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Reflections on the Dreaming

This past weekend I travelled to Atlantic City to experience Changeling: Waking Dreams. The event is based on Changeling: the Dreaming by White Wolf, a game about fae beings trying to survive, trapped in human hosts in the mundane world.

A confession: I’ve never played nor even read Dreaming. I’ve heard friends say many good things over the years, but I’ve had many issues with legacy White Wolf. Also, I already am deeply in love with Changeling: the Lost, a game about PTSD, survival, and identity.

Still, playing a grand scale Changeling event sounded amazing, and I know the designers in the form of Books and Świstak would treat me well. It didn’t hurt the game came off as deeply queer, an assumption that proved to be quite accurate.

I’m going to give some of my thoughts on the design, setting, and the overall experience. What I’m not doing is talking extensively about my character. I strongly feel that attempts to convey the journey within liminal spaces like this inevitably fall short. I would encourage those who are curious about these sorts of experiences to try it out yourself!

Setting & Design

The general premise of the event was essentially a giant party, where changelings can meet up in numbers, let their hair down, talk about things, dance, flirt, and be their gloriously absurd selves away from the mundanity of day to day living. The host of the event was the Prince of Glam and the Burning Revel, an all-changeling rock band that was well known in the community to throw a damn good party.

This premise really spoke to me on multiple levels. Partying hard in the face of being erased from existence, gathering of an outsider community to be themselves, and reveling in absurdity and outrageousness. These themes are ones I care about deeply.

The event started properly on Thursday around 3pm. One of the things I found interesting is we were going to have about 24 hours of out of character workshops, tie building, and general community building before we dove in.

This highlights one of the biggest differences I had compared to other equivalent experiences: it didn’t feel rushed. Many a time I’ve had the feeling like we were rushing into play, with only an hour or two to prepare. This was very different in that regard.

Another element that was different was the community building. It was clear the event was built with the expectation that you did not need to spend time and energy building connections with people before the event. A huge emphasis was put on building relationships with other players and characters.

One of the first things the organizers had us do was put our characters aside and form “pods”, little groups of people that you didn’t know that was to be your out of character support group for the weekend. They often asked us to meet up with our pod and discuss how we’re feeling, what we’re nervous about, what is exciting, etc.

I found this fascinating. One of the biggest issues with big expensive weekend events like this is that it’s often going in blind, especially for newer people. You don’t know anyone, you paid a lot of money and travelled and you are really nervous. I’ve had this feeling often, especially for international events where I have to deal with travelling far out of my country and have to deal with language and cultural barriers.

What all this networking did was very helpful in providing points of connection both for the characters, but also the players. Not all of my ties worked out, but I was given so much opportunity to meet people and connect that once things started rolling I felt comfortable and supported by so many people.

So that was a good start. The other thing I really appreciated is that while the event was based on Changeling the Dreaming, it also very explicitly was not tied to that canon. One of the dangerous things about making an event based on an existing property is that people may feel the need to call out any perceived deviations from that canon.

However, the organizers very clearly stated that they operated by their own rules, and that we as participants decided what was real and what wasn’t. That was immensely helpful for people like me who didn’t know what rules written in the 90s said, nor honestly cared.

A good moment where that popped up was the Kith workshops. I played a Selkie, which I understood to be a fae water creature of some sort, dangerous and glamourous. When I started talking to other Selkie players I learned there was a thing about pelts and seals. I had zero idea about that, and decided I was a siren creature and my “pelt” was my leather collar. Everyone thought that was cool and it was a non-issue.

Overall I really appreciated the workshops. They let me really sink into who my character was, what they stood for, and how the fit into a marginalized community of fae once we entered play.

The Experience

The event was bookended by concerts, which was very fitting with the theme. We started off with a show by Byrne Bridges blasting out in the concert hall. The band was pretty good, and I appreciated the genderfuckery involved.

The concert venue from the stage

Let me take a moment and appreciate the venue. We were lodged in the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City. It is a gorgeous space of moldering grandeur from the heyday of the city, now long gone. The spaces were giant and mostly empty, and we pretty much had free reign on the entire floor.

The Foundation room was the primary space we operated in. It was formerly a club that was eclectically decorated and shut down around 2014 from what I can tell. The space was decorated somewhat by organizers and participants, but it stood very well on it’s own as the main location for this event.

Once we entered play, I quickly fell into the vibe. Things kept on feeling unhurried, with no real set events you had to attend. It really did feel like festivals I’ve attended, where time ceased to have meaning and you simply gravitated in and out of orbit of various interesting people as you saw fit.

Queer Goth Unseelie Night DJ Booth

For myself, I socialized for hours, familiarizing myself with my character and those around me. I quickly found those I gelled with, and spent a lot of time hanging out and enjoying their company. I got food at some point, but the highlight of the first night was very clearly Unseelie Goth night. As my character was a goth DJ, I’d been listening to some darkwave quite a lot, so I knew quite a few of those bands and it was fun to be my little goth character in their element. I actually confessed to the “real” goths afterwards that I haven’t had experience with that before and they were shocked!

Throughout the weekend I got food when I wanted, napped when I was tired, stayed up late, and slept in till about noon on Saturday. It was lovely not having anything being fixed, and fit so well with the idea of a community finding a space to be themselves together and let their hair down.

I also really appreciated the power of some of the roleplay I saw. Some folks really brought some intense feelings, and I meshed really well with many folks. People were also very safe, being incredibly good about negotiation and boundaries. I found myself ending in several romantic entanglements, crying at least twice, screaming about injustice quite a lot, and being brave enough to read poetry before an audience.

The second day was filled with a feeling of farewell. I know this feeling all too well, having experienced it as an event winds down and people must face going back into the world.

In the event world, characters had to decide whether they’d stay in this world, or leave the community they’ve built in the margins for someplace else. It was heart wrenching to see people leave, either forging their own paths in the world or leaving for Arcadia forever. There were so many goodbyes, and so many groups trying to find themselves after having holes torn in their collective souls.

For myself, I decided that I was going to have my character stay in this world, but whether I’d leave this community or leave to forge my own left me uncertain. In the end I felt welcome enough to stay, though for how long I don’t know.

The experience ended with a concert by the Burning Revel, played by The Manimals. We danced, those that stayed and those that left, and said our goodbyes to both our friends and our characters. When the last song ended, we were ourselves again.

Overall, the experience was moving and wonderful in ways I didn’t expect. I enjoy many communities, and in some ways this felt like a mashup of all of them with a dusting of fairy on top.

I really enjoyed portraying my goth femme rebel. Tempest, I will miss you, and I hope your anger will drive me to make the world a bit better. Farewell.