Nobilis kvetch – Temporality

So, after spending a bunch of time tooling around with Nobilis, I’ve realized a major hurdle to the kind of deity-level campaign I want to run:

Linear time.

I was really hoping the “being a fundamental element of the universe” thing would stretch into fun rules about time and existence, but no. Like any other RPG, time runs in a straight line. Nobilis is basically set up like any other RPG, except your characters are “powers.”

What do I mean by non-linear time?

Fundamentally, that you don’t have to wake up tomorrow. You could wake up yesterday, next week, at the birth of the universe, or a billion years from now.

This might require specialized mechanics so that you can’t “re-roll” everything you don’t do successfully, even after leveling up. But it would allow for amazing kinds of adventures, where the basic tenets of existence are malleable.

The game would be like a never-ending denoument to a Bill and Ted movie, where changing the past and the future simultaneously are the key to moving ahead.

If I get bored with all 800 of my other creative projects, I might try to make that RPG. I think it would have a Chrononauts-style aspect that the history of the universe relevant to the characters is laid out on cards, but those cards change as the universe itself is changed.

Hillfolk in the Holy Land?

So, succumbed to the latest Bundle of Holding and picked up Pelgrane Press’s Hillfolk, the RPG that bills itself as having play like an HBO original series.

The base setting for Hillfolk is an early Iron Age tribe. I thought we were talking about the late European Iron Age, until I saw pg. 68, which is a map of the area.

Hillfolk’s hills, if I’m not mistaken, are the Judean hills, with the Jordan River to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Given that I’ve spent more time than I’ve cared to puzzling over Israeli road maps, I’m pretty sure I’m not mistaken (also it says it’s the 10th Century Levant two pages later).

I’m actually a little disappointed by this, because the instructions around this map are to make the area abstract and suited to whatever story you want to tell, which is great, but the Levantine early iron age was actually super-interesting, with all sorts of amazing cultural and religious details, but unless I’m a super-nudgy GM who demands them in despite the opposition of my players those details will never get included.

Otherwise, I like the system and look forward to trying it out. I also think running the underlying mechanics would be good for my “Eleanor Roosevelt’s Commandos” setting.

Nobilis – Halfway Through Character Creation

So, got halfway through trying to make a Nobilis character recently (if anyone really wants, I have a draft post where I “live blog” the process). The big issue is that the Lifepath isn’t actually tied to the scores, so you generate a really fun mind map that’s sort of relevant to how you gain experience, but then, when you try to tie it to the other numbers in the game, you can really get disappointed.

This disappointment is more than the disappointment where, for example, in Ars Magica I learn that my just-out-of-apprenticeship maga can’t do anything else if she wants to huck fireballs at things, or in Cyberpunk 2020 where you learn your newbie Netrunner actually doesn’t have skills in anything remotely useful outside the ‘net. In Nobilis, you generate all sorts of interesting connections, needs, and wants, but paying for them with the limited points you have for bonds, anchors, etc. is tough.

It almost makes sense to do things the other way, to do the math first, and then the lifepath. I’m going to try that for the next attempt; I’ll make a character that’s generically powerful, and then fill in the lifepath from there.

Nobilis – the appendix of character creation

Having read through all of the sections of Nobilis 3e with rules in them and much of the flowery cosmology sections without; I have a basic grasp of the mechanics, which are actually pretty interesting for role-playing godhood.

Basically, if you have enough power, it’s achieved. There’s no initiative or timing rules; in fact, you can try to change the immediate past if a gamemaster-described event is not to your liking.

However, while you won’t flub Gozer’s question to the Ghostbusters like Ray did, like another Bill Murray movie, you’re a god, not the god. Your power is very finite and it’s entirely possible to burn yourself out.

However, I am having a little trouble with the character creation rules. There’s one set of rules with numbers attached, and a totally different set of rules for a “life path” where one draws a complicated idea map that could very easily plug into the numerical rules but it does not say anywhere that it needs to. It’s like the appendix at the end of the small intestine; interesting but seemingly useless.

Were I running Nobilis, I would force the players to use the life path system to determine the type and intensity of their Bonds (intrinsic limitations that can be used offensively), Afflictions (limitations the gamemaster uses to force action and give you extra magic), and Anchors (people and things you have a special connection to so you can use powers through them). Otherwise, it’s a twenty minute waste of time.

Nobilis – Start of a Project

So, a week or so ago, I made an impulse purchase on and ended up with, among other things, Nobilis, 3rd Ed. The concept is fascinating: each player is something between a nature spirit and a demigod, having power and responsibility over a field as encapsulated by a single word or phrase, such as “clocks” or “first love.”

The actual rules of Nobilis, however, are a little dense on first read. Actually, let me revise that. The rules are bound deeply in the fiction, such that you can’t get a straight statement of “Jack fires his smartlinked handgun at Percy. Jack’s REF + Handguns + 1D10 + 3 Smartlink Bonus exceed the 15 target number at medium range, so Percy has been shot.” The fact that Nobilis is diceless doesn’t change that there’s no section where the flavor text has been dialed down so that a reader can just get the rules without having to also read how the Queen of Shredded Wheat is interfering with the affairs of the Herald of Low-Fat Milk. One of my gaming group, who has access to write on this blog so she can speak for herself, has much stronger words on this front.

Another blogger, had this to say about the 2d Ed. while reviewing the 3rd, but I find the statement still basically true for the latest edtion:

It was a really engaging read in a really pretty book that was really hard to wrap your brain around and actually use at the table. I managed a fairly long campaign, but only after getting to play a one-shot of it at a con that finally made it click enough to run. I suspect many others got it, read it, and left it on the shelf.

Another reviewer, who also really liked a lot of the game, said:

…there is no summary rundown of How to Play in Nobilis 3e; Moran really does take the entire 370-page rulebook to explain what the game is.

Or rather, to show how it feels. Or how it felt to her.

This is RPG design as literature, well and truly, but in aid of what? ‘Play?’ I mean: what, mine?

I refuse to be deterred.

This post starts a project where I’ll be, possibly with my gaming group’s help, figuring out how to play this game. I have experience in distilling games; when I need to start a new game quickly, I often generate handouts on the character creation process so players can get started fast without having to pass around a single book or a PDF-displaying device for hours. I’ll be posting two of those after this post goes live so you can see how they look.

No matter what, we’ll all learn together.