Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Autumn Nightmares

I think I made a mistake with the order I've been reading these Changeling books. Somehow, I failed to realize that Autumn Nightmares was the first one written. I had Rites of Spring sitting first on my shelf, and I guess I just thought of Spring as the beginning of the year. It's probably for the best, though, because Autumn Nightmares is in contention for the most consistently high quality book I've read for the blog thus far.

There's really only one weak patch, and that's its discussion of "mad" changelings as potential antagonists. It really didn't age well. It was just a little too quick to equate mental illness with being erratic, unpredictable, and prone to violence. When it came to specific examples, like the Cat King, a changeling who could shapeshift into a giant cat and hunted children for food, the book was on solid ground. If there was ever a setting that needs a wide variety of grotesque magical serial killers, it's Changeling: The Lost. But the word "derangement," that's rough to see.

That's genre madness for you, though. It's always brought out as an excuse to have characters act in extreme and incomprehensible ways. If I had too much of a problem with it, I'd barely be able to cope with this hobby at all.

Fortunately, the weak part of the book is only about 4 pages long. The bulk of the book is rock solid.

A lot of it is GMing advice, of the sort that I panned in The Complete Book of Villains. It makes me think that maybe I was being too hard on the older book. As Victim on the rpg.net thread pointed out, actual story-building advice was extremely rare in AD&D second edition. So my expectations, set by the much superior advice in books like Autumn Nightmares, may have lacked proper historical context.

How exactly is the GMing advice superior? That's a bit difficult to pin down. Mostly it's about greater precision. When Autumn Nightmares gives us a list of general archetypes for faerie kidnappers, things like "the Hag," "the Paramour," and "the Shadow" tell me a lot about the game's genre expectations and suggest NPCs directly, rather than give me a random table in the vague hope of rolling something inspirational.

Of course, maybe the reason this book can afford to be more precise is that it's less versatile. Maybe if it had to do more than baroque horror/fantasy, its advice would feel more generic.

Lucky for me then, that it is what it is. Nonetheless, this book is at its best when it's being specific. If it were just abstract essays about the motives of faeries or the way fetches conceive of their role as imposter duplicates, it would merely be very interesting. What elevates this book to greatness are the new antagonists and monsters.

It's not so much that Autumn Nightmares is a great monster book. There are some solid creatures here, but it would have to be about 100 pages longer to really match the Monstrous Manual or Creatures of the Wyld. However, if you look at the sample creatures as merely being a cross-section of what's possible in the Changeling universe, you'll start to get a deep intuitive feel for its particular brand of horror-fantasy. This is a setting book disguising itself as an antagonist book. And since the setting is Changeling: The Lost's greatest strength, I'm pretty sure I've just reached the high point in the series.

UKSS Contribution: There's a type of lesser faerie creature called The Laughing Ones. They're shapeshifters who can assume a variety of animal forms. They use that ability to perform cruel practical jokes on hapless humans. I'm not going to choose them directly, because I want to tamp down on any potential proliferation of intelligent humanoids. However, they did have one signature prank that amused the hell out of me - taking the form of lost horses, waiting for a stranded traveler to come along in need of a ride, allowing them to mount, and then bolting the fuck out of there like they're being chased by demons from hell.

I think that might become a favored pastime for any intelligent horses who might be out there in the plains of Ukss.

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