Monday, August 29, 2016

Five or So Questions with Monte Cook on Invisible Sun

Good news everyone! I've been lucky enough to interview Monte Cook of Monte Cook Games about his new game on Kickstarter, Invisible Sun. Invisible Sun is a new tabletop RPG with a flexible play function and some fun bits and pieces that can round out the experience, which promises an escape to surreal fantasy and secrecy. Check out Monte's responses to my questions below!
I love this piece so much, the colors and structure are so good.

Tell me a little about Invisible Sun. What excites you about it?

Invisible Sun is a new RPG of surreal fantasy, where player characters use magic to discover the secrets of the world, and the world beyond the world. There are many, many things that excite me about the game. If I had to pick, say, two, I'd say the surreal nature of the setting--a place where not only can anything happen, but does--and some of the new gameplay elements. In Invisible Sun, we have something called Development Mode (as in, character development), where players get time away from the table to really focus on their own, personal story arcs. Everything in the game is story-based, and even a character's advancement is based on progress through one or more story arcs that they player has set up. Development mode gives players a way to interact with the game and with each other even when the whole group can't meet. It's great for everyone, but particularly for those of us who sometimes struggle to make our schedules all mesh.

Both of these aspects of the game are really about the same thing: escaping the demands of the real world to escape--at least for a time--into a realm of imagination and wonder. Invisible Sun is about escape in both setting and mechanics.

I really like combining nature and humanity, so this image is right up my alley.

For Development Mode, outside of the flexibility, what do you think about that option really opens up the experience for players - is it just lonely fun, or do you think it's more of an exploration, or more?

I'm not sure what you mean by "lonely fun." Development mode allows a player or players to interact with the GM--either indirectly or directly, as they desire and as is convenient--to play out side-scenes involving only some subset of the group. So the GM and players can have personal storylines going as well as group stories, or a single character can break off and do their own thing in between sessions. Or maybe the side-scene is a flashback, and just enriches a character's background (or, like in good fiction, maybe something that happens in that flashback then directly affects the present storyline). It's also a great way to give players who are a bit quieter in a large group a way to shine on their own--that is to say, it's great for introverts.


Invisible Sun has a lot more going than just a book. What components come with the game, and what do they do? With that, what do you personally enjoy about integrating them into Invisible Sun's play?

Now that we've unlocked the "Whole Box Upgrade" stretch goal, the game comes with dozens of player handouts, in-depth 4-page character tomes, a pad of grimoire sheets for keeping track of spells and secrets, a GM notebook filled with creative prompts and ways to manage all the various story arcs in the campaign, hundreds of tokens (some specific to certain character orders), and over a thousand cards, ranging from spell and artifact cards to the 60-card divinatory Sooth Deck that figures into every aspect of play. And that's still not everything.

The point here is that Invisible Sun is a game that recognizes the challenges of getting the group to gather around a table and so it celebrates it with all sorts of fun visual and tactile enhancements to play the game. For example, Vance characters manage their magic in a way that restricts the number of living spells they can have ready in their mind at once. They will have cards that have their spells written on them in different sizes and shapes. If they can fit some combination of those cards into the diagram that represents their mind, they can ready that many spells. Weavers, however, use magic in an entirely different way and have game bits that help them keep track of that.

There are all kind of board games with glorious boxes filled with fun stuff to help play the game. I think RPGers should have that option if they want it too.

The little curlicues in here and the snail are so cute but spoopy.

Escapism is a huge part of tabletop RPGs, and it often seems like there's more to escape than ever. What do you think about the surreal setting of Invisible Sun makes it compelling, and accessible, for people who have so many realms to dive into already?

The stranger and more surreal a setting is, the easier, rather than harder, it is to escape into it. Because in a setting like that, you don't ever have to say no. You never say, "no, that can't work," or "that's not realistic." You don't have to be a history scholar or a science expert or really know anything other than how to use your imagination. It's not a free-for-all, of course. It's still an rpg, and rpgs have rules, but it takes away restrictions that would be purely setting-based. It's a deep-dive into fantasy, to be sure, but it's appealing to people who maybe sometimes want something beyond the standard genre tropes. The game, of course, will come with all manner of creative prompts (first and foremost, the aforementioned Sooth Deck) to help generate ideas for all of this. Sometimes "anything is possible" is hard, at least at first. So the game gives you a hand.

Multiple eyes like that freaks me out but I still like the kitty.
What have been some of your favorite parts of designing and playing Invisible Sun, the kind of moments and concept realizations that you really found valuable as a creator?

For more than two years now, I've kept a set of notebooks of just every weird idea that I came across. Things too out there for anything else. "A thief who literally steals ideas." "Armor made out of protective words and a weapon constructed of dangerous ones." "A monster that feeds on the concept of starvation." Things like that. That's my favorite part. In the end, I read, I watch television and movies, I play games, and I write all for the ideas. Ideas are my passion, and the freer I am to let my imagination soar, the happier I am.

Beyond that, I'm really enjoying thinking about the things that keep us from playing games and trying to overcome them. There's where Development Mode came from. That's why Invisible Sun treats character death in a way that doesn't force a player to stop playing. That's why there are specific aspects of the game to handle both introvert and extrovert players. That's why player absences are worked right into the conceit of the setting. And so on.

As an rpg designer in 2016, I think we need to start thinking about these things. Playing a game as adults in the modern world isn't like gathering in the basement back when we were 13. It's simply harder now. Some other designers will come up with different (and possibly far better) solutions to these issues, but it's something we need to be thinking about.

Thanks so much to Monte for answering my questions about Invisible Sun and his experience designing it! Check out Invisible Sun on Kickstarter!

Note: for others unfamiliar with the term "lonely fun," it's typically referring to solo roleplay or the game time spent creating characters and setting elements for group games that is done alone or away from the group. Lonely fun is essentially self-propelled roleplay and creation or design. 

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