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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Thursday
Nov262009

Dreamt Of In My Philosophy

Robin Laws posted on his Livejournal that he (along with several other folks I've met) played A Penny For My Thoughts on Wednesday night, and that in said game he played a fictionalized version of Paul Tevis, the author of A Penny For My Thoughts. My mind boggled at the idea that arguably the greatest roleplaying game designer working today not only played my game, but played me. There are stranger things Horatio, indeed.

Once I got over the initial disorientation, I thought about what Robin had to say about the game. To wit:

The game follows the common indie approach of asking a GM-less group to weave a story in response to a very specific and detailed series of rules structures. We experienced some confusion in identifying and following the structure. It might have benefited us to more strongly bring to mind the game's fictional framework of its memory-challenged group therapy session.

I've talked with Robin before about story structure and games, so I see where he's coming from with his observation about "the common indie approach." One thing his comment made me realize is that I've thought of Penny as different from most indie/story games in that its techniques of play aren't intended to create story. Yes, story can (and hopefully will) emerge from the process of play, but to me the focus it puts on the moment-to-moment interactions between people at the table is more important. When I was designing Penny, I thought of it more in social terms than in narrative ones. I suppose once the book is out my hands, it doesn't really matter what I think; what matters is what people get from it.

The other thing that I discovered from Robin's (quite valid) critique is that I'm worried about being judged as a game designer solely on Penny. It was a deliberately experimental game. I wanted to see what it would take for me to put a book together. I also wanted to see what would happen if I made certain bold design choices and stuck with them. The result wasn't anything like the way we normally play on Tuesday nights, at least structurally. As I'm slowly working on More Questions Than Answers (the system we're using for our Delta Green game), I'm rediscovering how we play together, and for some reason I'm anxious to show it to the world and say, "See! This how I really play!" What I'm not sure at all about is why that is.

Stranger things indeed.

Reader Comments (2)

I can somehow strongly empathize with your feelings here, Paul. Try just not to be overwhelmed by them.

November 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRafu

Yeah, I can't imagine playing Penny without also pretending to be sitting around in a therapy room somewhere. If a group comes to the game as a "story-making exercise", I don't think that it will succeed. However, when played as a game embedded in a mini-LARP, it works quite well.

"Quite well"="top 3 games I would want on a desert island", BTW. Now, I know I was involved in the playtesting and all, but I have a hard time seeing how someone can approach the text of the game honestly and end up with the play experience that Laws describes. (Which, by the way, is what he says. Their play experience resulted from failing to internalize what you set forth.)

And, for what it's worth, if I were you, I'd be quite happy being judged as a designer from Penny.

(Also, I'm not sure if you saw this play report I wrote back in August: Amnesia and Improv: A Play Report for A Penny For My Thoughts.)

November 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSeth Ben-Ezra

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