Nobilis: Session 4

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.

Brief Summary

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?

Final Thoughts

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.

Nobilis: Session 3

Yesterday evening, we had the third session of Nobilis; and, as usual, I took a night’s sleep to let things settle and gather my thoughts before writing something up.

Setting and Style

The game is getting a little more settled for me now; there’s more grounding as we’re establishing more of the world. The characters themselves are also getting more settled, which is helping me find some handholds to engage with the game. My character, the noble of Fantasy, has taken on an otherworldly, only half-there half the time kind of attitude towards the fiction, which I’m enjoying to play. I’m glad to see that the GM is taken a bit of a Gaiman-esque approach to it as well, and the world he’s establishing is reminding me somewhat of American Gods. We went into the realm of another Noble by virtue of some manner of diner in the regular world, where somehow a 2.5m-tall figure could stride in without a problem. I’m enjoying this unheimlich aspect of the world, where everything is just a bit off somehow. I also appreciate that the GM leaned into what my character has been bringing into the fiction as well, but having the Lady of Mercury also hint at being a little odd. It’s always good when the GM understands where you’re trying to go with a character.

Comparatively, I’ve had some trouble communicating the same to the other players. I’ve been trying in-character to convey setting and narrative in a bit of that odd, fantastical manner, but I’ll need to work how on how to do that, as it hasn’t seem to have given the other players enough to latch on to yet. For example, there was a point where my character had knowledge of an NPC being connected to our murder suspect. While my character had mentioned it to one other character in-game, he didn’t act on that further; the other characters came in later, so they were as of yet unaware in-fiction. Sadly, dropping a hint to another character didn’t work to prompt that onwards. Later, whispering about a familiarity in the NPC to our suspect to a third character was sadly misinterpreted as assuming a familial connection rather than a metaphysical one, so again it fell flat. I just had to resort to outright mentioning it, after the scene had already exploded. I’m not sure yet how to rework my character’s interactions with the others to retain the otherwordly feeling while also offering more clarity for them.

Aside from being otherworldly and odd, I’ve been trying to have my character be nice, caring, and playful. In a sense, at its best, childlike, as some fantasy may be. At its worst, they’ve been playfully mean, teasing the Lord of Anxiety with fears of the unknown, as fantasy can equally show you things you don’t want to have happen. I’m trying to have the character just be very accepting. After all, fantasy comes in many shapes and forms, and the most important thing is to be welcoming of whatever may be presented. I’ve tried to put in small gestures like this here and there, such as sending out a random act of kindness in the second session, or letting an NPC go when they want to in the third.

Game experience

The pace of this session was, sadly, a little frustrating to me, to be honest. We ended the last session at such an interesting point: the characters had just received a formal invitation (with potentially a veiled threat? The GM did point out how in the phrase “cordially invited”, the word “cordially” was emphasized in italics) to a ceremony where the new noble of Coal would be instated, after the last one was murdered on our grounds. I remember the GM previously saying that, since everybody was a near-godlike being, most of the conflict in the game was diplomatic rather than physical. So, great! This emphasis-on-the-cordial invite must be the start of some interesting plot developments, and I was ready to get going. Personally, I would have wanted the session to pretty much start off with “so, you walk through the grand doors to the reception hall of the Chancel of Asphalt, Mercury, and Coal”.

The first forty minutes of the game, though, we’re spent in a long discussion on possible risks and threats. Do we need to wear formal clothing to this event? Can we get out safely if we go in? Would we be aware of the etiquette that we should observe? Should we scout out the place before we head in? To me, these seem like very gamist or adversarial GM concerns—ways to ensure that we don’t get penalized because we didn’t remember to bring a ten-foot pole, as it were. My reasoning, rather, was as follows: what happens if, in going to the ceremony of the new noble of Coal, we leave the murder weapon of the old Lord of Coal behind and it gets stolen? Well, the story clearly has moved in an interesting direction. What happens if, in taking the murder weapon to the ceremony, somebody spots it and makes a scene? Well, more interesting things happen.

Sadly, a similar thing happened soon after. The GM threw in what, to me, seemed like a small and interesting new lead to our mystery. A new character associated with our possible murderer dropped by our domain to give us a gift to smoothe some wrinkles. I initially tried to have my character push her towards the group as a whole, but the NPC desperately needed to get out and refused. My character had already been rude enough, so I saw no problem letting the NPC go. The way I figured it, either the gift that was given would provide us some clues; we also had the character’s name to follow up on; and, if there was more to find out, we could always schmooze at the reception later to try and find some more information. It really seemed like the GM just wanted to introduce a small new lead to help us along. Plus, if we solved the mystery from this one NPC already, that’d be no fun either, right? The rest of the party, though, was intent to latch on to the event and to interrogate this new character. The end result after half an hour was no more information bar the name of the associate, and one highly offended NPC out the door.


I’ve learned that I’ll need to engage with the mechanics more explicitly. As another player mentioned yesterday during the after talk, it’s fine to sit around chatting together but we’re also here to play a game, so that means interacting with the rule system as well. I’ve been unsure of exactly how to engage with it, due to my ignorance and unfamiliarity with the system. So, I’ve been low-key acting on the theme of imagination, fantasy, and the fantastical with my character, but I don’t think that’s led me to where I need to be. In one instance, I was trying to get my character to somewhat daze another character into a dreamlike state, so as to move them towards the rest of the party, but that didn’t work out much.

Another player, later, ran into that same character (quite literally), and showed me an example of what I could have done, as he explicitly stated “I want to create a sense of anxiety in her”. The characters in Nobilis have powers to do miracles, and I see I may need to use some of these more triggering verbs in what I’m doing: “I evoke”, “I create”, “I preserve” and so on. I think that will also help my GM latch on to what I’m doing and guide me around the mechanics of how whatever I’m trying is supposed to work. Later on, I had another moment of dissonance, as we needed to overcome a small challenge (walking a tightrope), which I assumed would be no problem for a near godlike being. However, the GM kindly reminded me that my character’s Aspect statistics was 0, which meant that they would not be able to properly walk that rope—a good lesson on what that stat actually does.

Overall, I’m enjoying that the mechanics are coming into play a little more. I understand that the GM has a difficult task here: one of the players is not a fan of systems at all, feeling that rules only need to be implemented when there’s some conflict, whereas I enjoy seeing systems at work and enjoy how restrictions encourages my creativity. That’s a hard set of extremes to balance! I think the GM did really well in this session, though, to gently introduce some mechanics in there while also keeping it light. A particular point that I appreciated in the system is that there was something of a gamble involved when one player wanted to impose their powers over another NPC: every character has something of a resistance to influence, and the player just had to guess what that NPC’s resistance would be. He’d either guess right and win out, or guess wrong and likely be exposed for what he was doing.


It’s still been a lot of setup so far, so it’s still too early to come to any conclusions about the game as of yet. I’m eager to get into Act II of this story to see about getting into some conflict points, which is where I’m assuming the system will start showing off its strengths. It does seem like the rest of the group is looking for a different experience than what I’m looking for, though, which is somewhat disheartening.

The characters also seem like five separate characters related purely by chance but little else, so there seems to be something of a lack of cohesion. I wonder if a more explicitly defined hierarchy in character creation could have helped; for instance, we could have had two players play more senior Nobles in the Chancel, with three other characters being newly appointed Nobles subordinate to the two. Alternatively, a more pressing unifying concept might have worked as well. For example, if the murder weapon was discovered, and all five of us were now being investigated as a band of suspects, we would all have a clear motivation to work together to overcome this challenge.

Having said that, as I mentioned before, while the pacing may be slower than I enjoy, the world-building is setting up an interesting cast right now. In particular I’m looking forward to what can happen in the next session, as we start off at the formal reception. Our characters have literally just discovered that they were invited to the ceremony privately, which is already mysterious enough—why them? Why now? Moreover, there’ll now be a whole cadre of Nobles around to interact with. So far, our supposedly noble characters have aggressively harangued everybody who’s dropped by, which seems at odds with surviving in a society hinged on mutual toleration. We may encounter a slew of new enemies or allies at this reception, or build some bridges here or there.

The next session is on the 30th, so we’ll see what the GM has come up with by that time.

Nobilis: Session 2

Yesterday, I played in the second session of Nobilis. I had to miss the first session because we had no internet at the new house yet, but fortunately I managed now for this session. That did make it tough, because I had to jump in on a running train but that’s just the way these things go. It was also a pretty rough session for me, because I was pretty exhausted from the past weeks. To be honest, I could have probably just curled up in bed with a book by the time we started and after we stopped I fell asleep almost right away. Sadly, though the GM asked for some feedback at the end, I was too tired to provide some directly.

At the same time, it also feels pretty early game to provide some proper feedback, as we’re still settling in. For one, I really needed to settle in to the game itself; I feel fairly unmoored right now, because I don’t know the system nor do I have a feel for the story or world right now, and we also haven’t established ourselves as a group yet. I feel like my character is meshing with two of the players’ characters, but that’s also because I’ve played with them before and we roughly know what to expect of each other. The other two I’m still getting to know; one seemed fairly quiet all game and the other was relatively dominant throughout but that also moved things forward as well. Overall, the group as a whole still needs to find its core, I’m thinking.

As for the game itself as well, I haven’t particularly seen enough yet either to have an informed opinion. Since I’ve only experienced one session in this game, I haven’t really experienced much of the mechanics, having seen only two or three uses of them so far, which so far have limited themselves to “if what you’re doing has a lower rating than your skill, it succeeds”. That works effectively but I’m also missing a feedback-loop so far. However, I’m sure there’s something like that must be built in on a story-level of the mechanics.

The story we have is some kind of murder mystery right now, where somebody was murdered in an internal struggle of an opposing force but on our turf. While we have found out a motive (the character wanted power and prestige but the others in the group cut him down) and we have found the murder weapon (a severed hand that is more real than anything else), we don’t know the why of it yet. It’s a little tricky for me to relate it to our group, as I don’t really know why we’d care or why we’re working together. At the end of a session, a strongman from the murderous faction came by on a polite call which, to me, seemed like he was pressuring us to drop it or otherwise check to see if we were a risk. Without really know the relationships in the factions, it would make sense to just drop the body and leave it be. For the sake of the game, though, we’re presented with a murder mystery, so it makes sense to investigate that.

The next session is in two weeks, so I’ll post on the progress after that.

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.