Last week, we began our review of the Invisible Sun product line with an unboxing of the Black Cube, showing you what was physically in this imposing piece of gaming hardware. This week, we’re going to start into the actual books to discuss what you get and what is different about this game (and some of the reasons we love it).
The book itself is neatly laid out with a table of contents and the instructions are clear on how to walk through character creation. The artwork is, as usual, exquisite and what we’ve come to expect from Monte Cook Games and Bear Weiter’s team. The book has a very sturdy cover and binding with the pages all lined up perfectly. The layout starts with two broad columns, but later in the book they shrink the columns slightly and do text blocks of important information in the middle, which is a different take from the other books produced by MCG, giving Invisible Sun a different feel. It also references other books during this one and does so in a way similar to a text book, with a symbol, a name and a page number to help you find the information it discusses
Inside the Black Cube is an Introduction Sheet that offers a logical method for looking at and understanding the contents of the game. The Key, is the book that this document recommends to be read first (Step 2). This book covers the Vislae: How to create one as your character and how to build the life around it. Do NOT skip straight to character creation. At the beginning can be found some prose. They appear to be fluff, however they give details and insight on the world you’re about to put this character in. It also includes helpful information that you will want to know for your character. The beauty and the wonder of this setting starts here. Skipping it means you miss out on this first taste and it’ll make the rest of the setting a little harder to chew. And it can be hard enough to wrap one’s mind around. Trust us.
Character creation is outlined in steps to make it easy for you to follow:
- Step 0: Choose a roleplaying style.
- Step 1: Choose an order.
- Step 2: Choose a heart.
- Step 3: Choose a forte.
- Step 4: Choose a soul.
- Step 5: Build a foundation.
- Step 6: Choose a character arc.
- Step 7: Create bonds and an initial group desideratum.
Step 0 is considered an optional step, however, it performs a dual purpose. First, it helps you think about your character as a concept, and how you want to proceed with the following steps. It also informs the GM what kind of game you want to play in, or the kind of world your character needs. In other words, Step 0 is less about you as a player and what motivates you or how you play a roleplaying game and more about your character and the overall way they tend to face challenges.
Each step after that is different ways of developing your character, you choose an Order, a Heart, a Forte, a Secret Soul, and then build a foundation (something akin to a background with Equipment benefits). Each piece creates not only your character from a mechanical standpoint, but a built-in narrative one. And not just the character, but the world they live in, what is closest to them. One of the biggest draws of Invisible Sun for us has been the way in which character building and world building are integrated and shared as a joint GM-Player task and how ideas from everyone are encouraged and given voice.
Next is choosing a character arc. This governs how you want your character to progress by allowing you to determine what personal goals your character has. Invisible Sun is very much a player-driven game and works best when the players are the driving force behind the story. It is encouraged that the whole of Character Creation is done as a group exercise in Session Zero, however, the last step, at a minimum, needs to be done with the group. Finally, you form bonds between your character and another, similar to one of the functions of the Character Focus in Numenera. In Invisible Sun, you gain advancement not through experience as you know it, but through acumen and crux (which is a 1:1 mixture of Joy and Despair), which is something you gain per character, not per party. The idea that one learns from success or good things (Joy) and failure or bad things (Despair) and that both are needed to advance in wisdom is, to us, a very interesting mechanic to drive narrative.
The rest of the book goes into some detail on the rules, particularly as they apply to individual characters. It discusses what each item or ability is for that you gain from your Order, Forte, and Secret Soul. It talks about how to the stat pools of the various attributes work for your character and how to use them to perform actions and affect your rolls (similar to what is done in the core Cypher System) and what kind of things your character will be able to do based on your choices for the various character creation options.
Part Player introduction, part Character Creation guide, at 207 pages, the Key is a lot of information to take in all at once. While you may have less trouble than we did at your first reading, the setting is different enough that in addition to the rules changes (coming from Cypher), it took time for us to wrap our heads around it. Once we did, however, we found it interesting how wrapped up in the feel of the setting the character creation actually is. The differences between creating a character in the Cypher System and in Invisible Sun feel like baked in portions of the setting. And that is one of the many things that makes this game feel different from every other game (including the Cypher System despite it’s similarities) we’ve played and one of the reasons we enjoy it so much. Happy gaming!
- Joann Walles