I have an ever-increasing list of games that I want to run someday. They’re not always games I want to run right now, but someday. A recent addition to this list is the World of Darkness game Changeling: The Lost. I’m a late comer to Changeling; I never paid any attention to the original Changeling: the Dreaming, because at the time (“the time” being my narrow-minded, ignorant early 20’s), I didn’t see how fairies fit into horror, so I can’t compare the two. Also, I didn’t get around to reading C:tL until late 2013, even though the game was released in 2007. But now that I have read it I find it very intriguing, because it’s a great example of using a role playing game to explore real life issues.
In short, Changeling is a game about surviving abuse.
In this game, a Changeling is a human who was abducted by one of the True Fae. Now keep in mind, this is the World of Darkness, so these aren’t your modern, Disney-fied Fae. These are old school, Grimm fairy-tale style Fae. They’re monsters. They come into our world to kidnap and enslave humans in their world, called Arcadia. The boundary between the two worlds is called The Hedge, and it tears away at a human’s body, altering it and making it more Fae-like. In Arcadia, Changelings are subjected to abuse, emotional, physical, even sexual. Some Changelings manage to escape and return to the human world. They’ve become Fae-like, though they aren’t completely Fae, but they aren’t fully human anymore either. They usually find that they’ve been replaced by a duplicate called a fetch, so they weren’t even missed. They’re unseen absence and altered nature makes it almost impossible for Changelings to resume they’re old lives. They’ve also gone through terrible experiences that few humans would even belief and no human can relate to. As such, Changelings have their own societies which are basically large support groups. They are a culture of abuse survivors, banding together for mutual support and protection, should their abusers return.
The game book gives many examples of the kinds of histories and back stories Changeling characters have, and they’re all heartbreaking. If you remove the fantasy elements, odds are you probably know someone who’s gone through what these characters have. Not just the abusive acts themselves, but the ramifications; being afraid to talk to people about the experience, knowing that they won’t understand and may even judge the victim, and the impact such experiences has on who a person is.
Now to be clear, there is more to Changeling than the abuse angle. Much of the content of the core book deals with magic, Changeling politics, and the day to day lives of Changeling characters. I don’t want to give the impression that this game is singularly focused on abuse. There is genuine fun to be had, and not all Changelings are emotional wrecks whose entire lives are defined by their trauma (which I believe is true of real life abuse survivors as well). But this is the aspect of the game that stuck with me the most; in a hobby that so often seems to focus on slaying bad guys and collecting loot*, Changeling: the Lost is a game that tackles complicated and important issues in real life in a mature, sophisticated way.