North of the River

London to the north of the Thames is a no go area for the changelings of the Freehold of the Southern Fields. Conversely, a long standing agreement with the vampires of London and the local mage consilium ensures that the changelings have south London to themselves.

Behind the screen

The intial reasons for this are largely out of character concerns. For one thing, it allows me to keep my different World of Darkness storylines distinct while still having events play out in the same general setting and providing for some degree of interaction. Events in my Mage campaign (aborted or still to run, depending on your point of view) can take place in the same London, perhaps even with occasional reference to events in the Changeling game, without directly impacting the Changeling story, and vice versa.

It’s also fair to say that this arrangement makes life simpler for me even without the potential of a parallel story. I can limit the involvement of other supernaturals without removing them from the game. And at the same time, I get a nice “here be dragons” effect, turning something mundane (a part of London with which all of the players are familiar) into something slightly more mysterious.

Finally, the divide between north and south London ties into the main theme of the campaign, that being one of duality. North and south London are two different, potentially competing sides of one greater whole. That idea is something which will crop up a lot as the campaign progresses.

At the table

In character/setting, the reasons for the divide are largely outside the scope of the Changeling game as they arose from my planned Mage campaign which I cooked up first. There is nothing in the Changeling game which requires the characters to look into the history of the divide (to be fair, there is no immediate driver for modern mages to do so either). The more important concerns are the way in which the division is enforced, and the numerous ways in which it is negotiated.

For a start, there is no outright prohibition on changelings travelling north of the Thames, or even on them living there. Likewise, mages and vampires are free to travel south. Instead, the prohibition prevents the various supernaturals from using their powers on the other side of the line, the idea being that they are rendered effectively mortal outside their home turf. This in itself is sufficient discouragement for most of them – who wants to risk the vulnerability?

Looking purely from the changeling perspective, the prohibition is enforced through use of a pledge, specifically a sub clause in the seasonal oath of fealty to the monarch of the season. The changelings undertake, among other things, not to invoke contracts north of the river and accept the right of the monarch to punish them if they break this requirement. Although the monarch can theoretically be a little flexible with the exact punishment, all monarchs press for the most extreme options in cases where this rule has been violated. The major driver behind this is that the monarchs don’t want to tip their hand to either fellow changelings or the guys in the north when it comes to the array of loopholes in the pledge.

And what about those loopholes? For a start, not all changelings are bound to swear fealty to each monarch when the seasons change. Typically a member of a seasonal court will swear fealty to his own monarch, and may elect to do so to other seasonal monarchs in order to receive the freehold benefits from doing so (and boost goodwill with the respective court), but a sizable proportion of the freehold might not be bound by pledge at any given time. This is most obvious in winter – no one outside the winter court swears fealty to the winter monarch since no one outside that court knows who the monarch actually is, meaning that for three months each year, no more than a couple of dozen out of the freehold are actually bound in this way.

Secondly, Lord Greene traditionally takes oaths of fealty during The May, which is a little way into his actual reign, so the prohibition doesn’t cover the entireity of his season. Other monarchs may be similarly lax in their own ways.

Thirdly, and the typical prohibitions don’t cover pledges in any event.

All things considered, the entire system looks as if the people who designed it intentionally allowed themselves plenty of room – sometimes it pays to have a revolving system of leadership in contrast to the more stable positions of Prince and Hierarch used by their neighbours.

The caveat to all of the above is that monarchs who get wind of changelings using contracts north of the river, even if those changelings are not bound to them by a fealty oath, don’t look upon those infractions kindly. They aren’t oath bound to punish offenders, but might still decide to teach them a lesson (in the case of the Summer and Autumn courts the available range of punishments might extend beyond those available to them under oath and it’s best not to ask what the winter court would do). At the very least flagrant abuse of the loopholes might highlight them to people north of the river, and no sane monarch wants that. The flexibility just allows them room to operate in emergencies rather than open license for changelings to take magic day trips to north London.

So ultimately, the changelings see the restriction as more of a gentlemen’s agreement than anything completely binding, and doubtless congratulate themselves on getting the best part of the deal. Which just goes to show ho little they understand the other signatories to this agreement.

North of the River

Both Alike in Dignity Trevelyan