For years I’ve wanted to run a game set in the world of Labyrinth, because it is awesome and the essence of faerie for this child of the 80s. At first I thought of using Changeling: The Dreaming (CtD) because of the obvious connection with faeries, but I never quite grasped what angle to approach this from.
When Changeling: The Lost (CtL) came out, I got the sense that this would be the right game to handle adventuring in the Labyrinth. The plot of the movie is, in essence, a classic changeling scenario, except that someone goes into faerie for the baby,[ref]We’ll leave the Labyrinth-as-sexual-coming-of-age discussion for another day[/ref] so we could use characters that had been taken to the Labyrinth, escaped and had to go back for whatever reason, or even use a regular human like Sarah.
I’ve never done either of those. CtD simply had a different vibe that was directly tied to the faeries in the mortal world, and CtL, though it was certainly dark enough, had a bit too much going on for my tastes.
CtL, however, has one bit that REALLY got me excited, the idea of Contracts as the source of changeling magic. Now we’re talking. I would strip that game of all the other simulationist stats and get down to a few essential pieces of game mechanics that truly speak to what a changeling is, highlighting the Contracts.
Gameplaywright has published a book called THE BONES: Us And Our Dice, a collection of articles and essays celebrating those funny-shaped randomizers that every gamer just absolutely seems to love. To celebrate the publication, I suggested to Gameplaywright’s Jeff Tidball and Will Hindmarch that they hold a blog carnival on the topic of dice; after all, it’s a universal topic among gamers, whether wargamers or roleplayers (and even some card gamers as well), so gaming bloggers should certainly have their own stories to tell. They liked the idea and launched the carnival in early June and here I am, on the very last day of the month, and I have yet to add my own post. Tsk, tsk. Let’s fix that now, shall we?
The Gift of Dice
As pretty much any male gamer out there, I wanted a gamer girlfriend. I was totally into games; beyond school, it was about all I thought about, and when I thought about girls, I wanted one at my side with whom I could share this awesome hobby. Alas, awkward teen I was, getting a girlfriend was hard enough as it was, let alone a gamer one (especially in Puerto Rico, where the gaming scene was tiny at the time). I just didn’t know any gals who gamed, though a couple of friends from the local game shop had these mythical women at their side, so I knew it was possible.
Fast forward to college, where by divine intervention I now had a girlfriend. She wasn’t a gamer, but she’d lived in the US for a while and had heard of Dungeons & Dragons once or twice, so I had an in. Once I was sure she wasn’t going to run away the moment I whipped out my books, I revealed the full extent of my geekness and brought games into the equation. She found them interesting enough to give it a try, so during our year-and-a-half together we ended up playing two fairly lengthy campaigns, Star Wars (West End Games) and Cyberpunk 2020. I loved the fact that she gamed with me, and I thought she liked it well enough as well, so in between our two campaigns, I one day said to her, “I should get you your own set of dice.”
“Nah, there’s no need. I’ll just use yours.” I won’t lie, I felt deflated, both because my gift had been turned down, but also because my gift of dice had been turned down. Even though we went on to play another couple-months-long campaign after this exchange, I knew this whole gaming thing was soon to be done with. And it was; after the Cyberpunk 2020 game, she didn’t want to join any other game the group proposed. There was something about that denial of the dice that told me she was not interested in sharing that one part of who I was. Later on this would come up in conversation, and to her it had barely been worthy of remembering. Me? This was seventeen years ago and I still remember.
So what’s the big deal about her not accepting the gift of dice? It isn’t so much about not accepting the gift per se; I had the chance to give her many other gifts to express my affection. It’s the fact that dice represent the most tangible and accessible part of my love for this hobby, and in giving them, I was giving a part of myself. I can give a book, but the book, to a non-gamer, can be a threatening thing, especially the games I mentioned above, both of which are 200+ pages of esoteric rules. But dice? They’re safe, shinny, sparkly. You can treasure them as little keepsakes, roll them for the sheer fun of seeing what number comes up, enjoy their geometrical cuteness. They also hold the promise of the game that may be. In not accepting them, the message I got was, “This is of no further interest to me beyond my relationship with you.”
It is entirely possible (read: 100% possible) that I over-reacted, even if my external reaction was simple, “Ok.” But I was 18, so gimme a break.
Fast forward again about three years. I was living in Miami now and I had a new girlfriend, another non-gamer. She has seen my ample collection of game books and finds them a charming aspect of me. She’s looked through them here and there but simply does not have any interest in trying them out. Until she comes across Vampire: The Masquerade. That called her attention.
After a few conversations where I explained to her the concept of the game, she actually acceded to trying it out, so I put together a game with her and one other of our friends: just two players, all three of us good and trusting friends. It was a hit! She really dug the game, loved her character, and completely got into the shared experience of making a story. And I was as happy as a gamer can be.
After a few sessions I decided to try my hand at the gift of dice once more. The previous experience was still fresh in my mind, but I go on with the idea, for I am both a hopeless romantic and a masochist. This time, however, I did not ask if she wanted her own dice, I simply went to work (I was living the dream, working in a game store at the time), ordered a very special set of dice, and when they came in a few days later, took them home and presented them to her before our next game session.
I got her the special set of Vampire: The Masquerade dice made by White Wolf: ten 10-sided dice in the same green marble color as the core rulebook along with a green dice bag bearing the ankh icon. She loved them. And I was the happiest gamer ever. My girlfriend accepted my gift of dice, and in doing so, to me, she accepted my love of gaming as an integral part of who I was.
She went on to use them all throughout our long chronicle; when we gamed, and my gamer friends pulled out their dice, she would proudly whip her own set out. Even if she did not identify herself as a gamer, she was part of the tribe now. When we later played Changeling: The Dreaming, I also got her the set White Wolf sold for that game. Another gift of dice that was gladly and happily accepted.
It’s been a few years since those chronicles ended and we have not played any other roleplaying games since. That is entirely my own fault, and it’s one of the thing I want to remedy this year, to the point that I made it one of my own Gaming New Year Resolutions. She is now my wife, still not a gamer as I am, but she has her dice, her own set of dice which no one can use, no one can touch. I did not end up with a gamer girlfriend/wife, but I did end up with a wonderful woman who accepted my gift of dice, and thus accepted the gamer that I am.
Last year, one of the users on the Fear the Boot forums posted some photos from Russian photographer Evgeniy Shaman. One of them in particular called my attention because I immediately saw in it a poster for Changeling: The Lost. A few clicks in Photoshop later, I had this:
I really like this photographer’s work. There are a lot of very evocative photos, both for Changeling (his work will now forever be tied to Changeling in my mind) and for other games/stories.
The poster still has the same effect it did back then: I look at it, and I really want to play Changeling.
On Saturday night my wife and I sat down to finally begin our Changeling: The Lost chronicle, which I have called (in a fit of unoriginality) “Dreams of Miami.” The game has been a long time coming for various reasons (mainly my fault), but now it’s here and we’re ready to play.
I will make periodic session reports here, breaking them off with a [More] tag so that there is the public info and the part I want my wife to stay out of.
So here we go.
We began late, so we only played for about an hour at most, but we did manage to set up the setting and the situation. Dreams of Miami takes place in Miami Beach, namely the area known as Normandy Island and North Beach. Astute readers will realize this is the same area where we live; it makes it familiar and gives us handy points of reference.
It is January 2, 2008, as I like my White Wolf games set in the here and now.
My wife is playing Bella Greyflower, an Elemental Changeling of the Woodblood kith who came back from Arcadia about a year ago. She has been living in the Beach with a fellow Lost who came back with her, Mirabilis, a Fairest Dancer, and they both work at a cafe owned by a Wizened Oracle named Amara, who seems to have adopted the two young women as her wards. Bella has been slowly getting used to being back in the human world for the past year, and has even had some contact with her previous life, though that would be when she learned her children had grown to their late teens and that a Fetch was left in her place, playing mother to her son and daughter, and wife to a husband whom Bella last knew as an uninterested good-for-nothing. The only thing Bella has to care for is baby Finn, a boy perhaps 14 months old, that was the key to her escape from her Keeper.
Bella hears a lot of snippets of conversations waiting tables at the cafe, and she has heard two quite distinct rumors enough times to remember them above the din of constant chatter:
Over the last six months or so, the reported sightings of Fae around Miami have increased dramatically. Not only have they become more frequent, but they have also become bolder: True Fae have been seen hunting changelings in the Hedge, and sometimes right outside of it, or on their way to a hunting party of sorts. So far five or six changelings have been reported as missing, likely taken back by the Fae.
At some point after the new year, a ceremony is to be held somewhere in Little Haiti, something meant to establish some sort of Contract with the city itself in order to prevent the abduction of children by the Others.
Two weeks ago, in mid-December, a somewhat frequent patron of the cafe, a Haitian medicine man who calls himself Old Ti (a changeling without a doubt, though Bella has never seen beyond his Mask, seeing only an old Haitian man) came into the cafe, ordered a coffee, and when Bella was waiting on him, casually mentioned having heard this rumor about the ceremony in Little Hait; casually, except for the fact he was looking Bella right in the eyes. He then paid, and left.
Two days ago, on Dec. 31, 2007, Bella’s son, Max, came into the cafe, ordered a can of Coke, and then left. Bella was standing not 10 feet away from him, and that has been the closest she has been to her son in an eternity. It was odd because he does not live in this area of the Beach.
It is the second day of January, and after her regular day-to-day chores, Bella heads over to the cafe for her evening shift. Upon arriving she notices that there are a lot of customers tonight, both mundanes and changelings (about ten of the Lost, highly unsual). Amara’s Cafe is a sort of haven for the Courtless who know about it, and as such, it receives sporadic visits from representative of the courts, as it does tonight when, at around 7 pm, a burly Ogre proudly displaying a red sash across his wide chest, a symbol of the Court of Summer, enters the cafe. He asks Bella what’s going on tonight, what with so many changelings there? Bella merely shrugs him off, telling him the truth, that she doesn’t know what’s going on. While Bella gets him his coffee, the Ogre gets up and spouts a loud speech exhorting those Courtless present to consider joining the ruling Court of Summer, and to come to him with any questions.
As unhappy as Bella is over this event, Amara is even more, as she arrives just at the tail end of the speech. She asks Bella about the abnormal number of Lost at the cafe tonight, and after Bella says she doesn’t know, Amara makes a few calls and finds out. The upstart Spring Court (the so-called Vichy faction) is hosting a big party at one of their clubs down on South Beach, and they have invited virtually every Changeling in Miami, including members of the now-banished (and some say rightful) Spring Court. Mirabilis arrives at this moment and pulls Bella aside with a very intriguing piece of news: “I just saw you.”
While walking over to the cafe, Mirabilis crosses a woman who looks like Bella, at least what Bella looked like as a human, walking with her husband. Now that she mentions it, Bella does indeed feel her Fetch, not near, but somewhere around, which is strange because they do not live in this area of the Beach. Mirabilis asks Bella if, after closing time, she would like to go down to the Spring Court party, just to check it out. With Amara agreeing to watch over Finn, the two women agree to check out one of these legendary parties. “But we just check it out and get back, ok?” Bella tells Mirabilis. Sure.