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.

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.