Part 2: The Trouble They Landed In: Setting
This is part of an ongoing series of memoirs about a Changeling: The Lost chronicle I ran before leaving for Europe. Part 1 is here https://nextbestplan.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/changelings-of-the-outer-west-part-1/
As mentioned, the Talking to a Stranger Changeling arc was set in an entirely fictional version of 1972 Cootamundra. I strongly suspect it has very little in common with that town at the time, and is mostly formed of my childhood memories of Bathurst, Dubbo, and a degree of frenzied improvisation.
For those unfamiliar with Changeling, you have a fractured reality; the world is divided between the “real” world that normal humans experience, a the Hedge, a surreal and labyrinthine place that is both a wall and a bridge between the real world and Arcadia, the realm of the True Fae. Our heroes also spend quite a bit of time in worlds created from their own (often traumatised) dreams, and the collective dreamscape of sleeping humanity.
So for the 1970s escapees of Arcadia, Cootamundra is a pretty complicated place.
The “Real” World
Cootamundra in 1972 is divided between the mostly Gold Rush era Uptown from the mostly residential and light industrial Downtown by the river, which due to several years of serious drought has become a mostly dry ditch.
In Uptown, the Town Square is dominated by the Memorial Clocktower, a monument to the fallen of the two World Wars, which casts it’s shadow over the Colonial era Library and Town Hall, a number of old fashioned shops with apartments above them and the lantern-bedecked frontage of Mama Park’s Chinese Takeaway. The proximity of Solomon’s hideout in the Library and Mama Park’s place of business has naturally led to some tension between the two.
Cross the bridges over the river and the town begins to gravitate more towards 1950’s suburbs. On the outside of this towards the highway there are a number of autoshops and light industrial areas, including the abattoir that the Cold Hill Crew lairs near. Though once thronging with life, with the local mines having run dry nearly ten years prior there are more and more abandoned buildings in both the suburbs and industrial area.
Nearby, the former copper moving town of Black Hill (also fictional) is in an even more advanced state of decay, most of the town having fallen to dereliction. The remaining residents cling on in under the life sapping curse of a fallen Vampire Star.
The Hedge by default tends towards thick and claustrophobic forests, which doesn’t really mesh well with the arid surrounds of Cootmundra. You step through a gate in town – the main ones are under the main bridge over the river and in the door of John Callahan’s church – and you emerge onto a dry outback path bordered by immense termite mounds, leafless trees whose charcoal black bark saps blood and memories, and an omnipresent heat haze that obscures the distant mountains. It is a place of dusty plateaus, huddled oases, shadowed gorges and scorching sun.
The River in the Hedge, unlike its earthly counterpart, runs wide and slow, and forms the main Trod of the region. You follow it downriver and you’ll eventually come to the Sins of the Nameless down by the coast. You follow it upriver… and if you’re driven, resourceful and crazy, you’ll hit Arcadia.
Heading away from the center of town one way, if you leave the dry bushland and cross the treacherous outcrops there comes and immense plain of long, biting grasses, dotted with tight clustered groves and small earthen altars watched by the little clay people who built them and the clattering wooden beast that circles in the sky above. In the other direction and the hills give way to cliffs over a river of crawling human hair.
Dotted throughout the Hedge there are both disintegrating stone ruins and the odd clay-white Watcher Stones. These little half egg shaped stones with their two bored eyeholes make no sound or motion, but if you sleep near them or ask nicely enough you’ll find yourself elsewhere. A mostly empty, forgotten place, with islands of Hedge dotted far apart and disconnected, a place from before the imagination of the current crop of human beings.
The other major feature is the Roped Lake, an immense nest of rigging and suspended tents and platforms strung between immense tree trunks that forms the local goblin market. The unusually high number of escapees in the region allows the goblins a tidy trade.
Here is a probably incomplete list of Hedge creatures that our motley has run across.
Charity Hogface, Goblin Merchant: Charity is a three foot tall bipedal hog who wears a tuxedo and pilots a steamboat up and down the River. As one of the prominent merchants of the hedge, he employs a gaggle of Smokeys and is prone to ramble on about the “invisible hand of capitalism” in his mincing South African accent. It is also noted that his chopper riding gunslinging cousin Wrath Pigface is a local menace though he has not received any screen time.
Coffincello, Goblin Merchant: a skull pokes between the strings of this casket turned stringed instrument. His skeleton arms strum the heavy strings that make his voice, deep and old. He deals in strange gadget cobbled together from junk, and made Snake’s new eyes from brass and lost memories.
The Mirrorbirds: a flock of raven like birds made from broken glass who live in a grove near the motley’s Hedge gate. They were convinced to guard the grove’s stash of goblin fruit by the motley’s promise to take one of their eggs to the real world and let it eat dreams.
The Bushmen: a gang of scurrying, semi-intelligent plants who use their sharp fronds as spears. They seem to worship a flabby tentacle-like creature in a small lake.
The Buried Giant: when Callahan attempted to dig termites from one of the huge mounds near their hedge gate, the mound flexed and was answered with a low rumble from beneath the ground. The giant was large enough to deter further investigation.
Simian Security: An alliance of monkeys and apes, dressed like English Redcoats, who operate as private security forces in the Hedge. Anias employs one of their operators, Kensington, to secure her Hollow.
The Yowie: an immense hairy humanoid with a taste for raw meat, the Yowie keeps a large clearing as its territory, and will generally attempt to eat interlopers.
The Quinkins: these stick thin creatures wander the Hedge in eery silence. They are inquisitive, often rummaging through stash of goods left within arms reach, but they tend to scatter info the shadows once observed.
Spiderbies: crawling creatures like wallabies with arachnid legs, these little guys travel in packs on the lookout for any Glamour they can find, be it the loose or walking kind.
Vultures: these immense, wind-voiced birds appear to be made of bones, old leather and tattered cloth. They live in the high places of the Hedge.
Meatbag, Goblin Merchant: Meatbag is a writhing pile of worms in a vaguely person shaped leather sack. But having made the bag themselves, they are naturally one of the best tailors in the Hedge.
Fox Brigade: these pig riding vulpine mercenaries roam the Hedge, trying to capture any changeling they can find fot sale. The motley managed to bait them into the Yowie’s clearing with predictable results.
Mushrooms: there are a lot of these guys dotting the dark places of the hedge. Nobody is sure if they’re sentient, but they seem to move around when people aren’t looking.
Owl: The undisputed star of the show, the best comic relief we get, Owl is Blaize’s hedge-beast companion. He is, for the most part, a gluttonous little kleptomaniac. But he’s pretty good at Owl stuff. Mostly. It’s not that Owl isn’t loyal. Its just that he’s easily… distracted by the promise of carcass.
Down the Skein
The final element of the world is a collection of dreamscapes, a world made of impossible numbers of human dreams tied together by the strange Gates of Horn and Ivory. These dreams are as varied as the dreamers, but Cootamundra is a town on a down swing, and has a number of troubled minds returning from the hellish warzones of Korea and Indochina. Coupled with strange, parasitic creatures like Judy, those who would wander in their dreams are walking a dangerous path.
Not that something like that has ever stopped this motley…
Once again, I’ve probably missed stuff. This is in part a memory jog for my players, as we’ll be commencing our 1984 arc fairly soon (a prize to the first imaginary reader who can guess its name!) but also cause its nice to share. Feel free to butcher and cannibalize any ideas for your own games folks, just don’t go quoting me in Cootamundra guidebooks.