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Tabletop Game: Nobilis
The revered 2nd edition Great White Book
"There are some things which you cannot do. There are some limits on even a Noble's actions. Never learn these limits. Never accept them. You are a Lord or Lady of this earth."

Created by Rebecca Sean Borgstrom (now Jenna Katerin Moran), also creator of Hitherby Dragons, Nobilis takes the standard Tabletop RPG and turns it up to 11: your character is an Anthropomorphic Personification of any concept, from Clocks to Lies, with enough power from the very beginning to conquer a nation, move the stars in their alignments, or even destroy the world... not that destroying the world is generally very useful.

In order of cosmic significance, the game involves:

  • Imperators (a.k.a.Ymerae), an assortment of angels (fallen and otherwise), Aaron's Serpents (really big snakes) True Gods and others commanded by Lord Entropy fighting the Valde Bellum, a Forever War for reality. Though some would have no problem destroying all of Humanity (or worse), no one wants the universe to die. This is complicated by the matter that Lord Entropy is a huge jerk.
  • Nobles (a.k.a. Sovereigns or Powers) entrusted with one or two Estates or aspects of reality, let's say the Duchess of Gorillas or the Regent of Breakfast Cereal or the Marquis of Oceans. (The Player Characters play these.)
  • Anchors, mortals metaphysically chained and linked to Nobles who had established a link of hate or love with them. So they may range from a despised Butt Monkey to a beloved ally.
    • In first and second edition, at least. In third edition, the term 'Anchor' covers everything that's part of your Treasure, including the above.

All of the above fight the Excrucians, mysterious, beautiful beings from beyond the Weirding Wall, who would like to nullify everything, bit by bit. (They have already destroyed some Estates.)

They come in four types:
  • The Deceivers love us, or something in us, but believe that we've got tangled up in the lie that is Creation, and seek to free that part of us they love by destroying the lie.
  • The Warmains seek to test Creation to see whether it can show them worth. If something fails their tests, they break it or leave it be; if it succeeds, they incorporate it into themselves. If something really impresses them, they'll even take on its body and personality when it's dead.
  • The Mimics are Imperial-level moles in Creation, entities that seem to be Imperators, that hold Estates, that can even create Nobles, but are founded on something that has no part in the world, something that is fundamentally wrong.
  • The Strategists hate Creation. They see nothing to love in it, nothing that may be worthy of them - no, it is wrong, a crime against the void, and must be destroyed. To that end, they can unmake anything they come across, erase it from existence.

The scope of Nobilis adventures is similarly epic in scale: in the few sample adventures in the second edition book alone, the party must defeat an invulnerable giant (this is merely a side encounter), arrange a party attended by other Nobles, help to resolve a centuries-old dispute (or stay out of the way as the involved parties "resolve" it themselves), unravel vast intrigue, kill the evil Santa Claus, and navigate the realm of dreams, or do a thousand other seemingly impossible things, which in a different game might form the basis for an entire campaign.

The true point of Nobilis, however, is not the scale of the action, but the meaning of it: the Player Characters (and most of their allies and enemies) draw their power from a single aspect of reality, so the most powerful way to attack them is to weaken that aspect. Doing so allows you to steal the target's Miracle Points, and even cause them physical harm - a difficult task, in a world where your foe might prove to be literally immortal. Such interactions might happen unintentionally as well: when the Power of Addiction acts against the Power of Strife, the ramifications may be far longer-reaching for the Drug War, or the progress of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Adding structure to this inconceivably vast world are the Imperators, even more powerful gods who invest a portion of their power to create Nobles. They run the spectrum from The Professor to Trickster Mentor to Evil Overlord, and are used both to enable plots and to drive home the vastness of the universe. They are not omnipotent either, however, and can be defeated even by a starting group of characters if they cooperate effectively.

The book is full of short snippets of text written (primarily) by Moran, in a style similar to that of her fiction blog Hitherby Dragons, giving further detail and flavour to the world in which Nobilis takes place, which includes such passages as:

"It's a very small magic."
"It destroyed my world."
"Well, okay, it's a medium-sized magic."

and

The stone was heavy as my sins. That's not a metaphor, at least, not exactly. That's how heavy my Lady, the Marchessa, made it.

Equal parts The Sandman and the later, weirder volumes of His Dark Materials, Nobilis has attracted a tight-knit cult following that apparently like to make long and overly poetic descriptions of it whenever possible.

The first edition (nicknamed the Little Pink Book, or LPB) was put out by Pharos Press. A revised and expanded version (the Great White Book, or GWB. Not to be confused with that GWB) was released by Hogshead Publishing. The third edition is brought to us by Eos Press, starting with Field Guide to the Powers (tentatively dubbed the Fully Colored Book), the first book in the "Nobilis: the Essentials" range.

2e had a print supplement, The Game of Powers, and two PDF 'peculiar books', Unlikely Flowerings and Creatures, Clothed in Strangeness. 3e has the PDF supplement Antithesis, Minibook 1i: A Diary of Deceivers and the freely available The Story Of Treasure, which is basically designer's notes and elucidation on the fiddliest of stats.

There's also a Nobilis webcomic, Chibi-Ex, written by Moran with art by Miranda Harrell, featuring the adventures of a group of chibi Excrucians.

A spinoff project has been started called Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, comprising both novels and RPG sourcebooks. It shares a number of ideas with core Nobilis, but has different mechanics, cosmology and setting.


Nobilis provides examples of:

  • A God Is You: The entire premise of the game, of course.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: A Diary of Deceivers. No sign of A Warrant of Warmains or A Story of Strategists as yet.
  • Affably Evil: The Excrucians are often much nicer than the people who oppose them; and from the other side of the Valde Bellum, in 3e, Hell loves you, truly loves you, even (especially?) in your darkest moments.
  • Alien Invasion: A kind of metaphysical version of this, with the Excrucians, of course, as the invaders.
  • All-Loving Hero:
    • Cruelly subverted by the Deceivers in 3e. They love all things in Creation... but they only love some unknown quality that lies below what we consider the physical and spiritual truths of a thing, and hate everything we can recognize as being that thing. They consider erasing people, objects, and entire concepts from existence a kindness because it reduces the thing to the one aspect of them that they truly love — an aspect we can only recognize as non-existence. Of course, this version was likely told to the author by Genseric Dace, himself a Deceiver... so it's entirely possible it's a lie.
    • Also by the Devils in 3e — they love everything, but they love the cruel, ugly, wicked, and corrupt most of all, as those are things that only have Devils to love them. This perspective has led the Devils themselves to become cruel, wicked, and corrupt.
  • And I Must Scream: Averted by the Immortality gift, which specifically protects you from long-term attempts to imprison or incapacitate you as well. Played straight in at least one of the border fictions.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: Everything in the world has a spirit, even if humans can't see it. More obvious in Cityback, where shopping carts and balloons have eyes and TEETH!
  • Animesque: 3e's artwork. A bit of a Base Breaker between players of 2e who do and do not like anime. One reason for that wasn't a particularly good one — one of the artists had traced some of their pictures from Touhou fanart. The book was temporarily rescinded while they got new drawings. The new version is more Western in style, but still has some animesque pieces.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: This is the entire premise of the game.
  • Anti-Villain: The Dark and Hell in 3e, presumably so you don't have to play a sociopath while being a Noble belonging to them. The Dark are Ethical Hedonists who think human survival as a species comes secondary to the desire to do as they please, and Hell is strangely omnibenevolent, believing that all things deserve love— including horrid things.
    • Deceivers sincerely care for the things of the world... it's just that they believe what they care about has been snared in a kind of abusive relationship with the lies of the world such as cars, life, death, clowns, heads, shoulders, knees and toes.
  • Asshole Victim: Subverted in second edition's example of play. An Excrucian attack on the concept of Treachery relied on warping reality so that a nice person who had been murdered by her boyfriend retroactively became an Asshole Victim. This would have undermined Treachery by mixing in justice where it wasn't supposed to be, undermining reality itself.
  • Author Avatar:
    • A chibified Dr. Moran appears throughout the 3rd Edition book to talk about things ranging from rules clarifications to describing what a Bishounen is.
    • Reportedly, the editor for the 3rd Edition requested a chibi avatar for himself so he could chastise Dr. Moran for using the word "bitterer" in the text.
  • Bad Santa: The Treachery campaign in 2nd edition features the nightmarish "Grommet Claus" as a creation of the Power of Holidays while dueling with the Power of Strife in the PC's Chancel. He gives cursed gifts to good children of the Chancel and feeds the bad ones to the wasps that pull his sleigh, and he was created to plunge his awl into the Power of Strife's brain.
  • Berserk Button: The third edition observes, regarding the Angel who annihilated the dinosaurs because he saw one poop: "Do not lecture him about the dinosaurs. First, he feels bad enough already, and second, he is a hot-tempered immortal angel embodying the very principle of destruction."
  • Bishounen: 3e whimsically notes that mysterious bishounen are usually Imperators, Powers, Excrucians, or the offspring of the Star-Beast Qot. In the event they happen to be human, they're probably not that mysterious.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The default morality of the game in 1e & 2e, with the Excrucians as the black, of course.
    • Even the Excrucians aren't all that black if you believe their version of things, while the "good guys" can include some very evil people.
    • It's probably better to say that it's Blue and Orange Morality with most factions being Above Good and Evil.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Everything that Lord Entropy touches is eventually riddled with corruption and evil, whether he wants it or not, as befits the Imperator of Desecration. This is a large part of why he works through intermediaries.
    • Ananda, the Imperator of the Fourth Age and thus a major avatar of hope, is one of the most beautiful beings in Creation, but his beauty causes creatures to self-destruct mentally and physically in his presence. (e.g. Songbirds sing themselves to death.) He's also the Imperator of Murder, and his 2e stats include a Constant Domain gift that causes people to automatically be murdered when it would be convenient for him.
    • See also Misery Builds Character below.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil / White Hair, Black Heart: They're the two hair colors we see Lord Entropy's human avatars having.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: 1e's example of play did this a la The Gamers. 2e gave us Ianthe Falls-Short as a Noble who gives the HG advice while acting as if the Nobilis setting is real. 3e pretty much has No Fourth Wall with the Writer on Board pulling the same stunt from the perspective of a mortal, to humorous effect.
  • Brick Joke: A few. The 3e Treasure rules use as an example a fiddle with the Creator trapped in it which enables a glorious destiny for the owner. In the Deceivers minibook, there's a callback in the rumor, "So, I hear Cneph's trapped in a fiddle somewhere in this miserable world of yours."
  • Brown Note:
    • Ananda is so beautiful that his presence kills or drives mad anything within a considerable radius. Even people and things that can't actually see him.
    • 1e & 2e have a side story about Lucifer showing a mortal a small fraction of his angelic glory, resulting in him clawing his eyes out while chanting "so beautiful" over and over.
    • The Deceiver used to show the lifepath system in action in Antithesis 1i is an area with an infectious voice. You might never listen to water running over stones in the same way again.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Lord Entropy, and how. In 3rd Edition, he even calls his pocket dimension "The Evil World"! About the only reason the other Imperators tolerate him is that he's an excellent strategist, and he doesn't really care enough to be really oppressive.
    • Also, there's a prophecy that Lord Entropy will be the one to finally stop the Excrucians, if he doesn't end up joining them.
  • Combo Platter Powers: Imperators usually have several Estates to handle, and they need not be thematically related; thus you can have examples like 'Lucifer, Imperator of Pride and Persuasion', or 'Ananda, Imperator of Murder, the Infinite, and the Fourth Age'.
    • Nobles themselves have at their baseline mastery of most human abilities (Aspect), material control over their Estate (Domain), control over the Estate's semantics and things it is related to (Persona) and an assortment of helpful mortal, magical or miraculous devices or creatures (Treasure). This doesn't even take into account any miscellaneous Gifts a Noble could have, so any Noble could have a truly wide range of unrelated abilities, if they so wanted.
  • The Chessmaster: Essentially every Noble is encouraged to maintain a complex web of schemes.
  • The Commandments: In 1e & 2e, each Imperial faction had a three-sentence Code which granted MP for great service and penalized MP for violating. Powers of Aaron's Serpents and True Gods (and those that just didn't feel the call of the five big factions) could mostly make up their own Codes. In 3e, these Codes have faded into the background and aren't even enumerated anymore. To roughly paraphrase them:
    • Heaven valued beauty, justice, and respecting your betters.
    • Hell valued corruption, suffering, and power for its own sake.
    • The Light valued eternal human survival, protecting humans (from themselves), and morally clean action.
    • The Dark valued human self-destruction (individual and collective) and horror in human eyes.
    • The Wild valued freedom, living beyond sanity & mundanity, and repaying your debts.
    • Aaron's Serpents' individual codes commonly respected life, trees, oaths, peace, and taking only what you've earned. Kind of like zen monks in a way.
  • Consummate Liar: Excrucian Deceivers.
    • In 1e & 2e, some can use the Blind Lie and you are bound by the lie as if it was reality for a scene. (e.g. "I am not here," or "Gravity isn't real.")
    • In 3e, they gain "pseudo-Estates" which are not really part of this world but that they can impose upon it. One signature NPC is Iolithae Septimian, whose pState is "The Lies of Iolithae Septimian," and her first act in Creation was to lie the oceans into having salt. She is also responsible for making true, "No one can know whether God is real or not," and that's supposedly still not the worst lie she's made true. In Chibi-Ex, she also lies herself back to life after Coriander Hasp shoots her in the head for lying Firefly into being canceled after 11 episodes.
  • Cosmic Chess Game: Quite a common practice among Nobles, out of practicality or maybe boredom. Manipulating mortals is commonplace for harming other Nobles or Excrucians indirectly.
  • Cosmic Retcon:
    • Players and NPCs can take actions which alter the fabric of reality, even across time. One notable event in the Back Story caused the deletion of five hundred years of history, including human settlements on other planets... as well as the American Civil War. Some events survived (in one form or another) and some just didn't.
    • 3e pushes this back a bit and also expands on it; the Cosmic Retcon rolled 500 years of history back, leaving Earth back in the 1920s — not to before the American Civil War. It shattered the Power of Network Gaming — she was unable to do anything until Network Gaming existed again, and even then, she had to somehow piece herself back together with other souls that couldn't cope with the history shift. Exactly what she did to the other souls to do this is uncertain.
  • Council of Angels: The Angels rule Heaven, not the Creator, whom they have only ever known through a voice in their hearts that guides them. The Fallen (in 1e & 2e) believe that the voice of Cneph is nothing but a lie — perhaps the voice of Heaven itself.
  • Crapsack World:
    • In the GWB, Prosaic Earth is a grim place, probably grimmer than in the real world. It also mentions that souls may be mysteriously destroyed. So in the end, "The situation is essentially hopeless, but the world is only eight thousand years old, and things may yet change."
    • The mortal world in 1e & 2e is noted to have more wars and for courts to pay lip service at best to the notion of "innocent until proven guilty."
    • Additionally in all editions, people reincarnate until becoming worthy of Heaven or Hell. However, the Angels refuse entry into Heaven while Hell is always open, meaning that all souls are inevitably Hell-bound. In 3e, at least, it's because they want us to linger in the world until we are as beautiful and pure as they are, and our world is virtually a Heaven unto itself — the fact that this might not actually be as healthy or desirable for humanity as it sounds doesn't concern them in the slightest.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Nobilis makes it all but impossible to kill other Nobles, even if you resort to nuclear blasts and volcanic eruptions. Until that last wound level is dealt — and even then, it may not actually be death, or only temporary death depending on the circumstances of that last wound and the abilities of the Noble in question. Mere mortals are, of course, a completely different matter.
  • Dark Is Not Evil:
    • The Dark wants every human to choose suicide of their own free will, either individually or as a species, but many treat this as testing humanity and lose interest in mortals that can hold on against all travails. Similarly, many of the Fallen see a certain nobility in suffering. Lucifer is incorruptible and cleaves to Hell for philosophical reasons, oddly enough.
    • In 3e, it's changed a bit. The Dark wants people to be free — but more than that, it wants people to overextend their freedom until they die. First part is good; second part, not so much. Meanwhile, the Devils love everything — whereas Heaven will only love things that are good, pure, or beautiful. The downside is that they love the wicked, ugly, and corrupt most of all — since they have none to love them but Hell — and this perspective has led to their becoming wicked and corrupt themselves.
  • Dark Messiah:
    • Lord Entropy, presumably. We don't know what he did prior to the war with the Excrucians, but he is prophesied to lead the final battle to victory for Creation — if he is loyal to it.
    • And all of the Fallen Angels in 3E. They're actually the more all-loving angels who were kicked out for believing that ugly parts of the world deserve love too. And they're always willing to lend a helping hand...
    • Many Deceivers come in this flavor too. They all see the world as a lie and many just want to rescue us from it. (At least, the portions of us they consider to be the real us, without all the baggage of existence.) This also gives them a certain tendency for dramatically trying to explain or convince people of their position whether it's practical or not.
  • Dating Catwoman: You would be amazed at the variety of excuses Nobles have found to shack up with Excrucians.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu? / Pals with Jesus / Enemies with Death: All over the place. Inverted when Player Characters call upon their mortal Anchors.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Third Edition describes the setting as if it's part of the real world, with much of the setting data written anecdotally, and at least three miraculous beings (Ianthe Falls-Short, Genseric Dace, and Selenas Picard) presented as people the author has personally met.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: Humorously averted in universe by Lord Entropy in 3e. The author points out that as a "deeply troubled, handsome, dangerous celebrity" he should have at least some fangirls, but experiments by curious Noble-watchers seem to prove that it is actually impossible to fall in love with him. He seems to either not mind the fact or to be the one behind it.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Lord Entropy actively inspires this sort of reputation, since he enjoys being feared. His Nobles aren't much better.
    • The prospect of fighting a full Excrucian is noted to one of the greatest threats a Noble can face, even with allies or a home field advantage.
    • One standout Noble in second edition is the Power of Blankets, due to his utter ruthlessness in fighting Excrucians. When your enemies can't rest in or near beds for fear of being spied on or strangled, you've earned this reputation.
  • Easy Road to Hell: The standards angels set for Heaven are somewhat on the high side. So much so, in fact, that not a single person has ever gotten into Heaven. Ever.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The Excrucians aren't sanity-shredding ugly monsters, but other than that, they're dead ringers for the trope via Humanoid Abomination.
    • Averted with 3rd ed's True Gods. While they might look the part, in truth they're closer to Starfish Gods, being primordial deities that arose around the time life first learned cooperation. In 3e, it's fleshed out that they're "truer" to the bare essence of life than later, more ordered deities and only seem alien because we have so much excess baggage beyond simply killing, eating, and sex — things like forms, and legs, and thoughts.
    • 3e's Actuals also count. They're the embodied concepts of reality that existed before the True Gods (i.e. life itself) did, and they're vital to the world as we know it. They also are occasionally summoned out of the Spirit World, at which point they become cancerous, assimilating everything they can get their hands on in order to understand life.
  • Electric Boogaloo: The third edition.
  • Elemental Powers: Both the traditional and the nontraditional versions of this exist, depending on your Estate, of course.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: All three editions make heavy use of quotes from books and records from within the setting to illustrate the surreal, cosmic feel of the setting. Most come from a series of common (made up) authors and the thought-records of various individuals judged by the Locust Court.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Some of the villains, notably the Excrucians, seek to destroy every world.
  • Enemy Mine: Heaven loathes Hell, but the Angels and Devils are fighting on the same side, as they both want to exist...
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Genseric Dace may be an embodiment of nonexistence that seeks to destroy reality, but even he thinks that Firefly being cancelled after only 11 episodes is unforgivable. Oh, and Coriander Hasp strongly frowns upon the exploding of foxes.
  • Evil Is Petty: One of the things we see Lord Entropy doing in the art is poisoning a jar of gumballs.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Super-science, gods, fairies, devils and angels all co-exist somehow.
  • First-Person Smartass: The in-character author of 3rd Edition, to great effect.
  • Fisher King: In the first two editions, a Noble's Realm score exists to govern exactly how much "Fisher Kingness" a given character has. You can still do this in 3e with a Secondary Domain of "Things of the Chancel."
  • Flower Motifs: In 1e & 2e, Powers had personal heraldry based on their Code and two flowers representing their Estate and their view of it or relationship with it, using the Victorian Flower Language. See Sympathetic Magic below for more info. In 3e, the lifepath and keys system names several of the keys after flowers with relevant meanings.
  • Forever War: A cosmic version of this.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Dementia Animus.
  • God's Hands Are Tied:
    • Most of the Imperators are busy fighting the Excrucians on the astral plane, leaving the Nobles to fight the Excrucian shards that make it to Creation in their place. Subverted in that the Nobles are effectively gods as well.
    • Ananda is constrained from voting against Lord Entropy by a prophecy that warns of terrible consequences if he does. The most he can do is abstain in a vote.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Common (if not exactly obligatory) among Nobles and Imperators.
  • Have You Seen My God?:
    • The rulebook does not specify the whereabouts of the Creator (not the Judeo-Christian one) one way or another and hints that he may not even have existed. Lord Entropy conducts the War (on Earth) in the Creator's absence.
    • There's even less of the Creator in 3e — there's some indications that he exists, or once existed, but that's about it. He's even less of a player in things than he used to be. It does, however, provide rules for trapping him in a fiddle.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: When compared to its siblings, the Powers of Chaos and Strife, being the Power of Borders seems underpowered. Then the Estate is explained as having the power over all boundaries, including metaphysical ones (like class boundaries), and tells of how the current Power plunged Cincinnati (whose Mayor offended it) into anarchy for forty days by erasing the distinction between citizen and criminal. Wow.
    • Also, in an animistic setting where all things have spirits, being a power of an emotion is really strong.
    • There are a few domains no smart GM ever lets a character take. The key one is... Flowers.note 
    • One of the most feared Nobilis is the one in control of Blankets. Why? Because he can strangle you in your sleep, spy through them, and keep you from sleeping.
  • Humanoid Abomination:
    • The one common trait between all Excrucians is that they are beautiful. Since human standards are dominant by default, most end up being some version of this.
    • In 1e & 2e, any Earthly Power visiting another world on the tree would most likely be this. Estates of True Gods and of the Light and the Dark were not universal to all of Creation, and a Power leaving Earth for another world would carry concepts with them which were utterly alien to the rest of Creation. Of course, other worlds would have their own hosts of local True Gods and incomprehensible Estates. Most groups largely ignored this part of the game because it would make visiting other worlds on the Tree unplayable if taken seriously.
  • Hyperspace Base: All Nobles have a base of some kind, called a Chancel, which is commonly one along these lines.
  • I Know Your True Name: Subverted. Deceivers using the Rite of the Second Skin to copy someone else's powers can be compelled using the name of the person they are copying, if you know it.
  • Implacable Man: Actually killing enemy Powers is extremely difficult, forcing players to think of other ways to deal with them.
  • Inverse Law of Complexity to Power: Averted. The power of your abilities is proportional to the character points spent on Domain and is only limited to your own ability to be creative with them.
  • Invisible to Normals:
    • The entire universe reshapes itself so that miraculous actions are completely normal (for instance, if a Imperator puts out the sun and then lights it again, the world suffers a solar eclipse that all the astronomers will now remember predicting, and have records of doing so, or possibly discover evidence that the old way of predicting eclipses was flawed and the new way works better.)
    • However, direct miraculous actions by Nobles avert this trope and will instead force people to see the Mythic World and hence be considered crazynote  by the rest of society. Part of the reason for Entropy's laws is to discourage this.
  • Jerk Ass: Lord Entropy. He literally hates everything, and enjoys being feared and being a general source of misery.
  • Kangaroo Court: The Locust Court, during the first two editions, which existed mainly to a) permit Lord Entropy to arbitrarily punish anyone he wanted, and b) see who could afford the biggest bribe for Meon. 3e dialed it back a bit, making the Court as just as any other court that tries people for breaking laws one guy made up.
  • King of All Cosmos: The game encourages players to create eccentric characters, and therefore fall into this trope.
  • LARP: 2e's limited-run, hard-to-find The Game of Powers.
  • Lemony Narrator: To some extent, Ianthe in 2e. But Jenna, in her author avatar in 3e, takes this trope and runs with it. The rules are filled with too many quirky and bizarre footnotes and examples to list.
  • Light Is Not Good:
    • The faction called The Light wants mankind to live forever... By any means necessary. Their concept of moral cleanliness is probably the closest to human morality that any of the factions come, but that really is not saying too much. They'll take What Measure Is a Non-Human? to any length, for one, and would happily set us up for And I Must Scream if it just meant we survive.
    • The faction of Heaven also falls squarely into this trope. Their concern is Beauty, and though some focus on beauty of spirit (and thus would be considered 'good') others are horrifyingly shallow. A good example is the Angel who wiped out the dinosaurs because one had the audacity to poop in his sight.
    • Ananda is the Imperator of the Fourth Age, the one that will hopefully exist once the Excrucians are driven away, and is considered a source of hope, joy, and beauty. He's also the Imperator of Murder, and his presence kills people with said hope, joy, and beauty. He also never opposes Lord Entropy's decisions on the Council of Four.
      • Ananda's actually kind of a subversion, however; he's genuinely a Nice Guy who takes great pains to avoid killing people with his beauty after the Mud Falls Incident (where he turned an entire town to crystal by visiting it), and the main reason he's Entropy's Yes-Man is largely because there's a prophecy that states if they are ever directly opposed, something catastrophic will happen (and naturally, Lord Entropy cares a lot less than Ananda does).
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • 3rd edition. Heaven is less unconcerned with morality and wants to improve the rest of Creation to meet its (still too high) standards. The Dark wishes to free humanity to reach as far as it can (and beyond) and now admires our potential rather than loathing us. Hell is motivated by all-encompassing love rather than rejection of Heaven. Finally, the artwork is more fairy tale-like than 2e's austere high art aesthetic, and the author's writing is far more bubbly and whimsical than 2e's gravitas and sense of awe.
    • See also The Masquerade below.
  • Love Is a Weakness: One of 2e Lord Entropy's justifications for making it illegal to love is that it distracts from your duty to serve the war. However, it's equally likely that he just hates love or wants to make laws that everyone will break at some point to justify convicting any Power he wants to. 3e supports the latter theories by emphasizing that he likes to be feared and that he can't be loved for unknown reasons that he could not care less about.
  • Magical Underpinnings of Reality
  • Mana: Miracle Points, which can be used to make miracles bigger or stronger.
  • Manchurian Agent: Excrucian Mimics, Imperators that have been emptied and corrupted, turned over to the side of the Excrucians.
  • The Masquerade:
    • In 1st & 2nd edition, performing overt miracles in front of people could cause dementia animus, a condition in which their minds are stuck in the mythic reality. This would leave them essentially broken and get you hauled before the Locust Court for breaking Lord Entropy's laws for doing harm to innocents. There you would most likely be tried before a kangaroo court and tossed into a swarm of locusts; if you were "lucky," their mouths would be kept shut and they'd just crawl over you for days or weeks.
    • In 3rd edition, the Locust Court is instead a place of mental healing for all creatures, where no harm may be done to any other living thing. The name comes from how many insects come to take advantage of it. People with dementia animus rest there until healed and leave with no memories of the Court or the trauma that led them there. Causing a person to have to go through this is still bad in theory, but there's less emphasis on horrific punishment in the setting info, and there's no longer a sense of leaving a trail of broken lives whenever you do cool stuff in public. Things fix themselves.
  • Misery Builds Character: Whenever Bonds and Afflictions (3e) or Restrictions (1e & 2e) cause the Power trouble, they get MP back.
  • Mundane Utility: Most of a Noble's abilities can be used for mundane purposes - and the Nobilis can go over the top when it comes to being comfortable or making their lives better in minor ways. This can easily overlap with using casually excessive force.
    Does New York City block a Noble's ocean view? Then the city can move! A slow and ponderous relocation should minimize the danger of dementia animus.
  • Mythopoeia
  • Named Weapons: the Excrucians bear five hundred and seventy-two, ranging from the sword Eurytos/Horror, to the rifle Ritho.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The game makes it hard not to end up with at least one of these per character, though the Excrucians and Lord Entropy deserve special mention.
  • Never Found the Body: As of 3e, Dahlia Thorn, the Mimic who seemed to oversee Robots, Safety, Health, Light, and Stuffed Animals.
  • Obliviously Evil: One image in Antithesis 1i is named "Innocence". It depicts Iolithae Septimian, who doesn't seem to have realised that turning the seas to salt and killing all the fish therein might not have been an act of purest light.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: Several, but the Windflower Law, which forbids Nobles from falling in love, is probably the most blatant.
  • Odd Job Gods: Pretty much the whole point. Not only could Creation need a Power of Lipton Instant Noodles just as much as a literal Power of Friendship, the former may actually wind up the more powerful and prestigious!
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Excrucians, who want to destroy Reality. Or maybe steal it. Or test it. It all works out the same in the end.
    • In third edition, while the others kinda want to destroy Reality, it's the Strategists who are most actively at war. Or to be frank-all the Excrucians not Strategists want to help it or view it as a Worthy Opponent, but Strategists are motivated by an all-consuming disgust.
  • The Omnipotent: Nobles have the specialized type, with the ability to do absolutely anything within their given concept.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Council of Four, the Imperators that rule the war on Earth. Generally speaking, rather than actually direct the war tactically, they serve more as a vague threat to the players who might break Lord Entropy's code of laws which forbid love, harming innocents (and those you don't have evidence of guilt), and surrendering authority to mortals. The other members of the Council pretty much give Lord Entropy a free hand:
    • The Common Law: Surolam, Imperator of Law in 3e, is a creature of legal precedent and will not bend on existing precedent nor act on behalf of one Noble where there is no precedent without deeply considering whether how that act would bind her centuries and millennia from now.
    • God's Hands Are Tied: Ananda cannot vote against Lord Entropy lest some prophesied disaster occur.
    • It's All About Me: Ha-Qadosch Berakha is only interested in things that personally benefit him.
    • As a side-note on the vagueness, none of the Imperators other than Lord Entropy were named in 1e, only Ananda was described in any detail in 2e, and in 3e we still have no description of Ha-Qadosch Berakha (though 2e hints he's probably a Wildlord and is self-centered).
  • Omniscient Morality License: The Valde Bellum (or war against the Excrucians) justifies pretty much any act to stop the enemy. Be sure you don't break any of Lord Entropy's laws in the process, though, because it'll probably come back to bite you later.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The GWB doesn't discuss angels at length, even though angels can serve as the players' "boss". Suffice to say that they don't mind working with devils in order to stop the Excrucians. And as noted elsewhere, contrary to scripture, they don't really let people into Heaven when they die.
    • Oh, they mind alright. Working with Devils is unspeakably abhorrent to them- the alternative's just worse.
    • The first splatbook for third edition, The Royalty of Heaven, will spotlight the angels and their philosophy.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons are the native and monstrous but non-miraculous inhabitants of Hell, and Devils are Angels who were cast down into Hell for believing either that Corruption and Suffering are morally exalted (1e & 2e) or that even the ugliest parts of Creation deserve love (3e). Some Devils have become completely corrupted by their exposure to Hell, while others like Lucifer are as pure as the day they fell.
  • Our Ogres Are Hungrier: Ogres are creations of Lord Entropy, formed from the sensation of tearing flesh. That in itself is all you need to know about them.
    "I have a story," he said. "I will trade it for my life."
    "Don't like stories."
    "It's got lots of crunching bones and tasty flesh in it."
    "So do you."
  • Physical God: At the very baseline, a Noble is as smart, skilled and strong at every moment as an ordinary human on the best day. At the top of the scale, a Noble is capable of drop-kicking a mountain into orbit, beating a hundred chess grandmasters simultaneously and becoming God-Emperor of a nation of devoted worshipers. At the same time. Unless another Noble opposes them, mind you.
  • Plagiarism: Most annoyingly, about 60-odd of the original pictures for the 3rd ed core were by an artist who'd traced from Touhou fanart, meaning that the PDF was delayed while new artists were found to replace their art.
  • Power Copying: By performing the Rite of the Second Skin, a Deceiver can copy someone else's powers - and their skills and passions, to boot. There are several conditions: they need 24 hours without interruption to perform the rite, they must at least have met the person they're copying (though there are many Deceivers whose conditions are more difficult), they probably can't have more than one second skin at a time, and if someone commands a Deceiver by the name of their second skin, they are obliged to obey to the best of their current ability.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: For an Imperator to create a Chancel, they must spend 100 nights committing one Human Sacrifice each night. Or perform some sacrifice of an equivalent scale.
  • Precision F-Strike: Jenna Moran seems to have vowed to use the word "fuck" exactly once in each third edition book. Essentials uses it while describing how messed up Strategists are; Antithesis 1i uses it while emphasising how annoying Genseric Dace - sorry, Deceivers in general - can be, with their "I like you but everything you care about is a lie" schtick.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: In all editions, the players can choose willing or unwilling human hosts to use as Anchors for a variety of purposes. Additionally, in 3rd edition, this can extend to certain objects and places via Treasure and to any manifestation of your Estate via Persona.
  • Purple Prose: The most common complaint about the rulebook. It may be deliberate.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Almost no matter what you do, you fight against gods, and some choose to oppose the missing Creator Cneph.
    • Also in the 1e & 2e backstory, the Fallen turned their backs on the voice of the Creator that all Angels hear. It's hinted that Lucifer turned out of anger at having seen Adam and Eve.
    • 3e instead suggests that the Devils turned because they felt that all things were worthy of love, not just the beautiful or pure or good things that the Angels loved. Unfortunately, they love the ugly, the corrupt, and the wicked most of all — since they are the things that have nothing but Hell to love them — and combined with the effects of living in Hell, this means that even the kindest of Devils tend to be themselves corrupt and wicked.
    • 2e also hints that the Excrucians may be motivated to attack Creation by some debt the Creator owed and did not repay. At least, it's what some of them claim.
  • Reality Warper: You are one. So are your friends, your enemies, your cat and your neighbor, George.
  • Red Right Hand: No matter what form he's in, Lord Entropy's hands always drip with blood.
    • Excrucians (except possibly Mimics) always have stars falling in their eyes.
  • Resurrective Immortality: In 3e, every Strategist is dying of something. When whatever it is finally catches up with them, they die, fading into unbeing - and then they use unbeing to restore themselves and return to the world.
  • Ret Gone:
    • What the Excrucians do.
    • Humorously done to Deuteronomy, the Power of Guilt, in a side note in 3e, because he was deeply tied to the Locust Court in 1e & 2e.
  • Retcon:
    • The Locust Court is Surolam's domain. It has always been Surolam's domain. The previous suggestion that it belonged to a Darklord in the service of Lord Entropy was an imagining of the author spurred on by an evocative name, and has no basis in reality. Lord Entropy still uses it for trials. (See also What Measure Is a Non-Cute? below.)
    • Hukkok is the Angel of Law in earlier editions. In 3e, Law is now one of Surolam's estates.
  • The Roleplayer: The game's target audience.
  • Schrödinger's Suggestion Box: The game's freeform miracle system gives incredible PC flexibility. The HG is strongly encouraged to say, "Sure, Why Not" as much as possible.
  • Semantic Superpower: As much as the HG will let you get away with. With the stat Persona, for example, a Noble can influence a piece of reality to be more like his own Estate. "The amount of popcorn in this popcorn bowl is now like Imagination: it has no limits."
    • The HG can do this with Afflictions; for example, if someone's Affliction of "I'm the most beautiful person in the room" is up against a stronger miracle of Beauty, it might resort to throwing the other person physically out of the room...
  • Serious Business: Due to the potential significance miraculous power can attach to a seemingly mundane event, Nobles may expend a great deal of their energy trying to capture exotic birds or convince someone they actually own a cat.
    • And then there's social events. Nobilis groups have been known to spend multiple sessions planning a party. Of course, when everyone involved is a god, it'll be (quite possibly literally) one Hell of a party.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: The people of Dionyl subvert this trope — they are spirits with nothing but empty clothes for a physical form.
  • Sigil Spam:
    • Lord Entropy always wears a scarab, usually on his back. The 3rd Edition book also has little sigils on every page number.
    • Any Noble can take a collection of symbols as an Anchor in third edition, and with time they can use this to spy on any location the sigil can be found.
  • Sliding Scale of Seriousness Versus Silliness: The game as a whole is very hard to place, as the premise has both an inherent wonder and majesty, and an inherent whimsical absurdity. It's much easier to place the individual books: The GWB focused much more on the wonder and majesty in its writing, while 3e much more emphasizes the whimsical absurdity.
  • Soul Fragment: Done intentionally to bind Nobles to their Imperators. In turn, Nobles do something similar (though not identical) to turn others into their Anchors.
  • Swiss Army Superpower: More or less the entire point. Control over Individuality can be used to disintegrate objects (by making each individual molecule The Pete Best), cure cancer (by erasing the effect that makes cells strike out on their own), and inflict a little chaos into virtually any situation.
  • Sympathetic Magic:
    • 1e & 2e's Excrucian Flower Rite is this gone horribly wrong. Excrucians could weaken an Estate by corrupting a situation that tied to the meanings of an Estate's flowers. 2e's example of play centered on such a rite where an Excrucian tried to make the world believe that the betrayal and murder of a woman by her abusive boyfriend was justified and even heroic in an attack on Treachery.
    • Characters can also subvert this sympathy by crushing the petals of flowers related to the miracles they perform to bury their tracks and to prevent enemies from divining who performed said miracles.
    • Due to a lack of flower heraldry in 3e, the Rite was absent from the main rulebook. Antithesis 1i re-imagines it as playing your Estate's properties against each other, but Sympathetic Magic is no longer necessarily involved.
  • The Syndicate: The Camorra, a kind of magical mafia, established to serve the Nobles on Prosaic Earth. Of course, they don't actually like the Nobles that much and extract favors accordingly.
  • Take That: A somewhat eccentric but solid one is delivered to Guardians of Order in the opening to third edition. Of course, given what Guardians of Order were up to at the end, Dr Moran was probably due a couple of shots at them.
  • Tarot Motifs: Most art in the 3rd Edition is framed in cards with numbers on them a la Major Arcana.
  • That One Rule:
    • 1e's wounds system was very unclear but was massively improved for 2e. 3e gets confusing again because it covers any negative effect (like being turned into a duck or being massively humiliated in public) and has to cover 3e's lack of immunity to direct miracles.
    • 3e's mortal actions system is very hard to wrap your head around because it focuses on the effects of an action on your character's life or the world instead of normal immediate success or failure, to the point that at the top of the chart your actions are objectively "the right thing, for some fuzzy definition of right." Focusing on task resolution at that level is very hard for even experienced game masters, but here is a better explanation of how it's supposed to work.
      • Thankfully, these rules received more clarification in Chuubo's, as they have become more relevant and useful.
  • True Companions: More so than in most Tabletop RPGs. Each PC group forms their own Familia with their Imperator sitting at the head of the table.
  • Urban Fantasy: Though a campaign can theoretically take place in any time period (and various time periods via Time Travel), most take place in the present day by assumed default.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The rulebook assumes intelligence and sophistication on the part of the reader (which may be part of the reason the second edition went out of print).
  • Villain Protagonist: A Diary of Deceivers goes in-depth on the Deceivers, giving them complete character creation rules. Dr. Moran has expectations there'll be future Excrucian books.
  • The Wall Around the World: The Weirding Wall.
  • Was Once a Man: Many Excrucian Decievers were once normal people that achieved a strange kind of enlightenment; that reality wasn't real, and it causes nothing but pain for what is.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Anchors tend to draw a lot of attention from the oddities of the world. Nobles too, although they usually respond with glee, and start getting bored and going out to find and/or make weirdness themselves if it's been a little while since their last encounter with an Actual.
  • Wham Line: In Antithesis 1i, the Tale of Iolithae Septimian (an example Deceiver) is told. Though only a bit creepy at first, it is very easy to pinpoint the point where the story takes a turn for the worse.
    She asks the man of the temple if the seas have always been fresh. He looks afraid. He whips her. He cuts out her tongue. He bends her to his will.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Bugs got the horror treatment in 1e & 2e's Locust Court, which used swarms of flesh-eating locusts as a torture or execution tool. In 3e, the Locust Court is Ret Conned into the realm of Surolam, Imperator of Law, where it is a place that creatures can gain respite from the harsh consequences of knowledge of miracles. It's called the Locust Court because it is constantly filled with insects, the only non-miraculous beings who can remember their time spent within, and anyone or anything that rests there is bound to be a Friend to All Living Things (even to any diseases or parasites they carry).
  • Word of God: Comes up fairly often, as Dr. Moran and some of the other people involved in the game's development are quite active in the gaming and Nobilis fan communities and will clarify aspects of the setting or rules. For instance, the Word Of God on why Ha-Qadosch Berakha isn't described in any detail at all in 3e is that it's partially so he can remain a cipher for the HG to fill in the details of as suits their game, and partially because she wanted to maintain the pattern that only one new member of the Council is described per edition.
  • World of Symbolism: The Mythic Earth works on the operation and use of symbols, specifically those relating to a certain Power or that Power's design. The Mythic Reality is all symbol and everything in it has a deeper meaning.
  • The World Tree: Mythic Earth hangs on the branches of this tree. For those who can traverse it, it provides access to The Multiverse.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: All the player characters are members of the same Familia (that is, chosen by the same Imperator)... and that's about all they're likely to have in common. The game tends to create borderline dysfunctional groups. This is not a bug.
  • You Will Be Assimilated: The byline of Excrucian Warmains, the "Warrior" caste. The Warmains test the things of Creation in order to find something able to stand up to them. They admire those that succeed, and seek to preserve them past the Forever War — specifically, as part of themselves. The 3e book explicitly shows how intellectual they can be about this; one of them likes to involve people in moral tests...with those succeeding becoming her targets.

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