Back with more Invisible Sun action today, looking at one of the most mystical parts of the game, the Sooth Deck. This deck of round cards with Tarot-like images are played through the game along a path of Kabbalah-like symbols to dictate the course of magic and outcomes in the story. Weird, right? Well wait until you see how it plays out.
Playing Cards On the Path of Suns
We talked about the Path of Suns in a previous post but basically these are the nine realms of Invisible Sun and the nine sources of magic. Like everything in this game, though, the Path is a dozen more things and one of those things is a Tarot-like pattern to lay out cards during a game session. You start with the Silver Sun at the top of the Path and play subsequent cards down the line: Silver to Green, Blue, Indigo, Grey, Pale, Red, and Gold, then to the Invisible Sun off the side of the path. If you go back around the path you start placing new cards on top of the old and their new effects take place.
But what do the cards actually do when played? Each card in the Sooth deck has a number of different elements to it that can influence the story. You can use them as a “divinatory meaning” like a Tarot deck or Tarokka deck, or you can use them “narratively” to introduce new things to the story (“Who’s at the bar… Let’s pull a card and see”). The most rules-heavy use, though, is what effect the cards do when they’re played on the Path of Suns. Each time you put down a new card, the effects of the previous card are canceled out and the new card’s effects take over. The exception to this is the card played on the Invisible Sun: this is in effect until a new card is played on the Invisible Sun. Before we get into that, though, let’s talk about when you put those cards down.
When to Play Cards
You start off playing your first card on the sign of the Silver Sun, the realm of beginnings, and Book 2: The Gate lets you know that Sooth cards are triggered by some moments of the plot moving forward. When characters move to a new location, when a significant event occurs, when a significant NPC enters the scene, when a PC gets a Wound or an Anguish, or just when “something surprising” happens. In this way, the Sooth deck becomes associated with the big moments of a game session, a sort of reverse from how we think about these sorts of card decks. When you use a Tarot deck in real life you’re flipping cards to see what important stuff lies in your future. Instead, important stuff in your characters’ lives causes cards to flip.
In addition to all those moments, Sooth cards are laid down by GM Shifts. While these are similar to GM Intrusions featured in the Cypher system, they aren’t triggered by die roll. Instead, this is a sort of codifying of the sort of GM fiat that enters all games when the person leading it shakes up the plot in some way. You’re advised to have “one or two shifts in a given session” and each time you give 1 Joy to a character and 1 Despair to another. These two currencies are what advance your character so this is an important part of keeping the campaign on forward momentum as well.
Lastly, you put down a new card on the Path of Suns every time there’s a Magical Flux. When you spend from your Sortilege pool and the bonus die you get rolls a 0 then there’s a magical flux that gives your character a Despair, some crazy wild magic effect happens depending on the level of what you were trying to do, and a new card ends up on the Path of Suns. Potentially, this could really transform things as magic goes nuts and the whole flow of energy in the game universe switches.
The Effect of the Cards
Each card in the Sooth deck has the following listed: a value, a suit (four of them, parallel to the Hearts of character creation), a divinatory meaning, a narrative meaning, a Joy concept, a Despair concept, an enhanced Sun, and a diminished Sun. Let’s take them each in order.
The value of the cards doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s a way you could decide who wins in a high-card kind of way, let’s you randomly determine a number of things, and so on. In Development Mode, this is what you do instead or rolling, using the value of the card to compare against Challenges. In Action Mode, though, it’s just another part of the card.
Since the suit of the card matches up to the Heart of characters, it can inform whether a character is favored in a scene or not. If the last-drawn card’s suit matches your Heart then you get +1 to your venture for all actions which is pretty freakin’ sweet. Suits also have an associated animal, object, and classical element which is something that would come up more in Development Mode but in Action Mode it can certainly suggest a recipient of Joy or Despair, suggest what happens from a magical flux, etc. The divinatory and narrative meanings as well as the Joy and Despair concepts all can contribute to this as well (if it seems appropriate).
The most concrete effect of the cards is the enhanced and diminished Suns at the bottom of the Sooth cards. All the cards in the general spell deck, incantations deck, the objects of power deck, ephemera deck, and the deck of Vance spells have a listed color on them, corresponding to one of the nine Suns. Additionally, there are magical associations to these Suns in a way that should be familiar to players of Magic: the Gathering. The freeform magic of makers and weavers can be assigned a color as well to be modified by this. While the card is in effect, all magic associated with the enhanced Sun has +1 venture while all the magic of the diminished Sun has -1 venture. If you played a card onto a Sun space that lists that Sun then the effects of that are doubled: +2 venture for the enhanced Sun or -2 venture for the diminished Sun. This reminds me of a mixture of Magic’s color system but also the magic effects by plane of the old Planescape setting (probably to few people’s surprise).
There are also “royalty cards” which are like the face cards in a poker deck: each royalty card has no enhanced or diminished Sun, just the type of royalty it is which corresponds to an effect. The four sovereign cards give a +1 to all actions, or a +2 for those whose Heart matches the suit. Counterpoint to that, the four nemesis cards give a -1 to all actions, or a -2 to those whose Heart matches the suit. The defender cards give a +2 bonus to just those with the Heart that goes with the suit while the apprentice cards do the same but with a -1 to all actions. The companion cards duplicate the effects of the previous card on the Path of Suns, while the adept cards have you immediately play another card on the next Sun (moving the Path along quickly).
Overall, this mechanic is just awesome. It might take some practice to remember each time but playing the Sooth deck along the Path of Suns is a visual and immediate reminder of the central themes of the setting, the different tides of magic determined by the Suns and the theory of magic followed by the vislae. Often that sort of thing can fade into the background and in a D&D or Star Wars setting then the vagaries of magic can be left to the players who choose that for their character. In Invisible Sun, though, everyone’s a mage and so everyone needs to be thinking about this.Now, there are some clear criticisms of the Sooth deck in this game. In many ways it represents the sort of arcane nonsense relying on props that makes people roll their eyes at Invisible Sun. If you want your rules to be dependable and constant then this will be one more thing you have to watch. Your character might also be in a long scene where all their favorite spells get a -2 through no fault of your own. There are ways for these things to be addressed, though, even as simple as the GM using a shift to switch up a bad combination and give players relief. Having to deal with this while playing online is a harder issue but there are clever folks who will figure this out too. All in all, I love the Sooth deck and the Path of Suns and love the effect it adds to the game.