It is a little later than I wanted to have the review out, but I am happy to finally do so! End Transmission Games produced this game and it utilizes a similar system to Splinter. If that name is familiar to you, that’s because we reviewed Splinter earlier this year and if you want to check it out head to this page. It was a ton of fun and if it catches your interest then head here! This time around the great folks at End Transmission Games sent me the hard copy of the game. So, without further ado let’s check it out!!
Psionics is self-described as a Psychopunk game and I believe that description fits it perfectly. From my perspective and experience, it can be best described as a little bit X-Men, a little bit Scanners, a little bit Carrie, and a little bit Stranger Things. The game world of Psionics is, essentially, our own. In fact you should begin playing the game with virtually no knowledge of the world beyond you and your friend’s abilities and what you, the player, knows about the real world. You take on the roll of espers, people who have been born with some kind of psionic ability. Much like Eleven, young mutants of X-Men, or Carrie you find yourself alone and possible terrified of what you are capable of. Like all these stories, the world has a hugely dark element in the form of secret organizations and government agencies. They want to capture, study, and/or kill you but your characters don’t know that yet. They learn very quickly though. The great thing about Psionics is that it is designed to dip into all these different genres and play out as exactly the type of game you want it to be. Splinter was similarly designed, and I love ET Games for it. Do you want a horror? Super heroes? Straight science fiction? Maybe you want a combination in your game. The point is all of that is available with the world they have created.
One of the interesting things to keep in mind about Psionics is that it has a large number of adult themes and is definitely geared away from kids. In fact, there are probably many adults who want to steer away from the topics within the game. At the forefront of those topics is the one I am iffy about most: drugs. While I don’t have issue with it as a subject in an adult game and have used things like spice in games like Star Trek, it is often light-hearted and downsides come in the form of mechanical issues. It have never been the center point of an role-playing. It is a heavy subject. I appreciate that ET Games puts to the front that the game involves characters who will have emotional issues. This game has a whole slew of drugs and how they affect the psionic powers that espers have and has approached it very mechanically. Psionics is a game whose story leave a lot of room for exploring the subject along with all the bad side effects. It allows for drugs to become a solution to a temporary problem, but at what cost? I think Psionics does it well, and would say that drugs are a big part of the full world but by no means necessary to playing the game. A good group can get around it if they still want to take a romp through psionic teens running from secret government thugs. Just keep in mind the topic is there.
Rules & Mechanics
End Transmission Games have published a number of games using what they refer to as the Dice Punk system. Part of Splinter used that system and I remember the complexities of it. However, many of those were from the layering on of the fact that you were a character AND you had a video game avatar. The main Dice Punk system is what Psionics uses and I still think it is a pretty good system. It does exactly what they want and need it to. In essence you roll two dice and need to roll lower than your stat to succeed. Double ones is a critical success and double sixes is a critical failure. These might be made against attributes or they might be made on skills which will make your stat higher. Additionally, the difficulty will add to the target number with easy rolls having a bonus to the TN and hard rolls making it lower. Perhaps I miss-read Splinter, perhaps it was worded different, I do not remember, but Psionics does a great job of explaining the mechanic. It keeps all bonuses and penalties on the same side of the dice roll. Which is to say all math is done together and then the die roll is judged against it.
Now, of course, combat works different. Instead you want higher rolls adding your combat skill and hoping to beat the target’s defense. I agree with the decision to flip the mechanics on their head for combat. It allows offense to be an additive mechanic giving bonuses to weapons, skills, and situations. It also allows for defense to be an additive effect as well. Skills are inherently additive. The better a position you are in the more you add with negative factors subtracting. This allows you to try and make rolling under the target number easier and easier. With attacks you cannot do that because the target is defense, and the target wants to be the one adding numbers. So, the Dice Punk system says, okay we will make both additive. You add numbers as you improve your defenses. You add numbers as you add to your offensive capability. Now roll HIGHER. I think the only problem with the system is the potential for new players to try to figure out if they should be rolling low or high and when. But, after a few rolls I doubt this will be much a problem.
Now that I’ve talked about the Dice Punk system, which I hope didn’t scare anyone off it is pretty easy, lets go into specifics for Psionics. First off, it has something called Techniques which, for D&D players, is essentially feats. This are combat maneuvers with prerequisites that will give you bonuses or special abilities during combat scenarios. Things like Trick Shot and Dodge. What really makes Psionics the psychopunk adventure it is, though, are the wild talents. These are what make Psionics different from other Dice Punk games and flavor the world. They include power suites like telekinesis and pyrokinesis. There are three different categories to choose from and as you improve in that category there are sub-categories with more special powers to choose from and get better at. The powers in this game are fun in that they are powerful and dangerous, including dangerous to the esper. Each power costs power points, a common mechanic in games, but they also cause drain on the character. This is a small amount of non-lethal damage that makes you risk passing out. Additionally there is a mechanic called overflow. As you spend PP your overflow gauge fills up. This depletes, but slowly and it might be necessary to really use more than you should in a short time. To make sure there is danger of doing this the overflow gauge is lower than the maximum PP you can have. If the gauge fills, you overload and essentially go into angry Jean Grey from the third movie mode. There is a high risk of everything around you dying.
When I looked at Splinter it was a black and white PDF. This time I got to hold onto a beautiful hardcover in full color. The book itself is holding up well despite how many times I have flipped back and forth through it. There is a ton of great art inside, with a variety of styles and artists. The design is simple but not plain, with two different page boarders. One denotes that the section is rules while the other denotes one of the many short stories and narrative pieces throughout the book. There is great use of headings, font sizes, and the like to delineate different things. Side bars are used well sitting at the bottom or tops of pages, set apart through a boarder and separate background. They are clear, easy to read, and have titles that readily explain what they are about. Tables throughout the book are just as I like them: each row an alternate of two colors for ease of reading with a top row that is decidedly different for headings. Finally let’s talk about the table of contents and index. This ToC is great with three pages of well broken down headings and topics. Not only do I know what page fire arms is on but which page begins pistols or shotguns. I also know where the stories and appendices start. The index is amazing. First off, there is a whole page of separate index featuring the table names and locations. I love when books take the time for this. Then there is a pretty robust index of 9 pages. I don’t know if it has everything I might try to look up, but it has more than many books I have seen and I appreciate that. All in all fantastically done book.
The TL;DR version of Psionics is that I have deepened my love for End Transmission Games. It is another game that might not be for everyone but knows exactly what it is and who it is for. Despite this clarity of purpose it is a product that has an appeal to a variety of niches and allows for multiple ways to play the game. While I have said that Masks is the best Young Justice analogue and super hero games out there, Psionics would beat them in terms of the gritty side of stories like the X-Men while also heading into the territory of Carrie meets the X-Files. I cannot wait to give the game a go and record a one-shot for Untamed Dice. Hopefully sooner than later! If you want an experience like that, or even one like that one episode in Season 2 of Stranger Things featuring Eight and Eleven, then get this game! It will be great!