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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 143 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach] They Ate His Heart Out.  (Read 6403 times)
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« on: April 11, 2006, 03:00:21 PM »

Hello All,

The other night one of my Dogs players had to leave a little early so the rest of us, Matt, myself and my wife Meghann decided to take The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach out for a spin.  The game lasted about 4 hours and this meant that the game ended at about two in the morning.  I think a bit of fatigue affected the end game somewhat.

I've been trying to figure out how to write this game up.  Discussing it is a bit difficult.  A large portion of the game revolved around what should have been a scandalous affair between my character and my wife's character.  Her character's background as a former berlesque dancer didn't help things.  The fact that her character was Roached from Event One didn't help things either.  So my character ended up being a sub to her dom.  This problematic situation was so strong I fear that Matt's character got slightly marginalized.

His character was Roached from Event Two and he decided that his Roach was trying to be The Alpha Roach and so you ended up with this bizzare triangle of submission and domination that, now that I think about it, wasn't used as effectively as it could have.  You had Matt's character trying to subdue my wife's character who was trying to subdue my character.

All this was tempered by the fact that for the first three events in a row I pulled Opportunity cards that were things that affected every scene in the event and they were all postiive.  So, I interpreted that what should have been a horribly scandalous situation was, in fact, working out to my character's benefit. I described the whole of the student body and my fellow "boy's club" academics patting me on the back for having "scored."

By Event Three the love affair was over and so I decided to switch focus.  See, the background I had written down for my character was, "young idealist incapable of seeing others faults."  So when he was dumped that's when he caught on that, "something is horribly wrong at Pemberton" and began trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  At the football game he tried to convince The Chaplain to perform an exorcism and at the Senate faculty meeting he tried to get the faculty to agree to open an investigation.  All of this failed.

Then, after surviving for five events, I drew a Roach card.  At that point I knew my character was more or less dead inside.  My command was "Betray This Person."  Since my wife's character was the target it was a little difficult for me to figure out to betray someone who already hated me.  So I interpreted the card to mean a betrayal of how much my character cared about her.  I narrated myself going up to her, hugging her, and then,  "having my roachy way with Regina Sutton on the floor."

That action didn't go over quite the way I intended.  I had intended it to be a kind of, "I leap on her and as I tear her clothing, we fade to black," moment but paritally due to the fatigue factor I don't think I got that across.  In fact, I got a couple of requests to "be more specific" and to go into exactly what happens to me afterwards.  I figured that since we'd used all the NPCs, and everyone was roached that final brutal action from the one guy who had at least tried to do the right thing would make a nice ending.  However, my wife had her scene left and she decided to use it.  She narrated her character confronting me with Regina.  At this point we violated one of the rules but since it was the end of the game I didn't mind.  We made the stakes, my character's life.  Despite my Roach, I lost and my wife's character ate my character's heart.

General observations from around the table:

The Roach doesn't handle intimate character drama very well.  I don't think any of us think it should or even expected it to.  However, at one point this fact really upset Meghann who was trying to have a "heart-to-heart" with my character and I narrated in my friend James who I invented in scene one and "the young radical" Pembertonian who had early nearly been murdered by Matt's character.  I brought them in because by that point I had kind of seen us three as the younger radical/idealist crowd who were the only ones who could see that something was wrong.  They were my backup when Meghann's character accosted me.  As I said, this really upset her.

With only three players the game felt very clausterphobic.  Including all three Perbertonians in each of the events was difficult because we were so wrapped up in our own problems that including them in on it all seemed forced.  I was surprised since this is exactly the opposite reaction I had when playing Capes, another GMless game.  With Capes I don't think I would want to play with more than four and with The Roach I'm not sure I want to play with less than five.

Another thing I have observed about The Roach and definitely Capes is that being cooperative about conflicts hinders the game.  The game works better when the players take on an adversarial attitude towards each other as well as among the characters in the fiction.  It's not full bore Step On Up but it is an acquired taste of Story Now.  Announcing actions that provoke a, "like hell you are!" reaction from your fellow players can really drive the game.  I think Ron has mentioned that this happens in Polaris as well.  This works just fine for me, I'm not sure it really works for Matt and Meghann.  They can weigh in on that if they like.  However, my experience at least of Meghann is that if you've provoked a, "like hell you are" reaction from her you've actually broken her investment in the game, not commited her to stopping you.

Overall the game was very satisfying for me because it hits my short story/film/novella/theater aesthetic.  A tight narrative about one thing that resolves fully in a short period of time.  But as I said, with only three players it was almost TOO tight.  I am very much looking forward to "It Was A Mutual Decision" for similar reasons.  I am also looking forward to trying this again with five players.

Hope that was interesting.

Jesse
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Matt Kimball
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2006, 04:19:57 PM »

Hey Jesse,

Quote
Another thing I have observed about The Roach and definitely Capes is that being cooperative about conflicts hinders the game.  The game works better when the players take on an adversarial attitude towards each other as well as among the characters in the fiction.  It's not full bore Step On Up but it is an acquired taste of Story Now.  Announcing actions that provoke a, "like hell you are!" reaction from your fellow players can really drive the game.  I think Ron has mentioned that this happens in Polaris as well.  This works just fine for me, I'm not sure it really works for Matt and Meghann.  They can weigh in on that if they like.  However, my experience at least of Meghann is that if you've provoked a, "like hell you are" reaction from her you've actually broken her investment in the game, not commited her to stopping you.

It's not so much that I object to taking on an adversarial attitude while playing, it is more like I am not even sure how to have a functional game while taking an adversarial attitude toward the other players.  You mention "Step On Up" above, and I'm not even sure how Step On Up necessitates an adversarial attitude toward the other players.  Maybe this analogy will help explain how I think about it:

If I agree to play Go with someone, I expect my opponent to do everything he can within the rules to try to win.  I also expect that of myself.  This is, I think, Step On Up in a non RPG situation, because we are playing to see who can rise to the challenge of being the better Go player.  Now, even in this situation I am not taking on an adversarial attitude toward the other player.  I'm usually pointing out my own mistakes and commenting on my opponents moves in a friendly way.  I'm maybe pointing out interesting situations on the board as they develop.  What I am not doing is -- when the game is going badly for me -- pulling out my deck of cards and suggesting that we play a game of Poker instead, because I am probably a better Poker player than this particular opponent.  If I did that, I would be an asshole, because we came there with the intention of playing Go.

Now, if we are playing the Roach, and you are creating in-game conflict that is interesting for story purposes, I have no reason to be adversarial at the player level.  In-game, character-to-character adversity is totally cool, fun and necessary, of course.  However, if your character starts building a Tardis in our Roach game, that is something that would make me adversarial at the player-level, because I'm going to be feeling that is totally inappropriate for the kind of story the Roach intends to tell.  But I'm also going to think you are the same kind of asshole that I would be if I pulled out my deck of cards when we are trying to play Go.  I'm not sure how you are going to get a player-to-player adversarial relationship out of me short of something that I would consider unacceptable, like the Tardis in the roach game.

I feel I am failing to draw a distinction between player-to-player adversarial behavior and some kind of idea of poor sportsmanship I've got in my head.  What am I failing to understand?  Can someone point me at some essay or blog entry or something that might help me?
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2006, 05:18:02 PM »

Hey Matt,

After thinking about it a little more I realize the phenomenon I'm talking about happens WAY less in The Roach then it does in a game like Capes.  This is the quote from Ron I was thinking about with regards to Polaris.
Quote
One point I made early on, which I think helped a lot, is that in Polaris, player-level disagreement and in-game fictional conflict of interest are handled in exactly the same ways. Since a great deal of this group's play-skill is based on socially/creatively agreeing on hard-core fictional conflicts of interest, that takes a little getting used to - we can start by asserting things at a highly individualized level and trust to the editing-rules to whittle things into shape through the resolution system itself.
In Dogs the stakes are negotiated among the group freely until everyone is happy.  In The Roach the stakes are the domain of the spotlight player, however, there is room to do the group negotiating thing like in Dogs which is what diminishes the effect I'm talking about.  However, no such negotiation room exists in Capes and Polaris is nothing but one big formalized negotiation game.

So these games derive some of their intensity by playing a little more selfishly creatively.  In essense it behooves me to try and introduce a Tardis because I know you'll try and stop me.  The difference between the phenomenon I'm talking about and being an actual dickweed is that I have to be as invested in putting a Tardis in the game, as you are in keeping it out.  I'm not putting a Tardis in the game to be a dickweed, I'm putting a Tardis in the game because I think it will be cool.

Capes relies on players proposing chages in story direction that the other players will hate.  Polaris relies on proposing consequences for actions that your fellow player can't accept.  In either, It isn't sufficient that two characters be in fictional conflict.  The players should be in disagreement about the course of the narrative as well.  Fictional defeat is coupled with creative defeat.  Your idea, has lost out to the idea of another player.  And as I said, this is way less necessary in The Roach but I think taking such a mindset into a game of The Roach might serve to intensify it.

Jesse



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Jason Morningstar
Member

Posts: 1428


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« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2006, 06:16:48 PM »

This is really interesting and I think I agree with Jesse.

First of all, I've played with three people twice and you're right, it creates an intense triangle by necessity and can be a little lackluster as a result.  I personally think that five players is perfect, because you can make and break weird dependencies and alliances easily, since the random directives of the Roach encourage this anyway.  Plus you can gang up on people in more interesting ways. 

The Roach is a little goofy in that the set-up is enthusiastically competitive but the level of cooperation in a very satisfying game will always be high.  You'll be challenging each other and searching for stakes that will provoke that "Oh, hell no!" reaction constantly.   There's a lot of trust involved.  Dickery is easy.
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Matt Kimball
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2006, 08:39:42 PM »

I've got a couple more comments about this game, unrelated to subject of player-to-player adversity.

First, I found the system too constraining for my tastes.  It would be my turn to frame a scene, four out of six events I was roach-bound so I was trying to figure out how to incorporate my roach-command into what I was doing, and then I'd look at the list of Penbertonians and figure that I ought to include at least one of them to carry my share, and after that I didn't feel like I had much space to do anything extra that I wanted on top of all that.  Maybe this is what Jesse means by 'claustrophobic'.  I think it would be nicer if the number of Penbertonians scaled with the number of players.

Second, the whole heart-eating business was interesting, because I think there is more to the story than Jesse tells in his post.  This was the final event, and if I remember the sequence correctly, this is just after Meghann has gotten a bit upset at Jesse for including what seems to her to be extraneous characters in what she wants to be an intimate moment between her character and his character.  Now, in the final event -- the Christmas ball, is it? -- my character has just gotten roach-free after being roachbound for the last four events.  Meghann draws the "copulate with this person" card after indiciating that I'm the target.  I suggested that we could have a scene where the conflict is whether her character sexually re-roaches my character.  Okay, so we've already got the motif of non-consensual sex with ulterior motives.  Then its the next scene where Jesse's character "has his way" with Regina.  I don't remember if I asked for clarification of his intent, but I think I wondered if it was consensual on the part of Regina or not.  As it turns out, it was not consensual. 

Then, the next scene was Meghann's scene.  She gave me the part of Regina to play, and said she was playing her own character and Jesse his own.  Then, she asks me, in character, what Regina thinks should be done to Jesse's character as punishment.  I got the feeling at the time that this was Meghann saying through the fiction "Hey, that rape of Regina wasn't so cool, don't you agree Matt?"  I suggested that a fitting punishment would be for her roached character to consume Jesse's character's still-beating heart.  And our Roach game ended on a much darker note than I expected.
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Jason Morningstar
Member

Posts: 1428


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« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2006, 04:23:35 AM »

Matt, I've seen Events where everybody ignored the Pembertonians and dumped the responsibility for introducing them onto the last person's scene, which can be pretty funny and tactically dangerous.  Although it's group consensus on what constitutes bringing in an NPC, I'm personally comfortable with the most basic name-check if that's how a scene is rolling.  In my experience folks want to throw them into conflicts because they bring fat dice. 

Your game definitely went dark - it sounds like you guys were comfortable with moving beyond the sort of horror slapstick that is Roach lingua franca.  Did you have a lines and veils discussion before you started play? 
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2006, 08:57:23 AM »

Matt,

What you're describing is exactly what I mean by clausterphobic.  There was enough conflict between the PCs without draging the Pembertonians into it.

Jason,

I'm not very fond of the idea of The Roach as a slapstick game.  I think your description of the game as, "a dark comedy of manners" is spot on.  To me the comedy is best when the fictional characters are played straight, taking everything they do with the utmost seriousness, and the only one who's in on the joke is the audience.  Sure people running around doing crazy stuff at The Roach's command is funny.  But two intellectual's standing by way side pondering, "what it all means," is even funnier.

Jesse
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