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Valkyrie Magazine and RPGnet are happy to provide this review.


In Nomine

RPG

Steve Jackson Games

208pp - [sterling]16.95

We've been waiting for SJG's game of angels and demons for some time now - 3 years, actually. In Nomine, based on the French RPGs "In Nomine Satanis" and "Magna Veritas" has been held up by creative differences and the boom in CCGs. The rulebook is beautifully presented with vivid artwork throughout. Organisation is topsy-turvy however (no glossary till p69) and the thing's a bitch to use in play - you're flipping back and forth all over the place.

In Nomine posits PCs who are Celestials, that is current or former angels or diabolicals (demons to you). Players create a Celestial through a fairly simple point allocation system, choose an Angelic Choir or Demonic Band to belong to and an Archangel or Demon Prince to work for, design an earthly Vessel for their assignments in the Corporeal Realm and equip themselves with a variety of Skills, magical Artifacts, loyal Servants or miracle-working Songs.

The dice mechanic is lovely: the d666. This is three six-siders, one different from the other two, all thrown at once. Two of the dice tell you if you've succeeded (by rolling under the target number) or failed, while the odd dice tells you how well you've succeeded or how badly you've blown it. Fair enough. Roll three 1s and God intervenes (good for angels, bad for the other team) while on a roll of 666, well, I think you can figure that out . . .

The concept is quite engaging. The totality of God's creation is known as the Symphony and the angels are charged with protecting it; the demons, rebelling, are trying to substitute their own personal symphony, rather than accepting their place in someone else's. Any celestial intervention in the Symphony is, to say the least, jarring, so if you break down a door or shoot a dog or (heavens forbid!) kill a human being, the disturbance this causes in the Symphony will be picked up by other Celestials for miles around. Actually, that's not really true, because the game mechanic for determining if disturbances in the Symphony are detected is awkward, impractical and completely inappropriate during play. You've got to scrap it and concoct your own house rules here, I'm afraid.

This musical motif continues. All Celestials have a Resonance with some aspect of the Symphony, granting them extra powers through their Choir or Demonic Band, or through the Archangel or Demon Prince they serve. Act contrary to your celestial nature (or your Superior's commands) and you generate Dissonance; if you diverge too far from your true resonance, you start acquiring Discord, which manifests as physical mutations or psychological hang-ups. You can find yourself flung out of Heaven (or Hell), on the run, hunted by your former bosses and, yes, angels can turn into demons while demons can seek redemption.

Dynamism in play comes from the interaction between your Superiors. Naturally, the Demon Princes don't like each other much, but the Archangels are such blinkered fanatics that the infighting and politicking in Heaven can be just as scary. PCs may find that each of them, Paranoia-style, has been given a different (and conflicting) mission from their boss. Add the Archangel Dominic and Prince Asmodeus, who respectively run the heavenly and infernal secret police, and you have angels inquisiting other angels and demons spying on each other. A group of demonic PCs would make for particularly zany play, as each tries to betray their comrades while lining their own pockets all the time. Angelic play is, ironically, darker: the virtuous angels don't resemble much that humans would call "good" and when the minions of Gabriel start purging the world of wicked people and David's host start whipping humanity into better shape with some divine tribulations, well . . . value judgements start getting questioned. This game can be thought-provoking.

Not all of the game is as well-considered. Servants of the Archangel Janus or Prince Valefor are unable to spend more than 3 days in the same city: tough on a poor GM who's slaved away on a detailed setting. More problematic are two demonic Bands: the Habbalah and the Shedim. Habbalah feel divinely ordained to punish mortals; this means someone will be roleplaying a superhuman sadist whose goals consist of inflicting suffering on any NPC mortal they can. Distasteful. Shedim possess people but only so long as they can make the victim do increasingly evil things: stealing a biro from work, building up to serial killings, adultery, rape and torture. Can't speak for everyone, but there's no place for this sort of thing in my campaigns. Shame too, since the other demons, like the lying Balseraphs, obsessive Djinn and mental Calabim, are an entertaining bunch and don't have this repugnant behaviour "built into" them.

Obviously, some critics may go further, decrying the whole product as blasphemous and irreverent. Personally, I think the game can stand up to criticism; it's a mature approach, mixing black humour with existentialist dilemma; it discreetly avoids addressing God or any "real" issues of ultimate good or evil. Role-playing angels and devils turns out to be another way of addressing the human condition, and this is as it should be.

Regrettably, the setting is hinted at rather than explored. There's Heaven and Hell, the dream realms, pagan spirits, undead and a whole history which gets only cursory coverage. This rulebook gives you Character Generation, the rest will (doubtless) follow in supplements.

Overall: In Nomine is well worth the wait, since it's clearly one of the most innovative and adventurous RPGs on the market. It's a game under development, not just in the haphazard layout of the rules: a lot of work needs to be put into the cosmology, politics and history of the War, as well as the earthly settings. Future supplements may well reshape the game considerably, but this is an exciting start and I for one am definitely hooked.

Reviewed by Jon Rowe

Product supplied by Caliver Books

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