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I want to try running a game of Nobilis but just character creation takes hours and the system itself is extremely different than what my friends are used to playing. (They tend to either play D&D or WoD.) Is there something I can do to make the character creation easier and make the system look less complex?

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Emphasize the Differences

Nobilis, as you've noted is a very different game than almost any other game. As it's been a while, I guess you've probably already figured this out, but this may be of help to someone else. It's important to manage expectations up front with Nobilis. Players who are used to rolling dice are going to have a severe disconnect to a game that doesn't use them (ask me how I know).

The basic pitch goes like this:

  • You're a god, basically, so you can do whatever you want, and even at ability level 0, you're already about as good as a dedicated practitioner (For reference, Aspect 0 is about as good as a black belt).
  • You always perform at least as good as your ability level. Through effort, you can do more. There's limits to what you can do (I think it's your ability level +8, if memory serves), but those limits are pretty high.
  • Think "the sky's the limit." Be creative. You don't have a list of what you're capable of, by and large. You have to be able to think on the fly, and come up with ways you can use your powers that fit within the Attribute you're using. This is a capital-P Problem for some people.

Here are the problems you need to understand how to deal with before you even sit down:

  • The powers in this game are a lot more difficult for some players than your average, non-Vancian magic system (e.g. Mage: The Ascension). The term is "Analysis Paralysis". Your average DnD player may be very creative when working within pre-defined limits. They can look at a fireball spell and easily understand that it might be used to turn sand into glass, rather its intended purpose of blasting unruly goblinoids. But give them an abstract power like "Rage", or heaven forfend "Unrequited Love", and they simply won't know what to do. You can tell them "Anything you like, as long as it fits within your Domain" as much as you want, but this does not solve the problem. If I had it to do over again, I'd probably give them a list of things I think their Domain might be able to do, and have them riff off of that.
  • The limits of the powers are very fuzzy. You're going to find it difficult to manage what a Domain might be capable of, and ultimately it's going to come down to what your interpretation of the Domain is vs. what the player's interpretation of the Domain is. My recommendation, go with the player's interpretation of the Domain, unless they seem really uncertain about whether or not it fits. If there's still some fuzziness, ask probing questions about why they think what they're doing is within their Domain. When in doubt, let it fly. This will require a profound amount of adaptability on your part as the HG, to determine what the consequences of their actions will be, since you can never be certain what a character might be capable of.
  • Finding the distinct beats in a diceless game is challenging. In DnD, when you roll dice, everyone at the table knows "something is happening now". We know, as soon as the DM says "Roll Persuade", the character's abilities are in question, and we are about to find out which branch the story is going to take, based on how well they perform. In a diceless game, there is very little tactile interface between the player and the system to give them that beat. As a an analogy, your character sheet in a tabletop RPG is sorta like your HUD in a video game, and your dice are sorta like your joystick. Together, they are the interface through which you interact with the game mechanics. In basic Nobilis, you're just saying words and erasing numbers on a sheet. I'd recommend giving them different colored poker chips if you have enough. That way they can feel that something is happening, and they'll get that distinct, action beat. If I had it to do over again, I'd include a flowchart of the basic miracle mechanics.

Simplifying Character Creation

The same problems that exist with the gameplay of Nobilis also exist with the character creation. In theory, you can do anything, so no one is going to know precisely what to do. My recommendation, have a session zero, where you just talk about what character concepts are interesting to you, maybe discuss a little bit of the game mechanics, but don't get too deep. Reference fiction and other games they're familiar with a whole bunch.

For example, I introduced the game concepts like this:

"Do you remember the Sandman's bag of sand and mask and gem? Well, Gifts can be physical items like that, which you've put some of your power into. Or, they can be abilities, sorta like Disciplines in Vampire. Think of it this way: Attributes are like Spheres in Mage, in that they are abstract and open ended in their capabilities, whereas Gifts are more like Rotes, in that they are specific instances of an Attribute's power."

To make it simpler (though admittedly still not very simple), have the players tell you what kind of stuff they're interested in, then you sit with them one on one and build the character. They need to have the pencil in their hand so they see how the Gifts are built, but you should be doing most of the driving, since you know the system. What you are essentially doing is building the character the way you would build it, and then having them approve of how you built the character.

It's very important that you give them a broad overview of what Attributes and Gifts do, but do not get lost in explaining the minutiae. If you do, this will be a very long character creation for you. But, since you're not letting them geek the whole system before they decide, you should allow them to go back and change things they're not happy with post character creation.

Building the Chancel is somewhat easier than building a character, but can be approached the same way. Simply ask them what they want, tell them what's possible, and then you distribute the points, giving a cursory explanation of how you did that. Be prepared to repeat yourself a lot, and simply keep repeating yourself until the rules start to sink in.

In Conclusion

The difficulty of the game is in direct proportion to how easily your players can understand abstract concepts, and how comfortable they are ad-libbing on the fly. It also has a lot to do with how much they trust the reasonableness of your adjudications, and that trust will be earned the more you let them explain why they think what they're doing should work, and the more you go along with their interpretations of how their characters work. As you can probably tell, the simplicity and quickness of a DnD, or even a WoD ability check is not going to be present. Almost every action will be a discussion between you and the players. This is the kind of game that Nobilis is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I swapped out the bold-formatted words for real headers, since real headers actually define the intended section structure such that assistant software and machines can recognise it. (See this FAQ for more info.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 25 '18 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ For getting across the idea of "you're playing gods" and encouraging players to think outside the box, I like to think of a handful of challenges for the PCs, and have them play through them as a group: e.g. "You've just been told nuclear missiles are en route to you. Stop them.", "Someone broke into a bank in Paris last night. You have 1 hour to find them." Typically one or two players will decide to push the envelope and act like the superhero defined by their Estate / high Aspect. Once they have concrete examples of open-ended powers put to specific uses, most players will generate more. \$\endgroup\$ – Sarah Messer May 21 at 17:50

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