Okay! This is my first installation of this (probably completely unhinged) project to run through more games, particularly high-investment games that are hard to run for other folks. It might run long! And, yes, it’s largely AP fiction. But you never know, it might turn out to be interesting and entertaining. I encourage you to give it a go.
First thing I noticed about running this game for myself is that the setup is just incredibly onerous.
Invisible Sun in particular involves a lot of table presence. I found it really fun with other players. For just me, though? I would love to be able to just pop open a doc or a piece of paper and start. But the game involves this big white Path of Suns on which you play circular cards throughout the game, pools of cubes you burn off through actions and recover with limited rests, my character’s little spell cards. I’ve got the room and the willingness to leave it all set up for a while, but I won’t be able to leave it all set up for weeks on end. So I’ll need to be thoughtful about when and how I set up in the future.
Let Me Tell You About My Character
So let’s talk about my Vancian mage.
Grey Fanto has been back from Shadow for about three years. He’s got vague memories of a content, quiet life as a writer (I know, I know), and is still a notable communicator now that he’s in Satyrine. He’s hooked up with magical intelligentsia, working his way up in the Order of the Vance.
His Cypher-style title is Grey Fanto, an Established Stoic of the Order of the Vance who Listens to Whispers. It’s not especially poetic but the short version is that Grey is just haunted as hell.
For one, ghosts seek him out, like, all the time. Unfinished business, regrets, rage, mindless loops, all the usual ghost stuff. And he lives in a haunted neighborhood of Fartown, the vislae-only neighborhood so dangerous it exists in another dimension behind a stone archway out of Satyrine. And, finally, when Grey returned from Shadow, he remembered, discovered — he’s not sure which and he’s not sure it matters — that the home he returned to was a towering haunted structure (hotel, apartment, I’m not sure yet) just filled with ghosts at various points in their journeys into the Pale.
The haunted tower is a big place, big enough to get lost in. He’s only cleared out a half-dozen rooms, with most of the tower unexplored and dusty. And full of needy ghosts, some of whom don’t seem to realize their current situation and others all too ready to lash out in anger at it. Grey has never gone more than three floors up, and there are dozens of floors left. Apartments and commons areas and reading spaces and abandoned restaurants and on and on. How many stairs can he climb in a day without bringing supplies? Is there an elevator in this building or are elevators a Shadow lie? Are elevators still a thing?
Reintegrating into Grey’s bizarro vislae life would have been just impossible were it not for Ri Somaiya, the woman patiently waiting for him at the haunted tower when he got there. How long had she been waiting? Oh, don’t worry about that, she told Grey. I’m just so glad you’re finally home with me.
What can be said about Ri? Beautiful, thoughtful, some might say formidable but only because she so deeply, truly lives her values. Right is right, wrong is wrong. The past is the past. I don’t know why we couldn’t find each other in Shadow but maybe the break was for the best, she told Grey one night in bed. Now you have returned to me, that is all that matters.
Why can’t Grey remember anything of his life before his exile to Shadow? It’s a common problem, he finds. Some vislae have been here longer than others but there’s frequently an insurmountable wall. Whatever magic the vislae used to exile themselves, many remain exiled from their own pasts.
Remember the Radiance Adventure Engine?
To recap, I’ve drawn only the topmost overarching story card and a detail card to go along with it. To resolve this, I need to introduce the core adventure “problem.” Then we can get into the actual meat of Radiance in future stages. This first session is all about learning my way around the character, the emergent setting, and so on.
The only thing Radiance has to accomplish in its first card is to establish the problem. Future sessions will involve more back-and-forth with what the story and path cards require. I’m already thinking two oracular tools at once is going to be a lot to stay on top of.
Let’s flip some cards.
Every session of Invisible Sun starts with a card flip.
First position is Silver. I’ve drawn Assassin, an Adept card that prompts me to draw another card immediately. Into Green goes Relentless Rumor. I’m not going to recount all the divinatory and game-value stuff from the Sooth Deck rules. Let’s get into it.
Grey inevitably spends a lot of time in his haunted tower. It’s a bit lonely but also, he thinks, necessary if he’s ever going to get any peace. The tower’s own ghosts whisper, moan, shout, occasionally converse with him. Grey almost never wants this. The concerns of the dead tend to be really tedious.
There’s this one, though. Come up, come higher, I have something to show you, the ghost tells Grey. You’ll want to see this. You’ll want to remember.
The ghost seems familiar! But you know, that whole “before Shadow, nobody remembers anything” business is really in the way. Grey feels like whomever this ghost was, was close to him in his past life.
“What do you hear?” Ri asks, as Grey gathers a notebook, pens, a lantern, a walking stick because phew, those stairs are steep and his body’s not as young as he (sort of) remembers it being before he left. Ri’s always been indulgent of Grey’s communications with the dead, even though she doesn’t seem to share his sensitivity to them. Today, though, she seems to be more tuned into whatever Grey is tuned into.
“Mmm…old friend, maybe,” Grey says. He absentmindedly reaches for things as he walks through the living spaces they’ve cleared out. Gloves and a magnifying glass fly off shelves and out of drawers, into his hand, then into a weathered old backpack. The magic flows are especially conducive to this bit of convenient spell work this morning.
(System note: Relentless Rumor is a Green card, played on the Green sun position, so sorcery costs for Green spells are -2. Grey’s got Thelassian’s Eager Grasp, a Vancian spell, loaded into his mind, and it’s level 2, so this is just cool magical stuff he can do while Relentless Rumor is up.)
“Really,” Ri says, more a statement than a question. For the first time, she’s looking directly at the outline of the friendly ghost. But Grey doesn’t notice. He’s too busy packing for his outing.
“I was hoping to visit the bazaar today,” Ri continues, trying to get his attention. “Would you join me? There’s a new bookseller, I’ve heard.”
Actually leaving the house with Grey, an outing! Ri never wants to leave, is perfectly content staying in the tower, painting, reading, and enjoying Grey’s company. Her offer is very attractive. And a bookseller, pure catnip for the bookish mage. Obscure spell books always seem to find their way into mundane collections, like they want to be found so the spells can be released by a trained hand.
But Grey doesn’t really consider these inducements. And he never ignores Ri. But today he’s drawn deep into his old home by this half-remembered spirit. What was his name? Grey looks at the man. Obviously another vislae, this one was. There’s something strange about his hands. And his head. Nothing seems attached to anything else, but that could just be ghost strangeness. Vislae who couldn’t afford permanent changes in life often exhibit them in death, after all.
“I’ll be back by nightfall,” he says, hitching the pack over one shoulder. “Don’t wait up. If you’re going out, could you bring me a sandwich from that place we like?”
Ri sidles up alongside Grey. Touches his hair. Touches his chest. “Are you sure I couldn’t convince you to spend the day with me?” she asks, smiling coyly.
“What’s gotten into you?” Grey asks, smiling back briefly, looking over her shoulder to make sure the friendly shade hasn’t disappeared. “I really…I need to go.” He steps back from Ri.
She grabs his wrist. “Please. Don’t go.” Ri is looking up the staircase, clearly looking at the shade. Even as it beckons, Ri shudders. “I don’t like this one.”
Grey sighs. “They just want my help, or my company. You know this,” he says to her. How to pry her fingers off his wrist gently? “Tonight, I’ll be back and I’ll have that sandwich and then I’m all yours for the evening.”
But she doesn’t let go. “I’m telling you not to go. Why won’t you listen?”
The shade disappears up and around a corner at the top of the staircase. In a panic, he shakes her off his wrist and jogs up. “We’ll talk about this later!”
“You hope we will!” Ri yells, yells at him. “Just see if I wait for you.”
(System note: Another Sooth card flip, change of scene triggers this. I get Fleeting Moment. Interesting.)
Grey follows the receding spirit up flight after flight of stairs. He goes much higher than the three floors he’s cleared out. Now he’s in uncharted territory. Other ghosts flit about at the edge of his vision. The whispers in his ear grow louder, harder to differentiate. Floor after floor of locked doors, open apartments, trashed sitting rooms.
“I say,” Grey gasps out. “Could you slow down a bit? It’s the dust, you see.” It’s not the dust. It’s the sitting with pen in hand, day after day, thinking impressive thoughts to show off to his other very smart friends.
The spirit stops and turns back to Grey. “You’ve been slowing down a very long time,” it grates out. The voice is also familiar! And distant. Very haunted and unhappy.
Grey pulls up short, backs up a bit as the shade approaches. “I’ve always listened to your sort,” he says. “I’m a friend! Tell me what you need, please, I’m happy to do what I can.”
“I made you a promise once, Greystone,” the spirit says, getting uncomfortably close. Grey has never actually heard his full name said out loud. Didn’t even remember this was his full name until just this moment.
“Do…do I know you? Did? Who—“ Grey stammers.
“I MADE YOU A PROMISE,” the ghost bellows, growing, glowing, the illusion of flesh melting off his face, melting off his hands. It’s bones underneath but they’re dry, so dry, inscribed with words Grey remembers writing down once after a dream.
Grey stumbles one more step back and then reaches into his pocket for a talisman he always brings on new forays into the tower. He listens to whispers but Grey is no fool. Sometimes the dead whisper dangerous things and make real threats.
“YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN HER FACE,” howls the ghost. Grey closes his hand around the talisman, closes his eyes, grits his teeth as the ghost finally makes contact. There’s nothing but a chill, but also a pressure on his mind. A redirecting of his attentions and emotions, away from his aloof mage curiosity toward something more urgent.
(System note, I make a defense roll using Resist, because this ghost is trying to mess with Grey’s emotions. Not great! I don’t have any Resist. This is a level 4 haunting, so that’s the challenge rating. All I really have to spend is a bene, Intellect, why not. So on a 3+ on a single non-magical d10, Grey is okay. I roll a 5).
When Grey spins around to follow the path of this shade, he finds himself staring up at an enormous painting.
(System note, gonna draw a Sooth card! I draw Sealed Door, oooh. I placed it in the wrong position on the Path of Suns but this doesn’t affect anything. I can’t remember which symbol is what so I have the list of Suns on a separate piece of paper.)
Grey spends long minutes staring at painting, and remembers her face.
The Woman In The Painting
Memories, Shadow memories, come pouring back into Grey’s mind. He knows this woman. Square jaw, deep dark eyes, strong hands, a sly smile. He spent decades of his Shadow life married to her.
Maybe not this version of her, though. His Shadow memories come juddering back into focus, like deja vu. He was so young when they married. She was a little older, or maybe just a little wiser. Brilliant thinker, charismatic, a trusted business consultant who would sweep into offices, charm the executives, ask hard questions, make outrageous demands and get outrageous results. Then on to the next client. How she slowed down enough to even notice Grey in that life, he never knew but was always grateful.
This version of her in the painting shares that energy. But this one’s not in a pantsuit. She’s backlit with magical light, posed perhaps near a portal of some sort. Efficient, minimalist garb meant for movement and fighting, not posing. The pride is still there in her face. She posed for this painting, probably commissioned it herself. And now it’s the dominant focal point of a dusty reading room far up in the haunted throat of his tower.
The woman he married in Shadow was obviously a vislae. Had he not known her before his exile? Did he know her and just forgot, along with everything else about his life?
He knows her face but cannot remember her name, either here in Satyrine or in Shadow. First things first, when he gets back downstairs he’s going to go through his journal he brought back from exile. It’s full of nonsense rhymes and chicken scratch, his mind tricking him into thinking he was putting down his deepest thoughts. But maybe, just maybe, he can figure out what to call her, either there or here.
The painting is awfully big but somewhat portable. His friend, the howling ghost, seems to have disappeared into this space. But he can still hear him whispering, just a whisper now. “You made me promise to bring you back to her,” it tells him. “You made me. You made me. Can I go now?”
“So you did, and so you can,” Grey says, pulling the painting off the wall. He’ll have to move it just a few dozen yards at a time, but at least it’s downstairs. “Wait! What was her name?”
But the ghost is already gone.
(New Sooth card: Jackal, a Nemesis card that squarely hits my character in his Heart. Extremely yikes, but the Sooth deck does produce nicely aligned oracular inputs if you let it. Didn’t get a picture.)
It’s a long journey, takes all night, but Grey finally gets back down to his more civilized quarters. The ghosts aren’t as pushy down there. He leans the painting up in his sitting room, lowers his heavy pack from his shoulders, and sits, exhausted.
“Ri, look what I found,” he says. She never goes to bed without him. “The strangest thing. I feel like I should know who this is…”
The tower responds with silence. Not even the ghosts are whispering at this hour.
“Ri, come on now. I’m back. I could use your eyes on this,” Grey says, distracted by hunger now. No sandwich waits for him in the kitchen. His shoulders ache from the pack and the awkward task of carrying a heavy painting down several flights of stairs.
Still, no response. Perhaps she went out with friends for drinks. Does she have friends? Surely Grey has met them. But he can’t quite remember her ever leaving. Regardless. He pours himself a drink from a crystalline carafe and goes to his favorite big chair to continue staring at the woman in the painting.
Grey’s favorite big chair already has an occupant. Dressed to the nines and just seething with Darkside power. Something demonic has let itself into Grey’s house. It looks up at Grey with the blackest eyes, the sharpest teeth, long black nails resting atop a silver cane.
He stumbles back, hand wrapping itself around his talisman. It should provide some defense against demons as well as the dead! But this one doesn’t seem eager to fight. Instead, it just stands up and straightens its long coat.
“We’ve been wondering where this piece went,” the demon says, walking toward the painting. “Good evening.” It picks up the painting in one hand and turns to leave with it.
“Whoa, whoa good…sir?”
“Don’t misgender me,” it says, smirking.
“Good demon, do you have a name?” Grey is scouring his mind for who or what this thing could be.
(System note: gonna call this is challenge 4 because I think it’s a 6th level demonic being. I’ve got magical lore 1, an intellect bene, a hidden knowledge, so the target is 1. I roll an 8. It’s also getting late so I’m going to go ahead and give myself a GM shift, ie a discretionary critical success.)
“Wait…I know you, don’t I?” Grey says. “Or rather…what you are. An enemy of property demon.”
The Shadow-tinged look of the thing dissolves immediately. Even here, even years after his return, Shadow memories continue to dominate Grey’s mind. Rather than a classic satanic devil, the actual being is far stranger: a swirl of black smoke, wrapped in chains, dangling keys and small daggers. Dangerous, but summoned on someone else’s behalf.
The enemy of property twirls a single dagger, or maybe a claw, extruding from its smoky mass. Something sharp. Grey is completely unequipped to deal with such a thing in direct combat. The painting is going to vanish along with this thing, though. Grey rummages through his own mind for something, anything at all.
A spell that wormed its way into his memory last night and he’d nearly forgotten about, perhaps. Sometimes incantations come to him unbidden. Sometimes the ghosts whisper them into his ear.
Grey mutters the words he remembers, makes the gestures the incantation requires.
(System note: I’m using The Weight of Ghosts incantation. It’s level 4 and the demon is level 4, but it’s got +2 to all defenses so I’ll still need to roll. Let’s see…spend a Sorcery bene for effect because I really want to inflict some damage on this thing. So challenge 2, I’m rolling 2 dice, and I’ve invested sorcery bene for effect. Two successes, which I need against this thing, and no weird side effects. With the extra bene, let’s say the thing takes 4 injuries, ie 1 wound.)
The extruded claw suddenly disappears and it drops the painting. The enemy of property seems genuinely perplexed for a bit as Grey reaches out with his eager grasp spell. The painting leaps into his hands and he goes running out of the room. Behind him, the demon howls.
(Sooth card draw: Inevitable Cataclysm. Oh man, that sounds bad.)
The spell seems to have pinned the demon into place, unable to move away while missing a body part. Grey runs from room to room, looking for something, anything that might help him.
His silver walking stick, maybe? Infuse it with a bit of magic, swing like a madman? He has no idea. Grey grabs the stick and runs back, hoping the demon remains pinned in place. He swings the stick but, no joy, it passes right through the smoke. The swing does seem to break the incantation’s magic, though, and the horrid claw returns, snicker snack.
“Demon, stop!” a voice yells out behind Grey. He’s breathing hard from the swinging and the running. He looks back.
It’s Ri. Of course it’s Ri.
“I paid you for the painting, not his death,” she says. “Take it and let’s go.”
Grey just staggers back as the smoke being flutters to the painting and scoops it up. Ri, beautiful gentle Ri, has a wand aimed at Grey. He can’t even process what he’s seeing.
“But…what? What’s going on, Ri?”
Ri sighs, looks at the painting, looks back at Grey. “I wish it could have been different, but she won’t allow it,” Ri says. “I’m sorry but you can’t have this. Don’t follow me.”
“She…who won’t allow what? Please, Ri, just come back!”
“Your wife wouldn’t like that. Besides, you’ll just try to stop her again,” Ri says. And with that, she walks out of the tower, pet demon in tow.
Aftermath of session 1
Okay, let’s talk Acumen and Joy/Despair. For the Solve a Mystery arc, I’m seeing 1 for the opening, 1 for the research (going up into the tower), 1 for the first big reveal. But I don’t think we’re at the climax yet. So 3, plus 1 for the ghostly shenanigans. 4 total Acumen.
Joy and Despair are a little harder to evaluate in situ, but I think I’ve got a good idea here. Normally you should only be getting 1 each anyway, +1 of one or the other for a GM shift (which I think I’ll always do).
1 Joy for the GM shift (big reveal, full information about the demon). 1 for discovering new stuff in his home.
1 Despair for discovering Ri wasn’t who he thought she was.
So now that I’ve got 4 Acumen, I’m going to contemplate either picking up a second Arc (so I can earn even more Acumen) or maybe think about getting some general spells. No idea! But a pretty good first session.
I do think I’m slower flipping Sooth cards than I would be in a live ensemble game. But maybe not! I let the divination element guide a lot of play and it felt good. In retrospect, two oracular tools at once might be a lot to mentally juggle. No wonder I’m so exhausted afterwards.
Back to Radiance
I’ve also, I think, fulfilled The Herald, the opening card of the Journey of the Hero arc. However, I also note that I completely forgot to use the Radiant elements around test actions. But I think it’s okay that I prompted my own rolls rather than having them mandated to me because of Story/Path card rules. I’m not resolving Paths so I think it’s okay. But it’s got me thinking about the interplay of Sooth deck and Path deck cards in the future.
I pull up the next Stage: The Cataclysm (ha, we drew one of those in the Sooth cards earlier). I feel like I should be able to complete one Story card per session. Future Stage cards might require additional Story cards, though. Or a variable number of Path cards. More experimentation!
Okay, so setting up this next adventure, I’ve got a lot to work with: The Cataclysm requires I complete a story card that sets the Core Adventure Problem into motion. Whatever’s going on will take the entire adventure, ie all 12 stages, to deal with.
The Story card I pull is Vengeance. Combined with the Cataclysm stage and the overarching story card that remains in play throughout the adventure, I’ve got a whole lot of balls to juggle. Oh and Vengeance gets a couple detail cards. So now the storyline mad-libs reads:
“SHIP OF FOOLS (dysfunctional, ignorant) wreaks vengeance on GREY FANTO for crimes or deeds committed related to CRIME (lawless, antisocial, illegal).” I’ve got a few ideas percolating but I haven’t landed on anything yet; that’ll happen when I shift back into GM-head to prep for next session. SHIP OF FOOLS sounds like maybe the Vancian Order itself? Great magical minds revealing themselves to be bumbling academics, maybe. And CRIME feels redundant with the previous sentence but I’m betting CRIME refers to either this painting, the demon, or Grey’s handling of the situation.
Vengeance will take two Path cards to complete (I draw 2 and pick one). And I need to decide on an additional Complication for the Story. Vengeance lists a couple specific complications so from those I’m going to choose “Little Room To Maneuver.” So rather than getting to choose between 2 Path cards each time I need to do a Path, I don’t get to draw multiples, just whatever I get.
The Path I draw is called Mean Streets. It’s urban-focused, which is good because Satyrine is an urban fantasy environment. My detail is “Magnate,” so: Our hero encounters a Magnate (wealthy, powerful, influential), an entity at home in an urban environment.
That’s all totally good and fits with Invisible Sun. I have no idea who this Magnate is! But the setting is packed with wealthy, powerful, influential personalities. And I have no idea what the second Path will be.
Stage 2: The Cataclysm
Story: Vengeance. The “Little Room to Maneuver” Complication means I only draw one Path, and need to complete two of them.
First Path: Mean Streets (Magnate)
Initiative token: on the “lost” side. That’ll have implications about how I proceed through the Path cards later. There are things I can do to improve that!
See you next session.