Eclipse And Nobilis – Afflictions

And for today (and a bit of Christmas Backfill) it’s a ‘how to build in Eclipse’ question.

How do you build a character who has a permanent law of reality attached to them (Afflictions from Nobilis, in case you recognize it). Basically, they are things varying from ‘I am always on time’, ‘I stay abreast of technological developments’, or ‘I love [a specific person]’, that are immutable facts about you that can only be overridden by major workings of gods. But they also have the potential disadvantage of being permanent facets to your character that you can’t violate (except through intense personality change, or contradictions).

-Jirachi

Well, the first step in building anything is having a look on what it’s supposed to do and how it works. Presuming that you’re looking at Nobilis 3’rd edition…

Afflictions in Nobilis 3’rd, are a supernatural force that tries to make something happen. They can be blocked by other supernatural forces, but it takes work. On the other hand, if they cannot rationally function, there is backlash against the person with the Affliction. Still, they’re generally quite beneficial. If they help you, you benefit – and if they hinder you you get more Miracle Points to use, and so once again, you benefit. They only become a problem if something provokes Backlash, and even then it isn’t that bad. That’s why you deliberately buy Afflictions during character creation.

The trouble here is that even in Nobilis there’s no real definition for how far an Affliction can go to make something happen – leaving “rationally function” up to the whims of whoever is running the game.

A sample Affliction from Nobilis 3’rd is “I am always on time”.

  • So if your alarm clock doesn’t go off (broken, stolen, power out, forgot to set it, whatever), you either wake up on your own or something else wakes you up. That’s fair enough. That happens to real people fairly often. In fact it’s happened to me personally a number of times. I was a pretty heavy sleeper when I was younger.
  • If your car will not start, there will be a handy cab or something to give you a ride – and all the lights will just happen to be green when you get to them if you’re pressed for time. You will make it to your court appearance on time. This sort of thing is less common in reality, but it’s still not too big a stretch.
  • Of course, as an Affliction, you will also make it to your court appearance on time even if you’d much rather be skipping it and going to the hospital to treat that gaping stomach wound with the blood pouring out of it.
  • Can you make a note in your day planner that you will be arriving to pick up some dinosaur eggs in Mexico forty-eight hours before the asteroid strike and have your affliction teleport you across continents and sixty-six million years back in time so that you make it in time? Why or why not? Time and space are just more laws of nature after all.
  • Can some other character with access to the afterlife make a note in his or her day planner that they will be meeting you in the realm of death at noon and have your affliction make sure that you die in time to attend? Why not? Wouldn’t that be “being on time” even if you didn’t know that you were expected?

What happens if you need to be in two or more places at once? Does that produce Teleportation, Time Travel, Duplication, Telepresence, or Backlash? What are the limits here?

Perhaps a few more examples from Nobilis will help sort that out?

If you “must be rescued whenever you are in trouble” does that mean that you can never get out of trouble through your own efforts? After all, you MUST be rescued – and if that’s a “law of nature”, then it ALWAYS applies. No matter what you do, as soon as the slightest thing goes wrong, you are stuck until you are rescued. Did you not find out what you wanted with your first Google click? You are having trouble, and must now await rescue! Let us hope that the kid next door will soon arrive to save you from the evil computer in exchange for cookies again! Or is there a threshold of “importance” here?

How about “Animals really hate me”? That’s another one straight out of Nobilis.

Is that what d20 calls animals? Does it include bugs? How about people? They’re a part of Animalia after all. Perhaps it’s everything in Opisthokonta? How much do they hate you? Will they come through fire to get you? How do they know you? From how far away?

In d20 there’s a major difference between “you can’t use a mount, have a familiar, or use a trained animal”, and “The Druid’s animal companion attacks you on sight and cannot be called off” – and an even larger gap between that and “You are constantly pursued and attacked by every creature in the jungle, including the army ants and local tribesmen” – but they could all reasonably be derived from “Animals really hate me”. How wide-ranging is this Affliction?

For a penultimate example from Nobilis… “I must appear when someone chants my name three times!”

Now, Nobilis has something to say about this particular Affliction.

To look under the hood of that Affliction, it’s terribly annoying to reflexively teleport across the world whenever some dude with a pamphlet chants your name. On the plus side, though, it’s free travel; it doesn’t require buying a Teleportation-style Gift; your friends can call on you when they’re in trouble; and it won’t be long before you pair it with a cell phone and some allies to get you just about anywhere you want to go.

Which just goes to show that Nobilis actually operates on an extremely small scale compared to both reality and D20. The real universe appears to be infinite. If that rule applied to you in reality there could only be two possible outcomes; it never happened because it was impossible (perhaps your name was too complex to pronounce three times in the lifetime of the universe) or it would happen an infinite number of times every second and you’d effectively cease to exist. You’d never be in one spot for more than the Planck Time.

And most d20 games are set in an infinite multiverse full of infinite universes.

For a final example from Nobilis… if you are Afflicted to “win the heart of everyone you meet”, and you meet “a mechanical man with no heart to win” you must either propose a viable resolution – “something that could happen to sustain the affliction” or accept spiritual damage to your avatar.

Yet afflictions are enforced by reality-altering miracles. In d20, where spells such as Wish can explicitly alter the recent past to “undo misfortune” (and much, MUCH, lower level effects can allow rerolls), isn’t “I didn’t get into that situation” pretty much always a viable miraculous resolution?

Questions like these really don’t matter in Nobilis. It’s a much more narrative-driven system and presumes a fairly high level of cooperation with whoever’s running the game. D20, however, demands a much higher level of definition and details. It also draws a much clearer distinction between advantageous powers that are generally controlled by the character or player and disadvantageous effects that are generally controlled by the game master. It’s full of opposition that is actually trying to kill you and has some chance of success at it.

We’re going to need to at least loosely define a lot of things that Nobilis just leaves up to consensus – but now that we have a reasonable idea of what we’re building, it’s time to spend some character points.

Hindrances and Karmic Bennies:

  • For “Afflictions” that are basically just annoying hindrances, all you need is the “Accursed” disadvantage (-3 CP). Talk to the game master about what effects taking “Accursed: Animals Hate Me.” will have and see if you want it and the three extra character points you’ll get for taking it.

If you want the full Nobilis-style “I get benefits whenever this becomes a problem” thing, you will also want to buy one of:

  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, never activates at all unless the associated “Accursed” disadvantage is proving to be a serious hindrance at the moment (9 CP).

Or

  • Grant of Aid with Mighty and +6 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, never activates at all unless the associated “Accursed” disadvantage is proving to be a serious hindrance at the moment (9 CP).

Thus, for a net cost of (6 CP) whenever your annoying curse proves to be a serious hindrance, you may draw strength from adversity – regaining spells, power, mana, or other supernatural resources OR regaining hit points, lost attribute points, or drained levels when you need them.

If you want to do both, both, reduce the bonus uses on Rite of Chi to 4 (and the cost to 6 CP), and spend two feats / 12 CP on the package. That way meeting the challenge of your curse will renew both your physical and magical strength if you need it. It still probably won’t make being “Hunted By Demons”, or “Always a Primary Target”, or some such a good thing by itself – but if you’ve given a character a disadvantage like that, presumably you’ve got them set up to deal with it.

If your Affliction is one of those that actively twists reality to enforce itself rather than an annoyance that rewards you when it comes up, then you’ll want to build an…

Imperatives:

  • 1d6 (4) Mana with Reality Editing, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for enforcing a particular rule (6 CP), plus Rite Of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to refill the pool above (6 CP). Both are Specialized Again for Reduced Cost / activation is under control of the game master, may backlash if blocked or logically impossible within the limits of the level of Reality Editing it can handle. (Double Specialization is normally a fairly big red flag, but putting something under the control of the game master should keep it under control).

This 6 CP Power/Feat actively warps reality to enforce itself. Does everyone you meet always fall in love with you? Sure, you may get free food, the best advice that people can manage, and price breaks – but people murder people they love all the time and being kidnaped by some lunatic admirer is not fun. I’d think carefully before buying this sort of ability.

The extent of the edit required – and allowed – also plays a role. 1 Mana covers a Minor Edit. Perhaps the waitress brings you an extra-large plate or doesn’t try to keep you from skipping out without paying. Notable Edits cost 2 Mana. Perhaps that waitress is suddenly willing to risk her neck to hide you and get you out a back door when enemies show up. Major Edits – being rushed away by a mob of adoring fans / volunteer defenders or having a local ruler intervene to get you out of trouble AGAIN – cost 3 Mana. Finally, grandiose edits – that dread elder god decides that it really likes you – cost 4 Mana if they’re permitted at all.

That also gives us a convenient mechanism for determining how powerful an effect your shiny new Affliction / Imperative can produce; you rolled a “1” for Mana? Then the limit is Trivial Edits. You rolled a 4+? Then you can have Grandiose edits if the game master chooses to allow them.

Even that may not cover going back in time to get those dinosaur eggs, but that’s more dependent on whether or not the game master thinks it should and is willing to deal with time travel than with the Imperative itself.

And I hope that helps!

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5 Responses

  1. Huh. I mean, I get the impression that part of the reason why it’s fun is the whole narrative thing, but that doesn’t mean it nesscarily doesn’t make sense.
    I assume that Domain and Persona would probably just be dweomer based spellcasting, but Aspect, Destiny and Treasure (especially the stuff that doesn’t easily fit into normal item creation) would be of interest.

    • If something doesn’t fit into normal item creation, couldn’t you use “Create Artifact” for it? Maybe specialized and corrupted, depending on how restrictive it is/you want it to be.

      • Somewhat? But there’s a couple of specific things that don’t have obvious translations to the create artifact system for complicated reasons.

    • Oh, there’s nothing at all wrong with Narrative systems (although the settings rarely hold up as well since he mechanics tend to call for constant game master adjudication). An article on Treasure is up over HERE, I’ll try to remember to crosslinke back with later articles.

  2. […] And for today it’s part of a question sequence – a follow-up on Nobilis Afflictions in Eclipse. […]

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