Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 10 August 2019

A Motley Ordeal

Changelings are those who were abducted by the Faerie, underwent a great ordeal whilst in Arcadia, and returned changed, their eyes open to the Magic of the world, partly fae, but still human enough to want to tell a story that is theirs. The Gentry, the Faerie, have not forgotten the children they abducted and made into their families, twisting them into roles they could play in the same story over and over, and so send Huntsmen through the Hedge of thorns that separates the mortal realm from the Faerie to recapture what is theirs. Forever on the run, the Changelings have seen the beauty and the horror of both worlds, can see the fantastic which hides behind a mask everywhere they look, and as much as their memories draw them back to the mortal realm, they are forever separated from their pre-abduction lives by their time in Arcadia. Hunted and both blessed and cursed by what they endured, Changelings band together in Motleys, providing each other solace and support in the face of shared memories. Each Motley is part of a Court, which provides defence and support in a region or freehold, each Court having a seasonal aspect—Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter—and there will be one of each within a freehold.

This is the set-up for Changeling: The Lost Second Edition, the roleplaying game of mortals kidnapped by the fae and returned to the mortal realms published by Onyx Path Publishing as part of the ‘Chronicles of Darkness’. It is also the set-up for Hearts on Trial, a jump-start and introduction to Changeling: The Lost Second Edition, presenting a preview of the rules for both Changeling: The Lost Second Edition and Chronicles of Darkness, rules for creating and playing changeling characters, extra Contracts, and a complete adventure which comes with five pre-generated player characters.

Both Changeling: The Lost Second Edition and Hearts on Trial uses the Storytelling mechanics. This means rolling dice pools of ten-sided dice, with results of eight, nine, and ten counting as successes. Rolls of ten allow rerolls as long as a player keeps rolling ten. Anything more than five successes counts as an exceptional result. Under certain situations this grants a character a beneficial condition, such as Informed or Inspired. Penalties reduce the number of dice that can be rolled, but never below a single die. This last die becomes the chance die and only a ten counts as a success on the chance die—and cannot be rerolled—whereas a roll of a one on the chance die counts as a dramatic failure. Alternatively, a player can have his character voluntarily fail and gain a point of Willpower (this differs from Changeling: The Lost Second Edition wherein it grants Beats, used to advance a character’s traits and powers, but omitted for ease of play in this jumpstart). Willpower is also gained when a player roleplays his changeling’s Thread or Needle, when a character fulfills an Aspiration or resolves a Condition—beneficial or bad, which might be Frightened, Oathbreaker, Wanton, and so on. Willpower can be expended to add three extra dice to a dice pool, to increase a character’s Resistance to an effect, and use certain abilities.

Hearts on Trial covers combat, objects, and building equipment in a smart fashion, along with entering into Goblin Contracts and acquiring Goblin Debt (the danger being that acquiring too much and the changeling with transform into a Hobgoblin), making oaths, and the dangers of entering the Hedge, before moving onto character traits. Characters themselves are mechanically defined by nine attributes—Composure, Dexterity, Intelligence, Manipulation, Presence, Resolve, Stamina, Strength, and Wits—and skills in three categories—Mental, Physical, and Social, all ranging between one and five. Similarly, they have Merits (the equivalent of advantages and disadvantages) which are rated on the same scale. Characters also have a Needle, a Thread, a Seeming, a Kith, and a Court. The Seemings are Beast—clever, wary, crude, and aggressive; Darkling—silent outsiders with a love of riddles; Elemental—alien forces of nature transformed into living plants, bonfires, storms, and so on; Fairest—adored whose judgement carry great power; Ogre—blunt and ugly, heroes and bullies; and Wizened—busy finding solutions to crises and vexing issues. Needle is a character’s personality like Daredevil or Teacher; Thread his motivation, like Revenge or Friendship; and Kith what he was transformed into by the Gentry, such as Brightone, a passionate changeling with shining soul who cannot help but attract attention, and Playmate, a loyal changeling whose healing power makes him a steadfast companion.

Changelings also have a true face—or Mien—showing their fae nature, which they hide behind a Mask of human appearance. All fae creatures can see through the Mask, which does not work in the Hedge. Their Wyrd represents his power and how much fae magic he can draw from, whilst his Glamour is drawn from strong human emotions—literally harvested from them if the changeling is close enough, and actually powers his fae Contracts and tricks. For example, the Autumn’s Fury, a Contract which can only be made by members of an Autumn Court, either causes heavy rains and heavy winds which can affect everyone around the changeling who invokes the Contract, or storms that strike with lightning. This costs the changeling either two or three points of Glamour, with the lightning strike needing an attack roll. Every Contract has a Loophole. So for Autumn’s Fury, the changeling lifts a metal pole into the air and points it at his foes.

Having presented the mechanics and the background to Changeling: The Lost Second Edition, the jump-start presents the eponymous adventure, ‘Hearts on Trial’. It takes place on South Street in Philadelphia, a bohemian district of the city where the motley has found a home in the Nevermore freehold after having escaped from their durance in Grandmother, Grandmother’s Cabin where she molded them into the ‘perfect’ family. In Nevermore, they are in the middle of a negotiation with a rival freehold when a young girl taunts them with riddles and hints at things that the motley might have left in the Hedge. Getting through the Hedge is a challenge in itself, but then the young girl decides to hold her own special court at which the members of the motley are her very special guests… 

Hearts on Trial is just four scenes long and so does feel somewhat short. Nevertheless, it presents some solid opportunities in terms of roleplaying and action for the changelings and their players, whilst the Storyteller will have fun portraying the young girl and playing with the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and candyland imagery that runs throughout the adventure.

Hearts on Trial comes with five pre-generated changelings. They include a Wisecracking Vizier, who played the black sheep in Grandmother, Grandmother’s household and who is now a tinkerer; a Cheerful Diplomat who was Grandmother, Grandmother’s golden child; a Bellwether Beast who was many creatures in Grandmother, Grandmother’s household and has now become an urban legend; a Relentless Constable who was a wooden doll for Grandmother, Grandmother, but full of fury whilst becoming the fashionista she once was; and a Restless Skater, forever the forgotten middle child. Each is given a full character sheet, a full page of background, and an explanation of their Seeming, Blessing and Curse, Kith Blessing, Mantle—Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and unaligned, and both Needle and Thread, as well as Contracts known. 

Physically, Hearts on Trial is well presented and well written. It is also decently illustrated with some really nice pieces of artwork, all done in green tones. Overall, this is a nice booklet which will sit well alongside the Storyteller’s other Changeling: The Lost Second Edition books.

If there is an issue with Hearts on Trial it is two-fold. First, there really is not a means of creating changeling characters in its pages as is claimed on the back cover. Second, it includes a high number of different terms—Needle and Thread, Seeming, Blessing and Curse, Wyrd, Glamour, and more—that not only the Storyteller has to learn, but also teach to her players. Perhaps a cheat sheet might be useful for the Storyteller to prepare prior to running Hearts on Trial? Get past this though, and mechanically, Hearts on Trial is quite straightforward and easy to grasp, whilst also giving its players some nicely detailed pre-generated changelings which come with plenty of roleplaying hooks in terms of their background, their Needle and Thread, Seeming, Blessing and Curse, and so on. Overall, Hearts on Trial presents everything a Storyteller and her players needs to begin a Changeling: The Lost Second Edition chronicle—rules, characters, and set-up—along with a demanding scenario. Or at least give them a taster.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. Lack of a means to create characters seems particularly heinous. Otherwise, I'm very interested. Thanks for the great review!