Nobilis - Mechanics & Game Coherence

Out of curiousity: for those familiar with Nobilis, what are your feelings on how deeply the mechanics intertwine with the underlying game and its target play?

I recall when reading Nobilis 2e, the GWB, that I'd felt the mechanics did a pretty solid job at capturing the cold majesty and sweeping grandeur of the Nobles... until I played, and realized that was the impression from the (ever-impressive) prose and nano-fiction provided by the author, rather than the mechanics themselves. The games tended to go gonzo. 3e softened up the impression in prose, but the mechanics remained, IMO, pretty inclined to going gonzo. And then Chuubo's came out, which continued softening the prose impression. I can't comment on the mechanics, as I haven't played it yet, but aside from stronger pacing mechanics it looks like it's still mostly Nobilis.

I'm still not sure that the mechanics actually push for Gonzo play, so much as the incredible flexibility of the powers (and resultant conflicts) pushes for it, and nothing in the game constrains that trend.

What drives these thoughts is my questioning whether the really appealing part of Nobilis - the setting, the power scale, the resultant questions that emerge in play - are actually tied into the game itself, or whether these things can be ripped wholesale away from the Nobilis engine without loss, and stitched onto the bones of a system that better drives play.

Comments

  • I've played Nobilis 3 times. Once, the GM ran on the fly for a bunch of us who got together at GenCon, and he streamlined the rules and came up with the plot during the post-chargen bathroom break, as is traditional.

    Once, we had pregenerated PCs of such quality that when the Dragon was put on the table, we did not all grab for it, because ALL of the PCs were that cool. The guy who did want it took about a minute to a) confirm no one else did and b) to take boggle damage, because Dragon, right? It had a solid plot that was full of a gazillion possible paths to take, you know, the kind of thing that can go anywhere and creates structure just by existing.

    That was at Origins, and the same folks ran a Nobilis larp later in the convention, which had streamlined rules and was full of awesome. The lights went low, and we all started philosophizing. Oh, and there was this lovely touch of envelopes that everyone started with and distributed to whomever they wanted. These were marked "give to a friend", "give to an enemy", "give to an ally", et cetera -- by giving them to someone, you were making them your friend, enemy, ally, whatever, and you didn't know what information was in them.

    All of this was 2nd edition. I've read 3rd edition and started to make characters for it, but that's about it.

  • Oh, and there was this lovely touch of envelopes that everyone started with and distributed to whomever they wanted. These were marked "give to a friend", "give to an enemy", "give to an ally", et cetera -- by giving them to someone, you were making them your friend, enemy, ally, whatever, and you didn't know what information was in them.
    Now that is, indeed, very slick!

    Do you remember what kinds of things were in there?

    (Sorry, I can't comment on Nobilis myself!)

  • The Fable of the Swan novel (for Chuubo rather than Nobilis), which I did enjoy, gave a very freewheeling, gonzo, improvised, and meaningless feel. Still good though.

  • That was at Origins, and the same folks ran a Nobilis larp later in the convention, which had streamlined rules and was full of awesome. The lights went low, and we all started philosophizing. Oh, and there was this lovely touch of envelopes that everyone started with and distributed to whomever they wanted. These were marked "give to a friend", "give to an enemy", "give to an ally", et cetera -- by giving them to someone, you were making them your friend, enemy, ally, whatever, and you didn't know what information was in them.

    It's interesting that this memorable, game-enhancing touch comes straight out of now-common character creation mechanisms (e.g., flags, bonds, Hx), and is a completely foreign appendage to Nobilis.

    I agree that's a fantastic touch. It would probably be a wonderful addition to any game without strong character-character relationships at the beginning of play.

  • I have yet to play any game – literally any game – with free-form, character-empowering mechanics which did not start and largely continue in the "gonzo" vein for quite a while, until the players were comfortable being powerful agents within the shared world and no longer felt the need to keep pushing against what they thought of as "the envelope" of what would be allowable in more traditional game environments.

    That applies to Kingdom, it applies to Microscope, it applies to Capes, it applies to Wushu… It even applies to Happy Birthday, Robot, and that's a game without even a pretense of roles.

    In my experience, gonzo is great but it's also an exemplar of players exploring the idea that characters have actual power and that their decisions have actual impact from the point of making the decision, not just whether or not a die says they have some sort of mechanical impact. Eventually most player groups settle down into far more serious explorations once they built of those bonds of trust with everyone else at the table that they'll be allowed to use the power that the game provides them and that that power will be recognized.

    That's when things get really interesting.
  • Nobilis never worked for me and I think that is because my groups always fell in the other direction: Nothing much happened. People where so afraid of not going overboard that they didn't get into the game.

    The rules of the game actually get nothing done. There is never a situation where you can ask the rules: Will this happen or not?, and get a straight answer. The rules lack a resolution system of any kind.

    This might seem odd, considering the amazing powers the characters have, but in fact they cannot use those powers on other characters.
  • This might seem odd, considering the amazing powers the characters have, but in fact they cannot use those powers on other characters.
    That's – just not accurate.

    Nobles absolutely can use their powers on other characters, but the nature of the mechanics means that they have to invest some of a limited resource to do so, and the other character has the ability to invest some of a limited resource to continue to say no – and it's that bidding war that drives the complicated decision-making behind whether or not it's worth using a power directly or whether it's better to come up with a more indirect application of intent.

    If the core mechanic can be summed up as anything, it is "sure, you can do that – but is it worth it?"

    (At least as recently as second edition – I skipped third because I actually had no reason to buy it – the core mechanic of the system is a series of micro-bidding opportunities with various types of in game currency being the medium. I thought that was fairly obvious to see.)
  • I have to agree with squidlord, in that:
    The rules of the game actually get nothing done. There is never a situation where you can ask the rules: Will this happen or not?, and get a straight answer. The rules lack a resolution system of any kind.
    sounds highly unlike Nobilis.

    Your comment seems to look to the rules for permission to do something. The rules are built along a very particular line of "Yes, and." If your powers can even vaguely justify something, "yes." If they're opposed, "yes, and (it'll cost you miracle points)." It's rather along the lines of Apocalypse World in that way: you know the fiction, and as long as it's plausible in the fiction, then yes, you can do that.

    Which is fitting for a game of gods. Yes, if there's any way you could possibly justify a fictional result given your powers, you can do that. We don't roll: you're a god, you can do that. Unless another God-like being opposes you.

    Or at least, such was true in 2e. 3e gets weirder, since the Aspect system is now revised to sort of run in parallel with mortal action rules. So, although you'll still win every thing you could possibly *want* to win, Aspect is the one realm in which "unless another God-like being opposes you" gets replaced with "unless someone competent opposes you." Which, yes, feels weird, and is part of the incoherence I'm feeling in the 3e design.

    There is so much I think I dislike about the Nobilis conflict resolution system, but "get
    nothing done" isn't on the list.

  • I am currently playing in a game. We're about four sessions in. There is nothing gonzo about our game at all I would say. Rather it's pretty serious. Weather that's the game or just us, I can't say, but I am not under the impression that the pushes towards gonzo (allthough I may misunderstand the meaning of the term here).

    I am not familiar at all these kinds of settings/stories or any source material. And though I may be warming up to it, I'm not a hundred precent sold on the mechanics. (Agree with the above though: things gets done.)
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