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Story Games Seattle Message Board What We Played › What We Played: Pop Music of the Spheres (Shab-al-Hiri Roach)

What We Played: Pop Music of the Spheres (Shab-al-Hiri Roach)

Ben R.
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 71
or, A Command Performance of "HMS Pinafore" at the Pemberton Follies of 1919

Oct 28
players: Mike, June, Fred, Ben

Thanks everyone for coming out and giving Shab-al-Hiri Roach a try. We had some great moments, but all in all we didn't get cohesive momentum, so I'm going to dig into why I think that was, because I think it sheds light on how story games work.

First off, Roach doesn't start off characters with designated story goals except self-aggrandizement and crushing your rivals, and our rivalries weren't sharp enough to generate constant feuding, which I think left everyone not quite sure what they should be doing. I think I escaped that by being Roached before we even started, which forced me to make up my own crazy goal right off the bat (Music Uber Alles!) just to demonstrate that I was completely off-kilter. In other games, another player might be designated as your antagonist to create adversity for you and push you to do things, but Roach doesn't have those roles, except for hating the person to your right.

The bigger thing that dampened action was the stakes. In any conflict system, you always want both possible outcomes to be interesting. For example, the guy gets the promotion, leading to success and happiness, or the guy doesn't get the promotion, which leads to depression and alcoholism -- both are interesting, and neither continues the status quo. The story is going somewhere, either up or down. It seems like the way the Roach has the player set the stakes for themselves, there's no real pressure for failure to be interesting (unless you go out of your way to create interesting failures cases for yourself). And that's what happened with most of our conflicts: the "make something happen" side of the stakes were interesting, but when they failed nothing interesting happened except the mechanical loss of Reputation. Other games use mechanisms like having the actor decide the "positive" result, but letting someone else decide the consequences for failure. In Roach, other players can make suggestions, but the spotlight player has the final say.

Rules aside, I thought there were some great bits that I wanted to see more of:

- Hemmingway's (June's) subversive underground newspaper. Did it actually get named "The Creeping Truth"? It was another victim of the stakes system: when the roll failed, it got squashed, and nothing really came of that plot.

- I loved old Professor Erikson (Mike) putting on airs of Arthurian chivalry to seduce coeds a third his age ("Fair maiden! You are my Guinevere!"). So creepy!

- The Music vs Astronomy duel between Forsythe (me) and Fizzwick (Fred) never got to go apocalyptic, again partially because of the stakes system: when I lost my bid to absorb Astronomy into the Music Department, there wasn't really any backlash. Also drawing the "peace" Roach command card in the next round forestalled escalation.

- If we had more time, I was totally looking forward to seeing Fizzwick's UFOs show up, piloted by tiny evil alien Roaches (who of course had first explore Earth in ancient times). You know that was going to happen sooner or later...

The increasingly unbelievable staged murder-suicide of Chancellor Ferguson and coed Regina Sutton was classic Roach ("uh, they were secretly in love, and playing with what they thought was a prop sword backstage. And he accidentally impaled himself on it while showing off. Uh, and then she killed herself, in, um despair. Oh, and he wrote this note explaining how the Music department drove him to it..."). Simultaneously dark, absurd, and unbelievable... yet accepted by everyone.

user 8619046
Seattle, WA
Post #: 1
Thanks again for facilitating the game and helping me out! It seems like there are certainly some interesting mechanics, and I think I'd be up for trying it out again as I get a better handle on making interesting characters and conflicts. I liked the addition of the NPCs and how it made it easier for a third or fourth person to be involved. The positive/negative relationship between two characters was challenging, as it seemed like it relied on the characters being relatively oblivious to something big.

I saw the website has a 1919 cheat sheet so I'll actually know what technology was around at that time!

Thanks to June and Mike, too. I also would have liked to see more of the creepy competition between your characters. So lecherous!
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