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Author Topic: Roach Convention Demo - Feedback Requested  (Read 14647 times)
Jason Morningstar
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« on: May 22, 2006, 10:16:10 AM »

Hey freinds,

I'm working up a convention demo for The Roach and I'd like some comments, particularly from experienced Gen Con demo monkeys and hardcore Roachists.  Here's what I've got so far: 

* * *

THE SEQUENCE OF DEMO PLAY, IN REVIEW

CHECK YOURSELF

Be excited!  Be clean.  Smile.  Wear a name tag.

STUFF

Dice:  You'll need a bunch from d4 to d12.

Character sheets:  There are five double-sided character sheets.  The laminated character sheets have a name, description, department, two enthusiasms and standing filled out.  They also have a card printed on them, Roach side up - anybody playing the demo is Roached.  The demo facilitator is not Roached (just read your Opportunity upside-down).  The character sheet also has a description of the die mechanic. and an arrow pointing left or right, toward their Roach target.   

Event Cheat Sheet:  Double sided, each side with an event on it (The Follies and the Wine and Cheese Social) with a description, pictures and names of the three Pembertonians, and three other interesting people or groups, all with their standing noted.

Mechanics Cheat Sheet:  A page with a quick outline of the die mechanic and sequence of play. 

HOW WE ROLL

A demo will have two new players and yourself.   Grab somebody from the crowd if necessary.  "Hey!  I need somebody to swallow a cockroach and destroy the world here!" should work.  You can also play with three and yourself, but you'll probably go over the time limit if you do.

Get your player's names.  Explain that the game can be played PG, R, or extra spicy, but that you'll be playing R.

Give everyone a character sheet at random.  If anyone isn't happy, tell them to flip it over and pick between those two.  No dithering!

Have everybody check out their starting Reputation, which varies more or less randomly, and explain that you may have won or lost in previous Scenes. 

Pick an event for the demo and show the cheat sheet.  Explain the nature of the Pemberton Follies (it is a yearly all-campus talent show) or the Wine and Cheese Social (It is a make-or-break social preening for junior faculty).  Review the three Pembertonians who need to make an appearance.  Identify the other three available NPCs. 

Players all have Roach-bound characters, so they must obey their command, directed at the person their arrow points to. 

You, demo guy, have a Roach-Free character.  You get to decide on a target for your card openly.  Gloat about it.

START PLAYING!

Take turns framing Scenes, starting with you.  Everyone frames a scene, hopefully following your lead.  Make your initial scene strong, clear, and procedurally demonstrative.

In each Scene, the player in the spotlight wagers from one to five Reputation (up to the amount their character has on hand), frames the scene, and sets the stakes of the conflict.  He then introduces player characters and NPCs, and assigns Pembertonians and others to other players.

The other player not already involved may elect to enter the Scene.  Anyone who does so must stake a single point of Reputation.  He may then narrate in his own character and additional NPCs if he chooses.  If you have zero Reputation, you can still wager (and maybe win) one.

The interaction is played out, ending with die rolling to resolve the conflict.

The player with the highest single die narrates the results.

The spotlight player gains or loses the amount of Reputation he wagered, depending on how the conflict turns out.

Any other player on the winning side of a conflict gains one point of Reputation.  Any other player on the losing side loses one point. 

The end!  Shake hands, give them cards, mention other interesting/related games based on their play and feedback (Breaking the Ice, Mountain Witch seem likely, maybe Capes, Polaris, who knows?).  Point them to the IPR rack.

* * *

That's it - comments?
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2006, 10:49:20 AM »

OK, a direct question - should the character sheets (with contact information) be pre-printed paper rather than laminated, so that people can carry them off? 
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2006, 10:54:57 AM »

Seems good to me. I could run it based on that. You'll want to lay it out distinctively, with big titles and so on, to make it easy to internalize and use as reference if necessary. Laminate too, while you're laminating the character sheets anyway. You might consider snipping the mechanics explanation in the latter part; anybody going to demo will know the rules already well enough to not need it, or am I wrong? The shorter you make it, the easier it'll be. One sheet, if possible.

How long does a scene of Roach take? I've not played it, so no idea. It seems to me you'll take around 2 minutes in set-up, so that leaves 13 for the scenes. The faciliator scene will probably take double whatever the next scenes will. Do you manage it under six minutes? Try at home.

I suggest adding a couple of options for starting scenes for the faciliator. As he'll be starting and the characters are premade, you can surely write down some appropriate ideas. The trick is, you get the best moves by actually playing the demo through some times. In my experience I create a standard repertoire of moves in these short demos after playing it through five times anyway, so you might as well do that part for the monkeys yourself and write down the results. If they don't work for the person in question, they can always think up their own. As an example, my Fastlane demo always starts with the concierge warning the mob boss of the ambush directed at her daughter - I run on autopilot for the first half of the demo, pretty much, and only need to deviate at the very end based on player reaction.

Then again, I don't usually write demos for others to read, so it might be that that kind of structure can't be internalized without playing yourself. I don't know. And yes, I realize that I recommend making it short in the first paragraph and adding detail in the third. Tricky business, trying to write a demo for another person.

--

Answer to the short question: I'd prefer laminated, but I'm a sucker for the toy quality. And I also use and reuse a demo in several conventions, so having the materials laminated lessens the hassle considerably.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2006, 11:19:08 AM »

Thanks for that, Eero.  Sound advice.  I'll definitely playtest the demo, and I do worry about scene length a bit.  Any suggestions for shortening the demo are welcome - obviously a one-on-one would be quicker, but you lose the interaction that is so key to the game that way.  And I'll have the rules bits available but separate for the demo person who - as you note - shouldn't need them. 
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2006, 11:30:19 AM »

I suspect that you will not, on average, get through even one scene unless you have some very powerful direction to hit the high points and then immediately close the scene.  People are gonna have too much fun roleplaying their insectile servitude.  But playtesting and a stopwatch will tell the tale on that.

I suggest that an added prop could cut the time on explaining the "notable Pembertonians" from a minute to five seconds:  Make little standup figures of the Pembertonians, and place them on the table.  They should have portrait-art that evokes the character (which may actually be old photographs).  That way you say "These folks also need to be mentioned.  And perhaps cooked and eaten," and you're done.  People can grab (and cook and eat) the props during play.

I also recommend sticking with Ron's advice that the demo should end just before the moment where the customers achieve satisfaction.  I'd suggest that you let people try to do their Roachy master's bidding, then show them how to roll, and when they've rolled (and know that they have earned the right to narrate their success) you cut them off at that moment, put the book in their hands and point them toward the cash register.  But that's just me.  There are probably other places in the sequence to call a halt.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2006, 11:51:23 AM »

Hmm, Roach miniatures!  I like the sound of that.  I can whip up some period photographs at a minimum (Heck, I already have them).  Thanks, Tony, this is great practical advice. 
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oliof
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« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2006, 02:15:36 PM »

Jason,
after demoing the roach at NordCon, I can only advise you to keep on handing out the roaches. The demo player staying roachless might be a good idea. I will tell about my experience in another thread - there are some issues that might be interesting for any or all players of the roach.

Regards,
    Harald
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2006, 03:12:28 PM »

The point about the players wanting to savour the "role"-playing is a good one. Interestingly enough, I've found that this rarely happens in my demos if I'm running it on schedule - that is, we're all at the table with the understanding that this is just a demo, not a full session. I guess it's something in the body language, because when I use the exactly same set-up for a half-hour or two-hour session, the players also play slower and deeper. So I recommend honing that body language: be businesslike about explaining things, and don't hesitate to cut a player short, praise his move and move to the next step.

By the by, a little bit about the demo: remove the "you can enter the scene by staking a point" part, it's unnecessary in a demo. You can just tell the players that normally it's a voluntary choice, but this time we're testing the rules, and of course your character's going to be in there. Not much of a demo if you happen to have a shy player who doesn't want to get involved, is it? You could even decide to always give the second turn to the more introvert of the two players and "force" the more active player (they frequently come in pairs, you know) to come to the scene, which he'd do anyway. Likewise, you can just decide that the third scene is always such that the other player can't come in - this will shorten the game time, and if the shy player already got a turn, he won't mind getting to watch you and the active one play it out. In summation:
First turn, you: don't even mention the possibility of interference, just play it out yourself to demonstrate (hmm, I don't rightly remember if you can do that in Roach)
Second turn, the shyer player: explain how to get into the scene, let/ask the other player to come in
Third turn: come in yourself and play with the more extrovert player.
Anyway, something like that, I don't really know if this bit is a crucial freedom in the Roach. My theoretical point: always be on the lookout for ways to pace out the rules mechanics. Your demo suffers a bit with having to explain all the rules in the first scene; make a point of pacing it. For example, my DD demo (I'm always jammering about it, because I've run it, like, fifty times) has me explaining attributes and skills in the first conflict, traits and chips in the second, and the Devil in the third. Pacing.

Dramatic pacing: Tony mentioned the cliffhanger ending, which is a fine method, but not good for all games. I suspect that the Roach will benefit more from what I call the "full of stars" type of demo, where the point is to show the player how fast, how coherent, how easy the game is on getting a story running. I've had good results with, again, Dust Devils; my gunfighting demo is all about how, with a couple of deals, we can make this coherent bit that could well be a couple of crux scenes from a movie. Especially closet narrativists and mechanics-frustrated traditional players get all starry-eyed about this. The point in this kind of demo is that instead of stopping in the middle, you drive to the end fast, and with conviction. Let the other player/s make their mark in the story, and ensure that the little snippet you create together has some meaning, however trite. The basic structure I've used in DD, Under the Bed and Polaris, for example, is three conflicts: introduction, development, denouncement.

The reason I think this works better here is that IMO the cliffhanger is good for a game with developmental mechanics and a traditional roleplaying pacing, like Sorcerer, Burning Wheel or TSOY, for example. These are all games that have you develop the scene and bust out the mechanics as a kind of climax. In a demo slot this often means that you only have one scene, and quite literally spend your 15 minutes in building anticipation for the one and only conflict procedure you're going to have. A game with narration-sharing contrariwise often spends a lot of time inside conflict procedure or in post-conflict narration; those games can cover quite a bit of ground in a couple of minutes, if you keep your narrations compact. As I understand the Roach and your demo, it's firmly in the "full of stars" camp; you go straight into conflict, share narration, have another conflict, and so on. I think that the demo player will walk away happy if you make an effort to string those three scenes together and tie it off at the end, so they get to see how story is made in this kind of game.

Scene length: I think it's possible to do this in fifteen, it's not any more complex than DD, say. When honing your technique, look for sentences that let you get the scene set as fast as possible, giving the players a hook. Example, from my gunfighting demo: "It's a stereotypical high noon showdown between the straightbacked sheriff Rob McCarthy and Bastard-Pete Redbeard, a feared outlaw." This is the first sentence, literally, of my demo procedure after "Do you want to be the sheriff or the outlaw?", which I ask when we're sitting down. I don't do any rules explanation at this point. The next sentence is: "Why did you return to town?" if he's playing the outlaw, and "Where did you confront him?" if he's the sheriff. My point here: I don't know if you've seen this demo stuff done before, but the expression is often ultra-condensed, carefully weighted. You can get your three scenes into the 15 minutes when you find the right sentences for your demo and pace your rules explanation in a way that's optimal for your game.
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Nicolas Crost
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« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2006, 02:41:54 AM »

Hi Jason,

I would recommend the following:
have just one or two possible charakters for the guy demoing (so he doesn't draw randomly). Each with a set start into the first scene, just like Eero suggested. This makes it much easier for the demoer to start into the scene with a catchy conflict at hand.
Also, just have one Pembertonian be there to show up in the scene. This cuts down on introducing them and choosing between them. It also makes it easier with few players.

Nicolas
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2006, 04:04:35 AM »

I'm still wedded to the notion of actually playing the game, which is clearly the wrong approach for a demo.  So yes, obviously there should be fewer Pembertonians!  This is an entirely different way of thinking and I'm not too good at it yet.  Thanks for all the advice so far - it is very useful.
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oliof
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« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2006, 11:15:28 AM »

You could even stack the cards to run in a fun way. give the demo'ed people the power-ups, and the demoist the  bad apples.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2006, 10:23:03 AM »

OK, I've substantially revised the demo and cut it waaaay down.  I've created NPC cards and I'll hand them out rather than rely on pure narrative genius.  I want it to be variable and remain interesting for repeated demos, so there are two events and a revolving cast of PCs (a total of eight, each with a fixed command) and NPCs (nine).  Let me know what you think, envisioning a ten to fifteen minute window:

PREP
Be excited!  Be clean!  Smile!  Wear a name tag!  Be awesome. 

Have dice ready - a bunch, from d4 to d12.

NPC cards:  Nine double sided cards, each side with an NPC on it, with their name and die sizes.  Pick out an NPC to be the Pembertonian for the scene.  It doesn't matter who - pick one you like that isn't the mascot or a group.  Regina Sutton is always a good choice.  Set their card in the middle of the table.
 
Character sheets:  There are four double-sided pre-filled character sheets.  Every participant should have one.  The mix doesn't matter at all.  Paper clip two NPCs at random to each character sheet - everybody should have two. 

Pick an event for the demo, and have the related cheat sheet handy.

A demo will have two new players and yourself.   Grab somebody from the crowd if necessary.  "Hey!  I need somebody to swallow a cockroach and destroy the world here!" should work.  You can also play with three and yourself, but you'll probably go over the time limit if you do.  Don't try to demo the game for only one player.

SETTLE IN QUICKLY
Get your player's names and give them the thirty second overview.  Explain that the game can be played PG, R, or extra spicy, but that you'll be playing R.  Or PG, if you feel that's a better bet.  Don't play extra spicy under any circumstances.

While you are giving the overview, hand everyone a character sheet at random.  Tell them to flip it over and pick between those two.  No dithering!  Tell them to look at their two NPCs (both sides) and pick one from each card.  No dithering!

Explain the event - the nature of the homecoming football game (it is a yearly throw-down against rival Miskatonic) or the Wine and Cheese Social (It is a make-or-break social preening for junior faculty). 

Review the Pembertonian who needs to make an appearance.  Explain that anybody can narrate them in on either side.

Explain the die scale and the two kinds of conflicts - power/status and everything else.  Ask them which sounds more interesting and then, gloating at your desire to win, tell them you are framing the opposite.

Explain Roach possession and hand them each a D12.  Tell them to review their Roach command and find a way to act on it during the scene.  That is their most important goal, and when they act on it, they get an extra D12.  You, demo guy, have a Roach-Free character (read your card upside-down).  Gloat about it.

START PLAYING!
Frame the scene.  Make your initial scene strong, clear, and procedurally demonstrative, using the cheat sheet.  Specifically narrate in your NPCs and the other player characters.  Use an expertise and enthusiasm.  Start with your personal die, and put more dice on the table as you narrate elements in.

Invite the players to react, narrate in their own NPCs, use their enthusiasms and expertise, and fulfill their Roachy command. 

The interaction is played out, ending with die rolling to resolve the conflict.  Figure out who wins.  The player with the highest single die narrates the results.

Things to mention about the "full" game:  Reputation, everybody getting a chance to frame a scene in each of six events, nine different Pembertonians coming and going, and 80 different commands and opportunities.

The end!  Shake hands, give them cards or other prizes, mention other interesting/related games based on their play and feedback (Breaking the Ice, Mountain Witch, Capes, Polaris, whatever).  Point them to the IPR rack.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2006, 11:00:57 AM »

Explain the die scale and the two kinds of conflicts - power/status and everything else.  Ask them which sounds more interesting and then, gloating at your desire to win, tell them you are framing the opposite.

Explain Roach possession and hand them each a D12.  Tell them to review their Roach command and find a way to act on it during the scene.  That is their most important goal, and when they act on it, they get an extra D12.  You, demo guy, have a Roach-Free character (read your card upside-down).  Gloat about it.

What's with the gloating? In the first instance, aren't you gloating about the player being stupid enough to reveal his truthful preference to you? In the second, you're gloating about having given yourself a better character (has to be better, for otherwise you surely wouldn't gloat).

Perhaps less gloating is warranted...
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TonyLB
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« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2006, 11:09:28 AM »

Good-natured gloating.  The Roach-bound character is totally the better character (on the whole) to have for the demo ... that doesn't mean you can't gloat about the specific ways that your puny human is better.  The whole point is to give the Roach-bound guy tacit permission to absolutely revel in the fact (later) that their roachy little d12 smacks your puny human d10s around without mercy.

I think.  Yes?
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2006, 11:26:14 AM »

Eero, I intend it to be very good natured; maybe it doesn't read that way.  It's a page from Tony's book - be challenging and a little confrontational to get them eager to engage with you and, hopefully, smack you down.  I really don't want to insult anybody, particularly a potential customer!  Does that make sense? 

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