Nephilim 2nd Edition Corebook by ganonso
IntroductionOriginal SA post Let’s Read Nephilim 2nd Edition Corebook Introduction
Nephilim is a French roleplaying game from the early nineties who share with In Nomine the honor of having an English “translation” (From what I gathered more a total rewrite than anything else). While I don’t know anything of the Chaosium version of the game, I own nearly the entire run from 2nd edition to the newest 4th edition
Nephilim is a strange game in its setting assumptions. You play the titular Nephilim, an elemental spirit member of a race who dominated the world in ages past and were reduced to parasite human bodies. Your character is mostly fine with the fact they steal human lives to pursue their own esoteric ends and most of their angst is related to their need to have a body at all while they dimly remember being able to soar the ethers as a pure spirit.
Socially speaking you are most likely to be a member of one of the 22 Major Arcana, 22 occult societies each proposing a path to end your dependence on human bodies and regain your might. Each Arcanum is both a social society filling a niche in Nephilim society and a path to enlightenment. By instance the 14th Arcanum: Temperance is a society of healers whose members try to reach wisdom by healing the ills of the world or taking them for their own.
Your enemies are most often the Minor Arcana, four secret societies dedicated to enslaving/wiping you out and take over the world. They are the R+C hiding beneath the mask of the Rosicrucian movement, the Mysteries a gathering of pagan cults dating back to the time where the predecessors of the Nephilim ruled over mankind, the Knights of the Temple of Life, basically the Templars searching to master the profane world and the Synarchy a mysterious group of mortals and immortals seeking the answer to all questions.
While you can easily play the game with different genres in mind (I tend to prefer horror a la World of Darkness, others play it as mystical superheroes), the default mood is a mix between conspiracies thrillers and mystical philosophies. Your characters are embroiled in personal quests for their own salvation and tentative to manipulate the profane world against their enemies. Their Occult Sciences, Nephilim’s magic system, are both science, magic and path to enlightenment as well and are meant to be roleplayed as such.
To show a bit of the aesthetic, here are some spell names (mostly high level but still)
Hermetic Kiss of the Mineral Judas
Liquor of Father Dagon
Warrior Maiden, Ametyst Watching over the North
Raphael the Crucified Prince on the Tree of Life, Pentarch of Tipheret
So first things first, the layout. Nearly all Nephilim corebook with the debatable of the Third Edition’s one are atrocious in that regard. The Second Edition corebook is composed of great slabs of fluffy texts, interspersed with pages of rules. The Character Creation rules are haphazardly sown in the first part, making the reading hazardous if you’re not using a bookmarked pdf. On one hand I think it’s a least partially deliberate to force the player to emulate the experience of sifting through occult lore. On the other, fuck you 90’s editing.
I will try to follow the layout minimally so that means next time is Antedilluvian History time!
Also by advance I beg you to forgive the somewhat atrocious English of the text excerpts I will quote. Nephilim has a very flowery style in French who doesn’t translate well at all. An example to finish:
His speech shifted to a serene and melodious song. The silence around us was enlivened by the chant and air pulsed to its rhythm. The imperial mask of the Green Lion was at peace. Perhaps he needed rest. This dive into the fertile ground of memories seemed to have been exhausting to him. Moreover, I suspected he used many a spell to guide his storytelling. Slowly, cradled by the musical harmonies of the master, I felt my memory coming back. I was a Kaïm anew, essence and substance of the world. Soon walked before my eyes my first rising with their suites of magical construction and philosophical enlightenment. The Kaïm built many fraternities, these ones hostile and warlike, these others peaceful and harmonious. So the elemental brotherhoods, so the polemic phanlansteries, so the spiritual concordat, so the Four Elements’ Tutelage. This last organization was the first universal reunion of all Kaïm. Turned toward the exploration of the four elements, it banished the Moon of its studies and made the Onirim the Moon Kaïm into outcasts and pariahs. That couldn’t last. The Kaïm Morpheus defeated the elemental tutors in an occult fight. They fell into a deep sleep while they travelled on the Moon field carried by their too-long neglected Moon-Ka. We had to recognize that we were composed of five elements and take back our brethren.
Ancient History part 1Original SA post Let's Read Nephilim: 1st part: Ancient History part 1
Like I said before Nephilim 2nd edition is interesting in its layout and even in the beginning it shows. The book open on an intro by someone named the Scribe, a Nephilim who announces himself as the compiler of the present book and treats us to a summary of their life. In forgotten times he was the spiritual leader of a tribe from the Atlas before sleeping the ages and taking the flesh of a byzantine monk. After being rescued from magical madnessby their current Fraternity the Thrice-Great he became a librarian and dedicated his life to provide an extensive primer on Nephilim existence, the result being the fluffy parts of the core. They indicatew also the greater part of their work come from the Velins Carminae, a series of red scrolls penned by a certain Sybil and exhort us to take these as a starting point for our own quest for wisdom.
The intro takes only one page but is efficient enough in presenting the core aspects of the game:
1 The Nephilim are body-snatchers who incarnate at different moment of history and spend the rest of the time in the confines of a Stasis, a magical item serving both as their prison and anchor to the world.
2 They are on a quest to Agartha, a mystical state whose few definitions exist.
3 They are not solitary creatures bur organize themselves in groups with names taken from occult lore.
4 They really, really love acquiring lore and knowledge.
5 They love CAPITAL LETTERS and big concepts.
Then we introduced to the first and longest of these Velins Carminae, seven pages with two pages of base character creation rules put in the middle.
It can happen that a conversation led us to the farthest reaches of our understanding and the coming and going of questions and answers leaves us shaken to the core. Something like that just happened to me with another character, one of these meetings that mold and shape us for the rest of our days. The meeting itself, its place and its date are of no import, only its setting is important. We were sitting cross-legged on one of the last summit standing above the orichalcum’s oceans. The rocks, mutilated by the bitter struggles of the elements, were arrayed in grinning and pained faces. Walls, gates, gates to the outside, strongholds, all these stones painted with victim’s blood were a figuration of our Fallen condition. Our world just sundered. The Flood, this formidable cataclysm, has brought our grand project of the Golden Path to a definitive closure. The sundered lands took with them our most beautiful truths along with our most dangerous secrets.
The first to lead the boat of my memories was he who much latter would be known as the Green Lion.
As you can see Sybil our narrator for these next parts is having kind of a bad day. We are at the beginning of Nephilim history proper, Atlantis the island-continent ruled by the Kaïms recently sank beneath the waves, and the Kaïms became Nephilim condemned to wander through stolen bodies. Sybil plays for the moment the role of the reader, asking questions to the Green Lion and being enlightened.
As for who is the Green Lion , well he’s your special Elder/Mentor/Enemy character, an Agarthian founder of the Occult Science of Alchemy. Unlike White Wolf and unlike what we could expect from a conspiracy/occult game, the ultimate authorities like the Green Lion are generally good in Nephilim. So the Green Lion serves as quest-giver and mentor to the PCs rather than thwart their ambitions.
Sybil’s first question is about the differences between his elemental perceptions and the material words which prompts the Green Lion to show off and explaining the whole history of the universe.
Basically in Nephilim matter is formed at its basest core by interaction between different radiations: The Magical Fields. They coalesce in celestial bodies who emit in their turn their own magical radiance, influencing other objects in a never-ending symphony. While the number of magical fields is potentially infinite, those naturally influencing Earth are:
Sun emitted by the Sun associated with life, especially intelligent life and humanity
Water emitted by Mercury
Earth emitted by Venus
Fire emitted by Mars
Air emitted by Jupiter
Moon emitted by the Moon associated with dreams, the unconscious, reptiles and madness
Earth has known several cycles before humanity began to evolve. First the Mineral Cycles where the Magical Fields were embodied by stone, metal and jewels. From this time remains the association of some materials with a specific element. By instance quicksilver is associated with Water, rupee with Fire and so on. Nephilim Alchemists use these materials by extracting the portion of Ka, magical essence, still present in them.
Life came with the Vegetal and Animal Cycles. In the Vegetal Cycle, the Magical Fields organized themselves in pairs of traditional opposites, by instance Fire is opposed to Moon and Water, Air is opposed to Earth and Moon. The Moon Ka, who contains both hidden energies and the potential for mutation took the ascendant and the first sentient creature of the Animal Cycle: The Saurians came to be;
What are the Saurians? Dinosaurs. Sentient Dinosaurs with a natural affinity for dreaming and vegetal magic. They existed in multiple species, all intelligent, and built immense cathedrals-forests where they could focus their dreams and attain even greater magical mastery. They worshipped the night’s aster by building oneiric kingdoms and forsaking the material world.
Until the coming of Mu.
Mu was the last prophet of the Saurians desired make them the eternal masters of the world by the creation of something undreamt of. He proposed to create a new moon, a Black Moon whose sympathetic relations with the real Moon would enable the Saurians to bask in new magical energies. And he succeeded in his plan. He gathered followers, stormed the ancient cities of his peers, slaughtered anyone who argued against his project then bent all resources to his ambition. The Black Moon took the skies and hang in low orbit, its rays wreaking havoc in the symphony of the Magical Fields for where the Moon is the mistress of dreams Black Moon Ka is analogically linked to death, undeath and morbidity.
Fortunately for the world the Kaïms awoke and fought their first war.
Kaïms were purely ethereal creatures, born when the five Magical Fields congregated in one place. While they were born of the five elements, they chose one as the main object of their studies and it became dominant. After choosing an element they decided to express their choice by emulating a manifestation of this elements. While ethereal Kaïms could clothe themselves in elemental energies and appear physically as they could inhabit a physical manifestation of their elements. They were raging infernos, diamond elementals, lumps of coral, tornadoes or even sentient diseases. Slowly but surely they learned to influence the world around them, posing the foundations of the first of the Occult Science: Magic.
For these elementals, Mu’s project were death. The Black Moon Field gnawed the others, threatening to dismantle their own elemental architecture. They acted quickly and warred against the Saurians. What really happened in this conflict is unknown but there are some things Nephilim are sure of.
The Black Moon was destroyed but its fragments dropped on earth, some of them large enough to create a global extinction event. Moreover, their continued presence meant the Moon Field was irremediably tainted. The Kaïms were afterwards unable to dream, and were forced to mistrust an essential part of their being.
The Saurians mostly died in the event. The time of dinosaurs had passed and the Spiritual Cycle could begin.
After their victory against the Saurians, the Kaïms returned to their esoterical studies. For millennia they followed the Devolution. They would learn everything they could about a single Magical Field then dissolve themselves in the ether. Sometimes they would reemerge with clear memories of their past lives and begin the process anew. The Green Lion by instance endured five of these cycles and always came back whole.
After a while they tired of the whole thing and decided to move on other projects. They gathered in groups dedicated to an element and decided on a sort of syllabus to teach to every Kaïm the magical lore of the five elements. When came the turn of the Onirim, the Kaïm with Moon as the dominant element to rule, the other passed them over named their society: The Four Elements’ Tutelage and decided to marginalize, “cure”, or outright destroy their kin. They mostly failed but the Kaïm Morpheus was forced to descend from his lunar refuge (long story not elaborated in the core) to battle the Four Tutors who led this fratricidal regime and defeat them.
After two attempted genocides, you’d think the Kaïms would at least slow down on the idiocy and for the next part most did. They regrouped themselves in Ar Ka Na, Ka’s Arches, esoteric groups dedicated to a peculiar magical working. Some explored the world, some started the fad of wearing forms that were no longer pure elemental but symbolic: Phoenixes, Efreets, Tritons, Medusae, Satyrs and the like. And everything well for everyone.
That did not last. You see the Ar Ka Na were united by oaths linking the very essence of their members. Some Kaïms decided it would be a superb idea to use these oaths to fuse with one another and become great magical beasts. That worked. They became Drakons, terrible creatures as above the Nephilim as they are above humans. And they predictably decided to be kings of the world, ruling forever and ever.
So started a new war. The Kaïms won but decided they needed to unite their society to avoid anyone making such mess again. Integrating the Sun Ka, the only magical energy the Kaïms did not possess was judged a worthy goal and look at that: Some dumb evolved monkeys had an unusual concentration of the stuff in them. The Kaïms promptly took enough specimens to have a breeding population, raised a continent in the middle of the Atlantic, then began their Golden Path, the tentative to integrate humanity’s Sun Ka in the Kaïm’s essence.
Next Time: The Golden Path: More Atrocities
The Golden Path and the FallOriginal SA post Let's Read Nephilim 2nd Edition Corebook: Part 2 : The Golden Path and the Fall
So where did we leave things last time? Ah yes, the immortal ethereal Kaïms had abducted a population of primitve humans and brought them in their magical continent of Atlantis to understand what makes us speshful. That will be a short post because this part takes only two pages even if they are more revelant to Nephilm backstory than all the cosmogony that came before.
Two descriptions rather antithetical of the Golden Path were developed in the line: The first described in this very corebook says the time was a Golden Age for men who, even if they were subjected to esoteric experiments, lived in “heavenly bliss”. The proponents of this theory in universe are nostalgic of this time where time itself seemed to not move for the Immortals.
The other description was expanded in later experiments (however note that even in the core one of the groups involved in the Golden Path is called the Body Snatchers so that was present from the beginning) described the experiments of the Golden Path as utterly horrific, often involving sensorial deprivation in order to train the Sun Ka of the subjects. It is also mentioned in several places of the line the Kaïms set up a breeding program to create humans with enhanced Sun-Ka, which as the Sun is linked to emotions tended to create unstable but powerful individuals that were the heroes of old.
To show an example of Kaïm’s assholery, let’s hear a story which is not in the core but is very important in the verse.
Once upon a time in Atlantis, a Kaïm named Del observed two of its human subjects making love. As their love was sincere, the Kaïm by observing them attained Agartha and absorbed Sun-Ka into himself to become a perfect child of the world. He took the name Pelagos and intervened several times down the unseen history as the Perfect Artist and the Muses’ Conductor.
Another Immortal whose name is lost to history, decided he would do the same thing with a twist. He fused together two coupling humans. Fused together as with the vampiric discipline of Vicissitude. He made of two individuals a hermaphroditic being he immediately tried to possess.
That did not work. That did not work at all. The Kaïm was destroyed, his Elements-Ka subsumed in the creature that called themselves Ram, a perfect being with a core of Sun-Ka and branches of the Five Elements.
What did the Kaïms do when they discovered this? Did they express regret to the poor creature for creating it? Did they rejoice because Ram proved it was possible to create life with the six fundamental elements? Did they accept the new being as their peer for he was as powerful as they?
You kid. They buried Ram alive in an adamantine block of living stone and sealed the whole thing with a Saurian Artefact that plunged the prisoner into deep and nightmare-filled slumber. After that they endeavored to forget the whole thing.
Ram in the Adamantine Block.
Some Kaîms refused to take part to these horrors. One of them called Prometheus rallied companions and acted. He wandered Atlantis, initiating humans to the magical reality of the world. He and his Immortal followers spearheaded a massive revolt that, even if unexpected could have been tamed.
Except that, in the moment mankind revolted against its jailors, a meteor coming from Saturn fell in the central place of Atlantis. A meteor so large the repercussion of its fall sent the continent sinking beneath the waves. A meteor formed of Orichalcum, a material unknown to Earth.
Now if you remember I said in the previous post the Magical Fields were linked to minerals and metals. Orichalcum is no exception and it was a link to the magical radiation of Saturn which normally could not reach Earth. The effect was immediate, the new Magical Field acted on the others like matter on anti-matter. The Magical Fields were wounded and slowly became unable to sustain the Kaïms.
Now Prometheus and Co could have waited the Earth became inhospitable for the Kaïms but they did not know that with certitude in the first time and they were impatient. So initiated humans took what they could find of the meteor shards so deadly to their former masters and forged thirteen blades with them. Most of these blades became famous later: Excalibur, the Spear of Longinus, Balmung, Gugnir and other mythical weapons. A Kaïm touched by these artifacts became unable to maintain its coherency and was condemned to lose its essence, its Wisdom and memories to the void.
Moreover, an Orichalcum’s wound produced elemental dust: Rare Earths which, mixed with blood and sprayed on an item, could create a prison for the wounded Kaïm. These Stasis enabled their wearers to use elemental magic even if they exposed them to possession. The Kaïms fled Atlantis and dispersed to the four winds, becoming Nephilim in the process. They Fell.
And so begins history.
Next Time: Character Creation: 19 Races Purely Cosmetic, 21 Possible Incarnation's Times
Character Creation SummaryOriginal SA post Let's Read Nephilim 2nd Edition Corebook part 3: Character Creation Summary
So here how we create a character in Nephilim, the actual method and details are disseminated in the chapter but the book is polite enough to include a summary of the process.
Important note: Nephilim 2nd is a classic d100 system so each skill is noted from 0 to 100
1 Choose your dominant Ka your main Element. You can be a
Pyrim the Fire-Nephilim Fire is linked to artistic inspiration, brute strength and violence
Eolim the Air-Nephilim Air is linked to comprehension, thoughfulness and curiosity
Hydrim the Water-Nephilim Water is linked to movement, adaptation, transformation
Onirim the Moon-Nephilim Moon is linked to dreams, lies and monsters
Faerim the Earth-Nephilim Earth is linked to fecundity, growth and rot
In Nephilim the elements are organized in a Pentacle in the order above. You must choose which of the two elements that neighbours your dominant Ka is dominant and which of the two elements facing your dominant Ka is your worst.
1.5 choose if your Nephilim was a Basaltic (The book says roll 3 or less on a d10), if that's the case choose a number between 1 and 5. This is the number of Basaltic Cycles your character had. Each cycle gives you 5% in the Occult Science of Magic but enhance your vulnerabilities to the manifestations of your opposed elements.
2 Choose a Metamorphosis ;. The Metamorphosis is the symbolic representation of your Nephilim, his true form before the Fall. While it somewhat informs your chatacter's mindset, it is mostly cosmetic. The more your Nephilim is powerful, the more her hidden nature shows and her Metarmophosis changes her stolen body. Metamorphosis are but not limited to.
3 Incarnations : You must choose which lives you have lived between the Fall and the present day. Each life enhances your knowledge, mundane and occult, but each one reduces your initial Ka of 20 by 2. If you take the three incarnations advised you begin with 14. I'll go more in details on Incarnations next post but the system is simple :
In each Incarnation Times you roll two times 2d6: the first result is your it is used to purchase Simulacra and Skills, the second is , it is used to participate in Quests that improves your occult knowledge.
The Incarnations are:
Thuatha de Danaan
Trial of the Knight Templars
Fall of the Kingdom of Granada
The Rise of the Sun King
Suleiman the Magnificent
Paris in Revolution
The Black Years (1940's)
4 Choose the Simulacrum, the meat-puppet you possess in the modern times. Modify its characteristics using your Element Kas (again more details in the next post but each Element is linked to a characteristic and possession enhances the human body)
5 Find a Name and play;
Next Character Creation Example