Friday, June 10, 2016

Nobilis: A Philosophical Action Game featuring Theological Superheroes (in full technicolor!)

More than anything else, Nobilis is driven by the choices the players make: Who they want to be, what they want to represent, and what their own personal worlds and rivalries are like utterly shape the world. I can do a few things on my side to shape it into a particular direction, but in the end, Nobilis must be about surrender to the power of the players.  After all, they're playing Gods.

So, let's take a look at what our PCs, and thus the world, are like.  Note that we're getting new players and some of the previous players want to revisit their characters now that they have a better understanding of Nobilis, so all of this is subject to change, but it's still a good starting point.

Sebastian Saint-John-Smythe, the Pawn of Glory, Angel in Training

Sebastian is a British exchange student currently residing in Vancouver where he attends the Shawnigan Lake School.  He likes fencing, reading fantasy novels, petting cats and playing D&D (he has a regular D&D group that meets every friday).

He's also an angel in the process of growing up.  He was born in the flower garden of Fran Wahnfried and is destined to become an Imperator in his own right.  The Excrucian Cameron Delacroix uncovered his destiny and stole Sebastian's heart and forged it into a Abhorrent Weapon with which he will harm the world, but the cost of the blade is that Cameron must love Sebastian desperately, or the blade evaporates away.  They find themselves at an impasse, neither really able to bring themselves to kill the other, but rather duty bound not to be lovers (what scandal!)

So Sebastian lingers in a twilight, unable to move on until his situation changes, he plays D&D with his group of friends, now called the Myrmidons (one cannot play a D&D game with an Angel of Glory as your DM without gaining more than a little real-life prestige yourself, thus the group features a rockstar, a notorious hacker, a CEO and con-artist, making their weekly session quite an affair), fencing so he can keep up his skill with his sword, Heaven's Will (of which many swords of legend, including Excalibur, Hrunting, and Kusanagi, are just shadows), and feeding local stray cats.  He hopes someday to become a teacher, though he is forced to admit being an Angel of Glory makes that a touch difficult.

Sebastians Keys are the Lotus, the Key of the Descending Angel (Representing his angelic nature and his capacity to change others), and Hollyhock, the Key of Destiny in Balance (Representing his trapped state, in the midst of growing into something greater).  His estate is Glory.  His anchors are Cameron Delacroix, the Myrmidons (his D&D group), and Heaven's Will, his sword.  He follows the path of Heaven.

Sebastian's player is Jimmy, and arguably this game was inspired by him and created mostly for him.  He's had Nobilis for as long as I've had it, and has always wanted to play it.  Jimmy is also gay and very romantic, and thus the need for a tragic, torrid romance between himself and the tall, dark and dangerous excrucian.  He's a dear friend, he has a great understanding of Nobilis, and is a good leader/supporter for other players, helping to guide them through the nuances of the game and often suggesting awesome things that an estate might allow someone to do, that they hadn't thought of already.


  • Glory makes Heroes of mortals (2)
  • Glory is immortal; it endures beyond death (2)
  • Glory is the triumph of inner beauty over outer adversity (1)
  • Glory is celebrated and admired by the world (1)
  • Glory flows from performing great deeds (1)

Jack R. M. Livingston, the Marquis of Adventure, the Boy with Sunshine Hair

Jack was just a boy when his parents divorced.  The stress of the divorce changed them from people into Strange Folk, soulless people that merely looked and acted real. Knowing this, Jack ran away from home, in search of adventure, or to escape the collapse of his home.

Jack met Esmerelda, the Red Witch, on his path to adventure, and she told him of a princess she could rescue and a dragon he could slay.  To get a sword worthy of slaying a dragon, he broke into Toyland and stole the wooden sword, Snickersnack, the sword every boy who ever picked up a stick invokes, and befriended its guardian, Percival, the teddy-bear knight.  Then, he made his way into the heart of the dragon's land, only to discover that he had been tricked by the Red Witch, that the dragon was friends with this particular princess, but they fought anyway, because it was awesome, and the dragon was so impressed, that he gave Jack his heart and made him into the Power of Adventure.  He also promised to help Jack find his real princess, the coffee-slinging Jenny Cho, who didn't yet know she was someone's princess.

His Keys are Chamomile, the Key of Something Romantic, representing his sense of adventure and his passion.  His other key is the Key of Oak, the Key of Something That Hasn't Changed, representing his refusal to grow up.  His estate is Adventure.  His anchors are Percival, the teddy-bear knight, Snickersnack, the wooden sword, and Jenny Cho, his princess, who doesn't yet know she's an anchor (or is not an anchor yet, but her adventure has already been written).  He follows the path of the Wild.

Jack's player is Raoul, who currently runs the Gentleman Gamer blog.  He's very enthusiastic and also a very good friend.  I may have offered Nobilis as a gift to Jimmy, but Raoul fires my motivation. In a way, the game had its origins in our long riffs over the "boy with sunshine hair" who "fought a demon with the sword every boy wielded when he fought pretend demons, a ritual that's been done a thousand times in preparation for this very moment."


  • Adventure leaves you changed; more mature, more experienced (2)
  • Adventure demands sacrifice (2)
  • You encounter the most interesting things on an adventure (1)
  • Adventures are exciting and fun, at least in retrospect (1)
  • Is it a bad idea?  Then it's an adventure! (1)

Hazel Sanders, Duchess of Shinies, the Most Exclusive Collectible

Hazel was an adorable, 8-year-old girl until what she called "the Other" got to her.  Her parents mourned over the loss of their little girl.  The police canvassed the area for her killer.  The papers ran articles sensationalizing the murder.

But Hazel wasn't dead. Or perhaps she was.  She knew she flew with the birds, magpies, until she remembered she couldn't fly and fell and skinned her knee, but when she went home and cried for her mommy, there was no answer.  She shook the shutters and kicked the chairs, but nobody answered. Exhausted, she curled into a ball until her magpie friends tapped on the window and showed her what they had: A new body in the form of a beautiful doll, the one she'd always wanted.  She folded herself into it and opened her new, glassy eyes.

So beautiful, so desirable was she, that when she met a dragon, he claimed her as his own, added her to his horde as his princess.  Thus, she became the power of Shinies.

Her keys are Clematis, the Key of Something Given Gifts, representing the many things others have given her, from her parents to her cult of magpies to her dragon, and the Mimulus, the key of something restless, representing the fact that she's technically a ghost.  Her estate is the Shinies. Her anchors are cult of magpies.  She follows the Path of Hell.

Hazel is played by Marjolein, who isn't as veteran as Jimmy or Raoul, but a sweet girl with the right sort of sense of humor and approach to suit the game, so I invited her and she was interested. She finds Nobilis a little intimidating, and I think that shows in the sparsity of her character, but it's a good first draft.  She was one of the players who suggested revising their character, so I expect Hazel will see some changes.

The Shinies

  • Shineys are shiny and sparkly and pretty
  • Shinies are distracting
  • Shinies bring trouble
  • Shineys are inanimate objects
  • You can put shineys in your pocket and take them home with you
  • Everyone wants shineys, even if they won't admit it
  • Shinies are never lost, shinies want to be found

Selena "Red" Redwood, Pawn of Thrills, The Daredevil Goddess

Selena comes from the Vancouver Redwoods.  Those Redwoods, the ones who run Redwood Inc, which fused, in a financial and marital merger, with Yamada Consolidated to make one of the largest powerhouse companies of Vancouver.  Her older brother, the cool and collected Christopher Hideo Redwood, was groomed as the heir, while she was left to her own devices.

And Selena was bored.  Driven to tun from the stultifying existence of the upper crust, her own mind-numbing boredom, and her desire to impress her brother, she started to do stunts that grew more and more extreme until, one day, she make a bicycle jump that took her so high that she literally touched the sky.  She performed feats so unparalleled she transcended her mortality.  In the realm beyond the sky, she met the Tacoma, who returned her grin with a ferocious smile of his own, and like a star blooming into life, he touched her soul with his own and made her into the Power of Thrills.

Her keys are Mimulus, the Key of Something Restless, and Alyssm, the Key of Destiny Fulfilled, which she achieved the moment she touched the sky and performed the greatest stunt any mortal has ever done, and thus become immortal.  Her estate is Thrills.  Her anchors are Deadwood, the Power of Death (like most Daredevils, she's in love with Death), her electric guitar, and her brother, whom she would do anything for.

Her player is Michelle, one of Marjolein's friends, who was so excited  when Raoul and Marjolein told her about the great campaign, that I went ahead and invited her.  Like Marjolein, she doesn't have a lot of experience with Nobilis, and would like to revisit the character, especially after all this downtime, to remember what she was doing and perhaps adjust her concept.


  • Thrills crave novelty (1)
  • Thrills make you feel alive (1)
  • Thrills reward you for facing your fears (2)
  • Thrills are wild, reckless and without thought (2)
  • Thrills are the most epic moments of your life(1)

The Tacoma

The players create more than just their own characters: they create their Imperator too!  They didn't want an angel or a demon or a crazy fairy thing.  They wanted something huge and magnificent, something terrifying and awe-inspiring.  Marjolein pointed out that an awe-inspiring thing that likes Shinies would probably be a dragon.  So we went with an Aaron's Serpent named the Tacoma.

"The Tacoma" refers to Mount Ranier, which is near Vancouver and part of the Rockies.  When the Avatar of Cneph sought to create the world, he was forced to battle the Tacoma, and tamed him in victory.  The Tacoma agreed to bear the world on his shoulders, and so the world was built into his spine, and the jutting spikes of his spine can still be seen in the Rocky mountains, and his smoking nostrils in Mount Ranier. He slumbered until the prophesied rise of the promised land, Canada, which roused him from his slumber for the first time in eons.  And so, he took an interest in the world, in the Excrucan war for the first time since the Creation of the world.  Never has the world has so many of the Tacoma's powers walking its surface at once.

The Tacoma's Estates are Glory, Thrills, "the Shinies", Adventure, Secrets and Losers.  Doubtless, he'll gain one or two more, as we add new players.  Like his beloved Selena, he follows no path but his own.
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