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Author Topic: Nobilis actual play, or Bill and Ted get enNobled  (Read 2842 times)
GreatWolf
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Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« on: January 20, 2003, 10:34:44 AM »

Someone had requested some Nobilis actual play, so I thought that I'd write up Saturday's game.

Players:

HG: myself
Gus:  Ralph Mazza (the inestimable Valamir)
Marena:  Crystal Ben-Ezra (my wife)

This was actually a demo game to show Nobilis to Ralph.  In order to facilitate prep, I decided to run "In at the Deep End", a convention scenario written by Gareth Hanrahan (aka Mytholder).  To quote from the scenario for a moment:

   "Nobilis is a rich and complex game. Trying to show a player even a fraction of the wonders of the Tree or Noble society or even the rules system without confusing or deluging them is tricky. To do so while creating an interesting and cohesive story is nearly impossible. That said, impossible isn’t a good word to use around the Nobles. “Impolite” is possibly a better one. This scenario takes a rather vulgar and impolite approach to the whole problem.  Basically, we’re going to take the most linear and basic plot known to roleplaying – a quest verging on a dungeon crawl – and use that as a familiar framework on which we then hang a few tatters of the rich tapestry that is Nobilis."

And let me say that the scenario does a really good job at what it's intended to do.  Nobilis is a high-concept game that can have a high barrier to entry, simply because it gives so many options to the players.  By removing most of those options, "In at the Deep End" provides an experience that is more easily understood by the novice player while hinting at the full possibilities of the game.

Here's the basic plot outline.  Gus and Marena are twins and currently live in the small California town of East Stone Harbor.  (Note:  in the scenario, the town is in New Jersey.  My group was having a hard time swallowing the idea of surfer dudes in Jersey, so we moved the town.)  Both are dealing with normal teenager issues.  (e.g. Marena wants out of this small
town.)  In addition, their grandmother just had a stroke and the doctors don't know if she is going to survive.  Into the middle of this situation comes an Imperator.  A wounded Wildlord enChancels, taking over the town and enNobling Gus and Marena.  Before lapsing into unconsciousness, the Imperator commands Gus and Marena to heal him with the "Alatyr".

This quest led the fledgling Nobles on a quest away from Earth and down the World Ash to the gates of Hell itself, where they had to overcome the two guardians of the Alatyr and retrieve the healing water that it creates.  The short version of the story is that they managed to do this, dealt with the moral dilemma of only having enough water to heal one person ("Do we heal the horned dude or Grams?"), overcame the Excrucian creations that were attacking their home, got to relate to Marena's car, and even lived happily ever after.

However, this does not explain the subject header.  You see, Ralph chose to play Gus as an archetypical surfer dude, complete with reefer.  Crystal played Marena as a teenie bopper "popular" girl, who just wants to look good.  (The gem that materialized in the middle of her forehead as a result of her enNobling gave her quite a turn.)  So, a typical scene in the
game went something like this:

Me:  "As you continue down the Tree, you come to the beginning of a road.  Flanking it are two heads, stuck on stakes.  One of them looks at you and says, 'This is the road to Hell.'"

Gus:  "Whoa!  The road to Hell!  That must mean that these are good intentions."

Me:  "You look at the road and see that the bricks are covered in writing.  For example, one of them says, 'I will be kinder to my sister.'"

Gus:  "Du-ude!"

They were also totally clueless.  For example, one character was telling them where to find the Alatyr and telling them to "go to Hell" repeatedly.  Of course, Marena took great offense at this.   They also took great delight when various commoners treated them with respect, calling them "Nobles" or "Your Eminence".

What made this so interesting, though, is that this "silliness" didn't interfere with play.  In fact, I actually thought that it enhanced play.  There were several times that Gus showed off his Aspect 3 while simultaneously acting out his "Can't we all just relate?" vibe.  (Example:  a demon was trying to attack him with a pitchfork.  While Gus effortlessly dodged the demon's attacks, he was talking:  "Dude, why are you trying to hit me?  That's not really nice, you know.  Can't we just smoke some herb together?")  Rather than being a silly scene, it reinforced how much power Gus had at his fingertips and just how clueless Gus actually was about everything that was going on.  It also showed Gus's kind heart.  He could have broken this demon in half without thinking about it too hard.  But he didn't.  The human element of the Nobilis rose to the core.  It was cool.

I was also impressed that my players picked up on the implicit moral conflict that was inherent in the scenario.  I didn't point it up at all.  In fact, it was the players' idea to visit their grandmother after being enNobled, and it was Ralph (IIRC) who brought up the question.  ("Dude, couldn't we use this water to heal Grams?")  They ultimately decided to heal their Imperator, and, being an old softie, I had the Imperator heal the grandmother at the end of the scenario.

Finally, I was impressed at all the potential stories and conflicts that were generated by just one instance of play.  For instance, one of the guardians of the Alatyr was a huge bird.  We're talking about roc-sized here.  Marena was the Noble of Hunters, and so she used a Lesser Creation to make a hunter.  At Ralph's suggestion, this was a human-sized hunter at first.  The bird swooped down and ate him.  So Marena tried again.  This time the hunter was on the same scale at the bird:  a thousand-foot tall hunter.  One foot was in the valley that Marena was in.  The other was actually in Hell itself.  When he fired his shotgun, the sonic boom that was created blasted apart the walls of Hell and destroyed the dam that was holding back the stream of Alatyr water.  Hell's frontal defenses were devastated in a moment.  At the time, I was playing it up for laughs.  However, soon thereafter, a thought occurred to me.  What if this were the beginning of a campaign?  The next scenario had just been handed to me on a platter.  A Fallen Angel or his Nobles appear at the "front door" of the Chancel, demanding an apology and reparations for the damage that was done.  From an off-hand semi-silly miracle came the potential for an intense diplomatic story.  After all, saying "Oops!" probably isn't going to cut it.....

As far as I can tell, a good time was had by all.  So now we will begin prepping for a full-scale campaign (to be played around our Pendragon campaign and a pending TROS campaign).  Ralph already has some ideas for his Noble.  I'm really looking forward to it all.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
stingray20166
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2003, 01:20:33 PM »

After reading through Nobilis I loved it.  But a friend and I put our heads together and couldn't come up with any way to get our group (who include 2 guys who started playing D&D when it was first published and consider it the pinncale of RPG) to even try it.

Something like this might just work.  Thanks for the write-up.

Here's one question -- it occurred to us that the game might fall apart in our 8 person group and I note that you played with only 2 -- any idea if it scales well?
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2003, 01:37:48 PM »

You're quite welcome for the write-up.  Now to answer your question:

Quote from: stingray20166

Here's one question -- it occurred to us that the game might fall apart in our 8 person group and I note that you played with only 2 -- any idea if it scales well?


The scenario that I referenced ("In at the Deep End") was structured for six players and I regularly hear about Nobilis groups running that large.  I think that the biggest potential issue is the skill of the HG in managing the group.  Between the Nobles, their Anchors, and the stated suggestion that players occasionally run NPCs when their characters can't be around, there is more than enough for eight players to do.

Personally, if I were to be running a group that large, I would definitely ensure that there were a number of inter-character issues that could rise to the fore on a regular basis.  Just think of Amber or Sandman, which both have familial infighting as a major theme.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
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