I ran the first session of the new roleplaying game I’ve been planning last night. It’s an odd game, because we are playing The Strange, but the whole game is taking place in a Numenera recursion, so it’s effectively playing Numenera, but with the types from The Strange.
After a couple of hours spent generating characters, we ended up with the following:
- Asher Zamir, a Clever Vector who Hunts With Great Skill
- Bhaltair Rook, a Mad Paradox who Processes Information
- Selena, an Empathic Paradox who Sees Beyond
- “The Great Mafini”, a Clever Spinner who Crafts Illusions
Due to the nature of the starting scenario, we skipped player connections, but I did ask them all for some basic background and got them to answer some basic questions to start off with, namely “How/Why where you recruited by The Estate” and “Do you have any significant others/friends/family in your life?”. Basic info we started with was:
- Asher – ex-Mossad, recruited into The Estate for his skill set, no friends or family, but some close contacts from Mossad work.
- Bhaltair – was involved in/triggered a Strange incident and was offered recruitment or prison. No family or friends, loner due to his mad tendencies.
- Selena – discovered the existence of The Estate herself and joined up. Estranged from her family, disconnected from any friends she once had. No significant others.
- “The Great Mafini” – recruited ‘by accident’ during an Estate op that managed to pick him up instead of the actual target. During de-brief recognised his talents and made him an offer. His farmer-family is still around, as well as a few friends back home, but doesn’t see them too often. Has friends/colleagues on the stage magic circuit, but has a bit of a rep as an arrogant arsehole. Had a relationship with a woman called Jessica who went on to become his stage assistant, but blew it by fooling around. Realises what he lost and wants her back.
After that, we kicked off the main game, which is when I threw away everything they had done background-wise, including their names, because they all woke up without any memories in some kind of strange chamber.
The chamber was dimly lit and the players found themselves secured with simple synth straps into chairs like this:
A tube lead from the outside of the chair into their arms, which seemed to be pumping them full of a slightly luminous green liquid. There was a total of eight chairs around a table in the room, but only 4 were occupied (by the players). Some of the players struggled in their bonds and found the synth straps holding them in were ancient and had denatured, easily splitting apart after they struggled at them. No-one yet had removed the tubes from their arms, when a mechanical voice echoed out into the chamber, a voice they also felt intruding inside their minds…
At this point, we started playing a simultaneous game of The Strange/Numenera and a cut down, somewhat modified game of A Penny For My Thoughts. The mechanical voice guiding them through some kind of “therapy” to restore their missing memories collectively. It was the first time any of these players had played A Penny For My Thoughts (I think) and we skipped a lot of reading and processes, condensing the process down into simply:
- Each player contributes 5 memory triggers / random memory fragments that are not necessarily their own memories
- Choose a random starting player, they become the Traveller and get a random memory trigger from the list generated earlier.
- They choose another player to ask a Yes/No question, which they then answer with “Yes, and…”, elaborating on the answer.
- They do that again for each player.
- The machine then selects another person to ask one more question.
- The Traveller then recaps the trigger and their questions and answers into a coherent scene, then starts describing the events following that scene.
- When a decision or choice comes up in the description, another player interjects (or the machine chooses one to if no player does) and they make the decision for the Traveller, who then carries on.
- This is done twice.
- The new memory is then recorded/written down/whatever and the Traveller chooses who will be the next Traveller.
- Rinse and repeat until each player has 5 memories.
I was tracking memory ‘points’ by way of the penny mechanic, but quickly abandoned it in favour of the machine streamlining the process by just making them do things as needed. We got through one round of memories by the time we had to end the session. Of course, whilst this was going on, the players could do things in the physical game world and didn’t just have to sit there and deal with the “therapy” they were being put through. Two of the players got up at the end of the first round of memories, and one of them ripped the luminous green tube out of the arm of another. That player immediately lost the connection he’d felt to the others minds (and the others felt him disappear from their minds also). The machine was not too happy about this and warned the player without the tube that the “procedure would be aborted if therapy was not resumed”.
Now, the memories immediately went to some weird places, quite possibly because they have a character with the Mad descriptor in their midsts and also because the machine is ancient (not to mention some surprise extra info I have yet to reveal). They did recall details about the world, such as their were in the Ninth World – a new humanity that was living on the remains of 8 great prior civilisations that had spanned the stars and perhaps even further at some point in the ancient past. The remembered things about the Steadfast and The Beyond and enough basic knowledge to understand the Numenera setting but everything else was fragments, especially when it came to themselves. As the memories were being built using the game of A Penny For My Thoughts, a theme emerged rather quickly.
Yep, desserts – every memory seemed to have desserts of some kind play a significant role. This was entirely without any prompting from me, which makes it all the more awesome. A quick summary of the memories are:
- Bhaltair memory 1 – remembered deliberately sticking a tuning fork into an electrical outlet whilst eating banana bread, to see what would happen. This was barely 2 months ago, so done recently as an adult. He was naturally electrocuted, but this was due to his rubber insulation suit not being properly zipped up. With his ‘positively charged tuning fork’, he went to the fridge to get an old boot full of custard, which was to be used as some kind of organo-chemical matrix in some kind of experiment involving said tuning fork.
- “The Great Mafini” memory 1 – remembered eating a wobbly, raspberry-flavoured blancmange with his cat at home. He had a heckler of one of his stage shows tied up in his basement, who he’d covered in blancmange due to discovering the heckler had a fear of it (possible allergy?). He went down to the basement because he was getting concerned about the guys suffering and the repeated, desperate promises he would never heckle him again, nor post any bad reviews about him. However, he decided to play some more mental torture on the guy by handing him some lotion and saying “it puts the lotion on the skin, or it gets the hose again”
- Asher memory 1 – remembered eating ice cream at a french cafe. It was with a fellow Mossad operative during a stakeout, tracking some yakuza. Whilst eating the ice-cream they both got brain freeze and his partner was so afflicted he cried out in pain, blowing the op. They fled to the Parisian underground, lost their tails but blew all their money and had to walk back to their sleazy hotel safe-house on the outskirts of Paris.
- Selena memory 1 – remembered punching a heckler during a show. It was a dark time in her life when she’d been forced into working in Amsterdam’s red light district, dancing and doing jelly/mud-wrestling. The heckler turned out to be her bosses wife, who she’d had a bit of a fling with and the punch led to a fight. However, they worked things out and the wife of her boss left him to runaway with her. They did try and return to the boss though, in hopes of getting into a 3-way relationship, but that all fell through due to the boss being a terrible person and trying to push them both back into the jelly-wrestling scene, so they ran again, fleeing to the middle-east, though once there they didn’t like it much.
So yeah, things got a little crazy, and it’s clear not all the characters are entirely the most stable of people. All this emergent information though gives me great things to work with for their backgrounds and tying the characters into the story (as well as for introducing complications later) and I might never have got this kind of detail straight-up asking for background information. It’s one of the reasons I chose A Penny For My Thoughts, a game I dearly enjoy all by itself, as an optional section in the game for them to go through, and I’m glad they’ve done at least one round. We’ll see what happens in the next session as to whether they continue and if Asher puts his cable back into his arm or risks “the procedure being aborted”.