Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Nobilis experiment is over

This past weekend (yeah, I know I'm late with this), our RPG — the Crazy 98s — ended our Nobilis game after one and a bit sessions.

Nobilis is a diceless roleplaying game set in a fantasy world that, more or less, looks like ours. There's a little bit more evil, there's a little bit more good. The law assumes people are guilty until proven innocent. Other than that, it's pretty much like our world... until the characters are "enobled". The players play Nobles. Nobles are an aspect of reality, any aspect of reality. So, you could play the Power of Fire, the Power of Rubber Bands, or the Power of Innocence. The Power of Fire could create fireballs, engulf a city in flame, or light the way with a flame on the end of their finger. The Power of Rubber Bands is a little more difficult, as rubber bands aren't exactly lying around everywhere. The Power of Innocence is even more difficult. The character could control anyone in the area who was innocent, or alter things that made someone appear guilty or innocent.

Characters can also see different aspects of reality, including the Mythic Earth where everything has a spirit. In the Prosaic Earth a car doesn't start because the battery is dead. In the Mythic Earth, the car doesn't start because the spirit of the engine is being ornery, or the spirit of the battery has been caged. This is just a taste of the background universe. It is far more detailed, encapsulating Christian, East Indian, Japanese, Norse, and other mythologies. It would take too long to explain it all, so I'll just point you to the following sites.

The Nobilis 101 page is found here in plain text format:
http://www.cs.utah.edu/~cms/gaming/ry_synopsis.html

Nobilis 101 is also available in an altered form as a Microsoft Word document at:
nobilis.average-bear.com/Nobilis_101.doc

I came across Nobilis on RPG.net. I posted a question asking about roleplaying games particularly suited to one-on-one games; Alana and I are considering playing a game, just the two of us. Nobilis was the game most mentioned. It was fairly pricey, but the hardback book is gorgeous. The background was a bit dense, but intriguing. The example of play made the game look really cool. Alana started reading the rules. I let the other guys in our RPG group look over the book. Jimmy liked it so much he ordered the game himself. When we decided to replace our Hârn game, Jimmy suggested Nobilis.

After one and a bit sessions, only Jimmy still had a strong desire to play.

I'm not sure what happened. I'm still not sure why it didn't gel in my own mind. I first realized there was a problem when I was reading the rules and I was having a hard time coming up with a scenario. Usually when I read a game I get a number of ideas for scenarios, or at least one very strong idea. That didn't happen here. I had a couple of vague ideas, but nothing concrete, and nothing very clever. I stitched the scenario together, but there was something odd about it.

I have a hard time figuring out exactly what was odd. When I create scenarios for other games, I see the world as "gritty", it has texture. Walls are made of stone, the ground is dirt or grass, the sky is cloudy. It all seems "real". It's hard to explain. With Nobilis, everything was antiseptic, like the entire world was made of chrome and white plastic. Maybe the black and white art in the book, and the book's almost monochrome cover contributed to this feeling. It had the artificial feel of the last couple of scenes at the end of 2001: A Space Odyessey.

I wasn't the only one having trouble getting into the game. Jason wasn't crazy about it to begin with, but thought he'd give it a shot, and he did a good job. Alana was interested when the game began, but she had trouble getting into her character. I think she ran into the same thing I did, but because she was playing and not running the game she hit the wall at a later point in time.

Instead of Nobilis, our next game is going to be All Flesh Must Be Eaten, a zombie game by Eden Studios, using their Unisystem game system (the same one they use in their Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Army of Darkness roleplaying games). I'm still working on the scenario, still coming up with the background information. However, I have a couple of scenes in mind, and a strong idea for an initial scenario. And, in my mind, there is a lot of "texture" (mostly stone and wood grain, if you must know), a lot of details. This is a good sign.

2 comments:

Jason said...

I noticed that you seriously downplayed my disdain for this game (not that there's anything wrong with that). You said I "wasn't crazy about it to begin with, but thought I'd give it a shot." The whole truth is that I thought the book was beautiful and some of the concepts were interesting, but I knew after the first five minutes that I would never want to play it. One of the reasons for that was the idea of the Mythic World. I thought it was stupid and I hated it. Another reason is that the game is diceless. I've had some bad experiences with diceless games in the past to the point that I don't like to even give them a chance. But I would have been much more forgiving if Nobilis just didn't have that lame "Mythic World" concept. When Jimmy announced to the guys that he was buying the book I made sure to state my opinion very clearly for the record. I said to them, "When someone decides to run a Nobilis game, I hope whoever is involved has a good time playing it." My announcement was somewhat poorly received but I repeated it a bit more forcefully because I did not want to get roped into playing it to "support the group." So when Jimmy decided to run a game for the rest of the guys I was not involved. The game didn't last long. I never asked why, and if I was told I have since forgotten.

When Jimmy suggested we play Nobilis after Harn wrapped, he knew precisely what my feelings were regarding the game. You and Alana were receptive to the idea of a Nobilis game that included everyone, but as I recall, you were not willing to try to force the issue with me because I had made it clear that I did not want to play. Jimmy was not willing to let it drop and in the end I agreed to try it to "support the group" but demanded a concession. That concession was that we play a Classic Call of Cthulhu mini-campaign immediately following Nobilis. The entire reason I started going to Monroe was to play CoC and I was the one who invited Jimmy. I did not feel this was an unreasonable request. As I recall, you and Alana thought that was a good idea. You said you had tons of material you could use and it would be very easy. Jimmy was less than thrilled. Later on the way home he said, without a hint of irony, that it was "wrong" of me to "hold the group hostage" and make us play a game that I wanted to play. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to play Nobilis because that was my price for participating. And, of course, I also questioned the validity of his version of reality. That bothered him for quite a while because he brought it up again a couple more times. Despite his behavior and my feelings regarding the game (and his behavior), I believe I was true to my word that I would do everything within reason to make the game enjoyable. Well, to make the game enjoyable for the other players. I think I suceeded in not letting it show too much that I hated the game. Of course now that it's over, and I have apparently been held blameless, I have no problem letting everyone know the depths of my loathing for Nobilis. I love your games, Allan. I love gaming with you and Alana and Jimmy. The games you run are the principle reason we drive three hours to your place once a month. But there was just no way I was going to like Nobilis. But I am optimistic about Jimmy's replacement game, All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Sounds like my kind of game.

Allan Goodall said...

I noticed that you seriously downplayed my disdain for this game (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I think part of the reason I downplayed it was because you actually did relent, and played it. It's not like you said, "No. No way," although that may have been because you were more Machiavellian...

One of the reasons for that was the idea of the Mythic World. I thought it was stupid and I hated it.

I thought it was an interesting idea, actually. It was the only way to balance the "physical" powers (Fire, Guns, Death, and — using your characters — Time and Travel) with the more "esoteric" powers (Love, Fear, Treason, and Alana's Self Perception). If you don't give inanimate object an animus, Nobles that can affect animate and inanimate objects have a major advantage over Nobles that can only affect intelligent beings. I think it's necessary for game balance.

That having been said, I had trouble figuring out how to use it in a serious way. I feared that every use of the Mythic Earth would devolve into comedy. It was disorienting enough that it could have been a good addition to another game, but it was just one of a bunch of odd things that disorient the new player.

The game didn't last long. I never asked why, and if I was told I have since forgotten.

Jimmy never explained it fully to me. He mentioned it one night a few months ago. I suspect it failed for many of the same reasons that it failed for us.

You and Alana were receptive to the idea of a Nobilis game that included everyone, but as I recall, you were not willing to try to force the issue with me because I had made it clear that I did not want to play.

The point of gaming is to have fun, and for everyone to have fun. I don't force anyone to try and play a game that they won't enjoy. On the other hand, if someone thinks they won't like a game but are willing to give it a shot, I'd run the game with them in it... though with the understanding that if someone wasn't enjoying it we would end it. The Nobilis game was a little different because you had a built in dislike for the game but were willing to go along. I'm not saying that if you disliked the experience I would not have suggested we play something else. However, it was mostly Alana's lack of enjoyment (and a little bit of mine) that made me realize we had to pull the plug.

You said you had tons of material you could use and it would be very easy.

The tough part is paring down the possible games. I wanted to run Beyond the Mountains of Madness but you've apparently read too much about that game. I'm still looking for other games.

I believe I was true to my word that I would do everything within reason to make the game enjoyable.

Yes, you did.

Well, to make the game enjoyable for the other players. I think I suceeded in not letting it show too much that I hated the game.

You must have, since I thought you didn't like the game, but didn't realize you hated it.

But I am optimistic about Jimmy's replacement game, All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Sounds like my kind of game.

I think it should work well.

I've been thinking about Nobilis a little. There's a wiki for a group that runs a Nobilis game using an alternate history universe. I think that would work well, and for some reason that I've yet to figure out. Maybe it's because the weirdness of their homegrown Prosaic Earth offers more opportunities for play without having to embrace things like the Mythic Earth, and the World Ash (which is the part of the game that I loathed).

Funny enough, we were watching The Matrix on Saturday while Alana was working on her costume and it occurred to us that The Matrix is how Nobilis should be, but isn't.

I might play Nobilis at a convention, if i can find the right scenario being played. However, I can't see myself playing it otherwise. This is an odd thing for me, as I don't usually turn away from RPGs. The only other game I refused to play was Discworld, but that was a special case, that you probably don't want to know about...