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.