Nobilis 2nd Edition
Nobilis 2nd Edition Capsule Review by Kevin Maginn on 15/05/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
It's bigger, brighter, and more beautiful in every possible way.
Product: Nobilis 2nd Edition
Author: R. Sean Borgstrom
Page count: 304
Year published: 2002
ISBN: 9 781899 749300
SKU: HOG 600
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Kevin Maginn on 15/05/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Horror Conspiracy Gothic Diceless Other
(preface: much of what I said in my review of the first edition is still true; i'll note any major changes of opinion I have based on this edition. But I'm not gonna go through the whole song-and-dance of 'what is nobilis' again. See previous review for all that.)
Well. Nobilis arrived in the store today. We went and grabbed our pre-ordered copies.
First impressions: Wow. This is a big book. At $43, I felt like (probably for the first time since I picked up Cybergeneration for $2.50) I was very much getting my money's worth. It's not standard sized, either. At 11"x11", it isn't going to fit comfortably on my shelves. Which I could expand into a metaphor, but I won't.
What's the same? The setting. The setting is pretty much the same. R. Sean may have made minor changes, but I've only had 2.5 hours with the book so far; cut me slack. There are still the same divisions of mythology present in the original edition; there are still the same nasty choices presented to players creating a group, its leader, and their home. Go on, you know you want to reconcile an Imperator of the Light with Powers serving the Dark. (It can be done; more evidence of the strength and flexibility of the Nobilis setting.)
The fundamental mechanics are the same. That is, you have four 'stats' with ratings from 0 to 5, and four pools of miracle points which can be used to amplify those stats on a single-event basis. There are still no dice.
So what's new? Whew, where to begin?
There is some incredible art. Really, profoundly incredible art. The cover art is just the beginning. This is a pretty, pretty book. There was some art I didn't care for, but probably there are people who find that art to be the best in the book. =)
Along the same production-value lines, this is a well-proofread book. I didn't see any typoes or 'page XX'es in my 2.5 hour survey. I hate that crap in games; makes me feel like the product was hurried out the door -- and as anyone following the progress of N2 knows, this wasn't hurried out the door. =) Font selection, layout, and spacing is all well-done. There's an interesting quirk where every use of the word 'Noble' is done with a script-caps 'N' which shows up in strange places -- evidence of search-and-replace, or something like Mark Z. Danielewski's blue-coloring of the word 'house' in House of Leaves? You decide.
More. This edition has more. More everything. The original book is 206 small pages. This monster is 304 LARGE pages. What that means is more description, more setting bits, more detail, and MORE EXAMPLES. Lots more. So many examples that if you, the GM, can't handle a mechanical question after reading this book, you -- well, you need to re-read it, I guess. =) Hardly a rule or power or character creation decision goes by without a helpful and lyrical example to accompany it.
Did I say more setting bits? Every single page has sidebar bits, some of them long enough to be comprehensible, others tantalizingly brief. All the sidebars are in-character, and relate to the text they're near. Sometimes the relationship is very, very tenuous, but it's there.
More options. Rites are given a much larger role in the system than before; your high Spirit Noble is no longer a defensive tank. Now she can fling rites around like mad, causing untold hardship and grief and happiness until she's reeled in by...
Lord Entropy. The player-hammer is still in the setting, but with what seems to me, at least, a much more constrained and delineated role. There are specific ways for the PCs to circumvent his rules, some of which are even built into the rules themselves. You can't hurt an innocent, but let that innocent mortal insult you, and he's fair game. Want to fry ten city blocks? Just use a flower to throw Entropy's bloodhounds off the scent (heh heh).
I still feel like the 'Realm' stat is underpowered for its applicability to a game, but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. Perhaps I'm just bitter about my Realm 5 character from first edition Nobilis. =)
And then there's the Example of Play. I got to read this a while ago, and it floored me then, and I'm still impressed as hell by it. 20 pages of detailed, word-for-word example of play broken by IC narrative to keep the reader up to date on the secret lives of the NPCs. It's basically a short story all by itself. It's 7 scenes long, covering (at the least) one long evening of play. And it doesn't shirk from mechanical details, either. Whatever you're trying to do is probably in there, in some form or another, with full mechanical examples.
Which is just one expression of another feature of this book: More details. Almost nothing is left vague. Nothing is left unexplained. Even when the setting is not supposed to answer a question, R. Sean suggests that you, the GM, answer it for your own game, and offers a variety of possible 'true' answers. Things that the first edition left you to wonder about: they're detailed here. And, surprisingly, without losing their sense of wonder. "Well, what if this is true? Or this?" So now you know what the War looks like, from an Imperator's point of view. You know some theories on why the World Ash is a tree. You know what the Wild is doing in the universe, and what it wants. You know the birth and life and death of the Aaron's Serpent, and what motivates these hundred-mile-long gods to crawl about the Ash. And even if you still don't know why the Excrucians want to destroy everything in sight, you've got some good leads on it, some of them even benign, and you've got enough information on them to handle playing them even without their full knowledge.
So much information for the GM. 'How to be a Hollyhock God' is fully half this book, counting by chapters. It's a lot. It's so much that you could probably put together a year's worth of games just based on the advice in there.
I hear the combat system is all revised and shiny and new; I haven't compared the two so I can't tell you what I think of that. I'm betting it's a lot of changes for the better; I didn't have a major problem with the first edition's combat system, but then again, I was used to just 'faking it' with Amber, and this is a lot more structured than that. Although, as R. Sean notes, combat is pretty unlikely, and generally not the focus of the action anyway.
So: in summation. This book represents a huge leap forward for Nobilis -- and Nobilis wasn't too shabby to begin with. It fixes problems with the first edition and then goes ahead and fixes problems I wasn't even aware of. It's bigger, brighter, and more beautiful in every possible way.
In my review of the first edition, I commented that "the trend in games of late seems to be to simplify, to make more accessible; games are all in glossy formats with lots of flash and little substance..." Nobilis v.2 is a game in glossy format, with lots of flash, and the substance still dwarfs all that into pleasant background noise.
I said it before, and I'll say it again:
Well? What are you waiting for? You need this game.