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]


GM
You wake up on a psychiatrist couch.

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

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

PoL
Leather.

GM
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.

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

GM
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.

PoL
Angel? That?s what it is?

GM
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.

PoL
What?s he… doing?

GM
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.

PoL
Is it my name?

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

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

GM
Macy. It doesn?t exactly sound wrong.

PoL
?Who is this??

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

PoL
Is there a TV in here?

GM
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.?

PoL
?Who??

GM
?Everyone. Where are you??

PoL
… ?where are you??

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

PoL
?Right.? Where am I?

GM
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.

PoL
?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
What?

PoL
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.

GM
… 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.

Nobilis

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.
Resources
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?
Concepts
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
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.
Excrucians
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.
***Whew***
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.