— First sentence. Written at the beginning of all the core rule manuals, filling the page.
—Second sentence. Written on the page after the first sentence.
Everyone loves conspiracy theories. Everyone loves cracked-up stories about the hidden history behind History. For all we know, Beethoven Was an Alien Spy... I know! How about we made a role-playing tabletop game based on the sole purpose of perpetrating this trope, with magic entities trying to take over the world through secret societies?This seems to have been the idea at the origin of Nephilim, created in 1992 by the french publisher house Multisim. The game would prove popular among experienced gamemasters, but its difficulty also made it quite obscure to the eyes of the more casual gamers. The first edition was published in 1992, followed by a second edition in 1996 which revised the rules and continued the metaplot, leading into a 3rd edition in 2001 that dispensed with the BRP system all together for a d20-based system that described attributes using words instead of numbers. Multisim then went into bankruptcy around 2003 during the French RPG industry crash, putting an end to the legacy of Nephilim and the rights to which have been floating in legal limbo ever since. Its rights were however bought back by Ubik / Edge Entertainment who published an introductory scenario to the 3rd edition called Nephilim: Initiation in 2007. In late 2012, a 4th edition was announced to commemorate the game's 20th anniversary.In the mid-to-late 1990s, Chaosium would publish an English adaption of the first edition rulebook with mostly minor changes, but later supplements were developed entirely in-house, resulting in significant divergences ruleswise and storywise from the source material. Unfortunately, the English adaption of the game was canceled after only a few books were published due to low sales. Some of the writers got together to write a 2nd edition, but plans for this fizzled out. Meanwhile, the original Chaosium adaption of the game is still available at DriveThruRPG.According to the game, the universe is run by various magic forces (Ka), which, colliding with each other, made the world as we know it. Earth is subjected to five main elemental forces: water, fire, earth, air and moon. It was first the home of KaÏm (union of different elements, with a consciousness) and Saurians (actually the dinosaurs... except they were ultra-intelligent and mastered the Moon-Ka). The Saurians, in their madness, decided to create a new Ka, the Black Moon, which threatened the equilibrium of the planet, forcing the Nephilim to plan their annihilation. Now sole masters of the Earth, some Nephilim reunited in the artificial Island of Atlantis, attempting to induce consciousness in various animals, and therefore creating the homo sapiens as we know it, through vicious experiments. Shortly after, a giant meteor filled with an unknown Ka (Orichalka) hit the Earth; this Ka was so incompatible with the KaÏm's constitution it nearly destroyed them and forced them to possess human bodies and take over their real owner's consciousness, changing bodies as time passed. Humans, however, had seized the opportunity to get rid of the KaÏm's tyranny: their secret societies fabricated weapons made of Orichalka, forcing them to make their existence a secret.The rest of History is then revealed to be the result of a confusing and ruthless struggle between the Nephilim and the Humans aware of their existence... Or amongst these two groups, as their secret societies have very different goals.Most typically, the player is entitled to play a Nephilim, a wandering magic spirit who has lived many different lives at various times in History. You can even play as an historical figure, as long as it doesn't contradict the original background of the game. Most of the scenarios involve the player characters caught in a conflict of interest between two secret societies (of which they can become a member), interested in investigating an historical mystery, or dealing with resurfacing figures of their shadowy past. Though most scenarios revolve around 1999 AD, it is possible to play at any historical period.Tropes in this System:
Ancient Tomb: While the game was canceled before anything came of it, Chaosium originally intended for magical artefacts called "sarcophagi" to play an important role in the Selenim's path to Agartha. In ancient times, Selenim created special sarcophagi to collect Solar-Ka directly and craddle their fragile Black Moon-Ka, but later found humans to be a much richer source in this regard. The Nephilim used the principles of the sarcophagi to create the first stasises; later they crudely duplicated the sarcophagi to build mastabas and pyramids in alignment with the stars, with massive amounts of Solar-Ka sacrificed at the Pharaoh's burial, and then used them to progress to Agartha through centuries of silent contemplation.
Amulet of Dependency: Each Nephilim possesses an object known as a Stasis, which contain their soul between incarnations. Without a Stasis, a Nephilim would have nothing to anchor them to the material world, and they would dissolve into the magical fields. In the French rules, a Nephilim would instantly suffer Final Death if their stasis was destroyed even if they were in a Simulacrum at the time, while the English adaption was more forgiving: a Nephilim without a stasis would still survive, but without a Simulacrum it has a chance of dying each hour until it finds a new one. For some reason, a Stasis cannot be replaced if it is destroyed; however, a Nephilim who knows how to create Stases through Philosopher's Stone Alchemy can replace their own stasis if it is destroyed, but only their own.
Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: The Nephilim are forbidden from harming one another. Subverted in that this is waived under certain circumstances and that they don't use this to prove they are better than humans.
Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Agartha (read: Nirvana) usually happens when a Nephilim has fulfilled the purpose and meaning he gave to his/her life. He becomes powerful enough to escape from his prison of flesh. Although there are proofs they aren't actually dead, they do not interfere very much with material existence, explaining that they "are already very busy" or have found "more important things to do." The player characters' usual role is to reach Agartha through the gain of power and the accomplishment of their personal agenda.
The Selenim, because they have divested themselves of their Ka elements, cannot reach Agartha. However, they've developed their own form of ascension: the creation of Realms. Within his Realm, a Selenim is unto a god. Realms are also key to the recreation of the Black Moon that figures heavily into the plans of the Cult of Lilith.
Background Magic Field: The Earth is composed of five elemental fields, ethers from the Sun that reflect off the planets and into Earth. These provide the energy that makes magic, and indeed all natural processes (like tectonic plate movements and the weather), possible. These fields continually travel across the Earth's surface (manifesting as the magnetic fields of the planet), forming ley lines that can be charted through astrology. Magical creatures are sustained entirely by these fields and require no other nourishment to survive, in contrast to plant and animal life (which were originally created by the interaction of the Solar and Lunar fields a billion years ago).
Badass Normal: They can't do magic, but you do NOT want to cross Knight Templars or Synarchs. The other secret human societies could count as well, but these ones actually encourage their members to learn magic. Compared to the Nephilim, the whole of Humanity is the definition of Badass Normal, judging by the way they kicked their asses. It is actually possible to play a plain normal human who can do well in a fight, though it's not usually done.
Bilingual Bonus: The names of the six types of Nephilim are portmanteaus of various words (with letters removed) and the Hebrew suffix -im. These names always relate to their Nephilim's dominant Ka element.
Pyrim (Fire-Ka) is derived from the English pyre (any heap or pile of combustibles).
Eolim (Air-Ka) is derived from the English aeolian (of, or relating to the wind).
Hydrim (Water-Ka) is derived from the Ancient Greek hydro- (water).
Faerim (Earth-Ka) is derived from the Old French faerie (the sphere or realm of enchantment, magic or dream associated with the fae).
Onirim (Moon-Ka) is derived from the Ancient Greek oneiros (anything which is dreamlike, unreal, fleeting).
Selenim (Black Moon-Ka) is derived from the Ancient Greek Selene (the goddess of the Moon).
Black Magic: The magic of the Selenim (Nephilim whose Ka have been replaced with Black Moon-Ka). They can speak with and reanimate the dead, summon things from the Black Moon fields, and create an idealized "sculpture" of themselves that eventually becomes a pocket universe.
Also, the Black Elements, opposing counterparts to the regular elements (see Elemental Powers, below).
Bowdlerise: Inverted. While Chaosium extensively rewrote the 1st edition of the game when releasing it in English, the original game was even more vague and confusing. The electronic sales of the English game, over ten years after the original publication, even earned a copper metal rating. However, a second opinion is that this was a straight example of Bowdlerization that resulted in the English version never taking off, while its French predecessor went on to become one of the most popular roleplaying games in France. YMMV.
One notable difference was that Chaosium was trying to push the idea that the Nephilim are not elemental spirits, but actually awakened humans. Back in the late 90's the mailing list had long discussions between those who couldn't accept the Nephilim as heroes because they had to steal bodies to survive and those who didn't have a problem with the idea. This change would have completely changed the outlook of the game, but then again these were also the writers that decided that non-European Nephilim had to be completely different from European Nephilim even though it would have rendered the cosmology nonsensical.
Cargo Cult: Most human practitioners of magic don't understand the principles on which magic works, simply performing the actions that they've been taught through centuries of tradition. See Sufficiently Analyzed Magic, below.
Character Level: Subverted. You can start with an uber-powerful character with thousands of years of experience already behind him, as every new level comes with new unpleasant prices. Playing a powerful character can actually be quite tedious because of their complicated new limitations.
Creating Life: The whole reason life sucks for the Nephilim is because they created humans.
Crystal Spires and Togas: Averted. The Saurians were in fact so advanced at the manipulation of the magical fields that they never developed conventional technology. Conversely, their culture appeared to consist mostly of screaming madness and various depravities.
Dark Is Not Evil: The Onirim (Nephilim with predominant Moon-Ka) and Selenim. Some of them can actually be quite decent despite their absurdly roguish nature (if Onirim) or extremely morbid tastes (if Selenim).
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Happens regularly, since Nephilim, especially those of the Hierophant Arcanum, tend to pose themselves as gods to manipulate humans. However the surviving Saurians, desperately trying to escape from the voids where they have been confined, fit the trope better.
Eldritch Abomination: Pretty much anything from the third circle of Summoning (Kabbalah). Applies to most products of Black Summoning regardless of power level; Black Moon creatures are weird, and there's even a category called "strangeness" for creatures that are considered weird even by the standards of the Black Moon.
One example of the "strangeness" category are "Larmes" (Tears), which are basically floating iridescent silver spheres with little application, which sometimes return to Earth solely to watch and follow their summoner. Another is Les étranges horloges qui décomposent le non-temps (The Strange Clocks that Deduct the Present), which are Escher/Dali-styled clocks that uncontrollably warp the flow of time in their immediate vicinity, creating loops and paradoxes in the worst cases.
Eldritch Location: Selenim are prone to creating their own personal reservoirs of Black Moon-Ka, known as Imagoes. When an Imago grows to the size of a building, it will fall out of this plane and become a pocket universe, known as a Realm or Kingdom. The Selenim can then shape the resulting Realm however they wish, with its own laws of physics and everything, which often reflects their own personality. Realms can end up being very weird places to visit, if it's even possible for humans to survive there in the first place. In the 3rd edition of the French game, it is revealed that the creation of a Realm is but one of many paths to Agartha.
Elemental Embodiment: While Nephilim consist of all five elements, each favors a particular one that determines their general nature. A comparison is explicitly drawn with the writings of Paracelsus.
Elemental Powers: The five main Ka of the Nephilim are Water, Fire, Earth, Air, and Moon; there is also Sun, found only in humans and animals, which is necessary for reaching Agartha. There are also "black" counterparts to the elements, which either oppose them like antimatter opposes matter or converts them into more of itself; only two of these have been detailed: Black Moon and Black Sun (Orichalka).
Technically, Orichalka is not literally Black Sun-Ka, but simply another Solar-derived Ka. Because it is not one of the elements making up the Earth, its presence proves to be disharmonious and ultimately fatal to the other elements. It would be more accurate to call it Anti-Ka.
The only known criteria of the true Black Elements is that they are "warped" versions of a normal element, possess close ties to their original element, and can only be formed through artificial means. For example, the Black Moon was created by the Saurians to expand their experiences, and the creation of a Black Fire-Ka field is a possible result of one of the adventures in Serpent Moon (though the implications are left up to the GM).
Emotion Eater: Selenim must harvest Solar-Ka from humans experiencing heightened emotional states (a process known as "assuaging"). Most Selenim will deliberately manipulate human beings to engender the emotions they prefer; the Selenim sourcebook cites Iago as an example of assuaging jealousy.
Fantastic Racism: Nephilim treat Selenim this way, despite the Selenim being the ones who saved the Nephilim from destruction at the hands of humans after the Orichalka meteor fell. The Selenim rightly view them in turn as ungrateful traitors.
In fact, the Nephilim widely believe that Selenim actually drink human blood (which they don't) and sleep in coffins (which is a gross exaggeration of their use of Tombs to hoard Black Moon-Ka).
Familiar: Selenim can turn humans into familiars by "infecting" them with Black Moon-Ka. This creates a permanent telepathic connection between them and allows the Selenim to control the human's actions until the Black Moon-Ka inside them decays completely. Unfortunately, this can happen by accident, and the infectee will suffer side effects like morbidity, addiction, psychosis, seeing the dead, turning into a werewolf, and rising from the grave.
Fish People: When they possess a human, the Hydrim (Nephilim with predominant Water-Ka) begin to gain fish-like physical characteristics.
Genius Bruiser: Happens a lot, by default. Intelligent Nephilim study a lot of magic, therefore gaining a lot of power. This leads them to choose which type of humans they want to possess very easily: they sometimes go for brawny guys.
Gods Need Prayer Badly: Selenim can actually feed off of human faith, usually directed at themselves. Hence why they formed cults and religions around themselves in ancient times, especially for the Mayincatec. Rites of human (or animal) sacrifice also provide them with Solar-Ka; this is still practiced by the Cultes des Goules, a secret society dedicated to serving them.
Gorgeous Gorgon: It's in their nature... Humans are fascinated by them but also repulsed by their characteristics.
Grand Theft Me: A rare heroic example, which is also deconstructed. The Nephilim are forced against their wishes to take over human bodies or else remain trapped in perpetually sleep inside inanimate objects, and they do not like this arrangement. This parasitic dependency is pretty much the source of any angst that Nephilim suffer if they aren't falling in love with human beings or feeling sorry over their Simulacrum's fate, though certain Arcana sidestep the issue: the Hanged Man allows the Simulacrum full control, while the Moon only incarnates in animals.
When a Nephilim becomes a Selenim, their current Simulacrum's personality and will is destroyed by this process for unknown reasons, though the brain retains their memories and skills, which will begin to slowly degrade afterwards. It is unclear whether this applies to any future Simulacra that the Selenim assumes (in the rare event that said Selenim has redeveloped the ability to reincarnate, as they lose this ability after the change), though comments in the French Selenim sourcebook about some older Selenim keeping "banks of spare bodies" seems to imply so.
Hell Fire: Powerful Djinni get their hair replaced by incandescent fire. Meaning that this sort of fire doesn't need any combustion to be created...
Heroic Sacrifice: The Atlantean exiles originally became Selenim in order to rescue their fellow Nephilim from the Orichalka Men. They received only betrayal and persecution in return.
Human Sacrifice: Subverted. The Mystics sacrifice humans possessed by Nephilim for their magic rituals... it's hilarious when you learn that they actually are supposed to worship Nephilim. "It brings them closer to their divine nature," they say.
Humans Are Bastards: Considering the things they do to their own kind (e.g. the Age of Imperialism, the Great War, the Holocaust, etc), much less to the Nephilim who are simply trying to survive, the secret societies follow this trope to a T. While some Nephilim may view humans with great disdain, they don't go around committing genocide or forcible enslavement.
Julius Beethoven Da Vinci: It's quite possible for a single Nephilim to have been several different historical figures during its existence.
Land Of Dragons: In the French game, Chinese Nephilim, or Shen, were explained as Atlantean exiles who used powerful magical rituals to create dramatic changes in the magical nature of China as opposed to the rest of the world, resulting in them having fundamentally different elements than the Western Nephilim, though they were still represented with the same rules. The planned English version, which was being designed without knowledge of the French version, would have explained that the entire country had fundamentally different elements, astrological associations, occult sciences, and worldviews just because.
Light Is Not Good: If you encounter a secret society with benevolent ideals, be assured that it WILL become crazily fanatic and WON'T hesitate to wipe everything out of its way. Even other "rival" benevolent powers. On top of that, Angels have no alignment obligations, just personality guidelines.
Lizard Folk: Onirim gain reptilian characteristics as their metamorphosis progresses.
Metaplot: "The Revelation" (read: Y2K) was the driving plot of 2nd edition, primarily through the published campaign The Chronicles of the Apocalypse. This lead into the revealing of the Ar-KaÏm and the 3rd edition of the game, which changed the apocalyptic focus to the 2012 predictions.
Mana: The concept of Ka is almost identical to the original Polynesian definition of Mana, which serves as a measurement of a Nephilim's willpower and magical potential. In the English adaption, Ch'awe (Egyptian for "breath") is the term for magic points.
Nephilim: Well, yes, since it's the title, but not much to do with the Biblical version. The Nephilim are reincarnating spirits. Specifically, the players as they make different characters.
Orichalcum: Here called Orichalka, literally "destroyer of Ka." It's an anti-magical metal from Saturn that represents Black Sun-Ka, which is anathema to the Ka fields of Earth, especially Nephilim. Only Selenim are immune, since Black Moon-Ka is also a black element (see Elemental Powers, above).
Our Dragons Are Different: The Strength Arcanum refers to the influence of the elemental fields, and especially Khaiba, by the epithet of "the Dragon." In the French 2nd edition, this is because the elemental fields are inhabited by the DraKaOn, which were originally KaIm who merged their bodies together in the dozens to create continent-sized monstrosities; a side effect is that they influence the nature of magic in their location and randomly generate element-based monsters called Dragon-Effects.
Wyrms are dragon-like manifestations of each elemental field. They only form at certain locations (natural disasters, plexuses and nexuses), and like other elemental creatures they will rarely last long after the event that spawned them has ended. Drakes are a similar creature, except that they are deliberately created by sorcerers to guard a particular place.
The English mailing list and Chaosium Digest included an article that detailed the Devil Arcanum's path to Agartha, titled "The Coming of the Dragons."
Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Selenim thralls, humans infected with Black Moon-Ka, fulfill the "vampiric ghouls" character type. They also double as werewolves and zombies in some cases.
Our Ghosts Are Different: The Selenim sourcebook goes into great detail into how ghosts work. Essentially, human Solar-Ka can sometimes survive the death of the body, retaining its consciousness until the body finally decays into dust (though with special techniques, the Solar-Ka can be preserved indefinitely). The resulting ghosts can have a variety of motivations, including unrequited love and revenge, with the more strong-willed ones manifesting as poltergeists, but a few of them become insanely evil and even try to eat the other ghosts. Selenim are uniquely able to communicate with and help these ghosts, and put down the crazy and evil ones. The premise is somewhat similar to Necroscope, but much less idealistic.
Our Monsters Are Different: Everything. According to the game, supernatural creatures that are common in human folklore were inspired by the different species of Nephilim, without actually understanding their true nature. Applies to: Angels, Elves, Genies, Gorgons, Mermaids, Phoenixes, Sea Monsters, Vampires, and Werewolves. Amongst others...
Selenim can also "contaminate" ordinary humans with Black Moon-Ka, which has some interesting side-effects. Humans contaminated this way will reanimate if killed, and will remain immortal (though slowly rotting) as long as they are provided with Black Moon-Ka. Black Moon-Ka is also highly addictive and can induce various morbid psychoses.
Our Werewolves Are Different: Selenim can develop the ability to shapeshift, inspiring legends of werewolves. They're by no means limited, as each Selenim can develop their own unique form. This can be generally anything the Selenim can imagine. Succubi and werewolves are just as likely as dragons and angels.
Some humans heavily contaminated with Black Moon-Ka will develop a sensitivity to the Moon fields, and may become full-blown lycanthropes themselves.
Personality Powers / Psychoactive Powers: Introduced in Chronicle of the Awakenings, Nephilim Metamorphoses are controlled by a set of "Personality Traits," a measurement of how much the Nephilim understands and represents that emotion. Had the Selenim sourcebook been released in English, Emotional Traits would have applied to Selenim Imago (their version of Metamorphosis), representing what emotions they preferred to feed upon, which in turn would reflect their own emotional states.
Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs / The Dinosaurs Had It Coming: The dinosaurs (Saurians) had an advanced magical civilization, and their last great achievement was to build an artificial "Black Moon" in order to extend their pleasures. The Black Moon began to choke off the Ka fields of the Earth, which jolted the fledgling KaÏm into awareness. The KaÏm proceeded to force the Black Moon to explode, destroying the Saurian civilization, with the survivors marching to the impact sites in order to bask in the residual energy, where they eventually died.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Djinni and Phoenixes (Nephilim with predominant Fire-Ka) are basically this. The Air-Predominant Efreeti fits the trope too.
Puny Earthlings: Without Orichalka to defend themselves any human is pretty much defenseless against Nephilim possession. Humans however have their own Ka (Sun-Ka) which may allow them to regain control at times.
Religion of Evil: The horrifying 666 which sought to free the Saurians from their underground prisons. Knowing the Saurians, they're pretty bound to change Earth into a battlefield of doom. The Devil Arcanum (Nephilim should follow the fits of uncontrollable madness they experience when they approach Orichalka!) and the Cult of the Dragon overlaps with this trope many times too.
The Xibalbans (Mesoamerican Selenim) formed religions around themselves and convinced their human subjects to perform mass human sacrifice to help them to collect enough Black Moon-Ka to slowly rebuild the Black Moon itself. However, their plans were spoiled by Cortez, a Serpent Nephilim of the Wheel of Fortune Arcanum.
The ever-rebellious Cult of the Dragon, hated by most of the other secret societies; they worship natural forces and powers and let them free without any regard to human life.
The Onirim, who gain reptilian characteristics, are distrusted by other Nephilim. Generally because they have a reputation for being insane.
The Saurians. As creatures of the Moon, they were prone to madness and depravity. The last straw came when they created the Black Moon, which would have choked off the other fields had it been left unchecked.
Riddle Me This: As "Magic" in the game is created through the power of words, it is a common way to seal/open a place.
Science Is Wrong: Subverted. Rather than the scientific laws we are familiar with, the universe actually runs on magical laws that perform the same function and more; humans are unable to perceive (much less use) elemental Ka and therefore it never figured into natural philosophy. Some prominent truths are that the dinosaurs had an advanced civilization and human evolution was directed by the KaÏm (which Charles Darwin discovered and covered up with his theory of evolution). The scientific method, however, is still completely valid. Nephilim even refer to magic as "occult science" and treat it as an actual science.
Sealed Evil in a Can: The souls of the dead Saurians still exist in the Black Moon fields. Unlike other examples, however, this is probably permanent.
Unfortunately, the ones that didn't die are still living in the subterranean caverns of the lost continent Mu. There is also the problem of birds being descended from dinosaurs, but thankfully they are so debased that their original Moon-Ka has been replaced by Solar-Ka.
Source Book: Dear God. The amount of overly-complicated supplementary material is enough to give you asthma. The English adaption, not so much.
Space Jews: Inverted. The Nephilim have Kabbalah as one of their occult sciences, were persecuted by the Nazis, and are continually being hunted down by an Ancient Conspiracy. This is quite possibly the most bizarre example of Positive Discrimination ever created.
Starfish Language: Enochian, the language of the Nephilim. The medium it uses is somewhere between light and electromagnetism.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Magic is a catch-all term used by ignorant humans; Nephilim refer to magic as "occult techniques" or "the occult sciences." To Nephilim, magic is not magic: it’s applied scientific theory to manipulating the cosmos.
Vampire Refugee: It's mentioned in the Selenim sourcebook that some individuals infected with Black Moon-Ka, instead of becoming slaves to the Selenim who infected them, may become vampire hunters.
Vampire Vannabe: The Cultes des Goules is a secret society dedicated to serving the Selenim by, among other things, performing human sacrifice. They don't seem to really know all that much about the Selenim, as some of them try to emulate their masters by engaging in acts of cannibalism, whereas Selenim feed on emotions.
Weird Moon: The Black Moon. It was the original second satellite of earth, created by the Saurians to magnify their depravity. It's notable feature is that it's a giant power converter that was in danger of choking the Earth off from the Sun. It was destroyed sixty-five million years ago by the efforts of the original KaÏm. Nonetheless, its fragments still exist on Earth, attended to by the Selenim and other creatures who depend on it to survive.
The Moon itself. It is the source of madness, duplicity, and dreams, and all reptiles are closely tied to it (including Dinosaurs and Onirim). Possibly birds too, since Dinosaurs had feathers; one may even assume birds to be the debased descendants of the surviving Saurians.
Weird Sun: Saturn, aka the Black Sun. It's the source of Orichalka, which is toxic to Nephilim.