Invisible Sun Design Diary 1: Stats

Although Invisible Sun has been in the works for a long time, only now am I actually putting words to paper (so to speak) and that always changes things, at least a little. Plus, there were still a fair number of unanswered questions that I’m now answering. So I figured that I’d work on a design diary as I work on the game.

The first thing I should probably talk about is one of the bigger differences this game has from other RPGs, and that’s the “big box game” mentality. As you likely know, Invisible Sun comes in a big box full of components. The design of the game is centered around taking advantage of this strength whenever possible. So, for example, just this weekend I made a major change that reduces the math and bookkeeping required by players dramatically by instituting a new kind of token to manage stats. Just like how, in a board game like Pandemic for example, you don’t keep track of the moving outbreaks by taking notes on paper and adding or subtracting numbers, you don’t have to do that when managing your stats in Invisible Sun either.

If you’re familiar with the Cypher System, you’re familiar with using your stats as resources that you manage throughout the game, spending points to activate abilities or to modify task difficulty, and then resting to restore those pools. Invisible Sun uses this same broad concept, but the details are very different. And in case you followed the Kickstarter updates closely, you’ll see that the game has already evolved past how things were described there in minor ways.

There are three stats in Invisible Sun. The first two are Certes, measuring everything physical and tangible about the character, and Qualia, measuring everything mental and intangible about a character. The third is Hidden Knowledge, and it works very differently than the other two so let’s just talk about Certes and Qualia for now.

Certes and Qualia are subdivided into refined categories. For Certes, it’s movement, combat, and physicality. For Qualia, it’s interaction, knowledge, sorcery, and sortilege. Basically, these are the types of actions you can take in the game. At character creation, you end up with totals for your Certes and Qualia scores, and you take those numbers and divide them into the aforementioned categories. (This process is referred to as taking your core stat and refining it.) Let’s say you have an 11 Certes score, so you put 5 points into movement, 3 points into combat, and 3 into physicality. Your character is probably fast and graceful, and only moderately good at fighting and withstanding damage.

So you put 5 counters in your movement pool and 3 in the other two. Now, any time you take a movement-related action, you can spend a point out of that pool and get a bonus to that action (skills and circumstances play into this too, but let’s not get down into those weeds at this point). You remove a counter from your pool of 5 so you have 4 left. A few times each day you can take a break and refresh your pool and get the counters you spent back. No math or erasing numbers on your sheet.

What’s more, let’s say you get a spell cast on you that makes you more graceful. It adds, perhaps 3 more counters to your movement pool to spend as you wish. No tracking spell duration or having to remember if you’ve used up the spell effect or not. It’s just all right there with tokens in the pool. But then you get a spell cast upon you by a foe that impedes your ability in combat. You get 3 negative counters (a different color) added to your combat pool. Now, the next 3 times you take an attack action, you suffer a penalty—which you could, if you wanted to and have the points to spend—offset with your normal points in your pool. Again, no duration tracking or anything of the kind. It’s just right there in visual and tactile form in front of you when you play.

Counters (which will probably be called Boons in the finished game, with the negative ones called Banes, but I’m still mulling that over) are also used to trigger and power certain abilities and spells. Skills also provide bonuses to actions, but are always more specific than the more general categories. So you might be skilled in climbing, which is a movement action, but you can’t be skilled in all movement actions. Thus, the task resolution system moves from the most general, Certes and Qualia, eventually to the very specific, in the individual skills, with the refined stat pool categories in between.

I mentioned Hidden Knowledge, which is your other stat. It doesn’t have the idea of a core score and refined pools. It’s harder to replenish, but you can spend a point from this stat to benefit almost any action, because you know a secret that can help you out in that instance. This is very much a player narrative tool, giving players the ability to shape circumstances but through the lens of their player knowledge, without intruding on the GM’s purview of the setting and circumstances in the game. In other words, the player can use a point from Hidden Knowledge when haggling with an NPC merchant and state “I heard a bit of gossip about her and I’ll use it to my advantage in the discussion to persuade her to lower her prices.” Not necessarily the nicest thing to do, but it works, and it gives the player a bit of narrative control without ever stepping outside the bounds of running a character.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to all of this than just this, and many, many more ways the game utilizes the physical components of the Black Cube, but this is at least a brief look into what I’m working on right this minute. As always, the system needs (and will get) extensive playtesting, but I’m very excited about it.

More in a while.

See also: What Has Been Revealed So Far.

Illustration by Samuel Araya
Illustration by Samuel Araya
Monte Cook
Monte Cook

Monte Cook has written hundreds of roleplaying game products, along with numerous short stories, novels, nonfiction titles, and comic books. He is probably best known for his work on such notable titles as Planescape, Ptolus, the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which he codesigned with Jonathan Tweet and Skip Williams), Arcana Evolved, and of course Numenera and the Cypher System. He is a cofounder of Monte Cook Games, and is our lead designer.