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The Nobilis Roleplaying Game

Collecting the Nobilis RPG is pretty straightforward, because there were so few books produced. Buying the coffee table book known as “The Great White Book” is where most of your investment will be. Serious collectors of the great and important roleplaying games are going to want to have their hands on Nobilis.

What Is Nobilis?

Nobilis is a diceless roleplaying game produced by Pharos Press in 1999. The game was written by Jenna K. Moran, though she wrote it under the pseudonym R. Sean Borgstrom. Though Nobilis has attained cult classic status, the game was not supported and never produced a supplement. It did have a second edition from Hogshead Press and a LARP edition, while Eos Press is now trying to revive the game.

The Nobilis RPG

Besides facing the pitfalls of being published by a smaller game publishing company, Nobilis suffered from a marketing problem when it came out.

When I first saw the book in my local Hastings in the late 1990s, I first thought, “There’s an art book in the middle of the roleplaying games.” Then I flipped through it and realized it was a roleplaying game–a rather wordy one. With hundreds of pages of words and without a lot of artwork, my short attention span tended to dismiss the game, but I flipped through it several times on succeeding trips to Hastings.

Reading further, there were elements that reminded me of the Amber Diceless Roleplaying I’d enjoyed so much earlier in the decade. But it was hard to grok on one or two flip-throughs, and some of the terminology (gamemaster equals “Hollyhock God”) made me roll my eyes and invoke the word “pretentious”. Then there was the fact that the Great White Book was the size of a coffee-table book, and wouldn’t even fit on my game shelf. So it’s not hard to see why the game wasn’t a huge commercial success.

Why Nobilis Rules

Of course, none of that has anything to do with the game itself, which is consistently listed as a favorite by RPG fans. The game does borrow a lot of ideas from the Amber Diceless RPG, and that’s a good thing. Players take on the roles of “sovereign powers”, humans who take on the roles of demigods (“nobles”) working for a higher authority (essentially a true immortal). Each player represents one concept, whether that concept is war, death, flowers, music, candy, Internet trolls, whatever. Imagine Amber crossed with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and you get an idea what this game is about.

Nobilis uses a point-based character creation process, so there’s nothing random about character makeup. The player group decides what broad type of immortal who is their patron (angelic, demonic, light, dark, nature). Characters have four basic attributes, which include a physical characteristic, control over your concept, conventional magic powers, and control over otherworldly resources (which is better than it sounds). Miracle points help you boost any of these for a time, but run out quickly, so they must be used only for the important actions. You live and work in the modern world, and your opponents tend to be the nobles of other immortals or the Excrucians–who are strange beings who want to destroy everything (think Lovecraftian horrors). It’s a great setting, if you can get your hands on a rulebook.

Nobilis: The Great White Book

The Great White Book has been mentioned before, but let me add that the cover has a neo-classical sculpture on the front “Sphinx Mysterieux” by Charles Van Der Stappen, if you want to see what you’re looking for. It’s a marble bust depicting a lovely woman wearing a bronze helm–if you don’t.

You’ll find this book selling for $100 to $200 on eBay, but this is the sum total of Nobilis roleplaying, so take the big upfront cost against the fact you don’t have to buy a bunch of supplements. The Hogshead 2nd Edition book is found more often than the 1st Edition by Pharos. You’ll see Guardians of Order also mentioned at times, because they took over publication when Hogshead went out of business in 2003. Watch out that you’re not getting the French language version, which has the same cover.

Nobilis: Game of Powers

The Game of Powers book is the 2002 LARP version of Nobilis, also produced by Hogshead. This book contains dynamic rules for playing Nobilis as a live action roleplaying game, though they can also be used as tabletop rules. An introductory adventure called “Heaven’s Gate” is also included. This book sells for about one-third or one-quarter the price of the Great White Book.

Nobilis: Field Guide for Powers

Eos Publishing is trying to resurrect the Nobilis game line as of 2011. A pdf version of Nobilis Third Edition has been released as Nobilis Essentials, while the third edition rulebook is called A Field Guide for Powers. This book should come out in print form sometime in 2011.

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