Nightmare Incursions

What Is This?
The Nightmare Incursion system is meant to make the threat of accumulating nightmare points immediate and thematic. Written mostly before C20 was available, this system was originally an expansion of the 2nd edition Nightmare rules. While C20 went in a different direction with what nightmare does to a changeling the system they wrote is not very threatening in short or one-shot games.
Nightmare incursions provide the possibility of nightmare accumulation, even in one-shots, having serious ramifications for characters. In longer games, nightmare incursions give the storyteller (and players) another tool for developing the stories they’re telling. As we’ve played with the system and refined it from its original form we’ve found that some of our best sessions revolved not around our characters’ dreams, but their unresolved nightmares and baggage. Unexpected deep dives into a changeling’s shadow can build some amazing stories.
All that said, these rules aren’t for every table. Putting your characters through nightmare incursions without being an asshole to your players relies on proactively interrogating and establishing boundaries around what is acceptable play. Part of being proactive about establishing boundaries is revisiting the process while the game is in motion. No one should feel like they can’t call a time-out if they need it. Changeling is a storytelling game, and even though some stories are sad or scary, the storyteller and players should never leave the table at the end of the game feeling hurt or numb. Your players should never feel like their characters’ grief or trauma was their trauma or that the storyteller was trying to humiliate them in front of their friends.
When dealing with potentially heavy things like grief, terror, personal trauma (even of characters in a game) always follow the Silver Rule: Don’t be a dick.

Nightmare Incursions

As changelings build up nightmare energy their dice pools for cantrips and unleashings become tainted with nightmare dice. Every time your character activates a cantrip the player must replace a number of dice equal to the current nightmare total in their casting pool with differently colored or clearly marked nightmare dice. When a character unleashes, part of their pool is made up of nightmare dice. In both cases these behave exactly as normal dice in the casting pool until they roll a 10 or a 1. When a 10 or a 1 is rolled on a nightmare die the nightmare energy the changeling has been struggling with overwhelms them and takes control of their chimerical reality. In the case of the player having multiple nightmare dice involved in a casting, only activated (1 or 10 result) nightmare dice contribute to the nightmare incursion. If and when the changeling survives the nightmare event the player removes one point of nightmare per activated nightmare die from their total.
At low levels, nightmare incursions only produce nervosa (chimera that are only experienced by the changeling who invoked them unless they are produced within the Dreaming). At higher levels, the nightmare incursion takes shape in chimerical reality as manifestations, which can be perceived by all beings present with chimerical senses. Nightmare incursions draw on the fears and insecurities of the changeling who invoked them, creating as hallucinations and chimera that draw the changeling into dangerous situations. Particularly devious storytellers should mine their characters’ pasts for unresolved psychological traumas (especially those causing friction between their mundane and chimerical lives) and plan a number of nightmare incursions for each character ahead of time. As always, nightmare incursions should serve the story and the players’ enjoyment of it, not detract from it.
Nightmare Activation
Incursion
1
Nightmare Magic
Cantrip behaves as a berserk unleashing (but doesn’t generate more nightmare)
Changeling develops a noticeable echo (chilling the room they’re in, rotting the things they touch, voice sounds like little bells) for the duration of the scene.
For the rest of the day the changeling experiences minor hallucinations (text they’re reading shifts when they blink, hearing whispers that aren’t there, objects are half an inch farther away than they appear) in any scene that they use magic.
2
Nightmare Perceptions
Caster summons/creates a nervosa who torments them for the duration of the scene. These torments are irritating, but not dangerous.
3
Beta Incursion
Caster summons/creates several nervosa who torment them with gusto. Their pranks will not cause direct physical harm, but might lead the changeling into dangerous behavior or environments (the nervosa might use redes to hide oncoming traffic from the changeling).
Caster summons/creates a single manifestation that will torment them (possibly quite subtly) for one scene in the future.
4
Delta Incursion
Caster summons/creates a troupe of manifestations who coordinate their activities over the next day (or completely dominating a single scene) and work to subtly or overtly make the changeling’s insecurities real and apparent to all present -- always with the goal of punishing the character (though the manifestations may not view it as such).
5
Zeta Incursion
The caster’s nightmare energy blurs the divide between the chimerical world and the Dreaming. The caster and all present in the scene are drawn into a dark, chimerical, version of the scene coloured by the caster’s fears and secret desires. Leaving the immediate vicinity draws characters into a malebolge in the Dreaming created entirely from the caster’s subconscious insecurities, populated by a plethora of nervosa and manifestations and other dark creatures from the Dreaming.
Zeta Incursions end when either the caster’s deiform is overwhelmed (chimerical death), when the victim resolves the insecurity that generated the incursion, or at another point the storyteller decides is appropriate.
>5
The Distant Ones Draw Near
The caster becomes a beacon of nightmare and dark glamour. All changelings present acquire a point of nightmare and a point of glamour. One of any of the lower tier incursions will occur during this or the next scene.
Additionally, the Thallain, Adhene, and/or Shadow Court take note of the caster and will either approach the changeling or draw them into their domain soon.
Nervosa
“Don’t stand there looking so smug! You’re the worst person in this room!
You come here and you enjoy spilling their blood and listening to them cry out.
You feel excited when you step on them and snuff out their lives.”
“Are you talking about the monsters?”
“Monsters…? They look like monsters to you?”
Vincent & Heather, Silent Hill 3

Nervosa are chimera who stalk changelings through the darker corners of the Dreaming and sometimes find ingress into waking chimerical reality. The few unSeleighe fae who study such things have lively debate among themselves about whether changelings create nervosa or if nervosa are a special type of chimera who have the capacity to tailor their forms to changelings’ suppressed desires and fears. In the end the difference is purely academic and most changelings plagued by nervosa find no solace in interrogating the question.
Storytellers should consider nervosa to be personal dark chimera -- chimera that exist to haunt and torment specific beings. While tailor making them to perfectly reflect the character’s psyche is tempting, leaving little hints that they’re not exactly the thing the character thinks they are can create more drama than simply creating monstrous adversaries. After all, nervosa aren’t always around the changeling they’re stalking; what do they do when they’re not manifest? Do they do anything? Do they exist for themselves or just for the character? Inviting some doubt about whether or not the nervosa are monsters turns the screws a little harder than just playing them as things that can be dispatched without remorse.
Like light chimera, nervosa can be animate or inanimate. Most inanimate nervosa are overlays on objects or people in the autumn world -- a person’s clothing appears torn and bloodsoaked, or perhaps the notebook they’re carrying appears to be a scalpel, or a perfectly clean room is littered with opened and spilled narcotics bottles. Anything a changeling finds distressing might find form as an inanimate nervosa.
Identical to proper chimera in every other way, nervosa lack the substance to affect chimerical reality broadly and can only affect the being that summoned (or inanimate chimerical objects if no one else is present) them while outside of the Dreaming. While this often results in nervosa being directly antagonistic to their changeling, sometimes it does not. A few nervosa wait in the wings for the right moment to give the changeling a shove over the edge of some precipice, whether real or psychological. Others become aware that they are summoned again and again by a nightmare-prone changeling’s unconscious mind, and play recurring roles -- tormenting the changeling just enough to keep the shameful desire or fear that summoned them alive without completely breaking or killing the changeling. If a changeling retreats from reality into the Dreaming (or was in the Dreaming when their nightmare incursion began), nervosa are treated as manifestations.
Unlike nervosa, manifestations have reality -- at least as far as chimerical reality is concerned. Capable of being perceived by and interacted with by all beings with kenning, manifestations are more vulnerable than their incomplete compatriots and are often much more subtle. Some pretend to be light chimera in order to get closer to their victims. Others insinuate themselves into freehold society, playing vicious pranks on their changeling while waiting for the right moment to strike in earnest. Still others go after their changeling indirectly -- driving mortals or prodigals in the changeling’s life mad in order to divide their changeling’s attention, making them less able to deal with stressors in healthy ways and more likely to take on more nightmare energy. The manifestations who prey on those in the changeling’s periphery often inspire their tangential victims to create situations that contribute to the manifestation’s well-being. In this way some nervosa may spread like a psychic virus through a freehold.
The existence of the Wolpertingers has unnerving implications for the possible futures of cunning manifestations.

Malebolge

I'd love to take you home with me and tuck you into bed
I'd love to see what makes you tick inside your pretty head
I wish that I could keep you in a precious Chinese box
On Sundays I would pray for you so it would never stop
I'd love to hear you laugh tonight, I'd love to hear you weep
I'd love to listen to you while you're screaming in your sleep
Insanity, Oingo Boingo

The most frightening effects of nightmare incursions is the creation of a malebolge -- a pocket realm in the Far Dreaming that changelings can blunder into from the real world. Malebolge take their form from the changeling who invoked the nightmare backlash. Not just made from fears and hates, but also suppressed trauma, illicit desires, and unconscious longing, malebolge are populated by a host of nervosa and other dark chimera who act out the changeling’s suffering on each other and any who enter in (including the changeling who created them). This shadow play need not be one of physical violence, though it often is. Even when the inhabitants of a malebolge act in violent ways, they are always in keeping with the theme of the malebolge.
Cantrips and other powers that would normally allow those trapped in a malebolge to locate a silver path or open portals inevitably lead characters deeper into the malebolge’s hellscape. The adage that “the only way out is through” is true for malebolge. Short of chimerical or mortal death there is no shortcut out of one. In the case of attempting to locate the silver path, changelings are drawn along a path to the malebolge’s heart. At the heart of the malebolge is a dark glamour font that bathes the malebolge’s realm in the nightmare energy the changeling’s backlash released. The font can take many forms, even that of nervosa or manifestations, but most often takes the form of a dark balefire. Extinguishing the malebolge’s font collapses the nightmare realm and returns all of the beings trapped in it to the autumn world.
System: A malebolge’s font has a number of health levels equal to the nightmare activation that created it. Extinguishing it can be achieved by pouring glamour into it (negating one health level per point of glamour spent), killing it (in the case of nervosa or manifestation fonts), or by resolving the trauma that linked the changeling to the font in the first place.
Changelings can draw nightmare glamour from a malebolge’s font by reaping it (difficulty 9; thallain make this roll at normal reaping difficulty) and draw an equal number of points of glamour and nightmare from any attempt. Each success gained in this fashion inflicts one health level of damage on the font.

Planning Nightmare Incursions

An unexpected nightmare incursion can completely derail an entire evening of gaming, or it can provide an opportunity for the player who invoked the nightmare to develop their character through engaging with their changeling’s suppressed emotions and trauma. To get the most out of the higher intensity nightmare incursions, storytellers and players should both establish boundaries around what is acceptable nightmare fodder for the table and openly discuss what the players would like their characters’ struggles to revolve around.
Angel’s character, Agatha, has a fear of diminishing. This triggers nightmare incursions on the theme of aging and dying. Her low intensity incursions litter her chimerical reality with implements one might find in a hospital or psychiatric ward, or cause her glamour to create phantom nurse pages over public address systems, or make people in completely normal clothes appear to be doctors and nurses. Throughout her high-intensity incursions Agatha is stalked by nervosa hospital staff who attempt to restrain her “for her and other patients’ safety” and discuss her failing health, game leg, and obvious insanity with clinical coldness. If others try to help Agatha, the nervosa draw them into the delusional reality -- they become other patients of the institute and must be “helped”. Agatha’s zeta incursions alternate between creating hellish scenes of people who look like her having their limbs amputated or being lobotomized and confusing disjunctions between the previous scene and Agatha walking into a sterile doctor’s office for “evaluation”. Often one type of zeta incursion bleeds into the other, creating a “is this really happening?” sort of doubt for Agatha and anyone unfortunate enough to be dragged into the malebolge with her.
Erika’s character Charlie, on the other hand, is intensely afraid of being useless -- partly due to their family life. Charlie’s low-intensity incursions replace the words in newspapers about events that Charlie was instrumental in with stories that do not mention them at all, erase photographs of Charlie, and even cause people to overlook them when it would be better for Charlie to be seen. Moderate to high intensity incursions summon nervosa who take the form of disapproving family members who both sabotage Charlie’s efforts in the arena they’re currently in and undermine Charlie’s self-confidence (convincing them not to bother trying because nothing they do comes out right anyway). Charlie’s zeta incursions draw them again and again to the scene of their aunt Nancy’s deathbed, where she reprimanded them in front of the whole family for being a waste of space, and to events where people are drowning or otherwise being smothered.
Planning zeta incursions and malebolge should be viewed in the same way as planning a side-quest in another game. Zeta incursions are the functional peak of nightmare activations and are complete and possibly self-sustaining chimerical ecosystems built around a changeling’s psychic dysfunction. Malebolge should have a troupe of NPCs, mostly nervosa or manifestations, acting out the changeling’s conflicted nature. In Agatha’s case, her malebolge might be filled mostly with monstrous doctors and nurses, but a few of them might be innocuous or even helpful light ephemera generated by Agatha’s history as a spiritual leader and nurturer for her reservation. Generally, light ephemera are rare and weak in a malebolge and reflect only the changeling’s conscious mind’s major drives. Each malebolge might have as few as five scenes and as many as is reasonably necessary to drive the point home that mistakes have been made. It may be helpful to think of a zeta incursion as the Dreaming putting a changeling in the corner and forcing them to confront their repressed, shadowy, mind.

Manifestation [Variable Flaw]

A special sort of nightmare incursion, the Manifestation flaw marks your character as permanently haunted by a manifestation of their nightmare potential. Manifestations generated by this flaw are chimerical beings that maintain their reality through means unknown, but live to torment their changeling. They aren’t usually always near their changeling, but their influence is felt during moments of high stress or trauma. Beings that can interact with chimerical reality may perceive and interact with and even kill the manifestation, but until the changeling resolves the trauma that generated the manifestation (and buys off the flaw with XP) it always reforms when the changeling experiences an epiphany or gains a point of nightmare (whichever happens first).
Build the manifestation as if it were a chimerical ally utilizing the chimera creation rules to determine its point value as a flaw.

Unleashing

Below is a slight elaboration and refinement of the C20 Unleashing rules that allows changelings to wrangle out of control unleashings to a manageable state at great cost.
Unleashing Results 
1s> Successes
Stymied Unleashing: The changeling fails to channel the Dreaming’s wyld energy farther into the autumn world than themself. In the case of something that had been intended to affect something or someone other than the changeling only affects the caster; creating a poetic punishment for the changeling’s hubris. In the case of an unleashing that was meant to affect only the caster the effect goes wild and carries the changeling well away from the intended outcome. In either case, the changeling takes an additional nightmare point per one rolled.
No successes, but no 1s
Failed Unleashing: The character is unable to invoke the Dreaming. Gain one temporary banality and the character cannot use that Art for the remainder of the scene.
Successes <= character's Art rating
Successful Unleashing: Character successfully invokes and controls the Dreaming. The character's fae mein becomes wyrd and visible, the character's intent is fulfilled via the Unleashed Art.
Successes > Art rating
Berserk Unleashing: The character invokes the Dreaming but loses control. The character's intent is fulfilled but in a twisted or unintended way that adds complications or puts everyone nearby at risk.
If an unleashing is determined to be berserk, a player can opt to invoke autumn to cancel their own excess successes. To invoke autumn to control a berserk unleashing the player declares that they’re invoking autumn before the storyteller begins to explain the outcome of the unleashing. Then the character takes one point of temporary banality per success they wish to be negated.

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