Bruce Baugh From The Nobilis Hype Demon

I disbelieve in the distinction between style and content. All prose has style, and there is nothing innately natural about prose that lacks metaphor and imagery or which affects an attitude of detachment. That is as much a style, a cultivated attitude about and approach to, prose as is highly allusive and effusive presentation. Further, there's a difference between clean presentation with simple structure and understated rhetoric and just plain dull prose. The choice of style fits together seamlessly with the choice of content - change the style and you change how people percieve the data, which in turn changes the data. There is no content apart from style.

Gaming writing is a form of technical writing, really - it's documentation, instructions for playing the game. To that end, the game book should help you understand the nature of the setting, how the rules work, and what you need to know to play a character who fits the setting. This is where I think more detached prose actually fails to be good documentation, because it provides insufficient cues about the experience of living and acting within the setting.

In this regard I think that, for instance, Mystic China is a better game book than GURPS China, even though GURPS China has more value as a general reference work. I find the GURPS rules preferable to the Palladium system (by a wide margin, in fact), but Mystic China has much, much more to say about what characters do and how actual individuals adventuring and otherwise carrying on think and feel - what they know, what they hope and fear, what they understand and are baffled by.

Nobilis is a game about characters who live in the midst of myth - these are the beings whose actions shape the world behind the scene. It's appropriate for the prose to carry a strong texture of exuberant, extravagant expression, full of extended metaphors and analogies, digressions, allusions, strange connections, and the like. The Nobilis no longer think or feel quite the way we do, and their world has a constant element of transformation in it, of frames of reference shifting from stability through alienation to integration on unfamiliar terms. I think that Rebecca's prose serves that purpose beautifully.

She and I can both work in other styles. Check out Adventure for my sense of what's appropriate for pulp and Ultimate Fan Guide: Serial Experiments Lain for, um, whatever it is that Lain is and the Clan Lasombra Trilogy for anti-human vampires. Or see the demons in Exalted: Games of Divinity for how she writes in a quite different mythology. But the style of Nobilis is how she thinks of the setting of Nobilis, and upon due reflection I decided that she was quite right about it. I helped her with grammar, moving some passive voice to active, sorting through some problems with referents, reorganizing some pieces, and like that. The differences are small but add up, I think, making one of the best manuscripts I've ever read more fully what she intended it to be.

It may be worth noting that in the guidelines for authors of Nobilis supplements I specifically instruct the authors not to try to write like Rebecca. Only one person can do that, to the best of my knowledge, and the world needs no Rebecca pastiches. I encourage authors to express themselves in a way that is as distinctly their own voice as Rebecca's is hers. I think it's working, too.

A lot of this comes down to differing standards of what constitutes "information". I believe that any detail which may illuminate part of the setting or how its inhabitants think about it constitutes information. In many ways, indeed, small self-contained bits and entertaining side trips into obscure corners are particularly useful, by showing what kinds of things characters think about, what sorts of things they do when left to their own devices. The sort of information that a gazetteer or encyclopedia would provide is the skeleton of the setting, but beyond those data are many more, and these "quality of life" issues are the ones most likely to go neglected in more detached prose. As I said above, I think that omission makes the work less successful as a gaming tool, whatever its other merits.

It's also true that highly pronounced style sends clues to the casual browser. Someone who dislikes the aesthetics of the prose style will probably dislike the aesthetics and ethics of the world and/or rules, too, while someone hooked by initial sampling is likely to continue to enjoy it. Nobilis is very much of a piece in that regard - if you like part of it, you usually like pretty much all of it, and vice versa. This is another way in which I think the prose serves the creator's intent, and feel that a more generic prose would neither suit the work nor serve readers so well.

Nobilis is a highly distinctive work. It will never become the standard or reference mark in game creation - it will not spawn a legion of imitators, nor will it start outselling all other RPGs. I feel that it works best the way it is, and were I given the chance to reedit it, I would make only quite minor changes. People who want something else will never lack for a supply of games that are not like Nobilis - including some created by Rebecca and me, since we don't think all games should be like Nobilis either. It's just that we think there should be one game like this, to wit, this one.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License