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Zulfikar Zaban

Nephilim, expanded universe.

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I find the concepts of "Nephilim: Occult Roleplaying" very intriguing, beyond just being a game. The Nephilim game ties many elements together, and it can be allot to juggle, but it is a game that expands. You can read of Ahkenaten and Zoroaster and the other historical figures (and a-historical) in the game supplements, it you can go to the library and learn about those figures and cultures in depth. I think to really "get" the game, it helps to not just read the supplements to the game itself, but the books it references. Off into the ever weaving paths of the great occulted library labrynthine. Perhaps that is just the character of the angel manifest. Perhaps it is just speculation, after all, "this game is not Real, You are."

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This very feature of the game has also, I think, proven a challenge for many players.  As I've stated elsewhere, it's no fewer than three, maybe four, different game concepts gathered under one cover.  Then any given Past Life era potentially presents an entirely different historical setting if you engage in flashback play.  I wholeheartedly agree that the game opens the pathway to -- almost necessitates -- personal research into world history, world religion, occult science and mysticism, conspiracy theory, current world affairs.  It can be a daunting project to keep a lid on, and a steep price for admission.  Imagine playing Call of Cthulhu sequentially or simultaneously in all of the published eras and genres, including the Dreamlands and Delta Green.  It'd be wild!

So how do prospective GMs wrap their arms around Nephilim?  How do you keep that lid on to successfully bring it to a boil, but not blow out of control?  What scope do you use to keep it in focus?  What tools and GM/player resources do you want to see to make the game work as a game, and not just a research project?

!i!

Edited by Ian Absentia

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I always understood that Nephilim's past lives memories are a bit nebulous. The Nephilim remembers the experience as one can remember a dream, but retaining part of the skills and knowledge. That is why not all the % of the past lives professions remain with the Nephilim. That prevents both GM and players needing a full knowledge and understanding of each era. However, once you have a defined set of PCs, you may use parts of their past lives as story hooks and some research doesn't hurt!

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One idea I had for making Nephilim easier to grok would be to allow characters to recall past lives during play rather than starting with convoluted character creation, although this may not be feasible under the BRP rules.

Aside from being newbie unfriendly, another possible problem with the game's premise is that Nephilim are presented as parasites possessing human bodies. While sufficient for antagonists in a horror or conspiracy game, it isn't really appropriate for protagonists. One way I think that this could be addressed, in tandem with recalling past lives during play, is that the relationship between the human and nephilim personalities be rewritten to make them less seemingly villainous.

Rather than parasites, it might be better to characterize them as symbiotic. To some degree this concept of merger between elemental and simulacrum is already present in the standard rules, since nephilim rely on their simulacrum's characteristics plus the bonus from their ka's meta-characteristics. I would prefer not to characterize them as awakened humans because that's already what every other modern magic game does, because that doesn't fit with the rest of the cosmology and magic system, and because that makes certain character types like selenim and ar-kaim untenable.

For example, perhaps the shouit mechanic could be rewritten. Instead of the nephilim suffering sudden amnesia after a critical on a skill roll, they accrue shouit points for failing to maintain their muggle relationships to represent the muggle side's emotional turmoil. When shouit does take over, the muggle personality doesn't forget everything but merely doesn't remember the occult life and their psyche devises explanations to explain it away; although specifics may vary by character.

Conversely, the khaiba mechanic could be rewritten in a similar fashion. Rather than simply accruing with critical rolls until it maxes and forces a state of khaiba, points could accumulate on a meter in opposition to shouit points. Khaiba represents the base nature of the nephilim without the human side to anchor them, so nephilim are truly gestalt beings rather than elemental spirits possessing human bodies.

So what effect does this have on the culture of the nephilim? It means that they would prefer simulacra who are sympathetic to them, because otherwise the fusion simply would not work well if at all. You could go so far as to say that nephilim simply cannot merge with a simulacrum that doesn't meet a minimal threshold of psychological compatibility, or that if they do it causes extreme personality changes in the nephilim. This would be very difficult to roleplay, so switching simulacra shouldn't be a frequent thing. (E.g. look at Dax from Star Trek for an example.)

Most of the Major Arcana work fine with this adjustment, save for those like Devil, Hanged Man, Death, and Moon, plus the ar-kaim. Those require a bit more thought.

Devil believe enlightenment is found through khaiba and reject the muggle world entirely. Naturally, they might form genuine satanic cults in order to find simulacra with compatible personality types who won't accrue too much shouit points. In any case, Devil are probably not appropriate as PCs given their obviously antisocial culture. That they are an arcanum at all is interesting by itself.

Hanged Man aren't as extreme under the symbiotic POV. They are probably the most similar to the awakened human mages in other RPGs, since they lack the ready access to past life memories and ancient perspective of other nephilim. However, this in itself gives them a unique POV since they think of themselves first as their current muggle lives and not as reincarnating wizards with ancient grudges.

Moon encompasses nephilim with animal rather than human simulacra. If they are merges of elemental and simulacrum, then this raises the question of where their intelligence comes from. Since nephilim rely on the characteristics of their simulacrum plus the bonus from meta-characteristics, this means that the Moon Arcanum is at an intellectual disadvantage because their simulacra are animals. On the other hand, it does give them more reason to interact with muggles rather than living in total isolation like the Hermit Arcanum. After all, who do you think inspired the myths of the witch's familiar?

Death is synonymous with selenim. In the French version, later editions apparently added that selenim could be born of the black moon field or "the spirits of dreamers" without having once been nephilim. I couldn't find a detailed source to confirm the nature of this, but I suppose it would be fine to run with the idea since the plans for the Chaosium adaptation involved major changes to the selenim lore like adding sarcophagi as a stasis precursor/equivalent. Black moon magic allows the selenim to manipulate solar-ka in ways unknown to the nephilim, such that they no longer have to worry about shouit and may switch simulacrum at will; I don't know how we would want to adapt any of this.

Ar-kaim were never adapted into English. They were basically modern day superheroes with "talents" that worked like superpowers rather than the occult sciences. Ar-kaim are created when a muggle finds themselves at the right astrological conjunction and gets empowered with a "heart" of elemental ka. The heart may contain all eight of the ka elements, including black moon-ka and orichalcum/saturnian-ka. They haven't been around long enough to accumulate past lives, but the third edition included very brief rules for reincarnation. Not sure how they would be represented in BRP.

Ideally our rules should account for selenim and ar-kaim rather than starting with nephilim and adding them later. For example, saturnian spells from Secret Societies use the existing occult sciences rather than inventing new ones; black moon spells could work the same. Not sure how to account for ar-kaim superpowers other than the "elemental effects" optional rule from Liber Ka p. 88; their shtick is that their innate abilities work like superpowers rather than spell-casting, which might not work well with the modern occult theme unless we draw inspiration from psychic phenomena.

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1 hour ago, MoonRightRomantic said:

Aside from being newbie unfriendly, another possible problem with the game's premise is that Nephilim are presented as parasites possessing human bodies. While sufficient for antagonists in a horror or conspiracy game, it isn't really appropriate for protagonists.

***

Rather than parasites, it might be better to characterize them as symbiotic.

I never saw the basic concept as a problem at all.
Lots of people love playing vampires... which are even more monstrous (unless they sparkle).
Geist, one of the NWoD games, presents a more open/aware relationship between the host and its partner, and it works fine in that game. But, for me, I saw the Nephilim's nature of 'possessing' different bodies through history as a weight to be carried... reacted to. Trying to make it a happy circumstance for all involved kind of waters down the setting, IMO.

Edited by Simlasa
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Buddhism has the concept of enlightened beings who have found their way out of the suffering of the world but who choose to stay out of compassion to help others find the way. In Doris Lessing's Shikasta the world is monitored by beneficent aliens ('Canopus') who from time to time choose to be born into human bodies in order to influence the planet. However when they do so they are necessarily exposed to the corrupting influences of the galactic baddies ('Shammat') so it doesn't always end well. Each of these concepts could work with Nephilim. In each case there is less conflict with the simulacrum or body although it may take time for the advanced psyche to take full control.

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It could be possible to give a "Mnemos" pool (named after the effect that allows them to re-live past lives) to each Nephilim, which would allow them to remember lost skills during the game.

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16 hours ago, Simlasa said:

I never saw the basic concept as a problem at all.
Lots of people love playing vampires... which are even more monstrous (unless they sparkle).
Geist, one of the NWoD games, presents a more open/aware relationship between the host and its partner, and it works fine in that game. But, for me, I saw the Nephilim's nature of 'possessing' different bodies through history as a weight to be carried... reacted to. Trying to make it a happy circumstance for all involved kind of waters down the setting, IMO.

I don't mean that it becomes a happy circumstance; it should definitely be a heavy burden and it shouldn't be some kind of conscious relationship between the simulacrum and elemental. What I mean is that critics call the nephilim body-stealing parasites, a la the horror trope. This was a popular topic of discussion on the mailing list back in the day.

The way I heard it explained, the difference is that vampires generally don't pretend they aren't monsters. The nephilim are depicted as an unjustly persecuted minority by comparison, even though they steal the bodies of unsuspecting innocent people and wreck their lives.

Hence the suggestion that this be rewritten to be less of a conventional possession and more of a sympathy between the simulacrum and nephilim.

13 hours ago, Questbird said:

Buddhism has the concept of enlightened beings who have found their way out of the suffering of the world but who choose to stay out of compassion to help others find the way. In Doris Lessing's Shikasta the world is monitored by beneficent aliens ('Canopus') who from time to time choose to be born into human bodies in order to influence the planet. However when they do so they are necessarily exposed to the corrupting influences of the galactic baddies ('Shammat') so it doesn't always end well. Each of these concepts could work with Nephilim. In each case there is less conflict with the simulacrum or body although it may take time for the advanced psyche to take full control.

Okay. That does not fit with the nephilim cosmology as presented. I am generally opposed to completely rewriting the setting, and the English adaptation has already taken major liberties from the original French.

6 hours ago, Mugen said:

It could be possible to give a "Mnemos" pool (named after the effect that allows them to re-live past lives) to each Nephilim, which would allow them to remember lost skills during the game.

Michael Bishop wrote a simple house rule to store 50% of your occult points for spending during play, but it wasn't as extreme as recalling whole past lives during play. Speaking of character creation, I archived house rules involving advanced past lives and easy character creation.

That reminds me. I talked with Shannon a few years ago about custom rules she thought of, which included the additional insanity state "Fugue"/"Sekhat" in which the nephilim was overwhelmed by the personality of a past life and forgot their other memories. I can't remember the details beyond that.

Edited by MoonRightRomantic

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15 minutes ago, MoonRightRomantic said:

Michael Bishop wrote a simple house rule to store 50% of your occult points for spending during play, but it wasn't as extreme as recalling whole past lives during play. Speaking of character creation, I archived house rules involving advanced past lives and easy character creation.

Note that even though I said Mnemos Effect allows to re-live past lives, I only proposed to remember 1 skill at once. :D

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I remember now. A long time ago Shannon sent me a copy of a planned Nephilim revision dated 2010. It explains concepts like fugue, parasite and so forth. Compared to the standard Nephilim lore, it is much more mysterious and unexplained. The backstory prior to the development of human civilization (e.g. saurians, kaim, atlantis) are not given, so PCs do not know where nephilim come from and generally behave as awakened reincarnating human beings.

It has a number of innovations, such as scoring past lives by how well they are remembered and allowing nephilim to remember additional past lives by spending experience points. The sanity system is expanded, with each ka-element linked to particular stresses.

I don't have permission to share it since it was put together by the freelancers IIRC, so you may need to ask Shannon about whether it can be shared.

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I’m surprised I only discovered it recently, but apparently the French third edition introduced the idea of “natural” nephilim who are essentially awakened humans. More specifically, the ar-kaïm and “natural” selenim.

In prior editions it was mentioned that new nephilim could be born from Nexuses (carried over in English adaptation), but this was later retconned: all nephilim were former KaIm that were imprisoned in stases (in the French stasis was a prison made by secret societies, not nephilim) and incarnated in human bodies.

The ar-kaïm were humans awakened with elemental powers but they lacked past lives; one supplement referred to them as “astrological nephilim” (as their character concept was based on zodiac signs).

The selenim were mostly former nephilim, but some were spontaneously born from humans like ar-kaïm. They lacked past lives too.

What I find odd is that this concept of awakened humans was never carried over to the nephilim proper.

I wonder how these concepts could be worked into Ex Oculus. I asked the groups.io list about ExOc and am waiting on a response.

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I admit I am a dabbler when it comes to Nephilim. The movie 'Highlander' is one way to approach its concepts. In that movie the Connor MacLeod character "awakens" in the Scottish Highlands in 1536. He is immortal but has no awareness of past lives. He became an awakened human at that point. Other 'Nephilim-like' characters in that movie had been around for longer, including the big baddie.

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15 hours ago, MoonRightRomantic said:

I’m surprised I only discovered it recently, but apparently the French third edition introduced the idea of “natural” nephilim who are essentially awakened humans. More specifically, the ar-kaïm and “natural” selenim.

Ar-kaïm were not really well received by french audiences, who considered them as an attempt to make the game more action-oriented and leaning towards Super-Hero/Manga-anime genres (see for instance the poor ratings the Codex des Ar-Kaïm received...)

Surely, the correlations that could be made with the anime "knights of the zodiac" were no stranger to this feeling.

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12 hours ago, Questbird said:

I admit I am a dabbler when it comes to Nephilim. The movie 'Highlander' is one way to approach its concepts. In that movie the Connor MacLeod character "awakens" in the Scottish Highlands in 1536. He is immortal but has no awareness of past lives. He became an awakened human at that point. Other 'Nephilim-like' characters in that movie had been around for longer, including the big baddie.

Highlander seems to have been a major inspiration for a lot of the urban fantasy roleplaying games of the 1990s. A lot of them were dismissed as knock-offs of White Wolf, but that is unfair.

Incoming rant! I for one dislike White Wolf's virtual monopoly on the urban fantasy roleplaying game market for the last thirty-odd years. Whenever people tell me to play a White Wolf game or make reference to their games as some kind of game industry standard (as if no other games exist and White Wolf doesn't liberally steal all their ideas from elsewhere), I get peeved. Most of the reason I am interested in Nephilim is because it isn't White Wolf: even thirty-odd years after its first publication, it's a breath of fresh air in the stagnant American market.

1 hour ago, Mugen said:

Ar-kaïm were not really well received by french audiences, who considered them as an attempt to make the game more action-oriented and leaning towards Super-Hero/Manga-anime genres (see for instance the poor ratings the Codex des Ar-Kaïm received...)

Surely, the correlations that could be made with the anime "knights of the zodiac" were no stranger to this feeling.

Fair enough. As I said, the English fandom had the opposite problem. There seemed to be a general dislike of the nephilim for 1) being body-stealing parasites, and 2) overwhelming new players with massive backstory and complicated character creation.

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1 hour ago, MoonRightRomantic said:

Fair enough. As I said, the English fandom had the opposite problem. There seemed to be a general dislike of the nephilim for 1) being body-stealing parasites, and 2) overwhelming new players with massive backstory and complicated character creation.

Remember the game already had a long publishing history when 3rd edition was released, which is why the surprise addition of the Ar-Kaïm seemed like an unwelcome addition.

Concerning Highlander and Nephilim, there's another french game named Trinités which can be described as a mix between the two. :D

Edited by Mugen

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4 hours ago, MoonRightRomantic said:

There seemed to be a general dislike of the nephilim for 1) being body-stealing parasites...

As I've noted before, I've always found this odd, because a huge swath of the gaming population of the era had no problem playing the undead version of Patty Hearst.  It was doubly weird that critics (doubtful that they were players) identified with the body of the character and not the consciousness, a divide that was kind of the point of the game.

4 hours ago, MoonRightRomantic said:

...and 2) overwhelming new players with massive backstory and complicated character creation.

True.  On one hand, character creation involved rolling up, effectively, a separate character for each Past Life (usually 3 to 5 in my experience), on top of sorting out your Nephilim nature and your current Simulacrum identity.  It was a lot of bookkeeping that created a steep entry/impediment to play.  On the other hand, it was daunting to have a character rooted in several historical eras, not all of which you or the GM might know anything about.  The deep, deep backstory was supposed to be vague, poorly-recalled (if at all) and hand-wavy, so I never considered that a problem.

Lesson learned:  Build a game with an accessible point of entry and allow players to grow into their characters.

!i!

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20 hours ago, Ian Absentia said:

As I've noted before, I've always found this odd, because a huge swath of the gaming population of the era had no problem playing the undead version of Patty Hearst.  It was doubly weird that critics (doubtful that they were players) identified with the body of the character and not the consciousness, a divide that was kind of the point of the game.

True.  On one hand, character creation involved rolling up, effectively, a separate character for each Past Life (usually 3 to 5 in my experience), on top of sorting out your Nephilim nature and your current Simulacrum identity.  It was a lot of bookkeeping that created a steep entry/impediment to play.  On the other hand, it was daunting to have a character rooted in several historical eras, not all of which you or the GM might know anything about.  The deep, deep backstory was supposed to be vague, poorly-recalled (if at all) and hand-wavy, so I never considered that a problem.

Lesson learned:  Build a game with an accessible point of entry and allow players to grow into their characters.

!i!

Yep. Even today, what makes Nephilim stand out from World of Darkness is that the protagonists aren’t a*holes trying to conquer the world so they can enslave and/or eat humanity. The secret societies, the villains, are the ones trying to conquer the world and performing mass human sacrifice. That should be obvious from the fact that in the secret history of Nephilim the very mortal secret societies were responsible for the Holocaust.

As for the second point, I think that making the game more accessible (e.g. starting as a normal person awakening to the occult underworld, recalling past lives during play, etc) would necessarily require changing the nephilim to awakened humans rather than elemental spirits stealing human bodies. The KaIm can still exist in the lore as the creators of humanity and ancestors of the nephilim, and it makes sense to me that their experiments yielded fruit in the form of humans awakening as nephilim.

This would also fit into the multiple modern meanings of the Hebrew world nephilim. It means “fallen ones”, either from grace (fallen angels) or in battle (demigod heroes). The former would be KaIm, the later awakened elemental humans. At least that is what I think.

I have been brainstorming a lot on trying to integrate nephilim, selenim, and ar-kaim (and various other weird options like the cruxim and the 666) into the setting as awakened humans, as well as various other cosmological concerns. The original French game was, like a lot of 90s games, really haphazard and messy in its rules and setting. The scanned translation of Selenim, for example, is full of rambling tangents and weird ideas unsupported by concrete rules. For example, one paragraph speculates that Saurians live on Saturn and sent the Orichalka meteor in vengeance for their dead kin. The English adaptation was so much cleaner and concise, even reviews by French gamers applaud it.

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On 10/26/2019 at 7:55 AM, MoonRightRomantic said:

Even today, what makes Nephilim stand out from World of Darkness is that the protagonists aren’t a*holes trying to conquer the world so they can enslave and/or eat humanity. The secret societies, the villains, are the ones trying to conquer the world and performing mass human sacrifice.

I'd almost turn that on it's end.  Whereas in WoD where your characters are underdogs in a world run by overwhelming, undead secret masters (who are, as you describe, a bunch of jags), in Nephilim your characters are underdogs in a world run by overwhelming, mortal secret masters.  I recommend taking a page from Ozymandias of Watchmen and its unofficial sequel, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt -- stop playing defense, and make the game about taking the reins and changing the world.

As far as historical atrocity goes, I think it was clear from Nephilim source material that it's been generally a shared sin between mortals and Nephilim.

On 10/26/2019 at 7:55 AM, MoonRightRomantic said:

...I think that making the game more accessible (e.g. starting as a normal person awakening to the occult underworld, recalling past lives during play, etc) would necessarily require changing the nephilim to awakened humans rather than elemental spirits stealing human bodies.

By no means do I even remotely represent the final word on this topic, but:  Just Say No to Enlightened Humans.  Plenty of games have trod that ground smooth.  Just Say No to Parasites, too, because I guess English-speaking audiences are too squicky on this subject (even though it's proven popular enough in other media).  What may ultimately set the game apart from other occult RPG predecessors is the sense of alienation -- not Enlightenment in discovering that you're the epitome of what all humanity is supposed to become, but Enlightenment in discovering that you're not actually human, and peeling away those human limitations.  Liberated from humanity, what will you become?

Yeah, Hellraiser, but minus the gore.

And, yes, one could do this with any of the WoD games (well, except, maybe Werewolf), but when you describe a product line as "games of personal horror," you're kind of front-loading players' expectations and play style.

Nephilim: What Will You Do to Change the World?

On 10/26/2019 at 7:55 AM, MoonRightRomantic said:

The original French game was, like a lot of 90s games, really haphazard and messy in its rules and setting. The scanned translation of Selenim, for example, is full of rambling tangents and weird ideas unsupported by concrete rules. [...snip...] The English adaptation was so much cleaner and concise, even reviews by French gamers applaud it.

At the risk of sounding nasty -- Ugh, let me tell you how frustrating it was to come across statements in the Selenim translation to the effect of, "Find a situation implied by these rules that we haven't covered?  Make up your own rules!"  Sure, points for giving agency to individuals, but this is the difference between an official company publication and, say, a hand-wavy collection of houserules published as OGL content.  Whenever possible, provide rules to improvise setting, rather than setting to improvise rules.

Given some of the scathing commentary I saw from French gamers on how the English translation of the game line was being handled, I'm pleasantly surprised to learn that there was an appreciation of how the rules themselves were cleaned up.  Somehow that escaped me over the years.

!i!

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