I’ve been thinking a lot about Invisible Sun lately. Partly because of the epicness that is the Hole in the World and my friend Zach Norton’s and his cast’s mad storytelling skills. But mostly, because it is, without compare, the most interestingly vivid and evocative roleplaying game I own. And while I have some more coming (one in particular) that may try and vie for this spot, I remain profoundly impressed with the setting and the feel that Monte Cook has hit upon in that game. Elsewhere on our blog, Joann has already covered the core set, the Black Cube, both an unboxing and the four core books that came with it: the Key, the Path, the Gate, and the Way. But I would like to start looking at the supplemental books that were released to go with them in the original Kickstarter.
The first of these, and I will present my overall opinion now, arguably the most essential, is Secrets of Silent Streets. One of the things that first struck me when I looked at Invisible Sun was the evocativeness of the artwork. The art book that comes with the Black Cube only reinforced this. But for me, personally, as a GM, what sells me on something is setting. If I can get pulled into the setting and really understand it and what is possible there, you’ve got me. That is what Secrets of Silent Streets did for me: it sold me on Invisible Sun as a setting.
Production and Manufacturing
Secrets of Silent Streets is a 216-page supplement dealing with the setting’s primary backdrop, the city of Satyrene on the Indigo Sun. Bound similar to the other books, it is a sturdy tome, square to fit in the cube and cube-related items like the extra sleeve. Two columns per page with a middle open food sidebar information and references, the text is clean and easy to read and the pages and ink are of excellent quality. As with all of Monte Cook Games’ products, the artwork is exceptional and on-point. But I will say that I am particularly impressed with the body of artwork that goes along with the Invisible Sun line. Outside of things like this book that sell the game to me as a GM, the artwork sells it as a unique product. In thirty plus years of gaming, I have never seen anything that is as artistically fascinating as this game.
Secrets of Silent Streets is a detailed look into the City of Satyrene, the City of Notions, where those who can use magic, the Vislae, begin their story, having broken free of the Shadow and the power of the Grey Sun after retreating there from the war. The seventeen districts of Satyrene are covered in turn along with a general overview of the city as a whole and some of its history at the beginning and a short treatment of the Ruined Expanse, the war-torn areas between settled districts at the end.
One of the things that is immediately noticeable about this supplement is the way it is designed to both be an aid to the GM with ideas when it is desired and to get out of their way when it is not. Much of the language is ambiguous suggesting that the content given could possibly be true or it could simply be the ramblings of someone who wanted attention at a cocktail party. In fact, the book itself says:
“I’m not going to describe for you every building, or even every street or neighborhood. The city is huge—intentionally so. It’s easier to create in prep or on the fly without having to memorize the layout of the entire city and every location in it. The places I’ll describe aren’t the totality, just landmarks or useful bits to put in your narrative. But just as useful are the places in between that you create, probably out of necessity in response to a need sparked by a player’s character arc.Secrets of Silent Streets, page 10
“The PC wants to learn the Spider Whisper secret? Oh, well then, they have to talk to so-and-so, who lives on such-and-such street. If you want, you can pull so-and-so out of this book. If you don’t, you can make so-and-so up on the spot. Either way, there’s room for it in Satyrine.”
Each one of the chapters detailing the seventeen districts is laid out the same. Quite honestly, I personally love the way this is done as it hits the exact kinds of things that I personally need in my games. I wish more games used this style of presentation for their settings. Obviously, I don’t have a say in that, however, to a certain extent, even in our setting, Hope’s Horizon, we tried to do something similar.
The first portion of the chapter is a section describing the Mood and Feel of the district. All of the districts in Satyrene are different. The people there are different, the buildings and the shops are different, and in order to make this setting feel vibrant and living, those differences need to be understood so that they can be roleplayed. Secrets of Silent Streets does an excellent job with this task.
The second portion of each chapter is a section detailing a sample neighborhood inside of the district. It provides a sample gerent and the flavor of the neighborhood, along with a unique thing or two about it that a GM might use to hook on to. There are several sample locations given, usually things that figure prominently in the district, and then sample people or personalities that you might find in the district. All of these offer additional hooks that you can work into your stories in Invisible Sun. Finally, there is a section that tells what a sample story set in that district might look like (think adventure or short series). The chapter also has a zoomed in detail map of that district with the locations that are detailed in the chapter shown on the map.
I have given this same critique several times because it is the only one I have. I want more. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the locations and NPC’s provided because they, as a whole, do as much to help the GM understand the flavor of the district as the section that actually talks about Mood and Feel. But I like my options, so give me more of them. I probably won’t use them all, and that’s OK. But I will never, ever, turn down “more” of a good thing, and the setting and backdrop help that Secrets of Silent Streets give, along with the story hooks they offer, are all good things.
While not required to play Invisible Sun, if you are at all serious about being a “more than casual” Invisible Sun GM, this book, in my opinion, is absolutely a must-buy. It’s usability and content value per dollar spent is extremely high for GMs like me. If you are one that wants everything spelled out completely, this might not be your book (or quite honestly, your game), but if you’ve already bought the Black Cube (virtual or otherwise), you probably already know what you’re getting into. We’re going to cover the rest of the supplemental books as well here in review, but for now, may the light of the Invisible Sun illuminate your path, Vislae, and may you learn all of the Secrets of Silent Streets that you seek. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles