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The Development Mode and Modern Age Roleplaying

You might have seen references to the upcoming Monte Cook Games RPG Invisible Sun over the past week. I wasn’t consciously aware of it at first, but I saw it around on social media in my peripheral vision. As I became increasingly aware of it, I thought I should find out more. I saw it was billed as a fantasy roleplaying game that meets the demands of modern age roleplaying… interesting. However, the more I looked at information about Invisible Sun the less I felt I actually knew – until I read about Development Mode.

When I read Monte’s Changing the Way We Play article I started to get it; specifically, I was intrigued by the idea of a ‘third mode’ in RPGs. Whatever we call them, all roleplayers are familiar with Action Mode and Narrative Mode. The former is any time we’re carefully controlling the passage of time – using combat rounds or turns. The latter is any time we aren’t, because the exact passage of moments isn’t important to what’s happening in the story. Development Mode, this third mode, doesn’t even take place in the game session itself. As Monte Cook points out, Development Mode isn’t a new thing. Roleplayers have been doing this since the dawn of RPGs, but it’s never had a name before, and names are powerful things.

Development Mode

My first memory of Development Mode was walking across the school fields aged 12. The GM and I were hammering out the background of my Dragon Warriors Knight character. Actually, he was telling me the cool ideas he’d had and I was reluctant to accept them; I didn’t say that we were doing Development Mode well. In the end we came to a mutually acceptable compromise, but at least we’d been discussing character background and story.

By late teens/early 20s we probably spent more time in Development Mode than we did in actual game sessions. Plenty of time was spent discussing the game, character backstory and what they would be doing in downtime. Often however, we didn’t appreciate that we were actually playing a valuable part of the game. Even that concept seems backwards now, because it shouldn’t really be about what we we’re doing for the game; surely it’s more important that the game was working better for us, because it was fitting in with our lifestyle.

Invisible Sun

I still can’t claim to know a lot about the world behind Invisible Sun, but I understand now what it’s about. This game is designed to work for gamers rather than force us to fit into its way of doing things. Important aspects of how we play are given names and codified into the game system – like Development Mode. The background contains reasons why characters will fade out of the game ‘into shadow’ when their player can’t make a game session. There’s no need for convoluted reasons for characters to suddenly go missing at crucial times.

In addition, using Development Mode an errant player and the GM can catch up during a side-scene. Together they can work out what they might have been doing during their absence. This allows players to still contribute to the game when they can’t make game sessions. If none of you can make game sessions the game can be carried on through side scenes alone.The game is therefore kept alive through awkward periods (such as the Christmas break) with everyone still involved and invested even when they can’t meet up in person.

Lessons Learned

If all that sounds like a game you want to play, then Invisible Sun is available on Kickstarter until 16th September 2016. It isn’t particularly cheap, especially to us UK gamers still struggling with how little our pound buys abroad now. The lowest pledge level at $197, and yet I’m sure it’s worth every penny.

What I’m more interested in here is how we can apply these concepts to all our other games. Invisible Sun may have streamlined its systems to work as well as possible for modern gamers, but many of the ideas we should be able to incorporate into our own games with minimal effort.

Consider the way we finish our game sessions currently, perhaps with the words like “Right, we’ll finish there for now unless there’s anything anyone wants to do.”. The energy of the game is moving towards ending, to be picked up at a set future time.   What of instead, we said “Right, we’re now in Development Mode. Email or Skype me what you want to get up to and we’ll involve other characters as necessary”. Having a game specific app like Invisible Sun is a great idea, but most of us have generic technology available that can facilitate the same kind of interactions on a basic level.

I’d love to know what others thought of this method of running games. Is it a great way of perpetuating the game between tabletop sessions and keeping it alive? Alternatively, would it be an imposition on real life and just get in the way of work and family? Personally its something I’m excited to try out, because in a world were there’s less and less time to sit down and role-play, the idea I can roleplay more without having to stop doing other things is pretty amazing.