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Wind in the Flowers: Re-inventing a Game

Dynamic Nobilis

R. Sean Borgstrom
February 20, 2002  
James Wallis requested that I help kick off the new Nobilis line by creating live-action rules. These should appear in the first 2002 supplement. Right now, we call these rules Dynamic Nobilis. They may see print as Nobilis LARP or Live-Action Nobilis. This decision boils down to "pretentious and different" or "boring, awkward, and clear". I am a pretentious person. I adore clarity. I admit to indecision.

To translate Nobilis into a live-action context, I had to remove the system's dependence on the Hollyhock God -- the person running the game. Running Nobilis involves a fair number of judgment calls. To allow players to resolve disputes and use their abilities without an HG on hand required removing most of these judgment calls from the game.

One of the major judgment calls comes when one player uses a low-level effect to indirectly block a high-level effect. One character strikes another with lightning. Rather than dodge, that character transforms themselves to rubber -- a substance lightning spirits find too distasteful to maul. The first player argues that divinely cast lightning should damage other characters regardless of their material composition. The second player argues that rubber is not conductive, and would at most suffer a minor wound. The HG can't arbitrate this if they're not there.

Replacing the notion of arbitration, therefore, Dynamic Nobilis uses the concept of degrees of success and failure. Turning to rubber does not negate the attack, nor is it useless; rather, because of the transformation, the attack succeeds to a smaller degree. Instead of the damage associated with a major success, the lightning induces the damage associated with a minor success. Conflict resolution then passes this result normally to the damage system.

The effect of a miracle ranges from misery -- the character cannot even begin to accomplish their desire -- to triumph, a total and absolute success. Environmental factors, Gifts, and miscellaneous miracles affect this result in a straightforward and standardized manner. Since this is a deterministic system, players that think about the rules hardly ever suffer misery. They can calculate before attempting an action whether they would fail. This works out in the end. The characters are half divine and generally certain of their abilities in the tabletop system as well.

Having defined the basic system, I moved on to converting individual abilities into this system. This is harder than it sounds, because Nobilis miracles are not single-purpose abilities. Each type of miracle has thousands of distinct applications. The main rules define, for example, two forms of "creation miracle"; these suffice to create cars, mountains, fire, storms, heat, cities, people, new species, and radio signals. A rigorous system for creation miracles that does not require arbitration was in itself a challenge -- and this was only one miracle type.

Providing a solid conversion of miraculous abilities quickly became the core of the Dynamic Nobilis project. I felt that this component of the system deserved great effort, as it offered an alluring possibility. A high-quality system for exactly defining miraculous effects would help tabletop Hollyhock Gods arbitrate the use of miracles. (Incidentally, this is the first time the phrase "tabletop Hollyhock Gods" has appeared in the English language.) I wanted Dynamic Nobilis to provide value to readers, whether or not they ever stood up to play a live-action Nobilis game.

I'm not sure I have anything to say about the individual miracle conversions. Rather, they represent a methodical exploration of the principles underlying the examples in the original rules. For example, splashing someone with created water and burning them with created fire both use the same miracle -- a lesser creation miracle. One miracle is harmful; the other makes one wet. To distinguish these, one must recognize that creating fire and burning someone with that fire are conceptually separate actions, even if they occur in the same instant.

Thus, players resolve this use of fire or water as two miracles in a row. First, they verify that the creation of fire or water succeeds. If it succeeds, they then determine the effect of the attack. Here, in this second phase, using a deadly weapon like fire increases the attacker's level of success -- making it more likely they will do meaningful damage. If not intended as a weapon, the water does no damage at all. If the watermaker tries to spray their victim hard and leave bruises, it's still less effective than fire.

In addition to this general project, designed to make life easier for both tabletop and live-action groups, certain live-action issues required specific attention. In particular, Nobilis effects have a high communication overhead. If someone fills a region with white mice and leaves, other characters should not walk in a few minutes later and have a picnic. If someone shoots down the sun, other characters should not lie around elsewhere sunbathing. Making a live-action game with Nobilis' power level work meant finding ways to spread information about the uses of characters' powers.

Dynamic Nobilis makes heavy use of region clipboards. I expect other people have come up with this idea before. Region clipboards sit on a table in the various areas of the LARP. People write important things on these clipboards, such as "A miracle filled this region with weasels" or "the mortals in this museum have turned into statues." This allows literate players to quickly identify the prevailing conditions.

Lazy notification is a more unusual device. The concept is simple. Since time in the setting runs on mythic rather than causal lines, we make no great sacrifices to ensure that events happen in the proper order. Suppose that someone does something that affects the whole game -- turns day into night or floods the setting with seawater. This happens "instantly" in the setting, but this sense of instantaneity is not scientific.

Basically, the event reaches each region of the game just before the first player character or NPC that knows about the event enters the region. The player comes into the room, notifies other players, writes the information on the region clipboard, and then permits their character to arrive.

This temporal structure can yield some odd events -- miraculous night might last for hours for one character and minutes for another -- but that's what you'd expect in a mythic universe. True paradoxes hardly ever happen, and one never has to suspend game play to go tell people about an event. Lazy notification makes a lot of sense in the setting, but I'll save the details of the in-character justification for another forum.

It is my hope that, through these devices and rules, Dynamic Nobilis allows fun live-action play at the power level and power flexibility found in Nobilis. R. Sean TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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