A Penny for My Thoughts: 11th Hour Memories

This post was written for the second annual New Year, New Game blog carnival hosted by Gnome Stew as part of the 2013 New Year, New Game challenge.

Every year, Cangames, the longest running gaming convention in Canada (since 1977), has a theme. For Cangames 2013 the theme is “Armageddon Missed!”, a celebration of surviving the end of the Mayan calendar. I try to run a game inspired by the theme.

At Cangames 2012, the theme was “Flames Across the Border”. I ran a D&D 4th edition game where devils were trying to breach the border the material world and the Shadowfell to release an imprisoned general. There were lots of fire and brimstone with undead guardians mixed in beneath a cemetery.

For this year, I had this idea of exploring memory in relation to the apocalypse. The premise is aliens invade Earth and force humanity to escape to a safe area. While the aliens are attempting to destroy the world, humanity sends some individuals to stop the aliens or a means to have humanity survive. The game would be exploring the memories of those individuals who went this ordeal and thus learn through the game, was the Earth saved or did humanity just survive. I asked on twitter for a recommendation of a game. I was suggested “A Penny for My Thoughts” by Paul Tevis. I bought a copy at my local gaming store.

A Penny for My Thoughts is a cool improvisational game. You play amnesiacs who help each remember the events which lead to your loss of memory. There are three scenarios provided in the book: a modern age normal amnesia following a traumatic experience; a covert operative hired to assassinate a target but lost their memory; a Cthulhu mythos based scenario. I used the guidelines and modifier the questionnaires to create my own scenario: 11th hour memories. I created a Facts & Reassurances sheet and a Questionnaire. I wanted to try the game out before submitting to Cangames.

On Saturday, January 19th, I tried out my scenario with 3 friends. We are a creative bunch. We play playing games like Fiasco, Once Upon a Time, etc. I expected my friends to be reasonably good at the game. When you explore a person’s memory, you get a memory trigger which is a key word or phrase. The other players who are guides ask leading questions which the active player answers with “yes, and” and adds a detail. For ex: when I got the question “Were you on vacation?” my answer was “Yes, and I didn’t expect the aliens to find me there.” After you get a number of questions equal to the number of players, you tell the story of the event until you get to a decision point. At the decision point, you turn to two guides who give two different outcomes which you choose to continue the story. There is a gathering and exchange of pennies which is a pacing mechanic for the game. At the end, you decide if your character wants to remember what happened or not.

As I expected, my friends were a creative bunch. Here is what we produced: penny characters. It took about a third of the game for them to start getting it but only mildly. One player started with the idea it would be a serious game and she was not enjoying it. She realized it and made the game her own and she started enjoying it. She told me after the game that sometimes she would have liked saying “No, but…” to the guided questions. When I was a kid, I learnt improvisation theatre and was comfortable with the “Yes, and…” answers. The group was not comfortable with all the rituals in the game. When you grab a penny from the pool, the rule says you must say “A penny for my thoughts”. I understand the importance to immerse yourself in the situation. I told the players about the instructions but didn’t enforce it. Some of the players said the line some of the time. We didn’t get the importance of the pennies you get in the end once you’ve finished getting your final memory.

“A Penny for My Thoughts” is a fascinating improvisation game. I will need to try it a few more times to determine if it works for Cangames. I might try one of the other scenarios in the book instead of mine. The feedback from my friends informs me the game would work in a specific niche of gamers but not at Cangames. I have my Life-size Kill Doctor Lucky and a game of Dresden Files set in Ottawa which I’ll run this Cangames 2013.

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Do Encounters: The singer, the dress and the duck

For the D&D Encounters program, our group saw the return of four players (including me) and an increase of four players for a total of eight. We split into two tables. Three of them played Fiasco using the Dragon Slayers playset. The remaining five (including me) played Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple by Daniel Solis. We had two new players for Do who quickly made characters.

We selected the letter from Professor Culverton Soames who needed help to resolve a political situation and the life of his friend, Haracca. There were 20 goal words in this letter.

The pilgrims involved were:

  • Pilgrim Hoard Telescope (played by Jeff) who was previous Pilgrim Hoarder Slingshot;
  • Pilgrim Shiny Diamond who was new;
  • Pilgrim Random Explosives who was new;
  • Pilgrim Generous Runner (played by myself) who was Pilgrim Loving Runner;
  • Pilgrim Tasty Blanket who was Pilgrim Tasty Clock.

The letter was more involved and we were close to getting a pitchfork ending. We managed to get a parades ending and it required some pilgrims to get into trouble. Some returning players found a better appreciation to the game and seeing the developing story. I saw an improved in the storytelling but we need to improve how we wrap up the story.

I plan to continue the pilgrimage of my character.

Here’s the new story. What do you think of it?

Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope (played by Jeff) asks Professor Culverton Soames for a document of the Chrelm’s holy law then flips his telescope backwards using it as a magnifying glass examining the document. After analyzing the document, Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope takes the holy law and puts it in his pocket causing sacrilege. Pilgrim Shiny Diamond creates a new performance outfit for Haracca. Losing count on how many sequins she put on the singer’s dress causing it to light up like a supernova disco ball. Pilgrim Random Explosives arrives at Dravosburg with a duck to help but finds out it is a taboo to the Chrelm. Pilgrim Generous Runner (played by myself) runs quickly to Haracca’s dorm to get the sheet of music composed to help. He then mistakenly gives it ton High Priest Acceba. Pilgrim Tasty Blanket walked to the University of Dravosburg and met with Professor Culverton Soames and Haracca; throwing his blanket over their heads, the three left the University so that Dean Harpold could truthfully claim not to be harboring them.

Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope sneaks out of the University by hitching a ride under Pilgrim Tasty Blanket’s blanket. Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope starts stuffing the blanket in his pocket causing the wanted men to be revealed to Union Leader Secha. Pilgrim Shiny Diamond gets carried away with the wonderful sequins. She bedazzles the room which attracts the University of Dravosburg security who have come to taker her away. Pilgrim Random Explosives tries to defend himself but the words used happen to be the lyrics of a Chrelm song used at the wrong time. Pilgrim Generous Runner informs the Chrelm that Acceba has blasphemous writings which he can get rid of obtaining the Chrelm’s help. While running to Professor Culverton Soames, Pilgrim Generous Runner trips, hurts himself and foolishly gives the music sheets to kids to finish the journey. Thinking quickly, Pilgrim Tasty Blanket ties a corner of his magic blanket to each of them, and as the wind filled the blanket, it carried them away, depositing them on the deck of a windship in the middle of the startled windship captains! Professor Culverton Soames notices the meeting’s plates of cultural delicacies and points it out to Pilgrim Tasty Blanket who starts gorging on the culinary delights.

Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope heads towards the coat check gathering a collection of coats to use as disguises. Meanwhile, Pilgrim Shiny Diamond reacts quickly, raising all the window shades; while security is blinded by the reflections, she bolts from the room. Looking back, she was distracted by the shiny and ran headfirst into Dean Harpold. Pilgrim Random Explosives’s duck says “Thanks for the ride” and flies away. Tracking down the kids, Pilgrim Generous Runner finds where they stashed the sheet music. Pilgrim Tasty Blanket shares the delight with Haracca who stuffs himself unable to sing for now…

While Haracca, Professor Culverton Soames and Pilgrim Tasty Blanket put on their disguises, Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope uses his telescope to look out for any trouble, he sees Union Leader Secha marching towards them. While reviewing Professor Culverton Soames’s disguise, Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope takes key items which reveals the professor’s true nature. Dead Harpold brings Pilgrim Shiny Diamond to the Chrelm in the hopes of a future exchange for Haracca, she gets distracted by the beautiful tie clip of the Dean forgetting the dress. Due to Pilgrim Random Explosives’s bad luck, a localized indoor lightning storm shocks High Priest Acceba in front of the faithful who blame  Pilgrim Random Explosives.  Pilgrim Random Explosives sees this as a good time to explode things, make a door and goes home.

Pilgrim Hoarder Telescope asks the captains to sail his friends and him to international waters, so they can be safe from persecution. The Chrelm are in awe while Pilgrim Shiny Diamond’s dress and many of the females send her off with requests for their own. When Pilgrim Random Explosives got home, the duck was waiting with a sandwich. Pilgrim Generous Runner arrives at the ship in international waters with the sheet music and they have a musical dance number. The windship captains were willing to forgive and forget about their lost pastries when Pilgrim Tasty Blanket offered to show them how he gathers wind into his blanket, so they could improve their sailing speed.

Do Encounters

The D&D Encounters program is a fun and short regular program. I’ve been participating since the first season with either DMing or lending a hand in the logistical organization. Fandom II sponsors us and we play at the University of Ottawa Jock Turcot University Centre room 215 on Wednesdays from 6PM until 9PM. The University of Ottawa Gaming Club provides the room for us.

Currently, there is a large break between seasons for the month of January. In order to maintain the momentum, I brought some quick and easy games. On Wednesday, January 9th, we played Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple by Daniel Solis. It is a fun, whimsical cooperative storytelling game. You play pilgrims of this temple that travels across the cosmos. You get letters asking for help and your characters interfere. Whether you manage to help or hinder depends on your draw of stones and you achieve the goals before the timer runs own.

Character creation is simple. You name your pilgrim and then dissect the name to get how your pilgrim helps people and how your character gets into trouble. For example, my character, Pilgrim Loving Runner gets into trouble by falling in love at the wrong time and helps folks by running quickly to get useful stuff.

Initial set-up means selecting a letter which has a series of goal words. We chose the letter from the quick-start game. You must use all the goal words before a player draws a total of 8 stones or more. If you are successful then you helped and resolved the author of the letter. If you failed then you interfered and get rudely kicked out. The letter from Melanie whose house was swallowed by a whale has 10 goal words.

On your turn, you draw 3 stones from a bag with black and white stones. You keep stones of one colour and thus, you can have from 0 to 3 stones per turn. Based on the number of stones kept and if you are in trouble or not, you may use from 0 to 2 goal words per turn. We were 4 players. For our letter, we had to get all 10 goal words within 9 turns if everyone kept 3 stones per turn. This letter is a game introduction and relatively easy. We succeeded in freeing Melanie’s world from the whale.

We talked about continuing our character’s pilgrimage until the new season of D&D Encounters starts.  I’m going to photocopy some letters from my book and we’ll choose a new letter.

I leave you with our story created by our first game. Each turn is around 1-2 sentences. The story is crude and simplistic but fun. Please let me know what you think of it.

Pilgrim Loving Runner runs quickly to get the cat some food. Loving Runner fell in love with the cat hugging it so tightly, it broke free from his grip and ran up the tree. Pilgrim Tasty Clock wound the minute hand of his clock to twelve, causing the bird to pop out and entice Melanie’s cat out of the tree. Tasty Clock notices the cookies in the tree, climbs up and gets stuck. Pilgrim Hoarder Slingshot enters the house, grabs a bunch of useful things and then gets stuck in the doorway out. Stuck in the doorway, Hoarder Slingshot hears the roar of the whale and unpacks the silverware in his pockets making it small enough to move through the door. Pilgrim Green Plant grew the other cookie tree and blossomed it which tickled the whale by the indigestible leaves.

Pilgrim Loving Runner quickly enters the house through the window, gets the catnip and gives it to the cat. However, at that very moment, he heard the keening song of the whale and found himself in love… and into a stupor. Unable to resist the chocolate chip bounty before him, Pilgrim Tasty Clock devoured as many cookies as he could, growing in size until the branch he was sitting on broke, and he landed with a bounce. Pilgrim Hoarder Slingshot loads his slingshot with knives, forks and spoons, aiming for the whale’s uvula and taking a shot, opening the whale’s mouth. Hoarder Slingshot gathers all the fallen cookies which angers Melanie because she wanted to share. Due to his inexperience with whales of this size, Pilgrim Green Plant orders the what to eat more than it should and thus stuffing the area. However, the whale decided that it ate too much and expelled the small planet.

Pilgrim Loving Runner gets appreciated by the cuddling and purring of the cat. Grateful for his help getting the cat down from the tree, Melanie gives Pilgrim Tasty Clock a bushel basket of cookies (but just one). Melanie forgives Pilgrim Hoarder Slingshot for taking all her cookies because more will always grow. Pilgrim Green Plant get the thanks of the whale who realized the error of its ways.

This post was written for the second annual New Year, New Game blog carnival hosted by Gnome Stew as part of the 2013 New Year, New Game challenge.