I’m back today with more information about Invisible Sun, the sprawling and infamous RPG from Monte Cook Games. Last time I was looking at character creation and so related the system a lot to the Cypher System. This time we’re getting into how magic works in Invisible Sun where we’re going to see more of Monte’s background in D&D coming out. Ready to jump in? No? Too bad!
While other games have characters of all different professions, Invisible Sun takes an “everybody is a spellcaster!” approach to things. Specifically, characters are vislae, a term for humans who know the secrets of the world and how to use spells. Your character’s approach to magic and their most impressive stunts will be determined through their Order (talked about last time and the subject of a future post) but there are a few types of magic that anyone can do.
There are a ton of different practices of magic in Invisible Sun which means there’s a lot of different jargon to absorb. To quote The Way, the core booklet of Invisible Sun that deals with magic, “practices is a term used to describe all the various magical applications known to vislae – spells, charms, hexes, rituals, proceses, secrets, and so on.” This isn’t even counting the magical traditions of the Orders, by the way, this is just what all the magic-wielding vislae can get up to.
I’m going to go through all these types in brief summaries, broken down into the categories that The Way uses: minor magic, long-form magic, general spells, ephemera, and secrets. There are a few others that don’t fit into these but we’ll be talking about those next time.
Like D&D, it’s nice to have a way for your magic-using character to do magic whenever they like. By design these have to be relatively minor things and that’w where Invisible Sun starts too. Cantrips are the most minor, throwaway form of magic for vislae and they’re always temporary and undefined. They are things like assistance (gain a +1 to an ongoing mudane action), crimson eyes (turn your eyes red), pay your due (Venmo somebody through magical banking network), or sweet slumber (you help someone sleep even if it’s noisy).Cantrips don’t cost you anything much, just the action it takes to activate them.
Relatedly, Charms are minor bits of magic that take about a minute to cast and typically last a full day, the big siblings to cantrips. They are things like repel dirt (keep something fairly clean), animal charm (+1 defenses for a domesticated animal), and favored charm (a certain object is never accidentally lost). There are also Signs which are purely gesture-based magical effects that can be done with an action and last about an hour. These are things like sign against animal attacks or sign against the Evil Eye, which are all pretty self-explanatory.
Lastly there are Hexes which, as you might imagine, are harmful bits of magic to use on your enemies. They can’t do a whole lot (this is not fireball or even magic missile) but a clever vislae can do a lot with them. Consider the utility of call of nature, for instance, in making a guard leave their post for a second to pee. There’s also hag’s visit, which gives someone nightmares, and skulls on my shoes, which makes people around the target feel they will die soon. Both of those are ways to mess with people and they really speak to the usefulness of hexes as a way to be smart and manipulate the story instead of pushing past a challenge.
While cantrips, charms, signs, and hexes are quick things to do on the go, long-form magic are more what people are used to from RPG spellcasters. They require a longer casting time (shocker) and usually special materials and spell components. Invocations, Conjurations, and Evocations are the most straightforward sort of long-form magic and they resemble rituals from D&D 5e. Beseech, for example, is similar to a commune spell as it allows you to speak to a higher power as long as you have incense, an inscribed piece of vellum, leaves of gratitude (the emotion), and five hours (four of which are just prep time). There’s something so creepy and interesting about the details of these rituals that I think people will actually make use of them (unlike 5e rituals).
By contrast, Rituals are long-form magic that requires more than one participant so they are likely to be the focus of a session or a whole story arc. Egregor is a cool option that creates a tulpa which carries the will and ideals of its caster, allowing your group to make spirit-servants or enemies to create mystical spies. Another one I love is the bounded entity rite which seals a summoned creature into a magic circle. It only targets things that have arrived in the last ten minutes and takes two hours of prep time and three minutes to cast, meaning while the main caster is summoning the creature there’s a circle of folks chanting behind her and then there are a few tense minutes while the group sees if the summoned creature will be held. Brilliant.
Minor magic and long-form magic can be thought of as the bookends of the spectrum. Most spells in the game are just… well Spells. They function similarly to D&D spells but with the minimalism of the Cypher System, and in keeping with the branding of Invisible Sun they come in a physical deck that players leaf through. This might seem annoying (I was put off at first) but there are two cool reasons for this.
First of all, it’s easy for the DM to adjust the spell deck to shift the game a little. If they don’t want to deal with teleportation they can just pull those cards from the deck before giving it to the players. In D&D you just have to say “oh, don’t worry about that spell” which is awkward. Secondly, if there are new spells in new books (or you want to add your own, such as with the blank cards included in the Black Cube) you can just shuffle them in instead of juggling three different books.
I’m obviously not going to go through every spell but a few gems are anamnesis (you suddenly “remember” something you never could have known), borrowed time (bring someone back to life, though only for a few hours), dreamseeker (gain a clue the next time you sleep), Ktheris’s fusion (you magically combine two creatures), and bind the Black Cube (you summon a powerful artifact called the Black Cube and make it yours… or you are cursed).
As the name suggests, Ephemera is where the rules go from strange to really crazy. There are several different types of ephemera but the main one that you’d want to know about in the beginning is Incantations. There are two types of incantations: acquiescent incantations which affect you and conation incantations which can affect the world. At first you can only do the former, meditating until you are warded against possession or are rendered invisible.
When you gain the ability to use conation incantations you can turn an object to dust or permanently blind people by making their eyes black or summoning a ghost ship. It’s all pretty creepy and comes with its own deck (including blank cards) so DMs can customize their games with incantations they like and ones they think are problematic. I’m a little unsure about the specific mechanics of this too so this is certainly a part of the game where the inherent mystery of Invisible Sun is hurting it.
Similar to D&D‘s truenames and Planescape‘s Axioms (of the Guvners) secrets are a powerful option in the game to turn things on their heads. When (if) your character learns a secret they can break in half the rules that everyone else plays with. It might be something small like adding another target to any spell you cast or gaining +1 venture when you use magic in the daytime. It can get farther afield too like being able to use personal spells on other people or adding +1 level to a spell just be rhyming while casting. The most powerful one I found is antigram, where you learn someone’s secret name, figure out the inverted version of it, and then touch them while saying this so that they are “consumed forever.”
One type of secrets in particular has to do with spell facets. Under the descriptions of general spells, a part of the rules that beginning players are told to ignore, are keywords that describe what the spell is like. If you learn the secret of all Night spells or all Air spells or all Metamagic spells then you can use those a lot better than someone else. Needless to say, those are rare rewards for your character.
I seriously just scratched the surface here but this should hopefully let you know the breadth and depth of magic in Invisible Sun. Next time, I’ll be going over another type of magical practice that isn’t outlined here: precepts. This is heavily involved in the Path of Suns which is something else I want to get into so that will be the other half of the post. For now, have fun thinking about how insane Monte Cook would be if he were on mushrooms!