I am going to preface this review by stating, unequivocally, that I love Invisible Sun. It is absolutely my favorite RPG, having supplanted Numenera. Its surreality and fascinating take on magic get my creative juices flowing. The artwork is astoundingly good. The character creation process completely changed how I think about Session Zero in all my games (not just Invisible Sun). With that said, there are some elements to this game that are, to put it succinctly, creepy as hell. I have two words for you: Sooth Deck. Those of you that have played Invisible Sun know what I’m talking about. That deck KNOWS. I don’t know how it knows, but it always seems to KNOW. It is simultaneously one of the most amazing and creepy storytelling tools I’ve ever used.
Now, with that being said, we’re going to move on to something even creepier. I can honestly say that in all my years of gaming, I have never picked up a book like the Nightside before, and I own a bunch of World of Darkness stuff and have used stuff from the Book of Vile Darkness in Dungeons & Dragons (ironically, also by Monte Cook). Those, while dark, did not give me the heebie-jeebies (is that how it’s spelled?). This one, however, is different, and quite frankly, both Joann and I felt it. That is not to say that the book itself is evil or anything. It’s just that the whole presentation gives a very different and sinister vibe to the Invisible Sun corpus. This book is NOT for everyone, and that’s OK. But with that said, let’s get into what it contains.
Production and Manufacturing
Much like all the other Monte Cook Games titles, the Nightside is a very sturdy product, with a solid layout and thematic artwork. 192 pages, the book is hardbound, but unlike the other books in the Black Cube, this one is not square. It measures just over 9 inches by just over 6 inches. Included with the book are 38 new cards (Ephemera Objects, Incantations, Spells, and Objects of Power), 2 new Weaver Aggregate cards, and 10 new Vance spell cards, as well as an “Experimental” Nightside die (a 10-sided die that is blank save for one side with the magical flux symbol). The package comes inside a thick satin sleeve that is embroidered with a “protection” symbol on it to prevent the book from infecting your other Invisible Sun books and is packaged in a box. Much like the Black Cube, this product feels like the premium content that the game suggests it is.
The first seven pages of the book give an overview of the theme of the Nightside. There is a blurb about ensuring that everyone at the table is comfortable with any topics being used before they are presented, which is always good advice. They point to their Consent in Gaming tools. You can use these (or similar ones), or just have a good, old-fashioned conversation with your players, but the material in this book gets pretty dark in the way of body horror, torture, violence, corruption, depression, etc… Make sure everyone at your table is good with whatever you decide you want to include.
The next section discusses the Nightside, some truths about it (and Demons in particular), and talks about the concept of experimentation in Invisible Sun. The idea here is that Vislae should not claim to know everything there is to know about magic and should always be learning something. The flip side to that is that as one strays from “well-trodden” paths, mishaps become more likely. When you begin trying such practices, the Experimental die comes into play, increasing one’s chance of experiencing Magical Flux. There is also a listing of possible Curses by level of effect that one might combine with the use of the Death Curse described on p. 140 of the Key.
This section is followed by 6 new Fortes that players can use, 9 new patrons, a listing of the new cards, Weaver aggregates, and Vance spells, 26 new Hexes, 19 new examples of Long-Form Magic, and 10 new Rituals. There are 49 new character secrets and 11 new House secrets as well, each of which has a distinct Nightside bent to them. Following that, there are 10 locations that are tied to the Nightside in some way, ranging from the beneficial to the sinister. After that is a listing of creatures both great and small that are “of the Nightside”. Some of these are downright scary to think about and would spook many players that I know of. Or maybe I’m just a wuss. Finally, the appendix notes the objects, practices, workings, and secrets from the Black Cube and Book M that should also be considered “Nightside practices”.
I do not actually have any real complaints about the content of the book or the cards. The quality and components are exactly what I have come to expect from Monte Cook Games. While some might say that they need more detail or more NPC’s or something, and while I might find a use for such, I do not necessarily need them. I have become accustomed to the level of detail found in products like Invisible Sun, Numenera, and such. No, my only real complaint about this product is the “warding bag”. With the drawstring open, it is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the size of the book. Because the drawstring creates creases, sometimes the book catches on the threads sewing the drawstring into the pouch or the sleeve is difficult to get started. The gamma Vance cards inside the plastic sleeve are also somewhat difficult to get in at times. The pouch needs to be just a bit bigger – an eighth of an inch, tops. That would completely fix the problem.
The Nightside is a supplement to the Invisible Sun game by Monte Cook Games, detailing some of the darker and more sinister practices that Vislae can try their hands at and beings that they can deal with. As much as I like Invisible Sun and support Monte Cook Games, I cannot actually call this supplement a “must-buy”. While it does do a lot to provide some darkness and contrast to an Invisible Sun narrative, the game does not particularly need it beyond what is already provided in the Black Cube and some of the other supplements like Book M, Secrets of Silent Streets, and Teratology (that I would consider “must-buys”). If you are a completionist, or if you and your group wish to dive into the deep, dark end of the pool, then absolutely get this book. If you as a GM want to give your “bad guys” some serious teeth and sinister darkness to make the PC’s really get riled up, absolutely get this book. But it all comes down to the tone you wish to set in your game, and ultimately, only you can decide that one. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles