Monday, 27 June 2022

Notes Towards a Changeling: The Dreaming OSR-Based Retroclone

Buried underneath an awful lot of nonsense, there is a game somewhere in Changeling: The Dreaming, desperate to get out. It is difficult to imagine that there could be a worse, more complicated and confusing - albeit beautiful - rulebook, and vast swathes of it are dedicated to perpetuating a vision of role playing that should really be anathema to anybody with an ounce of sense. One can read the book a dozen times and still have no clear idea how to begin, and ultimately everything just seems to boil down to 'make a railroad'. 

And yet the idea - basically, there is a world of 'faerie' existing behind or in parallel to our own, visible only to certain people who have a fae soul - works when stripped down to its essence. Alongside and underneath the urban environment of houses, schools, parks, offices, pubs, shops and abandoned lots that we know so well is a fantastical landscape brimming with mythical beasts and fairy tale creatures; what looks like an empty old folks' home is really the palace of Lord Grey; what looks like a disused railway tunnel is the entrance to a network of caverns leading to a dragon's lair; what looks like a nondescript office building is really an enchantress's tower. The PCs inhabit the real world, but with exciting 'extras'. Walking down an ordinary city street, they notice that amongst that gaggle of teenage chavs there lurks a redcap, and that peering out of the window in the cafe in the floor above HSBC is the face of a witch. They have normal jobs and normal lives - but at evenings and weekends, they're searching for lost sidhe treasure or hunting a rogue member of the local unseelie court.

There is a way, in other words, to take the basic elements of C: tD and building it into something that is actually playable - a sandbox to have adventures in. It is ripe, that is to say, for the OSR treatment. 

Some basic thoughts:

  • I would probably make it race-as-class, and likely keep the original Changeling kith types, basing them on existing D&D race/classes with some modifications. So there would be:
    • Boggan (halfling)
    • Eshu (druid)
    • Nocker (dwarf)
    • Pooka (illusionist)
    • Redcap (fighter)
    • Satyr (bard)
    • Sidhe (elf)
    • Sluagh (thief)
    • Troll (barbarian)
  • The PCs would begin as low-ranking squires in a noble sidhe house, borrowing slightly from Pendragon, and would work their way up - to perhaps one day founding their own 'cadet' houses
  • Gameplay would revolve heavily around pursuing sources of adventure through investigating rumour of the kind already described above: a friend of a friend says there's an ogre's lair in the waste ground at the back of ASDA; let's check it out
  • XP for gold might not work and would need replacing with a different mechanic - XP for glory, or something?


  1. Love the idea. Yes, there is a very cool game in Changeling that sort of gets lost.

    If I was you, I’d look at making a hack using Into the Odd / Electric Bastionland or Troika / AZAG / Fighting Fantasy, rather than B/X style DnD. YMMV, but I think that would let you keep the OSR feel, but have much lighter mechanics and more space for you to add design.

    1. I know what you're getting at, but I much prefer D&D for various reasons - might need a blogpost.

  2. I was toying with the idea of XP for glory for games about playing Arthurian knights and, especially, Bronze Age war-kings. I think it might work, but assigning values to deeds might be tricky.

    1. Yeah, it becomes arbitrary. That's the genius of XP for gold - it's tied to something naturally quantitative.

    2. The amount of XP for gold is naturally quantitative, but the amount of gold is just as arbitrary. Deciding to put 1,500 gp in this room, which will yield 1,500 XP is just one step removed from deciding that discovering this room is a mighty deed worth 1,500 XP.

      As you sometimes do for gold, you might have some mechanism for setting exact amounts so the DM can disclaim some responsibility and enjoy some of the discovery: instead of unseating the rival knight in a joust or wrestling down the enemy clan champion being worth 1,500 XP of glory, maybe it's 4d6 x 100 XP of glory.

  3. I think Wayspell has a V:tM GLoG hack that had promise.

  4. I love that you keep coming back to Changeling. I was also haunted by this game for many years, but couldn't find people to play with me who would 'get it.' What about your idea of using Pendragon, which seemed like a perfect fit?
    (I can't seem to log in with my browser right now)

    1. Pendragon would be a perfect fit but needs higher buy-in, I think. I suppose I'm just getting lazy now.

  5. How about XP for treasure? Not gold as such, but items. I've never played or even read CtD, but I assume it has mundane items which are secretly mystic artefacts of great importance - it fits the "kids playing make-believe" nostalgic vibe too well not to be a thing.

    They wouldn't even all need to be magic items, although they could be. This loop is the crown of a Goblin King, this piece of glass holds the first laugh of a baby, this wishbone is from a baby dragon, etc.

    Perhaps the worth of these treasures can be measured in "glamour points"...

    1. I think it *may* have had something like that implied in the rules, but I've not tried to read them comprehensively in many years.

    2. Sounds like they were literally called "Treasures", assuming I'm reading the somewhat jargon-laden wiki entries correctly:

      Although it sounds like that they were entirely freeform and functioned via primarily GM fiat in 1st edition, which might explain why you don't remember there being any rules for them!

  6. We played quite long campaigns with this unplayable game back in the '90s, after just reading the rules ONCE. Lo and behold! I don't think that all of this rhetorical playing dumb ("I'm not an artsy-fartsy faerie, I'm a honest redneck who just rolls and damn proud of it") serves the oh-so-smart OSR bunch that well.

    1. I'm curious as to the purpose of this comment.

      Do you:

      a) expect people to congratulate you on your evident brilliance and creativity?
      b) expect people to ask you to divulge your wisdom about the system?
      c) seek to boost your own ego by pooh-poohing "the OSR bunch"?

      Or is it just that you are a bit of a tosser?

    2. None of the above. I just think that these rhetorical overstatements about "unplayable" games come off as well, lame, when even a group of average teenagers (believe me, we were not by any means extraordinary) could decipher that "awful lot of nonsense" and play campaigns that were not necessarily artsy railroads (well, we couldn't escape the romantic pathos, but that's one of the main reason you play games like this).