It’s been a while (six months) since the last time I talked about Monte Cook Game’s Invisible Sun. At the time I talked about the high price, which is still a bit of a sticking point for me, as well as the complexity of the game materials. Now with some extra time I’ve been able to grasp it more and try out the game myself so I’m back to go in depth into the Orders of Invisible Sun, starting with the Vance!
Orders are somewhere between D&D‘s classes, the Cypher System’s types, and playbooks from a Powered by the Apocalypse game. I say this not just because it’s the core mechanical identity of your character just like those other game elements, but because your character’s Order will determine their role in the setting (like a PbtA playbook), their game resources and options (like Cypher’s types), and the abilities they gain as they level up (like D&D classes).
We’ll be going through them all but to start off we’re looking at the Order of Vances, the disciplined vislae who memorize spells to launch later in the familiar fashion of Vancian magic. Specifically, we’ll be using my first (and still-favorite) Invisible Sun character: Gemma “Mrs. Grey” Frostwhistle. This is a good place to start for roleplayers since it closely resembles the way that wizards in D&D have gained and used spells for many decades. As you might expect, though, Vance’s in Invisible Sun are a little more complex, a little more prop-heavy, and a little more flexible.
How Vances Use Magic
We can start with the basics here. Vances have a grimoire (you start with six spells of your choice, gaining more spells as you advance and by finding/stealing/discovering them) and from that grimoire they read out the formulae of the spells they want to “memorize” over the course of an hour’s study. Like in D&D (and often overlooked there too) this process is actually the first part of casting the spell, then the magical energy is absorbed and waits for the final trigger to be cast. Unlike D&D you aren’t limited by time to the number of spells you have in your mind, you just need an hour of work time (uncast spells are lost at the start of this hour). This means that, conceivably, you could use up all your memorized spells, study for an hour, use all of them up again, and so on to memorize and cast spells a dozen times or more during the day.
How many spells can you have prepared at a time? As many as can fit in your mind… literally. The Vance’s mind is represented by a diagram and the Vance spells are stored on cards of varying sizes (3″ x 1.5″ up to 6″ by 6″) and whatever you can fit into the box that represents your mind is what you can cast at that time. You can’t have a spell in there more than once (which is fortunate because you only have one copy of a spell card) and higher-level Vances get to reduce the space that their favorite spells take up.
“Postulant,” “Magister,” and “Magus,” by the way, are the terms for first-, third-, and fifth-level Vances so you can see how their mental arsenal grows. I love the flexibility here because it lets you choose between a whole bunch of low-level spells (such as the 4.5 in² alpha class spells) or use a whole lot of your mental space for a very powerful spell (like the 36 in² omega class spells). You also don’t have to try and guess the GM’s mind since you just need an hour of study (not a whole day) to reconfigure your spells, so if you have the perfect spell to use you can study and rearrange on the carriage ride over.
Gemma and the Lost Book
So let’s see these things in action. Picture our dear Gemma Frostwhistle heading to the Temple of the Past in the Marquis Quarter of Satyrine. The temple has a large library which is the city’s foremost repository of historical and legal knowledge in the city and the only place to hold information on almost-forgotten laws which prevent a nasty demon from inheriting a fortune from a man he hypnotized into marriage. Normally, Gemma would stand firmly against this sort of thing but she owes this demon a favor and being in debt to demons is something vislae really try to avoid. Gemma is on her way to the library to find this legal text and destroy it.
As she arrives at the library, her mental preparation looks like the diagram to the right. She’s got just three square inches to work with so that’s only enough to store two alpha class spells at a time. When she gets into the library she needs to find the book amid all the other tomes and so she uses eyes of the overworld to let her see obscured things. There’s no roll associated with this but the GM rules that it lets her make a fairly easy Challenge 4 instead of a daunting Challenge 9. I remove the spell card from Gemma’s Vancian diagram, spend a bene from Intellect to reduce the Challenge even more down to 3, and roll a d10. With a 6, Gemma quickly finds the book she wants and uses the feed upon text ability from her Eats Knowledge Forte to memorize all the words in the book and wipe them from the pages.
Gemma is crafty but stealthy she isn’t, so one of the librarians spots her during the minute she’s absorbing the book’s words. She tries to talk her way out of the situation (she has a spell called Zamrah’s familiar speech that would be perfect for this but as a 3″ x 3″ beta class card that would have taken all her mental space) but it becomes clear she’ll have to blast her way out. I take the second card out of her diagram to cast Zamrah’s bolt of sorrow, which is a spell that requires a roll. The level of this spell is 2 plus the roll of a die and in this case Gemma rolls 7! That’s nine damage which is a lot for this level 5 librarian and if fills up their three Injury boxes, then their three Wound boxes. The librarian falls dead on the floor, Gemma drops the blank book on the ground and runs for the exit.
I said it was straightforward, right? This isn’t so complex as the other Orders’ magical practices so don’t expect such a clear explanation next time. I’ll also be going into general spells, ephemera, and other magical options in time but that’s all in the future. Hopefully this gives you just a little more Invisible Sun context and I’ll see you at Zero’s!