June 5, 2009

REVIEW - Nobis, The City States

"High-fantasy... with guns."

I was given a review copy of "Nobis, The City States", a new campaign setting that will be released on July 1 by Pantheon Press for the d20/OGL D&D community. This is a high-fantasy campaign setting staged in a world where technology is rapidly advancing and the effects are being seen among the people in terms of culture, religion, governance, and warfare.

First off, was is new and different about Nobis? Well, that depends on your point of view. You might be thinking, "Firearms with swords and magic? Yawn." But don't be so quick to judge. What I found very cool about Nobis was not the firearms, but the impact their presence has on the campaign setting. The authors of the setting did an excellent job downplaying heavy armor and "classic" D&D weaponry in favor of lighter more deadly fighting systems for melee combat. I'm talking about FENCING. Yeah, Nobis has it's own completely internal d20 system for fencing, and it is very slick.

Nobis Has Fencing
Fencing is broken down into four schools: Modern, Marist Martial, Form of the Leopard, and Traditional. Each of these schools, or styles, of fencing is accessible to characters who take a feat to gain access to them. Once trained in a particular fencing school, a whole host of new combat manuvers become available, such as Balestra, Felche, Lunge, and Riposte (to name a few). Although these specific manuevers remind me of "powers" in 4E D&D, it didn't bother me as much becuase they are available to all characters so long as they qualify for the feats required to learn fencing. What's the benefit of fenciing? Well, it depends on the school your character would choose. Each school has one "signature move" (a specialized combat manuver) which influences the flavor of fencing you prefer. For example, Balestra is the signature move of Form of the Leopard (think near-eastern scimitar fighting, rather than men-in-tights). The Balestra maneuvar is a running, jumping charge that adds the results of a Jump skill check as a damage bonus to your attack. Each of the other schools also have their own specialized manuevers. All in all, this is a nice surprise to the campaign setting and (frankly) could be developed further and even sold as its own stand alone PDF. I really thought the fencing section was cool.

Nobis has Cantrips for the People
Simplecraft is a cantrip system that is "purchasible", small innocuous spell like effects that are sold in stores throughout Nobis City States. What's cool, and potentially funny, about Simplecraft is that its 1) unstable; and 2) unstable. Basically, any time you use a Simplecraft spell you roll a d20. Roll a 1 and a debacle happens (something bad). What's worse, si that Simplecraft has a shelf life. It goes bad after a few months; so there's a strong possibility of buying or finding "bad" simplecraft as well. Unstable (expired, rotten, unusable) Simplecraft is even worse. It's like nitroglycerin. Shake it - BOOM. Drop it - BOOM. There's a table of disasters that can happen if your PC's handle unstable Simplecraft (random teleportation is my favorite). The list of things Simplecraft can do is limited only by what the GM allows, but Nobis includes a few pages of suggested spells - from the basic "Torchlight" spell to the "Lighting Strike" (yes a real attack cantrip), it's all there.

Nobis has Reputation
Finally a good, simple to implement Reputation system for 3E/OGL games. The basic idea is that each PC would decide on a Path (Artisan, Criminal, Merchant, Statesman, etc etc). Each reputation path has its own leveling system that is independent of class/character level. You gain reputation points at a rate of 2 to 4 per character level. Your total reputation points determines how advanced you are on your path, and your rank on your path conveys benefits to specific skills associated with that path. For example, the Clergy path has the associated skills Diplomacy, Knowledge (Local) and Knowledge (Religion). As the characters reputation goes up, these skills become class skills and the PC gains bonuses to using them.

The Bad Stuff
It's easy to talk trash about other people's work. I know how hard it is to produce shining examples of perfect products (OK, I don't... but you get my meaning), and Nobis is not perfect. You have to dial back your WotC level expectations for a minute and expect something a bit more Indy. The artwork is good, but only a few examples are great. My main issue was with the art direction - from full color illustrations to (literally) stick figures, I was a bit surprised to see the stick figures. The cartography was also not as good as I would have hoped (it looks very software driven, not artist driven), but the world map and map of The Gates was still good enough for any GM to run their own campaign in. These are minor points really. Most of the artwork was good, full color portraits or landscapes -- there was just some examples that seemed very out of place (stickfigures? OK... it was funny... but... ). Maybe this was just becuase I recieved a pre-press copy that may have had some of the artwork missing. Let's hope that the image below will be replaced with a "real" image in the final book.

EDITORS NOTE: The producers of Nobis have assured me that the stick figures were mock ups. NOT original artwork. Although I'll leave the art below (it's kinda cool in its own sorta way), I want YOU the reader to know that the final product will not have any stick figure art. See comment section below.

Plus What's Expected
Finally, this is not a 300+ page behemoth of a book. It's ~79 pages long but still manages to include all of what you would expect in a 3E campaign setting: a "thousands year history", a world map, the city states and how they came to be, a detail of The Gates (the major city state; includes a city map and many points of interest), a section on other lands and kingdoms of Nobis, a chapter on organizations and guilds, and the usual chapter on the gods, new feats, a new race (Mongrels), new equipment, and a page chock full of adventure hooks to get your campaign started. All of this I was expecting. And, if it weren't for the inclusion of some the other elements to the game, I might have given Nobis a much worse review.

I would say "go preorder a copy now", but I'm not sure how much it will be sold for or even where you can buy it from. It's coming out July 1st from Pantheon Press (linked above), and I would expect it to be listed on RPGNow.com as a PDF at the very least. At nearly 80 pages, it might also be seen in print, which would be nice. If you are looking for a new campaign setting that has a bit of rennaisance flavor, fencing, gun play but still keeps to a high-fantasy tradition... then Nobis would be a good place start it in.
Want to learn more about Nobis? Read on...
Drop by Pantheon Press and pre-order Nobis today!


  1. I assure you any stick figure or low-res art will be replaced with fully rendered color or black and white art!

  2. The life path system sounds interesting... with that incorporated are Heroic levels considered to make the PC's a cut above normal people in ways?

  3. @Rob, that's great to hear! I'll edit the above review to reflect your update.

    for the records, I wholely enjoyed reading through Nobis. You've clearly given the setting alot of thought. Althought I, admitedly, did not read all the history parts, I did dig into the fencing system and the firearms and spellcraft. New cruch is very cool; I think any new campaign setting without its own rules additions would be... bland. I'm glad Nobis had its own.

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  6. @Jonathan - I am really glad you enjoyed it! We really examined what we love about fantasy and D&D and tried to put that into our product.
    I hope we will continue to impress and even to improve on our ideas.

    As soon as we have a pre-order link up I will let you know. We're still a little new to the game so getting all the moving parts in place is just taking a little extra time.

    Thanks again!

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