Reviews, RPGs, Tabletop Games

Review: Changeling C5 (fan-made)

The 5th edition of Vampire: The Masquerade brought with it a plethora of changes in rules, tone, and art direction.  Of these, the change in art was the hardest for me to swallow but, having now played a fair of this edition, the style does fit the tone.  I’ve also gotten used it and no longer find it jarring, a feeling likely prompted by the stark difference between the photo-based art and the more traditional art of previous editions.

With Vampire (V5) out in the wild and new sourcebooks starting to appear on the horizon, my mind turns to the other games in the classic World of Darkness lineup.  I speak of Werewolf, Mage, Changeling, Wraith, Hunter, Demon and Orpheus.  I would expect the focus of White Wolf and their partners to be on the ‘big 3’ (Vampire, Werewolf and Mage), but I’d really like to see a more modern implementation of Changeling: The Dreaming, WoD’s game of modern fantasy.

Changeling, as a setting, was always an interesting mix of the modern and the archaic, taking fairytale tropes and running with them in strange directions.  They reflected the original, unsanitised versions of our favourite fairy tales.  It’s a game line that I went back to reading after finishing off the Dresden Files series and loving the Fae elements in those books.  I’ve never played Changeling, but I’ve read a fair bit and I’d love to see an update.

Well, someone has taken it upon themselves to put together a 5th edition conversion guide for Changeling: The Dreaming.  The was put together by Charlie Cantrell, a writer who has previously worked on the 20th Anniversary edition of Changeling and some of the accompanying supplements.  Clearly, although this is definitely a fan-made book, we’re at least dealing with someone who is incredibly familiar with the setting, an established RPG writer, and a good candidate to work on the actual, official C5, should it ever be greenlit.

c5 cover.PNG

I’m going to start with the visuals before moving on to the rules.  The book is stunning, and it’s an absolute pleasure to read.

The initial presentation of the book looks fantastic and great care has been taken to ensure that this book has one foot firmly in the original RPG and another planted squarely in the design aesthetic of V5.  The cover is a departure from a game that, through the three published editions, has reused the same cover art each for each release.  Now, we are treated to a colourful, whimsical photographic piece overlayed with the new WoD logo, the circle motif, and the game title.  The font is a lot closer to that used for Changeling: The Lost than for that previously used for Changeling: The Dreaming.  It is somewhat less spiky, however, and with more plantlike tendrils.

The back cover is even closer in style to that of V5, including a couple of paragraphs of flavour text, establishing the Changelings as being both fae and mortal, of being hidden away like all of the other supernatural creatures of the world of darkness, and of the oppression they feel at the hands (and heels) of man.  They even take a little swipe at the Kindred!  Here’s a look at both the vampire and Changeling back covers:

The initial pages of the V5 book has some introductory fiction and flavour pieces superimposed over a lot of imagery.  It included a mix of recent photographs and older artwork from previous editions.  It has diagrams and little objects, such as earbuds.  There were smartphones, scrawled notes and annotated reports.  It managed to look backward at what came before whilst setting the more modern tone of what is to come.  It worked really well.

The C5 book contains a similar section, though it’s somewhat less busy.  Rather than the patchwork of images present in the V5 book, this section of the C5 book focuses on a table strewn with curious items:

c5 curios 1.PNG

It includes a number of thematically-appropriate books (W. B. Yeats poetry, Shakespeare with fantastical Rackham illustrations, John Carter or Mars, among others), a number of candles, toys, food, and much more.  It also includes a map of Concordia, the very same map that lines the inside cover of my second edition Changeling book.  As with the Vampire book, there’s also some flavour text in the form of a long letter.

As the book continues, there are a number of very striking pieces of art.  As with V5, this C5 book uses edited photographs, rather than the traditional, often whimsical art seen in previous editions of Changeling.  Here are a few of my favourites:

The busking fairy is probably my favourite piece, setting the fantastical against the mundane in a really appealing way.  There’s a great mix throughout the book, mixing the sinister with the flamboyant, the colourful with the muted.  The visual style all works together whilst also capturing the diversity of the Fae.

The typography and layout are also modeled on the 5th edition Vampire book, using the same white-on-black for the majority of the book with white-on-black being used at the beginnings of chapters.  Subheadings within pages are also coloured, as in V5, though using pink rather than the other book’s red.  It’s all very readable whilst also feeling modern and looking very attractive.

In terms of rules, the book makes a point of letting you know that this is not a standalone product.  This is a fanmade conversion guide for Changeling, bringing it into 5th edition World of Darkness.  As such, it explains that you will need V5 and Changeling to make use of this PDF:

what this is not

Because of this, the book doesn’t have the core rules for playing a 5th edition version of Changeling: the Dreaming.  Instead, it provides a number of adaptations that will allow players to take the 20th Anniversary Edition content and apply it to the newer edition rules.  Certainly, with the 500 page 20th Anniversary Edition book, there’s no shortage of content to adapts and use.

The opening page of the C5 book proper is really useful.  It directly spells out the goals of the PDF and the tone that a game of Changeling should adopt.  The goals of greater flexibility and of allowing players to feel that their actions are of consequence are both laudable.  The Lexicon section that follows this initial section is likewise useful.  It’s particularly handy for people like me who haven’t really had any solid experience of Changeling (I’ve only played Changeling: The Lost) and might potentially find some of the vocabulary confusing.

lexicon c5

The next section details the various playable Legacies.  These are broad, archetypical roles that player characters can take on.  These Legacies, such as Nobles and Terrors, each give the player a Quest and a Ban.  Quests and Bans are mechanical guides on how to play your character.  They give you goals to work towards and behaviours to avoid.  Once a Legacy is chosen, a player may also select a Kith.  If, for example, you chose the Nobles Legacy, you can then choose to play as a Ali’i, a Fir-bholg,  Merfolk, Oba, or Sidhe.  Each have different features, including specific frailties and birthrights.

noble kiths

Looking at the 7 Legacies, with each broken down into 5 Kiths, you’ve actually got a lot of choice here.  This is the first section that really highlights that this is not a standalone book, with lots of references to the C20 book, complete with exact page references, just to make things as easy as possible.  These C20 pages are also where you will find the rules that go with most of the birthright and frailty rules.  Only those rules with significant changes, or which are new, are given any explanatory text in the C5 PDF.  See above for an example.

The next section of the book deals with characters and character creation.  My only real gripe with this book is the lack of a character sheet.  I don’t know if this was down to not wanting to step on any toes in terms of the official WW-licensed publications, or whether it was just not something the author did.  It would be great if someone like Mr. Gone could put a sheet together for this supplement!  The author does describe the character creation process in the context of V5, instructing players to follow the character creation process for Vampires, but with some modifications.  For example, clans are replaced by Legacies and Kiths and Disciplines by Arts and Realms.  It’s not too tricky, but a character sheet would still make things a lot easier.

The Changelings section covers more of the core rules that will be needed for a game of C5.  For example, this chapter establishes that a Changeling’s Nightmare is the equivalent of a Vampire’s Hunger whilst channeling the Wyrd is the same as a rouse check.  The section on Epiphany, and particularly the parts about Musing and Ravaging, open up the potential for some really interesting roleplaying with mortal characters.  A good storyteller has a lot to work with when these interactions come up in a scene.

The Arts and Realms section has details on some of the fun things that you can do with your Changeling.  The magic system for casting Cantrips is taken pretty much in its entirety from C20 (again, with suitable page references), with a couple of slight modifications establishing a standard difficulty of 5 and updating how Wyrd is used.  Arts are handled in a similar way, lifting the system directly from C20 but slightly fudging some of the detail.  This is required because some of the traits or ratings referenced in C20 material do not exist in V5.  This means that one must pick the nearest extant alternative.  Because all of the Cantrips and Arts are drawn from the massive C20 book, there are a huge number of options available to players.  That book is a wealth of content.  The only part of this chapter that is not entirely drawn from the C20 book is the realms section, which includes updated abilities for a handful of Realms.  The Actor realm is the most significantly updated.

The final chapter of the book, Antagonists, deals with the various enemies and threats to be encountered by the more unfortunate Changelings.  Four different types of enemies are detailed, with each entry having a bit of flavour text, a page reference for their section of the C20 book and an appropriate bit of art to impart the theme.

the fell c5.PNG

This section feels a little sparse, giving no rules or detailed descriptions.  Perhaps the author could have gone with two antagonists per page to make it seem a bit less empty?  It would have shortened the section, but I feel it would look more complete.

Overall, I’m delighted with this PDF.  It’s a thing of absolute beauty, with great layouts and artwork.  It’s also functional, though it does depend heavily on both the 5th edition Vampire: the Masquerade book and the 20th Anniversary Edition of Changeling: The Dreaming.  being a fan work, I do understand that the author was keen to make a conversion guide without stepping on any toes and duplicating content that was not his property to share.  Owning both books, I can use this PDF.  I still think a character sheet would have really rounded this off and made it a lot more practical and usable, but my overall view of this book is very positive.

If you’d like to check it out, the author has made it available via Google Drive.  You can check it out by clicking here.  Let me know your own thoughts if you do read it, or if you manage to get it to the table.  I like how many really professional-looking fan projects there are these days.  My last review was of a Warcraft book for 5E D&D that had similarly high production quality.  I’m keen to read more such books, so I’d also really appreciate some recommendations.

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