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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 141 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Roach Play: The Flameout  (Read 8462 times)
Jason Morningstar
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« on: April 11, 2006, 04:09:01 AM »

I've heard about two recent games (and hope to see actual play soon) in which the players had a less-than satisfying experience because the game got big fast.  "We were already erecting a ziggurat by event three", "We'd slain all the students in the first event", that sort of thing.

Those things are cool and should happen, and there is absolutely nothing mechanically precluding them happening in the first scene, but in my experience the game tends to build more slowly, with truly over-the-top stuff busting out in the final two or three Events.  This pacing seems natural. 

So what's going on?

I worry that this sort of failure is an example of macho dudes pushing as hard as the game allows, which is pretty much unlimited hard, barring group objection.  And the lack of objection - what's up with that?  Why did no one say "Hey, that's not really going to make the game more fun over the long haul."

I really want to see some actual play so I can see what's going on.  If you've played in a game that flamed out early, write about it, here or elsewhere.  I need data.
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jrs
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« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2006, 07:03:19 AM »

Okay, so I was in the a game where a ziggurat was constructed in the midst of the Jubilee.  It escalated to include one of the prime NPC's being crushed under the moving stones, forcing the Roach down the Chaplain's throat, and the subsequent sacrifice of the most popular coed.  It was great and glorious.  Now, some context I think is in order.  This was one of the last games at Forge Midwest; it was going on 2 pm when we were to be kicked out of the room.  I certainly was a little tired, and knew we weren't going to go through the entire calender.  Having said that I don't think that this event was necessarily a flameout.  Even when the Roach has dominion over the campus, I can well imagine continued back biting amongst the player characters for power and authority, more student fodder (there's always transfers), student parents, the campus town, mass media, etc.

In discussing the game afterwards, it was brought up that trying to do the full calendar in a single, short session may be too much; that at least a small break would be useful to give the players a respite and a chance to contemplate more subtle acts.

Julie
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2006, 07:41:54 AM »

Thanks for the context Julie - that's one of the games I've been hearing dark muttering about.  I really ought to explore and post some short-form options. 

And there's nothing stopping the game scale from being ramped up progressively beyond campus, either - the sixth event could easily end with the Roach taking over the planet, if everybody was game.  I've never seen it happen, but it really could.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2006, 12:19:52 PM »

Last Saturday, the Roach took over North America in our high-scoring player's Epilogue, modestly declining the world (although another player suggested that was only to provide fertile fields of conquest to challenge future generations of roaches). And that was after a one-session game that ended with event four, a Homecoming Game between the Roach-controlled visitors and a home team drawn entirely from the unroached minority on-campus (they lost) while the rest of the human resistance tried to plant explosives to blow up the Roachbound in the bleachers (they failed).

Also my character built a very small corpse-decorated ziggurat during the pep rally and then wore the previous quarterback's flayed skin onto the field. You do get an NPC's dice from narrating his dead body into the scene, don't you?

I do think we escalated damned fast: We had a drug-induced orgy with Regina Sutton overdosing to death at the end of Convocation, forcible sodomy in the hallway outside the Wine and Cheese Reception (I drew that "You feel attracted to this person - attempt to copulate with it!" card), and a mob of Roachbound shutting the human audience into a burning theater during the Campus Follies while two PCs dueled on stage (err, with more forcible sodomy: The player character my Roachbound had raped accepted the Roach and successfully took his revenge, which struck me as restoring a certain happy balance to the interpersonal dynamic at the table).

But I, at least, didn't come away feeling we'd flamed out and were kicking over ever-bigger sandcastles without our hearts being in it. Now, I was one of the people who drove fastest and hardest for escalation -- in part because my car had blown a tire in the rain on the way to the game and then I'd gotten lost and I had a lot of stress to unload -- so I may be biased.

That said, Tony Lower-Basch in Misery Bubblegum and I in apocalypse girl are both exploring ideas about pacing mechanics (mine mostly cribbed from his). And my intent, at least, is to try to "fix" the "problem" I have with not only Roach but also with Issues in Prime Time Adventures (and, from reading the text only, Dark Fates in the The Mountain Witch), which is that you have these very cool escalation-to-crisis story arcs but you're relying on structured Drama rather than a numerical count-up to meter the tension.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2006, 02:17:10 PM »

Why did no one say "Hey, that's not really going to make the game more fun over the long haul."

Well, in my case at least, I didn't say that because I didn't know that.  I honestly had no idea what would make the game more fun over the long haul. 

When Adam (our most experienced player) made our game's first scene about the school coach loudly and publicly seducing Regina Sutton, in the chapel, during the convocation, and then inviting all of the students and teachers to a drug- and alcohol-laced orgy after the event ... well, looking back with 20/20 hindsight I can say "Wow ... that's the sort of thing that should be vetoed before it ever hits the plate, rather than being worked out through the conflict system."  As it is, I said "Wow, this is cool!  I object to that strongly, and so I am going to use the conflict system to its fullest in order to oppose it."  I did, I lost, we moved on to the our various vengeances for having lost (particularly Prof. Arthur's plan to poison Regina Sutton and frame coach Bucky for the death, which went astray when the poison went in the punch-bowl rather than just her cup).

Like I said, with the benefit of hindsight I can see that we might have benefitted from somebody putting on the brakes.  But who among us knew to do that?  I didn't know squat.  I fully expect my second game (with the benefit of (a) that and (b) having actually read the rules myself) will be better.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2006, 02:21:43 PM »

looking back with 20/20 hindsight I can say "Wow ... that's the sort of thing that should be vetoed before it ever hits the plate, rather than being worked out through the conflict system."....with the benefit of hindsight I can see that we might have benefitted from somebody putting on the brakes.... 

Should it have been? Would we have? I'm not actually sure, Tony -- though I'm now very curious to play Roach in a more slow and stately "academic backstabbing" mode. Was the hectic pace un-fun for you, personally?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2006, 05:38:13 PM »

It was fun and frenetic and very, very amusing, but also not deeply satisfying.  We were not playing human beings with human motivations doing occasionally wacky things (as non-fictional human beings will) and then trying to pick up the pieces.  We were playing raw hateful chaos given limbs and senses, and I just don't have all that much to say about chaos.  Does that make sense?
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2006, 06:29:18 PM »

Aha.

"Raw hateful chaos given limbs and senses" is pretty much what I feel like when I'm at my worst -- which is a lot less often nowadays than before I met my wife, but I still fall off the emotional wagon at times, e.g when I'm trying to get somewhere and run late, blow a tire, and get lost, in the f***ing rain, e.g. last Saturday. (I sat in the car a little while blowing steam out my ears before I came in.)

So I do have a lot to say about that particular kind of chaos. As I often do, I was playing a "scapegoat character," in the Old Testament sense of "attribute all your worst sins and deepest fears to this substitute here and drive it into the wilderness to die." Which is a topic for another thread entirely, when I'm feeling less sleepy and more brave.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2006, 07:06:48 PM »

See, it's deeply cool to have such a stark example of the day you just had impacting the game and its outcomes.

We all know that it will, but most of the time we don't let ourselves really know it, you know?
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #9 on: April 12, 2006, 04:16:21 AM »

Hey Tony, do you think your dissatisfaction had to do with expectations you had going in, or do you think the lack of deep satisfaction you experienced was a barrier put in place by the structure of the game?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: April 12, 2006, 06:39:02 AM »

Uh ... neither?

I wanted to do one thing, the session turned out to be about doing another.  I don't think my desire was predicated on the idea that I expected to be able to do the thing I wanted, and I certainly don't count one session as evidence that there is a barrier built into the very structure of the game.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #11 on: April 12, 2006, 10:16:49 AM »

OK, cool, Tony. 

Sydney - Yes, narrating in Bantam Whaley's corpse totally counts.  Weeping helplessly and bemoaning his cruel fate, remembering his virile youth, would also count. 

I'm super interested in seeing how you guys address dramatic escalation mechanically in your designs!  I've been sort of following both. 
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #12 on: April 12, 2006, 01:24:48 PM »

From my own experience:

The best games have been ones where:

1. The Roach is the sole supernatural element.  Roach-bound characters have no "powers" per se, just a heightened/abnormal level of will and vitality.

2. The basic landscape of the campus survives at least until the final event: all the nasty stuff that happens can be easily explained away/covered up.

3. We play up the academic satire stuff.  That is, we don't just play people doing awful things, we play professors doing awful things so they can get tenure.  Alternatively, we play characters who use their status as professors to help them get away with doing awful things.

The only game I've played in that came close to flaming out, was one where:

A. The supernatural dial was turned way up: one of the characters was an occultist and we had summonings and seances by the second event, another player narrated that Roach-bound characters had preternatural strength and telepathic/telekinetic powers.

B. We started big and broad and escalated from there: by the final event we were in apocalyptic, George Romero Land of the Dead territory.

C. Campus Politics took a backseat to the supernatural shenanigans.

In general, I guess I prefer it when The Roach is played as a vicious academic satire, with the weird, Sumerian, Roach-y stuff providing some extra kick.  That kind of focus is certainly built into the game in terms of the progression of events, but there's no rule that stops players from short-circuiting that progression.

Which is not to say that the big, over-the-top, Ziggurat-building-during-the-second-event games can't be fun, but that by moving so quickly away from petty academic politics you miss out on a big part of the game.  In general, I think the game works better if the players try to out-do each other in terms of everyday nastiness and pettiness rather than crazy, over-the-top, surreal horror. 
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Valamir
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« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2006, 07:27:11 AM »

Interesting thread.  I was in the Ziggurat game with Julie and I didn't think of it as a flame out at all.

In fact our first scene was completely all academic twistery.  Andy K's character was trying to get the Faculty Senate guy to revoke Tom Fitch's tenure.  I who had a dislike for Andy K's character undermined him by by being overtly sympathetic that Andy's paper on Poe (he being a professor of Lit) had been rejected for publication "yet again" (I got lots of mileage from my Cruel and Manipulative traits).  Andy retorted that he was working on an even better paper because he had come into possession of a manuscript of a yet unknown and unpublished sequel to A Scarlett Letter.  Having the "steal something good" command I promptly left the convocation to steal said manuscript and undermine Andy yet again.

The Wine and Cheese fest went pretty non supernatural as well.  Julie tried to score points with the Chancellor by visibly supporting the Chancellor's platform while in his view.  I and Andy tried to undermine her efforts by distracting the Chancellor so he wouldn't notice her efforts.  Tim Kopang tried to undermine me by spreading gossip about my relationship with Regina.  Julie countered that by subverting the gossip to completely trashing Regina's reputation by linking her with everybody (not sure why) and I then played the card about "confronting this person" (Julie being my target) in which I sought to force Julie to publically apologize for her mistreatment of Regina...which I won after a tie breaker).  The only wierd thing was Andy K dancing naked and washing himself in the wine because he had a roach command forcing him to bathe. Tom introduced his geologist professor leading his class in an exercise in ancient building techniques by demonstrating how the heavy stones of a ziggurat might have been moved.  The president of the board of trustees did get squashed under the stones...but mainly because he was the last NPC who needed to be introduced, and what else where we going to do with him at that point...I ramped things up a little bit by keeping his head...

It was the third scene where things got really escalated, but that was pretty understandable because at that point every one at the table was Roach bound.  I had chosen it right off at the beginning.  Andy got it with a card in scene 2.  Julie chose it at the beginning of scene 3 because she didn't like the other half of the card she was dealt and Tim and Tom both got it by cards.  So there we were at the Follies all roached up. It became obvious...we were all roach bound...the heck with a demonstration...we would finish building the ziggurat to the glory of Sumer right in the middle of campus. 

So we did a little flash back thing showing chain gangs of students lugging up the blocks while whip cracking professors drove them on...I figured that the roach was confused by modern life and would try to recreate more familiar surroundings...which seemed in keeping with the spirit of the command cards.  By the time of the follies the Ziggurat was complete, and the sacrifice that took place at the top was viewed as just another crazy skit by the audience.

At the homecoming game we tried to substitue the trustees head that I kept for the football, but then, because I had a big towering stack of reputation, Julie et.al. conspired to have me hauled off to an insane asylum (as if *I* was the crazy one). 

We called it there on account of time but to me it seemed like a totally natural progression of events.  Some things were pushing the envelope of the absurd a bit because it was the very last gaming session of the con and we were all a bit tired and/or punchy and/or caffenated, but it struck me as a perfectly reasonable sequence.  I certainly didn't consider it to be a "flameout" in any way.

The only issue I had, was that I thought the game probably would have worked better with only 4 events rather than 6 given that we didn't have time to do 2 sessions or take any kind of intermission.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #14 on: April 13, 2006, 07:32:30 AM »

Thanks for the detailed run down, Ralph.  That actually sounds like a really fun game. 

How long did you guys play for, all told? 
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