Of freeform Nobilis and general game mastering

10 March, 2009 at 9:07 am (actual play, game mastering) (, )

As mentioned before, I’m playing in freeformish Nobilis game right now.

The GM started it as an investigation: One character’s (Wilhelm-something else Bönn, the power of meanings) daughter (Catherine Blake or something similar) is gone. So, we naturally engaged this in the problem-solving mode so typical of roleplayers. There was investigation and random playing around.

After game the GM told that it was not his intention for the entire game to be investigative. I offered some cryptic and nigh-impossible to understand advice, as I tend to do when I have not thought something through yet and am trying to do so for the first time. Hence, this blog post will be about what I as a player intend to do to make the game better and the GM’s job easier and what I would do if I were the GM.

As a player

The GM really wants us to be active players, I assume. Unfortunately my character is not the most suited for, say, relationships (what with being one mind, thousand years old, in several bodies at once), though such would at least be very interesting. Well, if the GM happens to throw something suitable at me I might grab it. Maybe. I’m not good at playing that sort of stuff, but one learns by fumbling. So, assuming the GM won’t throw any suitable NPCs at me, what can and will I do? My character is the Illuminati in that I have a fair deal of influence in politics. I might start playing around with that, though it would feel somewhat directionless.

In play one character of mine was fired. Petty revenge? Why not. That’ll give me something to do and will further make the character different from what I usually play, which is strictly a bonus.

I’ll need some ways of engaging the other player characters, too. Particularly mister human-animal-shapeshifter-were[animal, like skunk], and power of animals, seems somewhat marginal, though a man-eating wereskunk in Paris will be fun if the GM does not get soft. Cleaning that up might be fun (or impossible, as it happens). As for the German theologist, power of meaning, mayhaps something related to his former wife whom he declared to mean nothing to him (and being the power of meaning, actually did it so).

As a GM

Game mastering is something of a challenge when the characters are very powerful. An approach that will not work in the long run is just challenging them with more and more powerful enemies; it becomes boring, predictable, and shatters anything like suspension of disbelief or setting consistency. So, the trick is to make players choose between two good things or two bad things (or just two things they care about) such that a clearly right solution does not exist. In Nobilis there’s Lord Entropy who likes to destroy nobles who kill someone or fall in love and has both the power and the authority to do it. Hence love is inherently an interesting subject for nobles, as is killing. Offering opportunities for both is a good idea; trying to force either is generally not. Certainly I would offer sympathetic and despicable characters and develop them further should the players show interest.

As for this particular game and these particular characters: Well, my character is a tough one. Apologies for that. I’ll try to get him properly involved myself. Bönn is already pretty busy, with the daughter gone, some connections to the daughter’s mother potentially existing, and there being the fanatically devoted fan/daughter’s suitor about. So, nothing particular to do there. The power of animals could be easily involved by his general habit of releasing animals and animal-rights activists from wherever they are kept against their will, though that would be simple problem-solving and hence not very interesting, at least for long. Maybe someone captures one of its anchors/pets, like the hydra or the gryphon or the Nessie or the Bigfoot or… Or better yet, maybe someone provokes one of them to start rampaging in the old-fashioned way.

To sum it up, as a GM I would present interesting characters and see if players fixate on some and keep them busy by minor inconveniences and mysteries so as to keep the game moving.



  1. oberonthefool said,

    I’ve never played Nobilis and don’t know much about it, but I did run a game of Pretenders once in which one of the characters was Gaia. Fortunately, chargen in that game requires the player to delineate an adversary, so I had something to work with; but there are no limits on power level or influence in that game, which, as you say, can be difficult for a GM to find adequate challenges for.

  2. Tommi said,

    Creating an adversary as a part of character generation? That might work. I’ll try that if I ever happen to run a superhero game.

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