Sacrifice, Interesting Failure, and Diaspora Hacks

I’ve been thinking (and talking) about sacrifice in games, and how that ends up playing out at the table.
Originally, I was going to amass some kind of who’s who list of games that have mechanics that let you ‘push’ to achieve victory, but in the end I came to the conclusion that that kind of misses the point unless I use it as an illustration of the larger issue.
Which begs the question: what’s the larger issue?
Well, it’s a little bit about suffering and sacrifice, and a little bit about game currency, and as always it’s colored by the games I’m playing right now, so let’s start there.
As I mentioned before, Shadows Over Camelot is a game that requires some tactically tough choices from the players, and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to me as a player; I like it — it makes me make that Tim the Toolman simian grunt and nod appreciatively. I like mechanics that let you pay for a little more awesome with your own blood (symbolically speaking).
There aren’t a *lot* of RPGs that have mechanics that do that, but there are a few, and they each do things a little differently, so let me talk about them.
  • “The hard choice: be awesome now, or get better in the long run?” The best examples of these that I can think of off the top of my head are Nobilis and Heroquest (the RPG, not the boardgame, and the old edition, not the new one, which I’m not familiar with).  In both these games, your character earns one type of currency (can’t remember what it’s called in Nobilis, but it’s Hero Points in HQ) that gets used for two different things: (1) one-shot boosts to your current conflict, (2) improving your character by improving or buying new abilities.  In this kind of situation it’s the players who are put in kind of a crunch — do I really want to win this current conflict, or do I want to finally buy a new mastery level in Butterknives (or whatever).  There are systems and methods that people tend to adopt for coping with this decision, but it does make things interesting, in that people might not automatically buy their way to victory every single time. (More about that tendency later.)
  • “You can keep trying, but it’ll cost you.” There are other examples of this, but the one that I remember right now is Trollbabe. Very interesting game. The conflict mechnic is a very simple yes-no roll. However, if you fail the roll, you can either take your lumps (you don’t get what you want and you suffer virtually no other fall out), or you can try again. If you try again, the potential fallout gets more dangerous. Did you fail again? Okay, you can bow out NOW and take some more serious lumps or… yeah, you can try again. If you try again… You can see where that’s going. I believe you can keep pushing, looking for a victory, about three times before the only thing left to roll for is “do I get to decide what happens to me, or does the GM?” I’ve only had a chance to run the game once, but it yielded what is to me (even today) a really compelling scene where the player – perhaps conditioned by a “we cannot accept failure if the opportunity to win presents itself” mindset – kept rolling until they were left unconscious in the middle of a dirt track, and their boyfriend was dead. How important is winning to you?
  • “Success comes through sacrifice.” This is sort of my Mouse Guard mantra. In that game, success any any given test is guaranteed; the only question — the real reason you’re rolling — is find out what it will cost you… how long did it take? who interrupted you in the middle of the task? how lost did you get as you traveled from A to B, and what found you as you traveled? Et cetera. In Mouse Guard, success clearly isn’t the interesting thing: it’s the failures that we want to know about.
Ahh, here we are again. Failure should make things more interesting. That wonderful trick where you lay out a conflict in such a way that the players are actually okay with failing, because what might happen then sounds pretty damn cool. Mouse Guard does a wonderful thing here — the whole (fifteen minute) adventure prep process amounts to working out the conflicts that arise from failue — the fact is, if the Guard succeed at the Main Tasks for a mission, the mission will be (a) kind of boring and (b) kind of short. (Same’s true of Trollbabe, actually. Anyway.)
((Note to self: Construct the next Dragon Age session using the mission creation method from Mouse Guard and see what happens.)
So let’s talk about Diaspora and Fate. A first glance, FATE seems to have a similar mechanic to Nobilis or Heroquest: points that you can use to push yourself to victory — but they’re different in a couple key ways.
  1. The points aren’t used for anything except giving yourself a boost (and much more rarely compelling someone to act or not-act a certain way). There’s no point where you have to decide between using the points for the bonus or using them to improve your character. (SotC and Diaspora don’t have traditional ‘level ups’, though Dresden Files, another FATE game, kinda does, which excites me.)
  2. The points don’t run out. As written, the rule for Fate points is that they refresh back up to max at the start of every session. This works fine in the naturally episodic Spirit of the Century, but not so well in the grittier, more narratively-structured Diaspora.
In play, what actually happens is that Fate points don’t have a lot of value — mechanically they do, yes, but they’re not valuable to the players — they aren’t precious. They have lots of them, they know they’re going to get lots more next session, so they spend them like water, following the purest instinct of a game-player: win the conflict if the means exists to do so. Buy your way to victory, should you possess the currency to do so. It’s automatic, instinctual, and completely understandable.
Since they can DO that, we don’t see very many interesting failures in our Diaspora game, simply because the currency is thick enough on the ground to keep failures (interesting or otherwise) from happening.
This leads me back to a small fix for a specific problem in a specific game, rather than thinking about the Big Discussion I keep circling around, but whatever: theory is nice, but in the end I just want my games to be fun, yeah?
So here’s a few thoughts:
  1. Present interesting failures. I do this automatically in Mouse Guard, because the game makes me do so. I’ve been lax in Diaspora about constructing situations in which the players say “Yeah, I could win this, but I’m just as happy losing.”  This is one of the Gaming Kung-fu Basics that I have to keep reminding myself to go back and practice, practice, practice.
  2. Too many Fate Points. My initial thought about this is to work it like Primetime Adventures Fan Mail: basically, that no one has Fate Points to start out with, and it’s only through compelling a player’s Aspects that we get Fate Points into their hot little hands. This would make Fate Points INCREDIBLY precious and, while that’s intriguing, it might be a little too much.

    2a) Kate suggested that a good middle ground would be “Start everyone at the normal Fate Point total at the start of the game, but get rid of all the refreshes — that way, it’s only through Compels that we replenish the pool.” I like this idea quite a lot, and I’m curious what the other crew members of the Tempest think.

  3. We have way too many Aspects floating around — to steal from Dresden Files, if each player had ONE aspect from each phase of character generation (rather than two) then a couple more to reflect a characters goal and beliefs… that would be better than what we have in Diaspora right now — so many Aspects never get used. Dunno if that’s worth hacking at right now, but next time I’ll know better.

Anyway, just wanted to get this out of my head and onto the screen; all the rattling about in there is distracting.

Meta-gaming, Actor-Stance, Author-stance, and Narration

Twitter. The final frontier new hotness. These are the transcripts of gaming nerds, trying to discuss involved game sessions using nerd jargon, in 140 characters or less.

After Wednesday night’s PTA game (where we are now 4/6 on our season of Ironwall), Tim (cyface) tweeted:

cyface A good game of #sg-pta last night. Had to tie @doycet to the stone table to make him RP instead of Metagame, but we got there. 🙂

Now, I know Tim meant no harm in his comment, and I know specifically (I think) which scene he was (mostly) referring to, but I couldn’t resist a reply.

doycet @cyface I attribute my flighty non-rpness to being really unsure if we’d get the bloody episode done on time without fast-forwarding.

Which unsurety stemmed from the fact that one guy’s spotlight episode (Tim’s, actually) coincided with a ‘screen presence: 2’ for every other character: two of them ramping up to their spotlight eps, and one coming down off his spotlight and ‘wrapping up’. There was a lot going on!

Then, of course, I started second guessing myself:

doycet @cyface Unless I’m that bad all the time — in which case… yeah, I don’t know.

Tim replied:

cyface @doycet Some of both, but generally, live for the moment, as long as the moment is good!

Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):

mtfierce @cyface Funny, I thought @doycet only metagamed in pity for the kids at the back of the indie class.

Which is a kind thing to say, and perhaps more consideration than I warrant — I know one of the things I’ve failed at with PTA in the past has been meta-level discussion of the events in the game in lieu of… you know… PLAYING.  It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid (pretty successfully, I believe) in the current season of play.

So went back and really thought about the game session (and previous sessions) in an analytical (and somewhat unkind) fashion.  That analysis prompted my next couple statements:

doycet @cyface Trying to analyze my play — is it meta-game, or doing author-stance narration? If it’s the later, then… yeah, I am. For me, authoring > acting.

doycet @cyface By “>”, I mean “more personal enjoyment/comfortable for me”. I do enjoy both kinds of play in others, and even acting for myself… in smaller doses.

This led us off into a (more profitable, IMO) discussion.

cyface @doycet It’s an interesting question. Assuming author is being well cared for, I’d prolly choose actor. But if author bad, actor = painful

cyface @doycet …and thus I’d choose author since I think it’s affects more people at once. If I can stabilize author, back to actor.

Hmm. Okay, I understand, here, what Tim’s saying, I think: “Assuming the story isn’t careening off the rails, I’d rather ‘play my guy’ and not step back into an author-level role unless necessary.”  Which is fine, but not exactly what I was talking about. To whit:

doycet @cyface Not 100% we mean the same wrt ‘author stance’. I just mean ‘playing my guy’ in 3rd person (author), rather than 1st person (actor).

doycet @cyface So, put another way, I-the-player am more comfortable playing in 3rd person than 1st, and wonder if my 3rd-person play reads, to you, as meta-play.

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I think there may be >2 modes: 1st prsn RP, 3rd prsn authorial description, omniscient scene narration, & meta-level “pre-summary”.

Here, I’m basically co-opting Forge-speak terms for stuff.

  • Actor-stance. The way I’m using it, I mean interacting with the game from your character’s 1st person point-of-view.  Obviously, you’re only using info the character knows, and your play is mostly roleplay, in the traditional, non-game sense.
  • Author-stance. You’re still just playing your guy, but the POV is more of a personalized 3rd-person, rather than 1st-person. Your character is still only acting ‘as they would act’, but rather than sort of improv’d roleplay acting, you may be describing their actions and what they say, rather than playing them out.
  • Director Stance. The player actually determines aspects of the story relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character’s knowledge or ability to influence events. So, the player not only determines their character’s actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. (I do this all the time – it still isn’t meta-play.)
  • Meta-level “play” is, for me, something to be avoided, where you’d doing stuff like “Okay, if I succeed here, this is exactly what happens, and if you succeed, this is exactly what happens…” and then we roll dice (or whatever) and… there’s nothing left to PLAY, cuz we already described every possible outcome, so we just tic a box on the form we already filled out and go on to the next scene.  Some folks (me included) think of this as ‘playing before you actually play’.

So… yeah, if I read Tim’s first tweet as being backed with all this terminology (I rather doubt it was, and good for him), then I’d have thought he was saying I was doing that last thing.  Hopefully, what he was saying was that I was doing more Director Stance wankery (which, to be fair, I enjoy) rather than Actor (which, to be fair, Tim seems to (inexplicably) enjoy seeing me do).

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I’d say only meta-“pre-summary” is sucky “playing-without-play”, but either rules/results analysis -or- bad scene narration can BECOME that thing, by accident.

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily think Author or Director stances are bad – I’m a writer, so of course I enjoy looking at the scene from the CAMERA’S point of view, rather than the actors.  I’d go so far as to say I actually prefer them over Actor stance (full on, first person roleplay) for myself, but I’m at ease enough in my own neuroses to admit that at least one (lesser) reason I find them more comfortable (read: safe) is because when I get into first-person roleplaying in a scene, I get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene.

Well, duh.  Of course I do.  Let me rephrase.

“I’ll actually (sometimes) get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene than I’m comfortable with, and I’m concerned I might  make my fellow players uncomfortable with the level of my emotional involvement (when I play angry, I’ll get angry, et cetera), so I instinctively avoid it… That’s actually happened in the past, and I make me feel a little oogey.”

Said oogeyness is entirely a trust issue, and I really should cowboy-up and let go of my trust issues when I’m playing with the Wednesday group. Feh.

But still… that issue aside, I just plain like author/director modes.

What about you guys?


In a weird bit of synchronicity, Paul Czege made this comment on a thread over on Story Games just last week:

I think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting.

Because for a story to be affecting, it must be made from some of the author’s bare personality and honest identity. When a player’s character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is “awesome” but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.

So there’s that. I don’t think Paul is wrong.

Primetime Adventures Pitch Session: Apocalypse Fairies!

So last night we got got together to work through the Pitch Session for a new Primetime Adventures game.

((For those who don’t know, Primetime Adventures is a game meant to emulate action/melodrama television shows. The purpose of play is to create a short-run television series (5 or 9 episodes) driven by the Issues of the show’s stars. Players in PTA are both the Actors of their protagonists as well as Authors of the TV series. The GM (called the Producer in this game) has two jobs: make sure scenes move toward Conflict and work the overall story arc for the Season into play.))

Pitch sessions for PTA are always strange beasts, because people come in to the session with random ideas for shows, almost none of which ever make it through the whole process, and by the end, you have something pretty cool that everyone’s excited about… and no one’s entirely sure how it happened.

I was going to cheat a bit on this post and find a previous post about a PTA pitch session and kind of map what happened then to what happened last night, but it turns out I’ve never written about a pitch session before. No easy-out for me.

Right, so here’s what happened.

First, I was running a little late from a class I was teaching, so we got going around six-thirty or so. I had a notebook in my pocket with a few pitch ideas, and not much else.

So we chatted a little bit and then I asked everyone what kind of television show they didn’t want to see / do. Tim said that he really wasn’t much into the idea of a ‘straight’ one-hour dramedy like Gilmore Girls or Felicity or something like that. No one looked too disappointed by that – I think we’re the sort of folks who expect a little genre weirdness in our TV. Cool.

Meera spoke up and requested we avoid setting things in any war between the Amercian Civil War and today, simply because her history-fu for that time frame was weak. Again, that sounded good to everyone (for myself, I was merely homesick for the “Strange Allies” PTA game we never finished.)

That was pretty much all the “I’d rather not”s for everyone, so we talked a bit about what kind of pitches we had.

Randy piped up (a bit tongue in cheek) with the idea I dubbed “Left Behind… Because You’re An Asshole”, where something akin to the Biblical Rapture occurs, but only people who are, objectively, good people actually transcend.

We talked a little bit around this topic, until I admitted that, while I liked the idea of a kind of “oh crap, all these people are gone, how will we survive?” event, the idea of an event with biblical elements left me pretty cold.

Tim jumped in and said he was also into the idea of a kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story, though not just “straight zombies” in the vein of The Walking Dead, which is an idea I’d mentioned earlier in the week.

((I’d like to pat us all on the back at this point for not mentioning the Swine Flu once the whole night.))

Right around that same point, Tim also mentioned that he enjoyed “resource drama” – where you’re scrounging for supplies and making do with whatever you can find. The A-Team was mentioned, which is a little too camp for me, but also elements of Mad Max and things of that nature.

We threw around a lot of Survival Drama at this point, and talked about the kinds of story arcs you could do in there: a hellbent run from Point A to Point Z, basic survival, defend the base, find a weakness of and destroy the Big Bad… things like that.

I thought it might be interesting to start well AFTER the initial “inciting event,” and Tim agreed, mentioning that flashbacks would certainly explore that event more.

So we tossed around ideas of what the apocalypse might have been. Zombies… vampires… dragons… robots… robots created to fight zombies (yes, seriously), then turning on their owners…

Somewhere in there, Tim commented that some kind of Faerie Attack had never been done as an Apocalypse Event, and I said something like “Well, then we should do that.”

(I believe Meera would like me to state, for the record, that the faeries were not her idea… she just (gleefully) went along with it.)

That seemed to provide quite a lightning rod for ideas after that point, and coalesced into a show concept that The Producer is tentatively calling Ironwall (until we think of something yet more awesome).

SOMETHING had caused the Fae to reemerge in our world, and those fae (a collective term that we decided encompassed everything from fairies and pixies to trolls and dragons to bakemono and oni — all presented in the style of Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth’s art team) were Very Angry. The result of this re-emergence was hundreds of millions if not billions dead (either from fae attacks or from jumping off bridges when they realize that the bogeyman is real).

We tossed around several ideas about WHY they had come back, including:

  • The bio-organism of Earth was calling on its last, most vicious defenders, having failed through the ‘fever’ of Global Warming to control the human disease. “Giant T-cells shaped like Unicorns,” Meera quipped.
  • There was a regime shift in Faerie and the new King really hated us (a la The Golden Army).
  • The thousand-year treaty (involving a drunk Irishman, the King of the Fae, and a lost poker bet) finally ran out.
  • Old iron railway tracks had been torn up, reconnecting long-severed ley lines.
  • Nanites run amok. (which we didn’t exactly love)
  • Starbuck is an angel. (Okay, not really.)

… and in the end we decided it didn’t matter, or that it would come out during the show itself. The basic idea was that humanity was on the ropes, hiding out in the ruins of big cities, where the Iron content was high enough to weaken the fae magic. Something had recently happened to put the status quo in danger, and Our Heroes would be doing something about it.

Tim asked what would be happening that would bring the characters together, and Randy came up with a pretty awesome idea (and the First Scene of the Pilot): somehow the Fae had made it into the City (tentatively, Manhattan – Detroit would work better, but we know nothing about Detroit) where the Settlement was and had swapped in EVERYONE’S children for Changelings. The “First Scene” idea for the Pilot is all these adults dragging their crying, screaming children into the middle of the settlement and throwing them into a bonfire, where the audience finally sees that the people in the hoods and robes are not the bad guys, and that the things in the fire are monsters.

That opening scene lets us do a lot of stuff during the pilot:

  • Explain what the Fae can do with glamours and illusion and the like.
  • Visit a fae stronghold and see how the bad guys roll.
  • Show off the characters in an action-type situation.
  • Get everyone asking questions like “How could they do this? Why didn’t they do it before? WHAT HAS CHANGED AND HOW SCREWED ARE WE?!”

… which is basically everything a Pilot is supposed to do.

There was a bit more background stuff, during which it became clear that SEX was going to be a big element of the story, because the Fey need humanity to refresh their bloodlines (and humans… well, are human, and the Fae are hot and sexy). Plus, Tim made “Sex with Fairies” his character’s main Issue. I wrote all that background stuff down in the Series Bible on the Wiki page, so check it out.

Then we came up with characters:

  • Tim is playing a kind of mechanic-savant with natural animal sex appeal whose Issue is temptation: specifically, sex with faeries: *gasp* SLEEPING WITH THE (hawt) ENEMY.
  • Meera is playing a girl whose black magic led her to cut some pretty unspeakable bargains when the fae first arrived. Her issue is Atonement.
  • Randy is playing a border guard for the settlement – someone who survived another settlement in a smaller town being wiped out. He has issues with control, born of concern for protecting the settlement.
  • And Chris is playing a young man who was taken in by the settlement’s priest when he was a young boy and who has grown up as a pillar of the community. His issue is Self-Worth, because HE IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FAE, A LYING LITTLE CHANGELING THAT HIS “PARENTS” DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS TO KILL.


So… right. That’s where we are now. Pretty much nothing at all like any of the pitch ideas we’d been thinking of, pretty cool… and no one really knows how we got there.

I’m rather excited to play.

Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)

Wednesday night rolled around, and we were set to play In a Wicked Age. This was going to be my fourth or so time running the game, the second time for both Tim and Chris to play (revisiting the same characters) and the first time for both Meera and Randy.

Participant background

It’s not unimportant to note that I have a lot of play time with various story-games (not as much as I’d like) and that Tim and Chris have been playing quite a few different games with me in the last year or so, including Galactic, Dogs in the Vineyard, Inspectres, IAWA, and a couple others (I think). Meera’s played a couple of these types of games as well, most notably (in my head) Primetime Adventures. Randy’s played a little PTA, some Dogs, some Sorcerer, and I think that’s about it.

Significant (to me, at least) is that both Meera and Randy have a lot of play time with Amber DRPG (or some variation thereon) – enough that I think it’s fair to say that their experience with that game strongly informs and establishes their modes of play. I don’t say that to malign – I love em both, but the habits that Amber establishes are there, demonstrable, detectable even if you don’t know that’s what you’re seeing, and hard to break.

I bring that up because it mattered in play.

Now, first off, I think the game went well. We had a fun oracle to start out with, and there was a lot of stuff going on.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT OUR HEROES (read: last session)
* Farid Dafir, the marketplace snake charmer, had just reclaimed his rightful place at the head of the animal cult, ousting the woman Eil Bet.
* “Regano” al Aiqtanq, his cousin, had at least temporarily snared the heart of Kianna, the sneak-thief who’d gotten the whole mess with the released genii and the evil spirit started in the first place.

Chris was left at the top of the We Owe list. He picked NEST OF VIPERS as the Oracle and selected the first one. Tim crossed himself off the We Owe list to “just be” in the story.

The Oracles elements (from which one selects a character) are:
* A band of slavers, bold and incorrigible
* A moon gazer, possessed by 10 rival spirits
* Burglary of the storehouse of a powerful robber merchant
* The warden-ghost of the place, generous to the good-willed

Possible Characters, implied or implicit
* Any one of the slavers, including their leader, 2nd in command, or whoever
* Any one of the slaves, ditto
* The moon gazer, possessed
* Any one of the people burgling the storehouse
* The robber merchant, or one of his people
* The warden-ghost

From that, we came up with:

* Chris, playing his cult-leader/animal-charmer Fariq, who is also the moon-gazer with the 10 angry spirits within.
* Tim, playing Regano.
* Meera, playing Jessemyn, one of the slavers, who are all working for…
* Randy, playing Kadashman, the robber merchant and sorcerer.

The NPCs were:
* Natan, Kadashman’s eunuch major-domo, conniving to replace his master.
* Kianna, the thief from the first session, reincorporated as the burglar of the robber merchants ‘storehouse’.
* Saahi, the head of the slavers, in love with Kadashman.
* “Precious Dove”, Kadashman’s prime concubine, his conduit to the spirits he controls through sorcery, the one person who can put Fariq’s spirits at peace, the person Kianna was sent in to “borrow” (kidnap) by Fariq.

Much wackiness ensued. In the end, Fariq had his spirits sorted out, the concubines had all fled, Regaro had kept Kianna safe from the eunuch (who was rolled up in a large rug), and Saahi and Jessemyn were riding out into the desert with an unconscious Kadashman draped over the saddle. It was a pretty good session.

But there were still a few disconnects and weirdness. I, for one, automatically went into post-conflict narration once something wrapped up, and (a) that’s not always my job and (b) the results of the conflict hadn’t been negotiated yet, so I was totally going cart before the horse.

That wasn’t all of it, though. There were a few points in the game when what was going on at the table was sort of churning the water without doing anything, and a few points where the action ground to a halt when I’d turn to a player, ask what they were doing, and get a kind of deer in the headlights look. Analysis Paralysis, Tim calls it, and mmmmmmaybe that’s right. I’m not sure, though.

I am sure (pretty sure) what was causing it though.

Over on his blog, Vincent has been talking about different resolution systems. Specifically, talking about the ways in which the different games’ fictional stuff affects their system stuff, and vice versa.

The cloud means the game’s fictional stuff; the cubes mean its real-world stuff. If you can point to it on the table, pick it up and hand it to someone, erase it from a character sheet, it goes in the cubes. If you can’t, if it exists only in your imagination and conversation, it goes in the cloud.

Bear with me, guys, I’m going somewhere with this.

Continue reading “Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)”

Nobilis, renewed.

(Via Story Games:) Rebecca Borgstrom has released “Unlikely Flowerings”, the first part of the long-awaited Society of Flowers supplement for Nobilis as a 115 page pdf at Drivethrurpg for $5. It’s also available for free at (the publisher) Eos’ website, but “purchasing it from DTRPG will show your support for the author, her efforts and improve the chances of seeing the rest of the book.”
Nobilis is also getting a reprint by Eos Press. The reprint will be revised and twice as thick as the 2nd edition, due to resizing the book to 8.5″ x 11″; will contain new art, a new visual style, and content from The Game of Powers Live-action RP rules. (Which is ironic, since I always thought the rules in Game of Powers worked better for TTRPGs than the main rulebook’s more LARPish rules.)


I think, assuming that Birdwell Island is a Chancel (which is clearly is, otherwise all the mortals would have gone insane by now), Emily Elizabeth must be the Imperator.
I’ve tried to work it with her as a Noble and Clifford as her anchor, but it just doesn’t work, since he’s got like… three anchors himself.
So she’s the Imperator. Obviously aligned with the Light — no one else could be that positive.

Very Sad

Went looking for the the Nobilis “Lexicon” projects today.
They seem to have vanished.

Nobilis pre-post-mortem

Let’s say you get into a book club. It’s a pretty interesting set up, where you get a tremendous number of new books (40 or so), for about forty bucks.
The only catch is you have to indicate *at the signup stage* which books you’re going to want to read during the course of the run. It doesn’t have to be books that are published at the time (you’ll be getting books regularly and about bi-weekly for… let’s say a year and a half), but of course the list is all going to be based on your preferences and interests that you have at that moment in time.
About halfway in, maybe less, you realize your preferences have changed. The first half-dozen books were great and exactly what you were hoping for, and you’ve found some wonderful and interesting bits here and there since then, but there’s also some things you’re getting that really don’t work for you at all, plus you’ve been reading some other stuff on the side and found out about a newer style of book club where you pay a bit more but get smaller batches of books, which lets you switch your preferences much more easily.
Basically, at this point, despite some great experiences, you’re ready for the last of the books to show up so you can read it and move on. You just want to get it over with, and that’s no way to read a book.
That’s pretty much where I am with the Nobilis game. I love the players, love the characters, and even like the storyline (such as it is), but I’ve taken the whole thing someplace that I don’t really find that engaging and basically I simply want to wrap things up as well as I can and move on; this one ran too long and tried to do too much: in retrospect I should have stopped after session six — that’s really where it stopped being a story and started being meeting minutes, a bunch of things I’m just not that proud of. Regardless, I’ve come to believe that shorter campaign lengths result in a much leaner and cleaner story arc overall and help keep the excitement level up at a higher level.
So… I love the game, and I think I need to finish it up cleanly and more importantly quickly, because it deserves the kind of concise attack that it came in with. Time to move on.

‘Scuse me while I gush

In the history of Nobilis, the first 20th century was different.
So were the 400 wondrous years after that, but that is all gone now.
One day, it was the year 2400 and space-ships plied the Aetheric Currents between earth and the colony worlds. Then (about one hundred years ago) a rogue imperator conspired, an immortal Queen/Empress died, and human history/memory was reset back en masse.
The next day it was 1900 again, and the world, the history books and mortal memory had been changed so that it seemed normal for it to be 1900.
The crew at OceanWiki is putting together a Lexicon to tell us about everything we lost from those amazing five-hundred years.
It’s a shorter project than the former Lexicon, but it’s tighter, faster, and dare-I-say already better than the first effort… and we’re only on the A-C entries.
Amazing, terrific stuff: all the ‘lost futures’ of all your favorite sci-fi, brought into one place — Jules Verne and Space 1889 and Castle Falkenstein and Robert Heinlein and Buckaroo Banzai and Doc Savage and John Carter.
From “Ben Faulk, the First One to do Something Else” to the Pan African Teleostean Hegemony… this is really good stuff.
Go. Read.

The Plot Point

A few weeks ago, Dave commented that we’ve been at this Nobilis thing for ‘about a year’.
I believe my immediate reaction to this was something like “you’re completely crackers”, but it turns out he’s right: the first Nobilis session was… well, I posted about it around the last week of April of 2003, so I suppose that’s pretty close to the first little half-session we did.
Looking back, I’m both pleased and annoyed, but generally far more of the former than the latter.

Continue reading “The Plot Point”

Cool, baby. Cool.

So for the last couple weeks I’ve been contributing the insanity of the Lexicon Of The Second Age, in which people are sequentially writing up entries on the Second Age of Creation for the Nobilis setting, following certain guidelines.
Once a few standard practices and guildelines worked themselves into place, things have gone swimmingly, and I honestly find myself looking forward to the next entry from the others and the next entry to write — there’s tons of stuff that’s come out of the project that I’m already planning to use in my own campaign.
Today’s “O” contribution was a little tongue-in-cheek (after several entries worth of Serious Topics) — a time-jaunting band of heroes who spent the Second Age saving the world, doing good, and rocking out (a Noble tribute to the Hong Kong Cavaliers).
Good times.

Making Magic… magic.

A long email exchange on magic in rpgs — not a lot that resonated with me, but I did want to refer back to this passage, which touches on a possible problem I’m having in Nobilis (and possibly other stories).
Emphasis mine:

… [I am] against taking magic for granted, relying on the system, instead of trying to elicit that which the system is designed to facilitate. Relying on the system has the paradoxical effect of making the magic both more and less real: on the one hand, it removes everything from the realm of concrete action and physical description, distancing everyone from what?s really going on; on the other hand, by invoking rules, one lends an air of authority if not verisimilitude to the proceedings. ?I?m using Waters of Vision to try and see what?s going on? implies that the magic is real*; ?I?m peering into the water in the bowl on my dresser to see what I can see in the ripples? leaves crucial room for doubt and ambiguity**.
(The paradoxical epistemology of rpgs: precisely because they are so subjective?based almost wholly on the subjective cause-and-effect dialogue between players and referee?they end up being much more objective than the real world.)

* — “Real”, read “measurable and solid”, which is so antithetical to the idea of what magic is in most settings that it makes Magic into Not-Magic (Technology). Magic in DnD (and in virtually every other RPG out there), for instance, is actually Technology — very reliable technology, come to that.
** — But lends a solidity to the act itself. Compare “I do a Divination of his location.” to the actual concrete actions described in the example above: which one immerses you in the world of the character more? Which allows (or forces) a certain emotional separation from the scene?
This all goes back to a problem I choose to perceive in the Nobilis games I’m running, in that most of the sessions fail to have anything resembling a mythic tone to them. I know that most of this lies with me — to have a mythic feel, a lot has to come from me, and frankly I think most people of my generation are going to have problem with mythic thinking — it’s not what we were raised on, after all — sesame street is a far cry from being raised on oral tradition stories and fairy tales at bedtime. My myths are those of Tolkien — a magical world with very very VERY little that is overtly magic in it: a world with histories but not myths… myth doesn?t enter into it, and the closest thing to fairy tales are Bilbo’s encounter with the Trolls and the regrettable Tom Bombadil (who really should have been in a short book of his own… preferably in a different world entirely).
And to top it off, I taught myself systems at a young age whereby everything that happens in Tolkien can be quantified (RPGs) — just to milk that last bit of wonder myth out of it.
(Note to self: buy many books of fairy tales — read them to children as they grow up.)
So, back on track, I don’t necessarily know the imagery of myths, and thus my Nobilis games tend to feel more like (best case) an Unknown Armies game where everyone’s playing an Avatar or (worst case) a Supers game.
Supers… the myths of our time, and more’s the pity; though you can have mythic supers tales (cf. Hitherby Dragons), that’s the exception, not the rule.
So, Question the First: how to think mythically? How to encourage the players to think/act mythically?
The other thing that is leeching the magical out of the Nobilis game is that I’m very focused on the rules right now, because I’m trying to teach them to my players — so that even when they simply describe “this is my concrete and emotionally immersive action”, I break it down from the subjective-but-immersive to the objective-but-non-immersive — I’m very much into showing everyone what gears are turning behind the curtain right now, because I want them to see how the machine works.
My motives are good: I want people to know the rules well enough to be able to ignore them, but I’m beginning to think that that’s not going to happen, at least not quickly.
So I think “We’ll, we’ll let everyone be subjective-concrete-immersive and I’ll be the only one making sure the game system is being observed and everyone can just trust me that it’s fair.”
Which is fine, if everyone trusts me, and maybe they do. I’m nervous about that because I-the-player got really burned on that about a year or two ago and I’m still compensating for that in most of my games, trying to make sure that everyone knows I’m working with a fair and balanced rules set even if they never asked.
So, Question the Second: How to move from my current mode of “objective-non-immersive” to “subjective-immersive” to let people be engaged in the action, not the rules. Ideally, the goal should be that the players are always utterly confident that they did what they say they did, but unsure as to whether the ‘magic’ will behave as expected. This is easier, provided trust-in-the-GM by both the players and the GM.
What frustrates me about this is that I was DOING this (creating more mythic imagery and veiling the hard rules) at the beginning of the game before I really learned the rules, and I’m doing it less now because I’m thinking of them too much.

Order of events

Interesting thoughts on why to decide your Estate last when creating a character in Nobilis, stored here for my convenience:

The crux of Tony’s process is that the Estate is the LAST thing you choose when designing your character.
What it does (I feel) is discourage people from playing Estates and Affiliations instead of characters.
In my attempts to play Nobilis I have seen characters who seem designed to govern a pre-selected Estate. That’s okay, but I maintain that it’s only okay with careful consideration and balance. Without a critical eye, choosing the Estate first (from my experience) can lead to a more shallow and two-dimensional character. Why? Because the tendency is to create a character whose background is retrofitted to rationalize and justify why they were ennobled as that particular Power. (ie. the computer hacker who is the Power of Computers, the painfully shy girl who loves to read to the exclusion of anything else is the power of Libraries)
Or the abused child who grows up to be Affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark.. It begs the question of who wants to play an abused child and why? Is it just to rationalize why you’re affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark- or because it’s truly part of the character?
The London cabbie who is the Power of Coincidence is more interesting in my opinion, because he was somebody before he became a demi-god.
Now someone will fairly argue that Imperators might select some one to steward an Estate based upon their interests and predilictions. I’ll grant you that. I do maintain that it leans towards to a more contrived character, but no – not a guarantee; this is a generality, not a hard and fast rule.

The only note I will add to this is that, in my limited Nobilis experience thus far, I’ve had the most ‘problems of two-dimensionality’ with the characters whose backgrounds were designed around their (eventual) Estate. I love everyone’s characters, but them’s the facts.
The old Amber-ism of ‘make up the character you’ve always wanted to play’ works pretty well here. (Hell, in any game, come to that.)

“Still… not as scary…”

The creator of Nobilis, reinventing the ecosystem of the world’s oceans on Hitherby Dragons.

The ocean should be made of custard. On a purely practical level, it would be tastier and more nutritious than sea water. On a more idealistic level, it’s one of the few things that could entice me to take up a career as a sailor: a custard sea, with little gummi fish! (The fish would have to be gummi fish. Otherwise they’d drown. Normal fish can’t breathe custard! That’s a silly idea.)
Gummi fish wouldn’t be the only wonders of a custard sea. There’d be white chocolate reefs and a Bermuda’s Triangle made of deadly meringue. Would the sailors consume it or would it consume them? You’d never know. Not without going there!
Most of all, there’d be little candied fruits suspended in the custard. And you know what that would mean?
That’s right.
An end to scurvy IN OUR TIME.

Stepping into other shoes

After some thoughts provoked by the posts here and here, I opted to eschew the turn timer for the Nobilis game tonight.
Result? Mixed. The scenes were much more complete and felt a lot more ‘whole’ to me, but at the same time there’s something good to be said for an impetus to wrap up a scene instead of letting it simply fade and fade and fade and faaaade to black.

Continue reading “Stepping into other shoes”

Hello, Clarice

I’ve got some catching up to do… Monday Mashup #13: Silence of the Lambs
I’m combining this with Nobilis.
Lecter is a captured excrucian, gone from cannibal to destroyer-of-bits-of-creation. Because he has been captured by the PC’s and they have no proof that he’s actually done any harm, they’re stuck with either keeping him under lock and key or releasing him, and they aren’t going to release him.
He therefore becomes a source of information — insight into the other monsters out there in the world whose motivations are beyond the understanding of normal folks but which are completely understandable to him.
In the stories, Lecter’s motivations were alienation and aesthetics; he only killed the most stupid, annoying, and distasteful. Playing around with this, you get a pretty archetypal Excrucian — they are truly alien by nature (coming from beyond Creation), and aestetically motivated, as they try to ‘collect’ all the portions of creation within themselves… perhaps not strictly cannibalistic, but close enough. Our little captured excrucian never expects anyone to understand him… who in Creation could.
Until he begins to sense that he might have an ally (or at least willing dupe) in the form of one of the PCs: someone particularly bright, particularly ruthless, notably pragmatic…
Hmm. This is an idea I might have to use.

Pondering the flow

So, we’ve had a few players cross-over from one Nobilis game group to the other now, and someone asked one of the ‘crossers’ which one of the groups stayed on track better.
His answer, to say the least, surprised me a bit, so I set about the Saturday session with the goal of getting the thing in focus a bit better. The result (as summarized elsewhere):

Nobilis seemed to be focused and on track and yet somehow ?off?.

That’s just how it seemed to me, at any rate. Wasn’t really sure if anyone else saw it that way.
Dave chimed in:

Re Nobilis, I thought the session went well, too, but I agree that it was “off.” May be because folks are scattered here and there, and not necessarily pulling toward a common goal. Or maybe not.

There’s a magic formula there, somewhere, with the Nobilis stuff. People are all addressing the story but…
Hmm… I’m not feeling like everyone’s gears are engaged? Everyone’s addressing the problems at hand but not always involved at the same time.
Case in point: as much as I liked the scene with the Wyrd sisters from from last game, the scene where everything really felt ‘right’ was Sian visiting Meon.
Could this be because it was a personal project… er… rather, a personally-devised solution to a problem? I think maybe so — it felt much more player-determined, which is a point at which a game like Nobilis or Amber really seems to start to hum, I think… when the players have their own projects to work on, or are coming up with their own solutions and actions.
The scenes that have, thus far, worked really well, since the split of the group into two (in no particular order):
– Lust and Crime disposing of the Excrucian weapons.
– Sian and Justice in general.
– Sian and Meon in general.
– Death traveling back in time (by Gating along the ‘path’ of his own lifeline) to collect his former ‘tribe’ as warriors.
– Donner and Cities making a private arrangement of mutual benefit.
Things that haven’t really clicked:
– Most anything where someone said ‘I need you to do this’, especially when the ‘how to do it’ part is defined at all… giving them leeway to solve the problem in whatever way they feel like always seems to work better (though that still comes in second place to the scenes that are completely self-determined.
So I’m not sure that ‘common goals’ are really what’s missing… just need to get to that point where everyone’s engaged in their private idaho’s, I guess. This isn’t new ground or discovery for me (or anyone else reading this, I suspect) — it’s just something I need to remind myself of from time to time.

Weeknight relaxation.

Ran the ‘Chrysalis A’ group last night (the first time with the full group), and got things rolling with the patented “throw sixteen problems at them at once and let them sort that out… by the time they do, the group dynamic will have gelled.”
One notable quote from the game last night that I want to make sure to mention related to a task set them by the Boss. During the events a few sessions ago, a big cave complex under the town collapsed, killing quite a number of town inhabitants in sinkholes and the like — they are supposed to replenish the population by bringing in 30,000 new people from… well, wherever, so long as they aren’t simply ‘made’.
The comment, following about ten minutes of theorizing about ‘How’ (involving everything from kidnapping to disaster recovery to time-travel), was this: “Let’s back up and decide who we want to get. We know we can get whoever we want once we decide who that is, so let’s not worry about that part.”
That’s one of the great Nobilis secrets: it’s not the how that matters, it’s the why and the who. I’m really pleased that this fact was spontaneously voiced by the players. Yay.
There is a great deal of good to be said for scheduling a regular game on a weeknight. It encourages people to focus (in theory – in practice, I seem to be immune), it feels a bit more intimate, and (for me, anyway) it refreshes you and seems to shorten up the week somehow (since you get a chance for a little playtime in the middle of work, basically).
The downsides are mostly having to figure out where everything you need the next morning ended up during the game session the night before.

Weekend review 2

Saturday: First half of the second session of the second story-arc in Nobilis (which of course would be designated Session 8C… don’t ask). Four players who have never gamed with each other as a gestalt (or, in some cases, at all), so I’m really still working on getting the group to gel and build some momentum. Folks are still finding their sea-legs, I think. I hope.
To aid this, I’ve hit on the simple solution of taking two fairly complicated plots (1. political wrangling over key ‘geographic spiritual resources’ and 2. a plot to frame the familia for treason) and starting them up simultaneously while the familia is still making introductions. Not satisfied with stopping there, I’ve also introduced a few key NPCs that should loom large in the story for some time and made notes about the far-reaching consequences of some player actions.
Things are coming along well, mostly: I’m a little unhappy with my own ability to keep gametime even (it *felt* about right to me, but I’m not sure if it did to everyone else), but I’m pleased with the group and the dynamics that are being introduced. I’m looking forward to these initial plots (esp. the frame-job) concluding and where some of the loose threads might lead — also, I have some characters who are really designed to tell a strongly internal, personal story and I’m looking forward to exploring that some more.
Favorite bit: Jurai of the Cammora’s introduction and explaining his desire to meet everyone ‘just say Hellooooo.’
Also… tumescence in it’s creepiest form EVER. Bwuuahh ha haaa.


Note to self: preparing a list of likely (and point-balanced) qualities for a well-known Chancel and Imperator does not appreciably make the Chancel- and Imperator-creation process go any faster than doing nothing of the kind beforehand.

Useful bits

For anywhere from $2.50 to $6, The Language of Flowers is a steal and terribly terribly useful for a Nobilis game.
It’s a very simple book: the first half is lists of flowers in alphabetical order, matched to their traditional message/meaning. The second half of the book is arranged alphabetically by meaning/message, with the flower following. Good stuff, and pocket-sized.

Poof, you’re a bird

Prompted by watching the Prophecy, Dracula, and seeing similar stunts in the LoEG trailers, I present this bit of fluff for Nobilis (though, like many Nobilis Gifts, I’d rather have it in Amber 🙂
Gift: Body Swarm
Greater Change of Self (9) Self Only (-3) Simple Miracle (-1) One Trick (-3) Uncommon (1) = Cost: 3
This gift allows you to change into a flock/swarm/pack of vermin or small winged critters… pick one type of critter, whatever works best for the character — power of Heaven might go for white doves or butterflies, a power of Light might go for sparrows or honeybees, a power of Hell might select bats or rats or something equally disturbing. Generally, the animal needs to be fairly small — swarms of Condors might be a bit much. As a rough guideline, ten little critters will manifest for each Wound Level the character has, and killing off ~10 of the things will inflict a Wound level on the character. Other than that, you consciousness is pretty much distributed over the whole group, which might make it easy to spy on many people (provided you’ve got the Aspect to process all that incoming information), though there should probably be some logical limit on how far apart the individual critters can be spread out… call it a mile.

The name’s the thing.

One of the NPC’s in my Nobilis game has three names. Why? Because he’s supposed to be a serial rapist, and serial-anythings always have three names.
Lileks explains:

Well, we know Eric Robert Rudolph?s guilty, don?t we? He has THREE NAMES. He was Eric Rudolph for years, but now he?s Eric Robert Rudolph. Say no more. That?s why I never thought Richard Jewell did the Atlanta bombing; he would have been described as Richard Jay Jewell, or Richard Harvey Jewell. People don?t get a middle name unless they?re a famous criminal. That?s the law. Ricky Ray Rector. Lee Harvey Oswald. James Earl Ray. Sirhan Sirhan Sirhan.
The nation is run by people with four names (William Jefferson Blythe Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush, Harry Herbert Heever Hoover, etc.) The nation is entertained by people with one name – Cher, Sting, Madonna, Eminem, Rush. The people with three names are found guilty by jury members who have two names. What of the five-namers, you ask? Those are the puppet masters, my friend. The Masonic Illuminati. Somewhere now in Bavaria, Rheingelt Quincy Etienne Xavier Chernobog is shaking hands with John Jacob Zhinkleheimer Kim Tanaka. And that handshake took six years to learn.

John Jacob Zhinkleheimer Kim Tanaka… (Makes not in NPC-names memopad). Good stuff.

What games would Nobles play?
How about this one: the HipBone Games, with many variants.
Looks like fun, and definitely something I’m going to try with Justin.


I’ve fiddled together a proper blog for the nobilis game here: chrysalis.
Those of you who keep track of the Cry Havoc game will not certain design similarties (grouping of posts by type, images to go with the groups, etc.), and certainly the “back” pages are very similar to CH at the moment, both because I haven’t the time to fiddle with them and because I really like that color scheme.
More to the point, this has allowed me to give all my great players a place to write some stuff, which is always good.

Estate thought

It’s easy, in Nobilis, to choose an Estate and then try to base everything on making them a perfect fit for that Estate (a good example might be Destiny of the Endless) or making the character’s personality the direct opposite of what would be expected (Destruction of the Endless). Alternately, if you look at something like Lord of Light as an example, you see a main character who’s influenced by the estate but has several other big things that influence his personality as well.
I personally think it’s a really good idea to figure out what kind of character you want to play first and figure out their Estate later. (A good example of this is (IMO) Death of the Endless, who approaches things the way any dedicated professional does — it’s important, and a big part of her ‘life’, but not all of it.)

Interlude 2: Loyalty’s Birth

Another bit of floral bordering for the Nobilis game. This one is ENTIRELY spoiler-free (at least relative to the story arc). It’s just a lame attempt to write out the enNoblement of one of the NPCs I’m using in the story. My intent was just write out an enNoblement for anyone, just for the sake of doing it, but unfortunately I picked the Power of Loyalty. What I found out is that Joshua Stark’s martini-dry demeanor does not allow for the sort poetic waxing that most of the enNoblement bits in the rulebooks have.
Oh well. It was still sort of fun.

Continue reading “Interlude 2: Loyalty’s Birth”

C’est que ce?

What is “Blake’s Seven” and why are people comparing it to the premise of the Nobilis test game?

Anchors info

For the non-Nobilis people, the premise: Nobilis have mortal servants, known as Anchors, who will work for them and can also serve as ‘hosts’ that the Nobilis can jump into, take over, and even perform miracles through — anonymously.
For my reference, there are essentially four different types of Anchors, or more accurately, Anchors each have one ability, either chosen from the list below or designed with me:
Aid Miracle: calling on the Anchor with this ability helps out with a small, predefined set of tasks or miracles. For example, a persuasive Anchor can help sway opinions, a hound-spirit can help you hunt. *
Earthly Magic: the Anchor possess some earthly magic that you don’t (most certainly not the same thing as a Miracle, basically creating magical equivilants of 20th century tech), which gives you access to it.
Influence: the Anchor has mortal influence, can obtain wealth for you, or provide useful information or assistance within the area of their speciality.
Agent: the Anchor is multitalented and can be given tasks on a session-to-session basis, such as retrieving needed tools that you don’t have time to go after or protecting an area from spies or sabotuers — in mundane RPG campaigns, anchors talented enough to be a Noble’s “agent” anchor would be the PC. Their relative effectiveness is generally a function of your Spirit. *
Your Noble can not directly control the actions of their Anchor except by performing an Aspect miracle through them (with the appropriate cost in AMPs). This means, particularly, that an Anchor is a representative, not an avatar. They can convey messages from their Noble, but do not constitute the same thing as having the Noble in attendance in a social situation.

Nobilis NPCs

A list of some of the NPC’s involved in the events surrounding the I&H Nobilis game. (Players may not want to know this, but it’s just blurbs, no stats.)
*Update*: changed and added a few NPCs, allowing me to move a few people around who are more useful to me unaffiliated with the ‘main’ Familias.

Continue reading “Nobilis NPCs”

Just for a good weekend read

Hogshead/GoO has a PDF “example of play” available on their website — basically it’s 20 pages right out of the rule book and it’s a hell of an entertaining read.
It’s also huge. I took the document, excised the two full-page pictures from the document and chopped it down to about a third the size. Download file if you like — even if you’re not into Nobilis, the example of play is a hoot to read.

Ivy & Hyacinth; Session 1, intro 3

[This last intro log was easily the most difficult, since we didn?t do much more with ?pat? than set the stage for upcoming events… by this point our time was running out.]

A wooded copse looks down over an open expanse of grass. Faeries flit from shadow to shadow in the gloaming beneath the trees, occasionally circling the head of the creature that stands at the border of darkness and light. The creature is not human, but seems to give the impression of a humanoid form, if that form were composed of the firm but pliable substance of a mushroom, it?s skin the durable ?leather? of a puffball. It?s toes dig into the earth beneath it and flat black ?eyes? take in the world beyond the trees.
The strange shadows of a city loom all about this small patch of tamed wilderness ? the place were she stands is a temporary refuge at best.
Why the creature thinks it needs a refuge is unclear even to it, but somehow it knows.
As it ponders the how and why of that it senses a type of smoke, somehow both near at hand and very far away. It knows this smoke is called ?incense? and that knowledge brings with it something like fear.
The smell grows stronger.

Quick Summary: The Graf of Fungus
Aspect: 0
Domain (Fungus): 4
Realm: 2
Spirit: 2

Gift: Fast Reincarnation (when the Graf is killed, it?s body accelerates into decomposition as, somewhere else in the world, it?s body and spirit are reconstituted from the fungal matter at hand). 3 pts.

Limit of Spirit: Uninspiring

Restriction: The Graf can be Summoned by those who know the proper ritual. Normally, it finds such interruptions rather enjoyable, since the sort of people who would choose to summon the Sovereign Power of Fungus are often quite… interesting.

[The Graf of Fungus is played by Margie Kleerup.]

Ivy & Hyacinth, Session 1, Intro 2

A MAN SPRAWLS across a threadbare and badly sprung armchair. A light bulb socket hangs directly overhead, dangling from the ceiling on a cord and holding only the shattered remains of a blackened bulb.
There is dust on the scarred wooden floor, the single windowsill, the radiator next too it, and on the misused armchair itself ? all of which seems entirely undisturbed. The room is otherwise empty. Something in the chair is digging into the man?s back.
He is lithe and wiry, the man; lean, with short blonde hair so pale it was almost white. He wears a fine pair of slacks that quite are quite obviously part of an expensive suit, a dark, form-fitting sleeveless shirt somewhere between silk and mesh, and no jacket. A shoulder holster hangs along his left side, empty. He, unlike the room, is not covered in dust.
He raises his other hand (instinct or habit, one might say) to take a drink and discovers he still holds the neck of a whiskey bottle between his fingers. He seems less surprised by the natural inclination of his hand to cling to a bottle even in unconsciousness than he is when he notices that the bottle ends in jagged shards about halfway down.
There is something dark and tacky on the jagged edges of the bottle, and he is not injured (barring the damage the chair is doing). The room does not smell of spilt whiskey, nor does he see broken glass or blood (or footprints? how did I get here?) on the floor as he sits up and looks around.
He stands, wiping the bottle down to erase fingerprints and dropping it on the chair behind him as he looks over the room. Neither his jacket nor the presumably missing pistol are anywhere to be seen so the holster hanging at his side remains both conspicuous and useless. He slips it off, winds the straps around the holster itself and shoves it into a pants pocket where it bulges and ruins the line of his slacks, but does not draw as much attention.
His gaze moves to the bare window and the world beyond. Tenements. Projects. He is certainly not dressed to blend in but, searching his mind, he finds no particular concern about such things. His natural instincts tell him he is more than competent enough to handle the dangers of such places, though he has no idea how or why.
Of course, in searching his mind he finds precious little else in the way of information or memory, which does bother him. He is a well-dressed newborn delivered into an abandoned tenement in an unknown city. The room holds no further information for him beyond that.
Turning to the door he walks into the rest of the world, searching for himself.
Ambrose Donner, Power of Lightning
Aspect 1
Domain 4
Realm 1
Spirit 2
[Ambrose Donner, Duke of Lightning, is played by Randy Trimmer]

(Apologies for the lack of further character information ? we sat down, made characters, and played ? I?m still collecting background info, I don?t have the character bonds available, and they are being changed anyway as the player reads more character examples from everyone?s fine websites, so hopefully the character page will be up and more complete later.)

Man, somebody stop me

I made a Nobilis page (yeah, sue me, it’s what I do for games I like), mostly as a place to put up links to files and web pages that I’ve mostly be finding and refinding with Google searches.
Normally, I would not do something this friggin’ girly, but Nobilis has a HUGE amount of floral imagery and an art neuveau feel, so I just figured I’d go with it.

What I like, what I don’t like, how I’m fixing it.

Yep, more Nobilis posting.

Warning, this is not really fun fictional crap, but me thinking out loud about the kind of game-design stuff that I do all the time… if you don’t want to talk nuts and bolts, don’t worry about it.

I’ve run Amber extensively (duh) and I’ve run Everway a few times, and I personally think Nobilis has a huge advantage in the realm of Conflict Resolution over both systems. Sustaining Damage aside, Both Amber and Everway hit the (DnD-like) problem of everybody expecting their PCs to put forth the maximum conceivable effort for every single action, because there are no PC resources to spend or withhold (and yeah, I’m guilty of this as a player):

“You’ve just walked the Pattern, twice, when the House Manticore Chaosite ambushes you… his first swing narrowly misses beheading you, instead drawing blood on your sword-arm.”

“WHAT? My Warfare HAS to be good enough to dodge that! I bear down, putting all my effort into winning, regardless of the cost”
“Just like you did for the last five opponents?”
“Yes, just like that.”

Sure, a GM can work through the system and either use a subjective internal system for dealing with this or tack on an objective internal system, but that doesn’t address the fact that said System is absent from the basic rules… it’s not a huge failing — like I said, it’s been missing since the First of All RPGs (and even in games where penalties can be applied as you gradually get hurt, they are generally ignored, especially as the night drags into the wee hours).
What I like about Nobilis is that you’ve got your ‘normal optimum’ and those lovely little Miracle points that can be used to stage things up to a Greater Effect if you need it… you can’t really said you’ve Given It Your All in Nobilis until You’ve dropped 8 MP’s on a Word of Command whose very invocation ruptured your spleen. THAT’S effort 🙂
What I don’t like is dealing with Penetration rules and Auctoritas.
Okay, I haven’t got the larp rules yet, but based on something R. Sean mentions about how the miracle contests work in the LARP rules game and something I’m not particularly in love with in the combat examples for the Tabletop rules, I’m going to implement a house rule regarding powers/combat and how it works with Auctoritas (read Nobilis 101 if you dont’ know what the hell I’m talking about… it makes this way clearer):
Way it currently works: An attack must have ‘penetration’ defined ahead of time or it goes poof if it hits any sort of Auctoritas (basically magic godling-forcefield equal to your Spirit), or if it hits an Auctoritas higher than the Penetration you decided to use.
Player one has Aspect 4, Spirit 1.
Player two has Domain (cold) 4, Spirit 4.
Way combat works now:
1. Player 1 punches player 2 as an Aspect 4 miracle. Player1 defines no Penetration on the attack, so nothing happens. Poof. P1 either has to declare (on the next action) that the attack was Aspect 0, Penetration 4 to get a crappy effect (and he probably has to make several attacks to “get the range”: “I try penetration 1… no? how about 2? no? damn…”), or spend miracle points to keep the attack high and still penetrate. Ugh.
2. Player 2 uses a Domain Cold attack on Player 1. Domain 4, but no penetration. It goes poof. There isn’t much Auctoritas there, but it’s enough.
The Way I want it to work: Auctoritas interferes with any incoming miracle, moving it down in strength to a degree equal to it’s strength… the remaining strength of the attack or effect gets through.
How it would look with the same characters:
1. Player 1 punches Player 2 as an Aspect 4 miracle. Player 2’s Auctoritas of 4 pushes the punches strength down to an Aspect 0 miracle, which is basically a competent Mortal’s punch, and that is what connects… a bruise at best, unless P2 is already hurt, and Player1 knows he’s going to have to ‘push himself’ (spend MPs) to do serious damage.
2. Player 2 uses a Domain Cold (4) attack on Player 1 (who has Spirit 1). P1’s auctoritas pushes the Domain 4 miracle down to a 3, which isn’t enough ‘miracle’ for Lesser Creation of Cold (need level 4), so it basically becomes a illusory ghost miracle within P1’s auctoritas, and P2 knows that he needs to pump it up a bit (but not by how much — since “Ghost Miracle” is a level 1 miracle, the guy could have a Spirit anywhere from 3 to 1… if he’d had a 4, it would have negated even a Ghost Miracle.
Anyway, this means the players don’t have to worry about declaring Penetration or crunching numbers at all. Here’s what they see:
“I punch him. Aspect 4.”
“His auctoritas is strong, pushing out against every hostile move you make in his direction… you’re landing punches, but they don’t have any more oomph than a mortal brown belt.”
“Damn… okay, time to push.”

“Freeze the area: lesser creation of cold… something like a sleet storm.”

“The area is rimed in ice and several of the mooks are knocked to the ground by the slippery conditions and the incredibly painful slivers of ice blasting through the air, but the air around your main opponent contains only ghostly images of the effect… nothing real seems to be reaching him.”

Both players know they have to spend MP’s to make their actions stronger against the Auctoritas, but they don’t have to declare penetration, just overall “Oomph”. The net effect on their MP’s is EXACTLY the same, but the combats play faster, with less focus on number crunching and less unrealistic ‘range finding’.
Okay… tech-design talk off.

Nobilis 101

For those interested (and apparently some are), I have a “Nobilis 101” document available. It’s about 15 pages printed, but considering that it’s a solid breakdown of a 300 page book (enough to use to make characters and get a good idea of the setting), that’s not too bad.
The original html document, written by a guy named “Ry” in 1999 (when there was only the first edition book out), is here. It is still a viable document and highly recommended. All respect is due this guy. it’s a great document.
I (and ***Dave) fiddled with it because…

  • The layout was pretty basic (circa 1999 straight text) and the ‘tables’ were hard to read.
  • Some of the rules info has changed
  • In fiddling with it, we both figured out the rules much better than we had before. I love the main rulebook, but when I was about thirty pages in, I stalled, and it was reading and editing the 101 document that really made things clear to me.

Nobilis – Hyacinth & Ivy: Session 1, Intro 4

To the Nobilis, the symbology of flowers is strong — they are one of the oldest associative symbols, and an almost inseparable part of sympathetic magical rituals. A tiger lily doesn?t just mean strength, it is strength, whereas magnolia is the flower of Nobility.
This is a story of Hyacinth and Ivy.
This is a story of Jealousy and Friendship.
[edited transcript version of intro session]

You wake up on a psychiatrist couch.

Power of Lust
Actually, for me that makes all kinds of sense.

Taking your own measure, you note that you are dressed in your typical…?


Right. Leather. You have an ornate but serviceable knife in your left hand — both of which are coated in blood that has long-since gone tacky; in your right hand you hold a cell-phone whose screen indicates you’ve missed… ten calls. As soon as you register that, the phone starts to ring.

Answer it, sit up if I haven?t already, and look around the room.

The room is typical Freudian fare: dark read leather and mahogany, heavy drapes over the windows. The female voice on the other end of the line is speaking somewhat loudly, her voice is filled with strain. You’re not tracking the words however, as your attention is on the angel sitting in the traditional psychiatrists wing-backed chair across the shadowy room.

Angel? That?s what it is?

He?s wearing the robes you associate with angel imagery. Also, the big white wings hanging over the back of the chair is a giveaway.

What?s he… doing?

He looks quite dead: his chest has been split open and youre? fairly sure even from here that his heart is missing. The voice on the other end of the phone is repeating a name over and over, as though trying to get your attention.

Is it my name?

You’re not sure. You don’t remember your name. *Can’t* remember, actually…

Greaaat. What?s the name she?s calling me?

Macy. It doesn?t exactly sound wrong.

?Who is this??

?It?s me, obviously. There are people watching my place and all kinds of crazy shit on the news. What happened??

Is there a TV in here?

Psychiatrist?s office? There?s a radio in the corner. It just happens to be on the hourly new summary. Massive fire at a Rave in Chicago, firefight in London. Some sort of massive power grid blackout in Malaysia. [assumes caller?s voice] ?They said you were dead.?


?Everyone. Where are you??

… ?where are you??

?My place, like a said; being watched.
[long pause. player waits]
New York.?

?Right.? Where am I?

You glance out through the drapes. You?re on the second floor of a brownstone on a residential-looking street filled with dozens of other brownstones — it almost has to be New York, although you could never explain how you know that.

?I?m… close to you. I?ll call you back when I?m closer.? Hang up. Wash off the blood from the knife and my hand, wipe it down and stick it in my coat or belt or something until I can dump it. I?m leaving. Oh, but before I wash up, I cut the angel?s throat, just in case.

Other Player

It looks like I tried to kill him, but I don?t know what kills angels — I don?t even understand how he IS one — so I definitely want to make SURE, because right now there isn?t any little voice in my head that?s telling me ?It couldn?t have been me!?, so I?m going to assume it was and make sure I do it right.

… Umm… Right. Next player.

“Macy”, Baroness of Lust, scion of The Fallen, is played by Jackie

Nobilis – Hyacinth & Ivy: Session 1, Intro 1

To the Nobilis, the symbology of flowers is strong — they are one of the oldest associative symbols, and an almost inseparable part of sympathetic magical rituals. A tiger lily doesn?t just mean strength, it is strength, whereas magnolia is the flower of Nobility.
This is a story of Hyacinth and Ivy.
This is a story of Jealosy and Friendship.

The Power of Punishment lay on the cobblestones of a dirty alley. This, as her eyes slowly blinked open, was the first thing she noticed; grimy stones, bits of refuse settles against the juncture of a buildings wall and the ground.
Her cheek was pressed against the stone as well, which meant she was lying on her stomach, with her back exposed to —
She rolled over, blinking rapidly against the noontime sun that snuck through the rooftops overhead to stab at her eyes. The alleyway was dank and old, which seemed familiar, and thick with the stink of molding trash.
That seemed familiar too, although somehow for a different reason.
She sat up, resting her arms on her knees. She was wearing slacks, a jacket. Her knuckles were scraped and bruised. A taxicab drove by the mouth of the alley several dozen yards away and she realised she was in London.
She didn?t know how she knew it was London, what or where London was, or why it filled her with a certain relief, but she knew that she knew.
Forcing herself to her feet, she took stock of her surroundings.
The dead body on the ground between her and the alley?s dead end caught her attention first.
Her reaction was strange, or at least might have been; there was no fear or revulsion, only resignation, as though this were a familiar scene playing out for the hundredth time to no happy conclusion. She approached the face down body (too much like her own earlier pose for comfort) and rolled it over.
A flash. A memory. Looking over the shoulder of a London bobby, looking down on a body, lying in a very similar — the same? — alley. Blood everywhere. the poor woman’s eyes wide with terror and death and the stink of blood and offal is nearly overwhelming and —
Five… no, seven bullet entry points. Centre mass. Also, his eyes were missing. It did not look as though he?d ever had them.
In a sudden flash of memory, she remembered the scene. He was stalking towards her from the dead-end of the alley, half-smiling. She had had a pistol in her memory, and he had been wearing sun glasses.
Searching, she found the gun against the wall and shortly thereafter found a holster for it at the small of her back. The other?s sun glasses she didn?t see.
She frowned. It didn?t feel right, having used a gun. There was something…
Something… off. Wrong weapon. Not the feeling that she wouldn?t have killed someone, but the feeling that it wouldn?t have been this way.
Something was wrong, but that wasn?t quite the worst of it.
She?d been trying to remember her name since she?d first rolled over and faced the sun, and she couldn?t.
[The nobilis of Punishment is played by Dave Hill.]

The first attempt at Nobilis

As should be evident by now, there is a HELL of a lot of stuff to process just in the background for Nobilis — the book is 300 pages and maybe 10 of it is hard rules… the rest are examples and and examples and great great great fiction and more examples.
For a test game, I needed to simplify the background.
That usually means I start killing people.
The idea is simple: character generation is more than involved enough without having to frell with designing Chancels (the players job) and their Imperator (also the player’s job, and both come AFTER character creation for a number of reasons.)
So, the premise: The characters are Nobilis whose Imperator is accused of Treason against Creation and the Valde Bellum… it (the Imperator) is found guilty and destroyed.
Usually, that’s the end of it: destroying the Imperator means the Chancel breaks apart and/or returns to what it used to be as part of the Prosaic Earth and the Nobilis die from the shock of having a god’s soul ripped out of their body.
Didn’t happen. Therefore, the treasonous (and they MUST be treasonous if their Imperator was, right?) Nobilis must be hunted down and likewise destroyed. That’s the seed of the plot.
But wait, there’s more
Just because the destruction of their Boss didn’t kill them doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides: the PC’s start out the story separated from each other, away from their Chancel (just as well, as it’s currently occupied by hostile forces), and utterly Amnesiac from the psychic shock of what’s just happened.
(Cool, but also a key game-thing: since the players have amnesia, the PLAYERS don’t have to keep track of all the background stuff — they don’t even have to remember the game rules… as they slowly remember who and what they are, I can phase in their introduction to the rules and background: one player has an Aspect confrontation… another works with her Domain… another with her Gifts while a fourth is contacted by a Nobilis that wants to help them avoid the forces sent by Lord Entropy.)
When they wake up, each encounters evidence that Things Aren’t All Right, and that they’ve recently been involved in either Fight or Flight. Flashes of memory both help and hinder them at this point. One finds herself in an alleyway in London. Next to her lies the body of a dead man with no eyes, and she remembers (in a sudden flash) shooting him.
Except… she doesn’t particularly like guns, and she has a distinct feeling that there is another, better, more appropriate weapon she would have been using…
They don’t know who they are, why they can’t remember themselves, or what’s going on, but they’ve got a really bad feeling about this.
More (A sort of log of the first session) later.


Okay. I’ve finally gotten around to this post. It’s taken awhile.
As I’ve mentioned before, I recently gave into the overwhelming weight of my own curiosity and bought a copy of Nobilis: a game of sovereign powers
Anyone familiar with the game and me will most likely first ask “What the hell took you so long?” And on the face of it, there’s several good reasons to support that kind of reaction. Let’s look at them.
The book lists a sort bibliography of inspiration, but on the first or second page of the book rather than the end. That’s kind of fun, but take a look at some of the things on the list:
On a Pale Horse, The Complete Traveler in Black, Charles de Lint et al., Donaldson?s (ugh) Mordant?s Need, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jane Lindskold, Roger Zelazny (specifically Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, and a few others).
There are No Dice
However, unlike Amber (with which I’m passing familiar) there is a fine and well-documented OBJECTIVE resolution (and combat, and damage) system that I find both elegant and intuitive. Comparing the two games, one potential player commented that such things ‘just seem to have been thought out better’. I heartily agree.
Players Can Play in Scenes Where Their Characters are Not Present
Something I feel worth mentioning, mostly because it’s different than in most other RPGs, and comes up a lot in the sort of Diceless, High-power games that Nobilis is built for — you don’t need to be part of a group when you can clap your hands and flatten a crowd of people, so when the GM is working with you, the other players become either a mood-breaking peanut gallery (guilty) or bored.

Given all this, it seems like the perfect fit for someone with my inclinations and background. Perfect.
As a result, I didn’t buy it for a very long time simply because my natural inclination to get it made me suspicious that I’d be horribly disappointed. Also, the 2nd edition book is 43 bucks, so that’s a downside.
Anyway, what’s the game about?
Earth is part of creation: it is (using prosaic perception) a ball of dirt floating in a vast vacuum around a ball of burning gas that provides it heat and light… it is ALSO (using mythic perception) a world-fruit that hangs on the thousand-fruitted world-tree Yggdrasil – heaven hangs above the tree and hell boils at it’s roots, and it encompasses All Knowable Things of Creation (though not exactly all things, since some are not OF Creation).
Both these existences are ‘true’ — or rather both are viable reflections of the truth.
Imperators are the Great Powers of Creation — bitterly divided, holding to the causes of Hell or Heaven, Light or Dark, Old Gods or New, Duty or Freedom.
There are seven kinds of Imperator known on Earth: Angels (servants of Beauty), Devils (or the Fallen, servants of Corruption), The Light (protectors of Humanity), The Dark (destroyers of Humanity), The Wild (the Free), True (or Old) Gods, and Aaron?s Serpents (the children of Yggdrasil, nurtured within its bark until they are strong enough to break free).
(Note: these aren’t the PC’s… we’re getting to them.)
Now, given that, you can see where you’ve got a ripe playground for conflict already, but that doesn’t cover half of it… because you’ve still got the Excrucians to deal with.
Each of the Imperators works in Creation towards its own ineffable goals. In addition to these beings there are Things From Outside Creation: The Excrucians — their stated goal is the utter annihilation of All Creation, pulling each destroyed thing into themselves where it will Live Forever In Them.
Hell and Heaven might not get along, but both sides agree that Losing Creation is a Bad Thing. The Earth is one of ~30 worlds on Yggdrasil where the Excrucian War (or Valde Bellum) is currently being actively fought.
Most Imperator/Excrucian battles are waged in the Spirit Realm, which is so hard to deal with that no space is spent on it in the book — that’s where the Imperators do their thing — the problem is that the Bad Guys also try to destroy aspects of Creation in the Material World (Mythic and/or Prosaic versions, take your pick). The Imperators don’t have the time or ability to deal with those incursions, so some create “homes” out of portions of the Material world by investing part of themselves into it, creating Secret Places… also known as Chancels, and once-Mortal Servants (who become more than mortal as a result).
Secret Places
The ritual that makes a Secret Place, a Chancel, requires a hundred nights, and a human death each night of it. Then a piece of the Imperator?s self is bound into a piece of it to give it strength.
Sovereign Powers
The Valde Bellum or Excrucian War is waged in the spirit world. With Excrucian victories there, the things of this world lose a little bit of magic and of soul. Humans caught in the creation of a Chancel and humans who spend years inside a Chancel or its vicinity make the perfect receptacles for a shard of the Imperator?s own divine essence.
These humans become the Sovereign Powers. The shard of Imperator-soul they are given burns out a piece of their own soul, and their minds are made loyal. They are given in return a gift that is sometimes full consolation: power. The typical soul-shard is a prototype for a single aspect of reality, such as Night, Doorways, or Agony, and it gives the onetime human control over that Thing. Often, these humans receive other great blessings as well. Their normal responsibilities are simple: defend the aspects of reality associated with their Imperator (Imperators have Several, and split them between servants), guard and govern the Chancel and its inhabitants, and (when it does not interfere with the above duties) help in the general defense of the Earth.
That’s the basic concept. Characters are rated as to their relative prowess, the strength of their soul, the mastery they have over their Estate, and the mastery they have over the Celestial Family’s Chancel.
The story tends to focus on personal interactions (alliances and intrigue) between the PC’s and other Nobilis from other Chancels (there are thousands of such Nobilis), the goals of their Imperator, their own personal goals for themselves, those they love, and their Estate, and the War against the Excrucians.
Next post: what do you DO with all this? (Or what did I do?)

Random geek thought

Okay, so I just picked up Nobilis a few weeks back, someone check me on this.
The Matrix is a Nobilis game
The Suits = Excrucians
Chancel = the practice contruct? Or possible Zion.
Mystic Earth = the Matrix
Prosaic Earth = starts out as the Matrix, til you take the red pill and then it’s the ‘real earth’? I’m a little shakey on the Nobilis terminology.
Neo is just the guy everyone’s been waiting for who got killer ranks in Spirit. (Everyone has good ranks in Realm and Domain, I think, since that’s just the program with the downside that none of it really works in the prosaic earth, but but the rest of it basically works.

Interesting stuff

As of 30th November 2002, Hogshead Publishing Ltd is leaving the adventure-gaming industry.

Please note that the company is not going bankrupt. It is refreshingly solvent. However we are bored, creatively frustrated, and increasingly despondent about the future of the specialist games industry. After our successes in 2002, particularly the mould-breaking and critically acclaimed games Nobilis and De Profundis, we think we’ve gone as far as we can, and this seems a suitable high-point on which to call it a day.

Nobilis has moved to Guardians of Order, and will be available from them with immediate effect. The English-language licence for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has handed back to Games Workshop. SLA Industries is back under the control of Nightfall Games.

All the future products Hogshead has announced products are cancelled. The only exceptions to this are the Nobilis line, which will now appear from Guardians of Order, and the full-length Warhammer FRP adventure, Fear the Worst, by Michael Mearls, which we will be making available within a day or two as a free PDF download from our website, as a farewell-and-thank-you present to all our players and fans.

Shame — I’d hoped to check them out when I went through London in February.
Very interesting that Nobilis went to GoO, since McKinnon was/is heavily involved in another diceless game for a long time. Sorta makes sense. Nobilis fans should be encouraged.