Nobilite

Created 17 Mar 2018 • Last modified 1 May 2018

The rules and player's guide for a simplified version of Nobilis, a tabletop RPG about being the god of a thing or concept.

Introduction

Nobilite is a diceless tabletop RPG that seeks to capture the same basic ideas as Jenna K. Moran's Nobilis (3rd ed.), but with a vastly simplified ruleset. If you're already familiar with Nobilis, see the last section for a brief description of what's been removed or changed. The rest of this document presumes no prior knowledge of Nobilis on the part of players, although gamemasters (GMs) should probably be familiar with the style, philosophy, and cosmology of Nobilis 3e (or 2e, if they prefer). Some other simplified versions of Nobilis I know of are I Am Nobilis (based on 3e) and Lisa Brown's Nobilis 101 (based on 2e).

What Nobilite is about

In the world of Nobilite (like Nobilis), you play as a mortal turned immortal, a once-ordinary human (or dog, or refrigerator) endowed with the divine essence of a thing. That thing—your Estate—could be anything: Fire, Bathtubs, Strength, Lions, Dragons, Forbidden Love, Baseball, Romantic Comedies, White Privilege, Soy Boys, Logistic Regression, or even a proper noun like Star Wars or the FitnessGram® PACER test. You'll protect your Estate from enemies ranging from the abstract to the concrete, and wield its power to change the world, shake up divine politics, fulfill your dreams, or just screw around and get in trouble like in every other RPG. The tone of a game of Nobilite ideally captures the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges, H. P. Lovecraft, and Looney Tunes all unrecognizably mushed together. (Nobilis is also inspired by anime, but I don't particularly like anime, so yeah.)

The world of Nobilite

Here are the chief things you should be aware of now that you're a god.

  • That which is mundane or mortal is the non-divine and non-miraculous. So, everything you knew up till now.
  • Nobles are mortals made immortal, like yourself. Each Noble has one Estate, the thing that the Noble is master of. Nobles are also called Powers, and may be called "the Power of [Estate]"; hence, the Noble whose Estate is Treachery is called "the Power of Treachery".
  • Imperators are older, stronger, and more mysterious gods than Nobles. Each Imperator has several Estates, say 3 to 10, usually without a common theme, Imperators can en-Noble mortals into Nobles, usually one for each Estate. A single Imperator's family of Nobles is called a Familias. Imperators use Nobles as shock troops, spies, diplomats, meat-shields, etc. Imperators have limitations that prevent them from actively participating in the mortal world the way mortals and Nobles can. Also, most Imperators don't watch their Nobles very closely. They have better things to do, supposedly. So you have a lot of freedom.
  • Chancels are alternate dimensions that each house and are ruled over by a single Imperator. They often serve as a headquarters and safehouse for the Imperator's Familias.
  • Creation includes the mundane world as mortals know it, Chancels, and many other mysterious and magical places. The existence of a Creator is a controversial question.
  • Excrucians are invaders from outside Creation whose ultimate goal is to undermine Creation and its constituents. Each of them is, in its own strange way, deeply wrong, although it might not be evil in mortal terms, the same way that not all Imperators are good. Excrucians and Imperators have collectively been at war with each other for a very long time. When Excrucians are running amok in Creation, guess who has to deal with them? That's right, Nobles.
  • Actuals aren't worth worrying about. After all, it's not as if anything could prepare you for them. Forget I mentioned them.

A word of advice: the world is teeming with powerful beings, from Nobles to Imperators to Excrucians, each with its own agenda. If you use your powers to do something extraordinarily drastic, even by divine standards, like exterminating the entire human race with one miracle, you could attract a lot of unwanted attention. Such behavior is called hubris and is widely advised against. Even Yahweh, who acts like He owns the place, was careful to spare two of each animal when He flooded the entire world. A large number of divine beings dogpiling you could easily overpower you.

Turn-taking

By default, play proceeds by the players freely saying what they want to do, and the GM describing what happens. Sometimes, several characters all want to act at once and the order matters, like in a fight. In this case, the first characters who get to act are those whose players spoke first. Then, players (and the GM, representing NPCs) take turns going around the table clockwise. On your turn, you can cast two miracles and do one mundane thing, like closing a door or starting a car. When it's not your turn, you can do some simple things, like talking, and you can upcast or sustain existing miracles (see "Miracles" below), but you can't cast new miracles. Generally, miracles targeting another character resolve on the target's turn, giving them an opportunity to defend with a miracle of their own.

Character statistics

Here are the primary defining features of a Noble:

  • Estate: The thing you're the Power of. It can be pretty much anything.
  • Estate Properties: 3 to 8 descriptive features of your Estate that you can exploit for metaphor-based miracles. For example, the Estate of Water might have Properties like "Water deforms to match its container", "Water can be split into parts without changing its nature" , "Water is refreshing", and "Water is necessary for life". The Power of Water can then make things refreshing or split things into parts without changing their nature. On the other hand, the definitional character of Estate Properties means that they function as avenues of attack for those who would undermine you or your Estate. If it stops being the case that water is refreshing, the Estate of Water, and hence the Power of Water, could be in trouble.
  • Wounds: How you've been hurt, physically or figuratively. You start without any wounds. Each wound has a description (e.g., "stabbed in the thigh") and an amount of damage (an integer, at least 1). One way to get wounded is in physical combat. Something that would hurt a human, like being stabbed, does 1 damage (to a Noble with no special defense, anyway). Something that would seriously injure if not kill a human, like getting shot, does 2 damage. Something that would be complete overkill against a human, like getting nuked from orbit, does 3 damage. In other kinds of conflict, you get wounded in other ways. In a courtroom, you could take a wound when the jury sees a convincing piece of evidence against your case. In a rap battle, you could take a wound when you can't think of a good comeback to a powerful burn. When the total damage of all your wounds equals or exceeds 3, you lose the current conflict. How you lose the conflict (e.g., dying, being humiliated) and how you cure wounds (e.g., miracles of healing, having a stiff drink) depends on the situation. Since you're a god and you're interacting with other gods, mere bodily death is unlikely to stop you for long.
  • Miracle points (MP): Stores of divine energy you can expend to cast more powerful miracles than usual. You start with 10, and that's your maximum. They're restored by resting and recuperating from conflict (and typically, the GM fully restores your MP at the end of a session).
  • Attributes (Aspect and Domain): Your inherent ability to cast miracles. You start with 0 to 5 in each of the two attributes, and the number doesn't usually change. You can spend MP to effectively raise an attribute for the purpose of casting a single miracle.
  • Gifts: Miscellaneous additional divine abilities, not unlike feats in Dungeons and Dragons. You can buy them during character creation to get abilities unrelated to your Estate, or to enable narrow uses of an attribute level without paying the full cost for that attribute.

Basic Noble perks

Merely by virtue of being a Noble, regardless of your attributes, MP, and Gifts, you:

  1. Have at least humanlike intelligence, even if you didn't as a mortal (because, e.g., you're a dog).
  2. Can always cast miracles, even when sick, drunk, tired, asleep, paralyzed, mind-controlled, turned into a chicken, or dead (presuming that you're only mostly dead).
  3. Can usually, when threatened with imminent harm (whether mundane or miraculous), choose to cast a miracle in reaction, even if this would require superhuman reaction time. In other words, you can cast a miracle to protect yourself from a bullet without casting another miracle just to ensure you have a chance to react to a sudden gunshot.
  4. Have a Danger Sense that tells you when your Estate is in danger. Real, serious danger that threatens the Estate itself, mind you. Danger Sense wouldn't tell the Power of Elephants that somebody somewhere kicked an elephant in the shin, but it would probably tell him if the African Union announced a campaign to exterminate elephants, or if an Excrucian is in the process of erasing elephants from existence or corrupting them into something distinctly unelephantine. (Besides, if a major international organization announces an elephant extermination campaign, chances are an Excrucian is involved, anyway.)
  5. Have the Sight, a passive ability allowing you to recognize mundane things that are highly relevant to your Estate. The Power of Elephants can recognize ivory or eminent zoologists who study elephants. The Power of Strength can recognize strong building materials or generals of powerful armies.

Miracles

Miracles are things you can do that mortals can't. Imperators and Excrucians use miracles, too. You don't have a fixed list of miracles you can cast like the spells in a Dungeons and Dragons wizard's spellbook. On the contrary, you can do practically anything. Just figure out the right attribute and miracle level, then cough up enough MP to perform that miracle (if any are necessary) plus any extra MP to defeat a contrary miracle.

Miracles are organized into two attributes:

  • Aspect miracles perform physical and mental feats that are at least analogous to those of mortals, like running fast, punching orcs, tying knots, and writing computer programs. They need not be related to your Estate.
  • Domain miracles grant you mastery over literal instances of your Estate. You can communicate with them, strengthen and weaken them, create and destroy them, and alter them. What's more, using your Estate Properties, you can affect anything (not just instances of your Estate) with a metaphorical sort of logic. For example, if the Power of Paper chose a Property "Paper comes from trees", then he can make things come from trees.

You can use a miracle of a given attribute up to your level in that attribute without spending MP. Past that, you have to spend 1 MP per point of the deficit.

Contrary miracles

Most of the time, miracles just work. They tend to steamroll over any direct opposition by mortals. The trouble is when two miracles are directly incompatible: for example, one character is using a miracle to knock down a building and another character is using a miracle to keep the same building standing.

You can sustain one of your miracles to counteract such a contrary miracle. A sustained miracle beats any unsustained miracle. If both miracles are sustained, the one of greater level wins. If both miracles are sustained and at equal levels, an intermediate effect will occur, or if this is impossible, the miracles will cancel each other out. Sustaining takes no extra MP or effort beyond what's required for creating the miracle, but you can only sustain one miracle at a time.

You can upcast a miracle to a higher level than necessary to get the effect you want, possibly spending MP just to do this, in order to defeat a miracle that somebody else is sustaining. If you already spent MP on this miracle, you only need to pay the difference. The GM will generally assume that you upcast all your miracles to at least your attribute level, since doing so is free and there's rarely a reason not to. Since you don't know the exact level of an enemy miracle in advance, and it doesn't take time to upcast, the usual procedure is to upcast one MP at a time until the GM tells you it's enough, you run out, or you decide it's not worth spending more. Even if you fail to surpass the enemy miracle, your expenditure might at least force your enemy to spend MP on upcasting their own miracle to protect it.

Varieties of miracle

The following subsections review what sort of miracles you can do with which level of the two attributes. Notice that not every level has an entry, and some levels have more than one entry.

Aspect

  • 1: Enhanced Performance: Perform a physical or mental feat for which you have no mundane competence at a professional, specialized level. Perform a surgery as well as a trained surgeon, or run as fast as a professional sprinter.
  • 2: Pulp Heroism: Perform a physical or mental feat at the peak of human ability. Paint like Rembrandt, do math like Gauss, punch like Mike Tyson, or eat like Tarrare.
  • 3: Inhuman Perfection: Do superhuman feats, readily breaking world records and the limits of mortal ability. Outrun a car, pick up a car, leap over tall buildings in a single bound, see a slightly off-color grain of sand, find 300-digit prime numbers in your head.
  • 5: Divine Force: Do outrageous feats. Outrun a bullet, lift Manhattan out of the sea, or read and understand every book in a library inside of a second.
  • 6: Unstoppable Power: Surpass any real quantitative limit. Here's where you can outrun a laser, send Mars crashing into the Earth (not recommended), or mentally simulate an entire planet at the atomic level.
  • 7: Fairy-Tale Feat: Do things that would be blatantly unreasonable except in tall tales and fairy tales. Siphon a lake into a thimble, prove that 1 = 0, literally eat your words, literally punch a guy into next week. But you can't affect a volume beyond a 10-mile-radius sphere or so.
  • 8: World-Shaking Skill: As "Fairy-Tale Feat", but with no range limit.

Domain

  • 1: Ghost Miracle: Summon something of your Estate in a way that's not very impressive or effective. The Power of Fire could light a cigarette.
  • 1: Blessing or Curse: Give something an Estate Property in a way that's not very impressive or effective. The Power of Fire could make someone's anger burn a little hotter.
  • 2: Divination: Know things about instances of your Estate. The Power of Cats knows what breed a cat is, how old it is, and what it likes to eat. The Power of Strength knows how strong a person is.
  • 2: Conversation: Talk to an instance of your Estate. Yes, everything can talk, so long as you have the right miracle for it. You can ask the thing about what it knows or has observed, or try to persuade it to change its behavior. You can convince a gun to misfire or the sun to hurry up a bit.
  • 2: Possession: Take control of an instance of your Estate. You can see and hear from it regardless of its sense organs, which is handy for possessing inanimate objects, like rocks. You can cast miracles from it instead of from your own body.
  • 3: Fortification: Make something tougher, more potent, more intense, or longer-lasting. The Power of Food can make a pizza hotter or tastier. The Power of Armor can make armor stronger.
  • 4: Summoning: Create an instance of your Estate to taste. The Power of Police can make cops and cop cars. The Power of Love can make people fall in love.
  • 4: Animation: Bring an instance of your Estate to life or make it move according to your will. The Power of Paintings can make a painting real. The Power of Furniture can do a convincing poltergeist impression by making furniture fly around a house.
  • 4: Enchantment: Give something an Estate Property. The Power of Sharks with the Property "Sharks are frightening" can make a toaster frightening, or with the Property "Sharks need to keep moving to survive" can curse a man to a nomadic existence.
  • 5: Destruction: Destroy an instance of your Estate, in whole or in part. The Power of Strength can make something weak.
  • 5: Transmutation: Change one instance of your Estate into another. The Power of Bears can turn a juvenile male polar bear into an adult female grizzly.
  • 5: Sacrifice: The opposite of enchantment: take an Estate Property away from something. The Power of the Internet with the Property "The Internet is endlessly fascinating" can make a building with a secret hideout in it boring and beneath notice.
  • 6: Modification: Modify an instance of your Estate. The Power of Bears could make a bear have two heads or speak French.

In addition, by casting a Domain miracle (other than a ghost miracle, blessing, or curse) at a level at least 3 higher than necessary, you can get a "greater" version of that miracle that allows for much more powerful effects and a much larger scope. For example, the Power of Rivers can cast a level-5 miracle of greater possession to possess every river in the world simultaneously, or a level-6 miracle of greater fortification to make rapids powerful enough to carve a hole through a mountain at full speed. Two special notes about greater Domain miracles:

  • A level-5 miracle of greater divination can use instances of the Estate to spy on other things. For example, the Power of Staplers can see what every stapler in the world is seeing.
  • A level-9 miracle of greater modification can, in theory, contradict your Estate Properties. The Power of Fire with a Property "Fire is hot" can make it so that fire is cold instead. But doing this entails undermining your Estate itself and hence is extremely dangerous.

Gifts

Gifts are additional perks you can buy during character creation. You can get any number of them, including none, but each has a cost in character points (CP). More useful or powerful Gifts cost more. What you could accomplish with a Gift could generally also be accomplished with an ordinary miracle, but Gifts are more narrow in use than having an attribute of the corresponding level, while also costing fewer CP.

You can pick Gifts from the list below or dream up your own Gift and ask the GM to decide how much it should cost (GMs, consult Field Guide to the Powers for costing tips). Some other ideas can be found at http://nobilis.me/gifts and http://www.mygurps.com/nobilis/everything.shtml. Each Gift is listed with its cost and, when applicable, its effective miracle level for the resolution of contrary miracles (you can sustain any number of Gifts, unlike ordinary miracles, but if you want to spend MP to upcast a Gift, it then counts against your one-sustained-miracle limit).

Feel free to flavor these sample gifts as you like. For example, the Flight gift could take the form of wings, a jetpack, a broom, or just floating through the air, and the Durant gift could take the form of iron skin or a Wolverine-like healing factor.

  • Automaton (1 CP, lvl 4): You don't need to sleep, breathe, eat, or drink, and you don't age.
  • Durant (1 CP, lvl 3): You're highly resistant to physical violence. The damage of such wounds is reduced by 1 (wounds that would do 1 damage don't affect you).
  • Adamant (3 CP, lvl 5): As Durant, but with a damage reduction of 2. Being thrown into the sun would really hurt, but it takes a lot more than that to kill you.
  • Unstoppable (6 CP, lvl 6): You're immune to physical violence, permanent imprisonment, banishment, curses, pretty much anything that would harm or hinder you.
  • Alternate Form (1 CP, lvl 4): You have one or a handful of alternate forms (e.g., a spirit animal) you can change to or from. You can apply this partway: for example, if your alternate form is a wolf, you can give yourself a wolf's teeth.
  • Shapeshifting (2 CP, lvl 5): As Alternate Form, but you can turn into any living thing.
  • Formless (3 CP, lvl 6): As Alternate Form, but you can turn into anything, from a mountain to a memory.
  • Flight (1 CP, lvl 3): You can fly at up to 100 mph.
  • Invisibility (1 CP, lvl 5): You can turn invisible and back at will.
  • Glorious (2 CP, lvl 6): You have divine charisma that lets you become "so beautiful no one would ever hurt you" or "so terrifying you could rout an army".
  • Bag of Many Things (3 CP, lvl 4): You can withdraw any mundane object, up to the size of an elephant, from your pocket.
  • Tongues (1 CP, lvl 4): You can speak, understand, read, and write any language, even secret languages and programming languages. You can also communicate with animals.
  • Religion (1 CP): Things dedicated to you (e.g., human worshipers, sacrifices made to you, monuments built in honor of you) count as part of your Estate for the purpose of Domain miracles. Once you've established enough of a religion for the things dedicated to you to have something like Estate Properties, you can use those Properties as well.
  • Ego (1 CP, lvl 5): You know whenever somebody refers to you by name or with an image.
  • Discern Lies (1 CP, lvl 2): When somebody speaks to you, you can tell when they knowingly tell a falsehood.
  • Perfect Timing (5 CP, lvl 7): You can arrive on time to events, or complete timely actions, even when it would be impossible. This can involve time travel and the defiance of causality except that you can't interfere too blatantly with your own past states or past actions.
  • Divine Strength (1 CP, lvl 3): You have the strength of a thousand men.
  • Divine Sense (1 CP, lvl 5): One of your senses, such as sight or smell, is supernaturally acute.
  • Divine Speed (2 CP, lvl 5): You can sprint up to Mach 10 (7,000 mph).
  • Sacred Weapon (2 CP, lvl 6): You can cut, pierce, or smash pretty much any physical object, as a level-6 Aspect miracle.
  • Luck (1 CP, lvl 4): You're just plain lucky. Not so lucky as to arouse suspicion that you're a god of luck, but certainly enough to be unfair.
  • Probability Manipulation (4 CP, lvl 4): You can freely alter the probability of chance events around you. You can roll natural 20s every time, or make every gun aimed at you misfire.

Flaws

You can also buy Gifts that are detrimental, and hence cost negative CP. So that they can't easily be bypassed, all detrimental Gifts have an effective miracle level of 7.

  • Honesty (-1 CP): You can't knowingly tell a lie.
  • Courtesy (-1 CP): You can't enter a residence that isn't yours without being invited by a proper resident.
  • Argentophobia (-1 CP): Your miracles, including Gifts, can't affect silver or anything made out of silver.
  • Pacifism (-2 CP): You can't physically harm any animal that's larger than a mouse (if a creature's shape has been miraculously changed, the rule applies to its original form), nor any divine being.
  • Genie (-2 CP): If a mortal tells you a wish, you have to fulfill it to the best of your ability.
  • Demon (-2 CP): By saying a certain phrase, other beings, including mortals, can summon you to their presence. Furthermore, neither you nor your miracles can cross the bounding sphere of an unbroken pentagram.

Creating a character

Here's how to make a new character:

  1. Decide what you were before you were en-Nobled. Were you a mild-mannered New York reporter with a dream of making it big in stand-up comedy? Or were you a cranky old rice farmer in rural China who once secretly witnessed a horrific crime? Or were you a taco truck?
  2. Choose your Estate and its Properties. See http://nobilis.me/estates for a big list of ideas. Your Estate need not have any special relationship to your previous nature as a mortal. Your divine and mortal natures could be a clear match (e.g., a banker becoming the Power of Money), an ironic combination (e.g., a soldier becoming the Power of Peace), or an odd couple (e.g., an architect becoming the Power of Dogs). Note that Estates can be more powerful than they sound. The Power of Blankets has eyes everywhere and can strangle people in their sleep. I once had some players who nearly got themselves killed by underestimating the Power of Pigeons.
  3. Buy attributes and Gifts. You have 25 character points (CP) to spend. Each point of Aspect costs 3 CP and each point of Domain costs 4 CP (remember that each attribute starts at 0, not 1, and is capped at 5). The CP costs of Gifts vary. Can't decide how to spend some of your CP? Put them aside and say that your character isn't starting the campaign with full knowledge of their own power. Spend the CP later between sessions or at a dramatically appropriate moment.

Sample characters

  • Carlos Terrazas, Power of the Sea
    • Background: A Spanish zoologist who studies cephalopods. He's passionate about his work, but he envies the rugged manliness of the sailors of bygone days.
    • Estate Properties
      • The sea supports life.
      • The sea is vast and terrible.
      • The sea is dark and full of danger.
      • The sea envelops the earth.
      • The sea facilitates trade and travel.
      • The sea is influenced by the moon.
    • Aspect 4
    • Domain 2
    • Gifts
      • Adamant (3 CP, lvl 5)
      • Alternate Form (1 CP, lvl 4): You can change into a squid, shark, or whale.
      • Flight (1 CP, lvl 3)
  • Chrysanthemum Leroy, Power of Destiny
    • Background: A Minneapolis teenager. She wants to be a reporter, but her school newspaper turned her down because she's actually a pretty crummy writer. She's more interested in talking to people and hearing their stories.
    • Estate Properties
      • Destiny is just.
      • Destiny is inescapable.
      • Destiny is pitiless.
      • Destiny is all-encompassing.
    • Aspect 0
    • Domain 5
    • Gifts
      • Automaton (1 CP, lvl 4)
      • Invisibility (1 CP, lvl 5)
      • Glorious (2 CP, lvl 6)
      • Tongues (1 CP, lvl 4)
  • Laurence, Power of Owls
    • Background: An adult male great horned owl that lives in the Catskill Mountains.
    • Estate Properties
      • Owls are wise.
      • Owls are uncanny.
      • Owls have acute senses.
      • Owls strike before their prey knows what hit it.
    • Aspect 1
    • Domain 4
    • Gifts
      • Shapeshifting (2 CP, lvl 5)
      • Shadow Walker (3 CP, lvl 5): You can merge into a shadow or patch of darkness, becoming invisible and intangible, and you can exit from a different shadow or darkness anywhere within 10 miles.
      • Discern Lies (1 CP, lvl 2)

Differences from Nobilis

The chief ways in which Nobilite simplifies Nobilis are:

  • Players are expected to know much less of the setting.
  • Players don't design their Imperators or Chancel. The GM does this instead.
  • All the rules for mundane things are gone (except for a few ways in which miracles interact with mundane things). Just follow the fiction. Mundane actions are less important in Nobilite than in Nobilis, anyway, thanks to the removal of Auctoritas.
  • There's no Treasure attribute. Get magic items etc. as Gifts instead. This leaves Nobles without access to Imperial Miracles, but honestly, do they really need them?
  • There's no Persona attribute. Miracles of incarnation, enchantment, and sacrifice are cast with Domain instead. To compensate, Domain costs a bit more than the other remaining attribute, Aspect.
  • There's no Divine Mantle, Auctoritas, or Strike. The only way to beat a sustained miracle in direct conflict is with a higher-powered miracle. On the flipside, you only need to sustain a miracle in order to prevent it from being negated by an equal or lower-level miracle; otherwise, the miracle takes care of itself.
  • There are no Bonds or Afflictions.
  • Wounds come in only one kind, with a numerical damage rating. In place of losing health levels, Nobles just lose a conflict when they receive 3 damage. Nobles in Nobilite are by default somewhat less tough than in Nobilis: the equivalent of a Deadly Wound is enough to kill you. However, there's no rule that forces a PC to become an NPC the way that Nobilis makes this happen when a Power loses all their health levels; such events come about through the fiction instead. All that running out of hit points requires is that you lose the present conflict, just like in Risus when a cliché is drained to 0.
  • Each Noble has a single pool of MP instead of one pool for each attribute.
  • MP isn't a meta-currency like Fate's fate points or Savage Worlds' bennies. You don't gain it as a reward for good roleplaying or as compensation for a character flaw or something.
  • There are no Projects. All the cool kids use Chuubo's quest system instead, anyway.
  • There are no Rites.
  • HGs are called GMs, because there's enough wacky terms of art for people to keep track of.

Some rules are likely worth keeping in Nobilite in some form (e.g., how Imperial Miracles work) but aren't written here because players don't need them, just the GM.