A Storytelling Game of Beautiful Madness.
One day, you were stolen. The creature that took you was one of the True Fae, an inscrutable thing that saw you as nothing more as a pet or plaything. It took you to the Realm of Arcadia, where it imprisoned, tortured and tormented you. After what may have seemed like a lifetime, your body twisted beyond recognition, you found a way to escape through the Hedge back into our world. You returned only to find that time had passed differently and that you have been replaced by a thing that wears your face and speaks with your voice. Soon you found or were found by others of your kind. Now you seek to find a semblance of a normal life while dealing with the strange politics of the changeling courts and hiding from the True Fae, ever fearful that they might find you and drag you back.
Changeling: The Lost is my favourite game in White Wolf's new World of Darkness line. While I certainly enjoy the others, the sheer variety of form of both the characters and the Fae is what draws me to it. The sheer volume of combinations that result from the interaction between Seeming, Court and Kith really tickle my urge to just make characters for the hell of it.
There's also the atmosphere. Do you like the movie Labyrinth (or Pan's Labyrinth if you prefer) or the works of Neil Gaiman? Chances are you'll enjoy Changeling. I feel that Changeling is less caught up in the horror aspect than the other WoD games, not because horror doesn't happen, but because a lot of the time there's a heavy fantasy element that's present. There's also the fact that physically being a changeling doesn't carry the dangers it does for other supernaturals. You don't thirst for blood or fear sunlight, there's no danger of accidentally flipping out and killing everyone you love, staying too long in one place doesn't cause people, animals or the very landscape itself to start hating you (poor Prometheans). Because of this, it's very easy for GMs to run the game as an exploration of all the quirky stuff that's a part of Changeling, like the politics, the goblin markets, dream magic and so on.
Like the rest of the WoD series, Changeling uses the Storyteller system which uses a dice pool of d10s as the core mechanic. Most of your character's stats are represented by dots. When you try to achieve a task, you roll a number of dice equal to the dots you have in the relevant stat+skill+other modifiers (eg, strength+athletics when trying to jump over a fence) and any die that comes up as an 8, 9 or 10 is a success. 10s get re-rolled, with any further successes getting added on. Whenever something refers to a bonus or a penalty, it means adding or subtracting the number of dice you roll, rather than any numbers from the total rolled like most games do.
One interesting side note about Changeling: there has been a lot of discussion regrading its themes of abuse. The characters are all abuse victims of one form or another, after all. This has turned some people off the game while some players who were victims themselves have found the game therapeutic, giving them scenarios where they can defy and even triumph over their tormentors.
Step One: Concept
This is where I come up with the overarching idea for my character. Okay, one thing I want to explore is the time dilation that occurs when you get abducted by the fae. So what kind of person could really be screwed over by being absent for a decade or two? How about this: she was originally an undercover agent for the Soviets in the 70s. Then, she gets abducted by some True Fae and eventually escapes. Only what seemed to her to be maybe a couple of years at most is in fact closer to 40. She has no money, her support network and contacts have vanished and the very nation she served technically doesn't exist anymore. She falls in with the Changeling community because she has absolutely nowhere else to go. My concept is going to be 'Abandoned Spy'. Her name will be something Russian, but I think maybe Southern Russian, with a tinge of Central Asian Influence. Albiina Titov sounds good, after doing a bit of net research. No spy should be without a codename, and I've picked White Spider. This call-sign has become uncomfortably literal for reasons that shall become apparent.
Step Two: Select Attributes
These are the 'stats' of World of Darkness. There are nine of them, organised into three groups: physical, mental and social. I have one starting dot in each and then I pick one category to be my primary category, one to be my secondary and the remainder my tertiary, which gives me a further 5/4/3 dots to puts into each category respectively. Just to give you an idea of context 2 is human average and 5 is human maximum.
I'm going to pick Social as my primary. I see her as the kind of spy who gets places because she's really good at maintaining her cover. So I'm going to put 3 dots in Composure (the ability to maintain one's cool under pressure) and 1 each in Presence (ability to influence others through overt means) and Manipulation (ability to influence others subtly). Mental is going to be my secondary category, as I see Albiina as being fairly quick witted. I'm going to put 2 dots in Wits (awareness of one's surroundings) and 1 each in Intelligence (ability to process knowledge and raw brainpower) and Resolve (ability to stay focused on a task despite obstacles). Finally, that leaves physical as my tertiary attribute category. I put 1 dot each in Strength (raw physical power), Dexterity (hand eye co-ordination and reflexes) and Stamina (physical endurance). She's not exceptional physically, but she's not a slouch in anything either.
Step Three: Select Skills
Much like attributes, skills are grouped into the categories of mental, physical and social and you are required to pick a primary, secondary and tertiary group. These determine how many dots you get to sort between them, in this case 11/7/5. You don't have to pick them the same way you do your stats if you don't want (for instance, I could pick physical as my primary), but I will.
My social skill picks are going to reflect her main methods of doing her job. I'm putting 3 dots in Subterfuge, because a spy probably needs to be good at lying, 3 dots in Persuasion and 2 in Intimidation to represent both friendly and unfriendly methods of obtaining information and access, as well as 2 dots in Socialise to get close to potential sources of information in the first place. Her final dot goes to Streetwise, skills she has had to learn since escaping Arcadia and living a meager existence.
Now onto the seven dots of mental skills. I'm giving her 4 in Investigation, because she's good at tracking down information that she needs to find and spotting relevant clues. Another 2 go into Academics, which represent her general broad education. The final dot goes into Politics. This would be higher, but she's been out of the loop for almost four decades so she's still learning.
We only have 4 dots to play with for physical skills. A spy should be able to break into places, so I'm going to put 2 dots in Larceny and 1 dot in Stealth. The last dot will go into Firearms, her means of defense if she gets caught.
Step Four: Select Skill Specialties
Now I get three skill specialties. These are tightly focused areas of my skills that give me an extra die to roll whenever I use the skill in that situation. For Persuasion, I pick Authority Figures, considering it is who she's been trained to deal with, Security Systems for larceny and Pistols for firearms. Easy.
Step Five: Changeling Traits
Now that I've mostly determined what Albiina was like when she was an ordinary person (well, as ordinary as a Russian spy can get), now I see how being stolen and living in the realm of Arcadia changed her. I figure that the Fae who stole her is this weird humanoid insect thing. He collects humans in the same way we collect insects, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps irony, perhaps as a twisted way of mimicking the human practice (who knows with the fae). Upon observing Albiina and an exchange that used her codename, he abducted her and kept her in some kind of terrarium that would be suited to a spider. Over time, partly due to the nature of Arcadia and partly due to sheer necessity, Albiina started changing. Her once dark skin became a ghostly white and sprouted a short coat of bristly fur. Her eyes started segmenting. Her limbs lengthened and soon she found she could scale walls. It was this latter talent that allowed her to escape. She truly had become The White Spider.
The first thing I do is get a free specialty in one of the skills athletics, brawl or stealth. Since only one of those dots has any skills in it, I'm going to take the specialty of Staying Still for Stealth.
Now I have to pick a Seeming, the broad category of changeling type she fits into (similar to race in other RPGs). I'm going to pick Beast, on account of her now being a spider person. Doing so gives her a free specialty in the skill Animal Ken, which I sadly can't take advantage of due to having no points in it, as well as the ability to re-roll 8s and 9s when using the skill. It also gives her the power to spend Glamour (the fuel changelings use for their faerie powers, which they gain from strong emotions) to add to presence and composure rolls at the rate of +1 per point spent. However, due to their animalistic natures, Beasts take a -4 penalty to untrained mental skill checks (instead of -3) and may not re-roll 10s when rolling intelligence.
Next up, I pick a Kith, a subset of seeming which focuses on her new form more specifically. I'm briefly tempted by the Skitterskulk kith, which is supposed to represent bugs and vermin, but I'm going to go with Steepscrambler, a kith for changelings good at climbing. This gives Albiina the Gifted Climber ability, which gives her +3 to all climbing attempts and allows her to climb any surface that can hold her weight.
Next there's the matter of her Court. In general, Changeling society is governed by four political organisations aligned along seasonal lines and associated with a strong emotion. Broadly speaking, the Spring Court (Joy) are hedonists, the Summer Court (Anger) militants, the Autumn Court (Fear) seekers of knowledge and the Winter Court (Sorrow) focused on hiding and subterfuge. I'm picking the last one, as I think Albiina and her talents would cause its members to seek her out.
Now I note down her Wyrd score, the connection between the mystical energies of Arcadia and her faerie nature. The higher a changeling's wyrd, the more powerful their supernatural abilities, but it also loosens their grip on their human selves and makes them more like their inhuman kidnappers, forcing them to rely on glamour for sustenance and giving them strange bans in their behavior, like the inability to cross a line of salt or being forced to speak in riddles. Fortunately, with a Wyrd of 1, Albiina doesn't have to worry about such things for now. This also means I can store a maximum of 10 points of glamour and can spend a maximum of 1 point of glamour per turn (this affects things like my beast ability).
Finally, I pick her Contracts. These are powers that changelings pick up by being changelings. They're called contracts because they're the result of bargains struck between the fae in ages past and the natural world, thus you aren't so much using innate abilities as exploiting deals. Each costs at least 1 glamour to use, except when the contracts' catch is invoked, a sort of cheat, such as the target not knowing your name for Witch's Intuition. I have 5 dots to spend on contracts, 2 of which have to be from my Seeming affinity, Fang and Talon (beast powers), or my court affinity Fleeting Winter (sorrow powers) and Eternal Winter (cold and snow powers). I'm going to put 1 dot in Fleeting Winter, giving me The Dragon Knows (I can tell why a target is feeling upset). Another dot goes into Fang and Talon (Spiders), giving me Tongues of Birds and Words of Wolves, allowing me to speak with spiders. 2 dots goes into Mirrors, giving me Riddle-Kith (I can appear as though I were a member of another kith or seeming, although my general appearance doesn't change) and Skinmask (I can mimic another person's single bodily feature, like their hair or a tattoo). The final 2 will go into the Darkness contract, giving me Creeping Dread (makes people less resistant to intimidation) and Night's Subtle Distractions ((Makes it harder to spot her in already hard-to-see conditions). These contracts all help her in a role as spy, either directly or by giving her something between a literal web of contacts and a fly on the wall (sorry).
Step Six: Select Merits
I get seven dots to distribute in merits. These are sort of extra advantages or benefits that my character has. For starters, I'm going to pick up 3 dots in Language (English). With her native language being Russian, taking three dots in English allows her to speak it like a native and thus keep her cover. I'm going to sink two dots in the Mantle (Winter) merit, which gives me a +2 to deal with members of the Winter Court, as well as a -1 for any attempts to try and notice me. I'm picking this because I figure she has indebted herself to members of the court by spying for them. On that note, the final 2 dots go into Court Goodwill (Spring), giving me +1 on interaction with members of that court. She has been tasked to infiltrate them, you see.
Step Seven: Determine Advantages
World of Darkness characters have a whole bunch of misc stats which are are derived from established ones. Her Defense, which is subtracted from any melee attacks against made against her, is equal to the lowest of her dexterity or wits, giving her a score of 2. Her health is equal to her size (for average humans, always 5) plus her stamina, giving her 7 health. Her initiative, the number she adds to a d10 roll to determine her position in combat (I think this might be the only roll in WoD that isn't a die pool roll) is her dexterity+composure, so she gets +6. Her Speed, measured in yards she can travel per turn, is her size plus her strength and dexterity, so 9. Most of these, with the exception of her initiative, are bog standard for a human being.
Now we move onto the more interesting ones. All World of Darkness games have some form of Morality score, measured from 10 (living saints) to 0 (complete monsters). Everyone starts with 7 and as you do bad acts, there's a chance the score can drop. This might result in Derangements, with all sorts of penalties (this is actually quite controversial, as it's essentially claiming that the mentally ill are evil). For supernaturals, it's even worse. Changelings have a Clarity score instead of humanity. As they lose it, their ability to tell the real world from visions of Arcadia lessens, penalising their perception checks. At 0, they essentially become members of the True Fae. Like any starting character, Albiina's starting clarity score is 7.
Then there's Willpower. Willpower represents the character's reserve of short bursts of determination and is a resource that can be spent to give +3 to a roll. A character's willpower score is equal to resolve+composure, so Albiina gets 6, which is quite formidable.
You can replenish willpower a number of ways, but the main one is by indulging in your Virtue and Vice. Modeled after the seven heavenly virtues and seven deadly sins respectively, they are a kind of framework for how you interact with society. I've decided Albiina's virtue is Prudence. When she takes a moment to prepare and consider the safe route, even if it may put her at a disadvantage, she regains all her spent willpower, but may only do it once per session. She succeeded as a spy because she was careful. Conversely, her vice is Envy, so she regains 1 point of willpower whenever she spites another even if it puts her in danger. As well as spending a lot of time around the rich and famous as part of her job, she's jealous that even though those around her have lost practically everything, at least they have a common culture they belong to. She always feels like an outsider.
Step Eight: The Breath of Life
This is generally where I determine what Albiina Titov, aka The White Spider is like as a person. Well, appearance-wise, imagine an average sized women of Eastern European appearance with somewhat darker skin, jet black hair and piercing brown eyes. Of course, this is just her mask, the supernatural glamour that protects all changelings from discovery. Her mien, her true form, I've already described, with ghostly white skin, long, twisty limbs with sharp claws, segmented red eyes and perhaps even traces of web in her hair. She speaks flawless English with no trace of an accent, but switches to Russian with ease. She's capable of putting on any mood she needs, but in general appears incredibly reserved and doesn't enjoy mindless chatter. She has an odd habit of drifting to the corner of any room she enters, so subtly she herself won't notice it until called out. Her clothes are a bit shabby and she tends to crash at whatever member of the Winter Court's lodgings she can, exchanging favours and information for basics.
The Finished Product
So there you have it, here she is all statted up and ready to sneak into your Changeling: The Lost chronicle.
Albiina Titov, The White Spider
Concept: Abandoned Spy
Mental Attributes: Intelligence 2, Wits 3, Resolve 2
Physical Attributes: Strength 2, Dexterity 2, Stamina 2
Social Attributes: Presence 2, Manipulation 2, Composure 4
Mental Skills: Academics 2, Investigation 4, Politics 1
Physical Skills: Firearms (Pistols) 1, Larceny (Security Systems) 2, Stealth (Staying Still) 1
Social Skills: Intimidation 2, Persuasion 3 (Authority Figures), Socialise 2, Streetwise 1, Subterfuge 3
Merits: Court Goodwill (Spring) 2, Language (English) 3, Mantle (Winter) 2
Contracts: Darkness 2, Fang and Talon (Spiders) 1, Fleeting Winter 1, Mirrors 2
Glamour/Per Turn: 10/1
How I Would Run It
One idea I had was a Changeling/Vampire crossover game, working title Blood and Thorns. The idea is that vampire and changeling societies have bonded together, seeking to benefit from each others unique talents. The PCs are a team of enforcers for the new combined governing body, both sorting out disputes within the combined communities and occasionally being sent on missions to try and bring those vampires and changelings who have resisted the idea of unification into the fold. The whole system would be fraught with corruption and peril of course, how else would it operate?