I’ve wanted to play this game for a long time. I’ve wanted to understand it since I got the third edition and started trying to understand it. It’s mind-bending, kinda like trying to wrap your head around a cloud that has a shark with lasers for eyes hiding inside it. I’m not even going to apologize for that metaphor, it fits the tone of the game. My gaming group once had a member crazy enough to run it well. That was before my time, but I’ve heard all the stories. From all I’ve heard, and from reading it all the way through myself (which is something of a challenge) running it is like a master course for a Game Master. All the usual aids and crutches are ripped away and all that is left is prep work and pure intellect. The usual D&D challenges pale to meaninglessness when every player controls a demi-god who can single-handedly defeat an army without even trying very hard. Sure you can throw an army of godlings at them, but it’s the combined brain power of all of your players pitted against you. Killing monsters and taking their stuff is a goal that just doesn’t work at the absurd power level Nobilis considers normal. I think it requires a totally different mind-set to run properly.
I’ve run Ron Edward’s Sorcerer RPG and the Charnel Gods supplement by Renee Knipe. Both campaigns were awesome, though I found the rule system difficult to grasp in places. I particularly enjoyed Charnel Gods, because the premise and cosmology of the setting is already turned up to “11” to begin with, so I naturally cranked it up to “22”. I love taking games deep into the “totally bizarre bat-shit crazy” zone and this one started there to begin with. My favorite scene was when a player transcended mundane reality and entered the Realm of Ideal Forms. Suddenly correct understanding of Platonic philosophy was a matter of life and death, doesn’t get much better than that!
The next game I ran was D&D 5e, but with big chunks of Dungeon Crawl Classics, Unknown Armies, and Mongoose 3e splatbooks mixed in. I was testing a lot of Ilder’en stuff, kind of a pre-Demons of Light playtest with everything still at a very amorphous level. I enjoyed the look of horror on our rules-lawer / power gamer’s face when I told him I don’t calculate CR. They started at 1st level and the first dungeon had CR 15-20 monsters as lowly minions wandering around. The boss was a Balrog crucified to the ceiling of a huge inner sanctum, with the Husking Pole and all the corpses hanging from it. Basically, The Judgment at Black Pyramid but a few hundred years later, with all the wraiths and demons still sealed inside. Oh, wait, I mean “Balor”, honest. Stay away lawyers from JRRT’s estate. It went off the rails pretty fast. We got to the point where they were summoning God-Level demon princes with DC’s of 70 to 90 on the d20 skill check. They managed to put together enough bonuses to get there, but I totally broke the system hard.
All of the players attained demi-godhood and several did so more than once (in different ways). One became a Saint and spent a lot of time conjuring angels and puzzling out their cryptic instructions to get there. One made a pact with the ruined corpse of the Logos (the god of the Word that birthed the universe), and unlocked a entire percentile based rule sub-system where they had to level up their skills in Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience, and Immortality. Most of them Crossed the Abyss by literally walking over a sword (the famous Razor’s Edge) as parts of their being were excised from them and hordes of demons attacked them from all directions (it was partly inspired by Kenneth Hite’s GURPS Cabal). It was so intense, one of my players insisted on buying a Saint Michael and the Dragon novena candle and kept it burning for the entire session.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably crazy enough to run Nobilis. I’m still in the early stages of putting a campaign together (I only have about 20 pages of notes so far) but I thought I might share some of them here.
IF YOU ARE ONE OF MY PLAYERS YOU ARE HEREBY FORBIDDEN FROM READING FURTHER. Punishment will be swift and terrible if you do. You have been warned….
Here are some items I’ve designed. The first one I didn’t design. I adapted it from Sharne’s Clockwork Market, all credit goes to Emmy Allen. I really hope she writes a whole supplement based on it, like Garden’s of Ynn.
Alogos (Utter Silence): A word of power that obliterates all life in a chancel, plane, dimension, or realm, including the person who spoke it. Even Imperitors can be slain in this manner. If invoked while in a living dimensional interstice (such as the World Ash) it blights the path the invoker was on and kills everything nearby, but does not destroy the Tree itself. If spoken by a Power that is Actively Immortal or Eternal they are not destroyed, but they must still pay a terrible price. They are hurled to the very brink of non-existance (beyond the Weirding Wall to the very furthest edge of the Lands Outside of Creation), they suffer two Serious Wounds and permanently lose one point of Persona MP. The journey back will be long and tortuous indeed.
The word is hidden somewhere within the mechanized chancel known as Fallen Glory. Eons ago, abuse of the Alogos severed the branch that held it to the World Ash and it plunged into Hell. Though they have searched desperately, no Devil has ever unearthed the word from the ruins of the world that first gave it voice.
Fallen Glory: A super mechanized chancel once known as Hod. It is an industrial wasteland devoid of native life, though the machines that vend and trade are sometimes still functional and will buy and sell even metaphorical commodities or personality quirks. Demonic archaeologists desperately comb the ruins for the keys to ultimate destructive power. Due to millennia of scavenging, Devils have almost cornered the market on high tech gear and advanced weaponry. They often wage war against Heaven wielding cybernetic implants, horrific atomic laser rifles, and personal nano-field armor.
- Reality Waveform Modulator: Not sure what this thing does yet, but I like the name. I have a vague idea that it collapses quantum parallel realities.
The Graal of Babalon: A golden cup forever seething with filth and abominations. It is currently held by the Polarian Queen and owning it has changed her in strange and terrible ways. She can conjure infinite monsters by spilling them from the cup. It is also instrumental in a special ordeal that raises a mortal sorcerer partway to godhood.
Rite of the Graal: Those few mortals who would dare enter Da’ath must first kill themselves and ensure every drop of their blood falls into the chalice. Their flesh, organs, and bones must also be fed into the cup. This is done in Malkuth (the Chain of Mortal Worlds). Then their ego, and all that they were must likewise be sacrificed, each while standing in the proper world. Once all is done, the cup must be emptied into the wound upon the World Ash. If nothing was withheld (all traits, bonds, skills, passions, afflictions, and health levels) their essence is reborn in the City of Pyramids as a Master of the Temple. Once they survive the ordeal they regain their 2 Normal Health Levels and gain a Tough Health Level. All of the different attributes that they sacrificed are converted into Character Points on a one-for-one basis and used to rebuild their character. They must take an Affliction representing how crossing Da’ath has irrevocably scarred them.
Master of the Temple (Semi-God): If Imperitors are Gods and Nobilis are Demi-Gods, a Master of the Temple is maybe a One-Fourth-God, let us call them Semi-Gods. Less than half as strong as a Noble, but still horrifically powerful compared to any ordinary human. They do not gain an Estate but they can freely buy Miracle Points, Gifts, or Inherent Superiority to express their newfound cosmic enlightenment. If a Semi-God serves a Power faithfully and well they are very likely to one day ascend into the ranks of Reality’s True Nobility. Almost all of them serve the Polarian Queen, as acquiring the cup to perform the rite without her consent is neigh-impossible and stealing it is an act of war or treason.
- The Empty Crown: A cybernetic void-matter circlet that allows its wearer to become nothingness. By not existing it is easy to pass through the cracks in the world and enter the First and Final Darkness. However, not existing has serious drawbacks of its own and is not reversible by any means. I will detail the First and Final Darkness in a later post.
I have a rough adaptation of the Idea of Thorns, but it isn’t quite ready yet. I will post it when it is.