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Invisible Sun Design Diary 7: The First Session - Monte Cook Games
When I created Numenera, I wrote in a design diary that I didn’t like character creation. I said that I like getting right into the action, and that character creation was sort of the “necessary evil” that had to be done so I could interact with the setting, interact with the other characters, and get right into the heart of it. (I don’t like origin stories in movies, books, and comics, either.) So I created a game system—the Cypher System—where character creation was fast, fun, and intuitive. You make up a sentence about your character and that is character creation. Choose an adjective, a noun, and a verb, and you’re done. That was five years ago, and I’m very happy with it. But—and you knew there was going to be a “but,” right?—I’ve changed my tune a bit. Because one of the very valid criticisms of the Cypher System is that people who really want to get in there and “tinker under the hood” so to speak, to really get the character precisely the way you want, with lots of decisions and choices, find it difficult to have that experience. For a certain type of player, the CS character creation can be almost too easy. I thought a lot about this, and ended up creating Invisible Sun partially as a reaction to it, and where my investigations went, spurred on by this feedback. In short, Invisible Sun has taught me to love character creation. Part of that is because it’s a tinkerer’s dream. You get to make all kinds of choices about your character, their home, and their background (two backgrounds, really, because you decide what your real backstory was in the Actuality, but also what your story was in Shadow as well). To be clear, you don’t have to obsess too much over backstory and whatnot if you’ve no interest, but if you want to, it’s all there. Dive deep. Have an idea of where your house is, what it looks like and how you want to furnish it? Who your friends are, who they’re connected to, and what your shared past is? What your goals are, and how you want to reach them? Great. And it’s not just fluff. These things actually matter. But the other way in which Invisible Sun has taught me to love character creation is because the game makes character creation part of the group activity at the game table. Because that’s the part of the game I want to get to. That’s the fun, social part of why we play RPGs: Being at the table with our friends and exercising our creativity together. So what Invisible Sun does is it has you bring your mostly finished character to the first session, and the first session is used to finish each character as a group. Here’s how that works. I create a vislae character, Trevor. Let’s say he’s an Eremitic, Galant Maker who Understands the Words. He’s tall and thin, with large hands that are surprisingly good at using tiny, precise tools in his work. When he’s not in his workshop making stuff, he’s in a very public place (like a bar or cafe) writing. What most people don’t know is that he’s writing down everything he overhears people saying. Not because he cares about their business, but because he likes the play of words and like to think about their meanings. He knows words have power and wants to study them very carefully. Trevor’s chosen Foundation (Eremetic, the part of his character that describes his background) allows him to have a unique house, …
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