inflicted by Keepers who have roles they force their slaves to play. And once again, by the influence of the Wyrd, kiths often reflect roles or talents that changelings had from the start. Some captives are stolen because they are already suited for something a Keeper has in mind. Regardless, smaller alterations occur in the body, and changelings develop limited abilities to manipulate their surroundings so they can better complete their tasks. Since there are many roles to fill, there are many more kiths than seemings, they can appear in just about any type of changeling, and all changelings have a kith3.
Once upon a time in first edition Changeling: the Lost, kiths were tied to particular seemings and could not cross between them. Thus, some concepts were repeated across different seemings just to make them available. Second edition Changeling is doing well to separate the two categories; now, a kith can show up in any seeming. This opens doors for players and makes it easier to create the character you envision. This change alone can add an exciting amount of variety to any Changeling game.
Rather than tying specific blessings to each kith (as second edition is doing), however, I am opening up the system even further. You will choose which powers make sense for your character based on their story; the kith becomes a pattern that guides the mechanics. You need to have a theme and/or a role in mind for your character to choose which powers make the most sense for them (this is true for sway and blessings), but your character's fairy tale sets the boundaries. This also makes kiths more customizable so they can better reflect your character's unique experience of Arcadia and beyond.
Many kiths from first edition are distinctive and ready to use; they even have fairy tale-like names that give them an extra dash of flavor. It's been worth the trouble to gather them, streamline them, rename a few, and boil them down to their basic ideas. No doubt there will be kiths for 2nd edition that are distinctive enough to add to the mix. While Arcadia can have infinite variety, there are patterns that all realms share, including common kiths. So if you're thinking about starting a new Changeling character, check the list first. If a kith already exists that will work, there's no harm in using it.
|Name||Themes and Roles|
|Airtouched||Gliding, flight, levitation, wind, speed, running|
|Antiquarian||Collectors of forbidden secrets and riddles, living books|
|Artificer||Mad scientist, creator, fixer of bizarre instruments|
|Artisan||All manner of artisan|
|Banespeaker||Hag or crone, curse-based, wise man/woman|
|Blightbent||Breathes toxicity, steam, imbued with pollution|
|Bloodbrute||Physical, barehanded fighter, Strength-based|
|Broadback||Beast of burden, stubborn, mount|
|Chatelaine||Butler, sensechal, organizer|
|Chimera||Amalgamation of various creatures, fearsome, strange|
|Chirurgeon||Doctor, healer, wise man/woman|
|Confection||Made of food, to be eaten and savored|
|Culinarian||Cook and brewer, knowing tongue|
|Cyclopean||Guardian, observer, scout|
|Draconic||Gargoyle-like, dragon-inspired, fearsome, guardian|
|Dredger||Digging for precious things of all kinds, mining, panning|
|Drudge||Works at inhuman speeds, does the 'lesser' jobs|
|Earthbones||Reinforced with a strong element, deals with earth|
|Emyprean||Made of stars, skybound, creates light|
|Flowering||Brightly colored, scented, personified flowers|
|Forgewright||Smelter, creator of metal goods, master craftsman|
|Gandharva||Divine messenger, speed, declarations|
|Gargantuan||Giant size, intimidation, strength, guardian|
|Gravewight||Close to the dead, appear dead, deal with the dead|
|Gristlegrinder||Eater of taboo things, biter, feeds on the living|
|Hunterheart||Hunting animal, predator creature, tracker|
|Jinn||Fire or electricity-based, speed, heat, charisma|
|Larcenist||Natural thief, trickster, spy|
|Maenad||Impossible grace, contortionist, dancing, reveling|
|Minstrel||Enrapturing audiences with instruments, voice|
|Mirrorskin||Features erased, malleable, be what others want|
|Oracle||Prophet, fate-seer, divinely inspired madness|
|Render||Seige weaponry, breaks down objects easily|
|Shadowsoul||Beauty of night, living shadow, protected by darkness|
|Skitterskulk||Critters of many eyes and legs; trappers; fearful|
|Sleekskin||Slippery, imbued with water, oil, sand|
|Succubus||Feed on Vice, tempter, attractively demonic|
|Treasured||Bejeweled, dipped in gold, living showpiece|
|Tunnelgrub||Cave-dweller, creepy crawler, spy|
|Venombite||Poisonous, slithering, stealth, acidic wit|
|Warmonger||A living weapon and/or master of a weapon|
|Waterborn||Water-based, swimming, cold|
|Weisse Frau||Fairy godmother, protector, inspires others|
|Woodwalker||Green man, part plant, travels in nature|
|Wordsmith||Writer, poet, lyricist, user of the magic of words|
If you have a character concept that really doesn't fit anywhere, then you can look into establishing a new kith. For this revised system, the first thing to keep in mind when choosing or designing a kith is its themes and role. There should be more than one aspect that you can tie to a kith to help define it from the others. A thematic name is nice but not the end of the world. If you can only think of one element after brainstorming, chances are that there isn't enough behind the concept to create a new category. You might do better to simply tweak an existing kith that's close enough to what you have in mind, with some input from your Storyteller.
If the Storyteller wants to retain the Dual Kith Merit, it will have to be refocused. In Rites of Spring, the Merit exists to blend kiths from within the same seeming or from two different seemings and it provides set bonuses. To revise it, the two dot version will allow a character to have two kiths and to choose powers based on both of them (so, for instance, a Shadowsoul Skitterskulk could choose powers that reflect darkness, beauty, insectile qualities, trapping, and/or fear). The three dot version will let a character develop three kiths (the Shadowsoul Skitterskulk Hunterheart could also add tracking and tooth and claw combat abilities, for example). All of this is contingent on Storyteller approval.
1. I am aware that the definitions of kith and seeming are changing for 2nd edition. For the purposes of this revamp, the above definitions stand.
2. Automata is a Seeming I created.
3. With these definitions in place, the idea of kithless changelings becomes obsolete. With enough exposure to the Fae and their realms to take on a Seeming, you will also take on a kith, even if it's just by what you keep doing to try to escape.
Kith Magic: Blessings
A kith’s magic can manifest as kith Blessings. If you choose to use this system, each changeling starts with one free Blessing. The others must be purchased separately for the same price as a one-dot Contract. Unless otherwise stated, a kith Blessing does not require a roll but does require one point of Glamour to be reflexively activated for the scene. Although a changeling can develop multiple Blessings over time, they should all be closely related to her concept (thus, a player’s choice must meet with ST approval). Finally, she can only have one Blessing for each point she possesses in Wyrd.
Design notes: Each Blessing focuses on one specific effect; if related powers are needed, they must be developed and purchased separately. These powers grant a changeling advantages and can extend benefits to others but do not impose penalties on targets or on the changeling using them. None of the Blessings are ongoing; all of them must be activated with Glamour and last for a set duration. Blessings provide more defined abilities than the Sway system provides (see below), and if the Storyteller wishes, the two systems can be used together. They are named after blessings that have been published in Changeling books for ease of reference. Some can be used as they are, others have been given small adjustments, and some have been completely retooled.
The following blessings from Changeling books can be applied with no significant changes, except that they can be purchased by changelings of any kith or Seeming.
From the Changeling: the Lost core rulebook: (Beast) Gifted Climber, Poisonous Bite, Gift of the Sky; (Darkling) Charnel Sight, Sap the Vital Spark; (Wizened) Steel Mastery.
From Winter Masques: (Darkling) Shadow Beauty, Ripper’s Gift, Keepers of the Feral Heart, Turncoat’s Tongue; (Elemental) Enveloping Sands; (Fairest) Kiss of Life; (Ogre) Improvised Mayhem; (Wizened) Gremlinizing Touch, Tappingspeak, Polyglot’s Riddle.
From Night Horrors: Grim Fears: (Fairest) The Circle of Friends.
The following kith blessings have minor adjustments from their original versions.
From Changeling: the Lost:
Tooth and Claw: As per the Beast blessing, but for one turn per activation.
The Mercurial Visage: As per the Darkling blessing, except that as an instant action you gain 9 again on disguise attempts to impersonate that person. This bonus applies to the Mask only. See the Mockingbird’s Tongue blessing for more.
In Plain Sight: As per the second part of the Elemental blessing, except that it’s not limited to hiding in foliage. There has to be a reasonable amount of coverage there, offering something at least half of your Size rating (rounded down) to hide within or behind.
Dragon’s Talon: As per the Fairest blessing, except that it does not allow you to spend Glamour to retake failed rolls, as well.
Obdurate Skin: As per the Ogre blessing except that you use half your Wyrd score (rounded down) as your armor rating, and there are no penalties.
Spurious Stature: As per the Ogre blessing except that there is no penalty when returning to normal size.
The Inebriating Elixir: As per the Wizened blessing except that if the Potency doesn’t exceed the drinker’s Health, the drinker must roll 1d10 to determine the effects:
1-2 Gains a +2 bonus to carousing rolls
3-4 Gains a +2 bonus to seduction rolls
5-6 Gains a +2 bonus to expression rolls
7-8 Gains a +2 bonus to resist reacting with aggression, including frenzy
9-10 Enters a euphoric state in which mental health-related Conditions are suppressed
From Winter Masques:
Caustic Caress. As per the Elemental blessing, focused on the polluted touch and without the additional resistance to toxins or poisons.
Enthralling Mist: As per the Elemental blessing except that it lasts for the scene.
Taste of Ill Luck: As per the Elemental blessing except that it must be declared before the first roll has been resolved and no benefit to Hearth is gained.
Velocity of the Zephyr: As per the Elemental blessing except that you must choose Speed or Initiative upon buying the power.
Cutting Might: As per the Ogre blessing, except that there is no additional Weaponry specialty.
Sepulchral Hunger: As per the Ogre blessing, except that there is no additional bonus versus undead creatures.
Unyielding Voice: As per the Ogre blessing except that it applies only to Manipulation rolls.
Gourmand’s Grotesquerie: As per the Wizened blessing except that you gain +1 on Socialize rolls with anyone who partakes and do not gain the Iron Stomach Merit.
The following completely replace any blessings with the same names, since they contain major changes from prior versions.
Burning Hypnotism: Once per scene, you can activate your aura. Anyone you question while they can see the aura must make a contested Resolve + Composure + Power Stat roll or tell you the truth about one question per net success. The answers can be simple and unadorned, and further demands for details will count as additional questions, but they must be true as far as the target knows.
Consumptive Voice: Use your voice to muddy the thoughts of any who listen to you speak. Gain an exceptional success when obtaining 3 successes instead of 5 on Persuasion, Socialize, or Subterfuge rolls (choose one type each time this ability is purchased) versus any who hear your voice in casual conversation. This ability can be used only once per day.
Fade into the Background: In any area significantly like the one in which you spent the most time in Arcadia (plantlife, dark corners, stonework; choose one when purchasing this blessing), you add half your Wyrd to Stealth dice pools.
Goblin Illumination: Illuminate a portion of your body, or all of it, with a soft, pale light that eliminates up to 2 points of dice penalties to act in darkness. This can be turned on and off as a reflexive action.
Goblin’s Tongue: Gain a +3 on any Social rolls made against a single type of supernatural creature (choose a different one each time this ability is taken).
Haunting Nocturne: As per the Winter Masques Darkling blessing, except that success makes the affected listeners more suggestible; you gain a +2 bonus to make specific suggestions to such listeners for the scene. This does not include anything that will result in bodily harm or death, and any such suggestions will instantly break the spell.
Impossible Counterpoise: When Dodging, add your Wyrd to your Defense Trait rather than doubling it.
Keys to Knowledge: Add your rating in Academics to Investigation rolls (or vice versa; choose one option when purchasing this ability).
Music of the Spheres: You have an an unerring sense of time, which allows you to roll twice and accept the better outcome for any action that might require precise timing (see the Winter Masques blessing for examples).
Narcissus’s Blessing: As per the Night Horrors: Grim Fears Fairest blessing except that it grants a +3 bonus to subliminally convince targets that you appear to be elsewise. You should decide the exact differences, which can extend to clothing but not to anything beyond what you are wearing or holding. One major difference - such as a great shift in height, weight, or coloring - can be conjured for every 2 points of your Wyrd. Fooled targets will only be able to recall the illusion. This is only useable once per scene and does not affect recordings.
Natural Swimmer: Swim at a rate equal to twice your Speed rating.
Night Eyes: Suffers no penalties to sight-based Perception rolls when in the dark.
Panomancy: Once per chapter, tell fortunes using any method you want. The effect works the same as the Precognition Merit, without a cost in Willpower (see Second Sight).
Reptilian Blood: Gains a bonus equal to half your Wyrd rating (rounded down) versus damage from anything with a toxicity level (poisons, toxins, etc.).
Runs Like the Wind: Add half your Wyrd rating (rounded down) to Speed for the scene (cumulative with the Fleet of Foot Merit, if the changeling possesses it).
Seductive Fragrance: Your skin, hair, and breath carry alluring aromas from places unknown, lulling those who can get a clear whiff of you into responding better to your presence. Once per scene upon activating this ability, you can add your Socialize rating to later Socialize rolls. You can do this for as many rolls equal to your Socialize rating versus those who were close enough to smell you when you activated the blessing. You must use this bonus before the scene ends.
Slither and Squirm: Gain the third level of the Spelunking movement style in Book of the Dead (page 92). You get to roll Dexterity + Athletics to wriggle out of bonds due to this mobility, as well.
The Gift of Water: Breathe underwater. All water is expelled harmlessly from your lungs immediately during the round you leave the water.
The Tyranny of Ideas: Normal humans (and it must be human; it can’t be another changeling or another supernatural being) gain a bonus to one dice pool involving Expression, Persuasion, Socialize or Subterfuge equal to your Wyrd. This can only be used once per scene.
The Trickster’s Truth: Gain an exceptional success on Subterfuge, Persuasion, or Socialize rolls at 3 successes instead of 5 (choose a different skill each time this blessing is obtained).
Track the Blood: Gain the benefit of the 9 again rule on Wits-based Perception rolls for one specific sense (sight, hearing, touch, or taste/smell; choose one each time this ability is purchased).
The following blessings are new additions.
Bodhisattvas’s Blessing: For every dot of Wyrd you possess, you can grant one person in your vicinity a +2 bonus to leave or avoid a place of imprisonment. This can include Larceny, Stealth, Subterfuge, or Persuasion, although you have no control over the methods the targets choose or the Storyteller’s ruling on what is most appropriate for the situation.
Goblin’s Gift: As per the Changing Breeds Aspect Pearl of Great Price except that you roll with Wyrd instead of Feral Heart and supernatural opponents resist with their Power Stat.
Mockingbird’s Tongue: Shift your voice to resemble (if not completely mimic) anyone whose voice you have heard for at least a scene’s length of time. You gain 9 again on disguise attempts to impersonate that person’s voice (see the World of Darkness Rulebook, p. 87). Paired with Mercurial Visage, you gain 8 again for your overall performance. This bonus applies to the Mask only.
No Place Like Home: Gain an instinctual sense of where you are in relation to a place that you consider home. You will not fail a roll to find a way back to that location in the real world (you will at least gain one success) after calling upon this power. If activated in another realm like the Hedge, you can expect a 50/50 chance of being led to a door or path toward your home. This can only be used once per scene and does not ensure safe or swift travel.
Sawbones Charm: After activation, you cannot fail a Medicine roll; you will always get at least one success. This lasts for as many rolls as your dots of Wyrd or the end of the scene, whichever comes first.
Skeleton Key: Choose a skill for which you require special tools (Crafts, Medicine, or Larceny). Activating this ability will negate penalties for substandard equipment as long as there is something at hand that can be jury-rigged for the purpose.
Sweets for the Sweet: You can pull off a small piece of your edible body for the target to consume (without causing physical damage) or activate the ability through an exchange of bodily fluids, like a kiss, but the ability requires the target to consume the sweet. The target can choose to make a Stamina + Resolve roll to resist the effect or give in to their chosen Vice without a struggle, gaining 1 Willpower by the end of the scene, which they ascribe to their intoxication. The target will not forego personal safety to indulge themselves but if you are able to see the fruition of the target’s enjoyment, you will regain Willpower as they have.
Kith Magic: Sway
A kith blessing can manifest in the Sway that a changeling has over her surroundings. In Arcadia, she was imbued with an ability to affect her environment in small ways to help her complete tasks faster and better. A changeling's kith gives her supernatural Sway over one aspect for every other dot of Wyrd she possesses (to a maximum of five). These aspects are directly related to her kith’s concept and role in Arcadia. They can be drawn from a wide range of phenomena such as elements (such as wind), oft-repeated actions (like repair), objects (like tools), qualities (such as softness), conditions (like intoxication), types of people (such as children), and arts (like music). Each one must meet with Storyteller approval before being recorded on a character's sheet. This system can be used on its own or in addition to kith blessings.
Areas of Sway do not have to be be rigidly specific, such as being reduced to one type of music, nor should they represent only one narrow skill or roll. For example, Persuasion is not an appropriate choice, but Conversation or Temptation would work. Temptation, for instance, could be attempted with Subterfuge, but also through Persuasion or Intimidation rolls. Aspects of Sway should be able to affect a number of possible rolls while remaining distinct from one another. As a rule, Sway does not apply to rolls to attack or deal damage but can be used to manipulate a battlefield in one’s favor. This made captives easier to keep in line in Arcadia but makes them slippery opponents on earth.
A changeling can use Sway once per scene per dot of Wyrd she possesses. The aspect she is trying to influence must be present in the scene in some measure, either naturally or through use of a supernatural effect, but she cannot summon it through Sway itself. To compel the aspect to help her, all she has to do is spend a point of Glamour reflexively and imagine how a twist of fate in that arena will occur. The player must describe her intention first and if necessary explain how it is connected to her chosen type of Sway. With the Storyteller’s permission, she may proceed. An activation grants the changeling a +2 bonus or negates up to -2 in penalties on a single roll she makes. While the outcomes might appear to be good or bad luck to onlookers, they will usually not be outlandish enough to warrant suspicion of supernatural influence.
So a Cyclopean with the Sway of Sight can give herself a +2 bonus on one roll to track someone, inspect a person's outfit at the club entrance, or examine a crime scene - provided that her vision is not obscured and she is only expecting surface details to pop out at her. She could not activate this area of Sway if she was blinded or had significantly blurred vision due to a drug effect. She will not gain any information about things that are not able to be detected by viewing them at the moment in the scene. On the other hand, she could negate up to -2 in penalties caused by wind or thick fog, but she must decide which benefit to claim before making the roll.
Design Notes: Sway is meant to be a flexible system that encourages players to look for more ways to use their character and the environment. It can give players more opportunities to use their characters’ powers, but they will have to think creatively and make sure that their strategies make sense to the Storyteller. Sway adds an element of unpredictability to kith powers, as well, giving them a tricksy feel. Sway is tied tightly to a changeling’s theme, giving the player more power to easily flesh out a kith concept that doesn’t easily fit into the prescribed categories. It is only one possible kith power system, the first of two I have been developing.
Sway is can also be expanded or contracted by the Storyteller, as needed. If it doesn’t match a higher power level that a group enjoys, the Storyteller can allow characters to have one area of Sway per dot of Wyrd, or allow 2 automatic successes instead of simply allowing a +2 bonus to a roll. If the system seems too open, a Storyteller could restrict Sway to only a few categories (such as physical aspects like elements, objects, and people) or to only negating penalties.
I decided to draw up a system that expanded upon aspects like Potency, included dangers like overdosing, but allowed that something vaguely positive has the remote possibility of occurring. It might be too complex for some and might not be to the taste of others, but I can at least see using this in my games, so I figured I would offer it to anyone who might also find it useful. Please keep in mind that I am not endorsing actual drug use or seeking to glorify it, nor am I trying to make it true to any particular experiences.
Constructive feedback is, as always, welcome.
Drug use in the World of Darkness is common and more often than not, dangerous. Each drug has a base Potency rating, with some batches being more or less powerful than others, and each type of drug has different onsets, durations, and effects. With the first dose in a 24 hour period, a character takes on a basic penalty and the player rolls for a possible additional side-effect. Any benefits and penalties kick in after the drug’s delay period has passed. If they cannot (or choose not to) fight the effects with a Stamina roll, the character will feel the full effects for the duration. If no further drugs are imbibed during that time, the character will sober up once the duration ends.
For intoxicants with Potency ratings of 1 to 4, a character can imbibe as many doses as they have dots in Stamina within an hour and only suffer a -1 penalty to Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wits rolls. If the character ingests more than 3 times their Stamina rating in as many hours, they suffer an additional penalty on all rolls equal to Potency due to sickness (vomiting, vertigo, etc.). The penalty is cumulative, and any beneficial side-effects of the drug are negated. This illness will subside in (8 minus Stamina) hours. If the character exceeds this rate in any way they will begin to overdose in earnest, taking lethal damage and likely falling unconscious.
Drugs with Potencies from 5 to 8 take less time and usage to kick in, but also carry greater risks. A character can handle half their Stamina rating in doses within an hour with a -2 penalty to Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wits rolls. Taking up to their Stamina rating in as many hours leads to overdosing, with no intermediate illness. The effects can’t be suppressed with a Stamina roll. Drugs with Potencies of 9 or 10 tend not to be used recreationally, since they are likely to induce unconsciousness far too quickly for enjoyable side effects. They are more often used as poisons against unwary targets.
Mixing drugs of different Potencies within the same 24 hour period incurs the penalties of both, although each one runs its course depending on its own duration. Roll for additional effects for the most Potent drug; any lesser effects are supplanted by those from the higher Potency drug. Lower Potency doses count toward the rate at which the character might overdose from the highest Potency drug taken, however, making it far more risky to mix and match.
Alcohol: Potency 1 - 4, from beer to the most potent spirits
Marijuana: Potency 1 - 4
Hallucinogens: Potency 5 - 7
Cocaine/crack/speed: 5 - 10, from low-end to most pure
Heroin/morphine/barbiturates: 5 - 8
A character can use a Potency 1-4 drug in as many scenes as they have dots of Stamina during a week without risking building a tolerance to it. A Potency 5-8 drug can be taken in as many scenes as a character’s Stamina rating during the same number of days without increasing tolerance. Breaching this amount requires a Stamina + Resolve roll with a penalty equal to half the drug’s Potency, rounded up. Every failure means that the character must take an additional dose in order to feel the drug’s effects. Tolerance can be reversed by one step for every six months a character refrains from using a drug.
As per the GMC Condition.
The drawbacks attached to the generalized Goblin Contracts don't make them seem worth the trouble, and some penalties are harsh enough to keep most characters away from them altogether. What's the point of paying having a whole class of powers that folks won't want to use? From a player perspective, why pay both XP and any activation cost for a power that's going to likely screw you over for using it? There isn't much in the way of balance between the penalties of Goblin Contracts in the same tier, either, and since each Contract has its own additional price, there's even more to keep track of.
Neither of us are satisfied with this state of affairs, and both of us are concerned not only with simplicity but also with balance. We came up with a quick solution that so far seems likely to work. We'll keep the notion of a penalty, but standardize it. The actual tiered Goblin Contracts seem better balanced than the grab-bag powers, so I see no reason to alter them just yet. But for the unclassified Goblin Contracts, we are going to experiment with the following:
Our new drawback for all untiered Goblin Contracts is the negation of any 10, 9, or 8-again on rolls for a limited time. This will last for as many rolls as the dots of the Contract that was activated. For instance, after Calling the Guardian, a character would have no exploding dice for the next two rolls they make, even if other circumstances dictate that they should. This represents the sour luck attached to goblins and their gifts, but also provides a scaling drawback that isn't so harsh as to sour the deals entirely.
It might be a little while before we get to try this out in-game, but we're looking forward to it. =)
They censor school libraries, pressure television networks, and protest loudly outside feature films that portray the worst nightmares of humankind. They even make certain works of art disappear before they're ever shown and use blackmail, dreaming, and pledges to make sure they're never recreated. All the while, they foster new children's shows, inspire authors, and work to promote kinder stories about the magic beneath the world. Unlike most mortals, they don't do these things because they are personally offended, desperate to maintain children's innocence, or because they are naive. It's not about promoting a deity or preventing the world from going to hell in a hand-basket, either. Well, usually.
No, the Mythwardens engage in their crusade because they know that even the simplest stories can have power, particularly the more they are told and watered with the swooning emotions of the young and unguarded. Modern myths come in many forms and are shared by more people than ever before, locking stories and characters into particular shapes but giving them great influence. These changelings know that the real world affects the dream realms, and that the spread of terrible images can lead to very real manifestations in the Hedge. They believe that many Keepers of old are being maintained and given access to the world through mass media that reflects them - and that new Keepers are being spawned more easily and in worse forms because of media influence.
The good news is that dangerous content can be changed, destroyed, and hidden by those who are on the lookout for the worst offenses. Better still, the promotion of kinder images of magic and stories of weaker fairies can shape the fae, if not across the world then in areas where those ideas really take root. The Mythwardens believe that with enough exposure and repetition, they can affect Keepers' powers and frailties, giving changelings real advantages when fighting back. Many believe that they can bring legendary weapons to fight the fae into existence through popular fantasy films. Ultimately, the Mythwardens view the pruning and tending of public stories to be an extension of talecrafting and a way of making the world safer for humanity.
Although there have always been censors, this order of changelings came into being with the mass-produced entertainments of the Victorian era. Mythwardens are often popular with mortals who have their own agendas for censoring art and can have powerful allies in parents' groups and slick politicians, but at times the order is reviled and fought by changelings who find their goals dubious and their tactics despicable.
Titles: Mythwarden is the standard title, though some prefer Talewarden because of their mastery of Talecrafting.
Prerequisites: Wyrd 3, Expression 3, Intimidation or Persuasion 3
Mien: Mythwardens' true features will sporadically seem pixelated, blotted out, or otherwise obscured. They do not in fact vanish or become completely unrecognizable, and the shifts are brief enough that they confer no protection from being recognized by other changelings. Given their different approaches to their duties, there is no single Mythwarden uniform or style of dress. Those who work to steal horrific artworks before they're shown will dress appropriately, while those who work with the local PTA to remove certain books from the library will probably look like the other parents.
Background: The explosion of penny dreadfuls, fairy tales, and other bizarre elements in the Victorian era were of concern to some changelings, who vowed to study the effects of such fare on mortal dreams and local fae activity. They discovered that the most popular bogeys became real in some way, either by showing up as nightmare spawn, Hedge beasts, or manifesting in the traits of Keepers. There are some who believe that figures like Sweeney Todd fermented in the minds of Englishmen until their terror birthed Jack the Ripper - a monster that continues on as an immortal creature fed by the Ripper legend. While small circles of like-minded changelings had come together around these suspicions earlier, it was the Ripper's appearance that birthed the order as a proper entity; by the end of 1888, their vow was sealed.
Modern Mythwardens often come from the ranks of parents, grandparents, teachers, and artists, and though there are more middle-class members than ever before, wealthier changelings are more common among the ranks. These are the people who either see the power of tales first-hand or have the luxury of pausing to consider how fiction affects fact. A few Mythwardens also pursue the order's duties out of religiously-based beliefs, searching for the word of God as it is reflected in the Hedge, Arcadia, and dreams, and casting out evil to protect the faithful.
Organization: The Mythwardens are organized in circles, with a Master Warden at the heart of each one. This changeling has the most experience not only with recognizing myths that are worth meddling with, but also with handling them by various means. The Master Warden's duty is to delegate work, however, rather than taking it on directly; she is supposed to keep an eye on larger trends and threats while giving lesser members the leads and new apprentices. Some circles have and encourage members that are highly specialized in a medium (such as television), a myth type (such as monster stories), or a method (such as blackmail).
Concepts: former parent, movie reviewer, pop psychologist, nightmare specialist, blackmailer, dutiful defender, talecrafting specialist (or addict).
Fully initiated Mythwardens enjoy the following privilege:
Rumors About the Mythwardens
Some fear that the Mythwardens are actually searching for the best terrors mortals can dream up and then keeping those nightmares for themselves, to be unleashed at a later date, possibly in a violent takeover. Proof of any storage of monstrous ideas would be damning to the sect, which has always claimed to destroy the dangers it finds.
Others believe that the Mythwardens are either deliberately or accidentally softening up humanity through their efforts, making people less likely to recover from encounters with the Fae and other ugliness.
Because the use of and desire for metaplots isn't necessarily going to go away. Not only are some people running classic World of Darkness games because they're being re-released in 20th anniversary editions, but other games have had or may yet have metaplots of their own. For everyone who hates the very idea, there are others who love it, and the good news is that great games can be had either way. The trick is to figure out how to approach a metaplot constructively when you find one and how to hearken to its best aspects even when you don't use it or when you run a system that doesn't have one.
Before I get started, I really should define what I'm talking about so we're all clear about the concept. Some folks might not have played a system with a metaplot before or might not have known the word for it, even when they have have encountered one.
The metaplot I'm concerned with here involved larger storylines going on within the old World of Darkness, such as major supernatural events like the Week of Nightmares. The metaplot also covered key non-player characters who were movers and shakers in the setting. Some of the plots were subtle or small enough that they wouldn't necessarily interfere with the setup of ongoing games; Storytellers could use them or not, with little fuss from anyone. NPCs were even more optional since player characters might not have any way to interact with them and Storytellers could pass them up with few if any consequences (though their names would pop up in future books). Other story arcs, like the Time of Judgment, invited sweeping changes and were harder to ignore. Even if you didn't run the Time of Judgment, you had to be prepared to react to it when discussing the game with other players and Storytellers.
The metaplot was woven through the supplements that were published, from the start of the line until its end, and was usually given in bits and pieces. Some books were nothing but metaplot since the writers were fleshing out cities with alternate histories and important figures that were expected to see some use. In many places, it was presented with a big grain of salt, in one way or another. Unreliable narrators cast doubt on clan histories and NPCs were routinely insane or had few reasons to be trusted. And the ever-present and often forgotten Golden Rule could supercede anything at any time. But the books didn't go out of their way to explain that the material was optional (beyond sidebars for the Golden Rule) and the writers built on it without apology or retraction.
It Isn't Just There to Piss You Off: One of the things that's easy to overlook when it comes to discussing any metaplot is that there are different reasons for deciding to have one when you're designing a setting. I'll end up touching on a number of those reasons here and although we don't have to embrace them for our own creations, we do have to acknowledge that other people have different desires and goals. A metaplot can help as much as it can harm, but much of its ultimate effect has to do with the way players react to it. Although it can feel restrictive or interfere with your own ideas about a game, a metaplot is not just there to tell gamers what to do or how to play. It isn't a personal attack on your chronicle, your vision, or your style of play. Taking it that way is only going to get in the way of what you can get out of it, and it's going to make talking about it unpleasant instead of fun. And even if you hate the whole concept of a metaplot or just particular parts of it, talking about it with other gamers should be entertaining, if nothing else.
It's A Signal to Move Forward: A metaplot can give fans a feeling of progress in the books that get released for a roleplaying game. In addition to offering fresh ideas and rules, supplements can also advance storylines, characters, and the setting itself. This gives gamers a set of developments beyond what's going on in their own chronicles and a pack of surprises they can use or choose to ignore. At the very least, it invites Storytellers to periodically stop and think about how to improve their game mechanically or how to shake things up story-wise. This can come off as intrusive and forceful to some since they've already got a lot going on, or it can seem unnecessary to those who feel like they're already critiquing their play. But it's easy to get stuck in a rut by running the same kinds of stories with similar strategies and NPCs, and it's even easier to keep 'fixing' things with more of the same. Sometimes you need to try a another point of view or take a chance on a storyline that's quite different from the types you tend to run, and whether or not you use a metaplot as it's printed, you can take pieces from it, twist aspects of it, or use it as an impetus to start looking for a new approach.
It Sets Up a Larger Scale (Which Ain't Automatically a Bad Thing): We should keep in mind that the old World of Darkness had a more global and far-reaching system overall, and it also had deliberately deep roots in its own history and myth. These were purposeful choices, not mistakes, and the metaplot helped establish order and keep track of connections. Each major line felt like its own living, consistent universe, with compelling tales tying them together and stretching back to prehistory, if you were inclined to trace them back that far. Although the many pieces didn't fit together perfectly and weren't meant to, they did make up a cohesive whole. And although it shouldn't need explaining, the desire for the larger scale is not wrong or bad. Gamers who have never tried such a style (or who have only seen it performed badly) could learn a lot from some skillful exposure to it, even if they ultimately decide it's not for them. Players who prefer the large scale need to be honest about it with themselves and their groups so they can find experiences that work for them, as well. It can help teach us how to organize longer-term chronicles, character roles, and character ties, as well as how to scale chronicles up or down, depending on what we want out of them.
It Gives You Examples: Being new to roleplaying games can be daunting and intimidating given how much information is out there. Even though you can try to track down blogs and message boards for people's chronicles, they might not be set up very well or show a high level of completeness. A metaplot can serve as a model for how story arcs, characters, and chronicles can be arranged. It can show how everything can fit together with some forethought. For new players and Storytellers, this can be a great help and could inspire similar depth in their creations. Even if you didn't care for the By Night books as they developed a particular cities from the supernatural point of view, you could use them as templates for the kinds of things you might need to flesh out for a city of your own choosing, or you could pluck out character concepts you liked. Even if you didn't want to run the Giovanni Chronicles, they could help give you a feel for where to start a chronicle that is meant to span centuries - or give you a taste for things you would rather not have in your chronicle. Even a negative example can be a valuable one, so at the end of the day, new players or Storytellers should feel encouraged to seek out models in the books and to judge them as they see fit.
It Establishes Roles, Tasks, and Motivations: Some gamers are able to pick up just about any game, read it over, and generate ideas that will help them play with any character type in the setting. Other times, you have to dig into the books to get at engaging reasons and nuanced ideas for what all your character can reach for. Sometimes you might find yourself genuinely mystified as to what characters in a setting actually do with themselves day-to-day and why they should feel compelled to do anything at all. A system with a metaplot will explain the motivations of groups and people through the history and interactions that are set up in the larger narrative. Even if a character doesn't want to do what they were born to do or doesn't want to be involved in what their group is enmeshed in, they at least have something to react against. While some gamers don't need this kind of structure, others do, whether if they're new to the hobby or to a system or looking to have it broken down for them in an easily accessible way. Storytellers should have an easier time of explaining things to new gamers if they keep this in mind and if they're willing to approach each player based on their needs. Books that provide some extra embroidering for ties, motivations, and adventures will ideally reach more readers and see more use.
It Gives You Something to Talk About: For better and for worse, the metaplot in the old World of Darkness put gamers on the same page. Regardless of your current group or chronicle, you probably read about the ongoing issues as you went through the latest releases. And whether you liked the changes or hated them, you were likely to form some kind of response to them that you'd then be eager to discuss with someone else. Roleplaying is something that we can talk about for hours in any case, but it can be difficult to connect with other players whose ongoing games are very different from ours. This gave everyone a testing ground to see if their views about the WoD matched up well enough to play together harmoniously. You could get clues about someone's playing style by how they reacted to certain changes, which could act like a canary in a mine shaft and save you from some truly bad experiences. You could also get ideas about what your players loved or hated by how they talked about events in the books, and while every clue from your group helps, they can be surprisingly difficult to coax out of some players. Point-blank questions about the chronicle you're currently running can make players worried about offending you and thus make them stifle their true desires, but questions about the metaplot invite full scrutiny with less risk of pissing anyone off. Learning to talk and ask about particular elements from the books and to listen for players' reactions can definitely help some Storytellers.
It Can Be Overwhelming and Isolating: The bigger the changes are in any metaplot and the more they aim to take established elements out of play, the more likely they are to make players feel threatened and limited. This is partly because as a Storyteller, it is far easier to give something to a character than to take it away without making the player feel cheated. Many players work hard to create characters they enjoy and obtain their characters' goals; unless they make bad decisions, they can feel short-changed if something is taken from their character. It can also be difficult to shoehorn major shifts into the delicate fabric of your own game without causing a sense of inconsistency and unfairness. When the metaplot did away with the Tremere Antitribu, an offshoot that many people liked, some gamers felt like they were being forced to relinquish beloved characters based on some outside whim, whether or not it made sense for their chronicles. And if they didn't go along with it, they felt pushed out of step with where the published materials were going and felt like less material in the metaplot would apply to them forever after. In some cases, they were right. I have learned this repeatedly, and it is definitely reinforced here: As a game designer or Storyteller, you must be very careful with what you take out of play and why you are doing it.
It Can Be Divisive If You're a Dick About It: Any tool can be misused and metaplots are no exception. When published materials are accepted as inflexible canon, some gamers will defend each word as it was set down even if that means bulldozing over the desires of others in their group. What's worse is that because metaplots model one way that a game can be played, some fans take it as the only "right" way and deem anything else to be wrong, stupid, or deeply flawed. This will inevitably occur because of personality types, a lack of respect for and understanding of the role of the Storyteller, and a lack of social grace, but the larger vision of a metaplot seems invite this kind of thinking. Designers can combat this by making it very clear that the material is optional and that Storytellers have the final call on how elements are used in their games. They can also work to show different ways that their settings can be tweaked so people can see that there are indeed many roads that diverge from the main path. But what will really help is insisting on a higher degree of honesty for yourself and your group. If you truly enjoy a metaplot as it is published and don't want it changed, then find a group that feels the same way instead of attacking others for not conforming to your wishes. Likewise, if you know a player isn't meshing with your group's choices and accommodating them doesn't seem to be working out, don't let the situation fester. Bring it out into the open. But on either side of the table - any table - don't be a dick or stand for someone else being one, and don't blame a metaplot for the way people abuse it.
It Might Need to be Restricted: Huge world-changing events can be thrilling to experience in a setting that's become familiar, as anyone who played through Final Fantasy 3 (U.S.) remembers. For well-entrenched tabletop RPGs, however, deep shifts in setting and tone can feel like a bait-and-switch that current players do not want and will not accept. It can also cause gamers to leave the greater fold, stop purchasing new releases, and/or stop playing altogether. A company looking to build and maintain a fan base should not want that to happen and it doesn't have to if metaplot mega-changes are handled conscientiously. Perhaps the simplest way is to develop events during past eras, which may or may not end up affecting chronicles set in the base time-frame. Another way is to localize effects to a particular city or region, perhaps outside the default or best-known locales. Yet another method involves complete compartmentalization. We have seen this in comic books (to varying rates of success, to be sure) - the what-if universe is spun off from the main line and developed as its own possibility, using the same parts but with very different ends. If fans love it, they support it as well as the main line(s). If fans can't get behind it, at least it doesn't disrupt the base setting. Regardless, a metaplot must be developed with new and old players as well as designers in mind and should account for that.
It Can Never Be One-Size-Fits-All: Though I'd rather not belabor the point, it does bear repeating: each gaming group is its own organic entity made up of people with distinct talents and tastes, so no one vision of a setting will be the best for all. With this in mind, game designers should make room for as many play preferences and learning styles as possible. This requires acknowledging desires for freedom as well as desires for structure and not looking down on either pole while laying out mechanics, types, and explanations. It requires clear sharing of authority between published materials and those who use them, starting with what is said in the books, moving into what is espoused on any official web sites, and ending with the group at the table feeling comfortable enough to change what they need or to stick with what they enjoy. This awareness, care, flexibility, and negotiation is part of what takes roleplaying beyond the capabilities of many other common types of entertainment. It can make things more complicated, sure, but in the end, the struggle is worth it, whether a metaplot is directly involved or not.
- Current Mood: thoughtful
But worse, the underpinings continue to feel rickety and weak, even though I'm now getting more Werewolf in my diet and I've read reviews to find other people applauding the new creation myth in particular. The game sticks with a pseudo-Native American mythology that doesn't make much sense, is tied to vital aspects of play (like why the Pure hate the Forsaken), and consistently fails to resonate with me as a player or Storyteller. I'm having a real problem seeing why a contemporary character would or should give a fuck about why or how Father Wolf died in the dawn of time. Nobody who lives now was responsible for it; we don't even have the possibility of something like the Past Life merit to tie the modern to the old. The spirits may or may not care, since they never liked being told what to do anyway. And why would Father Wolf have slowed down when spirits are effectively immortal until absorbed by another spirit? I know the likely responses and have tried to convince myself of workarounds or different interpretations, but it all feels hollow. Unsatisfying.
Anyone who's gamed with me for long knows that I need at least some of the history and the myth to work as the cornerstone of what I do in gaming. I need to be able to resonate with it in order to weave its echoes into my gaming universe. And the new World of Darkness, like the old, encourages you to do what you want with it for whatever reason. The problem is that I don't have much time right now for working on gaming stuff, let alone for a game I'm not sure I'm ever going to run (but which I do want to put into my cosmology, at least for the sake of NPCs). This is where jiving with the game as it's written would help me out a lot. At least I'm starting to see how the system plays out in-game, so when I do have some time to sit down with it, I'll know how it actually works and have better ideas of how to tweak it. But with work piling up, it might be a while. =/
- Current Mood: rushed
- Current Mood: working
In our new Changeling game, the PCs have some choice pieces. The Fairest who was taken to be Peter Pan's Wendy still has his kiss, which I took right out of Barrie's Peter Pan and used in her prelude. When I reminded her that it could be a token, she jumped on it with experience points. The Elemental who was sold to his Keeper by his treacherous wife lost everything - except for his wedding ring, which aroused such emotions in him that his Keeper delighted in letting him hold onto it. The Beast who was trying to save yet another changeling on his way out was given her dying gift, which just might help him save others in the future. I just can't help but offer the option to infuse the bits and bobs that characters bring with them with some real fae potential.
But I've found that handcrafting tokens is more difficult than making magic items in D&D, for example. I've found it pretty easy and fun to come up with the item's look, both to mortals and to fae. Sometimes it's been difficult to put my finger on the token's power, since there are so many possibilities and I usually have a power level to work with, so that restricts options somewhat. But balancing drawbacks and catches has been a bitch on several levels. On one hand, fae magic always has a price, and I dig that concept - but the cost has to be equivalent to the power level yet not so severe that the character will avoid using the item. That last part conflicts with my running and designing philosophy about such things. If a player puts their hard-earned experience points into an item (or otherwise invests their efforts), I want them to feel like it was worth it. I want them to enjoy their item overall, even if it has some restrictions for balance.
And sure, there are examples in a number of books to work from. A number of tokens just take a price in blood (and damage), though, so the examples aren't as broad as you'd think. This is why I usually post what I'm working on somewhere to get some kind of feedback and why it takes me more time before I'm satisfied with the results. During my recent design process, I was surprised when most of the feedback I received suggested making the token something that the character had to give away, something that only worked once, or something that could be destroyed for using it. Trifles are one thing - they're meant to be temporary, one-use things - but tokens generally are longer-lasting and - well, special. I know that as a player I would usually not be okay with spending my points on something that could be gone just for using it, through no other fault of my own, even though the book supports tokens as permanent items. I was glad for the responses and the considerations that were raised, but I was forced to realize that even feedback wouldn't be an automatic saving grace. Different design philosophies would mean that I'd really have to sort through the replies carefully, as well.
Even though it's been a bit more work all around I find myself continuing to be excited by tokens and their possibilities, and eager to place well-balanced results in my players' capable hands. I've found myself pondering on it enough to want to unravel the whole problem and get it out in front of me, and perhaps this rambling will engage some other Storyteller somewhere down the line.
- Current Location:Home
- Current Mood: pensive