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Psi*Run

Psi*Run is a game by Meguey Baker who also wrote 1001 Nights. It’s basic premise is something of a classic cliché: the players take the role of amnesiacs with strange powers who are freed in an transportation accident and have to escape their pursuers while discovering the truth about themselves.

The game centres around an interesting chase mechanic where a “trail” is physically created of the locations that the characters have visited during the game. Tokens are used to indicate where the Runners are and how close behind the Chasers are. It is a game that is aimed at beginners and story game newbies. In some ways traditional gamers might find it harder to adapt to some of the shared narration techniques that newcomers probably will accept without question.

The mechanics and situation are relatively straight-forward but subtle and well-designed. A player only needs to really concentrate on the questions their character needs to answer as the conflict resolution is universal (and I’ll describe it later).

The role of the GM

The game retains a GM who has an important initial role in defining the escape scene and therefore the general milieu and atmosphere of the game.

After that the GM generally describes new locations, players NPCs as needed and provides twists on narration as the dice mechanic requires.

The GM will also take responsibility for defining the appearance and methods of the Chasers, the mysterious forces that are out to capture and imprison the Runners. Generally this is an improvised creation that requires consistence on the GM’s part and an ear for the player’s fears and speculations in the table talk.

Occasionally the dice mechanic requires the other players (i.e. those not rolling the dice) to decide and narrate something and the GM might facilitate that conversation but I think it is best if you step out of the authorial role at that point.

Players retain authority and narrative control of their Runners so a GM can threaten a character and create dangerous situations but consequences are only inflicted through the dice.

The mechanics

The game mechanic is interesting but simple to play. If an action is deemed significant then the player gathers together a dice pool of four dice. If there is the possibility of being injured as a result of the action they take an additional die and if they are using their power they take an additional die.

They then throw the pool and assign a die to various outcome boxes, the higher the value of the die the more power the player has to resolve the outcome. The outcome boxes determine whether: the action was success, character regained some of their memory, the Chasers pursue or capture people, the character retains control of their power and whether they are hurt.

Unless they are injured players generally throw one more die than there are boxes to assign so for most situations the player has a lot of control to determine the nature of the outcome. The GM is not interpreting the result but instead responding to the player’s choices.

This emphasis on player agency again seems to be part of the newcomer-friendly nature of the game and is aimed at engaging and involving players as much as possible.

Splitting the party

The game deals with a split group of runners in an interesting way. The split creates an alternative path in the trail but the hunters advance down all paths of the trail simultaneously.

Splitting up might allow you to put more distance between you and the chasers but if you are captured you can only be rescued by the efforts of other Runners so isolated Runners run a great risk of being disappeared by the Chasers.

The decision to stay as a group or split up seems to be one of the more interesting ones open to the players.

Ending the game

Psi*Run has an interesting asymmetry to its mechanic design, although ostensibly about the chase; escape and pursuit, the game ends once one player has answered all their character’s questions. Therefore the real purpose of the game is the pursuit of the truth about the characters.

In playing the the metagame players may well choose to fail in tasks and to have the Chasers come closer if it means they might recover more of their memories.

Once the game has ended there a delightfully well-thought out set of epilogues to the game that so far has always brought a wonderful summary to the game.

Conclusions

A great game design that delivers an enjoyable experience to a broad range of players.

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