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.

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Now playing and running

5 March, 2009 at 2:53 pm (roleplaying) (, , , , )

Thunderer (who does not have a blog, yet…) is running mostly ruleless Nobilis as an experiment. I’m playing essentially Identity as detailed by Greywolf (the post includes stats for Mutants and Masterminds, but the concept is well worth reading regardless). Ludosofy, formerly opusinsania, is also in that game as is one youngish person.

I would have participated in playtesting an upcoming fantasy rpg called Bliaron as to be published by Northern realms, but there were too many players eager to play that and too few wanting to join Thunderer’s game, so I picked the almost-as-good choice. The people at Northern realms may accept contributions of artistic nature, though they do not have much budget from what I have heard. If interested, post at their forums. English is understood and written there.

As for the as of yet unnamed mage game, we played the first session but I did not manage to contact one potential player. He has not responded to emails yet, so if someone is interested, contact me. We play at my apartment in Kortepohja, Jyväskylä (unless the would-be-player has a better playing space available). Assumed frequency of play is one game per about two weeks, played during Saturday or Sunday. Maybe during a Wednesday now or then. Next session will probably be during the next week’s weekend.

The game is set in fairly historical France near the city of Carcassonne (Google maps finds it), year 1200 or few years more, but not more than 1206. Notable events include an upsurge in Catharism (wikipedia is wise), a gnostic near-Christian sect, and the 1208 crusade that crushed them. We’ll see how that goes. The three established player characters are a warrior who has defeated death, a hedonist (and hence heretical) demagogue and a blind seer. We played a bit during which they were driven out of Carcassonne for various reasons along with a fair number of cultists.

Olorin also wants to run at least a few sessions of game that involves superheroes and dystopic future, called eCollapse, designed by Greg Stolze and still in playtesting phase. There’s still room. Contact him if you are interested.

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Now playing

30 April, 2008 at 2:37 pm (actual play) (, , )

I’m playing in two games right now; Thulen‘s victorian game (he hasn’t written down any actual play yet; I hope he will) a Nobilis game set in Star Wars universe, GM’d by Ukkostaja.

Good and poor play

I’ll be judging my own play and that of the others; by “good” play, I mean creating and grabbing story opportunities, doing things, being entertaining an so forth. By “poor” play, I mean being a wallflower, turtling, not interacting with other participants, and so forth.


Cast of players: Me, wgaztari, ksym, Ari (with no web presence that I am aware of). Ari is new to the group, but has roleplayed before. His integration was quick and painless.

There’s been two sessions of actual play and one of character generation and prelude-thingies. I am slowly getting used to the game. Next session will probably be genuinely enjoyable; the end of the previous was good, but beginning meh; the first one was indifferent. This no fault of anyone else; wgaztari played exceedingly well in the first session and okay during the second; Ari is overall a good player, and ksym has been doing well, though his character is quite different from the others; he knows magic and uses it, and is the only one who does.

I seem to always play pretty poorly for the first session or two. Maybe it is anxiety with the group, maybe with the playing style, maybe with something else.

There’s been robberies, a smidge of intrigue, meeting worthy opponents, but not yet truly engaging them. Oh, and the end of the last session was when ksym’s character threw my char with a sword. Hit or miss; not determined yet.

SW Nobilis edition

Cast of players: Me, Thulen, possibly pickaboo, and even opusinsania paid a visit (I made a guest appearance as a crazyish NPC in his game just the other week; didn’t go very well, but was enlightening). Estimated play time remaining: Session to three.

For some background: Nobilis is a roleplaying game in which players are Nobles, something like gods or demigods. It is diceless, but has a definitive economy with miracle points used to power all sorts of things. Like Amber diceless, but more structured and characters are more exotic. Mine is a Noble of light, with a special ability called elemental form: Can turn into light at will. Convenient.

Thunderer’s game mastering style seems to be that there is a definitive plot that will happen, more-or-less as planned, but the way it happens is up to players. (Also, if we build a mess ourselves, that’s a bonus.) Basically: I don’t try to get any enjoyment from story-crafting; using the rather formidable powers that nobles have is the point of the game, as far as I am concerned. The story happening around that is a perk/hindrance, depending if it adds new stuff to play with or involves boring puzzle solving or following clues to wherever. (Actually, I just suck at puzzle solving and following clues, and hence find them boring, and hence suck at them, …)

Thunderer (Ukkostaja; direct translation) also built a cheat sheet for the price of using miracles, given the miracle level and character’s relevant attribute: PDF.

Interesting is the fact/impression that I got used to Ukkostaja’s game more quickly than to Thulen’s, despite knowing the latter better. It may be the smaller group of players. I also think that having formed a clear picture about the way Ukkostaja runs the game helps a lot. This picture might or might not be accurate, but it is clear. I am not yet quite sure what I should actually be doing and enjoying in Thalin’s game.

In other news

Eric has an idea for something like a custom roleplaying search thingy. Maybe something like Mahalo. I’ll be helping along in whatever ways I can, since the idea seems interesting enough.

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