Yesterday, I got the tablet we ordered as my Christmas present. Tracy chose an awesome Kindle Oasis 2021 model, and I decided to get a Lenovo Tab M10 FHD Plus (2nd gen). Ironically, we were both looking for the same thing but for exactly different purposes: she wanted a tablet allowing her to read full books with a more calm light (and the Kindle Oasis has been great for that—she’s been glued to it for days!), whereas I wanted a tablet that I could use to read pdfs, news sites, and so on.
I spent some time reading reviews online to find out what rough pricerange and model types would work out, as tablets nowadays come anywhere from low-end budget versions costing around €50 to high-end monstrosities of over €1000. Tracy and I talked it out, and €200 seemed like a good ceiling for this kind of purchase—anything too budget would just lead to regret and wasted money, but anything more than €200 seemed excessive for what I needed. One of the issues I’d run into researching tablet choices is that much of the discussion online is centered around the American market, where the prices are radically different than in the Dutch or EU market. So, the advice there didn’t fully fit. For example, a frequently advised budget tablet in America is the Amazon Fire HD 10, which just isn’t available in the Netherlands. Another frequent suggestion is the Lenovo Tab P11, which starts at $189 in America (that’s around €168) but in the Netherlands costs around €260. I’m not sure what the exact cause of the price difference is but if I were to take a guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if partly it’s import taxes, but largely it’ll be the result of the global supply chain issues and the global microchip shortage.
So, I was left to having to interpret the discussions on tablet choice from a Dutch perspective. That’s how I ended up settling on the Lenovo M10 Plus (the FHD in the name seems to be optional). From my reading, there seemed to be two crucial considerations as far as pdf-reading on tablets is concerned: firstly, that the tablet has an HD screen, to ensure that the fonts are suitably legible; secondly, an appropriate screen ratio. For an EU audience, The A4 paper ratio is 1:1.414, though for US-based publications, letter size will be more common (1:1.294) followed by digest size (around 1:1.5, but it varies). Since publications come in such varied ratios, it’s always going to be an odd fit. It’s telling, though, that both the Pixelbook and the Surface Book come with a 1:1.5 screen ratio. I found an article that recommended 4:3 or 16:10 as decent alternatives to 1:1.5. As luck would have it, the Lenovo M10 happens to be one of the few lower-price tablets that has a 16:10 screen ratio (as 16:9, i.e. 1:1.778, is the most common ratio for budget screens). Restating 16:10 as 1:1.6 shows how close it is to that sweet spot 1:1.5. That ratio will reasonably fit A4 as well as digest-size US publications.
I’ve spent yesterday testing out the tablet with various RPG books, such as R. Talsorian Games’ The Witcher RPG and BWHQ’s Torchbearer, both of which were wonderfully legible on the Lenovo M10. I picked those two, because they seemed to represent two extremes: The Witcher RPG‘s full layout tends to have two to three columns per page with a quite busy layout (it does come with what they call a “phone” layout, incidentally, which is far simpler); Torchbearer, on the other hand, is a digest-sized publication with little extra fanfare. These two pdfs allowed me to test two extremes of pdf publications. I am quite happy that I found both easy to read on the Lenovo M10. For each, the font was indeed crisp and easy to distinguish. The screen ratio also seemed to fit the pages quite well, and I never felt like the page was crammed into the screen or that I had to zoom or pinch around to get a good overview. Interstingly enough, I found the Kindle app to give the best reading experience so far, though I’m still at the start of exploring the app spaces available for pdf reading.
All in all, I’m quite happy with this tablet, and I look forward to many evenings reading RPG books with a happy cat purring on my lap.
I bit the bullet and ended up ordering a tablet for Christmas, so that I can finally get around to more easily read all those tabletop RPGs that I have. It seemed like such a weird waste to read them at the PC, and reading on my mobile phone just was too small and fiddly to deal with. My laptop may have been a good compromise, but whenever I sit down downstairs, my lap gets colonized by a small herd of cats, preventing the use of any laptop. So, a tablet it is! I hope it’ll work nicely for me.
Yesterday evening was the fourth session of Nobilis, which was the last of this story arc. While it signified the end of the first arc, it nevertheless set up quite a few things for the following sessions. Two of the players could not be present for this session, which drastically changed the feel of the game, as the different group composition led to different focal points. Another thing that made the session a little more awkward to me is that we switched to Dutch for this one, as before it was in English for the benefit of one of the players. Though I’m born and raised in the Netherlands, I’ve never played RPGs in Dutch nor do I consume Dutch-language media. So, outside of professional situations, I don’t have a particularly large vocabulary in Dutch, which hampered my ability to be as allusive and metaphorical as I attempted my character to be in English.
We started off in the reception party to present the newly-decanted Noble of Coal, which was an promising scene of social conflict. Our group was clearly the odd one out, and it slowly became clear that we were invited as a courtesy—the previous Noble of Coal was murdered on our Chancel territory, so inviting us to the ceremony was probably a matter of good manners. Anxiety isolated himself from all the potential stress in the corner of the room, inadvertently ending up next to Mo-An, another courtesy-invite who later on turned out to be a crucial person for us to talk to. Marcella started to go around the room to make some new connections (meeting Olivia Neiros, the Lady of Nightmares) and finally ended up flirting with Janna, The Lady of Mercury, while chatting with Azar, the new Noble of Coal. This allowed Ariana to individually speak with Mira Zophis, the Imperator of Coal, about the murder case. Mira Zophis tried to dig a little into the specifics of the murder case, but Ariana kept him at a distance for the talk.
Later at the Chancel, our trio discussed Ariana’s theory on the murder. She suspected that the former Noble of Coal had an affair with the Lady of Candy, which would be a major transgression. They decide to do a ritual where Fantasy and Enlightenment together weave a representation of the dreams and desires of the former Noble of Coal to see if he indeed dreamed of the Lady of Candy. The ritual shows that the former Noble of Coal fantasized purely about power. Looking back on my notes, we knew this already, of course: in the second session we had done a ritual on his corpse directly, where we found that power was what he desired.
Our after discussion was interrupted by Pari, a subject of master Fenas, a disturbing lady in a robe and veil, covered with wounds that weeped rubies. She bluntly informed us that her master invited us to be educated, and promptly left.
We finished up doing a little information gathering, as we traded a favor with Olivia Neiros, the Lady of Nightmares, to find out a bit more information about our murder suspect. We left the group poised to take action.
The Session Itself
Like with other diceless games I’ve played, I still don’t mesh much with Nobilis. I do miss a sense of it being a game rather than sitting around and telling each other a story. I’ve been trying to work out more what I mean by this, and two things I think I miss is that sense of stochastic outcomes—that mechanical restriction that breeds creativity which tells you “no, this thing fails” leaving you to decide the how and why, and a feedback loop from mechanics that pushes you in certain directions.
Having said that, the GM has been doing a great job at keeping the responsibility on us to drive the plot forward, while trying to offer each player vignettes of what we’re looking for. When Edward, Lord of Anxiety, separated himself at the party, the GM understood that the player was looking for awkward silences and uncomfortable interaction, and that’s exactly what he gave out; Marcela was given fun little vignettes of party interactions and some flirting that started in the last session already; while Ariana was provided an opportunity to dig into the mystery at hand.
As far as world-building goes, I think we’ve got a good view of the situation now, but as players we keep circling around the same point a little without advancing. The GM has been explaining the situation that there are two factions within the Dark, a more authoritarian-style faction that sees strict hierarchy as necessary to winning the war with the Excrucians, and a more libertarian (for lack of a better word) faction that’s more about individual sovereignty for the Nobles in the Dark. Our incident is the result of a conflict between those two factions. To my mind, that’s not so much a murder mystery as it is an invitation to make a choice: we can choose to let things be, or we can choose to tip the balance in one side’s favor. That’s an interesting ethical choice, because, practically speaking, we could very easily drop this without any problem. In fact, it seems that multiple people are gently asking us to drop it. So, the question becomes: should we even intervene?
At the end of the session, the GM announced that this was the end of the first arc of the story (Act 1 certainly seems completed), and reminded us that we all decided to give the game a first arc and then decide what we wanted to do. I felt uncomfortable making any choice about this with only three of the five players present, and on top of that I was as tired as I always get at ten-ish, so I was glad that we relegated that discussion to Discord for the coming days.
It’s a tricky choice. I enjoy the unusual setting and the unheimlich feeling that the GM is trying to create, and he’s doing a great job at GMing the game. However, as I’ve said, I’m not really connecting with the game system itself. On top of that, I still feel as though my style of gameplay is quite different from some of the other players, which has made things feel disjointed for me. From my side, though, given how tired I get in the evenings (I’m high energy in the mornings starting at around 5am up to early afternoons), I’ve made scheduling quite difficult for everybody else. I tend to set my availability to weekends, as it’s hard for me to play after workdays, but that leaves my schedule the most restricted of the players, which severely limits our options.
I’m not too sure yet of what I want to do with this, and will give it some quiet thought before I get into the discussion on Discord.
Yesterday was the second session of my “Burning France” Burning Wheel game. The write-up on the previous session can be found here. It gave me a good chance to try out a new thing or two in Foundry VTT, such as using some ambient music for a scene and practising help and extended tests in the Burning Wheel game system for Foundry. I felt a little more comfortable running this time, and the awkward start to the session was a little shorter this time than last.
Our band of characters, Benoit the Farmer, Bertrand the Bastard, and Geoffrey the Barkeep, started off discussing what their next moves would be. Last session, they heard that the previously deposed nobles of Avignon-sur-Chantre had been exiled to the woods to the north of the village, which made them a looming threat to the post-revolution village. They gathered around a rough map of the village to plan out their next move.
Reviewing the map, the team wondered who was guarding the palisades and the gates, realizing that there was a group of guards of unknown affiliation—who were these people even loyal to? Benoit used his connections among the villagers to do a B2 Rumor-wise against Ob 2 (+2 FoRK, +1 help, passed with 3 successes) learning that the guard leadership had been brought in from outside, and since the revolution has been distant from the villagers. Despite no longer being paid, they nevertheless had enough money to spend in the tavern every night.
“We must find the deposed nobles and their sympathizers and make sure they don’t stage a counter-revolution
Benoit, Belief #3
Meanwhile, Bertrand desired to find a woodsman capable of scouting out the woods to the north to find trace of the hiding nobles. A quick B2 Circles against Ob 2 (+1 Affiliation Insurrectionists, +1 “Golden Boy” Reputation, passed with 2 successes) brought him to Léonce the Woodsman, a local trapper who was an appreciative follower of the revolution. He quickly agreed to take a day to scout out the forest.
“Benoit is a sincere follower and obviously looks to me for guidance; I will show him how a true revolutionary deals with these filthy nobles near Avignon.”
Bertrand, Belief #2
Meanwhile, Geoffrey spoke to Elise, the house servant of the previous lord of the manor of Avignon-sur-Chantre. The group had decided that Avignon needed new administration, and Elise was the most capable person around. Elise quickly agreed, and sent out for people in the village to turn her de-facto position into a fixture of the village.
Finally, the trio decided to confront Matthieu, the captain of the guard, and see whether he could be swayed to their side or whether he needed to be taken out. After some quick carousing with him, Benoit and Bertrand decided that the man could never be convinced and needed to be taken out then and there. Geoffrey made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Drinking vs test Ob 4 (+1 help, +2 FoRK, 3 successes) which even after a fate re-roll resulted in both Geoffrey and Matthieu being absolutely sloshed.
“Those who resent you are dangerous and should be scared into obedience or destroyed.”
Geoffrey, Belief #3
The group used this to their advantage, as Benoit made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Conspicuous against Ob 2 (+1 FoRK, +1 Advantage, 2 successes) which meant that Benoit and the drunken Geoffrey were the loud and obvious distraction to Bertrand and Matthieu slipping out quietly. Geoffrey was dumped in a small nearby alleyway, as Bertrand and Matthieu made their way to the docks to the north of the village.
The final step of their plan was to knock Matthieu on the back of the head with Bertrand’s mace, and dump the body into the river. Hopefully, everybody would assume he fell in it while drunk, hit his head, and that’d be the end of that. With Benoit rolling B3 Mace vs B3 Perception (+1 Help), it came out at 1 Success for Benoit versus 2 Successes for Matthieu, meaning the captain caught sight of what was happening just too late, crying out loudly as he now messily fell onto rocks below before being swept away in the river.
The session ended with clamoring and alarums raised in the nearby guard post. How will our team get out of this one?
The session went more smoothly than last time, to my feeling. The players had a more clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, and I was able to prepare a little more beforehand as well, so that I would have some knowledge of rules prepared. This time, the beliefs came out a little better as well, and I’m getting the sense that they’re starting to click more for the players as well, as newer beliefs have been more focused on practical.
There were two big errors that we made, though (which probably enraged those familiar with the rules in my description above). Firstly, FoRKs aren’t supposed to be used for Beginner’s Luck tests. We weren’t exactly sure in play, so we just went with it and figured to look it up later. Now, I’ve seen that BWG p.36 explicitly states that FoRKs apply only to skill tests, and BWG p.37 notes that Beginner’s Luck tests are stat tests. Luke Crane, the author of the game, also explains as much in a reddit reply.
The second big error that we made is that during the large extended test that was getting the captain drunk and disposing of him, we forgot to track the advantage/obstable modifiers. So, technically, the failed Drinking test should have increased the obstacle of the following Conspicuous test, which means it should have failed. Similarly, the mistakenly succeeded Conspicuous test should have added a +1D advantage to the Mace test. Well, either way, we’ll move forward with what we have, as this is pretty interesting too.
We had a minor struggle at the start, incidentally, as initially the group was exploring the manor to potentially find ledgers and figure out how the guards were being paid. One player wanted to point out that it seemed like the game was heading towards a middle-management simulator genre, which he wasn’t particularly interested in. Fortunately, nobody else at the table was interested in that either, so we abandoned that thread quickly. I can see where the player initiating that scene was going, though: he was attempting to get a test to determine that the guards were receiving outside money, and thereby have new information to act on. The difficulty was that none of the characters had the relevant skills to do this, so that ended up with a bit of fumbling.
Funnily enough, I was hoping to drive the players towards a Duel of Wits with the guard captain in the tavern, as each character had a Belief that involved him as a sympathizer of the nobles. To me, that made him a big enough character to deserve a spotlight in one of the more involved conflict mechanics. So, naturally, in the roleplaying at the tavern, I made him oppose the position of the players. However, the impression of one of the players was that this made him impossible to convince, hence opting for the murderous alternative. My assumption was that if I made him more amenable to dealing with them, such as dropping a line like “Well, for the right amount of money, anything is possible” then that would remove the need for a Duel of Wits in the first place. I’m not sure yet how I should set that up so that I more clearly communicate the distinction between the in-fiction opposition yet the narrative-level opportunities available.
Overall, though, the story started flowing, and I got the impression that the characters started getting more aligned in their actions and intentions. While we struggled a bit with the mechanics of the extended test in both a game-mechanical sense (how are you supposed to factor learning new skills again?) and a technical sense (how to work out learning new skills in Foundry VTT), we had a clear and concise session that didn’t go for too long. Elements were set in motion, and the fiction was detailed a little more.
I think with more experience working with Beliefs and a little more comfort with the mechanics, we’ll have the story flowing more smoothly and start advancing. I was relatively happy with the pacing of the second half of the game, as we moved to important scenes right away, and we focused more directly on actionable Beliefs, which meant that we rolled more tests as well. I realized at times that I still needed to emphasize the consequences of test failure, so that’s a thing I have to keep in mind to do in a timely fashion.
Oh, and lastly, I’ve just been having a lot of fun using the sessions as inspiration for building some maps, so I updated the world map as well: