"The End of the Dream" is an essay written by Matthew Macfarland (aka BlackHatMatt), one of the White Wolf writers, around the time the book World of Darkness: Time of Judgement was published. Given that the subject matter of Time of Judgement is about how to roleplay the end of the world for the various WoD game systems (such as Changeling: The Dreaming or Vampire: The Masquerade), the essay is tinged with the sadness that comes with the end of an era. The original site is at http://www.geocities.com/blackhatmatt/end_of_dream.htm .
The End of the Dream
By Matthew Macfarland
I remember when Changeling: The Dreaming first came into my life. I was at a convention in Toledo, Ohio, in August of 1995. I had started playing White Wolf games the previous fall (Wraith: The Oblivion was the first White Wolf game I ran, and it pretty much sucked me into the rest of the World of Darkness®). Anyway, a new game coming out was like Christmas morning. I wasn’t, however, planning on running it right away. In keeping with my lifelong policy of getting overextended, I had something like five different games going and whenever three or more of my friends got together, I seemed to wind up running a one-shot (which invariably became a chronicle, because people always loved their characters).
So I bought Changeling, and my friend Mike read it while we were still at the convention and had a character concept in seconds. I remember that character. His name was Tal, he was a sidhe (House Fiona) and he was a tragic love-story sort of figure.
This was back when you drew your bunks from a deck of cards, you know. My brother played a pooka who turned into a ferret; I remember him hiding in the troll character’s hair (the troll was played by my friend Carrie Lewis; remember that name, it’ll be important later) and then casting a Chicanery cantrip. He drew the “Moo” bunk, so what you had was a ferret leaping out of a troll’s hair and crying, “MOOOOO!!!”
“I love Changeling!” was a common refrain in that group.
That chronicle, much as I loved it (I set it at a summer camp in Michigan that I used to attend; to me, that place was a sort of Glamour) didn’t really go anywhere. The next time I ran Changeling, it was much more focused. I set the game in Detroit (the most banal city I could think of, and I don’t need your hate mail, thanks very much), gave everybody an extra dot of Banality and five extra freebies and then dangled the plot hook. Five sites in the city could be properly prepared and then used to open a trod to Arcadia. But the nature of the trod would be determined by the fae who opened it — that is, Seelie or Unseelie.
I had two groups in that game, four Seelie characters and four Unseelie characters. I never ran them together; we’d cover one span of time with one group and then I’d meet with the other group later in the week and they’d “catch up.” That game never really ended, either. I have lots of great memories from it (I encouraged folks to act out their bunks, and my friend Mark actually tore the legs of an already-dead tarantula for a Primal bunk at one point), but the story didn’t end. I don’t know who opened that trod.
This seems to happen, you know. It’s hard to end a dream. Typically, dreams end abruptly — you just wake up. Sometimes, that’s a relief. Sometimes, it’s painful. Most often, it’s anticlimactic and a little disorienting.
There’s a point, here, and you’re probably catching on already. But I’ve got some more folks to talk about first. If you’re one of those folks that gets annoyed when people talk about their characters, you may want to skip a few paragraphs.
I haven’t played a lot of characters that were my own; that’s the consequence of being the guy who can run a game at the drop of a dime and always seems to have the money to buy the books and the time to read them. As a result, I remember the few characters I’ve played pretty vividly, and Changeling always seemed to produce the ones that I was most attached to.
I played a selkie once, believe or not. The game was set in San Francisco, I believe (California, anyway; it’s been a while). He was a surfer. Had some problems with the Sabbat. He swore an Oath of Truehearts to another character (a satyr, played by the girl I was seeing at the time). She broke the oath. The relationship went sour. Life imitates art?
I played a sluagh, once. He was a childling named Matthias, and he was a devout Catholic. He couldn’t speak above a whisper, but he could sing as a result of his faith, and he performed miracles over the course of that game. I was lost when I played Matthias, though I didn’t know it at the time. Matthias was a fish out of water in so many ways, but he was strong and devout, no matter what horrors he saw. He was, in some ways, what I needed to be. If you can’t find a role-model, you make one.
I played a sidhe, once. He was once of House Fiona but left in an attempt to form his own noble house with his oathcircle. It didn’t work out. He wound up falling in love with a mortal girl. He was a Humanist, as I recall. He worked in a coffee shop (the game was set in my home town of Toledo, and I worked at the coffee shop in question, myself). He didn’t want to get involved with all the supernatural craziness; he just wanted to live his life and love his girl. I played Sir Lelio (or Damian, as he preferred to be called) when I was growing up.
God, that’s scary. Growing up is like waking up — you might be relieved, but you might be disoriented, frightened, or just a little disappointed.
Changeling isn’t necessarily a game about growing up and the idyllic time that is childhood (because as any kid will tell you, childhood isn’t all that idyllic anyway). If anything, it’s about the wonder of childhood, but fear is a big part of that wonder. But it isn’t necessarily about that — Changeling’s a big game. You can tell any kind of story with it because it’s about stories. And I think maybe a lot of folks missed that. Forest for the trees, you know?
I got it. So did you. You probably got a little choked up in Autumn People in the opening fiction when the girl opens her box and looks at what’s left of her wings. Maybe you smiled in the second edition of Changeling when the narrator talks about riding the yellow walrus. Possibly, when reading Shadow Court, you were surprised at how easy it was to fall into the nightmare, to imagine playing a fae sworn to darkness.
You remember the kid in grade school who had imaginary friends long after everyone else had formed their cliques? Remember the kid that just didn’t really fit in well, not because of anything you could pin down, but just because he or she was an easy target and was sensitive to what people thought and said? Oh, you were that kid? Me, too. Funny, that.
There’s a point, here. I’m pretty sure you understand, but just to make sure: Changeling appeals to those of us who understand that these characters live. Not in a “I am my character” kind of creepshow, but simply that when you spend time and energy crafting a character for any game (or any story, or whatever), it lives, somehow, somewhere. Authors talk about characters speaking to them, demanding extra scenes in fiction or a different ending to a story, and as an author, I’ll say that you ignore your characters at your peril. They might stop talking to you, after all.
I’m rambling a little here, and that’s deliberate, because it’s human nature to avoid bad news. You already know this bad news, but that doesn’t make it a lot easier. You ready? OK, here we go.
Changeling is going away, and it’s not coming back. You will never get Book of Glamour or Kithbook: Boggan or Keys to the Kingdom. If Changeling ever does come back, it won’t be in the form that you know, and you’re better off not comparing the new to the old, because then you’ll be missing out on the wonder of the new game. The story is ending. It is time to wake up from the dream.
God, it hurts just typing that. It feels…banal. Like I should hit my “delete” key about 6000 times right now and obliterate this whole thing. But see, that’s the thing. This needs to be said. You need to know. You deserve to know.
Changeling doesn’t have to end for you, of course. As has been stated ad nauseum on more forums than I care to think about, all you need is the core book and a little imagination and your troupe can play this game forever. And I hope that you will. But for me, the reality is a little harsher, because I’m the guy who gets to (has to?) oversee The End.
(Anybody who wanted to skip the sappy stuff about the game and what it means to me should start reading here.)
When we decided to do a hardback encompassing the “minor” game lines (that’s Hunter: The Reckoning, Demon: The Fallen, Mummy: The Resurrection, Kindred of the East, and Changeling) we struggled a bit to find developers. Oh, it wasn’t a stretch that Ken Cliffe would do Hunter and Mike Lee would do Demon, them being the full-time developers of those lines and all. C. A. Suleiman was only too happy to jump back into development for Mummy, as well. Kindred of the East was a little tougher, seeing as how Lucien Soulban (the most recent developer for that line) was up to his eyes in Orpheus, but we got Kraig Blackwelder to do it, so that’s good.
Which leaves Changeling. I think Ken was pretty relieved when I casually mentioned that I’d love the job. Honestly, I think the alternative might have been not having the section at all — there was a suggestion that we not do one, seeing as how the line had been dormant for so long.
Bullshit, says I. “You know all those Changeling fans who will be horribly upset if their game doesn’t get its due?” I said. “Well, I’m one of them.”
(That suggestion was never taken very seriously, actually. But it annoyed me anyway.)
So I found myself with 30,000 words to end one of my all-time favorite games. I don’t know if you have any idea what 30,000 words looks like, but to give you an idea, the revised tribebooks for Werewolf are about 65,000 words each. 30,000 words isn’t much, but that’s all I’ve got. There’s a bucket of cold water in the face for you.
I decided immediately that I needed two authors on the book, and that one of those authors had to be metaplot savvy. I admit, I haven’t played Changeling much in recent years and I’ve fallen behind on the metaplot, so I wanted an author who knew what was going on and could work in as many nods to the existing, ongoing stuff as possible. That author was Peter Woodworth, author of (among other things) Kithbook: Eshu and House Beaumayn from the Book of Lost Houses.
The other author, though, I wanted to be someone who knew the game and, more importantly, understood the game like I did, but hadn’t worked on it and did not know or closely follow the metaplot. I wanted someone who loved Changeling but who wasn’t tied to what it had become — who was more well-versed in the essence of the game than its form (not saying that Pete doesn’t grasp the game’s essence, I’m just saying I wanted him for different reasons). That author was Carrie Lewis, one of my staple Dark Ages folks, but more importantly, one of the people who was right there with me as I discovered Changeling eight years ago.
So what’s in the Changeling section of Time of Judgment? Possibility. A lot of different ways for Winter to come. The potential for the fae to go out with a whimper or a bang. A lot of thoughts on how best to run the last Changeling story, on where the fae are going, and even on what happens next. There’s hope, there’s despair, there’s war. Some familiar faces show up.
What’s not in that section? The answers.
I thought about this. I really did consider combing through the books and answer all of the nagging questions, putting definitive, “canon,” official stamps on everything that Changeling has left hanging. I thought about having Pete and Carrie write up what was happening in Arcadia, what has happened to Sir Seif and Kind David, how to open the Triumph Casque of Sorrows, and so on and on.
I didn’t, and I’ll tell you why — those are your stories, not ours. We gave them to you. You own them, not us. We can’t finish them, because they haven’t been ours in a long time. I didn’t want to tell you what to dream; I don’t have that right. The last material printed for Changeling: The Dreaming is going to consist largely of suggestions, thoughts, and possibilities from and by people who love this game.
The stuff that dreams are made of, in other words. As a not-entirely tangential aside, did you know that quote is originally from Shakespeare’s The Tempest? The actual line is: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep.”
Speaking of Shakespeare, I just thought of why I knew, right from the start, that I would love Changeling. The first add I saw for the game was in the first edition of Wraith (my first White Wolf game, remember?). It had a quote from another Shakespeare play on a background that looked like shattered glass. The quote had only the first three couplets of the speech, but I’m ending with the whole thing. It seems like the right thing to do.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended;
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear,
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding than a dream.
Gentles, do not reprehend:
'If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ‘ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call,
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
— Matthew McFarland, 8/8/2003