By Christopher Robin Negelein
When RPGs hopped over to computers, it offered something new and awesome. The ability to have a RPG-like experience away from the table and on your time. No need to wait on a GM or fellow players to get their schedules in synch or lug around dice and books all to the same table. Push a power button, click and icon and become the hero, or the terror, of another world.
But something was, and still is, lost in translation.
In the last year, I’ve probably introduced more new players to tabletop RPGs than I had in the last ten years and most of them have played MMORPGs It seemed the easiest way to get them to grok the difference was to equate a computer RPG to a movie, you see exactly what’s going on and enjoy the CGI. But there’s the limits of budget and props. At some point you run into invisible walls and the end of dialogue trees.
A tabletop game is more like reading a book, I told them. Your own imagination has an unlimited special effect budget and you can go anywhere that your GM’s imagination can take you.
The cream on top of that is the camaraderie of your fellow players at the table. Something that’s become big as board games have become embraced over video games.
But what if you could somehow have the flexibility of a video game and the imagination of the table top?
While technology has allowed for alternatives like Play by email, IC RPG forums, and the new webcam interfaces like Roll20. For each problem they solve, they still leave one issue or another on the table (pun intended), players dropping out or a lack of immediacy.
Monte Cook Games is starting a kickstarter, Invisible Sun, today that offers web-based tech on letting a GM and players meet one on one or online to get their RPGing done in spite of scheduling snafus.
It’s not just the app they’re designing for the kickstarter, though, it’s also the game rules and game world. All three are built to mesh together and let your crew game when and where they can – and maybe even make a richer story for it.
In Invisible Suns, you PC is stuck between worlds. The one we know is but a mundane, uninspired Shadow of the real world the Actuality. This Actuality psychedelic and surreal and is the characters’ real home. A home filled with secrets and powerful magic that they control. The setting sounds like the love child of the Wonderland, Changeling: The Dreaming and the Nine Princes of Amber.
But something dangerous is keeps drawing them back the banal illusion called Earth and if they don’t escape sooner than later, they may forever believe that they are natives here. That game world factoid, though, is one of several built-in tools to keep continuity going despite absent players.
Their latest demo video shows Monte using that tool along with some of how these other pieces work together. MCG’s philosophy is that Invisible Suns has three “modes.” Action and Narrative modes are basically the times we do combat and role play in a regular RPG.
The third, Character Development mode, is where the app comes in, allowing a GM to do online play or even use it as a mini-RPG table for one on one play at the coffee shop. And here is where it circles back to the game play itself. In Development Mode, virtual cards instead of dice are used and the mechanics allow players and GMs to create flashbacks that add to the story. As an added bonus, introverted players who may not speak out at the table may excel in the online texting or one on one play.
It’s an exciting bit of RPG development and history in the making. It’s the first time I’ve seen someone designing the tech, the game and the world from the ground up with these sort of goals in mine.
Gamer Bonus Round!
Absentee players do suuuuuuck, but you’re not sure psychedelic magical dimensions are for you? Still committed to the long haul for your campaign?
GMs have been coming up with little in game conventions to explain away that suddenly slack-jawed PC for years. Here’s some suggestions for you to borrow, better yet, leave an idea if you like.
- A magical curse randomly freezes a PC in crystal. The absent player’s name just happens to be Random (See what I did there?)
- The PC still suffer from the magical backlash of a bad teleport spell
- The soup is filling, but adds no calories because it’s made from astral spiders. … Opps
- Loki! Not again!
- On their way out to the stars, the PC used faulty cryo-chambers. Absent players cause narcolepsy
- The PCs are actually remote controlled androids with faulty reception
- A hyperdrive accident makes the PC slightly out of phase, and sometimes completely out of phase.
- Radiation poisoning makes them reliant on meds that they have to go back to base for.