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Author Topic: [Shab-Al-Hiri Roach] You are Chancellor, and on this Rock I'll build my wing  (Read 5483 times)
Alex F
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« on: April 12, 2006, 01:00:49 PM »

We had ourselves some roachplay Sunday. My net was cast wide but my player pool must be minnows as they wriggled through the holes. I ended up snaring a few whoppers: John, who I've known since forever and have been playing Dogs with this year, and James, a friend from uni who I hadn't played with before. All of us are in a gaming renaissance, returning to play after years in the wilderness, and for James this began with this game. I've invited them both to post to this thread, and I'm going to focus on my perspective and not fret too much about qualifying everything and representing everyone. Guys, if I'm talking crap, I expect you to step up and say so.

Social contract: tight. John and James hadn't met, but I correctly figured we all had similar interests and sense of humour. We all agreed up-front that we considered ourselves up for as extreme content as we could produce, and there was no point where  this seemed challenged. Similarly, there was no dickage at the table, and everyone seemed happy to call out narration that felt weak, without making a thing of it.

I got a PC for the first time since...our game of GURPS aliens/predator in 1993? Yay! Making a character is fun. I played Prof Vera Cartwright, a tough old biddy with a sense of self-importance and machiavellian ways. Vera: Medieval Lit, Wit, Manipulation. John was Prof Cedric Rove: Game Theory, Status, Pleasure, and James was Justin Wong: Chinese history, deception, gossip.

We didn't experience pacing problems (except possibly the final event); perhaps we hadn't grokked how far the narrative control took us, but personally I felt very happy pursuing my petty agendas and committing murder on the personal scale. We were seeing a couple of deaths per event, on the whole.

I was Roached from the off, and I spent the game enjoying the liberties that offered me. I was the only one who got Roach cards (three!) so it left the others deliberating on how they should play the game. James bought in when he drew an unwelcome opportunity, whereas John stuck it out til the beginning of the last event. They both have some opinions on the enjoyability of non-Roachness, and the victory conditions that reward this, but I didn't experience this directly so I'll leave it to them to address.

Jason, in another thread you and others suggest that 3 players is not ideal. Our experience for the game as written matches up to this. Firstly, we gave up trying to meaningfully interact with all 3 named NPCs in each event. It forced us to consider people we weren't necessarily interested in, and drowned out the presence of the NPCs we generated on the fly. Including the ghost of Columbo. So you can see why I bring it up.

 Also, we felt that with the composition of the cards, only having a total of 3 deployed per event was contributing too little momentum. This was especially true when we were drawing one or more non-dynamic cards, such as 'lower your personal die size for this event'. (That said, I realise that it was down to us to some extent to inject energy into even these cards - perhaps narrating how the roach has burrowed somewhere uncomfortable, and spend the event walking gingerly with a bulge in the crotch...)

I know John felt that trying to experience the game non-Roached left him feeling a little deprotagonised. I also now wonder whether the massive escalation of the last event, triggered by him eating the Roach and enslaving all the sorority girls as his bloody love-slaves, was a reaction to getting less of the fun earlier, rather than because he really wanted that to happen. John?

All in all, I had a really good time, and laughed hella hard. My highlights:
-Vera tipping the chancellor from his wheelchair (that I had put him in) into the foundations of the new College wing I coveted, and burying him alive in cement
-A really cool scene, that promised to be a mess but somehow worked, where the three of us played Cedric, Justin, Regina Sutton, her brother, his girlfriend, the Reverend, a backroom bar bouncer and the bandleader of a hot jazz group
-Cedric's play-within-a-play in the Pemberton follies showcasing our earlier murders to make us crack, Claudius-style
-Weedy Justin trying to fix a football game and spending the rest of the game in a full body cast, half due to having to substitute for the opposing side, and half beat by Triads afterwards
-Vera sitting through the senate meeting, paralysed by Justin's blowpipe (running up his arm within his cast, natch), with two bodies strung up from the chandelier, and another slumped in another chair - and the senate totally failing to notice

Hopefully the others will post, as I know they had some specific system-issues to bring to the table.
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John A
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Posts: 6


« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2006, 03:23:13 PM »

Hey this is John, the player of Prof Cedric Rove.  I'll try to keep this snappy.

I used to game with Alex when we were kids and I've just come back to it - 1 game of Dogs so far (fun - really like the way the dice mechanics help narration), so this was the second game I've played in my adult phase.  The character I had in mind was an economics professor with very little moral fibre and a very large libido.  I had dark visions of a game spent pursuing a single student utilising a series of disturbing mind-games.  Would I even need the roach?  However as I started as the first non-roach-ed I began to think of my character becoming the hero (albeit a thoroughly reprehensible one) uncovering the dark forces at work in Pemberton.

This eventually manifested itself as a series of stakes.  The chancellor was attacked in event 1 and so I narrated in a policeman (Colombo) in event 2.  Do the roaches implicate themselves or does Colombo suspect me?  (2 roaches vs me - I lose)  OK cool - nice twist.  Alex murders the chancellor and tries to intimidate Bompus.  Event 3, does my mousetrap-esque play cause the roaches and Bompus to panic?  (2 roaches vs me - I lose).  Event 4, I'm beginning to get disheartened so I skip a go because we a running late.  Event 5, I've "won" since no-one has drawn a roach card.  So I take the roach and massively escalate to a "sorority-girl bloody love-slave scene" as an over-reaction to a general feeling of lack of investment in the game.  It didn't really fit - I just wanted to have a play with the roach die (the d12) to see what it could do.

Generally speaking I lost every stake (either in my spotlight or the other) and was completely dominated by the roach players.  I had zero reputation for nearly all game and by about event 3 I didn't feel that I had any narrative stake in the game and so I emotionally withdrew from the game.

On the plus side GM-less play was really fun and playing PCs and NPCs simultaneously meant that I ended up acting more and we were all doing voices (hence Colombo).  I think that much of my lack of enjoyment was a consequence of my gaming inexperience and unlike the Dogs game I had played I had not read the rule-book nor read any actual play to get a feeling for the system.  For example problems over messy stakes, what is "academic" and what is "everything else", when to use the expertise dice etc.

Generally I would play it again but I have strong reservations over the dice mechanics, which I'll elucidate in my next post.

John.
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John A
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2006, 04:37:33 PM »

My reservation over the dice mechanics is that the roach dice (d12s) are incredibly powerful because of the largest roll wins mechanic.  In order to test this I ran some simulations and did a little maths. 

In our game it was mostly d8s (Prof in academic setting) vs d12s (roaches).  In such a situation the d12s obviously have a big advantage since there is 25% chance that a d12 will roll 9 or higher and then it behaves like a d8.  In fact 1d12 vs 3d8 is 50/50 either way.  Which I think is a little biased when you consider that the roach player then gets their d8s as well.  The real problem comes when you have 2 roaches against 1 non-roach player as happened often to me.  In this case 2d12 might as well just do what they want since 2d12 vs 2d8 will win 79% of the time.  In fact even 100d8 will lose 62% of the time!  This happens because the probability that 2d12 will roll 9 or higher on one dice is 44%.  Even with d10s, it’s only 50/50 for 5d10 vs 2d12!

Perhaps this is intentional but to my mind the odds are too far in the roaches favour, making playing a non-roached PC frustrating.  I don’t mind the roaches having the edge in the game but I think these odds (particularly the 2d12 vs d8 odds) are far beyond an “edge”.  Just to be clear, I’m not worried about the odds in terms of “winning” the game but rather in terms of narrative control.  There seems little point in setting stakes and having conflicts (or getting involved in others’) when the odds are so highly stacked against you.  The only way to get odds in your favour is to play in isolation, set stakes that will split the roaches or take the roach.

When I realised around event 3 that the odds were stacked against me, I emotionally disinvested from the game.  I felt that my spotlights were just a bad-GM role where I’d set up a scene and then the others could do what they liked.  Also with little possibility that the scene would develop in a direction I’d wanted, I was less motivated to make an effort setting things up well as I felt in some ways that it was a wasted effort.

One solution (amongst others) would be to only have one roach in the game moving from PC to PC when cards are drawn.  This would eliminate the crazy odds that arrive from 2d12.  I also think it might be an interesting dynamic in the game…
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Alex F
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2006, 03:19:48 AM »

Thanks John. In terms of helping ourselves to personal dies/tactically introducing characters we set our bar pretty high, and I wonder whether this was actually an impediment to your approach to play. That is, the introduction of more and more dice tends to level things out, especially d10s. I haven't done the math but if an unroached player angled an academic scene so they invoked the legacy of the dead chancellor, the suspicion of the dean of students, etc and a couple of extra personal dice for traits then the roach must get flattened out somewhat.

Oh, I just remembered a question that came up several times: if what's at stake is a decision by an NPC, does that NPC's dice get rolled in against the spotlight character, or do they play no part in the conflict? If I'm trying to persuade Regina sutton to sleep with me, and other players are trying to undermine me, do they get her die, or is she just a Mcguffin, not a agent of conflict per se? How about persuading her to fear and respect me, same deal?
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John A
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Posts: 6


« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2006, 05:06:45 AM »

I haven't done the math but if an unroached player angled an academic scene so they invoked the legacy of the dead chancellor, the suspicion of the dean of students, etc and a couple of extra personal dice for traits then the roach must get flattened out somewhat.

Yes but then the roaches can also narrate in an NPC or two on their side which effectively negates the dice brought in by the non-roach.  Also as I stated in the last post the non-roach would need to narrate in 5 high level academics on their side in order to make it 50/50 (against 2 roaches).  That would definitely fall foul of the bullshit rule.

John.
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Alex F
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« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2006, 05:29:34 AM »


Sure, but in your spotlight scene you needn't be fighting against 2d12s - simply put together a conflict that targets only one roached character - and you can also put together a situation that plausibly favours you in terms of npc support - if I've been going about beating up students, set it at a student party. That said, if that character is able to bring their Command to bear on you, then you will indeed be facing 2d12. But that seemed to happen more when roached players are in the spotlight: I want to bring my big guns out when I have most to gain, which is when I can stake more reputation.

NB This is all stuff I'm processing after the fact - it's not "what I would have done" but "what I would do in future".
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2006, 02:15:34 PM »

Hey guys, this is a great discussion and I'm so glad you had a good time.  Welcome back, John!  The gaming only gets weirder.  I'm aware of the gross imbalance the Roach die causes and it is intentional.  It becomes far less of a game-breaker when you have four, five, or six players.  I hope you guys get a chance to play again with a larger contingent to see the difference. 

...If I'm trying to persuade Regina sutton to sleep with me, and other players are trying to undermine me, do they get her die, or is she just a Mcguffin, not a agent of conflict per se? How about persuading her to fear and respect me, same deal?

Strictly speaking, the person who introduced Regina to the conflict would have the privilege of rolling the die for his side if he wanted, but it is good form (and more fun) to hand over the die if the NPC is in opposition.  If you were going to keep Regina's die in the conflict you outlined, I'd sure as hell want to hear some compelling narration about how Regina was helping you - which could also be pretty fun. 

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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2006, 02:55:17 PM »

On dice:

In our game, the d12s tended to decide things, too: There were so many Roaches running around that at least one of them rolled 11 or 12 much of the time. After a while, I stopped even calculating how many d8s I had, let alone rolling them, and spent my time narrating in NPCs for those juicy d10s (mostly body parts of NPCs, strictly speaking, but whatever). But we had seven players -- eight in the last event -- so you could also count on Roaches being on both sides of anything.

Now, mechanically, "high die wins" still leaves unRoached players pretty powerless as the rival Roaches contend, which is very appropriate but potentially discouraging. Here's the thing, though: With that many players, who came in on what side was often very fluid, and anyone could contribute a bit of narration or a wry aside that made a previously uninterested Roach player light up and grab for dice. So, in a strangely appropriate way, the unRoached could only exercise power by doing interesting human things.
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John A
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Posts: 6


« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2006, 03:11:48 PM »

I'm aware of the gross imbalance the Roach die causes and it is intentional.  It becomes far less of a game-breaker when you have four, five, or six players.
I figured that might be the issue (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19453.0 for anyone else out there).  Yeah it would be interesting to play with a larger number of people. 

in a strangely appropriate way, the unRoached could only exercise power by doing interesting human things.
That much I realised as I played.  Hence my statements of feeling like a bad GM.  Although coming from a different angle I suppose it could be viewed as a challenge in the use of non-mechanical means to manipulate other players - which is kind of interesting (in a less disturbing manner than it sounds!).

All that aside though, I am also interested to see what the game dynamic might be like with only one roach.  To my mind it might have to be more serious and darker.  Anyone ever tried?
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2006, 03:48:38 PM »

I haven't heard of anyone trying that, John, but if you can twist Alex's arm for a test I'd love to hear about it.  My very first ideas for The Roach, which came together during Game Chef 2005, involved a single roach.  I abandoned that when I saw how fun and interesting the command cards could be.  A functional one-roach variant would be very cool.
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Alex F
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« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2006, 12:58:07 PM »

He twisted (and the guy is versed in aikido, so.... ow!) and we will set this up at some stage. Feedback when it happens.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2006, 05:56:26 AM »

I ran the 8-player Roach game that Sydney mentioned. It was insane.

We had some trouble interpreting the NPC rules, which seem to have changed since the MACE playtest. Our interpretation was that when you introduce an NPC to the scene, you choose a player at the table to play that role, and give that player that NPC's die to use however they want. The act of assigning them an NPC also blocks them from entering with their own character.

There was some interesting strategy used in one or two scenes where the lead player would intentionally assign supposedly friendly NPCs to certain players whom he thought probably would oppose him. If the NPC players twisted the friendliness into opposition, they would still only bring small dice to the table, not roach d12's. There was a certain amount of "sportsmanship" displayed, where the lead player would avoid dragging in a player whose PC ought to be in a scene.

Jason, I'm curious how you expected all the NPC stuff to play out. It looks like our interpretation didn't match yours. Did we miss a bit in the rulebook?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2006, 07:25:48 AM »

Hey Adam, that game sounds crazy.  I think if I had eight or more people, I'd run two games at once (at "sister universities") and require some players to occasionally switch tables.  Here's the relevant text on narrating in NPCs: 

Quote
You may include any and all player characters in your Scene.  Your invitation is law and they must find a way to participate, even if it is standing in a corner reading a newspaper.  Any player who wishes may introduce their character into your scene as well, but none are obligated unless dictated by a Card, or by you...

You must select other players to take the roles of Pembertonians (the folks listed under each Event) that you wish to be in conflict with, but you can narrate in other characters and groups on your side and keep their dice for yourself. 

Anyone who wants to be involved in a Scene can weigh in, staking a point of Reputation and narrating in their player character and/or any number of other characters...

Player characters, Pembertonians, random folks and organized groups ... can and should join conflicts, contributing their die to the cause.  Remember that the player framing the Scene can narrate in new participants, but cannot play Pembertonians  - their die must be handed off to another player. 

So there is nothing stopping you from including your PC in any scene you wish.  Assigning NPCs to "block" another player was a misinterpretation.  I could have been clearer. 
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