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Story Games Seattle Message Board What We Played › What We Played: Villains of Pemberton (The Shab-al-Hiri Roach)

What We Played: Villains of Pemberton (The Shab-al-Hiri Roach)

user 13146674
Belmont, CA
Post #: 17
Emily as Edith Campbell
Sam as Cinncinnatus V. Lambert
Jamie as Dr William Vanderbek
Adrienne as Priscilla Wentworth

Generally, our characters moved through the social events of 1919 Pemberton College trying to make themselves look good, often by making others look bad. There were several nice scenes in the beginning with Cinncinnatus trying to get his hands on some bones (for 'proper' burial), and William trying to get his hands on Cinncinnatus. Later Edith and Cinncinnatus worked toward exposing the merits and flaws of their respective departments. Also, William had great success using his etheric-wave driven mind machine to influence people (two fatalities as well, but such is science). Priscilla succumbed early to the Roach and became progressively more unhinged. At one point all four of us were possessed, but William reverted in the end - sacrificing his cruelty for his freedom.

We discussed the system a bit after we finished, and here are some thoughts:

I think we all thought the setting was cool - and becoming possessed by the Roach is quite enjoyable. I think that Jamie is right and we would have benefitted from little 'Roachification' scenes when we yield. Next time, I'll definitely do that.

A character's objective is always to increase their reputation. Characters are encouraged to be evil, and so catty and hostile interactions are routine. Once you're roached, you're just crazy and evil. As Sam put it, there is then no Straight Man to provide a counterbalance. This is especially true when everyone is roached. Unfortunately this, and the initial love/hate relationship pairings, meant that friendly relationships break down almost instantly.

Although we each had our global goal of increasing reputation, that isn't very story-specific. There were no personal goals (like there are in Fiasco) to cling to over time, and objectives change with every card drawn for every act. This made it hard to keep narrative momentum going throughout the entire story. The NPC-switches in every act compounded this. If your plot is tied to a particular NPC, you may feel obliged to discard it so that you can incorporate the mandatory NPCs into the scene. So, our stories kind of started and stopped without spanning an entire story-arc. I did like having a plethora of NPCs to work with though; it made it easy to generate scenes.

Having a conflict every scene was hard, but I do think it helps keep things moving. This may have been my failing as a facilitator, but the nature of our conflict statements sometimes resulted in narratively-inappropriate relationship accruement.

We had some really great conversations between the characters. If I were a University Chancellor, I would have bern very hard pressed in deciding who to promote. Some of the arguments were incredibly persuasive. I often took a very un-subtle approach, which in hindsight I feel kind of bad about, but hey, the Roach is not a subtle creature.

In the end, I had a great time playing this, but in future sessions I think some tweaking of the rules to make them more flexible wouldn't go amiss.
Sam Kabo A.
user 30231972
Honolulu, HI
Post #: 2
Yeah, we had a few juicy plot threads that felt as if they should have cohered into something, but we never found a way to tie them all together (and then we just ended up killing everyone.)

There's a sort of classic problem that you get in more classic RPGs: the adventuring party rolls into town, and the GM has this carefully planned story about the tangled motives of the villagers and so on. Then the players get the wrong end of the stick (often in a completely reasonable but unforseen way), they screw up a roll or threaten the wrong person, and five minutes later all your plot hooks are dead, on fire or running for the hills.

Roach is a game that's centrally about doing risky crazy stuff, but it also has this setting with quite strict social mores: if you get caught with your pants down and up to your elbows in blood around act 3, it becomes something of a struggle just to keep the characters on the set, rather than turning into The Thought Gang: 1923. (Also, it's just difficult to do period improv.)

Story arc would definitely have been helped if we'd all had well-articulated long-term goals other than 'get status, backstab wildly'.

The love/hate mechanic would have been cooler if it had been less regular: it would have been great to have two characters who actually liked each other before things went to hell.

But it was still a whole lot of fun, despite all my gripes. So basically my appetite is thoroughly whetted for Fiasco.
Jamie F.
user 12636925
Bellevue, WA
Post #: 66
A week later I'm still thinking about some of the awesome in the game ... reading Johnstone's *Impro* which has a whole section about status and it occurs to me that's what the Roach is all about. I was usually playing high status, whether NPC or PC, and enjoyed continually forgetting Priscilla's name until she used the power of the Roach to control me, reversing status. Priscilla even when roached was still simpering and playing 'low status' even though she had the power of a Sumerian god behind her - ironic.

And I enjoyed throwing Cincinnatus under the bus when he wouldn't do me.

(There's also a really weird section in *Impro* about Masks and being possessed by your character - which reminds me of getting Roached ... but maybe I'm reaching, there.)

I have that 'recognizing Conflict' problem with Shock and Annalise as well ... I now think that 'free play until you recognize the conflict' is always a little sketchy ... "Are we in a conflict yet? I want to make sure it's a 'good' conflict this scene, so maybe we should hold off ..." So I really like Fiasco, where you just play and maybe someone suggests how conflict resolves by giving you a stone or you finish the scene and award the stone after. And I like Archipelago and its hacks where someone can just say 'That might not be so easy' and trigger conflict that way, no ifs or buts.
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