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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 172 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Shab-al-Hiri Roach] One, Two, Three . . . Roach!  (Read 6869 times)
Remi Treuer
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« on: January 18, 2006, 09:53:59 AM »

I played The Shab-al-Hiri Roach with a bunch of non-gamer friends this past weekend at the tail-end of a business trip to DC this weekend. We only had 2 and a half hours to play, so I decided to cut the game down to 3 acts, the Commencement Ball, The Follies, and the Christmas Ball.

Although I've been interested in Forge games for a while, my first play experience with them was at MACE this past fall. I've been so excited by the play they've generated that I wanted to share it with my friends. I played Dr. Phillip, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Enthusiasms Research and Sociability in the game (I completely blanked on the Dr. Phil connection until about midway through the game).

B is a good friend and former roommate from college. He's an odd mix of religious conservative and modern liberal values, a great lover of the philosophy, policy, and life of Teddy Roosevelt. The most experienced roleplayer in the group with some D&D in his distant past, B's playing Alistair McNeil, Full Professor of Poetry & Drama with Cruelty and Gossip as Enthusiasms.

M is B's girlfriend. I knew her from college, but have only met with her socially since she started dating B. She had once played D&D which she described as a 'Wholly negative exerience'. M's a very forward person, easily voicing her concerns. M's playing Mortimer Barnes, Full Professor of Biology with Research and Status as Enthusiasms.

D is another good friend of mine from college. She's never played an RPG, and is quite quiet usually. She's got a wicked sense of humor, though, and when drawn out is an excellent conversationalist. She's playing Dr. Alexander Dupont, a History Professor with Creativity and Manipulation and his Enthusiasms.

I described the game to the players, taking extra time to explain Lines and Veils and getting a good sense of what people wanted and didn't want out of the game. M had a real problem with the idea of female professors in an early 20th century setting, and neither wanted to play a female faculty member or have sexism in academics as a topic. B could deal with violence and sex up to a certain point, for description he said, "I'd like to avoid Sin City-level gratuitousness." We decided we were comfortable with R-rated violence and sex as long as it didn't occur explicitly on camera.

During character creation, B decided that his character's negative relationship with mine was that Alistair was in love with Dr. Phillip and that Phillip had rebuffed him many times. D and M's bad relationship centered on Dupont stealing all of Barnes's funding, leaving Barnes with only an office and no research equipment. (we drifted the good/bad relationship rules, as we couldn't make sense that one person would have a good relationship with the person who had a bad relationship with them, so we made bad relationships mutual between the players sitting opposite and good relationships the player to your left.)

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The game started with only B roached. M drew a Roach card on her first term, but ran into problems implementing the Roach's orders, which were Meda Zil-tum, "How will you please your master?" M complained that because the Roach wasn't a character, she didn't know WHAT would please it. B and I tried to explain that what would please the Roach was whatever she wanted, but that seemed unsatisfactory to her. I can't recall what her eventual action was, but it wasn't fantastic (I believe it had to do with trying to grab funding back from Dupont).

Dupont had the best conflict of the first round, trying to get Gaylord Talley to use his connections at the Vatican to get more access to historical artifacts for Dupont's upcoming school trip. Dupont lost, and while he still got to go, the trip had to be scheduled the week before finals, hurting Dupont's reputation both with faculty and students. In the last scene, when the roach ordered Dupont to give it a sacrifice, there was really no other choice, and the Rev was hoisted up by his ankles from a chandelier and sacrificed, Kosher-style.

The game went on in fits and starts. I had to do a lot of pushing for stakes, and was answering 'how many/what kind of dice do I use' and 'which side of the card do I use' questions throughout. The use of the cards was never comfortable for D or M. By the second round, everyone was Roached and I was still fielding card questions. I trooped through, but at the end M commented that I could have explained the rules better, and I suppose I could have, but it also felt like what I said wasn't being absorbed.

The second Event was the most successful. It started with Dr. Phillip, under the Roach's control, successfully seducing Alistair McNeil in the wings of the stage while the Follies went on. Dr. Phillip, when the roach's spell lifted, scorned McNeil and walked off with the onlooking Regina Sutton. M had Barnes, dressed as a giant cockroach for the follies, attack his tormentor, Alex Dupont, and attempt to murder him. Barnes failed, and ended up accidentally stabbing and killing an interfering Bantam Whaley.

The event ended with McNeil accusing Dr. Phillip and Barnes of being part of a Bacchanalian group, resulting in a '10 foot rule' applied to student/teacher relationships. Dupont then outed McNeil not only as a homosexual, but a predatory one.

With that cheery business we went straight on to the Christmas Party. I had framed the first scene of each of the previous Events, so I insisted that someone else start off. B went first, having McNeil brain Dr. Barnes with a punch bowl (to induce amnesia about his tryst with Dr. Phillip). Dr. Phillip seduced Regina Sutton (in contravention of the 10 foot rule), despite the interference of Bantam Whaley's ghost, and Dupont successfully sacrificed Rev. Talley without raising The Roach's ire.

Barnes did not have a scene for the Christmas party, M had to leave the table for about 15 minutes after her scene in the Follies and was lost by the machinations that occurred in her absence (due to the time constraints, we soldiered on while she was away).

Barnes was the only character unroached at the end of the game, and so she narrated the end of the game. Barnes ended up in going mad in a hospital, Dupont ended up Chancellor of Pemberton, Dr. Phillip and Regina ended up running away to Monacoand, and McNeil ended up directing community theater. Pemberton was relatively unchanged, the Roach waiting . . . and infesting.

------
I had about 10 minutes before I had to go, and so I asked for some feedback. B mentioned how different this game felt, how instead of the usual GM-centered game, the movement of the story fell to the players, and how interesting that was. I asked the group if my constant probes and suggestions were helpful, and they all agreed I did the exactly the right amount of pushing. M, who never got comfortable with the Roach commands from the cards, commented that they felt contrived, but that overall she had a pleasant time and that it was an interesting experience. D said she had a good time. I'll ask for further comments and clarifications from them, and ask them to post them here (or post their comments for them).

Overall B got the most comfortable with the system and needed no needling or prodding by the final Event. D and M never fully grasped any of the components, although they both got into narrating outcomes and understood the basic die mechanic and the use of their Interests and Enthusiasms, as well as the function of the Roach. The cards, in particular, posed a special problem. Ex: in the third act, M, unroached, played her 'RUIN' card, stripping B of two reputation. She thought that this was her entire turn, narrating how Exposed exposed McNeil as a dirty plagiarizer. This was understandable, as when she followed the Roach's command it was her turn, and the setting of stakes as turn had apparently been fuzzily communicated.  A failure in my ability to explain the mechanics of the game, not a fault of the game itself.

Also, all the players at one point wanted to put their Full Professorship up as a stake. I had explained how a stake should be something that's important to their character, but couldn't explain well enough that it couldn't be the mechanical Full Professorship, or the life of one of their fellow PC players. I ended up just stating that neither death nor position were available as stakes, and this seemed to go over well, although I still felt I had adequately explained why.

Despite these snags the afternoon went well, and I enjoyed introducing the game to my friends. There was a lot of hearty laughter, especially as the game started getting out of control during the Follies and Christmas Party. I'm sure if we had done all 6 Events the narrative threads would have been clearer, the rules would've clicked more, and the ending more satisfying than sudden. I'm hoping to give it another try at a larger gathering of friends, armed with feedback from this thread. D's husband, G, was present, but had a touch of Bronchitis, and mentioned he'd be interested in playing the game at a later date. So, all together a flawed, if hopeful, outing.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2006, 10:58:39 AM »

Thanks for posting this, Remi! 

That's the first time I've seen academic standing come up as a potential stake, and while you did the right thing in saying it was off the table (just like PC death), I'm not certain it would have screwed anything up too badly had somebody become a luminary or been kicked out and become a townie. 

Truncating the game to three acts is definitely limiting - not a lot of back and forth, or reputation building/destroying is possible.  Only a few cards in play.  That said, if you only have a couple of hours, what can you do?  It sounds to me like you did an excellent job given the constraints in place. 

I'm very interested in M's experience, and would like to tease out which parts of her difficulty stem from the game itself (specific techniques and so forth) and which do not (her negative history with RPGs, playing with her boyfriend). 

The roach suit at the Follies was a nice touch.  And when sacrificing clergy, keeping it Kosher is really the right thing to do.  Follow up with a salt brine and the meat is simply divine

--Jason
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Remi Treuer
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« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2006, 12:42:57 PM »

That's the first time I've seen academic standing come up as a potential stake, and while you did the right thing in saying it was off the table (just like PC death), I'm not certain it would have screwed anything up too badly had somebody become a luminary or been kicked out and become a townie.

I don't think that it would have been too bad with this group, but I think it gives play a gameable angle that it didn't have before, which might be detrimental with a more rules-savvy group, as well as pulling attention away from personal connections and the story the characters creat.

Truncating the game to three acts is definitely limiting - not a lot of back and forth, or reputation building/destroying is possible.  Only a few cards in play.  That said, if you only have a couple of hours, what can you do?  It sounds to me like you did an excellent job given the constraints in place.

Yeah, I would have gone for an even four if I thought we could, but turns were taking a lot of time. I almost wish I had just ended in the middle, but I think ending the game unsatisfactorily might have been the better option than just stopping in the middle. B keyed onto the fact that unroached 'victory' was essentially meaningless, but it's still a goal, and removing that would have been disappointing.

I'm very interested in M's experience, and would like to tease out which parts of her difficulty stem from the game itself (specific techniques and so forth) and which do not (her negative history with RPGs, playing with her boyfriend).

I will ask her. Of all the people in the room, I knew her the least well, but I will pass on your request.

I will be paying special attention to how you explain the Roach this weekend.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2006, 12:52:48 PM »

Hello,

In a game I've played, a player did put up his character's Full Prof academic standing as a stake. He lost and became an Assistant Prof. We rolled dice for him according to his new standing for the rest of the game.

It worked fine, and I suggest that it's a perfectly reasonable event in this game. The rules to handle it are no different from reversing the rules for promotion.

Best,
Ron
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2006, 01:05:41 PM »

There aren't any rules for promotion during the game.  There are cards that change your standing, though.  My only concern would be a player pushing themselves to either extreme - D4/D10 or D10/D4 - and then repeatedly framing conflicts that allow them to bring those D10s to bear over and over.  Maybe that's just being a dick and is self-correcting. 

--Jason
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2006, 02:06:14 PM »

I'm having a head-banging on wall sensation.

When I say "rules for promotion," I am talking about the cards. Once a card promotes you, you use the dice for your new rank. Easy. Rules. Trying not to grit teeth.

The Roach is a wonderful game and I like reading about and playing it. Signing off now.

Best,
Ron
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Remi Treuer
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« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2006, 06:17:13 AM »

G sent me some comments about the game in e-mail.  Here they are, without comment.
--------
it may be worth noting there that the folks without RPG experience
were drained at the end of the game as it stood. Compressing the game
may have brought it short  of a gamer's ideal, but it would not have
gone on much longer than it did if you'd been able to stay.

I think a lot more non-RPGers would have fun playing if games
including newcomers had runtimes  (INCLUDING time used explaining
rules: budget 45 mins or so for a game with as much to explain as the
Roach) held down to two hours and a bit. Most card and board games
that go over well with newbies clock in at around that time, or are
shorter. (Most card and board games are a lot easier to explain to
newcomers, granted. Hell, chess - which looks very complicated, and
can easily be - is an order of magnitude easier to explain than all
but the most bare bones of RPGs.) People trying something new both
work harder at it and have less stamina for it than experienced folk.

So I mean to say that: If there was a condensed version of the Roach
explicitly designed to be played in three or four stages, as a teaser
for newbies and a filler for folks faced with a time cruch, it would
probably go over well with those folks.
-------
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2006, 07:46:30 AM »

Wow, thanks for that.  It mirrors my own experience with people new to the gaming scene and the Roach, and really hits on the time thing.  Since I need to figure out the optimal way to demo the game, this is great feedback to get. 
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