the Fairgame Archive

2006-03-18: The Roach is mine
by Emily

Or is that the other way around?

My copy of Jason Morningstar's new game, the Shab Al-Hiri Roach just arrived yesterday. Plastic bug and all! I too may feel the power of the roach. The game looks great—the pictures and "news clippings" really set the tone.

In the game, an ancient sumerian bug with godlike powers is released by an entomologist. It takes over the faculty of his elite New England college and plays off them off of one another through their own greed and ambitions. This is a game that takes some standard elements of rpg and puts a really different spin on them. There are a number of stock characters in the game: notable faculty of the college, students, administrators. And there are six scenes which always take place: Convocation, Homecoming, the Faculty senate meeting etc.

What this could be like is the University as a stocked dungeon. ("roll on the table to see if I get an encounter with a wandering Dean") Instead, the events and characters are a structure the players fill out with the machinations of their characters vying to put themselves at the top of the academic heap, as well as the awful things the roach makes them do when they are in its grip, or if they willingly choose to avail themselves of its power.

This game really takes advantage of the Bribe technique that was being talked about recently—the roach gives you tremendous power—in the form of an additional d12 to roll and other benes—to have your will done in the world, but at serious cost.  The cost, in fact, is what makes it fun to play. Like in Puppies you are out to have your character do outrageous things.  Cards you draw drive you in this direction, either through the dictates of the Roach or through Opportunities that the character sees and takes advantage of.

However, I see that Jason has included a discussion of how the game could be played as a freeform scenario ("in the nordic style").  He says:

Dispense with the dice, Scenes, and conflict resolution rules. The players will be handling conflicts among themselves through role-play.  The actual conflict is not nearly as important as what precedes and follows it, so feel free to hand-wave your way past fights, mass drownings, chair throwing and so forth.

Has anyone tried this? Could you really get the same level of player willingness to bring on the hurt? Even with a gm? What is needed, out of a gm, the players, the social contract, etc to make that so?

2006-03-18 18:41:37 Gregor Hutton

The few LARPs/freeforms I've played at Irish cons use this kind of thing. They rely on an underlying "expectation" that every player brings to the game. The expect to have drama and to "give" and "take" in conflicts.

But I suppose it does rely on cooperation and people bringing that expectation.

2006-03-18 22:31:58 Jason M

Hi Emily,

Glad your copy arrived!  It's actually John Harper's copy, since his has a "To Emily" autograph...*sigh*...

The freeform notes came out of discussions with Olle Jonsson and Thomas Munkholt, who both reviewed drafts of the game and suggested that this is how they'd kitbash it in reality to suit their tastes.  It got me thinking, and I put it in the game but have never tried it.  Personally, I like dice!  But I'm certain it would totally work with a group comfortable with jeepform play.  I bet it would be more H.P. Lovecraft and less Marx Brothers, though.

2006-03-19 14:05:07 Ben Lehman

I have Roach envy.

2006-03-19 16:33:58 Per

I think I just swallowed a bug.

2006-03-20 10:51:56 Judd

Sounds like it is time to put the playtesting games away and play the Roach with the Western Mass. Crew.

2006-03-20 22:17:25 Emily

Funny you should say that. The reason I'm asking the question is exactly why I'm on a free-form sabbatical.  Inter-player adversity is a weak point for it, in my experience. I'm on a kick right now to play formally mechanic'd games that do it well in order to incorporate those lessons back into my free-form play.

Mechanic'd Roach does it via the cards (relationships and other things), free-form roach would do it—I think—via the gm making crazy mad pronouncements on behalf of the roach that would set the players' narrative cannons against one another.  But is that all? Would that be enough? And what techniques might you use to not have to have a gm to be able to do it?

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