I had an amazing thing happen to me. Nobilis happened to me. Now, before I really cut to the meat of things, some background.
I actually know the author. We hang out on the same online environ, a coterie of writers and hangers-on who all tend to be involved with gaming or geekery in one form, in one industry, or another. We're a friendly, casual group. Most of the folk tend to freelance for White Wolf from time to time. Needless to say, that one of our own created a new, innovating RPG wasn't a total shock. I was predisposed to give it a good moment to entertain it, but its my role in our little subculture to totally shred new ideas and expose the underlying mechanisms and assumptions (every crowd has one, right?). I plunked down my money to Barnes & Nobles, ordered my book, and in it came. I stool, talons extruded and ready.
And, like lightning from above, I fell in love.
I despise diceless systems. They've always come across to me as a $30 boondoggle, an excuse for me to give someone money to learn how to do something to be told, "Go with what works for the Plot." Hey, guys, if I wanted to write I own a word-processor, I can get into subjectivity for free.
Nobilis has an objective diceless mechanic. One that not even I can really criticize for being useless. Nobilis, in short, is money well spent.
But I get ahead of myself.
Nobilis. 206 pages with its extensive index and detailed table of contents. The book is a hardback, produced by Ingram/Lightning Print as demand warrents. The cover itself has an "interesting" salmon colour and an absolutely fantastic drawing/painting on the right two-thirds. The book is a little smaller in width and height than you might expect for an RPG, but it would fit right in on a shelf with other hardback novels (which seems to be the intent, read on gentle reader). Within, the art is relatively sparse, essentially only on chapter facings, but the print is of a size and character that the loss seems minor. Double-coloumn, with generous dollops of quotes and 'fictional smatterings' which convey as much about the setting as you find in any other RPG of setting. This book is not empty of content, unlike some other recent offerings (like 7th Sea). Nobilis is packed to the gills.
Enough dry description, you want to know what its about, right? Well, hang on.
Yggdrasil is real. The World Ash supports the Earth ... and an innumerable number of other worlds along with it, the top of its branches reaching up into Heaven and the roots stretching down into the bowels of Hell. Yes, Heaven is real, as are Angels, whose duty it is to make Heaven into the perfect reflection of Beauty, changing it as an ever-shifting facet. Hell, where Lucifer and his band were cast to when they rebelled, questioning the voice of the Creator in their hearts, maintain that Hell is closer to perfection and that the act of corruption is the highest calling. Then there are the forces of Light and Dark, called into being when Adam and Eve fed of the Tree of Knowledge before they were cast from Eden; the Light seeks to preserve Humanity (no matter what) while the Dark exists soley to push humanity to self-destruction. And then there's the Wild, Celestials from beyond the screaming wall which surrounds Yggdrasil and who cannot return to their homes, who adore nothing higher than freedom.
Set against them, the Excrucians, creatures from Beyond who wish to destroy things. Utterly. And the things they want to destroy are things like Joy, Happiness, Pleasure, Pain, Leaves -- in short, every single facet of everything that ever existed on the World Tree. Heaven resists because that destroys beauty, Hell because there must be an existance to corrupt, the Light because it imperils Humanity, the Dark because unless self-destruction is the Dark's goal not destruction from beyond, and the Wild because nothing is less free than nullity. The Excrucians say that everything they destroy is remembered for eternity and exists eternally within them.
Small comfort if Joy leaves not only existance but the fact that it ever existed.
Where, in this positively mythic scope, do the Players come into this? Its easy, really -- to destroy a facet of reality, the Excrucians must create it in microcosm, work its corruption inside reality, inside one of the innumerable worlds, then destroy that microcosm. Its a game of subtlty. Of course, they're also making full-court attacks on reality in the spiritual realm, where Angels, Wildlords, Magisters of the Dark and Lords of Light are present, not to mention Aaron's Serpents, the enormous children of Yggdrasil itself who are the natural sapiences of the Tree itself. With all that, the Celestials can't deal with every Excurcian breakthrough within the worlds. So some of them sink a portion of their incredible souls into the fabric of the worlds themselves, pinching a part of it off, investing it with a portion of their life and power, breaking it away from mundane reality.
The Characters are the poor schmos who were caught within when the Chancel was formed and whom the Imperator deemed worthy of receiving a shard of their greater souls. The Characters become Powers, mortal (mostly) bearers of some facet of reality (called their Domain). Be it Disconnection, the Sky, of Calendar Days, of Blades, of Joy, of Wonderment ... in short, of every facet of life under Heaven. The Powers are charged with defending their Chancel and the fabric of reality from the other Imperators enChancelled on Earth who may oppose their Imperator's designs and the Excrucians.
To attain these aims, the Powers are, well, given certain powers. The first is to stand in both prosaic and mythic reality at the same time; prosaic reality is the world that you and I know which contains digital watches, cars that require pushes when their battery dies, and other soch wonders, while in mythic reality, you're wearing a tiny spirit on your wrist who has perfect time sense and if the battery dies in your car, you may can just convince the car's animus that it really is happy about its treatment and it should at least carry you home bfore it sulks. The glory is that both views are simultaneously true. Mundane humanity only sees prosaic reality, and as such when exposed to the miracles of the Powers are prone to flipping over and only seeing mythic reality. This is known as the /dementia animus/, and is a prime reason why there is a law amongst the Nobilis (the Celestial Families on Earth) to restrain their tendency to be blatant. Enforcing this law (and its creator) is Lord Entropy, quite possibly the most hautily arrogant bastard you've ever seen ... and who is justly feared by all who understand the Valde Bellum, the war for reality.
There's more, much more, but you should buy Nobilis for yourself and read it. I'll move on here to discussing the system in brief.
Nobilis is diceless. That is not to say that randomness is not found in it (though it uses no form of randomization), but that its not introduced outside character action. The primary governor of actions are the number of Miracle Points of various kinds that it takes to create the change. Powers only have so many Miracle Points and it can be difficult to gather more. Powers in opposition spend MP's to create effects, the resolution of which are typically rather clear. Direct, physical, confrontation is rare in Nobilis, however, as its seldom effective; many Powers are Immortal or at least highly difficult to damage, and even if they are killed their soul-shard will just inhabit someone else who may even attain their predecessor's memories. Conflict, then, tends to be far more subtle and carefull, as a direct result of the mechanisms of resolution.
Every Power has four Attributes, rated 0 - 5): Aspect (their physical presence; 0 is 'just human' and 5 is incredible on the scale of Greek gods), Domain (the power they have over their Estate, the thing they manifest), Realm (the control they have over the Chancel in which the Imperator rests), and Spirit (the intensity of their self-hood, ability to work the Rites of the Imperators, and resistance to the power of other Celestials). Within each Attribute they may purchase Gifts or add on Miracle Points (which are 'flavoured' according to Attribute). Gifts include things like Immortality, the ability to control the fabric of their Estate as an entity, and other myriad powers which are innate. Add on Restrictions, create the Chancel, your character's Coat of Arms, and come up with a few more details and you're ready to roll.
To resolve a miracle (the basic act of a fantastic sort), you simply determine the Difficulty of the effect (chosen from a nice, neat table which shows the difficulty of things for each Attribute), add as many points to the Difficulty as you like to get through someone's Spiritual armour (their 'Auctoritas'), spend the necessary MP (based on the resulting Difficulty compared to your Attribute) ... and it simply happens. They may respond to it or try to get away, but the basic method is thus.
The Hollyhock God (GM, for the uninitiated) decides that he can go
first with a Lesser Preservation (Diff 3). Since that is equal to
Duel's Domain, he doesn't even need to spend an MP on it, and because
it only affects himself, he doesn't need to increase the Diff to
penetratre. He goes first. The HG determines that the dead-eyes twin
shots are an "Improbable Feat" (Diff 3). Because it exceeds Duel's
Aspect by 1, the base MP cost would be 1 AMP (Aspect Miracle Point).
Duel decides to bump the Diff to 4 to beat an Auctoritas of 1, just in
case, for the Excrucian's sake. He fires and the human goes down in a
heap, lead injected between his eyes with supernatural precision. The
bullet sent toward the Excrucian, however, shatters in a hail of
sparks on the Auctoritas 2 he possesses. That'll teach the Power of
Duels to underestimate an opponant!
I suppose that its obvious I really like this game. What struck me hardest was that it wraps very well around almost any other game as "what's going on" as a sort of meta-cosmology.
Wrap it around Nephilim and you can model what happens to those who really achieve Agartha. Wrap it around Mage and you can have an actual cosmology which reaches over and around the Umbrae. Wrap it around Big Eyes, Small Mouth and you can reach out into the realm of Dragonball Z and beyond. Nobilis is not tightly bound to a single 'feel,' you can do anime mayhem or the deepest, darkest conspiracies, and Nobilis will do it all for you.
If you like Guy Gavriel Kay, Neil Gaiman, James Blaylock, Tim Powers, Emma Bull, Ray Feist, WP Kinsella, Roger Zelaney, Charles de Lint, Stephen R Donaldson (primarily the "Mordant's Need" trilogy, along with "Thomas Covenant"), Susan Cooper, Michael Moorcock, Thomas Pynchon, or any of the other truly good modern, urban fantasy authors, you owe it to yourself to get Nobilis. Its an absolute imperative.
Remember that you heard it here first. :)
(Note that at present, Nobilis is able to be ordered through both barnesandnobles.com and amazon.com; you may have difficulties ordering it through the stores themselves, depending on how experienced they are at buying from their 'on demand' suppliers the store staff are.)
Style: 5 (Excellent!)