The Demogorgon of Modern Gaming Life

Like so many geeks, I am utterly in love with the Netflix show, Stranger Things. I don’t want to spoil anything, in case you haven’t watched it yet, so I’ll just say I adore it for its beautiful storytelling, complex characters, and wild imagination. For its homage to the ’80s, to music and culture, and to Dungeons & Dragons.

But, there’s another reason that Stranger Things beckons to me – because it’s a reminder of what gaming was like before I became an adult. Hours spent in the basement (or in my case, out on the picnic table) playing Bunnies & Burrows or D&D or our own made-up games with friends until it got dark and they had to ride their bikes home. There was no planning, no Google calendar, no “Well, I’m traveling that day.” No real life at all to get in the way. The worst thing we had to face (away from the table) was a parent calling “Dinner! Time’s up.”

It was a glorious time, and like most things that happen when we’re young, we just believe that’s how the world works and how life will always be.

And then: adulting comes for us like the demogorgon. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Before you know it, you have family and work obligations that suck up your time. Your friends have moved halfway across the country. Your shelf is full of gaming books that you haven’t opened in weeks, months, maybe even years.

Or, as the kids say in Stranger Things, “We’re in deep shit.”

I took an informal poll on social media recently, asking gamers about their biggest roadblocks to gaming. The most common answers were: family obligations; scheduling conflicts; devoting more than a few hours to a game or to prep; finding a local group; and keeping a group together once you had one.

Even those of us in the industry have a hard time with this. We play in-person games on Wednesdays and Sundays, and the whole Monte Cook Games team has a Friday game online. But the amount of time we spend trying to schedule the dates of those games so that everyone (or even most people) can make it is kind of ridiculous. And more often than not, we end up with people missing.

Thankfully, there are tools out there to help with this – or at least with some aspects of it. Online video apps and gaming tools like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds are creating ways for people from all over the world to find each other and play their favorite games. No-prep games and resources, like our Instant Adventure products, allow more play in less time.

But none of those tackle what seems to the be the multi-headed demogorgon of adult gaming: finding local players, getting them together in a physical space, and keeping a game going over time.

This is one of the things that we’re tackling with Invisible Sun. The tagline is “A game of surrealistic fantasy, secrets, and magic played both at the table—and away from it.” That isn’t “at the table—OR away from it.” It’s and. Thus, it’s not designed to be played strictly online (although you could play it that way). More so, it’s designed to protect the gaming space of our childhoods, if you will, from all of the forces of the world that attempt to tear it apart.

Here are some of the ways the game (and the Kickstarter) attempts to accomplish that:

Part 1: Helping Local Players Find Each Other

There’s a fan-created document called the MCG Cypher and Invisible Sun Gaming Group Finder that anyone can join. See if there’s already a group near you, find local players or GMs, or see if there are people joining together to back Invisible Sun for a long-term game experience.

There’s also the Seekers fan community on G+, where future Invisible Sun players are collaborating to uncover secrets, solve puzzles, and go out cache-hunting in the real world together.

Part 2 & 3: Getting Together, Staying Together 

We’ve already talked a fair bit about how this game is designed to accommodate difficult schedules, missing players, and creating deep storylines with limited time.

But one of the ways we haven’t talked about too much is how those design choices take some of the pressure off of the GM. Organizing people is hard work, and it’s really easy for a GM to get discouraged and give up after a few tries. With Invisible Sun, players are encouraged to take the initiative. Maybe they get a unique invitation in the mail during the directed campaign and their newfound enthusiasm causes them to take up the reins of organizing the next play session. Or a player invites the GM to a one-on-one session over coffee to work on a side story and deepen their character.

In most games, if the GM can’t make a session, that session has to be canceled. With Invisible Sun, the players can even get together when the GM can’t make it, allowing the group to continue the story on their own.

Real life will always be that demogorgon coming for our gaming time. With Invisible Sun, our hope is to provide you with an array of spells to conquer that multi-headed beast.

Shanna Germain
Shanna Germain

Over a 20-year career, Shanna Germain has penned six books, hundreds of short stories, and myriad other works, along the way garnering a Pushcart nomination, the C. Hamilton Bailey Poetry Fellowship, and the Utne Reader award for Best New Publication. At Monte Cook Games she has contributed to dozens of products and was lead designer for No Thank You, Evil!. She is a cofounder of the company, and our Creative Director.