I left out MC advice in my Changeling the Lost PbtA hack. I usually like “GM” sections from PbtA games because they present a strong sense of the intended flavor and play. But as mentioned in a Gauntlet thread today, a much of that boils down to “do something one of the PCs is likely to care about” or “do something compelling.” Jason referenced an article from Black Armada on that concept.
With that in mind, I’ve written these Agendas, Principles, and Moves to remind me of the cool and player-connected things I should keep in mind for CtL PbtA. I’ve left out most of the classics (trade harm, tell consequences & ask, offer an opportunity). Those are in play as well. What I present below is either an addition or refinement.
Here’s what Urban Shadows says:
At the highest level, your job is to balance three agendas when you MC:• Make the city feel political and dark.• Keep the characters’ lives out of control and evolving.• Play to find out what happens.
The last two work clean, But I’d rephrase the first. Make the city seem dark and the Freehold seem conflicted. Their city, the larger community outside of the Freehold, is both sanctuary and threat. It contains past lives, hidden secrets, hints of the Keepers, and more. Likewise the Freehold will always be conflicted. At the highest level the four linked Courts have competing interests. They also take on authority to protect from a more dangerous authority. As well the Courts have internal divisions.
Display the split between the City and the Freehold.
The PCs live in both worlds. Leaning towards one side over the other has costs. The Freehold cannot provide all their needs and the real world rejects the lost and unrecorded.
Push together and pull apart the motley in equal measure.
The motley should be the characters’ anchor. Show them the value of it, then apply a crowbar. Let them build their motley, but don’t destroy it. Since players can invest in their Hollow, irrevocably smashing that’s bad move.
Put the characters at the center of conflicts and choices.
The PCs have a value: maybe they’re unique, maybe they’re pawns, maybe they’re leverage. Catch them up in disputes and conspiracies. Make their varying allegiances a source of tension.
Name everyone, know what they want.
Everyone wants something- know that desire.
Remind them of their past: their lost life and their Durance.
The PCs should be haunted. They lost many of their pre-Changeling memories, torn away by the thorns of the Hedge. But they’ve likely deliberately hidden away their memories of Arcadia and what they did there. If they’ve established details about their experience, echo those. Draw a parallel between that and the present. If they haven’t, ask them how this moment reminds them of something from their time in Arcadia or activates a lost memory from before their change.
Show the risk and value of trust.
Changelings fear commitment and obligation; they have a hard time trusting. Favors don’t incur debts. Unless someone asked and made a deal, they’re under no requirement to pay back. Yet in a motley you have to trust against your nature. The Freehold itself is built on trust in an institution. And eventually the untrustworthy and the isolated become pariahs. You should show all of these considerations.
Spam weirdness and beauty
Changeling calls itself a game of beautiful madness. It isn’t a gore-fest or overtly sinister game. The tension’s more subtle, things are off-kilter. Hint at weird beneath the surface: fantastic, lovely, uncanny, spoiled. Think Twin Peaks, In the Company of Wolves, Dark City, The City of Lost Children. Consider how to echo the inevitably of fairy tale lessons in a modern world.
Make the Princes vivid
The ruler of each Court should be a fascinating, attractive, and dangerous figure. They exemplify the Seasons as they appear within the Freehold. Make them larger than life. Show the necessity of the Freehold as a means of explaining their choices.
Color the supernatural
If you introduce supernatural elements, monsters, and foes from outside the changeling paradigm, still consider how it fits with that world. How would changelings interpret these things? What would they look like? There’s a danger in bringing in too many outside elements, but one of two later on can make a good contrast. I recommend the Prometheans especially for this.
Remind them that they’re neither human nor Fae
They’re strange. The Mask hides them, but the Mein still remains: emotionally and physically. They have needs which make them parasites on others. They can’t trust their own reactions. And they’re also dangerous to be around. On the other hand, they’re not fully Fae. Obviously they’re not True Fae Keepers. But they don’t have a fully “fae” nature: they haven’t given themselves over completely as some did, they aren’t beings created of magic, they aren’t the downtrodden and resentful goblins. They still have a soul and human desires.
Draw them into a dispute
The Courts are hotbeds of deals, arguments, and enmities, many unknown to the PCs. They find themselves knowingly or unknowingly trapped in that web.
Hint at the Keepers’ attention
Odd happenings, signs only their former master would know, suggestions of a turncoat Fae. The whispers of a Keeper’s work should be enough to send most right-minded changelings to ground.
Force a Clarity check
Make them Stay Strong in the face of terrors, heartache, and moral questions. Being surprised by someone from their past life or durance. Do checks when they: share a moment of intimacy with a mortal; commit violence against an innocent; avoid contact with Changeling society for a long time; dwell on the cold streets. Mark Clarity if they fail.
Impose a Debt
Debts have power and reduce autonomy, so reserve this for a hard move. But sometimes the players have to call on aid to get them out of a spot.
Mark a Condition
This is harm and more. Conditions represent emotional states. The fiction can dictate what should be marked. Or the player can show something about their character by what they choose to mark. This will in turn force them to make decision as to how they clear that condition.
Warn of Impending Danger
Somethings coming for them. Hint at pursuit, suggest betrayal, threaten associates, bring the hammer down. If they don’t act that danger will come to pass. Consider their NPC debts. Bring their rivals on stage.
Bring them Face to Face with Their Past
This can be soft: they see something they used to treasure, a car model they once owned, a changeling who looks like someone they betrayed during their durance. This can be harder: they run into a family member, they see their fetch, they’re confronted by someone from their durance. The harder the move, the more you can and should frame things. You can reveal secrets about their taking, their family, and their fetch. For a softer approach, you can suggest that someone knows more about these things.
Call in Debts
Someone calls in their marker. That forces a choice and possibly a move to avoid it. Either way things change. Consider each PC has a constant debt to their Court. The Season provides basic resources, someone they can go to in disputes, and other services. In return, they’re expected to help out. I wouldn’t hit this all the time, but call on these to remind them. The same holds in reverse, the Court’s obligated to aid at least a little. But more aid means they’ll likely ask for larger services eventually. On the flip side, offer them a debt and draw them into a web.
Separate the Motley
Obviously you can do this physically, but it’s worth remembering to do this emotionally and politically. Play on Seeming divisions, Court allegiances, and friendships. Force hard choices.
Intrude on Dreams
While I don’t dwell on dream mechanics in this version, we know that changelings have a strong connection to that realm. Even those not trained in Onieromancy have vivid dreams. Use this as a channel for other moves. Stage dangerous visions, recalled pasts, and even the intrusion by outsiders here.
Crack their Mask
They reveal more about themselves then they intended. You can have a human pick up something subtly wrong or even have their mask completely slip for a moment. You might put a question to them about their agenda, giving that info to an NPC. It is also a chance to have them express their Seeming, Kith, or Seasonal nature as they see it. That’s an opportunity to learn how their experience shaped them into their specific form.
Call on catches
Catches are costs. Sometimes they get away from Changelings. They forget to pay things or allow mystical debts to pile up. Now they have to do something—maybe silly, maybe dangerous, maybe costly to reset the balance or face even more challenges. Consider this a variant on “Activate their stuff’s downside.”
Show the bite of the Hedge
Perhaps a principle above should be make the Hedge dangerous and valuable. That’s true. It is also omnipresent. It takes effort to enter, but sometimes it bleeds through. That may be random or the result of a Changeling’s action. What do they do when things spill out into the real world? What do they do when someone falls into the Hedge?
In CtL, Clarity shapes perceptions. I don’t handle that mechanically in this version. Instead, those shifted and shattered visions should be a GM move. It can be as soft as a misreading or as hard as being trapped fantastical illusion. Make them question their perceptions.
Deplete a resource
Everyday life should be tight for a motley, at least at the start. They’re beholden to others for money, connections, and more importantly identification. That last one can be withdrawn at any point. Beyond those mundane questions, changelings have to call on glamour to clear conditions. Perhaps a dance club they haunted for desire goes bankrupt. Now they have to find a new place to replenish themselves.
Make a Seeming or Court Move
Finally, while I haven’t specifically written these out, consider these elements strongly in your moves. The Courts have desires and they will act to carry those out. It might be as small as a little favor. It might be the Season moving to gain influence in new places. It might be a war for control. OOH Seeming moves are internal. It means forcing them to act in accordance with their nature or suffer a cost.