Dragonmarks: Changelings

Long ago there was a woman named Jes, and she had a hundred children. Her rivals conspired against her, and swore to kill her hundred children. These enemies numbered in the thousands and wielded dark magic, and the Children would never prevail against them. Jes begged the Sovereigns for help, but their only answer was the wind and rain. She sought the aid of the Silver Flame, but its keepers would not hear her. In the depths of her despair, a lonely traveler took her hand. ‘I will protect your children if they follow my path. Let them wander the world. None will know them. They will have no kingdom but the road, and no enemy will find them. They may be shunned by all the world, but they will never be destroyed.’ Jes agreed, and the traveler gave her his cloak. When she draped it over her children, their old faces melted away, and they could be whoever they wanted to be. And so it is until this day. Though the Children are shunned by all, the gift of the traveler protects them still, so long as they follow his path.

The changeling tribes refuse to let their stories be bound by the written word. The Taleshapers maintain that writing down a story traps it in a single shape; like a changeling, a story should be free to choose the face that suits the moment and the audience. This makes it difficult to pin down changeling history. Morgrave’s Handon Dal believes that this apocryphal tale suggests that the changelings were born in the Sarlonan nation of Ohr Kaluun, a realm known for its bitter feuds and mystical eugenics; skulks and tieflings are also believed to have emerged from Kaluunan rituals. Dal asserts that “Jes” was likely a clan matriarch in Ohr Kaluun, who sought aid from Pyrine and Khalesh, whose religions form the foundations of the modern Sovereign Host and Silver Flame, before resorting to changeling transformation as a way for her clan to survive a forced exodus.

Whatever the truth of this tale, it is the foundation for the tribal traditions. Each of the tribes traces its roots back to a group of the Hundred, and ‘The Children’ remains a common term for the changelings as a whole. The Taleshapers say that the Children scattered so that they couldn’t be caught in one place and destroyed. Following the precepts of the tale, they say that they will never raise a kingdom, but that it is their place to be forever unknown, to survive in the face of fear and scorn. Their shapeshifting is a divine gift given to them to preserve them against their enemies, and they are entirely justified in using it to fool the single-skins and take what they need to survive.

I didn’t write the changeling chapter of Races of Eberron. I don’t object to the ideas presented in it, but I’ve always had other thoughts. Eberron content is still restricted and I can’t present a version of changelings for 5E or a truly in-depth racial guide. But I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I use changelings at my table.

In my Eberron, there are three primary changeling cultures in Khorvaire.

  • Foundlings are changelings raised by other species. This could be due to interspecies romance, or the child could be orphaned or descended from an outcast… or part of a family of foundlings. Foundlings have no knowledge of changeling cultural traditions, and rarely have contact with changelings outside their own families. Foundlings develop a wide variety of philosophies, including those described in Races of Eberron. Some foundlings hide from their true nature, adopting a single face and never changing. Some are sociopaths who prey on those around them, stealing the faces of those they kill. There’s no predicting the beliefs of a foundling, and they can be found anywhere.  
  • Stable changelings live in changeling communities that are recognized and known to the people around them. They are often comfortable wearing the skins they were born in, feeling no need to hide their changeling nature. In the Five Nations, Breland is the only nation with stable changeling communities (notable Dragoneyes in Sharn); other stable communities include Lost in Droaam (from Dungeon #193) and the Gray Tide principality in Lhazaar. Stable communities were founded by tribal changelings, so some traditions overlap; however, many have been abandoned as the members of the community don’t feel threatened.
  • Tribal changelings cling to traditions stretching back to their origins in Sarlona; they refer to themselves as ‘The Children’. Their culture is defined by the hostility and distrust of outsiders; they hide their communities and their true identities from others, revealing just enough to keep strangers from seeking more. They live in the shadows of the other races, using their wits and their gifts to survive. Most tribal changelings spend their lives in motion, traveling from place to place and never staying long enough to draw unwanted attention. They are seen as tricksters and tinkers, and this reputation is often deserved; tribal changelings don’t consider it a crime to deceive single-skins. The tribes are based in Thrane, Aundair, and Karrnath, but wandering tribals can be found across Khorvaire.

The relationship between changelings and doppelgangers is in the hands of the gamemaster. “Doppelganger” could simply be a term used to describe a changeling sociopath who uses their powers in a predatory fashion. Alternately, doppelgangers could be a parallel species possessing greater telepathic and shapeshifting abilities; they may consider themselves the true heirs of Ohr Kaluun, asserting that changeling bloodlines are the result of interbreeding with other species. Meanwhile, tribal changelings assert the opposite; doppelgangers aren’t the predecessors of the changeling race, rather they are a cursed offshoot of it.  

In the past I never had an opportunity or reason to develop changelings further. Races of Eberron is the canon resource on changelings and it didn’t come up in other projects, until I wrote the article on Lost for Dungeon. However, when 5E started up a friend of mine launched an Eberron campaign and I decided to play a changeling rogue I called Tel, though the name the party knew her by was Max. I decided that Max was a tribal changeling, and so I worked a little more on their culture.

For me, one of the pillars of tribal culture is the idea of Personas: distinct identities that serve a personal and cultural role. I wrote the following as part of my character write-up for Max.

While Max can wear any face that she wants, such a disguise has no depth. A disguise she makes up for a task is a newborn, with no voice or history of its own. These personas have their own history and personality. Each one is a real person, with friends, enemies, and goals of their own. One way to think about it is that each persona is a story … and that while Max is wearing the persona, it’s her duty to further that story. Tel is true neutral. Max is neutral good; it’s important to her to help people, and she wants to make the world a better place. Bronson is a criminal who has survived a hundred streetfights and has a reputation as a ruthless torturer. He’s going to want to see profit in a venture, and won’t hesitate to kill or cause pain. Bronson also doesn’t speak Elvish, even though Tel does; she’d have to shift to another persona to do that.

Personas are tools. They have established identities that can be useful to the changelings who use them; in this example, Bronson has connections in the Boromar Clan established before my character was born, and the persona provides Max with access to those contacts. But it’s also a way for the changeling to focus their thoughts and talents. Personas are more than just faces. Mastering a persona is like learning to think in another language. It’s about being that person. Max is soft hearted and dislikes violence; Bronson is a ruthless killer. So when she knows violence is around the corner, Max will give way to Bronson and let him handle the fight. Likewise, Max knows people and is good at friendly manipulation; she’s the persona Tel uses when she plans to rely on Deception and Insight. While Bronson specializes in Intimidation. From a mechanical perspective, Max the rogue has the rogue’s specialization in different skills. From a story perspective, that specialization reflects her personas. So the raw character has specialties in Intimidation and Insight; but if I’m going to use Intimidation, I’ll switch to Bronson, because that’s his specialty. 

Every changeling can assume any number of faces. As noted above, these are newborns with no history, no fixed behavior; you might use them once and forget about them. Each changeling creates their own personas, creating one or more people they want to be. But they can also inherit personas from other members of their tribe. This involves training, with a living master of the persona teaching the youth how to be that persona. Many personas are unique, with only one member of the tribe being allowed to use the persona at any time; this prevents someone from doing something with the persona that could spoil it for others. However, there are also personas shared by the tribe. These are generally travelers – merchants, bards, tinkers, mercenaries – people no one knows exceptionally well, so it’s easy for different changelings to play the part without getting tripped up by recent events.

Again, to be clear: Not every face a changeling assumes is a persona. A tribal changeling can impersonate a guard for a momentary advantage and then throw the face away, or wear a particular guise for a party. Personas are a deeper part of the culture.

A second concept for tribal changelings is the ideas of skin cant. This is the concept that tribes employ cosmetic details – tattoos, birthmarks, scars, patterns of freckles – that have specific meaning to other members of their tribe. A particular facial scar (which could be added to any guise) might tell other members of the tribe I need help or everything I’m saying is a lie. It’s a simple way for a changeling to share information that also allows members of a tribe of identify one another even if they are wearing unknown faces.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY CHARACTER: TEL & MAX

So, now you’ve seen my ideas for tribal changelings… here’s an example of how I put these into action. At the start of the campaign, I developed four distinct personas for Tel. Here’s my notes on each one.

  • Max (female Karrnathi human) is Tel’s first face, the first persona she created on her own. She’s a freelance inquisitive (licensed by Tharashk). This fits, as she is extremely inquisitive by nature. If she sees someone in distress, she’ll ask what’s wrong… and if she can easily help, she will. She likes to make friends and help people when she can do it without personal cost. As a result of this, she has a lot of friends in a lot of places both people she’s done favors for, and people who she owes favors to. While she is an inquisitive, Max’s specialty is people. She’s as much a con artist as she is a detective, though she tries to use these talents to help rather than hurt. She has the changeling knack for seeing beyond the surface and an exceptional talent for sincerity and disguise. Max generally refers to herself as “Max” even when she’s using temporary faces simply because the things she’s doing are Max things; Tel is about helping the tribe, and if she’s just helping her friends, it’s Max doing it. As a Karrn who grew up near the Ironroots, she speaks (and curses in) fluent Dwarvish; she understands Elvish and Goblin but doesn’t speak either well. She’s prepared to fight, but doesn’t enjoy it, especially if it comes to killing; she prefers to leave bloodletting to Bronson and Meriwether.

 

  • Bronson Droranath (male Brelish dwarf) is a freelancer with the Boromar Clan… sometimes a fixer, sometimes a legbreaker, but he’s best known as an interrogater. He has a reputation in the Clan as someone who specializes in causing pain – not the deadliest dwarf in Dura, but if you get into a fight with him, he’ll leave a scar. Bronson has endured a great deal of pain, both physical and emotional, and he enjoys sharing it with others. He believes that the world is a cesspool and feels no remorse for his actions. Technically, he believes in the Sovereigns, but he also believes that they are cruel bastards. He despises Dassk and has a few enemies among the monsters. Tel inherited Bronson from her mother, Galiandrya. He’s been active in Sharn for seventy years, with long leaves of absence; once Garrow rose to power, Gal didn’t use him often. Bronson was the primary tool Gal used to teach Tel the intricacies of shapechanging. While he’s very familiar to her, Tel doesn’t like Bronson much, and she’s actually a little afraid of him… but there are certain jobs he’s good at and many of her useful Sharn contacts will only deal with him. He speaks Common and Dwarvish.

 

  • Rael Hess D’Medani (male Brelish Khoravar) is a foundling, a dragonmarked heir who had to earn his way back into his house after his grandparents were excoriated. He was taken in by the Hesses, who have always been noted for eccentricity; Rael lives up to that reputation. He’s a brilliant inquisitive, but has little patience for working within house protocols, and he’s never bound himself to the Guild. He shows up when he wants and disappears just as quickly. He’s helped the Sharn Watch, and worked with the King’s Guard during the war; as he had a distant connection with his house, he could provide direct assistance without the house taking sides. As such, he has a few distant acquaintances in the Guard and Watch who might call on his talents. Rael knows many trivial details, and can pontificate for hours on how a particular clue relates to a story. With that said, he’s astonishingly perceptive and intuitive. Rael is an heirloom persona created by Tel’s uncle Hol, who was a brilliant inquisitive in his own right. Hol groomed Tel to assume Rael, and this is the source of her inquisitive talents; Max still sees Rael as a wise mentor. Hol was eventually murdered; Rael still hopes to solve that case. Rael was sponsored by Uther Hess d’Medani, who knows his true nature but considers Rael a friend; Uther has also been a good friend to Max. While Rael doesn’t actually have a dragonmark, he often uses his mark as a form of meditation. He speaks all the languages Tel knows.

 

  • Meriwether (female Lhazaar elf) is a Phiarlan excoriate; technically she was Thuranni, but she left the house before the Shadow Schism. Before she was cut off from the house, she was a member of the Serpentine Table and a professional killer. Max saved Meriwether when the assassin was on the run, shortly after Max had begun wandering the world. Meriwether took in the changeling girl and taught her many things, honing her natural instincts for stealth, teaching her to spot a threat, and showing her how to use a rapier and blow and the trick to striking a lethal blow. Eventually, Meriwether died (a story that will need to be told at some point), and Max chose to continue her memory. Max knows a great deal about Meriwether and can get by fairly well even when dealing with her acquaintances (and she had very few friends). However, she certainly doesn’t know EVERYTHING about Meriwether. There also exists the possibility that Meriwether herself planned for Max to carry on in her name… that there’s some long game at work, and that Max could have suppressed memories or magic tattoos that won’t reveal themselves until the time is right. In connection with this: Meriwether was a storyteller as well as an assassin. She often told Max stories of the Valeus Tairn, who preserve the spirits of their ancestors by emulating their deeds. Following Tairnadal tradition, Max has kept a silk scarf of Meriwether’s and pulls it up to cover her lower face when she’s on a “Meri mission.” Is she actually preserving Meri’s spirit? Who knows. Meri wants her to become an assassin; Rael wants her to be an inquisitive.

So Max is entirely Tel’s creation. Bronson and Rael are inherited personas. And Meriwether is a real person who played an influential role in Tel’s life, who she adopted as a persona after the real Meriwether died. At the table, I’d switch between personas as best suited the current scenario. In addition to that, each persona provided different hooks the GM could play with. Did Meriwether have plans for Tel/Max? Could an old rival of Bronson’s show up with a grudge?

In addition to all this, there was one more twist. This campaign was a follow-up to a previous Eberron campaign that had lasted for years. In that campaign, the changeling Garrow – introduced in Shadows of the Last War as an agent of the Emerald Claw – ended up overthrowing Kaius and ruling Karrnath on behalf of Erandis Vol, until finally being brought down by the player characters. This new campaign was set a decade after the original, and I wrote up the following as part of Max’s background.

Max’s true name is Teliandyri, painted in blue and gold. She is a changeling of the true lineage of the Dawn Wanderers, a tribe of the Children based in Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities. Long ago, the Dawn Wanderers integrated the faith of the Blood of Vol into their beliefs, maintaining that the lesson of the Traveler is that every changeling has the potential to become the Traveler. The first Wanderer to present this faith spoke with the voice of Garrow, and Garrow has remained in her line as a champion of both Blood and Children. This proud tradition came to an end when Max’s mother Galiandyra (Gal) assumed the role of Garrow. GarrowGal betrayed her people and her faith for the promise of power, joining Erandis Vol’s corrupt Order of the Emerald Claw and ultimately seizing power in Karrnath. GarrowGal was defeated by Queen Bellandra ir’Wynarn, and her death sparked a backlash against both Children and Seekers.

Max comes from a proud line. Her ancestors created heroes, stories, and priests. Her people have always provided leadership and inspiration for the Dawn Wanderers, and the same things are expected of her. Garrow is hers by right of blood. But Galiandyra’s actions have cast a shadow on her blood, both in the eyes of the tribe and Tel herself. She has vowed to wander until she finds a way to redeem Garrow and undo the harm her mother has done to both Seekers and Children.

She left Karrnath when she was twelve — young for a wanderer, but changelings mature more quickly than humans. She has spent the last eight years roaming the Five Nations, drawing on the faces she has inherited and making names of her own. Max is her favorite face; she’s curious and always searching for mysteries. She has friends, enemies, and contacts in many places, and has many safe havens… but nothing she’d call a home. There is always a place for her among the Dawn Wanderers, but neither she nor they will rest until she has resolved her vow.

So Max also had a fifth Persona: Garrow. But the idea was that she’d never use Garrow until she had an opportunity to redeem him. And, of course, while they were playing different characters, all the other players in the group had been in that game where Garrow was a recurring villain… and I was looking forward to bringing him back and playing out that story.

As it turned out, the campaign didn’t last as long as the one before; people moved and life interfered. But I’ve always liked Max’s story.

Let me know what you’ve done with changelings in your campaign! Meanwhile, here’s a few questions that have come up.

A rogue has a wide variety of skills that can easily be adapted to several personas, what about ideas for some of the other classes?

Personas can be tied to skills – as the example of Max, where Bronson was used for Intimidation and Rael was the expert in Perception. But personas can also be about different approaches to the same thing. A changeling fighter could have a one persona for each of the three faces of war – a monster-hunting champion sworn to spread the light of Dol Arrah, a stoic soldier who fought for Breland during the Last War, and a ruthless mercenary who will use any dirty trick to achieve victory (and who has ties to House Deneith). As a player, it’s the question of whether this situation calls for a hero, a stoic, or a pragmatist – and each of these personas further has different connections in the world that could play a role in an adventure.

Beyond this, personas can have roles within the tribe or community that go beyond skills. The same changeling fighter could have a persona that’s a martial champion of the tribe, a hero who defends them from their enemies. Like Max and Garrow, it’s not a question of when it’s useful for the PC to assume this role; it’s a question of when they are prepared to live up to it and have the skills necessary to take on that mantle. For Max, becoming Garrow was a long term goal.

The same principle could apply to any class. A changeling wizard could have different personas for different schools of magic; if he primarily memorizes illusion spells, he’ll use his sly illusionist persona, while he uses a fiery dwarf when focusing on evocation. Or he might have an elderly sage for scholarly work and lore, along with a young battle mage persona who handles combat.

Like the Valeus Tairn, do you think changelings have a certain standard of reputation a persona needs to gain before they’d pass it on or is it more abstract along the lines of this persona still has a story to tell?

There’s a few issues to consider…

  • Does this persona have a strong enough identity that it can be passed on? Can you teach someone else to be this person?
  • Does this persona have any value to the tribe? Is there a REASON to keep this persona alive? Bronson provides valuable underworld connections in Sharn and as a dwarf, we could keep him going for another century.
  • In some cases a persona is essentially an office. Garrow is a spiritual leader within the Dawn Wanderers, and for Tel to assume the role is like becoming the Dalai Lama; she wouldn’t become Garrow until she can both redeem the identity and until she believes she can live up to the duties of being Garrow.

Looking to Garrow specifically, with the Tairnadal they keep the spirit of their heroes alive; here the point is that the changeling who takes on the persona of a hero has to be prepared to actually be that hero.

Would it be safe to say that most major “political” roles in a stable settlement may have personas attached? For example, you don’t go to Grey Tide healer, you go to Vim. There might be two or three changelings who could be Vim at any given time, but the healer is Vim. 

It would vary from community to community. And unlike Tairnadal, inherited personas don’t have to be legendary figures. In one village, the healer develops a persona for his healing work – Vim, a kindly, knowledgable man who puts patients at ease. As this is a persona, he can set it aside when he goes home to his family; Vim is the healer. People react well to Vim, and his apprentices learn the persona, so that way everyone who deals with “Vim” has that same sense of confidence and comfort (even though they know they may not be dealing with the original Vim). Over time Vim becomes the job, outliving the originator.

If there’s a major plague or something, would it be odd to see all three of these in the Vim persona at the same time?

Well, the apprentices have the skills whether they’re Vim or not, so they could heal without being Vim. On the other hand, they’ll be at their best when they’re Vim, because that persona is entirely focused on being the best healer. In a stable community, I think you could see this – three Vims at once – because the persona isn’t a deception; again, it’s basically an office and a focusing tool. It would certainly be rare among tribal changelings, where it’s generally important to maintain the illusion that the personas are real people.

So when they need leadership, they find Prince Kel, when they need healing, they find Vim, though these both may be assumed by a changeling named Rhett who makes his living as a farmer. More or less correct?

Close. Rhett may have been a farmer as a child. But being Vim requires significant training, and having mastered the form it’s unlikely those skills would be wasted on farming; if Rhett doesn’t serve as Vim full time, he’s probably apprentice to the primary Vim. Skill doesn’t come with the shape; rather, the shape serves both as a mnemonic focus for the changeling and as an identifying factor to those coming for service. Max’s mother taught her to be Bronson, and that work included learning to fight and to intimidate. Hol taught her the art of detection, and Rael was the focus for those skills. Rhett would be taught to be Vim, learning the art of medicine at the same time that he learns the mannerisms and features of the old healer.

And looking again to Max, she possesses all her skills in all her forms. The idea is simply that she is most comfortable using the skills in the persona associated with them. When she’s Bronson, she thinks like Bronson, ruthless and cruel; this is the best match for close combat. But she can still use a rapier as Rael without mechanical penalty. So going back to Rhett, assuming Vim’s form doesn’t make him a healer; training makes him a healer. It’s just that his training in medicine went hand in hand with being Vim, and people know to look for Vim when they need healing – trusting that someone who’s learned to mimic his form has also learned his skills.

How do you deal with Changling characters who have met and spent time with humanoids with wings, or who can breath underwater, like Aarikocra or Tritons?

Per the Eberron Campaign Setting book, the Changeling ability mimics Disguise Self, which specifically DOES NOT provide the abilities of the assumed form; this is in contrast to Alter Self, which does allow the user to create functional wings. Per the ECS, a changeling can LOOK like a Triton or an Aarikocra, but they can’t breathe water or fly.

How do the wandering tribals wander? Do they do so as individuals or as communities? If as communities, how do they travel without being immediately spotted?

Generally, individually or in small groups. A small group would have a nondescript wagon designed so it can easily be converted to appear to fill a number of different roles; it could be a merchant wagon, a coach of tourists, an entertainer and their entourage, and so on. this would be customized based on the region, the relevant personas they have with ties to the area, and what they plan to do in the area. If they have something to sell, they’re merchants. If they’re flush with cash, they’re tourists. If they’ve got a bard, they’re entertainers. And bear in mind, the changeling entertainer could have a legitimate Phiarlan license and be ready to put on a show. Beyond this, they are generally traveling through regions they know. So they know village X is strongly religious but has no priest and always responds well to a traveling preacher, while town Y has a soft spot for soldiers.

Beyond this, you also have individual tribals who remain stationary for periods in larger communities. They serve as anchors, passing messages between groups of wanderers, helping to gather resources, and filling wanderers in on local news or important changes in the community (along with things like “Jal was publicly killed while using his Old Barmy identity, so Barmy is dead in this region.”). When the anchor gets tired of the post, they can trade places with a wanderer familiar with the anchor persona. Typically, an anchor is someone who sees a fair amount without drawing a lot of attention or having too much responsibility – beggars, barmaids, etc – but some anchors hold more significant positions. For example, a changeling with healing skills may serve as a healer in a small village. That village is a central hub for the migration patterns of wanderers of that tribe, and they all know that the village is a safe place for an injured member of the tribe to go for healing and recovery without having to worry about being exposed and drawing hostility.

However, with personae which are deliberately passed from one changeling to another (at last the question!), are magical or psionic means ever used to transfer actual memories from one to the next?

It’s possible. Part of this depends on your view of the relationship between changelings and doppelgangers. Traditional doppegangers are fully telepathic and can detect thoughts at will. You could assert that changelings and doppelgangers are different species, or you could say that they are the same species; that the telepathic talent is something that exists in the race but must be honed; and thus, that doppelgangers have mastered this particular gift but that all changelings possess it on some level. When I first created the setting, my idea was that they WERE the same species and that there would be a “monster class” (this was just after Savage Species had been released) allowing a PC changeling to hone those doppelganger abilities. The racial skill bonuses of a changeling – Insight, Intimidation, and Bluff – are based on the idea that all changelings have some innate, instinctive telepathy, even if it’s not consciously controlled. One of the things I always liked about this is the idea that changelings essentially judge people by their thoughts/body language more than by their appearance.

If you embrace this idea, you can say that there are some tribes that have harnessed this ability and use telepathy in this manner. However, even if you don’t go this far, you could also say that a changeling persona teacher does develop a strong psychic bond with their student – that while this isn’t mechanically represented by a general telepathic ability, for story purposes it is possible for them to telepathically share memories through a process of meditation (a sort of mind meld).

As a side note, back in 3E I wrote the setting-neutral Complete Guide To Doppelgangers for Goodman Games. In that, doppelganger communites do have living “memory wells” where they can essentially download memories so that other doppelgangers in their community can catch up on the latest memories for a particular persona.

When a changeling has multiple strong personae, is the root identity always in total control? Do personae ever “fight” for dominance? Or slip out suddenly? Say Max is performing normal duties, when she spots one of Bronson’s arch-enemies. Could Bronson suddenly take over? Or would that only happen in a changeling who is somehow mentally damaged?

There’s some fine lines to define here. First of all, as *I* run them, the core personality is always in control of which personas are assumed. When Tel is being Max, the only personas involved are Tel and Max, and Bronson can’t suddenly jump in and take over. If a fight breaks out, it’s a question as to whether Tel WANTS to shift to Bronson.

Now, when Tel is Bronson, she is entirely in control in the sense that Tel’s desires and long-term goals drive Bronson’s actions. He’s not going to suddenly murder her friends. But she is embracing Bronson’s feelings and instincts, and letting those guide her response to a situation. So I describe Tel as being “afraid of Bronson” because she’s more likely to be ruthless or cruel when she’s Bronson. But she’s never ENTIRELY out of control, and she can always switch out of Bronson. Part of this means that if you have three changelings who have the Vim persona, they are still shaped by their own unique motives – they aren’t the EXACT SAME PERSON when they are Vim. But Vim will be a lens that filters that core personality.

Now, you could certainly present a mentally unstable changeling whose personas have fully taken on their own lives, but that’s not the standard.

34 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: Changelings

  1. Yay! I know you’re unable to create for Eberron, but this is almost as good. Thank you Keith.

    I’ve always liked the changelings, and your interpretation of them as “story-keepers” makes me like them more. I can definitely see the link to the Valeus Tairn, but the tribes don’t keep their ancestors alive, but people who made an impression on them or who may have never existed at all. But the important thing is that each is a person or character of its own, and that story is the changeling’s duty to continue and take forward.

    I’ve been working with the Grey Tide Principality for my game, and I can see the “Personas” being important figures to the Principality rather than individuals. Prince Kel is the chief of the clan and has always been since they chose that island for their home. Prince Kel isn’t an individual but a mantle, so the persona stays alive. Another could be Lhazaar, or the Grey Tide’s memory of her. The captain who fought off a Cloudreaver assault could be a more recent one.

    Like the Valeus Tairn though, do you think changelings have a certain standard of reputation a persona needs to gain before they’d pass it on or is it more abstract along the lines of this persona still has a story to tell?

    • Realised I might not be clear in the third paragraph; the Principality might keep persona important to the tribe instead of those important to individuals. An individual Tider might have three personas of their own, but the Principality won’t make special arrangements to keep those persona after the individual dies, leaving it up to the individual to make that choice. Unlike the persona of Prince Kel, which could be assigned to an ‘understudy’ from birth.

    • Bear in mind that the Gray Tide is an example of a “stable” changeling community, which means that personas are more about the cultural role as opposed to a tool for survival. For the wandering tribals, personas are anchors that can provide them with connections and resources in a wide range of places; I can take advantage of the groundwork other members of my tribe have done in establishing Grod the friendly merchant as a person who will be welcomed in this region. Not that this is one reason Max’s personas include dwarves, elves and vampires – the longer-lived a person is, the longer that Person can be used.

      Looking to the Gray Tide, I’ve always thought of Kel as a team – that there’s a group of changelings running things, and they take turns serving in the figurehead role. Which is an example of a changeling disguising itself as a different changeling.

      Re: Lhazaar, while I didn’t go into detail, that’s exactly the concept of the taleshapers. Here’s something from my notes: “Taleshapers are changeling bards; in addition to telling stories, they specialize in replicating the key figures of those stories… so it’s like having King Arthur tell you the story of the Round Table, or Aesop tell you his fables.”

      • Ooh, I hadn’t heard about them before. I think I’ve found my calling if I’m ever magically transplanted.

        The scene I had in mind was the players eventually meeting Lhazaar, and since they work for her descendant; Roe Farwynd, they’d have a little difficulty telling the difference at first.

        As for the Prince Kel, so would it be safe to say that most major “political” roles in a stable settlement may have personas attached? For example, you don’t go to Grey Tide healer, you go to Vim. There might be two or three changelings who could be Vim at any given time, but the healer is Vim. If there’s a major plague or something, would it be odd to see all three of these in the Vim persona at the same time?

        • Promise this is the last one:

          So for stable changelings, the persona fulfils the role, not the individual. When they need leadership, they find Prince Kel, when they need healing, they find Vim, though these both may be assumed by a changeling named Rhett who makes his living as a farmer. More or less correct?

          • When they need leadership, they find Prince Kel, when they need healing, they find Vim, though these both may be assumed by a changeling named Rhett who makes his living as a farmer. More or less correct?

            Close. Rhett may have been a farmer as a child. But being Vim requires significant training, and having mastered the form it’s unlikely those skills would be wasted on farming; if Rhett doesn’t serve as Vim full time, he’s probably an apprentice to the primary Vim. Skill doesn’t come with the shape; rather, the shape serves both as a mnemonic focus for the changeling and as an identifying factor to those coming for service. Max’s mother taught her to be Bronson, and that work included learning to fight and to intimidate. Hol taught her the art of detection, and Rael was the focus for those skills. Rhett would be taught to be Vim, learning the art of medicine at the same time that he learns the mannerisms and features of the old healer.

            And looking again to Max, she possesses all her skills in all her forms. The idea is simply that she is most comfortable using the skills in the persona associated with them. When she’s Bronson, she thinks like Bronson, ruthless and cruel; this is the best match for close combat. But she can still use a rapier as Rael without mechanical penalty. So going back to Rhett, assuming Vim’s form doesn’t make him a healer; training makes him a healer. It’s just that his training in medicine went hand in hand with being Vim, and people know to look for Vim when they need healing – trusting that someone who’s learned to mimic his form has also learned his skills.

    • Like the Valeus Tairn though, do you think changelings have a certain standard of reputation a persona needs to gain before they’d pass it on…

      Great question! I added my answer to the end of the blog post.

      • So if Meriwether becomes a useful persona or gains a reputation useful to the Dawn Wanderers, Tel might choose to pass on Meri to an apprentice or relative.

        • So if Meriwether becomes a useful persona or gains a reputation useful to the Dawn Wanderers, Tel might choose to pass on Meri to an apprentice or relative.

          Precisely.

  2. In a small party, it could be fun to let someone switch between archetypes when they swap personas.

    How do you deal with Changling characters who have met and spent time with humanoids with wings, or who can breath underwater, like Aarikocra or Tritons?
    I ask both as a DM dealing with it mechanically, and as a story question.

    • Answered above. The short form is that by the rules, the changeling ability is based on disguise self, and disguise self doesn’t give you any of the abilities of the assumed form. So it may look like you have gills, but you can’t actually breathe water. I feel like somewhere we’ve presented feats or some sort of character option that makes the ability more like alter self, which does allow you to create functional gills or wings. But I don’t remember exactly where, or even what edition that was in.

    • In a small party, it could be fun to let someone switch between archetypes when they swap personas.

      At one point I was talking with a group of players about running a Mission Impossible sort of game where ALL the PCs were changelings, and every session they’d become a different set of characters… but you could certainly have an element of Sense8 with them switching roles within a session.

  3. In my main campaign, the party has finally set foot in civilization (after trouncing through Droaam and Xen’drik for two years), and I used this opportunity to introduce a changeling bard called Fie the Fabler, who tells stories in the inn, using her face to tell the story.

    The party has been thrust into a murder mystery in Wyr, and suspicions fall on the Fabler, but before they can accuse her they need to find out the full version of a fairytale they found at the murder scene.

  4. A rogue has a wide variety of skills that can easily be adapted to several personas, what about ideas for some of the other classes? Are there any in particular you have had fun with?

    • Last post I talked about a campaign seed I ran using a hijacked airship. One of the times I ran that campaign, one of the PCs was a changeling cleric of the Silver Flame. Having encountered corruption in the church and been baffled by it, he went out into the world to understand corruption. His primary personas were a priest, a fighter, and rogue (speaking to archetypes, not class). He used the fighter persona for combat; the priest as default and for clerical magic; and the rogue for negotiation (Persuasion) with shadier characters. I’ll talk about other ideas in the main post shortly.

    • I’ve added some notes on other classes to the main post (immediately at the start of the Q&A section, since it’s a good question).

  5. I’ve always wanted to run the original Ravenloft in Karrnath, but been a bit stumped as to how to replace the Vistani role in that module (actually, I think in the original they were “gypsies”). Now I know – not that I would run them as a “travelling people” so much as a tribe of people who travel.

    But that leads me to a question. How do the wandering tribals wander? Do they do so as individuals or as communities? If as communities, how do they travel without being immediately spotted (even disguised, communities travelling en masse aren’t exactly inconspicuous)? Do they travel separately but meet at an agreed location? If they do not travel as communities, how do they maintain connections as a tribe?

      • Nice! New question. Is there infighting or internal prejudice among the groups? Do travellers think stables have lost their way, and that foundlings aren’t really chamgelings any more? Do stables think travellers are itinerant bumpkins? Do younf foundlings hover on the fringes of stable communities and travelling camps, wistfully wondering what they are missing?

        • Is there infighting or internal prejudice among the groups?

          If you want there to be. I could see the tribes being presented as being strongly aligned against the rest of the world; but I could also see an interesting story about a feud between two tribes, fighting a hidden war behind false faces.

          Do travellers think stables have lost their way, and that foundlings aren’t really chamgelings any more?

          Well, consider the legend I presented above. “I will protect your children if they follow my path. Let them wander the world. None will know them. They will have no kingdom but the road…” This story is the driving force behind the tribal lifestyle, and certainly they maintain that other changelings have lost their way. The campaign in which I played Max began in Sharn, but Max didn’t have anything to do with the changelings of Dragoneyes; they simply didn’t have anything in common, and their ways aren’t her ways. And likewise, the changeling of Dragoneyes would potentially see the wanderers as rootless superstitious hobos. As for foundlings, there’s no one rule that can apply to all foundlings, because it’s all a question of their personal circumstances and stories. Some may yearn to connect to their changeling identity, while others may fully identify with their birth culture.

          With that said, bear in mind that most changelings in the Five Nations have no idea what the Gray Tide is like… and Lost is itself a traveling community that’s almost impossible to find. So most changelings have only her stories of these unique changeling societies.

  6. I used a lot Chance and Velvet in a campaign. Chance change face everyday and emphasise that changing is what make you alive. He sincerely thinks that forcing and decive people for making them change means helping them. Velvet use her illusions and personas for making you comfortable and learning about people. Both of them are “religious” in my campaign.

    Btw I wonder how changelings don’t have monopoly of prostitution. Or maybe even being enslaved by criminal gangs for purpose of prostitution. It would quite a sad but obvious story in real world.

    Finally: can you see any specific role inside the silver flame for changelings?

    Have you ever used or imaginated a story/purpose for the cabinet of faced?

    • Btw I wonder how changelings don’t have monopoly of prostitution.

      They aren’t organized or widespread enough to have a monopoly, but it’s certainly a path many take.

      Can you see any specific role inside the silver flame for changelings?

      Not particularly. Changelings aren’t celebrated in the Five Nations the way they are in Riedra, and we’ve suggested that they generally live “undercover” in Thrane. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I ran a campaign in which one of the PCs was a changeling cleric of the Flame, but we didn’t present his role as being any different from that a human would have. In theory noble souls join the Flame after death, and it would be interesting to have a changeling medium who can essentially channel and embody champions within the Flame… but it’s not something I’d propose as being part of the core Thrane tradition.

      Have you ever used or imaginated a story/purpose for the cabinet of faces?

      The Cabinet of Faces has been a part of Eberron since the beginning. I’ve always liked doppelgangers and the Traveler, and the idea of a secret cabal of changelings was definitely something I’ve done in the world. However, I’ve never actually used them in a campaign or story. I will say that one of the primary themes of the Traveler is to instigate chaos in order to drive growth and change… and I can see the Cabinet of Faces being behind actions that will cause dramatic change. It would be interesting to assert that the Cabinet of Faces instigated the Shadow Schism or even the Last War – as ways to cause dramatic social change.

  7. First: I always loved changelings and I am particularly thankful for this post. Thank you Keith.

    Second: I have this feelings that changelings always “find a role”. If you are born with certain abilities and all of your family have it, it permeates your psychology and culture in deep. If there are changelings family in thrane or eldeen reaches it will become natural to adapt your beliefs to your abilities and vice-versa.

    Third: i’d wonder how love and sexual attraction works for changelings. Possibly physical appearance means nothing to them? Do they give any credit to monogamy since all the personas thing?

    Bonus: a little point, never explored in deep and that I find fascinating in Eberron is the cult of the becoming God. I think it could be a good topic for a next post 🙂

    • Thank you Keith.

      You’re welcome!

      If there are changelings family in thrane or eldeen reaches it will become natural to adapt your beliefs to your abilities and vice-versa.

      Certainly. And in Riedra, where changelings are a recognized part of the population, they do have a special role in the national religion. By contrast, Thrane is a human-dominant culture where people are vigilant against supernatural evil, and it’s easy for people to fear changelings falling into that category. Thus, rather than embracing that culture, most changelings in Thrane adapt their beliefs and abilities to avoiding that culture — which is why the Children are the dominant changeling culture in the region. And the traditions and the beliefs of the Children do reflect changeling abilities, psychology, and their experience with the dominant culture of the region.

      On the other hand you have foundlings like the changeling Flame cleric I mentioned before, who entirely embraced the culture of Thrane and Flame, but didn’t see himself as having some sort of special role because he was a changeling; rather, he saw himself as one more noble soul seeking to spread the light, alongside humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and so on. As it stands, no race is called out as having a particularly special role in the Church – or more accurately, all races are equally valued. But as noted above, every foundling’s experience is unique.

      I’d wonder how love and sexual attraction works for changelings. Possibly physical appearance means nothing to them? Do they give any credit to monogamy since all the personas thing?

      It’s a complex and interesting topic I’d want to explore as part of a more in-depth look at Changelings… so, let’s hope WotC unlocks Eberron for 5E one of these days.

    • Bonus: a little point, never explored in deep and that I find fascinating in Eberron is the cult of the becoming God. I think it could be a good topic for a next post.

      Unfortunately not. As I’ve said before, it’s not legal to create new Eberron material until WotC opens it up. With the Q&As, I can clarify existing material and talk about how I use things. I didn’t actually create The Becoming God, and I’ve never used the cult in my campaign; I think it first appeared in Faiths of Eberron, which I didn’t work on. So I’m afraid it’s a subject where I don’t have any personal insights or clarity to share about it.

  8. Whats your take on the “first change”? Are changelings born in the faceless natural state or something else? Is it a skill they must master like walking? Is it something they do subconciously as juveniles? Is it a terrifying experience along the lines of lycanthropy?
    Whats the” common” development regarding their changing abilities in the life of your average Joe changeling?

    • Are changelings born in the faceless natural state or something else?

      I think the changeling is born as the same apparent species as its mother – so a changeling whose mother is human, or a changeling in human form, would be born apparently human and would remain so for six months to a year in order to facilitate bonding with a potentially non-changeling parent.

      As for the other questions, it’s really part of a much larger question of the role shapeshifting plays for changelings when they AREN’T using it to impersonate others. Does shifting skin tone indicate emotion? does a changeling instinctually shift to a more aggressive posture when faced with a threat? Do changelings focus more on body language than physical appearance? I’d love to delve into all of this in more depth when it’s actually possible to do a proper racial sourcebook. But personally I do believe that the shapeshifting instinct starts young and is honed and mastered at the same time that the child is mastering things like language and toilet training.

  9. I want to install a changeling “secret police” in sharn in my campaign,
    this organisation has to protect the changeling society there by monitoring the changelings in the city they take note of. An agent of them will talk to every new changeling in the town and warn them to be careful using the persona of other people, real one and hard developed fake personas, which must not be compromised.

    In 3.5 this would be psionics or mind reading agents, in 5e i am unsure how to manage this (i miss the class of the factotum), but the idea is, that an real or deep constructed identity should be an important thing for a changeling.
    They learn this by establishing a fake id, it is an expensive and hard work act over a long time if the persona should be authentic, often requiring more than one changeling on the long run because the persona has to be present even if one of them has to do other things.
    So they finaly decided to install a own watch guard to inform all newcomers to proper behavior, no changeling benefits from panic and mistrust among the normal population.

  10. Fascinating as usual. I have an observation and some questions.

    First, in the Eberron cmpaign in which I played, one player had a changeling character. To use your terminology, he was a foundling – human mother, and for many years she didn’t tell him who his father was, just that he had inherited the changeling trait from him. In the PC’s backstory, he was a spy and assassin for Breland in the Last War and become ruthlessly devoted to his nation, and joined the King’s Citadel and, eventually, the Dark Lanterns after the war. In the course of the game, he learned that his father was the King’s Shadow- an office secret from the general public. The King’s Shadow was the bodyguard to King Boranel, who would, as needed, assume the King’s persona in dangerous situations, or when the true King needed to be elsewhere secretly. Eventually, the Shadow was assassinated, and the PC was drafted to take over the role . If we had had the concept of inherited personae, I would imagine the player and the GM would have had the Shadow training his son to assume the role. I have a sneaking suspicion that, had the campaing lasted long enough, the GM might have had a scenario in which the true Boranel dies (old age, assassination, accident, whatever) while the PC was impersonating him. So then the question becomes: Does the PC decide to Play the King? If so, is this dangerous game played until the crisis passes, or forever? And how do the other PCs react? It would have been a fascinating scenario, but, alas, never more than hypothetical now.

    On to questions! 1) With inherited personae, I can see where the older incarnation could carelfully train their successor to know when they’d need to know to carry on. But in your case ofMeriwether, she didn’t know that Tel would be assuming her role. So while Tel/Meriwether knows a lot about Meri’s history, there would always be a chance that she would encounter someone or some situation which the original Meri never bothered to mention. Oops! This would seem to be an inherent danger with such personae. However, with personae which are deliberately passed from one changeling to another (at last the question!), are magical or psionic means ever used to transfer actual memories from one to the next?

    2) Do the tribals ever have certain personae shared among multiple individuals for covert action purposes? Example: The changling Seancon is the primary “wearer” of the persona, Bon Jamesbon. But the persona is also possessed by Jhorlaz, Rogmore, Timdal, Peerce, and Dancrag. Sometimes one of the group will appear prominently as Bon at a party, or seducing some female, while another is off on an espionage mission, so that there’s always evidence that “Bon” was nowhere near the scene of the crime.

    3) When a changeling has multiple strong personae, is the root identity always in totatl control? Do personae ever “fight” for dominance? Or silp out suddenly? Say Max is performing normal duties, when she spots one of Bronson’s arch-enemies. Could Bronson suddenly take over? Or would that only happen in a changeling who is somehow mentally damaged?

    4) Rather off topic, but I’ll ask anyway. In your description, you mention the family of Hess d’Medani. Usually, in canonical sources, characters are simply named as Soandso d’House, rather than Soandso Surname d’House. Is there some pattern to this usage? For example, do members with the Dragonmark just go by d’House, and those without use a surname as well? Is it a reflection of status within the house (i.e., if you’re highly placed, you don’t use a surname?) Is it a tradition that varies from House to House? Or is it just personal preference? Are there very ancient bloodlines whose surname *is* the House name, e.g. would the most formal version of the name be Merrix Cannith d’Cannith?

    • The King’s Shadow was the bodyguard to King Boranel, who would, as needed, assume the King’s persona in dangerous situations, or when the true King needed to be elsewhere secretly.

      I love it!

      But in your case of Meriwether, she didn’t know that Tel would be assuming her role. So while Tel/Meriwether knows a lot about Meri’s history, there would always be a chance that she would encounter someone or some situation which the original Meri never bothered to mention.

      That is absolutely true, and something that was intended to be a potential story hook for the character – that using the persona could pull her into problems. Part of the idea as noted was that Meri didn’t HAVE a lot of friends, which was one reason Tel felt comfortable that she could wing things if needed. But this is definitely where a lot of Insight and Deception would be called for, and where the group could be drawn into an unexpected situation.

      Do the tribals ever have certain personae shared among multiple individuals for covert action purposes?

      Certainly, pretty much exactly as you describe.

      When a changeling has multiple strong personae, is the root identity always in total control?

      I just added a slightly cleaner version of my original answer to the main post.

      Usually, in canonical sources, characters are simply named as Soandso d’House, rather than Soandso Surname d’House. Is there some pattern to this usage?

      It varies by house and is discussed in more detail in Dragonmarked; notably, Sivis heirs always use line name, and Tharashk heirs typically use their clan name instead of the house name. For most houses, the line name is used WITHIN the house – so at a formal house gathering, you’d be introduced as Elaydren Vown d’Cannith – but with the general populace you’d just use Elaydren d’Cannith, because the commoners won’t recognize Vown or understand its significance.

    • I missed this one.

      However, with personae which are deliberately passed from one changeling to another (at last the question!), are magical or psionic means ever used to transfer actual memories from one to the next?

      I just added an answer to this to the end of the main post.

  11. Love your work as always, Keith. Changelings and their persecution is a huge theme in my personal campaign, but I never considered how their psychology would differ so much before – this is definitely getting used by me.

    My question is how deep do these personas go for Changelings that take this path? For example you presented that Tel used Bronson when fighting and violence was needed, but Max when trying to be helpful and good. But where is Tel in all this?

    When Tel shifts into Bronson, does she actually begin to enjoy hurting people and sharing her pain, or is she just using her skills as an actor to make it seem like it? You also described Max as being good whereas Tel is neutral. When she is Max, is she /actually/ good? And I don’t mean alignment, I mean in the way that good people help others and do good things and /think/ good things. Does Tel not? If not, does that make Max’s kindness and helpful attitude any less genuine? What keeps Tel neutral when Max is not?

    The same could be asked for Meriwether or even Garrow. She can keep Meriwether’s memory alive but does she really feel how her friend would feel (as far as she could understand it)? She might have also been raised to adopt Harrow but what if she had felt conflicting beliefs to that figure? Would she just act as a false priest? Or does the training run so deep in the mind as to where it truly becomes a multiple personality disorder (As a human might categorize it)?

    • My question is how deep do these personas go for Changelings that take this path? For example you presented that Tel used Bronson when fighting and violence was needed, but Max when trying to be helpful and good. But where is Tel in all this?

      I touch on this at the very end of the (VERY LONG) post. Quoting the piece that directly applies here:

      Now, when Tel is Bronson, she is entirely in control in the sense that Tel’s desires and long-term goals drive Bronson’s actions. He’s not going to suddenly murder her friends. But she is embracing Bronson’s feelings and instincts, and letting those guide her response to a situation.

      It’s more about the instinctive, natural response to a situation. If fighting mercs, Bronson is likely to take a killing blow, while Max would try to keep them alive and take prisoners. But they’d both be guided by Tel’s general “protect my friends from these mercenaries” goal.

      Looking to Meriwether: It’s entirely a persona belonging to Tel based on HER data about Meriwether. She is guided by how she THINKS Meri would act, but who knows, the real Meri might be completely different. She’s constructed her own model of Meri.

      When Tel shifts into Bronson, does she actually begin to enjoy hurting people and sharing her pain, or is she just using her skills as an actor to make it seem like it?

      A changeling can ALWAYS just put on a face and use their acting skills to play a part. That’s not a persona; that’s just acting. The point of a persona is to develop it so deeply that you aren’t simply acting; you’re embodying that person (even if it’s a false person). Now, if for some reason she needed to – she needs to deal with a Boromar contact but is truly afraid of being Bronson for some reason, Tel could just physically disguise herself as Bronson without truly assuming the persona, but I would probably give her disadvantage on Deception if she does this while dealing with someone who knows Bronson well, because she’s faking it and not embracing the instincts.

      Side note I never mentioned: When being Bronson, Max, or Rael, Tel generally never HAS to make a Deception check, because there’s no Deception involved. She’s not pretending to be one of these people; she IS that person. The only time I’d call for a Deception check is if she runs into someone who knew Meri well or knew Rael before she took on the role, and even then I’d probably give her advantage on the check, because she is so deeply versed in the part compared to just some random disguise she might take on in the spur of the moment.

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