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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4284 Members Latest Member: - Nicholas Mizer Most online today: 190 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [The Shab-al-Hiri Roach] At Recess  (Read 4223 times)
Jon Hastings
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« on: January 19, 2006, 07:54:48 AM »

Last Saturday, I ran a Shab-al-Hiri Roach game at Recess, nerdnyc.com's quarterly gaming event.  By "run" I mean I taught the rules, facilitated the game, and also played.  This represented a number of firsts for me: my first time running anything in a convention-type situation, my first time actually going to a convention since I was in high school, my first time playing the Roach with people I hadn't gamed with before.

Also, it was the first time I had ever played it with five other players.  Now, before arriving at Recess, I had been worried that only one or two people were going to sign up for the game.  I wasn't expecting it to fill up, and I definitely wasn't expecting it to fill up as quickly as it did.

All things considered, it went pretty well, but having six people at the table threw a number of curveballs.  For one thing, explaining the rules and doing character creation (including my favorite part, "the I like him/her because.../I hate him/her because" stuff) took much longer than I thought.  And so even though we really moved pretty quickly once we got started, we just didn't have enough time to get in a full game.  We went a half-hour over our shceduled stop time, but managed to get through only four events.

The combination of having lots of players and not enough time kind of undermined the kind of pacing I usually see when playing the game: once we decided that the Homecoming Football Game would have to be our final event, things jumped immediately from petty backstabbing faculty politics and attempted murder to apocalyptic, George Romero-style, over-the-top supernatural action.

Having six players affected the game in more ways than simply making it run more slowly.  It was much more chaotic than I am used to, and a lot of the informal rules and conventions that develop over the course of a 3-4 player game, never materialized.

Here are some of the issues that came up:

At each event we had 6 PCs and then the 3 required NPCs, which meant, at minimum, we had 9 characters running around, trying to get in on all the conflicts.  Because of this, there was a lot less need to create new NPCs and the ones that were created seemed to make things a bit too crowded.

We had a harder time establishing a coherent tone/mood that everyone was on board with.  In the final two events, the supernatural dial got turned WAY up, which not all the players seemed to like.  One of the comments from after the game was that it would be a good idea to explicitly set the dial at the beginning of the game, but, again, this has never really been a problem when I've played with fewer people.

There was a lot less role-playing out the scenes: instead we jumped very quickly into conflicts.  I'm not sure if this was simply because we were trying to get things done quickly, or something more subtle: because it was hard to get on the same page, we were more comfortable playing out conflicts - which we had explicit rules for - than we were simply playing out the scenes - where the rules regarding "who gets to say what about what" (in terms of who plays NPCs, who can add details into the scne, etc.) are relatively unstructured.

In terms of points, we actually had a pretty close game.  3 players, including me, were completely out of the running.  But we had two un-roached players with 8 and 7 reputation points, and a roached player with 9 points (I believe).  However, I think I oversold the idea that "winning" was in quotation marks, and I undermined the sense of competition.  The un-roached player with 7 points never really tried to play for the win.  It is hard to explain that you should play to win, but at the same time "winning" really isn't the point AND that the random nature of the cards takes away the option of any kind of long-term strategic play.

Again, though, this was a positive experience for me, and, I think, for most of the other players.  At least two expressed interest in playing the game again, now that they had a better idea of how it worked.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2006, 08:42:01 AM »

Hey Jon, it's cool to hear that you broke so much new ground with the Roach!  It's funny, I've started looking forward to conventions again after a twenty year hiatus. 

I've run the Roach for six and finished in four hours, so it is possible with a little prodding and the right players.  And you are absolutely right, the Pembertonians lose a little traction with a large group of player characters.  I've observed a couple things related to a larger group:

1.  Not everyone has a dog in every fight, and people who weren't engaged waited one out once in a while.

2.  The "I call bullshit" rule comes into play less, because fewer NPCs crawl out of the narrative woodwork.  It's almost as if there is some kind of equilibrium in dice on the table that the group enforces regardless of size.  This is actually a really interesting thing to me and I'm not sure if it is real or not. 

I think the optimal size for a Roach game is actually five.  Three is too small, four breaks into evenly-matched factions, and six starts to introduce the sorts of metagame issues you've described. 

--Jason
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2006, 08:44:29 AM »

Oh, and on the supernatural dial - my very favorite way to play is for that to escalate along with everything else, in measured progression.  It's not as satisfying when it leaps up at the end, which occasionally happens.  I think you could discuss this openly, along with lines and veils, particularly with people who had played before. 

Speaking of which, did you have a lines and veils discussion and, if so, where were the boundaries set? 
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2006, 08:55:13 AM »

Had we played the entire game or known, from the beginning, that it would be a four event game, the pacing of the supernatural stuff would probably have worked better.

We did have a lines and veils discussion, and, I believe we settled on an "R" rating for the game.  I don't think we had any actual sex scenes, but seduction and adultery came up in almost every event.

We also had a lot more splatterstick-style gore: this game was pretty close to "Re-Animator" in some ways, where my previous games have been more like gonzo versions of "Sweeney Todd".

I think the equilibrium thing is definitely real: I've noticed it in every game I've played.
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