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The Problem: The world of Nobilis is a big one. It's vast. There's a lot to learn and understand. Heck, just comprehending how your attributes, MPs, bonds, and afflictions all work together can be a lot for a new player to take in. On top of that, this will be most roleplayers' first time with a diceless system, which scares some people.
The Solution: Ease them in gradually. Start them off as mortals, without even getting into real attributes and miracles! Give them an introduction to the important concepts in Nobilis over the course of a few game sessions, rather than all at once before they even make their characters. And when it comes time to build their Imperator and make their Chancel, have them do it in game. (Yes, even the Imperator. Read on!)
First, explain the basics of Nobilis:
- Miracles and the mythic world are real.
- Creation is shepherded by incredibly powerful spirit beings called Imperators. Some are angels, some are 250-mile-long serpents, and so on.
- These Imperators are busy fighting a war against enemies from outside of Creation, called Excrucians. So busy that they can't really be bothered with the physical world. That's where you come in.
- You're going to play mortals -- probably humans. At some point in the game, one of these Imperators is going to share its power with you and put you guys in charge of protecting its interests on Earth. But you don't know that yet.
- Any questions?
Try to avoid going into too much detail when answering questions. Emphasize that they're going to learn what's going on in game so they don't need to worry that much about it right now.
Now you do the avatar diagrams. Explain to everyone that this is going to be a map of their personalities, lives, dreams, and goals . . . as a Noble. That might seem confusing when they don't know what kind of Noble they're going to be, but by going through the diagram creation process, it'll bring out all sorts of wonderful details about who they are that the players might not have even though of themselves!
The advantage to doing this is that not only do you find out more about their personalities, etc., but it also gives a road map for where they can take the game after commencement. For example, in my game, Ingrid chose to have a manufactured army as one of her contacts. Obviously, she can't have that as a mortal, so it means that after she becomes a Noble, one of her first actions is going to be trying to create this army of human/bee hybrids. She's all ready to be proactive, which is important for Noble players.
After you have avatar diagrams, thank everyone, then explain that now you're all going to "rewind" a bit and write them up as mortals. Just do it on the back of the avatar diagram -- don't break out the real character sheet, or all of the stuff on there will just distract them. Follow these two steps:
- Have them each choose 8 points in passions and skills.
- Everyone gets two normal health levels.
Even for magicians, I recommend avoiding bonds at this point. As I said, the goal is to introduce them to the game gradually. Since they'll only be mortals for a short time, it's important not to cram too much stuff into this part of the game.
I recommend making some minor changes to the wounding rules when playing with mortal PCs. First, to reflect how much easier it is to be hurt, use the following effects:
- An annoyance doesn't affect your health levels, but gives you a 1-point affliction that heals in an hour.
- A surface wound costs one health level and gives a 2- or 3-point affliction. It heals in a day.
- A serious wound costs one health level and gives a 3- or 4-point affliction. It heals in a week.
- A deadly wound costs two health levels, taking the character out of the game. Not that it usually matters, but it also gives a 5-point affliction. It heals in a month.
Try not to let them die, though! Remember that losing all your health levels doesn't necessarily mean you're dead, just that you're taken out of play. Some things can be recovered from! Anyone going into negative health levels (e.g., taking a serious wound followed by a deadly wound) is most likely dead, but even that can be recovered from with a little imagination!
Will and Wounds: Mortals may spend 1 or 2 Will freely. Spending 4 Will results in an annoyance. Spending 8 Will results in a surface wound.
Obviously, this has to be somewhat general, to fit the specific characters in your game. Adjust and tweak as necessary so that it all makes sense for your group.
The PCs are all summoned to an outdoor meeting spot by an older woman, using whatever reasons will guarantee that they'll come. She waits until the whole group is together, then takes them on a walk through the garden while talking to them. (She speaks multiple languages and will translate between PCs as necessary.) She introduces herself as Evelyn Carter and keeps the conversation steered toward discussing each PC rather than revealing anything significant as she walks.
(Evelyn has Skill: Smooth Talker 4 and is using a level 6 intention of "Keep them nodding their heads and following me." Anyone willing and able to beat that can demand answers, walk off, etc. -- otherwise, they're along for the walk.)
As the PCs listen, they eventually realize that the grassy park has become dark and featureless -- how did they get here? (Evelyn has led them into a weird proto-Chancel, a soft place in reality.) At this point, she pulls out a flower, crushes it in her hand, and a rift of light appears, bathing the PCs in a painful glow; they have now been granted the Gift of Tongues. (Because, quite frankly, it simplifies things!) This uses up all of the proto-Imperator's power, though -- read on.
Evelyn goes over the basics of the mythic world (the numbered list, above -- this is a good time to reinforce that knowledge with your players!) and explains that an Imperator was recently murdered by an Excrucian. Due to the way it happened (she doesn't know the details), Creation is replacing that Imperator with a new one. But it needs help forming. And the PCs are the ones whose destinies seem to be tied to this moment.
She's great at negotiating, so if possible, she should promise the PCs the ability to fulfill their heart's specific desires. She will not tell them that they're going to become Nobles, because she doesn't know that for sure (it seems likely, but if she said it and it didn't happen, she'd be in trouble). If they want to know what her part in this is, she'll explain that she's part of a group (the Cammora, but she won't say that!) that has been charged with making sure this happens properly. If any PC doesn't want to do this, she'll first play to his sense of honor and rightness, then will drop subtle threats -- pointing out (quite correctly) that if the others do handle this situation correctly, the Imperator that forms will be very pleased with the ones who helped . . . and displeased with those who didn't.
The Jewelry Box
Once they agree (or are coerced) into going along with it, she'll hand them a little jewelry box with seven glass marbles inside, each a slightly different color (all pale). The box is a hexagon, and the way the marbles sit in the box requires six marbles to form the bottom layer, then the seventh marble is in the middle, slightly elevated, resting on top of the other six. (This will be important later.) She explains:
"The Imperator needs the essence of reality in order to form within it. Each sphere can absorb one facet of reality. You must choose which facet. Each must be an important person, event, situation, or so on -- it has to matter. You can't absorb anything involving yourselves or anything else directly tied to this situation, of course. You have to be close enough to perceive what you're absorbing. There's no particular order; just get 'em all done.
"The sphere of Heaven absorbs Justice. Seek out justice being done, and take it. Justice will be not only miscarried, but it ensures that no one involved will ever have the justice they deserve.
"The sphere of Hell absorbs Injustice. Find something unjust, take it, and it will become impossible for it to not feel the repercussions of its karma.
"The sphere of the Light absorbs Life. Not only will it prevent someone from being born, but it will make it so that the place in the universe that life would have occupied will never be filled.
"The sphere of the Dark absorbs Death. Take this, and something shall live eternally, denied forever the right to pass on.
"The sphere of the Wild absorbs Freedom. Whatever you take this from can never be free, in any sense of the word.
"The sphere of the Serpents absorbs Stability. With this stolen, something or someone becomes undecided, unstable, in constant flux.
"And the sphere of the True Gods absorbs Existence itself. Gone. Not just now, but so it had forever been, as if it never existed. Take care with this one."
She gives them her cell phone number and tells them that they should hurry. She doesn't know how much time they have, but imagines that it's somewhere between a few days and a week. Then she leaves. Now it's up to the PCs to find people, things, or situations that they're willing to absorb permanently into the various spheres.
Meeting the Imperators
What they may not expect at first (and what Evelyn honestly doesn't know -- she was just given the box) is that the spheres don't do the absorbing. Instead, every time a sphere is invoked, an Imperator appears to unhappily take the action! (Afterward, the sphere takes on a brighter color, making it easy to keep track of them.)
(Note: See my cosmology page for a quick sketch of each Imperator I recommend using -- or just make up your own! The important thing is that the players get a feel for what each type of Imperator is about. Be sure to play up the good and bad aspects of each one! Also, remember that a discussion is much, much better than a monologue. Perhaps the Imperator doesn't want to do it, and the PCs have to talk 'em into it.)
(Also, before running this part, go through the list and choose 3-4 of the Imperators to do something nice for a PC with whom they feel a camaraderie. Try to be nice to each PC once. For example, an angel might sense a fierce taste for justice in a PC, and will give him a feather without explaining what it does. You can then roll this into the game when you or the player thinks of something cool to do with it! The remaining 3-4 Imperators should cause problems for the PCs -- forcing them to take action, threatening them, casually tearing down the building as they walk away, and so on. Plan this ahead of time!)
The Sphere of Heaven (Justice) summons Mozanaim, Holy Embodiment of Libra. It's scary as hell (it takes a level 4 intention to avoid being completely useless) and discusses the important of justice without mercy.
The Sphere of Hell (Injustice) summons Father Aratron, the Stagnant Heptarch. He's calm and detached, and explains why Creation needs both beauty and ugliness.
The Sphere of Light (Life) summons Shaliah, Magister of Phthenoth, Lady of Material Happiness. She pontificates about why life matters more than freedom or achieving one's potential.
The Sphere of Dark (Death) summons Menqal, Magister of Kurtaêl, Lord of Ruin. He talks about why achieving potential matters more than safety or freedom.
The Sphere of Wild (Freedom) summons Deneyal, Magister of Ruax, Lady of Dominion. She discusses why freedom matters more than safety or achieving potential.
The Sphere of Serpents (Stability) summons Chokmah, the Wise Serpent, Guardian Of Creation And Creation. By way of contrast, it doesn't try to persuade them of a damned thing. It just shows up, shrugs, does what it's asked, then leaves. (This one is a good choice for a hostile encounter, only because the PCs just had it destabilize things. Thus, it's likely that the building is now falling down all around them, so they may have to grab a ride on the back of the giant snake to escape!)
The Sphere of True Gods (Creation) summons Gen, Still and Fruitful Mountain, Northeast Gatekeeper. Its presence causes joints to ache and the weather to cloud up. The PCs feel its displeasure at having to do this, but need a high intention to get anything more out of it.
Creating the Imperator and Becoming Nobles
Once they've run this gauntlet and call Evelyn back, she'll take them back to the place, and ask them to arrange the marbles in the box. At this point, ask them which marble they're putting on top of all the others. (If they don't understand what you mean, go ahead and have Evelyn explain that the choice will determine what type of Imperator arises.) At this point, the players have been able to interact with each type of Imperator, and should be able to make an informed choice as to what they'd prefer to serve.
The jewelry box vanishes in a flash of light that grows into a being (whatever kind they chose). At this point, you (the GM) and the players should take a few minutes to whip up an Imperator sheet (as per pp. 248-249). Once that's done, the Imperator will turn them into Nobles.
Now the game pauses, and everyone builds their Noble character sheets. You've already explained a lot about the game itself, and the system for mortal actions is almost identical to that for miracles, so they've already got half the game mastered! Talk to them about attributes, bonds, afflictions, and gifts, and complete their full sheet. Copy over their existing passions and skills (unless they want to change them -- for example, someone getting free Cool from a high Aspect may not want to "waste" skill points on further Cool).
Once the Nobles exist, their Imperator talks to them about needing a Chancel. It's new, though. It doesn't know the world very well. It needs their counsel. What type of Chancel should it create? Let the players discuss and debate it, and come up with a consensus. Once that's done, the obvious next step is to send the Nobles off to obtain artifacts and spiritual materials for the Chancel. (A favorite of mine is to require something from each element. For example, a hot day, a tornado, the only tear a person will ever shed, and a scoop of dirt from the top of the giants' mountain on another world.)
After the Chancel is built, you have a group of players who've come to understand how the system works, and a group of PCs who have a reason to feel invested in everything they've done so far. Now start looking at those contacts and other circles on each avatar diagram, and see what each player can do to make that happen. Isn't this a great campaign?
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