Welcome back to The Independents, your source for reviews of out-of-the-box tabletop roleplaying games. The small outfits, the crazy geniuses, the little projects, the ‘Indie’ creators who are simply out to make a name for themselves and a game people can enjoy. Here at The Independents we aim to highlight some of these games, for a change of pace and a new (and great) experience!
You’ve staggered from the wreckage of the vehicle transporting you, memory full of holes and psychic powers threatening to go wild. You’re free for the moment, but whoever was transporting you is going to want you back, and they will not be shy in their efforts to recapture you.
Can you control your powers? Can you discover the truth of what’s happened to you? Or will the Chasers catch up and take your life from you a second time?
No time to lose. Start running.
Psi*Run, brought to us by Night Sky Games, is a game of mystery and danger on the run, piecing together the truth while constantly dogged by inexorable pursuers. The players control Runners, characters with special powers but unanswered questions. The GM has the normal array of jobs – play NPCs, describe settings, and so on- but also controls the Chasers, the ones trying to catch and capture the Runners.
Creating a Runner is simple, in part because the Runners don’t know much. Amnesia runs rampant among them, and little is known about their past, how they got their powers, or their current situation. The Runners might not even know their own names. What the Runners always do know (and what the players determine at the start of the game) is the following: what they look like in the mirror, that they have some sort of miraculous power, and that they have questions that need answering.
The abilities in question aren’t well understood or particularly well controlled, but at the start of the game the players create Psi powers for their runners that can range from flight to controlling animals to telepathy to whatever a player might find interesting or cool. Each player then writes down at least 4 and up to 6 questions after picking their power. The questions might relate to their powers, their personal pasts, why the Chasers are in pursuit, items the Runners have on their persons, and anything else that hints at what their hole-ridden memories are hiding. Answering those questions is the goal of the game, along with staying free long enough to do so.
The Chasers are created by the GM, and are also relatively easy to create. All they need at the start are a look, a method, and what kind of technology they’re bringing to bear in their pursuit of the Runners. That is pretty much it for the start; after all, more details might be added as the Runners answer questions! Just as Runners have a Runner sheet, so do the Chasers have a Chaser sheet. While the above is kept public and added to, the GM has a second Chaser sheet with a few extra details that they can bring to light or build off of as play goes on.
With the Runners prepared and the Chasers ready, each game of Psi*Run starts off the same: the Runners were being transported in some way, but the transport has crashed and the Runners have gotten free. The Trail of the run has started, with the first Locale being the Crash Site. As players narrate their actions after the crash they will move to another locale or two, and when the dice start rolling then the chase is on.
Whenever a player wants their Runner to do something that might fail, that could be exceptional, could trigger a memory, takes time, or might bring danger or hostile attention they roll a minimum of 4d6. If they wish to use their power they add a d6 to the roll, and they do the same if they’re at risk of harm in some way, for a possible maximum of 6d6. The player says what they want to do, decides how many dice will need to be rolled, and let the dice fly. Once they land, that’s where the mechanics of Psi*Run get interesting.
Every significant action puts things at Risk, and once those dice are rolled they need to be assigned. Goal determines if the Runner’s action succeeded or not, Reveal determines if the Runner regains a memory that answers one of their questions, Chase determines if the Chasers are gaining ground, Psi determines if a power (if used for the roll) work as advertised or run wild, and Harm determines if the Runner is impaired by the results. Each of these Risks are given a die (with Psi and Harm only being assigned a die if they were used), and the numerical value determines what happens. Putting a 4 or higher on Goal, for example, means that the Runner succeeded in whatever they intended, while a 3 or lower means they failed. Mechanically Psi*Run thus functions as a system of give and take, with players having to balance the multiple Risks when assigning dice. Giving Goal and Reveal good values might achieve results but leave nothing but bad numbers for Chase, Psi, or Harm.
If Harm is assigned a poor value then the resulting impairment claims one of the Runner’s dice until it is healed, limiting the Runner’s ability to use the dice results effectively. An extremely poor Harm result might even kill the Runner! A poor result on Chase means the Chasers move from their starting position at the Crash Site towards the Runners, moving one Locale or more forward along the Trail. If the Chasers catch up Chase is replace with Capture. If things go poorly from there Capture is then replaced with Disappear . . . and a poor roll there will mean that at least one Runner does just that. For good.
The number assigned to a Risk doesn’t just determine the results: it also determines who has narrative control, described in the game as ‘first say’. As a good example, let’s look at Psi. If a 5 or 6 is assigned then the power works well, and the player using it gets first say to describe how it functions. If assigned a 3 or 4 the power surges, possibly harming people or objects in the same Locale as the player, and the other players get first say. If assigned a 1 or 2 the power goes wild, causing enough trouble to make the news, and the GM has first say. From a narrative standpoint Psi*Run thus functions as a highly cooperative game, with each Runner and scene being shaped by the entire group as the game goes on.
The game continues until all the Runners have been caught or until a Runner answers all of their questions. Once that’s done, the Runners can stop running, but they still need to answer why. The Runner with all their questions answered gets first pick from a list that answers the question “I am no longer running because I am . . . ?” with things like ‘Home’, ‘Turning the Tables’, and ‘Trapped’. Once picked, an option becomes unavailable for the other Runners, who get to choose their own option in order of most questions answered. Even Runners who have died or Disappeared get to choose! Once everyone has chosen the players each narrate what is called a Crossroads scene using their chosen option, providing their own epilogue to the story. It could be uplifting, it could be tragic, it could wrap everything up or it could end on a cliffhanger; it all depends on the Runner and what happened on the Trail.
The actual book is full of encouragement, emphasizing everyone participating and working together to create a story, and is overall easy to read. It also includes quick-start rules that also give advice on running a game of Psi*Run for a convention. Meant for 3-5 players the game will last up to 5 hours, meaning it could be a single marathon session or a few shorter ones.
Want to fight to reveal the truth with the pressure never letting up? Want to meddle with powers that you barely understand and can only tenuously control? Looking for a rules-light system that stresses cooperative story-building but has a curiously involved dice mechanic? Then get on the Trail and give Psi*Run a try.
Psi*Run is available in PDF and book form for $10 and $20 respectively, and clocks in at about 64 pages. Both versions are available at Night Sky Games.
They took your life. You got away. They want you back. Run!