What is Nobilis?
In short, it's a diceless game playing the middle management of the gods.
In long? Well, that's quite a story. Nobilis is... different. Complicated, you might say. You probably got that impression from the 11" by 11" dimensions. It's probably my only real complaint as of right now. The books was specifically built to be very, very pretty. A coffee table book, if you will. It won't fit on your bookshelf, I promise.
As for the game contained within, the easiest way to turn people off of it is to tell them the first and most prevalent fact about the system: it's diceless. No random whatsoever included. There is a good reason there aren't any dice, though. The Nobilis or Nobles are the PCs in the game. They are humans who were (forcibly and involuntarilly) given a soul-shard of an Imperator (Imperators are like demigods, their soul-shards are litterally charged with divinity. Mankind thinks of Imperators as Angels and Demons). This makes them chief protecter, purveyer, and controller of a particular aspect of reality.
What aspects of reality? Well, pretty much anything. There is a Noble of Computers, Storms, Yellow, Trees, Flight, etc. These are the domains of Nobles. There are even nobles of Humans, Kung-Fu, Pants, Oceans, Betrayal, Waves, Eternity, etc. Pretty much everything. And within their domain, Nobles hold all the cards. And yes, I did mean to site both Oceans and Waves.
But all is not well in a Noble's life. There is a great war raging on in the cosmos, between all the denizens of reality (mainly Imperators) and creatures from Outside reality (called Excrucians) who want to destroy reality. They see it as inperfection. It's like we planted our weed in their garden. And they really want to pluck that weed. But that weed is our existence.
The aspects of reality can't survive without divine beings in contact with that reality, you see, and the Imperators need someone to hold shop while they fight in the cosmos. So they are basically forced to give up their great powers while the Nobilis are forced to hold on to them.
Now the fun part comes in: Nobilis are humans granted great power. Yes, they get a tad corrupt by it (naturally) or see themselves as superheroes needing great responsibility (naturally). It's up to the players to decide. Moral decisions = nifty.
The bad news: The Imperators can't stop all the Excrucians. Some break through the front lines, or at least parts of them break through, and create Decievers. Decievers are like anti-Nobilis. Excrucians are like anti-Imperators. Every once in a while, an entire Excrucian breaks through. Bad news all around.
Now, outright warfare is NOT preferred. It's much easier to hurt a Nobilis by damaging what he is the Noble of than actually physically confronting him. Most Nobilis can take a bullet and not even be phased. Some can take a tac-nuke. Some are outright immortal. So how do you kill the Nobilis of Computers? Set off a massive computer virus. Start a propaganda campaign against computers. Do something that changes the aspect of Computers (for the worse) and you injure a Noble.
If a Nobilis fails, his aspect of reality is lost. In fact, it never was.
If all the Nobilis fail, reality dies, no matter how strong the Imperators are.
"Why would Nobilis work together?" you might ask. Well, Imperators have more than one domain to dish out. So what happens when one player is the Noble of Guns, one is the Noble of Purple, and one is the Noble of Rock? Lsjunil, the Imperator of Guns, Purple, and Rock is born. They are all family, in fact, if you get down to it, they are all partially the same individual. They are all partially Lsjunil. They pretty much have to work together, even if they all have different motivations.
And to be a lone Noble is to invite a Deciever to strike at that weakness.
Anyway, that's the bare-bones of it. There's a whole lot more, but most are turned off by one or more of the above. It's written really well, by the way.
Oh, I never answered the question as to why it was diceless. When we talk about things like divinity and miracles, leaving things to chance seems to be demeaning the divine.
Is this entire review 100% true? Not entirely. Nobilis has a lot to do with what you make of it, rather than what it allows you to make of it. Some interpretations were made by this reviewer (like on the Execrucian's motivations) that are really up in the air as far as the text is concerned.
But this should be enough of a picture so that you can see whether or not you will like Nobilis.