As a gamer who is a fan of stories and storytelling, I tend to be drawn towards games that allow and encourage the telling of stories. This is why I became a fan of roleplaying games; they are the single best framework for telling stories as a game. Of all the RPGs I’ve tried (and I have tried many), my favourite is, without question, Changeling: the Dreaming. It emphasises creativity, and is set in a world which includes a vast realm made entirely of dreams. This allows you to play in any setting you can imagine. The important thing right now is that the characters in this story are faeries inhabiting human bodies. Normally, players assume that the human body in which a fae spirit is housed matches the demographics of the fae spirit itself. But as I find myself thinking more about Changeling as a result of the recent 20th Anniversary Kickstarter, I realise that nowhere in the rules does it say that this is necessarily the case. In fact, there are places where it hints that it isn’t always the case; specifically, it mentions that the Eshu, an African kith, are not always born into host bodies of African descent. Thus, I begin to wonder if there are other ways in which this disconnect can be expanded. And my first thought is: what if the human body is of a different gender than the fae spirit born into it? And thus I find myself contemplating the possibility of Transgender Changeling.
A brief overview
In order to understand what I mean by Transgender Changeling, I will give you a bit more information on the game. I won’t go into too much detail; you can learn more if you need to from the Wikipedia article. If you’re really interested, you can read my three part overview of Changeling history on my other blog. But for purposes of this article, here’s what you need to know: the fae were born from the dreams of humanity, and relied upon those dreams to survive. But as humans slowly turned away from dreams towards reason and science, they engendered a new force: Banality. Banality is the antithesis of Glamour (the energy of dreams, hope, love, and creativity), and tends to eradicate faerie spirits. To protect themselves, the fae clothed themselves in human bodies. A changeling would be born as a dormant fae soul in a human body, until (usually around puberty) something happened to awaken the fae soul. After that, they lived a double life, existing in both the mundane mortal world and the rich fantastical faerie world simultaneously. Sometimes, the fae soul would be made dormant again (usually through battle with faerie weapons, but sometimes via the accumulation of Banality); if this happened, the soul might be awakened again, but in any case, once the human body died, the faerie spirit would be reborn into a new body to begin the cycle again. This process is known as ‘The Changeling Way.’
Thus, a human looking at a troll changeling would just see another human. But another changeling looking at the same troll would see both the human body and the troll spirit overlaid on top of it; it’s a bit like having double vision, seeing two entities occupying the same space. By concentrating, a changeling can focus on one aspect or the other, but he is always aware of both.
There’s obviously a lot more to the game, but that’s the important part for now.
So what does that mean in terms of Transgender Changeling?
Well, as mentioned above, there’s no reason that a fae spirit has to be born into a human body that is a perfect match for it. This is an idea I played with many years ago when I created a sluagh character in the body of an African American. Sluagh are gaunt, pale figures, originally of Russian descent, but later integrated into the European tradition. They are universally pasty white in complexion. But I chose to buck tradition by having one born into the body of a dark-skinned person.
There are other ways to play with this idea as well. In general, players have the hair colour, complexion, and general appearance of both aspects match. A minor detail, perhaps, but having a redhead manifest in the body of a brunette is an interesting discrepancy. But what greater mismatch can there be than to have a male spirit born into a female body, or vice versa? Or perhaps we can make it even more interesting by making one or the other intrasex? Maybe, by adapting the Changeling Way like this, we can add a little more diversity and enjoyability into our games.
I wrote recently about the story potential of playing a character who is the subject of discrimination by society at large. Surely, such story ideas could be of great value in a setting like Transgender Changeling. It might be a mere detail in the history of one or more of the characters, or it could be the subject of the entire story! What about a game that explores the nature of transgendered individuals as a whole? Might it be interesting to discover that all transgendered individuals are changelings that just happen to have spirits born into the body of the opposite sex?
Closing Thoughts on Transgender Changeling
I have stated before that games can have a massive social impact. Not only as a result of exposure to new ideas and new ways of living or thinking, but as an exploration. Storytelling can have a beneficial effect on this as well; throughout history, stories have served to help a society process shifts in paradigms. Whether it be via traditional stories, like the way that ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ helped people to explore the way that Christianity was supplanting the traditional pagan religions in the British Isles at that time, or through more modern methods, like the television series All in the Family, which used comedy storytelling as a way to process the major social issues of the time, such as feminism and civil rights.
Wouldn’t Transgender Changeling be an interesting and enjoyable way to have fun exploring and learning about such an issue? I’m sure other people can think of ways to tweak the Changeling Way. I’d love to hear about it in the comments if you do! At the very least, it would surely be yet another way to make our games even more fun.
I will leave you with that for now. Until next week, have fun telling stories, and as always,