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Wind in the Flowers: Re-inventing a Game


R. Sean Borgstrom
March 20, 2002 uMn! 9gE?;@J  &ܾLmY~{eџ؇ bKG$dON r!dÁM8/Ȋ-C6 U4⼣ruĆM1?w8Np"rkԋ~7[#*\hZöz/͡ y#4mgXΟKc੠9K%תc.pm.z-7?Z  

For the sake of those who choose to adopt them, Nobilis presents five key philosophies woven into the nature of the world. Heaven's Code defines the angels' commitment to Creation. Hell's Code provides the justification and the interpretation of Lucifer's philosophy. Other Codes derive from the Light, which embodies the principle of human survival; the Dark, an incarnation of the human tendency towards suicide; and the Wild, a thread of free will and madness running through Creation.

To avoid regimenting player character behavior, these Codes boil down to three simple principles and some expository text later in the book. Characters can freely have their own independent philosophy, but most align to one of these five axes.

One goal of the new edition was to make these philosophies more accessible. In particular, I wanted to make it clear how characters following the Code of Hell or the Dark could fit into a group with more human or humane morality. In Nobilis, Hell endorses both corruption and suffering as virtues; the Dark, of course, seeks to arrange both personal and communal human suicide. There was some concern among readers of the first edition that such characters would prove unpleasant companions.

One of the simplest steps taken here was assertion. In the newer discussions of Noble lives and in the occasional excerpts from those lives that appeared as quotes, characters of the darker affiliations interacted freely with those of more beneficent morality. Assertion is a marvelous tool, since, after all, the setting material defines how people envision the game world.

To ensure that this led to a consistent world, however, I burned some words laying out how this actually happens in practice. For the Code of Hell, this begins with acknowledgment of its philosophical origins. In Nobilis' Creation, the "physical" Hell embodies both corruption and suffering; it is viable to assume that these things exist in every other world only because Hell exists.

Hell also occupies a peculiar place in the cosmology, existing beneath the roots of the World Ash. It is the only place in Creation not directly affected by the glories raining down from Heaven. The theory underlying the Code of Hell is simply that Hell---not the beauty of Heaven, and not the ambiguous essence of the worlds in between---represents the fundamental truth of Creation. In short, Hell is the foundation stone on which everything else is built.

To proceed from here and create a sympathetic character in service to Hell, one has two choices. First, one can make an obvious demonstration that the character's motivations are philosophical. The key recommendation here was self-abnegation. A character who inflicts suffering to advance their personal agenda is classically "evil". A character who embraces corruption and suffering but gains nothing from it has a clear, if twisted, morality.

In addition, I recommended an exemplary career of service to Creation; like its brighter allies in the setting, Hell wants Creation to survive. Finally, I noted that one can minimize the "shock value" of the character's service by inflicting suffering primarily on the deserving. This hopefully laid out one path that allows characters in service to Hell to coexist with a more humane group.

A second option for sympathetic characters serving Hell is a focus on the less important aspects of Code. Treating its precepts as decadence rather than corruption and harshness rather than cruelty makes the character seem ruthless but not monstrous. This option was not fully developed in Nobilis but is influencing several infernal NPCs in the supplements.

The Code of the Dark---basically, the Code of helping humans destroy themselves---has its own problems. Like the Code of Hell, it has a basic philosophical orientation. Nobilis has always presented several justifications for the basic idea of the Dark. My personal favorite is the idea that the capacity for self-destruction must exist in humanity to permit the capacity for growth. I'm not sure that it's true, but it's a feasible and defensible philosophy, and that's all a character in an RPG needs. Still, it's understandable if people feel a little concerned about integrating a character serving the Dark into their game.

One of the steps taken here was establishing why the Light---the principle of human survival---and the Dark can ally at all, even for the purpose of protecting the world both live in. If you looked hard enough, this has always been in the book to find, but the new edition makes it explicit. The foremost principle of the Light is protecting humanity. The foremost principle of the Dark is encouraging individual suicide.

Even though the Light wants individual humans to live, and the Dark wants humanity to destroy itself, the two are not diametrically opposed. This also explains, more generally, why humane Nobilis can tolerate the Dark. The actions of the Dark can lead to human death, but generally on a fairly small scale; not one that a compassionate Noble likes to ignore, but one that many compassionate Nobles, principally concerned with global affairs, can.

Naturally, serving the Dark from a clear position of philosophical integrity has the same benefits as thusly serving the Code of Hell. A Noble serving the Dark who clearly isn't getting any personal benefit from it has a better chance of integrating into a group.

In addition, the new edition contains a modest number of excerpts from "Principles of the Dark", a book written in-setting to explain said principles. Some of the key notions presented here---few of which I agree with, but all of which I consider feasibly arguable by a Power of the Dark---include:

  • Human success rests on subverting the natural order; human existence derives from the natural order. Self-destruction is therefore intrinsic to the human way of life.
  • One can hurt or kill others, such as humans, without ceasing to love them. "Love inspires greatness; it does not prevent venality."
  • Suicide and self-preservation arise from the same aspect of human nature.
  • In suicide, a human achieves absolute control over their life. Any other form of death robs them of this.

With these principles, and others, I hoped to make the Dark---if not well-loved by its peers---a philosophy that one can argue with rather than hate.

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What do you think?


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