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)). Sort of a modern Urban Fantasy Heartbreaker, 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 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 Intentionally Welshed
- 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 Intentionally Welshed
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 even to the Angels and Demons. 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).
- Hell, which is defined by Selfishness. Led by Lucifer.
- 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 self-promotion, as that's the easiest way for them of getting Essence.
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)).
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:
- If they fulfilled their Destiny, their brightest, most positive possibility, and not their Fate, they go to Heaven.
- If they fulfilled their Fate, their darkest, most destructive possibility, they go to Hell.
- If you fulfilled both, your soul might be torn apart, or you might just reincarnate.
- If you fulfilled neither your Fate nor Destiny, but you strongly believed in a particular Ethereal, you go into the authority of that Ethereal.
- Otherwise, you reincarnate, for another go on the Wheel of Fate.
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, Destinies are sometimes tied into them, since Destinies are usually very Selfless, and one good way of getting people to act such is religion.
Also note that you must chose 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. Fallen Seraphs.
- Djinn, Hell's stalkers. Fallen Cherubim.
- Calabim, Hell's smashers. Fallen Ofanim.
- Habbalah, Hell's emotional manipulators. Fallen Elohim. Also notable in that they think they are serving Gods Will in Hell; everybody else 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)
- Shedim, Hell's puppet masters. Your basic Possessing Demon. 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.
Now, the Angels:
- Seraphim, Heaven's lie detectors.
- Cherubim, Heaven's protectors.
- Ofanim, Heaven's speed freaks and messengers.
- Elohim, Heaven's therapists.
- Malkalim, Heaven's warriors. (They can detect Honor, as defined by the person who committed the act.) Notably, 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.
- Mercurians, Heaven's diplomats.
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 servators of Death and Lust (both Hell) usually hate each other at least as much or more than they hate Heaven's servants).
Some of the major
- Michael, Archangel of War. In a perpetual feud with Dominic, mainly because of their respective personalities (Mikey's a dudebro who always focuses on winning, Dominic is much more rulebound).
- Dominic, Archangel of Judgement. Acts as Heaven's Internal Affairs. Paranoid, although how much varies from campaign to campaign.
- Novalis, Archangel of Flowers. Hippy-dippy leader of Heaven's "Peace" faction.
- Eli, Archangel of Creation. Notable for currently being AWOL from Heaven.
- Lawrence, Archangel of the Sword. Heaven's commander, rather than Michael (who always had a tendency to subordinate Strategy to Tactics).
- Gabriel, Archangel of (Divine) Fire. Has gone crazy due to the ongoing Word fight she has with Belial, below. Emphasizes punishing the wicked.
- Baal, Demon Prince of The War. Michael and Lawrence's direct counterpart.
- Asmodeus, Demon Prince of the Game. Hell's Secret Policeman.
- Belial, Demon Prince of (Infernal) Fire. Slightly saner than Gabriel, but that's not saying much.
- Kobal, Demon Prince of Dark Humor. Hell's Prankster. Major factor in the rise of Haagenti.
- Haagenti, Demon Prince of Gluttony. Notable mainly for rising from a minor Worded Demon to full Demon Prince on his own (most promoted Demon Princes are either sponsored by another, or date back to the Fall).
- 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. In Nomine, as has been implied repeatedly, has a thing about having it both ways with religion)
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.