View Full Version : A nation of changelings

2009-07-04, 01:21 PM
After getting the 4th edition Eberron Players Handbook, I started to think about the changelings and how they could be portrayed as something other than just dopplegangers who walk around among other race. What could they look like if there was a distinct nation of changelings?

1. Island Homeland - The changelings would most likely have started off on an island or other place cut off from the other races. Due to their shape-changing powers, if they started of around another race then its likely they would have assimilated with the other one. Thus, for at least a few hundred years to get their own culture then changeling must have been kept separate from other races.

2. More concern with status, knowledge, and clothing than with individuality - Okay, you have a race of shape shifter who can all turn into each other at-will. Whats to prevent a wandering bandit from killing the king, taking his place, and dumping the corpse out the window and saying that it was just the corpse of some street bum? Well... nothing except for the guards and the fact that the king would be so super-refined and formal that common folk can't imitate him.

Formality, manners, and dress are important in human culture and in a changeling society they would be even more so. Since thats pretty much all that distinguishes anyone from eachother. Changelings who want to stand out from the crowd have to develop mannerisms and ceremony that can't be easily duplicated by others.

An odd side effect of this is that some positions (like being king) might not even care so much about who's on the seat as much as what they are doing. Like the ancient Egyptians who said that the pharaohs were immortal, and just put another pharaoh on the throne when the old one wore out. Changelings could have one changeling king on the throne who essentially rules forever... but if he gets to old, or ticks off the other political elite, or just wants to take a vacation, or gets deposed violently, then his successor just has to put on the royal garbs and sit on the throne and keep ruling in his place. Nobody really cares who's ruling since if they

3. Chameleon Barbarians - Why would changeling have evolved their shapeshifting powers (or maintained them for so long) when there's always the risk of bad apples turning into other people and doing nasty stuff? Well... this is DnD land and the world is positivly swarming with monsters. While dwarves and elves all evolved to club monsters in the head with hammers or shoot them with arrows, changelings evolved to just plain disappear!

Old tribal changelings probably ran around completely naked and then just changed the surface of their skin to blend in with their surroundings. Like birds who's feathers let them blend into the forrest floor unti they fly away, or tigers who blend in with the grass until they bite your neck off, or zebras who just blend in with eachother until they either escape or kill you, changeling barbarians would blend into the grass, rocks and trees until they can ambush something or hide from enemies.

As their society advanced (and developed swords and arrows) the technique of standing around naked hoping that nobody notices you fell out of style in favor of wearing armor and just shooting arrows into any funny-looking outline that looks like a camouflaged naked guy trying to hide from you.

Changeling cites probably have alot of right angles and plaid patterns around to prevent naked people from turning invisible and visiting violence on innocent passerby's. Thus, once ancient changeling society developed a way to change their environment in such a way that turning invisible was no longer practical or possible... then their shape shifting powers evolved to take on the appearance of humanoids.

4. Do not fool, do not be fooled, if you are fooled then learn from it - Due to their inherent capacity for deception, honor and honesty are highly valued traits because so many changelings may be tempted to just 'dissapear' into the crowds. Changelings who are into long-term relationships (for business or pleasure) would build up alot of memories or things they notice about each other so they can recognize the other no matter what shape they are in. Changeling con-artists are a particularly hated bunch because other races see them more as monsters than as people (which hurts the many decent changelings) and decent changelings utterly despise how hard it is to operate a decent society when criminals can just vanish into the crowd at will.

5. Clothes make the man - Changeling society is a big fan of the Nice Hat. Articles of clothing are often made like individual works of art or if not then there is room for them to be decorated with patches of cloth or things sewn into them. Its much easier to identify your friend by the clothes that they wear then by what their face looks like.

2009-07-04, 01:31 PM
Definitely clothiers and imports would be tightly monitored so that only certain caste members could get certain items. Probably weapons-access and legally being able to wear weapons would be tightly controlled as well, so that the upper caste would have exclusive rights to wearing a belted sword, for instance. Dyes would be extremely tightly regulated, and foreigners would be screened and forbidden from bringing in certain colored clothing with them into the country [probably ok within some kind of trading area adjacent to the docks...] if they were entering legally through the ports.

Hmm, possibly a tightly regulated magical ID system with very harsh penalties for any attempts at forgery. Everyone'd be required to have one on their person in order to conduct anything more than the most basic of transactions.

A very byzantine/baroque political system, methinks as well, very rigid rules in place in order to keep some semblance of society, though there is little keeping them from impersonating one another and seducing one another's spouses, but since they all can change appearances at will...

Probably certain really good changelings would be considered artists and their form-changing would be a sort of niche-bit of theatre/art.

Might be one of the few places that normal changeling forms would be seen, ever. Especially to any foreigners....

Oh! Magical tattoos that show up regardless of what form a changeling is in, and possibly discoveries of some specific physical alterations/markings that changelings aren't able to mimic well enough to forge. Or at least research into it.

Either that or the world's largest, most confusing kender-hippie commune.

...Each different caste has a very complicated system of tenses and conjugations that only apply to someone from that caste addressing someone else whether they be in the same or another caste. Specific modes of address for every caste of society, almost to the point of being very distinct dialects of their language.

Changelings of the educated castes are taught how to recognize the various subtle(or not so subtle) dialects and identify the caste of others and how to identify themselves as members of their caste to each other in a very specific and formalized greeting exercise.

Regular rituals which require specialized training are performed by those in leadership positions, so that they are much harder to replace...

2009-07-04, 03:32 PM
A special sect of seers which are all able to produce true seeing (Psionics or Arcane, either will do), who basically run the upper hierarchy and are the cogs of society due to their ability to see through their natural guises.

Maybe they're gifted with some innate trait when born and can choose to pursue it (Psionics is meant to be innate, and Sorcerers have magic blood as it were), or its an educated thing where anyone can work up the ranks in it if they have enough basic skill.

OR it could be class based, so its only taught to the higher ranks which ensures they stay in the higher ranks (old money style), or a natural birth gift (such as glowing eyes etc) which means they have been chosen by gods etc and are forced into it even if they don't want to be (greek seer's style).

The applications of it are endless, but in a society where anyone could look like anyone else, the only way to verify anything is to have someone who can irrefutably see through it.

Obviously if its an open employment thing you would have corruption occupationally, where people who seek only power could slip through the net due to natural talent/good prospects and then abuse it once they're at the top. On the flip side if its a pre-decided thing due to class or birth traits then some might resent it, and do it poorly or even destructively to rebel.

It would not be flawless by any degree, but its a self sustaining system, they need to be there so they are, and the society would do anything they could to maintain that status quo as there are no other ways to society to exist (in fact having tales of fallen nations where the seers where all killed etc would be cool, the inhabitance of the nation had to distribute and live among other races who could provide the society to sustain such numbers).

I also think that the lower classes would change appearance at will because of this, there would probably be little stigma attached to changing looks when you can always be identified by other means and so it would be used as an additional element to convey mood and feelings etc.

The higher classes would have slightly more stigma attached to changing to much, although they could be identified with little effort it would be untasteful to change their form to imitate another, and it would pay to be recognisable even if you others could be fraudulent and using your looks for a while as you would still gain a reputation. To this degree I'd assume the standard meeting ritual would be to change to no guise whilst shaking hands or the like, and then assume you regular "face" which could be modified slightly but never majorly, used much like make-up is used now-a-days, as a means to compliment clothing or express ones self slightly more.

I agree that clothing would also make a person, much as it did in the Victorian ages where highly expensive garb would grant you access to places just on the principle that it looked as though you were a moneyed individual, regardless of if you were or not. This would mean that dyes and silks would be highly sought after and there would be a very large industry based around the obtaining and processing of these goods, although I wouldn't have assumed they would go as far as to regulate them any more than simply having huge mark up to them so the lesser classes could not afford them.

How magic fits in otherwise I think would be pretty much as its often portrayed, anything more than true seeing would give power or/and mistrust depending, and if its a divine or innate physical trait to have "all seeing eyes" (so some template to add or just a divine domain with the spell) then maybe arcane magic as a whole is disliked.

Or, they could love the diversity and extension of their own abilities and embrace illusions and "trickery" magic, having magic deeply used in arts and theatre, its no longer a power house of destruction, and instead the educated man's paintbrush. The ability to create objects and items infused with magic would be used purely for the aesthetics of it, and therefore the "black-arts" or "forbidden magic" or anything that can cause harm or destruction would be hidden away and protected very carefully (think the black magician trilogy if you've read it, where magic is also a class thing).

... I've just written a huge amount :smalleek:, I think I'll leave it there. I hope my variant society helps spark off some ideas for yours :smallwink:

2009-07-05, 05:06 AM
Think about the periphery of your changeling society - both physical and social.

How do the merchants and diplomats of a changeling nation interact with people of other nations? How about the farmers or fishermen who occasionally cross paths with others?

What are the underclasses like - the poor to very poor?

How about the criminal classes? What banned but desired goods or services do they trade in? What automatically-followed rules do they not follow?

2009-07-05, 05:22 AM
The idea of an entire nation of people who can look like anyone they want reminded me of The Importance of Being Earnest (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0278500/).

They could probably use secret handshakes, Arcane Marks, signet rings, and other means of identification in place of recognizing each others' ever changing faces.

2009-07-05, 10:22 AM
The idea of the entire nation of changelings is a bit mind-boggling, mostly because their initial flavor has been so much like "at the fringes of society". I think that it would be a fairly chaotic state.

Don't forget that any solution that results in mass of True Seeing being cast to keep order makes it a very depressing place to live in, with changelings' gift for shapechange becoming their enemy.

2009-07-05, 10:48 AM
The idea of the entire nation of changelings is a bit mind-boggling, mostly because their initial flavor has been so much like "at the fringes of society". I think that it would be a fairly chaotic state.

Don't forget that any solution that results in mass of True Seeing being cast to keep order makes it a very depressing place to live in, with changelings' gift for shapechange becoming their enemy.

Except... it's not really clear if even changelings can tell one another apart, even in their natural forms...

It certainly seems like all an observer could do would be to say whether one was male or female... And I'm not positive, but I think they can change sex. :smallconfused:

...I can see something like a society where doppelgangers took over and drove humans to the lower rungs of society, such that the bastard children of the doppelgangers with humans became their own mid-rung group of the changelings with the highest rungs reserved for trueblood doppelgangers...

2009-07-05, 11:35 AM
I had an idea for an extremely awful town. Imagine:

You're traveling through the woods. As you walk along the dark path, you come to a clearing. Upon reaching this clearing you can see a large town of about two thousand. The church bells are ringing, and you can hear the organ playing. As soon as mass ends, the townspeople walk out, and go about their lives. You go to the blacksmith, the tavern, the inn. It seems like a normal town. When you wake up, the inkeeper is a different person. You ask where the other inkeeper went. You're told that he went out into the woods. You shrug it off and go to see the blacksmith, who is also a different person. In fact, none of the people here are the same as last night. The entire town has changed, overnight, and nobody seems to remember the events of the day before. The church bells are ringing. It's time to go to midday mass...

The entire town is populated by changelings, and none of them know that the others are changelings. They don't even know that they are changelings themselves.

2009-07-05, 04:04 PM
This is a clever idea... I especially like the concept of identity being fluid, a la the ever-changing kings. What if you took that idea even farther? As in, the community has an established group of identities who remain fairly stable - Jim the Baker, Francis the Aristocrat, what have you - but the particular individuals who take on those roles are constantly changing. That would be a great group of NPCs. Imagine, the players are engaging in some serious negotiations with a trader, they break for the night, and the next day they're interacting with an entirely different person; however, they don't know that, because he looks exactly the same. Think of the strange methods of political maneuvering you could pull off in that society: most normal political techniques (character assassination, etc.) would become obsolete, because you might well want to use that identity later. Of course, pulling it off in any logical, realistic manner would be difficult, but the possibilities are intriguing.

2009-07-05, 09:21 PM
@Magicus: That's a pretty interesting idea, it reminds me of the Three Witches in the Black Cauldron book. Ordu, Orwen, and Orgoch who are a young woman, a middle aged mother and an old crone. Orgoch complained that she didn't like being Orgotch and wanted to be Orwen, but Ordu told her that sho got to be Orwen last time so it's only fair.

I'm also reminded of the scene in Life, The Universe, and Everything (from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) about a planet of matresses all called Bob, some are hunted and killed to be stuffed and used for people to sleep on but the matresses don't mind too much since they are all called Bob and so its hard to worry about it too much.

There could be various castes of Changelings, the lowest class would be basically faceless masses who never really thought about having a personal identity. They are just called 'worker' or 'farmer' or something.

Then Middle caste changelings start to get their own identities or at least a selection of them. Jim the Butcher, Jill the Butchers apprentice (who is in training until she becomes good enough to be Jim later on) and a variety of other job persona's. The changelings who go through this all have to learn how to do each job and get certification to be a butcher or baker in such situations. It would be interesting since killing the 'town Butcher' would only mean that they have to put a replacement changeling in there to fill the job.

Upper class changelings would be more likely to stick to one specific personality so that they can keep all the glory to themselves instead of sharing it with others. If there is any 'trading identities' then it would be conducted privately or off the record.

Actually, there would most likely be a lot of different philosophies on changeling societies. The 'switch changelings between different character roles' thing would probably be similar to real life communism... in theory it betters everyone because it lets them all experience life in different ways while providing a stable society, but in reality it causes the changelings to lose their sense of individuality and a sense of each other... the guy in charge of saying how Jim is supposed to act or which changeling has to be Jill this week could manipulate things to his advantage.

Changeling 1: Hey Boss, I was thinking I want to be Bob the Brewer this week again, I like being Bob.

The Boss: You were Bob last week.

Changeling 1: Yeah, well if I was Bob this week as well then I could get you a nice bottle of wine. Sounds like the sort of thing Bob would do.

The Boss: Hmm... I like your personal take on the character. Okay, but if anyone asks you're changeling 23.

Changeling 1: What if changeling 23 asks me?

The Boss: Then let me know, changeling 23 was killed by orc bandits when he was playing as Joe the Farmer three months ago.

Changeling 1: Woah, bummer. Hey, I've got another idea. Maybe Betty the Milkmaid should fall in love with Bob this week as well. They meet together so often.

The Boss: I... dunno about that.

Changeling 1: Give you a case of Dwarven brandy.

The Boss: Done! *scribbles a note on his script* A little romance is just what this town needs.

Then, the artistic minded changelings would have numerous tricks. Changeling painters could use their skin as a drawing aid (like creating a rough sketch on the back of their hand before drawing on a painting, kind of like how people learn to count on their fingers before they get into good math). Professional living statues could learn to stand perfectly still for hours at a time while looking like works of art. And changeling sculptors would make statues that look like real living changelings pretending to be statues!

You can imagine having a case where the adventurers are going through a hall filled with art pieces and have to find out which of the statues are changelings, which are statues that just look realistic, and which are humans that got petrified by a medusa! (Hint: The changelings have their eyes closed).

2009-07-05, 09:46 PM
Wouldn't a civilization of changelings be the perfect setting for a true democratic organization? You've got no 'head' of the group, but forced community debate.

2009-07-05, 09:51 PM
I rather like the idea of whole towns or cities being little more than acting troupes, really. Changelings would trade off different roles, playing the butcher or the farmer, competing internally for the choicest roles. It seems only natural that changelings in this sort of setting would have a fairly fluid sense of identity.

2009-07-06, 12:02 AM
A town composed of changelings could get kind of meta if you think about it.

The players go into a village and learn about some problem that one of the people is having (like a mystery or something) and they naturally go about solving it. However, its all a big act on the parts of the changelings who want the players to play along with them. If the players start killing people then the corpse reverts to their changeling shape and everyone else goes out of character and just looks at him and says "Holy *%$ they killed Kenny!", "You *&^%rds, he was the only one who could play Constable Wilkins convincingly!"

So after killing a mildly annoying townsperson they find the entire town turn into changelings and start wielding torches and pitchforks and hurl rocks at the players!

All sorts of clues could be left that things aren't what they seem. Like how suspects seem to conveniently die right when the players get close (actually the changeling playing dead and having tomato paste or goats blood on their costume), problems with the script and rehearsal have people desperately trying to make stuff up as they go or even two changelings dress up as the same person and they suddenly have to act like they are twins. Or the players kill out someone on the road who was a changeling and then head into town, and find that same person in town (since the one they killed didn't show up so they had someone fill in for him), and various changelings or mimics or plant creatures dressed up as props around the village.

2009-07-06, 05:12 AM
Are tamed beasts with Scent, and the ability to sniff out a changeling's change to some degree, cherished or reviled?

2009-07-06, 05:21 AM
Are tamed beasts with Scent, and the ability to sniff out a changeling's change to some degree, cherished or reviled?

That's actually a good point. That's probably the only mundane way to tell them apart... :smalleek: