In addition to providing a ready source of Strike and additional MP, for each Bond a characters has, she can have one Anchor (ideally one that has something to do conceptually with the Bond). An Anchor is a living being, item, or more esoteric noun (such as a magic spell, a personal symbol, or even a group of people). These are important people, significant animals, personal items, etc. that make up the regalia of the Noble; the accoutrements that make up your myth. Many of them will be Ordinary; friends, relatives, and enemies from mortal life, possessions of significance to you, or your personal sigil. They become extraordinary by association with the Noble, exemplifying their skills or qualities. Often, a Noble will acquire Wondrous Anchors, which have an innate power of their own: magical creatures, items of power, and spells. Sometimes, Nobles will Anchor individuals or items of Miraculous power; other Nobles, or things of similar power. All of these things become background elements of the character’s story, and will, by default, avoid availing the character of their powers, or if they do so it won’t have a significant impact on the story. That all changes when the character uses the Treasure attribute to manipulate and empower the Anchor.

I write all of that in such detail because it took me the core book, the fifty page supplement on Treasure, and several detailed forum posts to understand what the Treasure attribute was for. One of the things you’re in for when reading a Nobilis book is that all the prose is beautiful and amazingly creative… but has a hard time getting to the point. The book really needs a small section (near the Bonds chapter, for preference) explaining the need for Anchors and giving guidance on how to invent interesting ones, because if you have a bunch of really cool Anchors, Treasure becomes an extremely useful attribute. If you don’t get the point of them and just put down “I guess, like, my parents?” you won’t be able to make full use of it.

Levels 0-2 of the attribute let you improve ordinary Anchors and possess any of your anchors (something that used to be the province of the removed Spirit attribute). Levels 3-6 allow you to use your wondrous Anchors in various ways, activating their special powers for use with Aspect or Mortal actions or pushing them conceptually to attack and defend in high-end miraculous combat. At level 6+, it makes sense to have miraculous Anchors, as you can get them to use their own miracles for major effects (potentially replicating a huge range of capabilities with a single attribute), and even synthesize with your own Domain to pull off something amazing, possibly even beyond the fantastic power normally available to Nobles.

Treasure takes 2e’s Sandman-esque concept of investing some of your power in a focus item and its use of mortal anchors and combines them into something really neat. It’d just be cool if this fact was more succinct and obvious within the text.

Character Creation and Projects

At root, character creation for 3e is the same as 2e: you buy attributes, gifts, and additional MPs from a pool of character points, and pick all the other things (like skills, bonds, and estate properties) from a fixed total in each category.

But before that, you go through the new lifepath system.

This is a pretty fun and innovative way to get you into the right mindset for playing a mortal that has been turned into a demigod. You pick two “keys” from a list of 16. These are short concepts with a “heart” and a “shadow.” They’re things like Key of Something that Hasn’t Changed: My Identity vs. Crisis, Key of Rage: My Hatred vs. What Lets Me Oppose It, and Key of Something that Must Be Hidden: A Dangerous Secret vs. …That Hurts to Keep. During the lifepath, you fill in short blurbs when instructed under hearts and shadows, further defining them.

Over eight steps, you choose various things like your origin, your Estate, your contacts, and your affiliation. Each of these comes from a list of suggestions. The interesting feature is that each element of the list is mapped to one or more keys. If you pick a list element that synergizes with one of your keys, you get to add a blurb to that key’s heart section (defining the good things about your character). If you pick a list element that doesn’t synergize, instead you add a blurb to one of your shadows (further expanding and defining your character’s troubles). Ultimately, there’s no mechanical penalty for choosing one or the other, just whether you want to play a Noble that’s mostly in tune with her concepts, or deeply conflicted. But what’s cool about the system is that it results in really interesting character ideas that can easily make your modern demigod a more robust individual, with interesting backgrounds and quirks.

On the other end, Nobilis now has an advancement system. Called Projects, these system encourage you to think of your goals in a structured format, and tells the GM how to award progress towards them. This seems like it shouldn’t need a system, but for a game where your character goals are things like “let all the damned souls out of Hell,” “Break down the gates of Heaven,” or “Discover what’s really outside of reality,” it’s important to have rules that everyone can wrap their heads around. Nobilis can tend towards solipsism and too-small goals, where the characters just lounge around dealing with the small problems of their home until they’re forced to react to GM plots. Knowing that you can do really universe-altering things and the GM has a system to let you should encourage the players to be sufficiently proactive for a game where you play gods.

There are a couple of minor problems with the system. The first is that the lifepath system is supposed to output your first Project, and visually it creates something similar, but since Projects are points-based and lifepaths are not, it’s really unclear how a lifepath result becomes a Project. The second is that it’s also the advancement system, but doesn’t put any real mechanical diligence behind that goal. Specifically, there’s one section that mentions that you can buy any character trait as a 75 point or less personal Project (specifically calling out Immortality, which costs 6 points in character generation), which follows a section suggesting it’s a 150 point long-term project to grow “from Pawn to Baroness of my Estate” (something that would cost you 3 points in character generation). I know I come off like a buzzkill for games that want you to just do what feels right for the story, but the gaming circles I run in would generally prefer feeling like the system isn’t encouraging them to try to make optimized choices in character generation (e.g., “if it’s easier to buy gifts that attributes after chargen, I’ll buy all the attributes I might want now and save the gifts I’d rather have for later.”). Something on the order of, “if you’re trying to improve a trait, multiply its cost at chargen by 15 to figure out what size project improving it is,” would have been appreciated (and would be how I’d run it in practice).

But despite those issues, the Project system is a very welcome addition to the game. My 2e campaign tended towards reactivity, which isn’t especially desirable for a game where you start out being able to shoot down the sun. A game where you start the players off with amazing power to affect the setting from the word go comes with the expectation that they’ll be proactive in their use of that power. The Projects system, though I didn’t really get to use it in a short playtest, seems like it should be the impetus to get the players really thinking like higher powers.