Steve Jackson Games Urban Fantasy RPG, where the PCs are Angels or Demons (or, in later bits, mortal Soldiers of Heaven and Hell, or Ethereals, who are a sort of fourth faction (see below)). Released to much fanfare in the 90s, but now mostly remembered for being sort of a Urban Fantasy version of a Fantasy Heartbreaker (just substitute World of Darkness for Dungeons and Dragons, and insert a lot of real world religion in the "The Players are all ______" World of Darkness blank slot) and you have all you need to know). Adapted from a French Comedy game, named In Nomine Satanis/Magna veritas depending on witch side of the cosmic balance you are on, INS being the demons, MV being angels.
- 1 The System: Semi-Broken, in the Grand Tradition of 90s RPGs
- 2 Canonical Doubt and Uncertainty: Or, how the Authors Prevented a Religious Shitstorm
- 3 The Factions: Who Do You Work For?
- 4 A Word of Minor Warning: The Musical Metaphors
- 5 Words: The Big Movers and Shakers
- 6 Essence: Or, "Why is Humanity important?"
- 7 Fate, Destiny, and You: What Happens When People Die In The Setting
- 8 Choirs and Bands: Types of Angels and Demons
- 9 Superiors: The Authors' DMPCs
- 10 Tone: Degrees of Freedom
The System: Semi-Broken, in the Grand Tradition of 90s RPGs
Like a lot of games left in the World of Darkness mold, the math of the system is bad. Essentially, it's a roll under 2d6 system, with a third d6 serving as a "check digit", which tells you how well you succeeded or how badly you failed. The problem here is that your skill level is irrelevant to how well you succeed or fail. (One house rule that sort of fixes this: You can, before rolling, declare you're taking a penalty to the 2d12 to get an equal bonus to your check digit, or vice versa.)
The other interesting thing about the system is that it calls itself the d666 system, mainly because of the way it crits, in a "I see what you did there" way: If you roll 1,1, and 1, the result is always tilted towards Heaven's interests, while the result of a roll of 6,6 and 6 is always tilted towards Hell's.
Or you could just play the official GURPS conversion, which is probably better.
(The setting was more notable than the system, anyway.)
Canonical Doubt and Uncertainty: Or, how the Authors Prevented a Religious Shitstorm
Because the game is pretty much grained against just about every current religion, (mainly because, in the setting, everyone regardless of religion has a shot to get into Heaven) the good folks at Steve Jackson Games also built in a release valve: There are certain questions, whose answers would cause the rest of the basic theology of a given religion to go sour, that are Intentionally Not Answered In Official Material, and, in more Setting as Written games, are unknown and unknowable even to the Archangels and Demon Princes. This is known as Canonical Doubt And Uncertainty.
The Factions: Who Do You Work For?
There are four factions:
- Heaven, defined more by Selflessness than "good". Led by the Seraphim Council (which actually consists of the various Archangels, who come from all Choirs, as well as Heaven's most powerful Seraphim).
- Hell, which is defined by Selfishness. Led by Lucifer, who allows his Demon Princes to handle Hell's day-to-day affairs.
- Humanity, the most important faction. The Demons and Angels are trying to move humanity more in line with their various Words.
- The Ethereals, human imaginings and dreams given form (any currently popular fictional character has at least one associated Ethereal, but the big Ethereals are mainly Gods, both former and current). Their motivation is usually mainly survival through self-promotion, as that's the easiest way for them of getting Essence. According to them, God was originally one of them but gained enough power to retroactively alter history to elevate himself to the creator of the universe.
A Word of Minor Warning: The Musical Metaphors
One of the quirks of the setting is it is overflowing with musical metaphors. The most relevant are "The Symphony", which is what Angels call all of Creation, and "Songs", IN version of spells, but Resonance, Dissonance, Discord, and Disturbance also show up as setting important terms.
Words: The Big Movers and Shakers
One of the building blocks of the setting is the concept of Worded Celestials, Angels and Demons who have become so attuned to a concept that they can gather Essence (see below) from the concept being reinforced (with the slight downside that if the Word in question fades from the Symphony, so does the Celestial holding it (i.e., they die)). It is theoretically possible for two beings to hold the same Word, but in practice doing so causes Very Bad Things to happen to both Word-Bound until one of them either changes their Word or dies.
Words range from the big, important Words held by Archangels and Demon Princes, such as "Justice", "Trade", and "Animals" (for Heaven) or "Greed", "Factions" and "Nightmares" (for Hell) to much smaller things, like "Marriage", "Science Fiction", or "Courtly Love".
One of the more remembered footnotes of In Nomine was the Demon of Stale Bong Water, who existed to prove a point: Don't pester Lucifer for a Word. He may just grant you one.
Essence: Or, "Why is Humanity important?"
In Nomine has an interesting economy set up with Essence.
- You need Essence in order to do almost anything supernatural.
- Everybody, Human, Celestial, Ethereal, or even Animals, regenerates Essence at some point once a day (notably, for Angels, sunrise, for Demons, at sunset).
- The amount regenerated depends on the "size" of the soul, but it's usually from 5 (for a human) to 18 (for a maxed out unWorded Celestial).
- Humans are weaker, individually, then Demons or Angels (or even most Ethereals), but outnumber Celestials and Ethereals by at least a thousand to one.
- Ordinary, non-Symphonically Aware Humans expend Essence unconsciously.
- This essence is usually sent to whatever the Human considers important, especially things they actually care about.
- Words are Heaven and Hell's most convenient way of gathering Essence.
- But too much Celestial interference (known as Disturbance) of the wrong kind can prevent Words from gathering Essence in a given place. (Further, anything sufficiently blatant can be "heard" by just about all Celestials and most Ethereals in the area, frequently leading to heavily armed investigation fairly quickly.)
Some thought on the above, with the added caveat that all sides try and keep the War secret, should lead you to be able to conclude what The War mainly consists of.
Fate, Destiny, and You: What Happens When People Die In The Setting
When a human dies, where their soul ends up depends on three factors (barring unusual circumstances)
- If they fulfilled their Destiny, their brightest, most positive possibility in life, they go to Heaven.
- If they fulfilled their Fate, their darkest, most destructive possibility in life, they go to Hell.
- If they have some kind of unfinished business (regardless of whether or not they fulfilled their Fate or Destiny), they become either a ghost or a dream-shade. The former resides in the corporeal realm, the latter exists in the Marches (the dream world where Ethereals live). That being said, both ghosts and dream-shades cannot sustain themselves indefinitely and will eventually need to move onto their final reward (or punishment).
- If they fulfilled both or neither, they might reincarnate with no memory of their old life or just cease to exist entirely. It's not known what makes one more likely than the other.
- If they strongly believed in a particular Ethereal god, they go into the authority of that Ethereal as a dream-shade.
Note that religion doesn't really (directly) enter into it. And yet certain Archangels promote certain religions; this falls under Canonical Doubt and Uncertainty, but the usual explanation offered is that, beyond social engineering and Archangels' personal beliefs (e.g. Laurence and Dominic are both big on Roman Catholicism), Destinies are sometimes tied into them, since Destinies are usually very Selfless, and one good way of getting people to act such is religion (although demons are no strangers to manipulating religion in their favor either).
Also note that you must choose to embrace your Destiny or Fate of your own Free Will. Too much Angelic or Demonic interference (such as Mind Control), and the result is negated. This means Angels of Destiny (which is a Word in In Nomine) and Demons of Fate are generally very subtle and manipulative.
Choirs and Bands: Types of Angels and Demons
Demons first, because it's easier, for a reason that will become clear shortly:
- Balseraphs, Hell's liars. Their innate powers are convincing people of things, regardless of whether they are true, by making it their own personal truth and then imposing that truth on others. Fallen Seraphim.
- Djinn, Hell's stalkers. Apathetic by nature due to their aversion to wanting to care about anything, but with tendencies towards obsession since they still secretly want to be cared about- not like they'd ever admit it, b-b-b-baka! Fallen Cherubim.
- Calabim, Hell's smashers. They produce an entropic field that makes everything around them fall apart, and they just love to break shit with it. Fallen Ofanim.
- Habbalah, Hell's emotional manipulators. Able to overwhelm people with an emotion of their choosing. Fallen Elohim. Also notable in that they think they are angels serving God's Will in Hell; everybody else including other demons considers them crazy for thinking this.
- Lilim, natural born dealers. Originate from Lilith, who works with Hell. Their innate powers are related to Geases: They do something for you, and you must now do something for them, backed up by hooks in your very soul. Refuse to fulfil your end of the deal, and you waste away and die unless you return the favor.
- Shedim, Hell's puppet masters. Your basic Possessing Demon but with a catch: they take a more subtle approach by pushing bad ideas to the host, who thinks the heinous shit the Shedite encourages them to do as a result is their own idea. Fallen Kyriotates.
- Impudites, Hell's charmers. Their supernatural power also allows them to drain Essence from people they've Charmed, which is their major advantage: an Impudite is never short of Essence. Fallen Mercurians.
- Skulkers, fallen Grigori. Purely theoretical, as regular Grigori are rare enough as it is. It doesn't help that their resonance would do even more to conceal their presence.
Now, the Angels:
- Seraphim, Heaven's lie detectors. Can not only detect lies but also have a direct line to the capital-T Truth. A tendency to not understand when speaking the literal truth isn't a good idea means they're poorly suited in social situations.
- Cherubim, Heaven's bodyguards. They can attune themselves to something and protect it with their lives. A tad overprotective, but they're the most dedicated friends you could ever have.
- Ofanim, Heaven's speed freaks and messengers. Nobody's faster than they are, but their hyperactivity makes them tricky to keep up with.
- Elohim, Heaven's therapists. Able to sense the emotions of others, but are required to keep a detached viewpoint themselves.
- Malakim, Heaven's warriors. They can detect Honor, as defined by the person who committed the act, and are themselves bound by a strict set of oaths. Notably, they cannot Fall, and thus have no directly corresponding Band of Demons.
- Bright Lilim, redeemed versions of Hell's Lilim, and the reason we're listing the Bands and Choirs in this order. Very rare, and thus possess a tendency for Mary Sue-seeking players to abuse. See Lilim, but made more positive.
- Kyriotates, Heaven's body snatchers. Favor grabbing animals, which is their chief advantage over Shedim: They aren't restricted to humans, which most Shedim are, and completely overwrite the host's mind while in control. They also can possess more than one person/thing at a time naturally (the only demon that managed to do that was the Demon Prince Legion...and he went insane and had to be destroyed by Heaven and Hell working together before he annihilated everything). The most alien of the angels- expect pronoun trouble in the vein of "we am the Kyriotate in the pigeons, the old man, and the dog".
- Mercurians, Heaven's diplomats. Able to detect the relationships between groups of people, and the best at relating to humans (apart from the Grigori).
- Grigori, formerly Heaven's eyes and ears. They were meant to live alongside humans to keep watch for demons, but after neglecting their duty in favor of siring the half-celestial hybrids known as the Nephilim they were all exiled from Heaven. Rarely heard from since, it's assumed that maybe 50 of them at most are still around.
Superiors: The Authors' DMPCs
The final major notable thing about the setting is the heavy focus on Superiors, the Archangels and Demon Princes of the setting. The relations between the factions on each side form a major consideration of the setting (for example, the servitors of Death and Lust (both Hell) usually hate each other at least as much or more than they hate Heaven's servants, and while Angels acknowledge they're all on the same side they have disagreements about how to serve said-side). The PCs typically work for them and get extra abilities based on who they serve.
Some of the major
- Michael, Archangel of War and the first Commander of the Host. In a perpetual feud with Dominic, mainly because of their respective personalities (Michael's a pragmatist who's willing to bend the rules if it means winning the War, and Dominic is much more rulebound. That, and Dominic put Michael on trial for pride, in which God Himself had to exonerate Michael).
- Dominic, Archangel of Judgment. Acts as Heaven's Internal Affairs. Paranoid, but generally well-intentioned (although that can vary from campaign to campaign; how good and/or just Dominic is is one of the useful sliders for Tone, below).
- Novalis, Archangel of Flowers. Hippy-dippy leader of Heaven's "Peace" faction, which seeks to convince demons to redeem themselves and become angels again rather than destroying them outright.
- Eli, Archangel of Creation. Notable for currently being AWOL from Heaven, and even he isn't entirely sure why.
- Laurence, Archangel of the Sword. Heaven's current Commander of the Host, taking over for Uriel (the Archangel of Purity, who was recalled to the Higher Heavens after a genocidal crusade against the Ethereals). An excellent strategist but sometimes forgets that Hell doesn't fight fair.
- Gabriel, Archangel of (Divine) Fire. Has gone crazy due to the ongoing Word fight she has with Belial, below. Dominic accusing her of adding unauthorized verses to the Quran when she dictated it to Muhammad didn't help there. Emphasizes punishing the cruel, but also has elements of inspiration.
- Yves, Archangel of Destiny. Said to be the very first being created by God, and is as close to omniscient as any Superior can be. However, what little he does reveal of his knowledge is cryptic and difficult to understand. Ineffability is annoying like that.
- Baal, Demon Prince of The War. Michael and Laurence's direct counterpart.
- Asmodeus, Demon Prince of the Game. Hell's Secret Policeman, making the Gestapo and the KGB at their worst look positively humane by comparison. Notably, has some degree of open cooperation with Dominic; in most campaigns, and most of the time, this amounts to the handing of Renegade Demons who are not Redemption candidates over to The Game.
- Belial, Demon Prince of (Infernal) Fire. A pyromaniac even more unhinged than Gabriel.
- Kobal, Demon Prince of Dark Humor. Hell's Prankster, not to be underestimated just because his word doesn't scream "evil" like those of the other Princes. Major factor in the rise of Haagenti.
- Haagenti, Demon Prince of Gluttony. Notable mainly for rising from a minor demonling to full Demon Prince on his own (most promoted Demon Princes are either sponsored by another, or date back to the Fall), and eating two Demon Princes (his former boss, the Prince of Sloth, and the Princess of Oblivion).
- Saminga, Demon Prince of Death. While commonly mocked by the other Princes as an imbecile with no ambitions beyond making people die, he was the one who discovered how to create undead and uses them to great effect.
- Nybbas, Demon Prince of the Media. Elevated by Lucifer after guiding the invention of the television, he's equal parts propagandist and purveyor of corruption with the personality of a slimy game show host slash network executive.
- Lilith, Human Princess of Freedom. Sole source of Lilim. Yes, she was Adam's first wife, and yes, Adam and Eve happened here, while evolution is true at the same time. (Eden was an experiment proposed by Lucifer, meant to prove that given an ideal environment a pair of perfect humans could not attain their Destinies without celestial help and therefore should not have the Earth all to themselves as God had decreed. Lilith didn't like the idea of having to be subordinate to Adam, so she left Eden. After Eve was made using one of Adam's forces, Lucifer enlisted Baal to rig the experiment by sending one of his servitors to play the role of the serpent. God was not impressed with this blatant act of cheating and the Fall happened soon afterwards.) Technically a free agent who works with Hell for protection and due to her personal sympathies, so she's occasionally made deals with Archangels when their goals coincide.
Tone: Degrees of Freedom
One final thing: In Nomine was one of the first settings to embrace a toolbox mentality: the setting was designed to accommodate many different kinds of play and spins, from Noblebright to Grimdark (and Nobledark and Grimbright (the associated variables are usually described as "Bright" and "Dark" and "High and Low Contrast")) to full on Reverse (where Hell are the Good Guys) and Silly (most similar to the French original). Thus, the books tend to describe a morally grey Cold War styled world.
Note this is because the French original game was very much a comedy (for example, God is off on an hydrotherapeutic cure somewhere in France), but the themes are such that Americans would tend to take them completely seriously.
Another take: the original French game, besides taking it lightly would give in its supplements an accurate representation of the places and religions so the player would be informed properly before doing anything to it, then use it to build a canon “behind the scenes” of humanity. It is true however that it doesn’t take itself seriously, and was very tongue in cheek, politically oriented that might offend. In order to make the game cross the border, the whole lore and core of the game have been heavily modified to the point it is barely recognizable by a player of the original game.