We Are All Lost
Beware making deals with the fae.
Much of human understanding with the fae — including changelings, Huntsmen, the True Fae, and everything in between — comes down to that platitude. And yet, note the phrasing. “Beware making deals” is cautionary, not proscriptive. It isn’t that people can’tbargain with the creatures from the Hedge, it’s just dangerous and usually unwise.
Pledges, though, are an integral part of life for changelings, for a simple reason: They are attuned to the Wyrd, and the Wyrd takes statement of intent very seriously. How many times a day does a person say “I promise” or “I swear” or “so help me,” but with no real belief behind those words? The Wyrd refuses to accept casual use of such phrases, and the fae are empowered to make such statements binding.
Changelings also make promises to one another, swearing oaths of loyalty, love, enmity, or simply friendship. Such oaths are made using the same power that gives the Wyrd the ability to seal statements of intent, but with very different purpose. An oath between changelings is taken with free will and full consent. To do otherwise is grave insult.
Finally, the fae can make promises of service, favors, or magic to others. The benefit to doing so is concealment — a changeling performing services to others ingratiates herself to the Wyrd, thus hiding effectively from Huntsmen (this is true in reverse, though; a Huntsman who stoops to performing a service to a third party might be demeaning himself, but he’s also a much more effective hunter because he’s harder to spot). Breaking the terms of the service, likewise, doesn’t tend to have world-shattering consequences, but it does leave the oathbreaker exposed.
The simplest form of a pledge, a sealing requires that a fae being see or hear someone make a statement of intent. The intent doesn’t have to be sincere, and the fae have been taking advantage of promises made in haste or exaggeration since human beings first started using language. A man who says to his son, “I swear, next time you come home late, I’m kicking you out” probably doesn’t mean it — but to the Wyrd, that doesn’t matter. A fae being can seal that promise, and the unfortunate father will be forced to either make good on his word or suffer the consequences.
Any fae creature can seal a promise. Changelings generally do it to give themselves leverage with human antagonists or cement a bargaining position. Huntsmen do it for similar reasons, though their end goal might be to steal the hapless subject away for the Gentry.
Creatures of the Wyrd (including changelings) are, for the most part, immune to the effects of sealing. That is, other fae creatures can attempt to seal their words, but since the fae know what to look for and can detect the slight fluctuations in the Wyrd needed to seal a statement, they can undo the sealing as quickly as it’s done. A changeling can allow her statement to be sealed; this is usually done in order to demonstrate that a changeling has every intention of keeping her word on a minor matter. A serious declaration of intent or honesty merits an oath (see below), but a promise of something comparatively mundane (“I promise, I won’t leave until we dance”) or a promise made if time is a factor (“Yes, truce, I’m not going to hurt you, now get in here”) can simply be sealed.
Most Courts don’t place any stigma on attempting to seal a statement, even if the other party undoes it immediately. To changelings, attempt to seal a statement isn’t so much an attempt to bind the other party with magic as a tacit statement that the sealing party is paying attention and expects the other changeling to keep her word. Likewise, undoing the seal isn’t necessarily a blatant declaration that the character will break her word, just that she doesn’t wish to be held to it magically.
Sealing has very little benefit to the person making the statement. For the most part, the subject is simply locked into his words, forced to follow through on what he has promised or suffer the consequences. If the character follows through on what he has promised, without complaint or attempt to wriggle out, he comes through the experience wiser and fulfilled. Sealing provides no material or magical benefit, however.
For the character doing the sealing, the benefit is mainly in being able to hold something over the subject’s head. The sealer can release the effect at any time, unbinding the promise, freeing the subject from his words.
A sealing is simple, quick magic, and breaking it has an immediate, annoying effect. Sometimes the oathbreaker feels tired or develops a sudden headache. Sometimes he experiences a brief run of bad luck. Extreme effects might include nosebleeds or subtle supernatural effects; the character’s reflection is reversed for an hour, for instance, or cream curdles in his presence.
The sealer can, however, increase the severity of the consequences by investing a bit more magic into the process. By doing so, the subject might be forced to suffer minor injuries or endure the sealer’s magic with no hope of resistance.
To seal a statement, the changeling needs to hear a subject make a statement of intent. This includes any phrase that expresses a pledge, promise, or plan to undertake a course of action. The statement doesn’t have to be something that the subject could actually complete, however.
The changeling cannot seal a statement unless she is present when the subject makes it. If the changeling were to see a person type or write a statement, she could seal it. She cannot, however, scroll through a social media feed and seal every statement of intent she sees, nor can she seal a statement if she only sees or hears a recording.
To seal a statement, the player simply spends a point of Glamour. If the subject is another changeling, she can undo the sealing by countering with a point of Glamour of her own. Both parties are aware of what happened. If a player’s changeling allows her words to be sealed, she takes a Beat.
The player can decide upon a penalty for breaking the seal when the seal is made, or when it is broken. As stated under Consequences, the penalty is fairly minor. The player can choose from:
- Loss of one point of Willpower
- One point of bashing damage
- A -1 penalty to all rolls for one scene
- A -2 penalty on a specific Skill for one scene
- A -3 penalty for one specific roll
- A minor supernatural effect (character’s reflection faces the wrong way, character causes milk to spoil, cats scratch or bite the character, etc.) for one scene
When creating a seal, the changeling can also strengthen it. Doing so requires that the player spend a point of Willpower as well as a point of Glamour. If the character does this, the player can levy a more stringent penalty for breaking the seal, including:
- Loss of ability to regain Willpower for one day
- Suffering one point of lethal damage
- Suffering three points of bashing damage
- Loss of ability to spend Willpower for one scene
- A -2 penalty on all rolls for one scene
- A -3 to all rolls with a specific Skill for one scene
- A -5 to one specific roll
- Use of one of the changelings Contracts on the target, activated when the seal is broken (player rolls for the Contract and notes the successes; effect is applied when/if the subject breaks the seal)
A seal is broken when the subject either attempts to fulfill the promise and fails or becomes incapable of doing so. For example, someone saying “I’m going to kick his ass” would fail to fulfill this promise if he picks a fight with the other party and loses, or if the other party were to die before the fight happens. If the subject had said, “I’m going to kick his ass if he doesn’t leave my sister alone,” the subject is under no compunction to start the fight if the other party does, in fact, stay away from the sister. If, however, the other party dates the sister and the subject makes no attempt to fight the suitor, the seal is broken and the consequences apply.
Sealing a Huntsman: A changeling can attempt to seal the statement of a Huntsman, but doing so requires the player to spend a point of Glamour and roll Presence + Wyrd vs. the Huntsman’s Resolve + Wyrd.
Dramatic Failure: The Huntsman sees and notes the changeling, and can follow her. She gains the Marked Condition.
Failure: The changeling fails to seal the Huntsman’s words.
Success: The changeling seals the Huntsman’s statement. Huntsmen, being closer to the Wyrd than changelings or humans, are bound more strongly by their words. The changeling can levy a heavier consequence, just as if she had strengthened the seal (see above). The changeling takes the Marked Condition.
Exceptional Success: As above, and the changeling does not take the Marked Condition.
Sealing in Play
Changeling players can use sealing to bind characters to their word, but without the effort required to make a bargain or an oath. Of course, the benefits are commensurately small, but the subject of a sealing doesn’t necessarily know that the consequences are minor. If a character knows that the changeling is a supernatural being, capable of impressive magical feats, and understands that she is bound into a promise “or else,” the changeling wields some considerable psychological power over the subject. The Storyteller should consider this kind of power to add bonus dice to Social Maneuvering attempts (probably through Hard Leverage, see p. XX).
Changelings can seal each other’s words, and can gain Beats for allowing their words to be sealed. A changeling can’t gain more than one Beat per chapter this way, however, and if the players are abusing the privilege (“OK, let’s all go around the circle and promise to buy each other a burger so we can all get a Beat”), the Storyteller should probably disallow this use of sealing. Better yet, the Storyteller might rule that the constant minor fluctuations in the Wyrd attract Huntsmen, or that breaking such a frivolous seal carries a much harsher penalty due to the insult to the Wyrd.
An oath between two changelings is at once a commonplace and very special occurrence. Oaths are a kind of currency to the Lost, because all of them understand that any temporal reward — money, tokens, property — could become meaningless at any moment. When everything falls apart, all a changeling has is her word, and to give that away is not to be undertaken lightly. If two (or more) changelings are willing to exchange oaths, they know — and the Wyrd knows — that they are serious about their feelings.
Oaths can only be sworn by, and to, changelings. Human beings and Huntsmen can make bargains with the Lost, but these are defined by what the bargaining parties will do, not what they feel. Oaths are sworn with heart, soul, and blood. Following an oath can be observed by the action the swearer takes. The same is true for violating an oath.
Changelings have a wide variety of formal oaths, used for a number of different situations. Common oaths include joining a Court (the changeling swears an oath before another member of that Court, and receives that Court’s Mantle); joining a motley (motley oaths are infinitely varied, but usually include a pledge to do no harm to the other members); forming or joining a freehold (a larger-scale version of a motley oath); and declaring a duel (both changelings agree on the terms, weapons, and win conditions).
Swearing an oath binds changelings together. That binding is permanent — though a changeling can “break” an oath, doing so merely changes the parameters of the oath, rather than erasing it. A changeling can leave a motley, but he can’t take back the time he spent with the other changelings or the oath he made. A changeling might leave his lover, but he can’t obviate the relationship. By making an oath, the character choose to define himself, at least in part, by that oath.
Swearing an oath has many potential benefits, but which ones the changeling enjoys depends on the nature of the oath and the language employed. Oaths that bind multiple changelings together, such as the oath a changeling swears when joining a motley, Court, or freehold, usually grants magical effects or bolster a changeling’s relationship with the Wyrd in some way. Oaths that bind two changelings together harmoniously, such as a marriage vow or a pact of friendship, allow the sworn to bolster or support one another, and, often, to find each other wherever the other might roam. Oaths that bind changelings together in enmity, though, such as duel oaths, change both characters’ destinies in sinister and fatalistic ways. The Wyrd, it seems, repays discord with discord, and harmony with harmony.
Violating an oath is a dangerous proposition, in large part because a changeling cannot escape from an oath. An oath, once, sworn, defines her relationship with the other party forever. As such, if a changeling swears a motley oath, then violates that oath and betrays his motley, his relationship with them is “former motley member and traitor.” He can never not have a relationship with them; their fates are entwined. The specific consequences of violating an oath are usually laid out in the language of the oath itself, but some overly optimistic changelings don’t bother specifying what happens to an oathbreaker. These unfortunate changelings suffer terribly; without the words of an oath to direct its power, the Wyrd has free rein to punish the offender.
Specific consequences for violating an oath include disruption of magic (if the changeling isn’t going to honor his contracts, why should the Wyrd?), sickness, a temporary dip in Clarity, or increased attention from Huntsmen. The larger problem, though, is that the changeling’s status as an oathbreaker follows him. It is possible for an oathbreaker to be forgiven, but this requires him to make recompense to all offended parties…including the Wyrd itself.
New Condition: Oathbreaker (Persistent)
The changeling has violated an oath, and receives this Condition in addition to any other effects breaking the oath carries. Other changelings instinctively distrust the character. He suffers a -1 on all Social actions with other changelings, and cannot use Glamour to seal their statements. As a known liar, however, he is also immune to having his own statements sealed.
Beat: Once per session, the player can choose to automaticallydramatically fail a Contract roll, or a Social action with another changeling, and take a Beat. The choice must be made before rolling.
Resolution: The changeling undertakes a sincere attempt to make restitution for his betrayal. This includes finding all other changelings involved in the oath and undertaking whatever task they assign. It also includes receiving forgiveness from the Wyrd itself; this is sure to be the focus of a story, and the particulars are up to the Storyteller.
Any number of changelings can swear an oath. Some oaths are closed (meaning that once sworn, no new participants can be added), while others are open (meaning that new changelings can swear the same oath and receive the same benefits).
All participants must speak the oath aloud (or write it out, if for whatever reason speech is not an option), and seal it with a point of Glamour. Oaths also involve a physical gesture; two changelings swearing an oath of camaraderie might cut their hands and mingle the blood, while changelings swearing eternal love usually kiss. A changeling joining a Court might clasp hands with a ranking member of that Court, while a changeling joining a motley could embrace each of the other members in turn.
Once the oath is sworn, the benefits become available. The specific benefits to an oath vary, but can be broken down into three rough categories: societal, personal, and hostile.
Societal oaths include oaths sworn when a changeling joins a motley, Court, or freehold. The changeling gains the benefits of being part of that group. For a Court, this means that character gains a dot of the Mantle Merit and is bound by whatever restrictions that Court usually levies. For a freehold, the changeling becomes a recognized part of the local supernatural landscape; the player receives a +1 to all rolls to navigate the Hedge. For a motley, the changeling enters into a pact with his fellows. The nature of the pact varies — some motleys are made of bosom companions, some merely agree to come together when an outside force threatens them all — but the members can choose from a number of game effects (or create a new one with the Storyteller’s approval):
Once per chapter, they can treat a Contract roll as a teamwork action. All participants must possess the Contract for this to work.
Members of the motley can meditate for one turn, and distribute their collective Glamour evenly among the members (any leftover Glamour is consumed as a tithe to the Wyrd).
Once per chapter, when representing the motley, a member can use the highest relevant Social Skill possessed by any member and apply the effects of any Merit or kith blessing present in the group. The character doesn’t need the motley’s permission when representing the motley…but any consequences for that character’s action come down upon the motley as a whole.
Personal oaths are sworn between two changelings in support of one another; lovers, blood brothers, friends, or protectors. Changelings that swear these oaths while maintaining membership in a motley had best beware — the Wyrd doesn’t care if the changeling must break one oath in service to another (and in fact, such situations seem to come up regularly for the Lost).
Changelings bound by a personal oath gain a Beat whenever they suffer a setback or inconvenience in the course of living up to the oath (maximum of once per chapter). However, a changeling expressing the emotion that inspired the oath in some obvious and effortful manner can regain all spent Willpower, just as if he had fulfilled his Virtue. In addition, the oath-mates can choose one of the following effects (or create a new one with Storyteller approval):
Once per chapter, one member can suffer an injury on behalf of the other. The changeling doing so suffers all damage that his partner would have, and cannot reduce this damage through armor, magic, or any other means.
One member can suffer a Condition or Tilt meant for the other. This has to be decided when the Condition or Tilt is levied (if an attack blinds a character, that character’s oath-mate can’t take the Blind Condition the next day), but the two changelings don’t have to be in the same place for this effect to happen.
Once per chapter, the changelings can choose to swap their Glamour or Willpower pools. This doesn’t affect their Willpower dots, merely the points.
Changelings bound by a personal oath can always find each other. If one is in the depths of the Hedge, hiding in a new city, or even, some say, among the dead in the Underworld, the other party can seek him out. Having the oath doesn’t change the time required or the trials endured to seek out the other member, but the oath allows unerring tracking.
Hostile oaths indicate undying enmity between two changelings — literally, they can never not be enemies once the oath is sworn. Hostile oaths usually don’t last very long, as the changelings swearing them often fight to the death shortly after doing so. Hostile oaths don’t carry much in the way of mechanical benefit, except that a changeling involved in one gains a Beat when his enemy wounds or inconveniences him (once per chapter). A changeling gains a point of Willpower during any scene in which he wounds or inconveniences his enemy.
Human tales of the fae are replete with accounts of faeries performing tasks for people — spinning straw into gold, crafting shoes or other goods, cleaning houses, cooking fantastic meals, or otherwise using their supernatural acumen on behalf of humanity. The humans in these tales sometimes have to repay the faeries’ kindness, and sometimes are taken aback by the price.
In truth, though, changelings make bargains with people because doing so disguises them. If a changeling has an agreed-upon function within human society, Huntsmen have a much more difficult time finding her. Of course, she has to keep up her end of thebargain — and in order to reap the benefit of the bargain, that bargain must be ongoing.
Changelings make bargains with human beings for another reason, though, quite apart from the increased ability to hide from the Huntsmen. Bargains make changelings feel like they belong. Ripped away from their families, forced into servitude and escaping through a nightmare of thorns, changelings are, as their sobriquet implies, Lost. A bargain with people requires contact with people, and forces the changeling to rediscover and interact with a world she thought forever taken from her.
In order to make a bargain with a person, the changeling has to reveal her true nature. She doesn’t have to be honest with the mortal about the particulars of her situation, but she has to appear to the person without her Mask and propose the terms of the agreement. She can promise anything she wants to the person, but in order to gain the benefits of the bargain, she has to be capable of making good on her promise. Changelings should therefore take care to bargain for services they have the Skills or Contracts to provide, though it’s not unknown for a changeling to bargain with one person to provide a service that another person she has bargained with is actually going to provide (changelings should beware, though — it just takes one misstep for the whole web to break).
By making a bargain with a human being, the changeling gains a kind of camouflage with respect to the Huntsmen. This protection extends beyond the Mask — all changelings have some degree of concealment, but the magic that makes human beings see them without their fae features only extends so far. A bargain gives the changeling a place among mortals, and tricks the Wyrd into assuming that the changeling should be there. Huntsmen, therefore, see the changeling not necessarily as human, but as a natural part of the landscape, a faerie feature that is and has always been. A bargain isn’t foolproof, of course — Huntsmen and persistent and powerful, and have many ways to ferret out the Lost.
Breaking a bargain with a person doesn’t carry a heavy consequence for the changeling in question, at least in comparison to breaking an oath. The changeling simply loses the benefits of the bargain, meaning that she is once again exposed to the Huntsmen. This is, of course, a potentially fraught situation, depending on who’s looking for the character at the time.
Depending on the scope of the bargain in question, the changeling might also gain the Notoriety Condition.
The human participant in the bargain needs to live up to his end, as well, or suffer the wrath of the Wyrd. The most common punishment for a human being failing to honor his part in a bargain is being snatched away by a Huntsman. This isn’t because of specific wording in the bargain (most changelings wouldn’t wish being taken by the Gentry on their worst enemies, much less some hapless person who just forgot to set a pie on his windowsill), but because of the nature of the bargain. Just as a kept bargain shields a changeling from the Huntsmen, a broken one shines a harsh light on whoever would are cheat the Wyrd.
Changelings cannot swear bargains with other changelings, and prefer to do so with human beings. Magical beings unaffiliated with the Wyrd can agree to bargains, but doing so sometimes has strange side effects. No matter the nature of the other party, the changeling must appear to him without her Mask, and propose the bargain. Most changelings observe human beings for days or weeks, discerning simple tasks that they can perform in order to strike a bargain. The bargain is usually an ongoing task — a changeling might offer to clean the human’s house once a week, or sew her a dress once a month, or grant her pleasing dreams three nights a week.
Once per story, when the changeling devotes time and energy (at least once scene) to fulfilling a bargain, the player takes a Beat. The main benefit for a changeling, though, is that Huntsmen have a more difficult time tracking them down — to the Huntsmen’s sense, the changeling appears human. In game terms, for every active bargain that the changeling enjoys, all hunting or investigation rolls to find her suffer a cumulative -1 penalty. This penalty has no upper limit (though of course, the changeling needs to be careful not to overextend herself).
The subject agrees to provide something in return, but it doesn’t have to be commensurate with the service the changeling is providing (since the point of the bargain, from the changeling’s perspective, isn’t what the human can provide anyway). Some changelings simply ask for money or valuables, while others ask for goods they can sell or trade. Clever changelings word their bargains so that the subject has to provide a seemingly innocuous service sometime in the future, and build up a bank of favors. The game mechanics of such favors, if any, are up to the Storyteller, but an appropriate use would mimic the effect of a one- to three-dot Merit, once per story.