Nobilis and Eclipse – Bonds, Gifts, Shine, and Cool

And to finish up with Nobilis’s major mechanics…

Bonds:

Bonds, at least as Nobilis defines them, can be strengths, motivations, emotional commitments, beliefs, or weaknesses – but, unlike an Affliction, invoking them is voluntary. Nobody is forcing your character to act on their “Love For My Family” bond; they just get bonuses when they do (or, if you’re using them like Mortals do… they can help reduce penalties that would otherwise hinder you). Invoking a powerful bond can help a Nobilis “Miracle” break through an opponents defenses. You make an extra effort because something is important to you. Bonds help define who and what you are and what you stand for.

Of course, in Nobilis not all bonds are created equal. “Love For My Family!” will give you a nice boost when you need it to help out your family – but “Demonstrate My Might!” will probably give you that nice boost on two-thirds of the things you do. That is not a good thing, especially given that d20 games are full of character optimizers. Ergo, the boosts from a Bond are going to have to be limited uses to help hold that sort of thing in check – and the game master will have to keep a careful eye on what the activation conditions are to make sure that they aren’t effectively “at any moment I find convenient”.

Still, common Bonds include things like “I always escape!”, “I love my family!”, “Nobody drives Megas but me!”, “I will save them all!”, “No one can take what is mine!”, “I am the good guy!”, “I love to gloat and monologue!”, “I can’t resist drinking!”, “I follow the Code of Bushido!”, “I leap into things without thinking!”, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay me!”, “Protect the Innocent!”, and “Follow the Plan to Victory!”. When a bond is threatened or can be invoked, its trigger condition is met. “I always escape” can thus be activated whenever you’re about to be captured or have been captured and need to escape. “I love my family” can be activated whenever your family is threatened or you want to do something for them. “I love to gloat and monologue!” can be activated whenever you get a chance to gloat and monologue, and so on. Basically you should have a chance to activate a Bond fairly often – but not all the time.

The basic structure for Bonds is thus

  • Reflex Training / Can invoke a Bond as an Immediate Action when it’s trigger condition is met (6 CP).
  • Each Bond is purchased as an Inherent Spell (Improvisation, Level One) with Multiple +4, Specialized for Reduced Cost and Corrupted for Increased Effect (Points spent stack with the benefits of the Aspect Innate enchantments and may also be spent on Caster Level Checks and to increase the DC of saves against your abilities – although it costs 4 points to increase the DC by +1) / can only be activated when its trigger condition applies and the user only gets a single first level spell, rather than the two that Inherent Spell would normally provide (6 CP).
    • If you want a stronger bond, Specialize it for Increased (Double) Effect and pay 12 CP. A weak one? Cut down on the number of uses and pay just a bit less. A major motivating factor? Pay some more for even more uses.

Gifts:

In Nobilis, Gifts are special powers that aren’t necessarily related to your Estate. You have them just because you have them. Perhaps you’re unaffected by fire, or have wings and can fly, or can touch people and cast them into another realm. In Nobilis these are specialized miracles. In d20… these are absolutely normal. Can you materialize a deadly sword from nothing? That’s Spirit Weapon and Imbuement – and is a trick that every Soulknife, or Bokor (Binder), or any of dozens of other character types can pull off. You’re a shapeshifter? A werewolf? An elf? You have dragon powers? You can use mystic martial arts? You can touch people and toss them forwards through time?

Congratulations. You’re an d20 character, just like everybody else. Just buy some powers to suit yourself.

Shine and Cool:

For the last of the major Nobilis mechanics we have Cool and Shine. Both Cool and Shine are technically skills (passions? qualities?) available to Mortals, but in Nobilis we’re only really interested in player characters – and these are two of the Nobilis mechanics that go out of their way to illustrate that. Most Nobilis characters will have some of both, and it’s not at all hard to have “5″ in one or both since mortal qualities are cheap. Lets have a look at Shine first.

Shine:

According to the Nobilis rules, whenever a mortal wants to honor you or implement your agenda they can use your Shine as if it were one of their own Passions or Skills, making it the basis for an Intention. You don’t have to interact with them to this happen, although you do have to more-or-less approve of their action (you don’t have to know about it though; you’d only have to be inclined to approve if you did know about it).

So my Estate is “Making An Effort” (Side benefit! The game master can’t even get rid of me without ending the game since no one will ever be able to make an effort to do anything again if I’m destroyed). Any mortal who decides to make an effort honors me. So any mortal who decides to get up and do something (or invest a point of will in an intent) can draw upon my Shine 5 in place of their own Passion or Skill.

Yay! Without any real effort on my part, I have just given every mortal in the universe great skills, health, wealth, magical powers, athletic abilities, and unending happiness! At least as long as I approve of whatever it is they want to do… Fortunately, I dislike Child Abuse, Murder, and a lot of other stuff like that.

Although that may not help much. After all, even Nobilis’s relatively tiny cosmology includes a few billion worlds and Shine 5 isn’t that uncommon among Nobilis characters. How likely is it that pretty much any action you could want to take has a patron with Shine 5 somewhere out there? Presumably the Gods of Murder, Massacre, Crime, Anger, Weapons, and more all approve of Murder and at least one of them is sure to have a nice high Shine score.

Er… no. Eclipse does include a way for actual gods to bestow enhancements on their followers – Endowment and Greater Endowment – as well as plenty of ways to buff up people in the area (Mystic Artist, boosting spells, Presence, Executive, Dominion, and a lot more) – but there isn’t any equivalent to Shine because Eclipse tries to have mechanics that will actually function in a game. This mechanic doesn’t even function as written in Nobilis. There’s no cost, because abilities that don’t work are free.

Cool:

Then, of course, we have the opposing ability – Cool.

Cool acts as a penalty on mundane actions that cause problems for, injure, or influence someone cool or an organization, person, or situation that the Cool person is actively watching over

So if I have Cool 5 and my Estate is “Depression” (“Depression is not doing anything”), anyone who actually does something is injuring my Estate/Self. As long as I am watching over my estate… all mundane actions everywhere in the Nobilis multiverse take a -5 penalty. Mortal magicians may still derive some motivation from their Bonds, but for the most part… all the mortals in the multiverse lie down and die because Depression is so Cool.

No, Eclipse doesn’t really include any way to make everyone, everywhere, fail at everything, with little or no effort on your part. That’s because it’s really, REALLY, boring. Especially since it’s a VERY big multiverse, and that means that this will have been going on since long before the player characters were born. (And would mean that they were never born at all since having and caring for children involves doing stuff).

So according to these rules in Nobilis… mortal abilities are actually totally irrelevant to mortals. Only Nobles – who are immune to other people’s Shine (although not to Cool when taking mundane actions) actually have any use for mortal abilities – although there’s no reason that they would ever have acquired any in the first place since they spent their time as mortals in a world where mortal skills are totally irrelevant.

Nobilis isn’t actually played that way of course. Its “mechanics” really only apply to player characters. They only exist to differentiate them, to give the players something to fiddle with, and to provide a way for the characters to say “I’m just coasting”, “I’m making an effort”, and “I’m going all in” – which the game master compares to an internal difficulty scale consisting of “they can win this one easy”, “they can win this one if they make a minor/major effort and/or get really creative” and “they can’t win this one” – with the definitions of “winning”, “losing”, and “injuries” being open to interpretation and discussion by everyone at the table.

8 Responses

  1. Minor Note: One of the side story things in Nobiliis mentioned that if a mortal eats the heart of a power, they gain there domain. (so no ‘if you want motivation, you need me’).
    /*And also, Nobilis is designed to let you have very different levels of powergameyness at the same point total, and doesn’t really try to avoid it. For example, there was the example (I’m not sure if it was in 3e, but it still seems to apply) that while Hawking might have a skill of physicist 5, batman has a skill of superhero 5, and that just happens to cover alot of what Hawking’s skill does.*/
    I’m not sure that bit above applies, and sometimes it feels like you treat the ‘setting logic above RAW’ and ‘Just say no’ fairly in non-eclipse contexts.

    • Sorry I’m so weird about this, and you don’t need to reply.

    • So you need a heart for them to acquire your power? Then, is it possible to have “Heartless” or something similar as a gift in order to counteract that?

      • Traditional passing on powers involves an imperator or consent. The ‘Character is immortal because of a fundamental estate’ is only really that one.

      • I was thinking more about the mechanics which tell us that the only way to actually “kill” a Nobilis character is to eliminate their estate.

    • Actually, Nobilis doesn’t say anything about “getting their domain”.

      We are told that “eating Texcoyo’s heart would make you a Power”, but there’s nothing there about this really harming Texcoyo. The feeling that it should is just Science sneaking into your worldview again (even if this probably would be a wound of some sort). And even from the viewpoint of science… if I happen to be a plant-based power, with a heart that only needs to beat once per month and I regenerate in seconds can I just go around feeding mortals my heart and turning them into powers while I spend a few moments growing a new one? Why or why not?

      We’re told on a later page that “If you eat a dead Power’s heart, you become a Power yourself! That’s what happened to Robert Baxt, the modern Power of Clocks”. Of course, that says nothing about how the power in question “died”, or whether the prior powers Estate had anything to do with Clocks. There’s nothing about the now-dead powers Estate at all. It isn’t even mentioned, as if, perhaps, it never existed.

      What are some other things that Nobilis has to say about hearts?

      “The spear took Michael through the heart, but he is not dead; nor is he gone. He is a man who became his Estate, and, in so doing, marked it forever. I can look in any lion’s eyes and see his spirit there. I can walk with them now. They do not hunt me any more.”

      “The label on the box said, “Lucifer’s Heart – 5¢.” “How do you know it is really Lucifer’s heart?” asked Emma Jane. “I pulled it out myself,” said the man in the black coat. He pulled up his shirt and Izod sweater to show the hole in his chest. “See?””

      Maybe you can kill a Nobilis character by inflicting damage?

      When it comes to damage… we are told that “semi-automatic weapons” will inflict a “Deadly Wound” on an undefended power. That a Tank Shell will inflict a deadly wound on a Durant power, and that a Nuclear Explosion will inflict a deadly wound on an Immortal power. (Honestly, that scale shows no real comprehension of how destructive various forces can be – or, for that matter, what a semi-automatic weapon is given that classic water pistols are semiautomatic weapons – but never mind that).

      So what happens when you lose your last health level?

      You are Defeated.

      So lets look at that section:

      “Defeat is when you lose your last Health level and you don’t have any left.

      This is always a Normal Health level. When you lose your last Divine level, your Tough level heals instantly. When you lose your Tough level, your Normal levels heal instantly. It’s not until that last Normal Health level fades that you are finally defeated.

      When you’re defeated, your character stops being an Avatar. It doesn’t matter in this regard what the actual effect is. Someone can use a miracle to give you cute cat ears. If it takes your last Normal Health level, you are defeated. You’re done. Kaput.

      That fundamental thing in your character that lets them define themselves is lost. They exist, but they are no longer themselves. They’re dead, or unconscious, or under someone else’s control, or just broken, made plastic, lost in a suddenly unconquerable world. You don’t have to keep playing them in this state. In fact you’re not allowed to keep playing them. It’s not your job any longer! It’s the HG’s. You lose the ability to take actions.

      Once the immediate conflict ends, or at any suitable lull in play, talk to the HG about how to bring your character back into the game, or how to replace them with a new character if you can’t. Some characters may return from the dead or reassert control despite being monstrously enchanted; other times, you may have to make a new Power.

      If you do get to bring your character back into play, you control their actions again. That means that the malign influences that destroyed you only linger to the degree you decide they shall. It’s reasonably common for the HG to propose some consequence that should or ought to remain, but that’s the kind of thing you both have to agree on; playing out that consequence, after all, will be up to you.”

      In other words, being defeated can only eliminate a power if the player is bored with them and gives up on bringing them back into play.

      Powers can voluntarily retire, passing on their estate to someone else (or allowing it to return to the Imperator to be re-distributed) – but the only way I can see in the rules to actually kill one is to eliminate their estate. Someone can eat their heart after that I suppose – but their estate will still be gone forever. The new power will just have to define their own estate.

      “For instance, in your game, fire might have the Property Fire burns, and it doesn’t care. If something weird is happening and fire is starting to care about what it is burning, the whole Estate is at risk!”

      As a specific example we have Sara Nei. Her estate wasn’t destroyed – the concept still existed – but she was banished until it actually had a worldly manifestation again. “Not until her Estate returned formally to the world could she reincarnate herself.”

      We’re also told: “Hope springs eternal: the Power of Hope can’t, therefore, die. It’s up to the HG to determine how the effect actually manifests — does the Power of Hope die and then come back to life, or avoid being killed, or simply vanish temporarily under a veil of mystery?”

      We’re told that there’s a powerful Angel who greatly regrets wiping out the Dinosaurs. Yet the Estate of Dinosaurs still exists – otherwise the very concept would be forgotten – and the past changes whenever someone performs a Miracle. Why not ask a power of Species Isolated On Islands, or Lost Worlds, or Living Fossils, or some such to simply create an island or valley or whatever full of dinosaurs? It would obviously be possible; mortals make movies about it, so the concepts and therefore the Estates exist. Why hasn’t someone done it yet, if only to calm down said angel? And if they do… history changes, so dinosaurs were never extinct to begin with, and Mr Angel never had any such problem to fuss over.

      Of course, after being told that this is the way of the world and a basic law of miracles, page 299 tells us that this is problematic at the discretion of the HG.

      Then we have The Hubris Rule, which sets four limits on what miracles may do, to ensure that the HG can continue to challenge the Avatars and add trouble to their lives. Among it’s provisions, it states that “You can’t use description to dodge the conflict systems by phrasing a miracle such that the target can’t or won’t choose to resist it”.

      So no helpful miracles are allowed. After all, pretty much by definition… creatures (and EVERYTHING in Nobilis is a creature) normally won’t choose to resist helpful miracles so they’re not allowed. No miraculous car repairs or healing for you! You’ll just have to leave that sort of thing up to the mortals!

      Now, Nobilis does say two things about how to handle power imbalances. The section is on page 137, under “Your Estate Is”. And here it is:

      “Your Estate is about things. Cars, Computers, Documents, Fires, Guns, Green Tings, Homes, Honest Tings, Luxuries, Rock Formations, Sand, Teeth, Trees, Works of Art. Pick an Estate like that. At the edges of your Estate you have power over things like the things you rule. Guns extends to Bows and Crossbows. Red Things has some power over everything that is pink. Documents governs a stone tablet, but not an oral history! Please feel free to really stretch your mind and push the boundaries of an Estate like this as far as they can go — you’ll need to if you want to keep up with Powers whose Estates are more abstract!”

      Something You Can Describe: “Your Estate is about a category of phenomena or actions. Debate, Destruction, Growth, Justice, Magic, Music, Poetry, Virtue, Waves, Wars. It’s usually pretty easy to make an Estate like this cover … well, anything at all … at its edges. So you don’t wind up walking all over people with concrete Estates, it’s important to start with a moderate and judicious picture of what your Estate governs and broaden it only cautiously during play!”

      Nobilis “balances the game” by making the characters essentially immune to lasting harm, throwing all responsibility for making everyone feel like they have something to do on the players, and having all attempts to accomplish something filtered through the “Destiny” rules – where every result is vague, slow, symbolic, discussion-based, and entirely up to the game master.

      This works to some extent in Nobilis because Nobilis is basically a social venue rather than a game. The effectiveness of your character in a Nobilis game depends much more on the players social skills than on the character writeup or actions – and the game selects for a very limited player and game master base. Are you shy? Laconic? Averse to argument? You like action instead of discussion? You’re en engineer, lawyer, scientist, or logician, and you want to develop things along rational steps? Do you want to accommodate fifteen players? Then you look at the rules – especially the rules for Destiny – and figure out that you had better not try playing Nobilis because you will be uncomfortable, and bored, and will never get anything done.

      For the final bit of “sometimes it feels like you treat the ‘setting logic above RAW’ and ‘Just say no’ fairly in non-eclipse contexts.” I’m not quite sure what you mean – but I can look at the general question.

      When it comes to Eclipse – and GURPS, and the Hero System, and quite a lot of other generic rules systems – Setting Logic does indeed override Rules-As-Written. Those are generic rules sets that you tweak and shape to create the setting you want, paring away or modifying things that don’t fit.

      When it comes to a set of rules designed as a part of a setting, they should work with and fit that setting to start with. RAW and Setting Logic should be in agreement. If they aren’t, then the writer is incompetent at writing rules, or is bad at writing setting material, or both. If one or the other is blatantly disfunctional… then we know which it is.

      Thus the rules system of World Tree (an excellent and very-well written example of both rules and world-building) fit the setting in exceptional detail; even minor details of the setting are reflected in the rules and vice-versa. For a quick example… the God of Fire likes cats. So creating fire elementals in the form of cats is much easier than creating them in other forms, even if they have otherwise-identical game statistics.

      The writers of the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game were less exacting. There’s a significant – but not insurmountable – gap between how the rules work and the setting they were trying to reproduce. There’s a discussion about that over HERE.

      Nobilis is artfully written. The setting material is full of clever vignettes and neat ideas. A fair number of readers – for evolutionary and neurological reasons that I will probably get into later – will find that material quite fascinating.

      As far as the actual set of rules it presents for running a setting and a game in that setting… there is a reason why Nobilis is a niche game. Some of the rules simply are not compatible with the setting and the rest of the system relies both on the players going along with the narrative and on the game master constantly intervening to keep things on track. That’s bad rules writing – and neatly explains why the game only appeals to a very limited set of players.

      It is also somewhat revealing that most of the “campaign” accounts I’ve been able to find talk about five to fifteen sessions. Even RPOL.net shows no active or inactive Nobilis games – and I can usually find an example of pretty much anything there. http://nobilis.me/campaigns shows one “active” campaign – first in-character post Jan 12, 2018, #72 (and last) April 6, 2018. I did find one that seems to be alive though; it has 13 posts and actually seems to be still active!

      But one is not a lot – and I tend to set the minimum for a successful campaign as a hundred sessions.

      And this is REALLY way too long for a comment, but I’m not really sure how to turn it into an article; it’s much too specialized. I shall have to think about it.

  2. […] Nobilis and Eclipse – Bonds, Gifts, Shine, and Cool […]

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