The Nameless World
[Originally designed for the second edition of Nobilis; it should be pretty easy to adapt since there's little rules-specific material.]
A question occasionally appearing has been how to handle other worlds. They’re supposed to be metaphysically different from the Earth, which at least means (1) they have their own True Gods, so they have Estates not present on Earth and don’t have a number of Earthly Estates, and (2) they don’t have the distinction between Prosaic and Mythic Reality that exists here. [In third edition, the second point is still true]
I present an example that I actually used in play. Its function in my game was campaign-specific, but I think it can be adapted to other uses. One thing it's definitely good for is showcasing the Excrucian War, by presenting a world where the other side stands on the brink of victory.
How close? There are exactly nineteen Imperators on the nameless world. It's missing lots of Estates that exist on healthier worlds like Earth: for instance, the Estate of Names is gone. With a single exception, all of the angels, fallen, serpents and wildlords have decided that the world cannot be saved, and departed for other fronts in the war.
I should note that in my game, Estates can be excruciated on one world while surviving elsewhere. My cosmos features a lot of nearly-synonymous, overlapping Estates. There is an example in the GWB [the second-edition rulebook]: Za'afiel, the Angel of Destruction, shares an Estate with Lord Entropy. His Estate of Destruction is either different from Lord Entropy's destruction-without-rebirth or perhaps just broader. In my game, such "synonymous" Estates have slightly different meanings, different flowers and — what is much the same thing — different names in the True Tongue of Heaven.
When an Imperator enChancels on a particular world, their Estates tend to "spread" to the conceptual space near them. Their Estates also develop a close tie to that world, as compared with the rest of Creation. If an Estate is excruciated on a particular world, it knocks a large hole in that world, as reality tries to stretch other Estates to cover the loss. When that is no longer possible, the world tears apart and ceases to exist. In the rest of the universe, the excruciation of an Estate has less severe effects, since the synonymous Estates can take up the slack without very much loss. (Obviously, there will be a point of no return. For example, in my game there were originally seven Angels of Creation, and now they're down to five. The universe can deal with that, but could not afford to lose them all.)
If you've established that things don’t work like that in your game, you can still use the nameless world: just give one of its True Gods the Estate of Isolation and declare that it's been artificially cut off from the rest of the cosmos.
Basics of the World
The world is a sphere hanging in space. It has a much simpler surface geography than the Earth: one hemisphere is basically land, with a mountain spire at the pole lifting far above the icecap. The other is basically ocean: a few inhabitants live on the polar ice, but most of them live on floating islands made of a sort of dense seaweed. Unlike Earth, the nameless world is hollow, a few hundred miles thick. Both hemispheres have several openings into the interior: the incoming ocean water turns into mist partway down and comes billowing out as a sort of cloud fountain.
The nameless world, like all inhabited worlds, generated a few True Gods. Like at least some other worlds, it also generated two native factions of Ymerae, analogous to the Light and the Dark. In the GWB, the world of Dionyl also has such groups, but the other worlds mentioned do not: I deduced that such worlds are a rarity. Since the Light and Dark are directly derived from humanity and their divine spark of creativity, it seemed appropriate that there should be a similar focus here. However, on the nameless world the focus of creative power is not the inhabitants, but the world-machine.
The interior of the planet is filled with a jumble of irregular solids made from a wide variety of materials. The average piece (80%) is basically flat and considerably longer in one dimension than in the other, from a few feet to a few hundred feet. All are in constant motion, careening off each other. The eye can pick out patterned elements in their motion: the higher the Aspect, the more patterns are visible. With the Sight, it is evident that the entire complex of motion is somehow analogous to, or perhaps even generates, most of the patterns of existence on the world. In fact, when an Estate is excruciated (an all too common event), the entire world-machine shudders for an instant, and those of at least Aspect 4 will notice that it resumes at a slightly lower level of complexity.
The inhabitants maintain the world-machine, and continuously make alterations to it. They deflect components at some points, changing their paths and their patterns. They also carve new components and dump them in, whereupon they are caught up in the motions of the machine. In the past, entire new Estates could be generated in this way, by adding new dimensions ofcomplexity. In contemporary times, it is a continuous struggle just to keep the world-machine running. The struggle for existence almost overrides the fundamental distinction between the two visions of its proper functioning: the Wheel and the Dance.
The Wheel dominates the land-civilization of the nameless world. The mortal species here are the nains: humanoids who appear crude, lumpy and almost unfinished (to humans). Without the prosaic/mythic distinction that governs on Earth, their hierarchical society is completely dominated by the Imperators who owe allegiance to the Code of the Wheel. They hold that order is the essence of the world and the world machine:
1. Everything in its place.
2. Things out of place must be repaired or replaced.
3. Anything worth doing is worth doing perfectly.
There are seven surviving Archons of the Wheel. One has stone as an Estate; the other six each have a metal. The mystical meaning of metals is the dominant feature of magic on this world, and permeates nain culture.
The Dance dominates the ocean-civilization of the planet. The principal mortal species on the floating islands are the eleionamae, who appear rather like humanoid sea otters. Their society is more complex than, but just as rigid as the nains' (possibly a consequence of the war), and is similarly dominated by the Archons of the Dance. Their code is:
1. To everything there is a season. Impermanence is inevitable.
2. Things out of season must be withheld or withdrawn. Things out of place must be moved or altered.
3. Since changes and transitions must come, the great thing is to meet them gracefully. The final duty is to die well.
There are ten surviving Archons of the Dance. Each of them is known by a title featuring a flower or color — preferably, a word that serves as both, like the Prince of Six Roses or the Princess of the Violet Chamber.
(You will notice: 1. my imagination does not run along the same lines as the game author’s: while both codes have limited perspective, neither has the dark twist she gives to Heaven and the Light (and the Wild); nor, of course, are they fundamentally evil like the Dark and Hell. 2. The two codes have a clear family resemblance to that fantasy staple, law and chaos. I think they have a sufficient "spin" that they still work aesthetically, and trying to make them alien and hard to comprehend would not IMO make the world function any better as an RPG component.)
The Nameless World Today
The key to playing the nameless world is to remember that it’s full of metaphysical holes. Every time (or at least every other time) you describe an area, try to think of something else that does not appear. Write it down, so you accumulate a list of things the world doesn't have and don't forget any of them. Either the Estate is just gone completely, or other Estates have been "stretched" to cover it. Some examples:
- Sound. This doesn't prevent communication with the inhabitants, who use a sign language; naturally, Nobles can understand it.
- Plants. (of the land: seaweed is a different Estate.)
- Fear. Both eleionamae and nains are inhumanly matter-of-fact about their own impending doom.
- Air. Life still survives on the world only because the Marchessa of Clouds did a Major Change on her Estate and took over the functions of the atmosphere.
- Blades. No knives or edged weapons anywhere, and the idea of cutting is alien.
Obviously, the first two missing Estates means that Deceivers have a rather easier time of it than they do on Earth: it is very difficult to invoke the Truth of the Name upon them. The loss of sound also makes it difficult to communicate with the local nature spirits; the nameless world is almost as seemingly-dead as Prosaic Reality back on Earth.
Visiting the Nameless World
Do not forget that the PCs will bring their Estates with them when they visit this world. Whatever their Estates are, they shouldn't exist on the nameless world. In my game, sunrise astounded the locals, since they weren't used to having a sun. They quickly became so delighted that they spontaneously began to celebrate — something else they couldn't have done, except that the Power of Festivals was visiting.
Nobles entering the world will find themselves at a gate in the land hemisphere, met by agroup of nains with weapons that look rather like crude firearms, and flares to use as signals. The nains are under miraculous influence that has given them a limited version ofThe Sight, but they won't assume that they can tell Nobles from Excrucians.
Two of them,moreover, are Anchors. One will summon the Power who will probably become the PC's guide:
The Baronet of Incomprehension. Aspect 2, Domain 1, Realm 1, Spirit 3. He has a Gift which allows him to perform miracles destroying his own Incomprehension at will: conversations with him are punctuated by lots of little bursts of miraculous power as he uses his Gift to follow a discussion that keeps bringing up concepts alien to his life and world.
Although he serves the Lead Archon of the Wheel, the Baronet himself follows the Code of the Dance. This creates a certain tension which would be more important if the world weren't already doomed anyway, and it does let him see both sides of their disagreement.He would be scornful of those who continue to argue Codes in the face of annihilation, but he doesn't really think that even combined action could save the world-machine any longer. He is fairly well-informed about the remaining defenders of the world. He does not know very much about the Excrucians, but can say that among those present on the world are a full Strategist, at least one full Deceiver, and three full Warmains.
The Baronet has no name, since his enNoblement postdates the excruciation of that Estate. He is a nain who appears to be made of lead. His Imperator is the Lead Archon of the Wheel; such altered appearance is standard for powers in service to Archons of the Wheel. When he inhabits one of his Anchors, they also change to a leaden appearance.
When events seem to be slowing down, have an Estate perish. There's a world-wide shudder (it may be best to choose a moment when the players can see the world-machine), and something disappears. In my game, it was doors: everything changes to open archways. The Baronet and other Powers know what happened, but any nains or other mortals can't tell the difference, and no longer understand the concept that's gone.
I didn't make a list of them, and there's no real reason you should do so. Leaving it vague also means you don't have to worry about forgetting some Estate which ought to exist. Just be sure to keep lists of Archons & their Estates, right next to your list of Estates which don't exist any longer.
In my game, the Prince of Six Roses was a Mimic. He was encouraging the conclusion that the war for the nameless world was lost, and there was no longer any point to struggling. Dissolution is, after all, part of the natural order of things. (Although, on the contrary, there's the argument that excruciation preserves lost Estates *forever* inside the Excrucians — a deeply unnatural idea to the Dance.) Uncovering the Mimic is a good excuse for having the Excrucians launch their Final Attack, if you need one.
There used to be quite a number of True Gods on the nameless world. But their numbers have been winnowed down, and now there are only two:
The Old One (female) the ocean, fossilization [dead flesh or plant matter turns rapidly to stone of different types when immersed in water], any Estates you’ve established as belonging to True Gods of Earth that you want to exist on the nameless world.
The Slow One (male) seaweed islands, asymptotic aging [rather than dying of old age, most life just begins to slow down], rockflows [stone turns fluid under some circumstances, without heating up] and stubbornness. The latter two can easily be traded out for isolation, or variations of Earthly Estates.
There is exactly one outside Imperator who still resides on the nameless world, a fairly potent angel: Tromiel, the Prince of the Jade Tower, Celestial Imperator of Authority, Compassion, and Jade. Tromiel lives in a tapering jade tower on the seashore, which is enveloped in a green light that has the effect of a Bright Warding. [This prevents the approach of Excrucians or any being in their direct service.] Tromiel's tower is the center of the remaining forces in the Valde Bellum, continuously populated by a number of Powers and mortal who are stoically planning how to extend their defeat another day.
If your players are anything like mine, they will find a martyr angel suspicious on its face. They are not wrong: Tromiel does have an ulterior motive. But he's not working against the nameless world or Creation in general. Rather, he is remaining at his post until the world finally breaks apart. As the world dies, the walls of the jade tower will crumble away, leaving three great tilted pillars which glow more brightly than ever. They will absorb the celestial essence of beauty which is still present in the world and send it back to Heaven through Tromiel himself. If all goes well, the angel himself will also return to the Brightest Realm. But even if he perishes with the world, Tromiel believes the Excrucians will not be able to forge a new Abhorrent Weapon from the essence of the destroyed world, if they don't have any shards of heavenly creativity to distort.
So What Happens?
Well, that depends on your purpose in sending the PCs to the nameless world in the first place: it may be as simple as witnessing the death of a world. It can add an element of urgency to the defense of the Earth, when you see what defeat looks like.
In my game, the PCs had devised a plan to forge an "Exalted Weapon," similar to the Abhorrent Weapons but allied to Creation. They'd discovered why some previous attempts would not have worked, and recruited two Imperators, Light and Dark, to do the actual forging. But they needed the heart of a world, too, and the Nameless World was one of only three they found that might work. The plot arc ended with the PCs spending MPs like water in an attempt to hold off the final Excrucian assault just long enough for Askelon and Domitian to complete the forging. (They also had to topple Tromiel's pillars: the celestial essence was part of what they needed.)
They also petitioned the Council of Four to evacuate the remaining inhabitants of the Nameless World to Earth, a possibility which is perhaps of more general interest. 17 new Imperators are a significant benefit to the defenses of any world, if not in any sense a war-winner.
It's probably not possible to save the nameless world at this late date. But with sufficient understanding, and a major source of creative power, it might just be possible to bring them a fix for the world-machine that's prepared somewhere else, where the Excrucians aren't on the lookout for it.
(originally posted to the Nobilis Mailing List)