Review: Invisible Sun – The Way

Continuing on our tour of the contents of the Invisible Sun Black Cube, our next stop is The Way.  Easily the densest of the four core rulebooks, The Way deals with the many forms of magic found in the Invisible Sun game.  In my mind, it is simultaneously the most exciting and frustrating rulebook I have ever read.  Exciting because the idea that one game can embrace so many different fundamental mechanical approaches to magic to express the different thinking of the magical character types is thematically amazing.  Frustrating because in light of that design choice, there are so many different rules that, as a gamemaster, I have to keep in my head and often get jumbled up.  I am not one that enjoys feeling on the edge of making mistakes at the table, but I have not run this game nearly long enough to feel confident that I am helping my players do the right things for their character types all the time yet.

“Magic is the blood that flows through the veins of the universe.  And the heart that pumps that blood is the Invisible Sun”

The Way, page 5

Invisible Sun is about magic.  But not in the sense that most other games are.  In Dungeons & Dragons, or Shadowrun, or any number of other such games, characters use magic.  Invisible Sun, however, attempts to steep the players so far into magic that their characters, the vislae, ARE magic.  That was one of the most powerful draws for me to the system when I first started taking a look at whether or not we wanted to buy into the system (before we started Angel’s Citadel).  Much as with Numenera, I felt like Invisible Sun was special, different somehow, but I didn’t quite understand how.  The how is centered entirely on magic.  It is a different way of looking at magic.  Not necessarily in actual spellcasting (though there is a lot of that too), but in philosophy, in setting, in feel.  Magic isn’t a part of the setting in Invisible Sun, it is the setting.


Content

The first chapter of the book deals with Magical Practices.  This covers all the rules generalities for using the different forms of magic.  Some of the topics dealt with are:

  • How to calculate your venture for a given magical effect and how to boost it either normally or with certain learnable secrets
  • The Colors of magic and, by association, the suns that govern them
  • The effects of Magical Flux
  • Creating new magical practices
  • Divination magic and how to deal with it (including setting challenge levels)
  • Spell Effects by level (including what is probably the single most useful table for the GM in this book)

With typical cross-references to the appropriate other books and locations within this one, while the subjects in this chapter are mechanically “involved”, they are, as a general rule, fairly easily understood.

The next chapter is on Minor Magic.  This includes Cantrips (brief, temporary effects), Charms (single day effects), Signs (location-based minor effects), and Hexes (minor magical curses/attacks).  These are effects that are easy to learn, quick to use, and like the old saying, “you get what you pay for”, aren’t very impressive.  Sometimes, however, a little is all that is needed to get a job done and an inventive/innovative vislae can sometimes do extremely clever things with just a little bit of minor magic.  Following that is Long-Form Magic.  This covers magic both that individuals can cast and things like rituals or rites that require more than one person, dealing with conjurations, invocations, or enchantments.  These spells require some combination of time to prepare, material components (some can be extremely exotic), and specific and sometimes exacting procedures.  As is said in the margin on the first page of the chapter, “Long-Form Magic is performed, not cast.  Spells are cast.”.  13 pages of examples follow with a final page of advice for the Gamemaster with regards to this type of magic. The next chapter deals with Spells in the spells deck and lists them by level, noting their associated color.

From here, The Way begins delving into order specific chapters.  The first of these deals with a Vance’s spells.  The Vancian Order actually has their own spells and they are printed on different sized cards.  Included in the resources found in the Black Cube is a Vance Spellcasting diagram.  These cards fit in the diagram much like a tangram set (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangram).  If you have space in your diagram, and a spell to match, you can hold it in your mind.  As you become more powerful in the Vancian Order, your mind gets bigger and you can hold either more spells or more powerful spells (or both) in it.  There are also rules for converting Vancian spells to generic spells and vice versa.

Next is the Order of the Makers.  This chapter deals with the Maker’s Matrix, the process by which Makers craft magical items and imbue them with power.  Also discussed are the potential side effects and mishaps that can occur during this process along with clarification of the rules  for using the Spell Effects by Level table, the differences between crafting Ephemera and Objects of Power, and a short discussion of crafting materials.  This chapter, too, ends with a page for the Gamemaster on dealing with makers, particularly because of the open-endedness of the potential magical effects of the items they create.

Following that is a chapter on Weavers and a discussion of their Aggregates, the magical aspects that they weave together to create a spell effect. In order to create an effect a Weaver selects Qualities from two or more Aggregates (without having a part of the effect that contains any Absences from those qualities), and the player and the GM use the Spell Effects by Level table to determine the level of the effect. If you are familiar with the system, this is very much like Creative Thaumaturgy from the Mage roleplaying games in the World of Darkness (as opposed to rotes which work more like General Spells). This, to me, is the most exciting (and challenging from being so open to interpretation) method of casting that Invisible Sun brings to the table. The chapter lists each of the Aggregates with their Qualities and Absences and then gives several pages of example effects to illustrate some of the thought process a Weaver (and a GM) might use to take this form of magic and craft spells with it. Finally, on the last page of the chapter, there is, once again, a page for the Gamemaster on dealing with Weavers for much the same reason as there is one with Makers.

To round these out, we finish with a chapter on Goetic Summoning.  This chapter deals first with the process of summoning.  It then talks about the outlook of the summoned, more for the GM than the player, although it is helpful for them too.  Following that is a discussion of Names and Pacts, and then means of Colloquy (Persuasion, Bribery, Coercion, or Trickery) along with what happens if the Goetic fails in their efforts.  Finally, it offers suggestions on what sort of tasks a summoned being might be asked to perform, then offers the Gamemaster another page of advice on dealing with the flexible nature of such summoning in-game.

Following those chapters is information dealing with Character secrets (magical shortcuts that a character can learn) along with a descriptive list of them and House secrets (special magical effects tied to a character’s home that they can discover) along with another descriptive list.  There is a chapter on Ephemera, items that produce temporary effects, much like Cyphers from the Cypher System and Numenera and the similar concept of Incantations (which are more like Subtle Cyphers).  Both of these have a list of them by level and cards in their appropriate decks.  Following that, there is a chapter on Objects of Power (Artifacts which are vislae-made and Relics which are not) which are similar in concept to Artifacts from the Cypher System or Numenera.  These are not single use but carry depletion rolls and can be potentially re-used several times or sometimes, indefinitely.  Here too, the objects found in the deck are listed by level.

The Changeries: Where both the bizarre and the useful come together in spectacular and surreal ways…

The last chapter deals with one of the more surreal ideas in the book: the Changeries.  These are places in the City of Satyrine that one can go to have magical changes performed on one’s body.  Some of these are done for aestheticism, but others are done to add power or advantages to one’s repertoire.  The last page of the book is a listing of additional resources and inspiration for Invisible Sun.


Summary

There is a really lot in this book.  It will take time to absorb.  For the player, it is not so bad because they can focus on just the portions that apply to both their character type (potentially eliminating three whole chapters), and any objects or spells they have (which, while there are a lot of options here, the decks help with specifics – an extremely useful thing in a game like this).  Thus, the player could potentially read the first chapter, their character type’s chapter, and look at their cards and deal with 90% or more of the situations that come up.  The Gamemaster on the other hand has their work cut out for them. 

As mostly full-time GM’s, Joann and I struggled (and still struggle) quite a bit with the sheer volume of concepts written here, although as this is now my fourth reading through the book, it’s starting to coalesce some (finally).  Invisible Sun is a beautiful game, with tons of potential due to the different “feeling” things you can do with magic, but that breadth of feeling comes at a cost of complexity and this is probably not a game that someone is going to be able to pick up and run the first time out of the gate without making some major “mistakes”.  Fortunately, a good, understanding group, and one who is willing to learn on the fly and as they go, can cover a multitude of GM “sins”.

For those who struggle with so much printed information, there are a couple of resources available to help you. Monte Cook did an introduction to playing Invisible Sun that briefly goes over some of the rules that you can watch on YouTube. Then, the Monte Cook Games team did a campaign play through with Invisible Sun called The Raven Wants What You Have. This one is helpful for several reasons. First, the four players (Bruce Cordell, Darcy Ross, Shanna Germain, and Sean K. Reynolds) each play a different character type, giving you the opportunity to see mechanically different magical systems play out (the only one not represented was the Vance). Second, they are put into a variety of different situations, allowing them to use a myriad of different effects (from spells, to ephemera, to objects of power, to their specific type’s magic). And third, the campaign, run by Monte himself, gives you an opportunity to get an idea of how a game of Invisible Sun should “feel”, which can be somewhat difficult for those new to surrealist gaming.

Hopefully this has given you a little bit of a taste of what is, in my mind, the foundational rulebook for the mechanics of the system.  While the Key seems to give one a better introduction to the “feel”, this one is much more useful in giving both player and GM a view of the possibilities of things you can do in Invisible Sun as a vislae character.  Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles

Now on DriveThruRPG, from Angel’s Citadel… A brand new, original setting for the Cypher System! The Hope’s Horizon Starter Kit requires the Revised Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games.

2 thoughts on “Review: Invisible Sun – The Way

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