Actual Play: Psi

I actually played a game of what I call “Psi.” I’ve written about it before, but basically it’s a game of diplomacy and espionage set against a background of a massive, sprawling, psionic culture.

The players staff Earth’s embassy, playing soldiers, diplomats, and support staff. The story was pretty simple by my standards. While occupying the embassy, the players discovered that the building contained an organic, artificial intelligence. The climax came when they convinced it that they were not allied with the past owners (which it feared). The players also stopped an attempt at spying on the embassy (this will be more important later).

There were many things that were cool about the game that I’m just glossing over in that account of play, but I’ll just leave them for now. The most important thing for me at present is that I got a chance to try out the rules I put together for it.

It’s not a brilliant or new collection of ideas. Mostly I grabbed Dogs in the Vineyard and modified it to fit what I’m doing. Still, this did allow me to test whether the ideas I did add worked or not. What elements did I add?

1. Fate: Basically a player describes one of his character’s most significant future events as a “personal fate” and chooses a universal fate that his character’s actions unintentionally help bring into being. Players choose between Earth’s destruction, the Clades’ destruction (the civilization they are ambassadors to), the destruction of both civilizations, and the survival of both.

In Play: Players seemed to grasp the idea and came up with some really interesting fates that do add an interesting dimension to the characters. In some cases, they did a very cool thing and chose fates that acted in counterpoint to their character’s goals. For example, one character that is mostly interested in peaceful coexistence between Earth and the Clades will ironically be unintentionally working toward the destruction of both civilizations.

2. The Use of Fate in Conflict Resolution: Each character has fate dice that they can swap in for an attribute if they don’t like their roll. To this, they can add other dice. The number of other dice is determined by whether the universe is currently heading in the direction of their universal fate. The bad/good point of using fate is that each use makes the universe marginally more likely to be leaning that direction in the future. Also, any experience points gained through the use of Fate can only be used for improving the fate attribute itself. That being said, using Fate greatly improves your chance of winning so in some cases it’s a good deal.

In Play: Only one character used Fate in an effort to win a conflict, but it’s worth mentioning that it worked. He succeeded. I couldn’t help but notice that another player commented that he would never use Fate. I think that that’s a reasonable response on some level, but I hope that’s not true. If it is I’ll have to rethink things a little. Having characters constantly move the future unintentionally is big part of the game.

3. Escalation: Escalation is one of those things that I’ve been flip-flopping on. It was essential in Dogs in the Vineyard in that that game was very much about the question of how far you were willing to go to solve the problem you’re facing. In a conflict, you could move from talking to fistfighting to weapons (clubs, knives) to gunfights. Attached to each different level of lethality was a level of damage.

This game is less about how far people are willing to go for their beliefs than it is about individual and societal fates. What are you willing to do to avoid or achieve yours? Will you just let it happen? If you do, who does that hurt?

As a result, one might argue that escalation isn’t really needed in the game. Fate takes care of pretty much all of that. Trouble is, if I completely dump escalation, there’s only one level of fallout (damage) to all types of conflict ranging from verbal arguments to automatic weapons fire. And that’s obviously pretty crazy.

What I’ll probably end up doing is some form of escalation that’s a purely mechanical as opposed to thematic construct. I’m not sure of the details yet.

In Play: Honestly, it just didn’t come up. We never got to a point in a conflict where escalating made sense. For that matter, people in a conflict could mostly see the writing on the wall pretty quickly and generally gave rather than take fallout.

So anyway, it’s worth mentioning that playing the actual game was a great deal more fun than you’ll likely experience while reading this post. We didn’t think too much about the rules. We spent a lot more time with the characters and the situation. Better yet, the players added some very cool stuff to my ideas. I look forward to the next time.

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