Actual Play – A Penny for My Thoughts (7/29/2009)

System: A Penny For My Thoughts

Our normal Wednesday night game got together to pick our next game. The nominees were Polaris, Don’t Rest Your Head, and Silver Age Sentinels. I was really shooting for DRYH but I don’t think I sold it very well. I described the PCs as damaged individuals who now had abilities outside what is normally humanly possible. I think I may have portrayed the game as darker than we would have actually played it, but I wanted to get across the mood so we didn’t go in with the wrong expectations. Oh well, either way I was exited about all three nominees so I can’t really complain about SAS winning.

The other good thing about SAS winning was that we didn’t have the book to make characters with so instead I pulled out Penny and we played a game of that. We opted for the standard facts and reassurances document, but realized afterwards that we should have agreed in the beginning about a depravity limit.

The game started normal enough but soon it became clear that we were out to one up each other with stories of the bizarre and grotesque (usually inflicted on our fellow patients). While some of the stories actually had a cohesive storyline (and some nice symmetry to them) none of them were the kind of stories I want to tell.

During the answer to our last questions we started talking as a group about where this game was going and agreed collectively to try and pull it out of the gutter. We succeeded to a small extent, but the characters were still horribly scarred (physically and emotionally). After the treatment two of us opted to retain our memories and go to jail for our crimes while the other two must have stayed at the institute a while long as they couldn’t cope with what they had done or become. They were so broken by the end that losing their memories was a blessing.

What rocked

We learned something about each other last night. We’re capable of imagining horrible acts of human depravity. It was sort of a catharsis is some ways, like we all vomited up the worst in us, put it in the table and then put it in the shredder (yes, I shredded all of our questionnaires).

Afterwards we spent a long time (almost two hours I think) debriefing each other. Coming back to reality and assuring each other that we are all kind people who don’t ACTUALLY think this way most of the time. I think that debrief did a lot of reassure me not only of the caliber of friends I have but also of the caliber of person I am. I’m grateful to all of you for sticking around through that.

Of the four, one of the stories (as mentioned above) had some pretty good symmetry to it. That didn’t make it a good story but at least it had some redeemable qualities.

What could have been improved

We had no idea going in what we were going to do to each other. Next time it will probably go without saying, but we’ll say it any way just in case where our lines and veils are. I think this was an exercise to help reveal some of the things we never thought to talk about before games, particularly in regards to violence, sexuality and abuse.

Because our stories were so bizarre and depraved they also made no sense (well, sometimes they did, but there was definite disconnects). I felt to some degree like our characters were D&D sociopaths who couldn’t have meaningful relationships. Without a relationship that you care about, stories don’t make sense. I found myself having a really hard time figuring out what to give the other patients when there was nothing I could tell they really cared about. In short unrealistically broken characters make for broken stories.

Don’t go for shock value. After thinking about the points above, I realized that where the game was breaking was when we were just trying to do something more shocking, more outlandish than the next guy. Many of our stories were plenty graphic and heavy before the craziness was added to them. At that point they stopped being dark stories we were invested in and turned into dark stories we were disgusted by.

I’m really glad we played Penny. I’m definitely going to play it again, but I’m never going to play THAT Penny again.



  1. An interesting element is that lynxr commented that she saw EXACTLY where the game was headed at the very beginning. We all had an attitude of topping each other’s ideas from the beginning.

    I’d love to try this again, particularly with a theme or another set of rules. The theme doesn’t need to be anything major; it could just be, “You were all found on a ski slope” or something.

    Finally in SAS land, whee superheroes! Also: Character generator Haven’t tried it yet, intend to. May be your best friend as a GM. I know I wanted one when I ran it.

    • Heh… a woman’s insight. J said based on the snippet that she heard she wasn’t very surprised either. Are we as guys just that transparent and predictable?

      As far a SAS goes, I’ve got some ideas for that as well. I’m working on a Facts & Reassurances document and questionnaire for supers. We’ll see what people think.

  2. What makes me happiest about this is that you talked about it afterward.

    • Yeah, it was probably the most productive (and most enjoyable) part of the game. We talked about a lot of lines that we would have never thought of before. For me it really turned the whole thing around from a “this feels like a failed experiment” to “this is something I learned a LOT from.”

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