Invisible Sun: Advancing Characters

Back today with some more Invisible Sun action, this time looking at how you advance characters in the game. During quarantine I’m finally getting around to binging through the rest of A Woman With Hollow Eyes and the development of characters in that game have convinced me that I really need to explain the magic of growing vislae. Pun intended.

Advancing your character in Invisible Sun requires, appropriately, stepping along two separate paths using three game currencies. The best summation is found in Book 1, The Key. “Generally, Crux allow you to gain greater abilities related to your order and your forte, while Acumen allow you to gain new ad-hoc abilities like spells, secrets, and skills.”

Image © Monte Cook Games


Of the three types of advancement “currency,” Acumen is the type that will be most familiar to roleplayers coming from other systems. It is gained from completing character arcs and just advancing through the story that the GM has laid out. You spend Acumen as points to gain abilities in an a-la-carte style to add little bits of things to your character sheet.

  • You can gain a new skill by spending two weeks of study with a teacher and paying Acumen based on the type of skill: action-oriented skills (running, jumping, climbing tres) cost 3 Acumen, narrative-oriented skills (socializing, sneaking, fixing things) cost 2 Acumen, and development skills (writing, studying, performing) cost 1 Acumen.
  • You can improve an existing skill with a week of concentrated study (again, longer if you’re distracted) and paying the same Acumen cost as above.
  • You can gain a new connection with a week of schmoozing and two Acumen.
  • You can improve an existing connection by one level with more time invested and two Acumen. The time it takes to improve a connection you already have is the new level you’re increasing to in weeks (so a level 2 connection to a level 3 takes three weeks).
  • You can learn a new spell (including cantrips and other minor magic) as well as long-form magic with three days of study per level and spending 1 Acumen per level. Though minor magic is normally “level 0,” they take three days and 1 Acumen to learn (the trade off is that their effects are near-constant).
  • You can start a new character arc at a cost of 1-2 Acumen (depending on the arc).
  • You can create new magic (spells, rituals, etc) with two weeks of study per level (minimum) and 1 Acumen per level.
  • You can learn secrets (like better conjuring, fighting with two weapons, becoming a ghost when you die, magical sight, etc) at a cost of 1 Acumen per level.
  • If you’re not a vance but you find a Vancian spell, you can learn it as a general spell for twice the normal Acumen cost and quadruple the study time.
Image © Monte Cook Games

Book 2, The Gate advises that characters should be earning 1-2 Acumen per session in addition to what they get from character arcs and story arcs. The rewards for character arcs (which might deserve a longer post one of these days) is listed in the arc itself but usually it’s 1-2 Acumen for moving through an arc and 3 for finishing one. You can look at the Acumen “cost” of starting an arc being an investment, then: you pay 2 Acumen to indicate your interest in a plot thread and then if you work at pulling that thread you can double or triple your investment.

With this advancement speed in mind (1-5 Acumen per session depending on how climactic it is) you can learn a low-level extra (like a cantrip or new connection) after each session, a strong extra (like a level 4 spell or the secret of casting Bue Sun spells better) after a particularly eventful session, and a really big extra (like a level 9 spell or a ritual that lets you slice off body parts for instant knowledge) after five or so simple sessions or two very eventful sessions. If you’re playing every other week for a year you can expect somewhere between 50 and 100 Acumen (depending on your style and the GM style) so you’d have a remarkably different character after that campaign year.

Joy and Despair

The GM might award characters Joy or Despair when they flip a Sooth deck card and often at the end of a game session when you process the events altogether. “In any given session,” according to Book 2, The Gate, “a PC should probably earn one or the other – or none at all – but never more than 1 and never 1 of each.” In other words, if the session overall was pretty good for your character they can get a Joy and if it sucked a lot they can get a Despair. These are supposed to be for big things (“I stubbed my toe” isn’t worth a Despair and “I laughed really hard” isn’t worth a Joy) but I think that unless a player is totally checked out for a session you should give them one or the other.

An exception to this is with GM shifts (discussed in the Sooth deck post) which the GM can use as they see fit, though probably just once or twice per session. When they do this something interesting happens in the plot just by GM fiat or through a new flipped Sooth card. This is a great way to balance out the Joy and Despair levels of PCs and use some twists to give some attention to characters who are a bit low (at the cost of some roadblocks in the story). In all, then, a player earns somewhere between 0 and 3 points of Joy and Despair together in a session, depending on if they were engaged with the story and if the GM is directing some or both of their twists at the character.

Image © Monte Cook Games


In and of themselves, Joy and Despair do nothing for  you. When you combine one Joy and one Despair, though, you get a Crux and that’s an advancement currency with some weight to it. This is a mechanical expression of the idea of failing forward: if you’re succeeding all the time and getting Joy then you won’t advance until you stop playing it safe and rack up setbacks to gain Despair. This is further reinforced because you can trade in a Despair for two Acumen but you can’t trade in Joy for anything. In a flip of the usual situation, power gamers in Invisible Sun should want to be failing since Despair is the advancement currency with the most heft to it.

With Crux you can…

  • Advancing in your Order buy spending the Crux equal to the new degree, so advancing from the 1st to the 2nd degree costs 2 Crux and then advancing to the 3rd degree costs 3 Crux. This also takes two to eight weeks depending on the circumstances and the degree you’re entering.
  • Gaining new abilities in your forte at a cost depending on the ability’s level: abilities of level 1-4 take 1 Crux, levels 5-6 take 2 Crux, and levels 7 and above take 3 Crux. This take no time as abilities just blossom in you like magic flowers, and you gain 2 points to add to your Certes/Qualia pools.
Image © Monte Cook Games

It’s important to note that “spending” isn’t quite the right term for this as your Crux benefits you even after you’ve used it. Keep track of how much Crux you’ve earned and spent because the total is your measure of power. Order-following vislae have their Testament of Suns (the weird six-fingered hand that’s a game prop and an in-game item) and apostate vislae have their vertula kada (little personalized totems) and these because growing magical items as you advance. Once your Crux total “levels up” your Testament or vertula kada gain magical effects chosen by the GM. This means you can advance in your Order, gain new forte abilities, and also discover that your Testament of Suns now lets you communicate with friends in the Silver Sun. That’s a pretty nice side-perk!

In terms of advancement rate, you earn a Crux about every other session of gameplay. Book 2, The Gate helpfully advises the GM that it would take their players “about seventy sessions to reach the highest degree of their order (20 Crux) and get all the abilities from their forte (about 17 Crux).” That’s 37 Crux total so doubling that is 74 which works out, although I imagine that might be ten or more sessions longer for characters who have Joy-filled or Despair-filled streaks and can’t buy up Crux efficiently (or who keep spending their Despair on bonus Acumen).


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