Friday, October 29, 2010


One cannot accurately call the people of the World superstitious.  They are mistaken about a great many things, but one cannot truly be superstitious in a world where ghosts arise to torment their murders, strange creatures -- half-beast and half-man -- make their home in the darkest woods, and magicians weave spells to prolong their sinful existence.  Peasants have good reason to leave sprigs of wolfsbane above their door and to cross themselves when passing over certain bridges.  This is not to say that the folk of the World know exactly how, why, or if these practices are effective, but they provide a modicum of hope in a land filled with horrible creatures and diabolic cults.

Not all things can be stopped by such ritual.  Woe be unto the woman who gives birth on a pagan festival day, for they are doomed to raise a Changeling.  Pagans say that the Old Gods punish the spirit of the child for having the audacity to distract from the rites which are owed to the gods.  Followers of Law say that the sinful acts of the pagans on such feast days allow demons or fairies to enter the Material Plane and steal the child in order that they might replace it with the Changeling.  Countless other explanations exist.  Perhaps it has nothing to do with the feast days.  Many a bard's tale tells of ghostly lovers or strange dreams causing the creation of such beings.  Hunters sometimes return from the woods "changed" as well.

Changelings are strange beings.  They seem to grow more quickly than normal children, but they retain their youthful appearance well into their ninetieth year.  Those who changed when they were adults are often experts at skills they showed no affinity for in their previous lives.  All a masters of magic, and the arcane arts seem to come naturally to them.  They are equally skilled with swords, bows, and other weapons of war.  According to the stories women tell to each other while they prepare their husbands' freshly killed game, Changelings often use these powers to bewitch their parents or lovers.  The endings vary, but all are too horrible to relate to those of us who live comfortable lives outside the toil of Premodern life.

Like the other creatures of the World, Changelings exist outside of the tales of hunters and old women.  All bear some strange feature or mark of their nature. The nature of their mark varies wildly.  Some bear strangely curved horns, others unnaturally colored eyes, and still others seem perpetually covered in soot and grime.  These sorrowful beings wonder the World, for no sane person would ever let such a creature into their home.  However, despite their appearance, Changelings have very human minds.  They feel sorrow and pride and mirth as much as any other human.  Perhaps woe is not visited upon the mother, but upon the Changeling itself.

Despite the seemingly innumerable ways Changelings can occur, they are extremely rare.  Most will go there entire lives without seeing one, or indeed without hearing a story about one that had any basis in truth.  Perhaps this is the reason they are shunned.


I strongly considered removing the Elf entirely from the Nightwick Campaign world -- well, as a player option anyway.  Some suggestions here led me to consider this option.  I must say that I'm rather happy that I found a way to contextualize Elves.  I'm not always a big fan of their psuedo-Tolkien flavor, but I rather like the idea of a Fighter/Magic-User hybrid.  This model should allow me to keep that as a player option while still making Elves mysterious and frightening.

I'm not entirely sold on this option yet.  I'm worried it might be a bit too "emo," but such is life.


  1. I have also been thinking about this treatment of Elves (and Dwarves) as human offspring gone wrong. I was inspired in part by the ruminations over at Huge Ruined Pile about Orcs as men who have been tranformed into monsters by their own acts of cannibalism, murder, etc.

    My thoughts: long-lived, androgynous, non-reproductive Elves and Dwarves replenish their small numbers from the ranks of the fast-breeding humans.

    In the case of the Elves, a human woman who lives in close proximity to Elf-haunted woods may be "fertilized", with or without the intervention of a human male, by the Elves (or by the woods themselves). The medium for this might be fairy wine, pomegranate seeds, airborne pollen, demon lovers who visit her in dreams... lots of fitting possibilities. The child is born "different", and eventually wanders off into the woods, never to be seen again. Half-elves (aka "elf" PCs) are those who were somehow restrained from their natural proclivities, usually by harsh measures (hot brands, cold iron, church bells etc).

    Dwarves, on the other hand, don't participate at all in the actual creation of their children -- they buy them. Often on the cheap, from desperate women (see e.g. Rumplestiltskin). These children work as slaves and apprentices in the Dwarven mines until they eventually take on the wizened, hunched, soot-smeared appearance of their fellows and forget their human origins.

    Goblins, of course, steal children outright. Everyone knows that.

  2. I really like this take. Nice piece of writing. I think there are a couple of points it might be tweaked. Saying they are "masters" of magic might be overstating a bit. The bit about "no sane person" will let them into their homes could be a bit of an issue in play. Maybe something about it being bad luck to have one sleep under your roof, instead? That way a Changeling could have the social stigma fun of sleeping in the stables and being shunned, without being unable to interact with NPCs indoors.

    Quick proofreading note- in para 2 where you use "rights", I think you want "rites".

    I did something a bit similar in my 4E game, making the Dragonborn & Tieflings less inhuman. The Dragonborn are more like snakemen, still scaly, but less lizardlike in their features. The Tieflings have minor and variable signs of daemonic heritage, like your Changelings, and like Tieflings originally had in 2E, instead of the over the top horns and skin colors of 4E.

  3. @ shimrod

    You are right on both counts. Making Changelings be that alienated would hurt their viability as a character option.

    I have to balance this with my terminal disdain for non-human player characters, but they are far too large a part of D&D for me to let go of them.