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Some months ago, I was shown the Nobilis 2e book. I tried to gain a basic acquaintance with the principles of its system, but was soon swamped: it seemed like any explanations encountered in the book always went for big chunks covering every small detail, as opposed to a fractal approach where the long-winded description is preceded by a bird's eye view that only provides the key points first.

What are those basics, from a bird's eye view? How does the diceless point-spending resolution of actions work in general? What are the basic attributes (or however else the traits are called in this system)? Are there wholly separate mechanics for resolving miracle-magic and 'merely' superhuman competence?

Note: I'm acquainted with flexible/improvisational/freeform approaches to magic from other settings and systems (Mage the Ascension Spheres, Thaumatology Realm Magic etc.), so that part isn't a concept I have trouble grasping; this is predominately a mechanics question.

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Miracles and MP

The basic unit of action in Nobilis 2e is the miracle. Miracles have a difficulty level from 0 to 9, and are associated with a miraculous attribute. To perform a miracle, a character takes an action and (possibly) spends some Miracle Points (MP) from the associated attribute.

The cost of a miracle depends on the difference between the attribute level of the performer and its difficulty level. If the attribute is equal to or greater than the difficulty of the miracle, it is performed for free, i.e. it costs 0 MP. To perform higher level miracles, the user spends MP. If the attribute level of the user plus the amount of MP spend is equal to or greater than the miracle level, then it's performed successfully. For gameplay reasons, MP expenditure is limited to 'lumps' of 1, 2, 4 or 8 MP at a time. Spending 8 MP at a time also inflicts a Deadly wound on the Noble. Nobles generally start with 5 MP in each attribute, but can gain more via rites or drawing on the power of their Imperator.

An example: Julianna Avram, Domina of Strength, has a Domain Attribute of 3. She can perform Domain miracles of:

  • levels 0 through 3 for free
  • level 4 for 1 Domain MP
  • level 5 for 2 DMP
  • level 6 or 7 for 4 DMP
  • level 8 or 9 for 8 DMP and a Deadly wound

When two miracles come into direct conflict, the higher level miracle wins.

Auctoritas

Certain entities in the world of Nobilis, particularly Nobles (the player-characters), Imperators (their bosses) and Excrucians (their foes) possess Auctoritas, a sort of magical "shield" against miracles. Their Auctoritas is equal to their Spirit attribute, and any miracle directly affecting them will fail unless the user adds Penetration equal to or greater than their Auctoritas.

To add Penetration to a miracle, the user raises the level of the miracle by a number of levels equal to the required Penetration. This generally increases the cost of the miracle (unless the Noble's attribute is higher than the base difficulty of the miracle, or they're already spending 4 or 8 MP on it).

Attributes

The four attributes that standard Noble characters have are Aspect, Domain, Realm and Spirit.

Aspect covers miracles which enhance a Noble's own physical and mental capabilities - a Noble can use Aspect to jump to the top of a tall building, catch a bullet out of the air or read a book in seconds. The difficulty of an Aspect miracle depends on the degree of enhancement - a level 2 miracle raises a Noble to the standards of a world-class human, a level 5 miracle takes them to levels of power impossible for humans but theoretically feasible for animals or machines, and a level 8 miracle lets them perform fairytale feats like drinking a lake or jumping between continents.

Domain covers miracles which create, destroy or change instances of a Noble's Estate (the concept or section of reality for which they are responsible). The difficulty of a Domain miracle depends specifically on what a Noble is trying to accomplish with it and the power level. For example, a level 3 miracle is a Lesser Preservation, which strengthens or prolongs an instance of the Noble's Estate. A level 6 miracle could be a Major Preservation, which renders an instance of their estate nigh-eternal and extremely potent, or a Lesser Change, which allows them to alter the nature and properties of an instance of their Estate. A level 9 miracle is a Major Change, which allows a Noble to rewrite the property of their Estate on a wide or dramatic scale.

Realm covers miracles which create, destroy or change things in a Noble's Chancel (a sort of pocket dimension they use as a home base). Realm uses the same rules as Domain.

Spirit doesn't have any miracles associated with it. Instead, Spirit generates Auctoritas, a Noble's defensive capability, and also improves the efficiency of rites (minor "magical" effects).

Mundane Actions

There are no specific rules for mundane actions, although it's generally understood that they are unable to meaningfully oppose miracles.

Wounds

A noble has a number of wound levels equal to their Aspect + 4, divided as evenly as possible into Surface, Serious and Deadly Wound levels, with extra Surface and Serious levels if the total number is not divisible by 3. When a Noble takes damage, they cross off one of their wound levels corresponding to the magnitude of the damage taken - an injury which could harm a human will take off a Surface wound level, while one which would instantly kill them will take off a Deadly wound. However, Nobles don't generally suffer from the 'death of a thousand cuts' - a Noble can't lose a Serious wound while they have any Deadly levels left, nor can they lose a Surface wound while they have any Serious levels left.

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