Arcadia is loosely based on White Wolf’s role playing game Changeling: The Dreaming, one of the most fascinating games in its World of Darkness series. Unlike the two other World of Darkness card games that White Wolf produced in the 1990s—Jyhad or Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (based on Vampire: The Masquerade) and Rage (based on Werewolf: The Apocalypse)—the connection between Arcadia and its World of Darkness role playing origins are a bit more tenuous, as the two games are not set in the same world. In Changeling you play a changeling, a half-human, half-fae person. The fae are the fairies or Fair Folk who inhabit the world of Arcadia, deep in the Dreaming, which is formed by Glamour, the imagination and dreams of humans. Due to their dual nature, Changelings live both in this world and in the world of the Dreaming, and possess both Glamour, the creative energy that shapes the realm of the Dreaming, as well as Banality, the force of disbelief, doubt, and skepticism found in this world.
This complex background is perhaps not immediately apparent in the card game Arcadia. Unlike Changeling (and the other games set in the World of Darkness), Arcadia does not take place in this world, but tells the story of Arcadia, the realm of the fae that lies deep in the Dreaming. You can easily play Arcadia without any knowledge of Changeling: The Dreaming, as I suspect most players do. To many Arcadia seems just a regular fantasy world.
However, elements of the Changeling world do make their way into the Arcadia, and though knowledge of it is not required to enjoy the game, even a little familiarity with that world perhaps helps to appreciate some elements of Arcadia more. Several cards clearly make reference to this rich background. The races of the Characters (the Kith) correspond to those in Changeling, and there are many references to the dreams and nightmares of mankind which create Glamour, the stuff that the world of Arcadia is made of (particularly in The Wyld Hunt; see Glamour Dance & Glamour Dust, to name but the two obvious ones). The Hound of Hades (a Waylay from The Wyld Hunt), for example, is “said to enter Arcadia through the nightmares of mortals”, and Hypo-Scorpions (a Waylay from King Ironheart’s Madness) are likewise “scuttling from nightmares into this world of dream”. Some of the game elements are also derived from Changeling (see here for more on that).
In Changeling: The Dreaming there are rumours that the world of Arcadia is under siege, and Arcadia tells that story in its two set—The Wyld Hunt and King Ironheart’s Madness. A third set of cards—The Lion’s Den–concluding the narrative, was planned, but never released. This would deal with the Darkening, a force that can turn the fluctuating world of the fae to rigid stone. It is alluded to in The Wyld Hunt, but begins to overtake Arcadia at the end of King Ironheart’s Madness, and would likely have been the main focus of The Lion’s Den. We’ll perhaps never know how the developers had hoped to unfold this further, but I suspect that in the final part of this gaming trilogy, the links with Changeling: The Dreaming might have become more obvious.
The Wyld Hunt
Years ago, Skyeholm, the mountain castle of High King Ardlanth, ruler of Arcadia, fell under a mysterious curse called the Darkening, which turned all of Skyeholm’s inhabitants into petrified marble statues. Several months ago, Lord Gamine, the ruler of Ardenmore, embarked upon a quest to uncover the truth about Skyeholm and the Darkening. He has not returned. In his absence, Gamine’s human-mule advisor, Bernard Assjack, rules as regent. Bernard has called all of the heroes of the land together to set out on a Quest to find Lord Gamine and return him to Ardenmore.
King Ironheart’s Madness
Mechopolis. Capital city of Middlemarch. A nightmare city of iron, growing out of control, a twisted mechanical cancer devouring the landscape around it, darkening the skies with its smoke, thickening the sea and rivers with its industrial sludge. In its labyrinthine bowels, tortured slaves work to keep its Fack Tories running. At its borders, cog armies crush its enemies, making way for the dark city’s further expansion. And high in the gargantuan tower of iron at the city’s center, the Mad King Ironheart cackles happily at all of this. He calls this “progress”. Yet there are those who disagree. Like you.