By Light, By Night -- Urban Fantasy for FAE

By Light, By Night was an experiment in writing a short (10-15 page) setting synopsis for FATE Accelerated Edition, since I was really impressed with that system right after I read it.  I tried to riff off the anime/young adult novel vibe of the system and create an urban fantasy setting that would fit on the CW: teenage elves and fairies on both sides of a cold war between social groups.  It seemed like a good idea.

Unfortunately, I don’t like YA fiction or CW teen shows.  I like anime – but I’d rather watch one of the few shows out there about adults like Cowboy Bebop or Dai Guard – and I like the gallows humor of Supernatural, but I’m not the audience for what I was trying to write.  I’ve run urban fantasy duet with Robin, but it’s always a lot more like Lost Girl or True Blood.

Also, it turns out constantly making up Aspects is a pain for two people.  They recommend FAE for groups of three to five players, and I think that might just be advice to play by.  We went back to using Savage Worlds pretty quickly.

If anyone has followed By Light, By Night and wants more, I’d be amenable to releasing what I’ve done under some sort of Creative Commons license if you want to pick it up and keep it going, but otherwise I’m done.


By Light, By Night

You aren’t normal, are you?  There’s something off about you; something that prompts stares as you walk through the halls at school, something that prompts suspicious questions from your parents, something that makes it difficult to make friends.  You’re weird.  You’re strange.  You’re one of us.

The question now is do you join the Light or the Night?

By Light, By Night is an urban fantasy setting for FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE).  It is a setting where the anxieties of being a teenager are complicated by the fact that the protagonists are not actually human – they’re changeling fae, shape-shifting creatures of legend and myth hiding in plain sight in the modern world.  Life is hard enough when you don’t fit in, but what if you don’t even belong in this world?

The Changeling Way

What are changelings?

Characters in By Light, By Night are changelings, fairytale creatures (or fae) who have been swapped for mortal children and raised by humans.  The reasons for this cuckoo-like child-rearing are unknown.  No fae that your characters know have been to the Otherworld – the mysterious alternate dimension all fae come from – not even the adults. 

Most changelings resemble the fairies and monsters of European folklore, but don’t feel restricted to the archetypes listed below.  Your characters might be Cherokee little people (Nûñnë'hï), Japanese fox spirits (Kitsune), or Mesoamerican animal-people (Nagual).  The more conventional European fairytales are used as the basis for the accompanying example NPCs and setting because of their familiarity in English-language culture and media.  Feel free to mix in whatever cultural elements appeal to you.

Why did our parents do this to us?

There are many theories as to why changelings are sent to Earth.  Perhaps you’re all refugees from a genocidal war or invasion by elder horrors, maybe the Otherworld has been poisoned by the bad dreams of humans or the environmental destruction on Earth, or possibly the True Fae of your homeland have sent you all as sleeper agents for a fae takeover of the mortal world.  The importance of this mystery in your campaign is up to each group of players and GM; discovering the answer could be the central plot or it could be completely coincidental.  In any case, it will be more satisfying for the players if they get to riddle out the mystery themselves rather than receiving the answer from NPCs.

 Shape-shifting
All changelings are capable of changing between at least two forms and many kinds of fae are capable of even greater feats of shape-shifting.  Every changeling fae has a normal-looking human form and a fantastical fae form.  Assuming the fae form allows a changeling to make use of her supernatural abilities – casting spells, flying, super-strength, etc. – but makes her vulnerable to the various folk charms  and wards that humans have used against the fae throughout history (iron being the most infamous).  The human form doesn't have the fae vulnerabilities but can't use any powers.  Thankfully, there's a means for changelings to spend most of their time in their fae forms without anyone noticing.

The Masque

Most changelings spend the first twelve to fifteen years of their lives without manifesting their supernatural powers.  They might be attracted to fantasy fiction and gaming from an early age, but this has become far less remarkable in the past couple of decades (and gives credence to the “sleeper agents” theory among older fae).  It isn’t until a changeling begins puberty that her or his powers begin to manifest and she or he begins to become an outcast in the human world.  It’s cold comfort, but the aura of weirdness, of “difference” that separates pubescent changelings from the herd of humanity is actually the first manifestation of a magical defense called the Masque.      

All changelings are shape-shifters in one sense or another, and the Masque is a sort of psychic shape-shifting.  It is a continuous, unconscious mental command that tells normal humans “Move along; there’s nothing to see here.”  It allows a changeling to assume her true fae appearance without being noticed by human beings. 

Notice the use of the word “notice.”  The Masque doesn’t make changelings invisible or change their physical interactions with the world; it just helps them blend in.  A tiny pixie flying through the air might appear to be a bee or butterfly while a towering troll might appear to just be a big dude.  If that butterfly lands on some normal person’s nose and begins telling her off, then that normal person is going to see through the Masque.  If the troll’s fae form is ten feet tall, then he’s going to have to resume his human form in order to fit in a Mini Cooper.

Making more changelings

Depending on what kind of mature themes you want to handle in your By Light, By Night campaign, you may find yourself confronting the problem of changeling reproduction.  Changeling fae are not infertile, but most changeling infants are stillborn and most of those that survive are merely human (humans imbued with excellent luck and maybe a little magic, but humans nonetheless).  A very small percentage of children born to changeling parents are also fae… but the only way to know a child is fae is to wait for that inevitable, terrible, glorious night when the child is stolen from its crib while the parents sleep.  No changeling in living memory has been raised by her birth parents and no changeling child who has scoured the Earth to find her birth parents has yet succeeded.

Because all fae are outsiders and orphans, they naturally make new families for themselves by gathering with other changelings.  Adult fae seek out newly-bloomed youngsters and “adopt” them into locally-organized families or clans.  Adults usually try to adopt children of the same fae type – alfar adopt alfar, brownies adopt brownies, cluricans adopt cluricans – but this isn’t always possible.  Whether these homogeneous clans then try to gather into larger heterogeneous collectives depends on whether the fae belong to the Light or the Night.

The Light and the Night

There are two main factions of fae: the Court of Light and the Parliament of Night, also known in human folklore as the Seelie and Unseelie.  To describe them as “good” and “evil” is too simplistic; Light fae can wreak terrible revenge on those who have offended them, while Night fae can be very protective of those who have helped them.  One could describe them as opposed forces of law and chaos, but even that overstates the differences between the factions.  The best way to describe them might be to compare them to two popular science fiction shows with opposing viewpoints: “Star Trek” and “Firefly.”

The Court of Light tries to conduct itself a lot like “Star Trek’s” United Federation of Planets.  They prefer to settle disputes through arbitration, they believe in the validity of all cultures while also adopting a protective central government, and they value discovery in all its’ forms: art, introspection, magic.  They regard the Parliament of Night much the same way the Federation regards the Maquis – as potentially dangerous and atavistic troublemakers who have rejected enlightenment.

The Parliament of Night is a lot more like the crew of the Serenity: a disparate group of outlaws and troublemakers banded together to enjoy a life free from the control of a monolithic government.  They value individual initiative, personal codes of honor, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.  They regard the Court of Light with the same distrust and skepticism that Mal Reynolds has for the Alliance. 

Neither faction is completely right nor completely wrong.  Both sides have their heroes and both sides have their villains; keep in mind that the same criminal counterculture that embraced brave and independent Zoe also embraced the sadistic kingpin Niska while the same Federation that created compassionate and self-sacrificing Ben Sisko also created the manipulative and genocidal Section 31. The Court of Light is home to gracious fairies and playful pixies, but is also home to the haughty daoine sídhe and dour dwarfs.  The Parliament of Night has helpful brownies and puckish pookas, but also bullying goblins and terrifying trolls.  Both the Light and the Night see themselves as heroes.

Keep that dichotomy in mind when you tell your stories.  It’s all right to pick a side and tell the stories that skew toward your preferred faction, but treating this as a fight between boring old good and evil is dull.  FATE and FATE Accelerated Edition are games about drama.  True drama comes from the conflict of people who all believe they’re doing the right thing.

Types of Fae

Changeling fae are not the only supernatural beings in the world.  They are the protagonists of By Light, By Night because their ambiguity – their ability shift allegiances and outlooks every bit as much as their ability to change form – makes them an excellent source for drama.  They also come in a broad variety of types that nevertheless are recognizably part of the same storytelling tradition.  The default assumption in the types listed below is that most fae fit into the Celtic and Germanic traditions of strange outsiders – distinct from the undead and possessed of human levels of intelligence – who can change their appearance and/or shape or turn invisible.


“Folk” is the accepted term in the Court of Light for the broader fae types that encompass what in Dungeons and Dragons would be called “races” (though that doesn’t stop irreverent Night fae from talking about sub-races and demi-humans).  These folk are then divided into smaller ethnicities or “kin.”  Some of these folk and kin are:


The Fair Folk


Across the British Isles, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, there are stories of a beautiful and magical race apart from mankind that dwells in burial mounds, caves, mountains, and under the earth.  These Fair Folk are adept with illusions and healing magic, pale of hair and skin, and by turns imperious and whimsical.  While they form the backbone of the Court of Light, it is not unknown for Fair Folk to turn to the Parliament of Night.


Fair Folk kin include:


Alfar

Beautiful, pale human-looking fae who glow faintly from an inherent luminescence, the alfar are the prototype for the elves of contemporary fantasy games and literature.  Despite their benevolent appearance, they often favor Sneaky as their primary Approach; their relationship with mankind has been filled with betrayals and deception and they have learned to tread carefully with outsiders.  Alfar who join the Night find their hair turns black; they become known as svartalfar (“dark elves”).

Suggested Stunts:

Because I have mastered the magical elf-shot – an invisible bolt of crippling pain – I get a +2 when I Sneakily Attack a target in an adjacent Zone.

Because the alfar are masters of deception, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Create an Advantage over a stranger using illusions.


Daoine Sidhe

The daoine sidhe (“people of the mounds”) embrace their Celtic roots pretty strongly and have taken to covering their bodies in tribal tattoos.  In Ireland, the daoine sidhe created hidden homes for themselves in ancient burial mounds, pocket dimensions that echoed their haunted dreams of the Otherworld; even today, some of them can still create such hidden strongholds.  They are more warlike than most Fair Folk and often choose Forceful as their primary Approach.  Daoine sidhe who break from the Light often become twisted and dangerous creatures like the infamous banshee.

Suggested Stunts:  

Because I come from a proud warrior tradition, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Attack an opponent in a one-on-one duel.

Because the sidhe retain their ancient magic, once per session I can create a temporary shelter in a pocket dimension that lasts from dawn to dusk or from dusk to dawn.


Fairies

Arguably the most beautiful of the Fair Folk, fairies can fly on butterfly- or dragonfly-like wings.  They affect to be graceful and harmless – spirits of the air – but in truth are the most capricious of the Fair Folk and the difference between Light fairies and Night fairies is mainly cosmetic.  Fairies enjoy the company of humans and tend to be very possessive of their companions.  They tend to favor the Quick Approach to problems.

Suggested Stunts:
Because I have gossamer wings, I get a +2 when I Quickly Overcome obstacles when flying from one Zone to another.
Because I have a posset of fairy dust, once per session I can put anyone to sleep as long as I do no physical harm to them while they sleep (but mischief is allowed).

The Giant Folk


Few of the Giant Folk feel much relation to each other, but their huge and monstrous appearances unite them despite a lack of common culture.  Young changelings are often surprised by how many of the Giant Folk ally themselves with the Court of Light; there’s as many or more Shreks amongst the fae as there are Lord of the Rings-style cave trolls.  The intelligence of the Giant Kin is also often underestimated; trolls, in particular, enjoy reminding others of how much magic they have mastered.  


Buggane

An obscure kin who originated on the Isle of Man, buggane perfectly reflect how deeply connected the Light and the Night really are.  Buggane appear less human than many Giant Folk – hairy, tusked, and clawed – but they have gentle hearts and prefer to spend their time enjoying the peace and quiet of nature.  Their preferred approach is necessarily Forceful; they often serve the Court of Light as reluctant warriors of last resort.

Suggested Stunts:

Because I have such a scary appearance, I get a +2 to Flashily Create an Advantage by intimidating my opponents.

Because I have huge claws, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Overcome an obstacle by tearing it down.


Ogres

One of the few Giant Folk who gather in family units instead of living alone, ogres often challenge the Fair Folk for leadership of Court of Light enclaves.  Many suspect the entire kin of being double-agents for the Parliament of Night, but this is undoubtedly mere paranoia.  Ogres appear as overblown humans – tall and bulky with oversized heads and bone-crunchingly large teeth – but they are also masters of shape-shifting and will often spend days on end in other forms.  They enjoy being Flashy.

Suggested Stunts:

Because I can be anyone or anything, I get a +2 to Cleverly Create an Advantage by assuming someone or something else’s shape.

Because I am at one with my magic, I get a +2 to Flashily Defend by flowing from one shape to another and sowing confusion in my foes.

  

Trolls

Trolls vary so greatly in shape and size -- some appearing as tall, handsome humans and others as grotesque mud-monsters – that even fellow trolls have trouble telling if they’re of the same kin.  This might account in no small part for why few trolls seek the companionship of the Light and instead seek the anonymity of the Night.  They are connected intimately to stone and soil and take their time Carefully plotting against enemies both real and imagined.

Suggested Stunts:

Because I have the patience of stone, I get a +2 to Carefully Attack my targets when I’ve already worked out their weaknesses.

Because I am one with the earth, once per session I can meld into the soil and hide undetected.


NPCs

The following NPCs can be used as mentors and antagonists.

Morgiana Beltane
High Concept:  Queen of the Seelie Court
Trouble: Too many Otherkind, too little space.

Aspect 1: Owner of the popular bar, The Froudian Slip

Aspect 2: An ancient sidhe of royal blood

Aspect 3: Breezy and cheerful


Careful: +2

Clever: +3

Flashy: +2

Forceful: +3

Quick: +1

Sneaky: +4


Stunt 1: Because I have a deceptively harmless appearance, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create an Advantage to aid my subjects.  

Stunt 2: Because I wield the Power of Midsummer, I get a +2 when I Flashily Defend myself from creatures of darkness.

Stunt 3: Because it’s good to be the queen, I have a surprising number of valuable possessions far outside the means of a simple tavernkeeper (a classic Jaguar, bottles of 200 year-old scotch, etc.).


Gavin Falcon

High Concept:  Green Knight of the Seelie Court of Brighton Bay

Trouble: “Where is the honor in that?”

Aspect 1: Fencing coach at the local college

Aspect 2: Historical European martial arts afficianado

Aspect 3: Sidhe of the tribe of the Horned Lord


Careful: +1

Clever: +1

Flashy: +2

Forceful: +3

Quick: +2

Sneaky: +0


Stunt 1: Because I am the champion of the queen, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Attack in single combat.  

Stunt 2: Because I am as fast as a stag, I get a +2 when I Quickly Overcome physical obstacles in my path.

Stunt 3: Because I use my position in society to scout for potential recruits, I have a small cadre of fae warriors at my command.


Harold Broom

High Concept:  Seneschal of the Seelie Court of Brighton Bay

Trouble: Nearsighted nebbish

Aspect 1: Certified public accountant

Aspect 2: “It may be a mess, but it’s my mess!”

Aspect 3: Doing everything a clurican can


Careful: +3

Clever: +2

Flashy: +1

Forceful: +0

Quick: +1

Sneaky: +2


Stunt 1: Because I know all the angles, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome financial obstacles.  

Stunt 2: Because I can shrink down to three apples tall, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Defend against man-size or larger opponents (but only when I can dare use my powers).

Stunt 3: Because I’m just another face in the crowd, once per session I can literally disappear into a crowd.


Erik Alderman
High Concept: King of the Unseelie Court
Trouble: All the gods-damned humans
Aspect 1: Hard-bitten survivor of four hundred years of war and politics
Aspect 2: Not all trolls are stupid and ugly
Aspect 3: Casual cruelty

Careful: +1
Clever: +3
Flashy: +2
Forceful: +4
Quick: +2
Sneaky: +3

Stunt 1: Because I am smarter and less savage than the average troll, once per session I can act first in combat when I unleash my true savage nature.
Stunt 2: Because I wield the Power of Midwinter, I get a +2 when I Flashily Attack servants of the light.
Stunt 3: Because I am a master of illusion and darkness, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantages in surroundings unfamiliar to my foes.

Briana “Harsh’naghk” Tomlin
High Concept: Red Knight of the Unseelie Court
Trouble: “This is the most awesome LARP evah!!!”
Aspect 1: Don’t tell her orcs aren’t “real” legendary beings
Aspect 2: Player-killer
Aspect 3: Proud of her scars

Careful: +0
Clever: +1
Flashy: +2
Forceful: +3
Quick: +2
Sneaky: +1

Stunt 1: Because I think it’s all a game, I get a +2 when I Flashily Attack using a fantasy weapon like a bat’leth or “Krull”-style glaive.
Stunt 2: Because I don’t think I can die, I get a +2 to Forcefully Attack supernatural mooks (but not normal humans because they’re real).
Stunt 3: Because I need my delusions shielded in order to be effective for the Unseelie, the king has assigned a gang of goblins to fight by my side and feed my fantasies.

Jeff Albertson
High Concept: Seneschal of the Unseelie Court
Trouble: Can’t go two sentences without sarcasm
Aspect 1: Literal internet troll
Aspect 2: Won’t take your crap
Aspect 3: Knows where the bodies are buried

Careful: +2
Clever: +3
Flashy: +1
Forceful: +2
Quick: +0
Sneaky: +1

Stunt 1: Because I am a computer genius, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Create Advantages using my hacking skills.
Stunt 2: Because I’m a bully, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Attack anyone smaller than me.
Stunt 3: Because the whole world is wired, once per session I can get anywhere someone answers her smartphone.

2 comments:

  1. I like the idea and I know that my girlfriend will manipulate me to make her a campaign with this setting

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks! Feel free to run wild with it; it was made to be enjoyed with wives and girlfriends. :)

    ReplyDelete

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