[Psi Run] Four Down in NYC

edited February 2008 in Actual Play
So Per, Pooka and I played a few scenes of Psi Run.

We played through three or four scenes at most. They were enjoyable enough, but the conversation turned to issues with the game, and suggestions for improvements. That's not to say that Psi Run isn't fun as is, it's more that we immediately started seeing other ways to run the mechanics. And there was some wine and pastries and we were in more a sociable mood than gaming mood.

Character generation is a lot of fun, and the questions are golden. Knowing we wanted a short session, we figured three questions each would be enough. Per ran through the system quickly and said he'd GM. The game is very, very pick-up-and-play, which I really like. No numbers to balance, no maths, and the system is right there on the sheet.

(Three questions is probably too few for even a short session - it looked like you could get through a reveal a scene).

(When I chose questions, I had an idea of possible answers - because potential cool is a good way to guage a good question. One question was 'why do clocks stop around me?' 'Coz I can stop time' was the answer I had in mind. I'd have been happy to have another answer reveal itself. But as I narrated scenes, that picture of who my character was became more concrete. If I'd distanced myself, I would not have been as engaged with her).

We opened with a helicopter above city streets, spinning out of control. Strapped into their seats were four women, dressed as a mechanic, cheerleader, in an Armani suit, and in form-fitting grey armor. Pooka's character called thin shadows to pop her straps, then mine. Then my character leaped out of the helicopter, dragging Armani and Pooka's character along.

(Pooka rolled high on his first roll and Revealed. The reveal itself was thematically interesting, but way too early to have any impact. We wondered whether opening scenes should have different mechanics entirely. Or were a color scene, with requirements of 'how do you escape' and 'how do you show off your power?)

(It wasn't clear how far our narration as players could go. Could we narrate amazing powers as color or did powers have to be part of resolution?)

Time stopped, lightning paused in the stormy sky above the city. The three women fell through air thick as molasses to the ground as my character's power slowed time. As we touched the ground and the power clicked off, lightning flickered out and struck my character, stopping her heart (I took an Injury).

Pooka's character revived me though my heart didn't resume beating - same as those clocks! The Armani girl ran off, freaked. The two of us realised we were beside Central Park, and clambered over the fence and headed for the zoo.

In the Reptile House, we took stock. We had a fun argument, with the eerie glow of IR lamps and unusually active snakes making us jumpy. A security guard approached and Pooka's shadows hid the two of us. We argued again, and Pooka teleported away to safety. My character had a Matrix moment and stole the guard's gun, wallet and radio.

(We had a little misunderstanding there, where I described a bunch of kung fu, and taking the gun and radio. Per took this to be intention, I took
it to be execution, because I'd not been challenged. Whoops! That was more an interesting mistake than a problem with Psi Run. But I don't think we were entirely clear how scenes are framed and by whom)


Per, I think, described the Chasers coming to the burning wreck of the helicopter. And that's where we stopped.

(The system seems too easy. Though Bliss Stage has a similar mechanic, BS has a more pronounced sense of risk. On an average roll, your situation changes. On a bad roll, you lose relationships. In Psi Run, an average roll didn't change much.

Rolling X dice, discarding one, was too easy. Our few rolls came off pretty succesfully. Though we weren't clear on how injuries and scars (?) worked, so injuries didn't have a lot of punch. Do they reduce your dice or something...?

What if you rolled fewer dice in some situations? And so had to allocate 'empties' to certain categories. How bad is a zero?

If you kept the existing system, I'd consider making all the categories harsher. Instead of 1-3 (fine), 4,5 (sucks), 6 (ouch!), I'd change it to 1-2. (fine), 3,4 (sucks), 5 (ouch!), 6 (really ouch!) or something.

Pooka suggested that psi should be a mandatory allocation. Thus, powers must be controlled or they go nuts.

A little clever design could add clarity to the six categories. For example, you could group Harm+Chase, Psi+Goal and Reveal+Capture. You always have to pick at least one one from Harm+Chase.You always have to pick both of Psi+Goal. You always have to allocate to

Reveal+Capture, but they're often under the jurisdiction of the other players.

There's no unity of theme to the characters. I wondered if, say, Pooka's character would reveal he got his powers from magitech experiments and mine got her's from mutant powers, if it'd all go a bit vague and generically superheroic. You could have shared questions that answer origins, power sources, the past.

Pooka suggested the final question be about the Chaser.

We discussed a possibility where the Chasers got their own questions, and a sheet of their own. Who are these guys? How do they operate? Why do they want us back? Why did he leave a rose at the graveside? Why don't we see their eyes?

Here's a big one. Adversity. There's no way for the GM to make a situation more difficult. That makes GMing tricky. Not impossible. But tricky. You could certainly have a system where he got to knock off a player's dice with tokens or some such.

Is the Chase category relevant in the first scene?

I vaguely wondered if it would be useful to have a re-introduction mechanic, where previously-answered questions became traits of some kind.

Or rerolls. Or cancelled GM tokens)


Psi Run has a huge amount of potential, but it's not quite there yet. I really liked the way the Chasers followed on a 'board' formed from our scenes. I'd like to see the scenes where they follow our subtle clues or trail of devastation. And I liked our characters, how they were constructed, reveals and powers.

Pooka and Per?

Joe.

Comments

  • Hey Joe, consider that you are looking to the text for answers to things you can decide on among yourselves without doing any harm to the game. Whether that's a strength or a weakness in play is up to the individual player, but it isn't bad design.

    Also, unity of theme comes from listening, agreeing, and building on what your friends have already introduced into the game. If it has been established that character X is a mutant, declaring that character Y is a sorcerer is probably a weak choice.

    I've experienced the "too easy" thing a bit, when successful rolls put the Chasers far behind and the story, usually in the first third of the game, loses a little focus. I think there's a good amount of randomness, though, and you're rolling enough dice that something is going to change with every conflict.
  • Hi, Jason. Yep, a lot of the thematic stuff evolves naturally as conversation bounces around, of course. We hadn't picked NYC as a location, it just appeared. The zoo was a cool location with lots of potential thematic oomph. I perhaps need to look at the questions as more like Motifs in Covenant - something open-ended I can drag in later as a thematic element - than as a goal to drive towards?
  • One of the things I really like about Psi Run is how a coherent story sort of coalesces out of very random elements, and it is often quite compelling (although next time I'm implementing a "no secret base, no evil scientist, no specially-bred children" rule). In my experience not trying to find the goal works very well - it just jumps you eventually if everyone is paying attention.
  • edited February 2008
    Psi Run is nice and spiky and the whole setup of the game - premise, character questions - is totally on the ball. I really enjoyed reading it and couldn't wait to try it in play.

    I'm also cool with the collaborative element, which worked fine for this group as well. The mechanics didn't. I'll try and elaborate a bit and highlight what didn't work for me.

    I love the whole allocate dice to outcomes/risks/whatever, all the way back from Otherkind. In fact I like it so much that I have taken my flawed half-baked Speed King game back to the workshop, stripped it down to its bare chassis and begun pounding on it with this type of mechanic. What I'm saying is this kind of thing fits perfectly to Psi Run.

    But in practical play we had quite a few "Huh" moments because the mechanics didn't help make the in-game fiction that more interesting - for one it was way too easy to avoid threats fx. Harm doesn't mean anything but colour - colour is great but if it's colour why roll for it? (There's no info in the playtest doc what the different harm levels mean, so I'm only guessing here, might be wrong).

    I biased by having played Bliss Stage - in BS every conflict feels like you may have to sacrifice something to get what you want. Things you do may hurt yourself or others, or both - that never came up here, but the low number of conflicts we actually had might explain that.
  • I'll echo the sentiments of Joe and Per here - the system didn't ratchet up tension in any appreciable way, and while I like the "track" that shows the pursuers coming after the PCs, the further you get away from the pursuers, the more it does the opposite. I definitely think that certain categories lack substance, like Per said about injury. I also think that the players should have to roll Psi for every conflict. if that's not already part of the rules, because it has great negative effects.

    I do think it's a very cool game, with serious potential, but it's obviously not yet finished in my opinion.

    (I would discuss more, but my daughter is fighting me for the mouse. Toddlers!)
  • I've been playing that when the chasers reach you, you switch from "chase" to "capture" with concrete penalties that can remove your character from play permanently. I'm not sure if this is in the ashcan text or not. I will note that I've never seen a Runner removed by this mechanism, but it does exist.

    You guys really dismiss color? "Runner is dying" has no effect on how you play, because there's no mechanical impact?

  • You guys really dismiss color? "Runner is dying" has no effect on how you play, because there's no mechanical impact?
    As I was trying to say above, colour is immensely important, I think to all of us. We had one "Runner is hurt for entire session" I think, and yes, it did affect play. There wasn't anything in the rules about that, though, so perhaps a short paragraph about implementing Harm colour would be helpful. I was also unsure how much colour could be 'undone' or tweaked or who had the authority to do so - or whether a statement would become fictional fact if not challenged by a player or the GM. I'm still not sure.

    Thinking of it, maybe I approached this game as being something completely different from what it is. That happens.

    It's the ashcan version I have.
  • That's the one result on that category that has a mechanical impact. I'm not being dismissive of colour, because it can make for great scenes, but where's the risk when I take "Runner is Injured" and then proceed to dump my middling rolls into that category because it has no additional impact? I know that's gaming the system a bit, but you take my meaning, right?

    I'm not sure where I'd find it, but I am fairly sure that if I had a copy of the charsheet and I rolled six dice into five categories a dozen times, I can avoid negative consequences almost every time. The low range of "Reveal" is static, as in it has no net effect, and as a result it is also a place where players will dump low dice.

    I'm not phrasing this at all adequately - wrestling with a two-year-old while typing will do that - but the system biases towards success or neutrality in a setting where tension should be provided by the system constantly. Or at least, I felt the design intent of this game wasn't met by the system. A little tweaking here and there should iron out those wrinkles, I believe.
  • Thanks for all the thought and feedback. They are definitely helpful!

    -Chris
  • Posted By: PookaI'm not sure where I'd find it, but I am fairly sure that if I had a copy of the charsheet and I rolled six dice into five categories a dozen times, I can avoid negative consequences almost every time.
    Agreed -- we had the same feeling when we played it:

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=5604
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