by Ethan Hudgens Twitter
What is The Invisible Sun?
The newest creation from the team over at Monte Cook Games isn’t just a Table Top Roleplaying Game. It is an event. It is a mystery that starts with summoning the Black Cube, a nearly featureless cube about 14 inches on a side and weighing more than you’d expect. That’s because along with the four books, maps, boards, cards, character sheets, art books, tokens, and a statuette of a golden hand, the Cube is full of secrets. Lots of secrets.
But let’s talk about Suns. There are nine suns in the Actuality, one of which is the Invisible Sun and radiates magic upon all the other. For those familiar with the Planes of D&D, these are similar but instead of element each represents an Idea, like the Silver Sun is the sun of birth, beginnings, and potential, while the Grey Sun (“our reality” sun) which is the sun of lies, distortion, and illusion.
At the start of the game it is assumed that the player’s characters are Vislae (magic users) all returning to the Indigo Sun (sun of truth) from a brief exile into the Grey sun. So your players get to experience the world with their characters who are re-experiencing it the strange and surreal landscapes.
Yes, Invisible Sun is a world of magical surrealism, something better seen than described. But in essence it is the taking of the mundane and twisting and distorting it. Most might recognize the melting clocks of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory. Strange “normal” things that occur in Invisible Sun are things like Key Storms (where keys fall out of the sky), a living bar that is never in the same place twice, and a man who is Monday, the day of the week.
You mentioned Secrets?
I recently spent two days trying to hardcore casually decode a secret language that adorns many of the pages the book. Some of these “sentences” will direct you to a website with a search engine that demands you fill it with more secrets. Sometimes the cipher just says “Secrets” and you get real upset.
Other than that there are clock puzzles, mysterious symbologies, and just really cryptic red text that says things like “Where do the feelings that have yet to be felt dwell?” There are a lot of secrets, and for me its been like a game I can play while we aren’t playing.
Okay, but why is this game special?
Aside from the surreal setting, there’s two major elements why this game plays differently than any other I have played: Character Arcs and Development Mode.
Unlike most ttRPGs (including other MCG titles like Cypher System, which iSun draws many of its mechanics from) the major drive for the story is not pre-designed plot beats and stories coming from the GM, but from Arcs that players themselves choose during character creations (and can invest more of later as they become relevant). Invisible Sun is a player character driven experience, where the GM’s primary job is to make memorable people and places along the way for them to interact with. It takes some getting used to, but it makes for a unique play experience.
As does “Development Mode.” Invisible Sun doesn’t stop when your players leave the table. You can keep playing. Whether by meeting in person or playing via text in the Invisible Sun phone app, the game encourages players to continue play by having side scenes of things that they do between sessions (sometimes ranging in weeks to months in a time lapse).
These Arcs sound important. Can you give an example?
Let’s say I want to start a business. Any business. This is the Actuality we could have a business about self-shining shoes, a bookstore that only sells books written by ants, or a taco shop that pulls the exact taco you want from your dreams.
First we have to complete the Opening, which in the case of the Enterprise arc requires that we Draw up a Plan. Basically saying what business venture we want to take and how we want to achieve it.
Next we have a number of Steps that can be completed in any order. So for our Dream Taco stand we’re first going to need to get some financing, find a place to build this shoppe, and then actually build the establishment. For each of these steps completed you receive experience that can be used to improve your character later.
Once each step is complete we come to the Climax. Does our business venture succeed or fail? If we do well, we get Joy for the pride of capitalism. Otherwise we gain a point of Despair. Each Joy and Despair being another type of experience.
And then comes a Resolution where we think back on what we did.
These Arcs can take months of ingame time, but generally should be completed in about five sessions or so. And once you’ve completed an Arc you can “purchase” a new one from the list and continue developing your character!
But is it worth the money?
Most people look at the cost of the Black Cube and wince at its price tag. The truth of the matter is that if you take your collection of Dungeons and Dragons material, like the three core books, add in a module, some very nice professional character sheets, tokens, and all the spell cards it is actually quite the deal. And unlike many other new RPG systems, this one does a very good job at making sure you don’t leave it sitting on your shelf for too long.
At time of posting, the second Kickstarter still has a couple days left to get in on the second printing, so if you’re interested I highly recommend you just go do the thing. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/montecookgames/invisible-sun-return-to-the-actuality