2400 devlog: Project Ikaros

Project Ikaros is a microgame about rogue psychics fleeing from or fighting against elite agents. Which side you’re on is up to you. Find it as part of the entire 2400 collection on Itch.io, and on its own and in a bundle on DriveThruRPG.

Influences

Project Ikaros is supposed to play like an action/thriller — and I have seen a lot of action movies and thrillers, so you can probably see a lot of tropes and influences in it. That said, I was thinking most consciously about the following when I designed it:

Psi*Run by Meguey Baker is an excellent RPG about amnesiac psychics on the run from pursuing agents. It is very tightly geared toward the one-shot experience of the attempted escape and slow return of memories. It’s really good and I hope you go play it.

Push is a 2009 film starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning about people with psychic powers being hunted by the government. I remember very little about the movie besides thinking that a fish market was a really great place for a telekinetic fight scene. This directly led to a table on the last page of Project Ikaros devoted entirely to “Locations for chase and fight scenes.” I’m not going to be even a little bit oblique about my intentions here. I like action movies.

The Tomorrow People was a British TV show I saw on Nickelodeon as a little kid, and then saw again as an adult when it was rebooted as an American series, and what the heck I didn’t even know there was an earlier version in the 1970s until I just looked it up on Wikipedia just now. Do … do I have to watch that now? I didn’t even finish the American series, so let’s say no. Anyway, I remember very little about either show now, but they both convinced me that psychic powers would make life trickier (but I want them anyway).

X-Men is a franchise I’ve enjoyed in many incarnations over the years, from comics to cartoons to video games to cinema. Yeah, they’re not all “psychic,” but come on, “pyrokinesis” and “vitakinesis” are already a stretch, aren’t they? Project Ikaros is basically a game about superheroes who don’t get to fight crime because they’re too busy trying to get the government off their backs.

And finally, Akira is a 1988 anime movie I saw way younger than I probably should have (and a manga I discovered years later but still have yet to finish). One of the entries on the list of “Rumors, lies, or revelations” (Too-powerful psychics are kept in cryo-sleep) is probably an Easter egg for that one. It’s also the reason you have the option to play as agents tracking down rogue psychics. After all, if psychics can accidentally destroy a whole city … maybe you should try to prevent that?

How it plays

There are two distinct ways to play Project Ikaros: as the rogues, or as the agents. The text doesn’t really tell you how to do either, though, so I’ve often wondered if it might be just a little too vague. I welcome you, gentle reader, to comment on this post and advise me to update it, or reassure me it’s clear enough. But just in case, here’s how I pictured it going down.

Playing the agents

  1. Your group decides they’ll be playing a group of agents who are just trying to keep psychics from hurting themselves or others. The players each make characters, possibly including some psychics among them.
  2. The GM chooses from or rolls on some lists to set things up: the runner’s name, powers, and how they manifested; “How the session starts,” and possibly a “Location” if it will start with a fight scene; one or more other agents or agitators if the starting setup or obvious trajectory calls for it; and optionally, one or more “Rumors, lies, or revelations” to sprinkle into conversation with agents, or to drop clues about if it’s going to be an ongoing mystery.
  3. The GM sets the scene and asks the players what they do. If the GM and/or players want Ikaros to be the “good guys,” the agents are under orders not to harm runners or agitators unless civilians are in danger, and the GM should remind players as much if need be.
  4. The session ends either after the agents lose the runner, or after they catch up to the runner, subdue any agitators, and attempt to peacefully convince the runner that coming into Ikaros will get them training, help them get their powers under control, and open up new career opportunities if they’d like to stick around. The players might make Persuasion rolls if it occurred to them to take any social skills whatsoever.
  5. Optional: The agents eventually find out that Ikaros is actually way more horrible than they ever imagined, and go rogue themselves.

Playing the rogues

  1. Your group decides to play as a group of rogues who are trying to save people from the shadowy Ikaros conspiracy. The players each make characters. They might all be runners, or all agitators, or a mix.
  2. The GM chooses from or rolls on some lists to set things up: “How the session starts,” and possibly a “Location” if it will start with a fight scene; one or more other agents or agitators if the starting setup or obvious trajectory calls for it; and optionally, one or more “Rumors, lies, or revelations” to sprinkle into conversation with other rogues, or to drop clues about if it’s going to be an ongoing mystery. The GM or the group interprets the starting situation, which may see them trying to reach a runner before Ikaros agents do, or already on the run with the runner.
  3. The rogues eventually cross paths with agents one or more times, resolved through fight and/or chase scenes. The session ends after a climactic standoff resolved by escape, capture, or surrender.
  4. Optional: The rogues eventually find out that maybe they’re not the “good guys,” perhaps by hurting innocents (a common risk of using psi powers!), or by helping a runner escape who really should have been caught.

The list of situations for “How the session starts” is highly open to interpretation, and how you interpret it is very dependent on what kind of group you’re playing. A group of agents who start “at a police station with a lot of rude cops” are probably trying to persuade or intimidate the police into giving them information to help them find a runner; a group of rogues who start with the same prompt may be there to help a runner escape, or might even be arrested already. These sorts of things are traditionally a GM’s job to interpret, but the GM is of course welcome to ask the players, “So, how did you get here?”

The game is clearly set up to be about rogues trying to help runners get to safety, and doesn’t explicitly support much else. That said, there’s no reason you couldn’t devise other operations for agitators to carry out, or for agents to investigate. Maybe agitators are actively prepping to attack an Ikaros facility, transporting evidence that could bring down Ikaros, or trying to extract a mole (who doesn’t even remember they’re a mole because their memory is wiped after every meeting to protect them).

Hmm. Maybe I should’ve thrown in a table stuff like that instead of 20 places for fight scenes.

Combining with other 2400 games

Project Ikaros is of course designed as a self-contained game, but I must confess that it started with a question: What setup would make a good excuse to make a bunch more psi powers? Here’s where you might go with the results.

Use the psi powers in other 2400 games. In particular, I recommend using it to supplement the talents list in Eos, advancement options for psychers in Inner System Blues, TK mods in Data Loss, and/or “alterations” in Zone. (The mods in Data Loss also suggest a few powers that might be added into a Project Ikaros game, too.)

Use the setup for other 2400 games. The session starters, fight/chase scene locations, and agent/agitator examples might be helpful for a Zone game that goes in a new direction entirely after a group of scavengers starts showing too many alterations, for instance.

Make one of the rumors true, and branch out from there. Is it true that Ikaros is actually conscripting psychics for a secret war with aliens? Sounds like a good opportunity to introduce the players to Xenolith. Are psychics who are too powerful indeed kept in some kind of suspended animation? If so, perhaps their minds are kept busy in the Simulation, and they’ll awaken as Codebreakers.

Spice up your fight scenes. If you’re not sure how to run a fight from these rules, but you’re pretty sure there’s going to be a fight, check out the expanded combat explanations in Battle Moon and Emergency Rules, and the Combat in 24XX examples here on the blog. And finally, if psychics are the threat Ikaros seems to fear they are, you might find it helpful to look up the “boss fight” examples in Data Loss.

Featured image edited from original by Beeple (Mike Winkelmann).

2 responses to “2400 devlog: Project Ikaros”

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