When Numenera burst onto the scene back in August 2012 it was apparent that Monte Cook Games endeavored to be different from the status quo, and ever since that day their efforts to bring us games that border on the surreal has been met with success. There is something about every project they’ve put out that screams “care and attention was paid here”. Certainly they aren’t the only company that does so, but anyone who has ever spent much time reading their thoughts on their games, watched a panel prior to introducing a new one, or even met the MCG team knows they put more than a little of their soul into a product. The Invisible Sun RPG is going to be an interesting beast to say the least. I have to imagine the Kickstarter campaign will succeed, it is already well on its way (currently $153,984 pledged of a $210,653 goal with 557 backers). I also feel it has a lot of potential to be pretty divisive, not necessarily in a negative way but it is definitely going to get a conversation started regarding the trade offs of quality game craft and the accessibility of your game. It’s going to be an interesting ride.
At Gen Con MCG announced Invisible Sun, and it was immediately apparent they were going gamble hard with some real innovation. Promises have been made to up the ante with modes of play (Action, Narrative, and Development), all things GMs may have utilized before but from what I can tell this game will have rules built into the system for such things. Players, and their stories will take the lead here with a GM that guides them through a world they have “awoken” back into. The world we know is referenced as a “Shadow World” and the players are trying to get back to the “Actuality”. Other than that we know the game will be based in a “surreal” fantasy setting, & their marketing prior to the Kickstarter was filled with cryptic messages, hidden real life geocaches, and fantastic concept art (except that damn cat…*). Needless to say I have been very impressed thus far.
The Kickstarter itself launched today and at first I was confused. Whenever I check out a Kickstarter for review my first step is always the backer levels (not uncommon), I like to have an idea of my preferred backer level and the best bang for your buck. You won’t get that from me this time. The Invisible Sun Kickstarter makes it plain, this packaging of the game is the luxury model. I have no clue if later iterations will be priced for the individual purchaser but for the time being it seems the lowest price point, the “Call the Black Cube” level, is set at $197.00.
My first reaction at this lofty price was to scoff, but I dug deeper and realized they intended the Black Cube to be something an entire game group can go in on and have ownership over. Not the first game company to encourage a backer level that involved multiple folks chipping in, but I’ve never seen someone make it their opening act. After that the price just skyrockets until it reaches a price just south of 6 grand (and someone has actually laid that grip down). When the inference was made that they were going to bring a lux product to the table, they didn’t disappoint. From the looks of things, even the $197.00 model will be packed with great stuff…and just what’s in that box you ask (perhaps with feigned terror as you quote a certain Fincher flick)? Well, they answered that just today, and, in my opinion, it is worth every penny.
The Books: The box contains four beautifully, intricately presented rule and setting books called The Key, The Gate, The Path, and The Way. These contain everything you need to start an Invisible Sun campaign. You’ll also find them to be filled with hidden puzzles, codes, and mysteries all their own. While solving these isn’t crucial, it will enhance your experience.
Sooth Deck: A special deck of 60 round cards used to facilitate gameplay and inspire GM creativity.
Board: A durable, folding cardstock board featuring the Path of Suns, on which the GM plays the Sooth cards.
Testament of Suns: An imposing resin sculpture that holds a Sooth card that is active long-term for all to see.
Spell Cards: 200 cards detailing the spells characters will cast in the game.
Ephemera Cards: 300 cards detailing the minor magic and one-use incantations characters will use in the game.
Artifact Cards: 100 cards describing the magical accoutrements characters will obtain and create in the game.
Tokens: More than 100 tokens of different types to use for the different kinds of player rewards, Vance spell management, and more.
Dice: 4 gorgeous 10-sided dice marked with game-specific symbols. One is a “mundane” die, while others are special “magic” dice.
Secrets Envelope: A sealed envelope with some of the deepest secrets of the setting. This is different than the secrets that all vislae (backers) will get in addition to the game, tied to the active sun on the day that they cast their spell to summon the Black Cube.
Cloth Map: A gorgeous map of the City of Satyrine.
Poster Map: A two-sided map showing the Actuality and the fantastic realm of Indigo.
The Guiding Hand: A GM’s notebook that guides the GM through creating a campaign of their own, with ideas, suggestions, and prompts.
Player Handouts: Dozens of useful things, from quick-reference rule cards to a plethora of handouts and clue-laden props.
Character Tomes: The four orders of magic, plus the order-rejecting Apostates, each get their own unique four-page character tome. The game contains six blank copies of each type of tome, ready to use to create characters.
Grimoire Pad: A pad of 30 handy sheets for players to record their spells, secrets, and more.
Bookmarks: Four special bookmarks, each tied to a different book, not only help mark important pages, but list frequently referenced pages for important topics. And might they be part of a larger clue to yet another mystery? Everything’s fair game.
Pregenerated Characters: Five iconic characters for the setting, ready to use as player characters.
Sun Medallion: Every game contains one of eight metal medallions, each tied to one of the suns of the Path of Suns. Fate will decide which medallion you get, as there will be equal numbers of each made.
The Cube Itself: The Black Cube is a mystery box taken right from the game’s setting. This incredibly sturdy box folds in a unique design, and it includes a special compartment for the books and a plastic tray to hold the cards and components of the game.
Searchable Electronic Reference: Every copy of the game comes with a digital download of the rules and setting material. You can read it on a tablet or other screen and easily search the file to find what you need.
Secrets: Are there still more mysteries hidden in the box somewhere? Probably, for those who look carefully.
A hallmark of this Kickstarter campaign, and frankly the game itself, is mystery, magic, and secrecy. MCG started strong with ciphers and geocaches and promises that the game itself will contain many secrets to be unveiled. There is even a difference in what backer secret you’ll receive based on what sun, of the nine suns, was “active” during the time you backed the project. From what I understand the books will likely hold puzzles and ciphers as well. It all just sounds so cool!
When referencing the game on the Kickstarter page the opening line reads thusly
Invisible Sun is a tabletop roleplaying game of surreal fantasy. It’s dark. It’s moody. It’s adult.
They play up the immersion factor, claiming it truly isn’t for everyone. This will be a game for a group to really dig their teeth into and develop some damn story arcs! It really seems to go about checking off every box in my personal list of desires in a game. One aspect I find very interesting is what I touched on above regarding the third mode of play the “Development” mode. Essentially this is something many of us GMs have handled on an ad hoc basis, a player may want to have their character accomplish some task or flesh out a bit more of their backstory away from the table. There’s been many times I’ve exchanged a few emails with my players about such things and we’ve come up with something cool that may effect the game once we get back to the table. Well Invisible Sun purports to have this as a far more literal aspect of play. I’m truly intrigued to see how this is actually implemented. It seems there will be at least some concrete rules surrounding this mode of play because, as mentioned in more depth here, Monte has explained that these actions taken away from the game table will have in game consequences. I love the idea, enough to have done it myself in my own way, so I’m fully on board to see how it can become a full on addition to a game.
I’ve been digging around the internet all afternoon, researching the many aspects of this Kickstarter, and I could probably come up with far more interesting tidbits to bat around but honestly, do yourself a favor and check things out for yourself. Even if you’re currently priced out like so many others, it’s all worth looking into. I’d also like to say I’ve been very impressed with the reaction by many of those who simply cannot figure out how to afford to get in on this. It has mostly been a message of “I can’t afford your product, but I still believe in your message here, and wish you the best with this deluxe game.” It would be oh so easy to get angry, and frankly jealous, that you can’t afford to get in on the fun, but I’ve seen very little of that. I hope the tenor of feedback remains that positive. I even saw one commentor who believed in the vision so much, despite being unable to back at even the lowest level, that he paid in $10 just to help MCG succeed! I’m not recommending such an action, but hey kudos to that guy.
So if you are interested in a big, luxury, gaming product, in this era where new games on the scene have been marketing in a more streamlined fashion, Invisible Sun seems to be your bag. If you can afford to, I’d suggest taking a chance on this beautiful project. In just over a year’s time your players could be free of the Shadow and in the realm of the Acuality!
BAKER LEVELS OF NOTE
*The cat is actually really cool it just creeps me out.