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Land of Eight Million Dreams
Sourcebook for Changeling: The Dreaming

Deena McKinney, Jim Moore and Wayne Peacock
White Wolf, 152 pages

Art: Tony DiTerlizzi
Land of Eight Million Dreams
Additional Information
Changeling: The Dreaming has escaped some of the dark, oppressive atmosphere surrounding much of White Wolf's main tier RPGs in their World of Darkness line, but kept the same exceptional standards of writing and production, making it a favourite for serious role-players of all ages.

White Wolf Games
Changeling: The Dreaming Free Quick Start Guide & Adventure
Changeling: The Dreaming Product List
Changeling: The Dreaming FAQ
Changeling: The Dreaming Signature Characters
Changeling: The Dreaming Forum
Changeling: The Dreaming Character Sheets

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Don Bassingthwaite

In many ways, I have surprisingly mixed feelings for this book. On the one hand, it's not at all what I expected when I picked it up. On the other hand, though, it's a whole lot more.

Ah, the Land of Eight Million Dreams. Even the title has an air of the exotic about it. Land of Eight Million Dreams is the Asia sourcebook for Changeling: The Dreaming. If you're at all familiar with Changeling, you'll know that the changelings (or fairies) of White Wolf's World of Darkness thrive on the glamour generated by the dreams and creativity of mortals and that half of their lives are lived in the magical Dreaming that overlaps the real world. Just think of China and the fantastic potential of the Dreaming there! The Land of Eight Million Dreams indeed! That's what I was thinking when I got this book in my hands.

Not quite. As it turns out, the hsien or Shinma -- the "changelings" of the east -- aren't related to the familiar Kithain at all. In fact, they have nothing to do with dreams or The Dreaming. Like the Kuei-jin "vampires" presented in Kindred of the East, they are an entirely different species from their cousins of the west. The Shinma aren't fae spirits bound to a mortal form as protection from banality so much as they're minor divine spirits inhabiting human bodies as the result of an ancient punishment.

There is some similarity in conception (which is why this works as a Changeling sourcebook, but very little in practice. The first thing you should do if you're considering using Land of Eight Million Dreams is stop thinking of it as a sourcebook -- the differences in rules and concept are such that this is almost its own game.

So the Shinma aren't Kithain and the "Land of Eight Million Dreams" doesn't really involve dreams. That's no reason not to buy this book. It's still an impressive piece of work: detailed and interesting, with enough intrigue to keep gamers going for a while. In fact, one of the things that particularly impressed me was the way the Shinma were integrated into their world. While they, like the Kithain, struggle in a world that is increasingly hostile to the things of magic, that isn't the end of their struggle. They struggle with Chi-hungry Kuei-jin (ancient enemies and apparently regarded with the same loathing the Garou have for the Kindred), various sects of magick-workers, haunting wraiths (the Shinma literally possess a just dead body -- and sometimes the former owner is still hanging around), the tainted servants of the Yama Kings, various all-too human problems (the Shinma were originally charged with answering the prayers of humans, a role many still respect)... it's a remarkable mix.

The shen (spirits) of the east know more about each other than the Kindred, Changing Breeds, and Kithain of the west and it makes for very interesting interaction. Something I've always felt was a weakness in Changeling was the difficulty in mixing Kithain with the other inhabitants of the World of Darkness -- most of the Kithain's experiences were centered in the Dreaming and invisible to others. The more physical existence of the Shinma does away with that.

The first two sections of the book deal with the history of the Shinma and a description of the Middle Kingdom. Aside from an emphasis on the Shinma perspective, the description of the Middle Kingdom will be largely familiar to those who have read other Year of the Lotus titles. Pay close attention to the lexicon though: you'll find yourself returning to it as Land of Eight Million Dreams uses a more intensely Chinese vocabulary than other Year of the Lotus books. I actually found this rather frustrating since it means trying to keep track of a whole new set of terminology. Less specialized vocabulary could probably have been used without sacrificing any of the flavour of the game.

Chapters three through five are what really set this book apart. They get into the real stuff of the Shinma -- the characters. This is where you will find details on the Shinma, the magic they use, and how to create a Shinma character. The Shinma are broken into kwannon-jin -- equivalent to the western kith -- and further into what can loosely be thought of as nobles and commoners. Where the Kithain have only the sidhe as an inherently noble kith, however, the Shinma have equal numbers of noble and common kwannon-jin. Nor is there the western conflict between nobles and commoners: everyone has a place in the bureaucracy.

I'm very impressed by the kwannon-jin -- they're exciting, fresh, and well fleshed out (not to mention well-illustrated with some extremely good art). The "nobles" or kamuii are based on the eastern elements (fire, water, earth, metal, and wood) and powers based on them. The "commoners" or hirayanu are based on affiliations with animals (cats, fish, serpents, badgers, and monkeys; each has a lesser elemental affiliation as well) and have certain shape-changing powers. They all feel quite well-rounded with ample opportunity for role-playing; none of them are one trick ponies. In many ways, I actually think I like the kwannon-jin better than the original Changeling kith!

One potentially very fruitful area I think the writers overlooked, however, was how the various kwannon-jin might interact with certain specific species of the World of Darkness. The hirayanu, for example, would seem to have an obvious affinity for the Changing Breeds (particularly the serpentine fu hsi and Nagah), while the kamuii would likely have strong contacts among the Great Slow Empires of the Inanimae.

The magic of the Shinma is likewise fascinating and again well-developed. The Shinma practice Wu Tan, a magic based on Yin and Yang and the elements of the Middle Kingdom. Now this doesn't mean that a Shinma skilled in Hou Tan (fire magic) just gets to throw around fireballs. Wu Tan also takes into account all of the associations that go along with a particular element. Fire, for example, is associated with etiquette, propriety, and ethics. A practitioner may use Hou Tan to manipulate a being's fire soul, exerting a certain amount of control over their behaviour. It's an intriguing system and, dare I say it, almost as much kin to the Magick of Mage: The Ascension as it is to the Arts of Changeling. This is magic for the thinking gamer.

The book finishes with a look at some specialized game mechanics and game statistics for various potential antagonists. Overall, the detail and originality of Land of Eight Million Dreams is astonishing. Clearly a lot of work went into the writing of this product. Unfortunately, this does have a tendency to manifest as an overload of information. The heavy use of Chinese terminology is one example. Another is the overall organization of the book. Important information tends to be buried in the text (what exactly is the feared Yellow Lotus?) or covered in detail only after being discussed elsewhere (do yourself a favour and read the descriptions of the kwannon-jin first). Information is often repeated unnecessarily. The story of Hanuman and the Jade Key is given twice, for example, as is the system (with different sets of rules) for the Mask of Shintai, the Shinma ability to inspire awe. This is minor stuff though. As with any game book, once you're using it, you'll remember where to find the information you want. The detail is worth the overload.

In some ways, I think Land of Eight Million Dreams provides a lynch-pin for the Year of the Lotus products. The Shinma have a lot of crossover potential: their story crosses that of the Kuei-jin and their concern over the activities of the Yama Kings mirrors the concerns of the hengeyokai. For the Kithain of the west, they are creatures of superficial similarity and surprising differences -- introducing Shinma into a Changeling chronicle will be work, but also, I think, rewarding. Land of Eight Million Dreams is a product with a lot to offer.

Copyright © 1999 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).

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