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).
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.
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?)