Changelings, also once derogatively called Milklings, are the main protagonists of Changeling: The Dreaming. Previously rare, they are one of the few kinds of fae capable of surviving in the modern world.
The origin of the Changeling Way and who first mingled faerie and human blood is lost to history. The old Courts believed that the First Woman who came to lay with the First Man (called Eve and Adam based on mortal theology, though one might see more parallels to stories of Lilith) had been one of the Firstborn. From the union between the two, the first changeling was born, although the pair had more children and the First Woman had other partners. Other explanations, especially by the more anti-humanist fae, were that Changelings were the remnants of deformed and unwanted fae that were exchanged with mortal children and raised among them. The first Changelings were regarded with pity and mockery from their Firstborn parents, since they were unable to change their form with the same ease the Inanimae and Firstborn did and took relatively long to achieve their birthright. When the War of Seasons began, the Changelings were drawn into the conflict. Weaker than their siblings, they nonetheless became more and more valuable for their ability to deal with humans.
After the eclipse of 1230 CE and the fall of the Oath-Truce, the fae used mortal dreams to hide themselves from the growing turmoil of the Mists and the first appearance of Banality, assuming less varied forms in exchange for safety. This act created the first kiths, who, over the centuries, created their own stories how Changelings had been first conceived. With the Dreaming separating from the mundane world in the Shattering, aided by the Unleashing of several fae who refused to accept the change and wanted a rekindled War of Seasons, more and more fae sought a way to escape the growing threat of Banality. The Changeling Way, originally referring to the act in which the Firstborn cloaked themselves in human appearances, was repurposed, which allowed a fae to intertwine their faerie soul with that of a human, shielding it from Banality of the mundane world by transferring their souls into (often infant) humans, leading to the traditional changeling myth of fairies stealing away a human child to replace it with a child of their own.
The Changelings continued to live in the shadow of humanity, driven back by the rise of reason and technology. But even in these times, Glamour continued to flourish and the changelings found ways to harness it for their own uses. In this way, their communities survived the ever stronger presence of Banality and continued to prosper until the day of the first manned moon landing. The resulting influx in dreams, fears and wonders was strong enough to open the gates to the Dreaming, reactivate ancient trods and allowed the Nobles who had fled to return to the world. Soon, conflicts between the Commoners who had made the Autumn World their home, and the returning Nobles who demanded the fealty that was theirs by right, erupted all across the globe. After several armed conflicts, armistices and treaties formed new realms, often only loosely based on mortal geography.
For more, see the article Changeling History.
All Changelings are born to humans. Before they realize their heritage, they live in a half-reality, catching glimpses of the Dreaming that never fully realize themselves until the prospective Changeling experience the Chrysalis. Once, a baptism was necessary to extinguish the fae soul, but nowadays, Banality is often strong enough to undo a child’s faerie soul through other means. There are exceptions, as some Sidhe that returned during the Resurgence forced themselves on humans, casting out their souls and overtaking their lives.
Once, the fae were immortal and unrestricted from the passage of time. With the beginning of the Shattering, fae in mortal bodies learned that they aged like humans did and would eventually die if no preparations were made. The Seeming often reflects their actual age, but not necessarily.
By remaining within a freehold, changelings can avoid aging. Doing so, however, carries the danger of insanity and Bedlam. Older Changelings therefor play a dangerous game in how long they can stay inside a freehold and how long they can survive exposure to the banal world. If they play their cards right, Changelings can outlive mortals by centuries. Often that can mean changelings need to abandon their mortal lives at some point.
True immortality is said to have been regained by the elusive Síocháin, who have managed to balance their mundane and their faerie sides with each other.
Powers and Abilities
Changelings are divided between their faerie mien and their mortal seeming. The seeming reflects their outlook on the Dreaming and Banality and how they deal with their dual natures. The mien is a reflection of their faerie self, reflecting their kith. From their kith, each Changelings inherits a Birthright that grants them a special ability to call upon.
When threatened, Changelings can call upon the Wyrd to invoke a force called the Dragon’s Ire. A nimbus of fire, along with mystical winds that stir their clothing, surrounds the changelings and lets him appear more dangerous and majestic to their foe.
Within a Changeling reside two forces: Glamour is the expression of the Dreaming, allows a Changeling to interact with chimerical reality and cast Cantrips. Banality, on the other hand, allows them to withstand the dangers of the Dreaming.
Changelings are connected to a spiritual, three-folded dimension called the Dreaming, which draws its strength from human dreams. Deep within the Dreaming lies Arcadia, the fabled home of the fae. Western Changelings are one of the few supernaturals with a regular access to the Dreaming (most other fae access regions of the Umbra instead).
Weaknesses and Drawbacks
All Changelings are affected by the ancient bane of the fae, Cold Iron. Its presence makes changelings ill at ease, and cold iron weapons cause horrible, smoking wounds that rob changelings of Glamour and threaten their very existence. It is so distasteful to changelings that they can sense cold iron in their immediate presence. Likewise, just as they inherit a birthright, their kith also carries with them a frailty that they cannot lose.
Changeling’s dependence on twin forces within them means that they have to maintain a balance between the two: Too much Banality is a sure way to become Undone (i.e condemning their fae soul to a true death) and causes memory lapses of the Changeling’s faerie self. Too much Glamour, on the other hand, leads to the madness called Bedlam, in which a Changeling completely dissociates from mundane reality to live in chimerical fantasy lands. In recent times, Changelings also contend with a kind of glamour that is drawn from darker places, called Nightmare Glamour, which becomes more powerful the more a Changelings tends towards Bedlam.
Changelings are subject to a phenomenon named the Mists. Originally a pure expression of the shapeless world the Firstborn molded according to their designs, they became polluted with Banality and now act as separation between Changelings and the Dreaming. A changeling that is too often affected by the Mists forgets who he was, eventually becoming Undone. As a side effect, the Mists also keep the world of the Changelings hidden from mortals, who rationalize chimerical incidents away unless they were Enchanted before.
Changelings are deeply hierarchical creatures. Even in the modern era, they cling to a feudal model of society, with Nobles on top and Commoners below. Most Nobles are Sidhe, while the bulk of the other kith exist as commoners, with only a few exceptions. Few changelings survive Banality and the harshness of the world without a network of others of their kind to fall back to, resulting in few loners among their numbers.
Newly formed Changelings are assigned a mentor, who oversees their fosterage, in which the young changelings is tutored in the ways of their society. Fosterage is divided into two periods, the time of warding, in which the mentor maintains a close watch on everything their ward does, and the time of watching, in which the young Changeling is allowed to put what they have learned into practice. When this period ends, the Saining confirms the Changeling as an official member of their Court and their true Faerie name is revealed to them. These traditions reach back to the era of the Four Courts.
Beyond the immediate tutelage, Changelings are divided between Noble households, which often exist as formalized feudal structures, and Commoner motleys, which are more egalitarian and often nomadic. Both households and motleys are often centred around a freehold, a wellspring of glamour with a connection to the Dreaming and enforce the Escheat, a shared set of laws common to all kiths and courts. A smaller kind of social unites are oathcircles, which are groups of friends that have sworn oaths of mutual support, regardless of their political affiliation, and cliques, who consist of changelings who act as patrons to a specific kind of dreamers.
Individual Changelings are also aligned to one of the two Courts. Called the Seelie and Unseelie courts, these two institutions provide the Changelings with a code of conduct and shape their mien. Unlike the Four Courts of the Mythic Age, the Seelie and Unseelie rarely exist in a state of open warfare and have learned to coexist. A third power, the Shadow Court, is one the rise, disregarding the ancient balance between the two and trying to topple it in favor of their own designs.
In many ways, the society and politics of commoners mirrors that of the sidhe. Both groups have Courts and seemings. Sidhe have their Traditionalists, Reformers, and Modernists while commoners are Conservatives, Moderates, and Radicals. As the years have passed, though, many of the common kith have come to enjoy their own distinct social groups and identities apart from the sidhe. Many celebrate holidays geared toward commoner interests; after all, they lived here for six centuries without the presence of the Shining Host. When the sidhe returned, most were tolerant of these commoner "affectations," though a few nobles thought the commoner "upstarts" needed a good drubbing. Presently, most nobles continue to respect the interests of their subjects, at least in public. Behind closed doors, their reactions range from laughter at the boggan bake sales on May Day to real concern about the harsh rhetoric of some radicals. What's been amusement or feigned disinterest in the past may bubble into something more violent as nobles cope with the disappearance of High King David and the muddle left behind.
Commoner politics are fairly straightforward and much less murky than human ones. They have three key political viewpoints, and practically all commoners adopt one of these. As with many mortals and sidhe, they also tend to move in a circle through these viewpoints during their lives. Very young commoners see fae society in clear shades of black and white; they haven't lived long enough to understand the shades of gray and generally prefer to rely on long-standing tradition. For example, Mimieux, an eshu childling I once knew, may not understand why the other eshu find her friend Sir Acheron of House Eiluned a real bother; all she knows is that they get uncomfortable when he comes around. So the childling follows the lead of her elders and gradually pulls away from the sidhe's possibly genuine affections. As the childling becomes a wilder, she takes more risks. Perhaps she thinks she can even use Sir Acheron and thus renews the acquaintance; maybe she even tries to lecture him on how he should be more sensitive to the needs of the commoners. As Mimieux becomes a grump, she probably will either give up trying to change the knight and accept him as he is, or withdraw back into the company of her own kith and kind. The eshu has lived as a conservative, cautious childhood, a risk-taking radical youth, and a moderate or conservative grump. Of course, that's the broad angle. Some commoners stay with one view all their lives, entering grumpdom as the stalwart conservative or firebrand rebel they've been since their Chrysalis.
As an abstract concept, most changelings, even the Unseelie, place a high value on justice. They are even more passionate in their insistence that justice be done than are most humans. Their concept of what justice is, however, is somewhat different. Much of this goes back to the old tradition of oathbonding. A promise is not something given lightly among the Kithain. Many changelings feel that if you don't have your honor, you have nothing of value. In fact, when a changeling's solemn word is given, the Kithain justice system rarely needs to get involved at all. Oaths are often backed by the power of Glamour. Even when they aren't, it is unlikely that a changeling will go back on her word. Kithain memory for oathbreakers is long and entails severe social penalties. It is rumored that the ancient High King Falchion broke a solemn vow and was utterly destroyed as a result.
Unfortunately, changelings sometimes take their insistence on justice to extremes. Sometimes "justice" becomes a euphemism for "vengeance." Not a single slight is forgiven or forgotten, and some of the reprisals Kithain take for wrongs (real or imagined) are truly barbaric. Other changelings can usually protect themselves, to a certain degree, from an aggrieved fellow faerie. The same cannot be said of most humans. Numerous tales abound concerning humans who have cheated or insulted a changeling in some manner. The reprisals for their misdeeds are often far out of proportion to the seriousness of the infraction. Kithain morality tales often end with dishonest humans being eternally covered with stinging insects or being boiled alive for the merest of crimes. These stories are inevitably told from the changeling's viewpoint. Little sympathy is spared for the human. Many Seelie changelings can be as thin-skinned about slights as their Unseelie cousins, sometimes even more so. Seelie Kithain can be very self-righteous if they imagine they have been wronged. Their "righteous anger" is every bit as petty and mean- spirited.
Surprisingly, most Nobles are somewhat slower to anger than most Commoners. Perhaps this is due to centuries of good breeding or noblesse oblige; maybe it's just their insufferable cool. Usually a noble doesn't need to resort to force or draconian legal methods to maintain order; a withering glare is often enough. However, in certain cases the nobility is called upon to administer justice. The nobility has reestablished its entire system of jurisprudence on Earth, and is not afraid to use it. This system is complex and arcane. Many commoners claim bitterly that it favors the nobility. The court system sanctioned by the nobility is divided into two tiers: Commoner Courts and Uasal (High) Courts. Changelings who choose to live outside the noble-administered system have their own system of justice, but that is a subject for another book. Of course, the nobility doesn't recognize these motley courts.
Commoner Courts handle many of the day-to-day functions of Kithain society. They deal with civil complaints and other "trivial" or local matters that the nobles do not wish to involve themselves in. Most of these courts operate out of commoner freeholds and are enforced by the local constabulary. By tradition a noble may not be tried by a Commoner's Court, though this has occurred on several occasions.
Uasal Courts are the instruments of the nobility and involve themselves in the most serious crimes and matters of state. They consist of seven nobles who stand in judgment of the accused. Their judgments are usually just, but they are also final. They were once far more autocratic, but this has changed, thanks to King David. The accused is granted counsel and has his choice between a summary judgment or trial by Fior.
For more information, see Escheat.
Relation to other supernaturals
The Kithain have no unified school of thought on vampires. Most assume they were once fae, due to their peculiar immortality, but they’ve become Banality’s tools. Vampire households vary in vitality, but it’s a twisted form of Dreaming they manipulate. The nobility would have changelings spurn vampires, but the temptation of a return to immortality seizes the heart of many a sidhe. In exchange for dark services, some Kithain and vampires agree on dangerous oaths promising immortality. Such pacts rarely end well.
The shapeshifters were exiled from the realms of the fae for disobeying, and continued their fight against the Dark alone. Despite the ancient tale, the feelings changelings have for shapeshifters are warmer than for most Prodigals. Once, they shared glens and places of power. Some dream of those times returning. Kithain would invite their shapechanging kin to walk the Silver Roads, in turn finding themselves introduced to awesome totems and spirits. The changelings put the fraying of friendships down to the temper of their compatriots, while werewolves blame the cowardly fae, and their retreat during the Sundering. Arguments, apportioning blame, and fighting for scraps typify the shapeshifter/changeling relationship as much as their legendary revels, harmony, and mutual respect. Such tumultuous friendships are the celebrated content of fables.
The fae relationship with magi is turbulent. The fae understand these “Awakened Ones” are skilled Dreamers, with talents much like changeling Arts. They epitomize the elements of creation — change (fire, or Marauders), stasis (stone, or Technocrats), decay (water, or Nephandi), and balance (air, or the Traditions, Crafts, and solitaires). This makes magi compelling, dangerous companions. The fae first encountered magi as mortals who could form new Dreams. Their willworking enables them to alter reality based on perceptions, expectations, hopes, and fears. No other Prodigal shares such ties to the Dreaming. Magi proudly call themselves “Awakened,” but the Kithain see things a little differently: mages exist in a somnambulant state, Awake to life’s possibilities but Dreaming vividly enough to create new realities. The best are wellsprings of Glamour; the worst, tar pits of Banality. The magi fascinate the fae, and the attraction seems to be mutual. Many Kithain work with mages — especially those calling themselves Hermetics, Ecstatics, and Dreamspeakers — standing together against encroaching Banality and other supernatural foes. Many mages drain Glamour to add to their own personal stores. Some Kithain feel it’s important to support their mage allies, but these Prodigals are greedy, and only stop sapping dreams once dregs are left.
Wraiths are chimera with unmatched focus. Their reality, known as the Shadowlands, traps most of the dead. The realm is created by their dreams of life and what could have been. That doesn’t mean they’re incapable of interfering with the realms of the living. Fae normally encounter wraiths accidentally, by interacting with a wraith’s Fetters or Passions. Fetters are physical things of sufficient importance to the wraith. The knife that killed him, a prized car the wraith spent years repairing in his mortal days — anything could be a Fetter. Passions are the driving emotions that make a wraith more than a static, haunting ghost. Regret for not seeing his daughter graduate, hatred for the company that fired him — these powerful feelings compel a wraith to action. If a changeling interferes with something important to the wraith, she can expect to receive a visit from a potentially furious spirit, or perhaps a grateful one, if the changeling saved a Fetter or source of Passion from destruction. Reasoning with a wraith when one is encountered is possible, just like any Prodigal, but the sluagh tell a tale of a wraith’s chimerical makeup. Just as fae society splits between Seelie and Unseelie, wraiths are possessed of rational and insidious portions vying for control. The Shadow is the dark half of a wraith, and it can be difficult to tell when the Shadow’s taken over. The Shadow despises the vitality present in changelings, and will spitefully orchestrate the downfall of Kithain to whom it takes exception. Shadow-controlled wraiths will drain the Glamour clean from a changeling.
These enchanted swore oaths to great and noble Arcadians, and through pacts sealed in body and spirit became eternally committed to the causes of their fae gods. Their bodies would never fester, and their spirits would never move on, for as long as they served their masters and maintained balance between the realms of the mundane and the sublime. Few Undying remain today, the majority having been rewarded for their millennia of service with places in Arcadia. Those who remain are steadfast in their attempts to maintain the balance they call Ma’at. Sidhe aware of Mummies dismiss their commonly attributed Egyptian origins. The Undying had to adopt mortal beliefs to maintain balance with their chimerical powers. The noble fae hold much reverence for such stalwart servants, and with mixed success a number attempt to seek them out to support the Seelie Court. Mummies find changeling theories about them amusing, to say the least, but that’s not to say they disabuse the notions. They find the vivaciousness of the fae to be warming and revitalizing in a world constantly at risk of tipping the scales the wrong way.
House Balor states the Demons were ancient fae in a time when Winter was upon the world, but their time passed, and they were exiled to a labyrinth in the Deep Dreaming. Their escape would only be permitted when the need became desperate. These days, demons appear with increasing — and alarming — frequency. Sidhe of House Balor explain that Winter approaches again, and thus comes the time of the demon, but the House is unsettled. They know their previous relationships with the demons were those of master and slave. The demons form cults, drain Glamour from their worshippers, and attempt to crack open the walls of their Labyrinth prison, showing no intent to be enslaved again. More than one meeting between Unseelie and demon has ended horribly for the changeling. From the point of view of the demons, the fae are as primeval as they are, but they recognize no kinship or sidhe authority. Demons enjoy tricking changelings into making oaths to secure their assistance, only for the repayment to be the Kithain joining and becoming a valued member of the demon’s cult. Demons grow stronger through veneration, and in the case of changelings, that veneration takes the form of Glamour and Treasures they’re compelled to sacrifice at the feet of their infernal masters.