When people talk about “empowerment” in RPGs, they usually mean giving players the ability to own their successes, but I think it’s more important for players to own their failures. When I screw up, I want to know why, and how I can maintain some control regardless; or better yet, know that the failure was MY FAULT, so I can learn from the experience and do better next time. Psi*Run embodies this with one of the most beautifully elegant core resolution mechanics in the history of roleplaying. When you act, you don’t roll individually to see if you succeeded, if you were hurt, or if your superpowers remain stable. Instead, you roll EVERYTHING, all at once, and CHOOSE where to assign successes and failures. Never has a game delivered such power to the players whilst trapping them in awful lose-lose situations. It’s both a delightful and agonising challenge. Psi*Run chronicles a team of amnesiacs with superpowers fleeing from the Chasers pursuing them. Every player creates their own list of unanswered questions, the answers to which are slowly revealed in play – but the answers aren’t usually provided by that player, but by the GM or the rest of the players. It’s a neat tool for collaborative world generation, and lets players experience the shock of a revealed memory along with their amnesiac protagonist. But it also prompts a clash for creative control. Some games with a strong focus on collaborative creation, like Microscope, become more focussed and coherent over time. Psi*Run tends to sprawl. Almost every game I’ve played ended up cosmic or apocalyptic. That’s not really my cup of tea – I like my fiction grounded and human – but it’s fine for one-off games, which are Psi*Run’s speciality.
Psi*Run is an excellent choice for first time GMs. Its “Risk Sheet”, a rules reference guide that doubles as a worker-placement style playing board, is one of the handiest gaming aids available for an RPG. And in delegating most decisions about setting and character to players, it leaves GMs free to focus on pacing and improvisation, skills often neglected by first-time GMs distracted by the book-keeping and bureaucracy of other systems. It also requires no prep and is extremely easy to teach, making it straightforward for experienced gaming groups to fit in amongst their regular gaming schedule. Definitely give it a go, to see the unique central mechanic in action if nothing else.
(I never review a game I haven’t played or run. Check out https://michaelduxbury.com/category/reviews/ for more RPG reviews.)