Nobilis: Session 0

Yesterday, I played in the first session of a game of Nobilis (that’s the link for the 2nd edition; apparently, there’s also a third edition), run by Fub. I’d never played in the system before, though I’d heard of it. As most Session 0s go, this one was fully devoted to character and world creation. Nobilis is about a group of mortals who are elevated by god(like) beings to serve as avatars of concepts within the world. Reality is under attack by, well, something, and the players are Nobles who are tasked to preserve concepts.

I didn’t know two of the players in our group of six (counting the “Hollyhock God”, the game’s term for the host of the game), and unlike most of the people in the game, I had never read Nobilis nor was I much aware of the details of the system. Both aspects made the first session a little more uncomfortable than usual (that and the unrelated lack of sleep I had the night before), but overall the session went well. What was difficult for me is that I didn’t have a view of what the game would be, how it would play, nor what our central problem is. However, given that so much of the game depends on the powers and world defined in session 0, it’s also not surprising that it’s impossible to pin down at this point. I trust that fairly soon in our first session, we’ll be introduced to the central plot device so that I can get some grip on the system from there.

It was tricky to navigate the system so far, because the book is apparently written so notoriously badly that the author’s name (Rebecca Sean Borgstrom, the previous name of Jenna Moran) has been turned into a pejorative for confusing, contradictory, or overly-complicated systems, “Borgstromancy”. Having skimmed through some of the rules now, I would say that, sure, the book is quite flowery and prosaic in its writing, and some things are somewhat ambiguous, but to say that it’s illegible to the point of using the author’s name as the pinnacle of poor writing seems harsh to me. The ambiguity is more in smaller parts. For instance, yesterday, I struggled with Resources that could be purchased for the world we were creating. A table on p.143 of the book showed some Resources as costing “3 Chancel Points” and others as “-1” or “+1”; however, it didn’t indicate what the minus or plus values modified. Now, with some reading it turns out that the idea for these is that you’d buy one Resource and the others would be added on to that one, yet they were listed in the text as individual Resources rather than modifications or upgrades of the first. Sure, not as clear as it could be presented, but to deem this an offense greater than anything done by other RPGs still seems excessive to me.

In any case, we’ve mostly set up for the game now, so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays and whether I’ll enjoy the game system.

One thought on “Nobilis: Session 0”

  1. What appeals to me to games with vastly powerful PCs for whom the accumulation of wealth is not an issue (such as Nobilis or Amber) is that there is so much room for broad concepts and grand schemes. The setting is set up to have self-motivated PCs (you want to expand your Domain, you need to protect reality, etc), and so I could not go in with a pre-established plot because maybe the characters won’t even care about it.
    Now that we have established the characters and their Chancel, I have an idea of a few plots, and I can’t wait to dive in!

    Obviously, an unclear table with point costs would not deter the likes of me and JeXus from finishing a book (indeed, who cares about specific point costs in their first read-through?) It’s just that the very structure of the book is not very good: concepts are used and then only later explained how they fit into the larger whole. I’m sure some of it is unavoidable with so many moving parts in the setting, but… I absolutely love the setting, but the writing paints such a murky picture that I just gave up in my first attempt. It’s like the Dark Souls of RPG books like that 😉

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