The Great Courts are common social structures on a greater scale than motleys. Great Courts serve much the same purpose — safety from the Fae — but on a larger scale and with more organization. Each of the four Courts has its own unique affiliations with one of the seasons and a dominant emotion, bound to the Court through oaths its founders exacted from the seasons many, many years ago. Changeling legend holds that the Western Great Courts were first founded shortly before the Dark Ages, and while their presence has waxed and waned over the years, it has always been strong enough to survive. The names of the founders are often modernized, but it’s commonly held that they lived at least at the time of the Roman Empire.
Changelings bound their Courts to the seasons for the strength it would give them against their one-time captors. Any pact provides power in the form of Contracts, but the founders explicitly chose to align their Courts with an aspect of the world that the Gentry couldn’t understand. A Fae lord may tyrannize a realm of endless winter, but he would never forsake his power and allow another to warm his land to spring. Tying their resistance to the voluntary progression of the seasons gives the changelings a stronger connection to Earth and a basis for defense that the Others are — so far — unable to undermine. These pacts serve changelings around the world, but they are most common (near ubiquitous, really) in North America and Europe. There are regions where the changeling Courts have developed to the point where they no longer relate to the seasons, and they no longer benefit as much from the pact. Changeling society in such places is often weaker and more susceptible to the Fae. Other Courts relate themselves to different earthly phenomena, and their founders may have forged other pacts. As long as the Courts maintain meaning and symbolism that can be used against the Fae, the Courts can still have some power. The directional Courts in China, the sun Courts (dawn, noon, dusk and night) and Courts tied to the Buddhist cycles of reincarnation serve as examples.
Joining a Court involves a pledge on the part of the changeling, and the changeling’s Wyrd supports that pledge. The Wyrd ties strongly to the seasons’ interactions with time and the emotional affiliations that each Court assumes. In return for the pledge, the character’s seeming gains the Court’s Mantle, a supernatural addition to the changeling’s mien that reflects the Court’s season and dominant emotion.
There are 4 major court structures detailed in the Changeling: The Lost core and supplementary books. These systems are the Seasonal, Directional, Day and Night and Transitional court systems. The court system used in each domain depends on what type of court the majority of the members of the freehold are part of.
The Seasonal Courts are most prominent in Europe and other Western countries. Ideally each Court holds power only temporarily, with each King or Queen (the ruler of a freehold's Court) ruling during their season and then passing on the leadership to the next Court. In practice this doesn't occur in every freehold; a particular Court may be ambitious and claim permanent rule (as in Miami), or there may simply be too few Changelings in a freehold for more than one Court to be adequately represented.
The four seasonal courts are:
- Summer: Whom wish to fight back against their fae rulers. They thrive on the emotion: Wrath.
- Winter: Whom are masters of hiding and deception. They focus on the emotion: Sorrow.
- Autumn: Whom study Faeric magic. They focus on the emotion: Fear.
- Spring: Whom hide among humans to avoid being spotted by the Fae. They thrive on the emotion: Desire.
Each Seasonal court has access to two contracts. The first contract is their fleeting contract. The Fleeting contract manipulates the court's particular emotion. The second contract that each court has access to is the Eternal contract. The Eternal contract allows to manipulate physical manifestations of their season.
In places where Asian mythology and culture is dominant, the Courts are often based on the four cardinal directions. While they do not cede their power over time as the seasonal Courts do, the Emperors and Empresses of the directional Courts share leadership geographically, with each Court ruling the portion of the freehold corresponding to their direction. Decisions for the freehold as a whole are made by the Court leaders working together.
The four directional courts are:
- North: Strive to become hard and detached. They have the philosophy that "if you give yourself nothing to lose you become unattractive to the fae." They focus on the emotion: Suffering.
- East: Focus on earning wealth and power to convince the fae that they are too important to be taken back to Arcadia. They focus on the emotion: Envy.
- South: Seek enlightenment through the Changeling condition. They thrive on the emotion: Ecstasy.
- West: Have the philosophy that "All life is war, the virtuous must win." They focus on the emotion: Honor.
The directional courts have access to contracts that allow them to navigate; both physically and metaphysically.
The diurnal courts are prominent in Slavic countries and other parts of Eastern Europe, where duality is an important concept in many folk stories. Traditionally the Sun Court rules during the day, and the Moon Court during the night; in some freeholds the division is brutally enforced with curfews and patrols.
The two diurnal courts are:
- Sun: Believe in morals, law and righteousness. They focus on the emotion: Shame.
- Moon: Believe in freedom and chaos, embracing what they have become. They focus on the emotion: Disgust.
Being a member of either the Sun or Moon courts does not grant access to special contracts.
These courts embody the change from one state to another, be it the fall from light into darkness, or the climb out of darkness into the light.
The two transitional courts are:
- Dawn: Strive to create their own destiny and develop a better future. They focus on the emotion: Hope.
- Dusk: Accept their doomed fate, but will not go down without a fight. They focus on the emotion: Fatalism.
Each of the transitional courts has a contract related to its own philosophy.
- Changeling: The Lost core book
- Changeling: The Lost Winter Masques
- Changeling: The Lost Swords at Dawn
- Changeling: The Lost Dancers at Dusk
- White Wolf Wikia (Courts)