Invisible Sun Design Diary 12: The Guiding Hand

Note: This Saturday, 27th, join us for #HappyBirthdayMonte, a celebration of Monte’s 50th birthday! The rest of us at MCG want to give him the greatest gift a game designer could receive: people playing games and adventures he’s worked on over the years. It’s easy to participate, and you’ll get a cool commemorative pin if you report your game! Learn more and RSVP here.

The Guiding Hand isn’t merely a blank slate for the GM–it also brings inspiration and resources right to the fingertips of the GM.

Sometimes, it’s good to be in charge. I have wanted to make a GM-focused notebook with a spiral binding for probably 20 years. The idea is, it’s the GM’s actual notebook, it lies flat on the table, and it’s filled with helpful prompts and ideas. But whenever I wanted to make something like this for whatever game I was working on, I’ve always been told that the size or the binding is impractical, too expensive, or just simply won’t sell.

Well, with Invisible Sun I finally got to make a GM-focused notebook. It’s called the Guiding Hand, comes right in the Black Cube, and it’s an invaluable tool for GMs. This spiral-bound notebook guides the GM through the process of the First Session, gives space to record information and ideas for each character, and then proceeds to guide the GM through each session of the game. It prompts the GM to come up with a few names and ideas ahead of time for that moment when something happens in a session and the PCs go somewhere unexpected. And in Invisible Sun, that happens all the time. As in… every single session. (And it’s great! I love that players are encouraged to be proactive and drive the proverbial bus themselves rather than wait for the GM to do it.)

While it’s a notebook for the GM to fill in with their own individual notes, it’s organized with prompts and space to fill in Development Mode notes, notes from prior sessions that will affect the current session, game stats, and so on. I’ve also included—particularly in the pages devoted to the early sessions of your narrative—some actual suggestions for things, people, ideas, and events to introduce into your game. You can use them or ignore them as you wish.

Maybe the best thing it does is helps keep track of the PCs’ character arcs and manage them as the game goes on. When I was first telling people about the game and in particular about how every player will have a unique character arc motivating them and driving them forward from session to session, and how players will participate in Development Mode scenes in between the normal sessions, one of the questions I was frequently asked was, “how is the GM supposed to keep track of all this?” The answer, from day one, has been the Guiding Hand. When you run the game using the Guiding Hand, you’ll have notes right at your fingertips on where the characters are as they progress through their arcs, as well as reminders of all the juicy ideas that came up in the First Session for their house, their neighborhood, and so on. And because characters are always evolving—and characters really drive Invisible Sun—every five sessions, there’s space for new information about the characters. So you’ll always have the information you need.

The Guiding Hand might just be the lynchpin upon which this game turns. It makes the game easier and more enjoyable to run. While there aren’t a lot of stats and numbers to keep track of in Invisible Sun, there are a lot of ideas, storylines, and personalities to manage, and the Guiding Hand takes the challenge out of doing so.

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.