I had the opportunity to run Psi*Run, by Meguey Baker, for my weekly gaming group and I’m seriously glad I did. It’s a really fantastic game in a number of different ways.
The premise of the game is that the PCs are Runners: amnesiacs with psychic powers that are on the run from the Chasers. Chasers could be anything from a shadowy government agency to a cult an advanced medical corp or maybe even aliens. As players create their Runners at the table, the GM can usually pick up on a few clues to give them some inspiration. For my game I went with something pretty easy — a sort of black ops military organization. So lots of soldiers and high-grade military tech.
So, back to the Runners. They don’t remember who they are, they may not even remember their name, but they have some sort of psychic ability. They’re aware of it but don’t fully understand how it works or how much potential it has. On top of that they have some number of questions. Maybe small pieces of memory they catch glimpses of, but they don’t understand and don’t have the answer to. Each Runner will have 4-6 questions. This works as a good pacing mechanic, because the more questions everyone has the longer the game will probably go on (for a normal 4-hour con timeslot, 4 questions works about right). During play anytime a character tries to accomplish something (the rules text calls it a significant action) the stress of the situation could give them a flashback and reveal an answer to one of their questions. Once all of a Runner’s questions are answered, then play goes into the end-game, called The Crossroads, and each Runner gets an epilogue of sorts.
Every game of Psi*Run starts the same: The Crash. There’s a literal crash. The runners were being transported to somewhere and the vehicle crashed. It could be a car, truck, plane, helicopter, boat, whatever makes sense for the Chasers to use. They all come to not remembering anything, but now is their chance to escape! At this point the GM puts down an index card (or whatever) and writes CRASH on it. This is the first location of the game. As the Runners move on, the GM adds more locations and always coming behind will be the Chasers. If the Chasers ever catch up the Runners risk being captured, and if they get captured they risk disappearing forever.
So, gameplay. Gameplay is fiendishly simple & straightforward. And I really do mean fiendish. When any Runner takes a “significant action” where something would take concentration or time or success may not be guaranteed (or at least the chance of success/failure is interesting) then that’s when the dice come out. Just for taking an action a Runner gets 4d6: 1 because they’re attempting to accomplish something (Goal), 2 because it could trigger a memory (Recall), 3 because the Chasers are always coming (Chase), and one because they’re extroardinary people. If they choose to use their Psychic power they get another die for Psi and if their action risks being hurt then they take another d6 for Harm.
Then they roll the dice and this is where the fiendish part comes in: now the player has to decide how to distribute their dice to all the different options. Putting a low die in Goal would mean not accomplishing it. A low die in Recall means not learning an answer to one of your questions. A low die for Chase means the Chasers move 1, or even 2, locations closer (and possibly catching up completely). A low die in Psi means the power surges or goes out of control, which generally means death and destruction, often of innocents. And a low die in Harm means getting injured (more on how that works later). Also, if the Runner was risking Capture instead of Chase, then they or another Runner might be captured, and if they were already Captured then they might disappear forever! It makes for some seriously tough choices and I absolutely loved watching people agonize over how to place their dice.
So, uninjured, you’ll always have one extra die to roll than you need, so you’ll get to kick out the worse value and keep the rest. However, if you get injured you have to drop one die from the pool before rolling. And if you get injured again (the most amount aside from dying, which is a specific result on the Harm table), then you roll normally then remove the highest value die. Painful stuff! So injury isn’t totally debilitating, but it’s definitely serious enough and has enough of an effect on the dice that you’ll seriously reconsider getting hurt. And, even better, that can help things to spiral out of control, because maybe one of your teeammates wants to try and get you healed somehow (whether doing it themselves or taking you somewhere to get treated). More opportunities for dice rolls and interesting things!
Finally, after all the die results have been placed, the group has a whole gets a chance to interpret the results. This is fun, because for each result someone gets “first say”. It might be the player who rolled, it might be the GM, or it might be the other players. My favorite example is with the Recall table. If you place a 6 there, you get an answer to one of your questions and you get first say. However a 4 or 5 means you still get an answer for a question, but the other players have first say, which means they get to pick the question and what the answer is. It’s still connected to the fiction, so it should tie into whatever you trying to do and what you just experienced, but it’s great because the other players will take those questions/answers in a direction you never even considered. And if the other players are really having fun they’ll make those answers a bit painful or at least a little uncomfortable and hopefully make you reconsider not putting a 6 there and answering the question for yourself. Playing back into the whole tough choices part! This little cycle is really fantastic.
So the whole game goes on with the Runners staying on the move, while the Chasers are always moving forward towards them. Maybe they have some close calls and have to escape a couple times, but eventually one of the Runners will answer their last question, once that happens we go into the The Crossroads (the end game) after resolving any last scenes that might be ongoing.
The Crossroads is simple. Every runner gets an ending, but there’s a limited number of endings to choose from. And the player who got all their answers first gets to choose their ending first, which means no one else gets that ending. So they’ll say something like “I am no longer running because I’m…”, list their ending, and then narrate a bit. Then the rest of the players go in order of most questions answered to least. Ending options are: Home, Trapped, Hidden, On a Quest, Lost, Turning the tables, Making a discovery.
That’s pretty much all their is to Psi*Run. It really facilitates everyone working together to tell a great story and there’s lots of room for twists and surprises as different people at the table get narrative control.
There were times in play where I kind of wish there were some rules for the runners to help one another or even hinder for those instances when they start working at cross-purposes. I think it’s almost guaranteed to happen. Sure, these people are all in the same situation together, but they don’t know each other (or at least don’t remember knowing each other), so they have no reason to trust each beyond trying to get away from the Chasers. It’s almost a sure-bet that at some point they won’t agree on how to do something or might want to do something to directly affect another Runner. I have some rudimentary ideas on how that could be modeled, but I’d rather get some play experience in before I consider any sort of hacking.\
I really can’t recommend this game enough. I had a great time running it and I’m really looking forward to trying it again sometime.