by Jim Henley (original post)
Essential disclaimer: I am not Cneph's Gift to Nobilis GMing. Nor do I think I am. I could be better in a bunch of ways. So consider the following as the usual fallible opinions of one dude. All of which boil down to a single, testy, ur-opinion:
I believe that Nobilis GMs tend to be our own worst enemies.
I'm speaking in the general case here about the Impersonal You, as opposed to any specific You, going mostly by self-reporting on mailing lists and fora. There are plenty of GMs for whom what follows is untrue or irrelevant. This is about the archetypal Nobilis failure, not the archetypal Nobilis game. Does that make sense?
We get inspired by the appearance of a game about ideas. We love ideas! We're idea-lovin' fools! We love them so much, we're afraid to let them out of the house! They might get run over. They might blow away in the wind. Bad people might take them away and hurt them.
So we keep them under constant supervision. We invite people to visit the ideas under our watchful eyes, to admire the little outfits we've made for them and sing along with the songs we've taught our ideas to sing. Maybe even play with the ideas' blocks on the floor of the panic room. But the visitors want to take the ideas for a bike ride or play on the swings with them or trade outfits, and we put our foot down. That could be dangerous! Those things wouldn't suit our ideas at all, and who would know better than us? And, in the back of our minds, we're afraid that if our ideas get out or have too much unstructured time with others, they'll love us less and grow into strangers.
So we micromanage what PC Estates "really mean." We jealously guard the interpretation of ambiguity, always in the direction of more rather than less limitation. We keep our in-setting hammers - Lord Entropy; Imperators in general; Dementia Animus - ready for the swinging. We toss around terms like "mere Noble miracles," when our players thought they were supposed to be playing wondrous characters who do amazing things, not this mere shit. We make it impossible to play Nobilis, because "play" requires things yet to be determined.
I think, in the GWB, the Monarda Law was supposed to inhibit this, frankly, control-freak behavior. And the term "Hollyhock God" was always to inspire a certain humility. But I don't think we always let those things do their work. We needed to start a session expecting to be delighted by the crazy stuff our players were gonna get up to; too often we started it worried about how to keep it under control.
The thing with NobilEOS is, it's got some more mechanical weight behind preserving the spirit of play and player agency: Estate Properties for one, and Projects for another. And the voice of the rules text is less majestic (Jenna writes majestic great) and more familiar (Jenna writes familiar great too). But we still have to let the players go.
Before we hunt them down and kill them, I mean.
(The other ur-issue, I think, is that pressure we could feel to come up with a campaign premise - plot, if you insist - "worthy" of the game. This ends up reinforcing the control issues in the first ur-issue. Once we finally think we've got something that's sorta kinda worthofthegame, we don't want to let anything fuck it up. Fucked-up things are unworthy!
Srsly, have something happen. See what the players do. Have something else happen because of what they did. Rinse and repeat.)
How To Start A Game
by Jim Henley (original post)
1. Make characters first. Use the Lifepath system.
2. In between the end of chargen and the first session, review Contacts, B&A, Estate Properties and Hearts & Shadows.
3. Certainly if a player is minded to propose a Project at this point, let them!
4. Count noses. If you have three players, set it up in session 1 that:
- Something puts Player A's favorite contact in jeopardy …
- in a manner that ties into Player B's Estate …
- in a way that is a problem for Player C's B&A or Hearts & Shadows
- Or mix & match: Threaten Player A's Estate using Player B's Contacts etc
- Don't kill yourself trying to make all three hooks equally compelling. PC groups are Familia - they should have hooks with each other, whether written down or not. Get 2+ Avatars with each hook. Just note that you owe the odd guy(s) out some centrality in your next - or parallel - hook.
5. That hook is your "A Plot." Your B Plot is either someone's Project or another iteration of the above formula.
6. If you have more than three players you definitely need a B Plot. Three or fewer you may not.
7. When play starts, have something happen. Under no circumstances worry if the something is "good enough" or "worthy."
8. Let the players respond to what happened. Let there be consequence and reaction. Let them respond to those things. Then just ride that cycle.
If you all just won't use the lifepath system fall back on the GWB GM standby, "Have the Imperator demand something seemingly arbitrary and pointless."
But seriously, use the lifepath system! It's partly a creative prompt for the players, yes, but as importantly it is a gold mine of inspiration for the GM.
The method above gives at least:
- one player whose Avatar has an emotional stake in the action
- one player whose Estate is central to the action
- one player with an opportunity for a Struggle
As sessions move forward, players will hopefully come up with Project ideas. Absolutely plan to give these considerable spotlight time. If players are having their characters pitch in on each others' Projects to at least some extent, that's a healthy dynamic and a good sign for your campaign. You can help things along by pointing out opportunities for mutual involvement. I don't care if Player A has a Project to grow wings; there's a way to make Player C relevant to that.
A juicy Project or two simplifies the GM's life tremendously - you know exactly what to prepare for. And you don't need to abandon your own ideas for "plots." Projects proceed through Victories, Defeats and Revelations, and you can really go to town on how the path to the next Marker goes through your favorite Excrucian or how it turns out that GM-Initiated Plot Development Gamma is a key 10-point Revelation.
NPC Miracles and Gifts
by Random Nerd (original post)
Whenever an NPC does something interesting with the miracle system, tell your players how it worked in terms of the system. "That's an Affliction that the Power of Martyrs has. Whenever she wants someone to do something risky or inconvenient for her, they automatically know what the stakes are if they decide not to do it." "The Power of Patterns has a divinatory gift that automatically tells him when people mention or write about him, if they don't have an auctoritas strong enough to trump it up." "Caesar*'s transportation Gift works by destroying the room which has the property of containing him and replacing it with a room that does not, or vice versa. That's why it's so weird looking. It probably has other applications that you haven't seen yet."
Sometimes, something will catch a player's fancy, and inspire them to come up with some crazy application of their abilities that you never would have thought of, but that makes perfect sense once they've explained it.