You Thought You Could Feed on My Soul
I never read Nobilis 1e; the “Little Pink Book” was well out of print by the time I got into the game. But I suspect a lot of the stuff in 2e’s “Great White Book” was revision, editing, and improvement on 1e; specifically, what I’ve heard about 1e doesn’t suggest there were nearly as many major additions and adjustments as between 2e and 3e.
3e is an ideas edition; the previous one was sufficiently stable that it made sense to add a bunch of new things rather than just refining what was already there. Some of the things that were added, like Treasure, are entirely workable, but could potentially be described more clearly and concisely. Others, like Persona, feel like a really cool idea that hasn’t been 100% finished yet. Still others, like the Mortal Actions system, are robust and immediately useful.
If I was to make up numbers, I’d say that 3e carved away the weakest 20% of 2e’s engine, and added maybe another 70% in updates, additional ideas, and entirely new systems. A lot of that wasn’t iterated sufficiently to feel done, but it’s still a much more robust engine than what was available previously. If the game eventually gets a 4e, and that’s to this edition what 2e was to 1e—a cleaning up of existing systems—it will be an amazing game. As it is, it’s merely really, really good.
The Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine looks to partially be that edition: it’s set in the same universe and has a chance to really expand on and test the mortal actions and advancement systems. As of this writing, it’s got only a couple of days left on its Kickstarter, and many of the reward tiers include the PDF of Nobilis 3e as a bonus. Anyone interested in the system after this review series would find it well worth his or her time to check it out.
There is really no other RPG on the market that compares to Nobilis. One of the biggest limitations of 2e (other than selling out every single print run its publishing houses could bring to bear so it eventually became very hard to find) was that it was hard to get started. It was a really engaging read in a really pretty book that was really hard to wrap your brain around and actually use at the table. I managed a fairly long campaign, but only after getting to play a one-shot of it at a con that finally made it click enough to run. I suspect many others got it, read it, and left it on the shelf.
3e is much easier to run. It encourages action rather than navel-gazing, provides context for cool things a god might want to do, and ensures that each PC rolls off of chargen with a pile of interesting quirks and hooks for the GM. It’s got a handful of systems that require additional research to clarify and others that might need a little house rule love to make them as useful as intended.
But doing so is worth it.
There are a lot of games on the market where you have fantastic powers. There are a lot where players get handed a lot of agency and narrative control. But none of them is Nobilis.
It’s a game where the hardest part about shooting the sun out of the sky is explaining why you had to do it to your angry friends, and the setting and mechanics completely back that up. It’s a game where all the Power of Rain has to do is convince people to start seriously using the phrase “It’s raining sunshine” to dramatically increase her power and not need you to kill the sun after all. It’s a game where the Power of Rain is only trying to do all this in the first place because the Power of the Sun was rude to her at a party.
Seriously, check it out.