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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 169 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Shab al-Hiri Roach] The Joy of Depravity  (Read 5005 times)
Mark Woodhouse
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Posts: 121


WWW
« on: December 29, 2005, 07:38:42 AM »

The Shab al-Hiri Roach was the inaugural game for my Sunday Short Subjects group (basically a variation of the Stealth Gaming meme - pick a day, see who can come and what they pick off a menu of games playable in a single session or 2).

We had a great session with the Roach, ending with the Winter Ball in shambles, dozens of Pembertonians roach-enslaved by the contaminated punchbowl, and a heartbroken Regina Sutton cradling the shattered Professor Entwood who had just been beaten nearly to death with the Virgin’s halo from the crèche. Looking on, Professor Von Klausmann led the remaining faculty in a mournful chorus of ‘Silent Night’ as the crazed archaeologist Winthrop Carter and his Roachy horde began to spill out into the unsuspecting New England night.

The game went very well – we had a few small bumps with some procedural issues, which were easily worked out among us. It was great fun.

Procedural Items

It was not clear whether it is possible to start Event #1 already (voluntarily) Roached. We went with “no.”

We had everyone choose a provisional target for Commands before drawing cards, so that if they were Roached by a card they would have a target chosen.

Comments on Play

This is a really fun game. It seems to me to capture some of the same perverse glee that I recall from very PvP Vampire games – coming up with inventive, vile ways to mete out over-the-top cruelty to your rivals. I was utterly dominated in the first Event – reduced to 0 Reputation, and shoved off a balcony into a hawthorn bush. Taking on the Roach and setting out to punish my abuser was great fun – especially finding ways to twist and work around the constraints of Commands and still pursue my vendetta against Entwood.

I felt very little motivation to pursue the nominal ‘winning condition’ (although I did end with 10 Reputation, it was mostly the result of winning contests incidental to my vendetta). Once I had a in-the-fiction motivation running and was Roached up, I figured I only had a small chance of getting free of the Roach exactly when I wanted to. Too soon, and I couldn’t crush Entwood. If the Roach card had come in the final scene, I might have gone for the win, but I’m kind of glad it didn’t.

I don't quite know how to classify the game. It seems to me that it supports a variety of approaches, and I can see how it could go incoherent very easily under some circumstances. Maybe Larry or Kathy can comment - I think they were engaging with the 'win the game' component more than Aaron and I - who were definitely into the 'be a monster' component.

‘Eat Until You Burst’ is a marvelous Command. I totally terrified Gerard-Bompus by eating mushroom dip right out of his beard.
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Jason Morningstar
Member

Posts: 1428


WWW
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2005, 11:15:51 AM »

...Regina Sutton cradling the shattered Professor Entwood who had just been beaten nearly to death with the Virgin’s halo from the crèche.
Thanks for that.  You've brightened my holiday.

Quote
It was not clear whether it is possible to start Event #1 already (voluntarily) Roached. We went with “no.”
The answer is actually "yes", but it's a small point.  Were you using the Game Chef rules?  To be clear, you had a total of three participants, right?

Quote
We had everyone choose a provisional target for Commands before drawing cards, so that if they were Roached by a card they would have a target chosen. 
Official rule is pick a target pre-draw if Roached, pick post-draw if free.

Quote
I felt very little motivation to pursue the nominal ‘winning condition’
I've never encountered a problem with players focusing on different agendas.  In games that mix ferociously competitive players with insanely story-focused players, it seems to work just fine as long as nobody is a dick. 

Quote
I can see how it could go incoherent very easily under some circumstances.
I'd like to hear more about this, and I'd definitely like to hear from the other players with differing goals.  I'm so glad you had fun!

--Jason
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Larry L.
Member

Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2005, 10:32:46 PM »

Wow. Just today I was thinking to ask if anyone wanted to do an AP for this game, and Mark goes and eerily reads my mind.

Jason, we had four. We were using the IGC edition.

My observations -- Not necessarily features or bugs:

We had fun. Backstabbing academic comedy seemed to be the tone.

There seemed to not actually be much in the way of horror in this game. With the exception of Kathy's (disgusting!!!) infested punchbowl, the roach didn't seem to have any effect on color. It seemed functionally equivalent to a dice buffing effect. Players could be affected by the Sombrero of Wackiness and I don't think the game would play differently. Kind of a let down for an ancient vermin god.

The real strategy to winning conflicts turned out to be playing to the players of the NPCs, whose dice could be shifted from one side of the conflict to the other.

My victory at the end seemed to be less a result of careful strategy and more due to the dumb luck of getting a roach card in the final event. The other players had more reputation tokens at the end. The perk for winning ending up being narrating the close of the last scene, which was all right with me.

The rules, in terms of procedures, seem noticably more nebulous than other GM-less games I've played. I might write more about this later, if I can figure out a constructive way to explain it.

Mark had an easel-sized sheet of paper on the wall with the NPC names, role, and dice listed. It made keeping track of characters simple.

Hey... are players supposed to reveal their card to the other players after drawing? 'Cause we did, and I wasn't sure how we had arrived at that consensus. Maybe you keep your card hidden until you use it?

Every game is better with red wine. What a pleasant coicidence that wine is an (otherwise conspicuously contrived) element of the game!
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Jason Morningstar
Member

Posts: 1428


WWW
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2005, 06:07:35 AM »

It's true that the Roach isn't a straight-up horror game, although where the dials are set really depends on who is playing.  I've had some truly horrific moments, but I've also had games that were pure comedy.

The victory conditions are a polite fiction, really.  In my experience people tend to set their own goals - some want to "win", some want to explore the edges of depravity, some want to stick it to the man.  There is some strategy in optimizing conflicts, but there is also a big chunk of luck involved.

Your comments about procedures are very valid for the IGC version.  The print version is much improved in every respect.

Quote
Hey... are players supposed to reveal their card to the other players after drawing?
Both ways work, and there's no real reason to hide your card.  It is usually more fun to spring it on somebody, though. 

Thanks for your comments!  It's really valuable for me to hear from play groups that don't have me in them.
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Kesher
Member

Posts: 174


« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2005, 02:22:52 PM »

Well, I had three-fourths of a reply here, and then my son hit the "esc" key...  sigh.  That's what I get for not playing Hotwheels when I'm told to...

Anyhow, let's see... I played Prof. Peter Michael James Entwood, Chair of the Anglo Saxon Dept.  I began the game Roached, with the Enthusiasms of Cruelty and Self Destruction, so how could the game NOT be fun!  I began the game by pitching Mark's character off a balcony to the cheers of approving coeds, so that was good, too.  I must say that Self Destruction really allows you to do horrible things, things that will probably catch up with you in the end, but that also allow the gaining, strangely, of much reputation.  Especially while Roached.

I had a vague strategy at the begining of dumping the Roach in the last round after gaining a bunch of reputation, but man, I really wanted just one more crack at Von Klausmaan; not that it did me any good...  Damn Krauts...

I have to agree with Larry that the Roach didn't seem to add much "horror" to the mix, though some of that may have been simply because some of the Commands lend themselves more to comedy.  There would have been trouble, however, had I pulled "You Must Copulate with This One", combined with my particular Enthusiasms...  Kathy did ratchet it up at the end, however, by spewing Roach eggs into the punch.  In retrospect, I'd probably create more non-system Roach events like that, just to add atmosphere.

NPCs:  One of the really enjoyable parts of the game for me was being assigned random npcs to play in other people's scenes; fending off Carter's attempts to eat mushroom dip out of Gerard-Bompus' beard was, well, memorable to say the least.  I'm wondering if there's any more advice on playing npcs in the "finished" rules; I think it'd be useful in setting expectations for how this kind of thing might affect die rolls.  Not that we had any problem, I guess, but it'd be interesting to me, at least, if the "named" npcs had some spelled out agendas of their own.  They were sorta faceless to me, and some initial notes on their personalities or even appearances would've me in the visualization of the setting (since they are, I guess, essentially dynamic aspects of the setting...) 

Anyhow, I'm rambling.  It was a blast.  As a side note, I think it's eminently playable with the non-gaming crowd.  Easy mechanics, a clear goal, over in three or four hours.  I might try it with pre-gen characters at a Halloween party.  Good stuff.  I look forward to the published version!

Aaron

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Jason Morningstar
Member

Posts: 1428


WWW
« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2005, 06:27:08 AM »

Thanks Aaron.  It'd work just fine with pre-gens, although setting up a character is so fast I don't think it is really necessary.  If you do run it as a party game, let me know how it turns out!  One of my friends insists that the Roach is more "party game" than RPG anyway.  Semantics...

Cruelty and self-destruction is a killer combo.  That, combined with a card like "MURUB - attempt to copulate with this one" is definitely one of the reasons I included having a discussion of lines and veils in the game.  In one of the MACE sessions, that card was played (on me!) in the first scene, and the game began with a successful homosexual rape.  It sort of set the tone, and we were actually lucky that everyone was cool with it, because we hadn't had that discussion. 

One of the things I really enjoy about the Roach is the malleability of the named NPCs - they are different in every game and usually at least a few of them develop agendas of their own based on the actions of PCs.  It's true that the entire field of nine always seems to include a few that are just die-boosting tools, but it's always a different few.  In the best games people latch on to the named NPCs to further their own agendas and continue threads started by other players, stacking bodies like cordwood along the way.  There's some discussion of this in the final rules.
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