Actual Play – Shab-al-Hiri Roach (10/24/2008)

System: Shab-al-hiri Roach

Last night I finally played my first game of the roach. Another couple came over (the same folks that I had a great time playing 1001 nights with) and we had dinner and then played.

Dinner was delicious and it always is when we get together.

Lentil Soup
Wilted spinach, walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and chevre (goat cheese)
Bread with roasted garlic and cambezola
Pita bread and hummus
Navarro Vineyards 2006 Pino Gris

Afterwards our friends said goodnight to the girls and we adjourned to the living room. I had been reading about the game at the dinner table and then we dove into character creation. Our characters were (in clockwise order):

Beauregard Smith-Smyth-Smythe, an assistant professor of physical education and gentlemanly pursuits. His enthusiasms are sport and self-destruction.

Brigitte Rapporcini, assistant professor of botany, with a specialty of poisonous plants of the Amazon who enjoys the mind altering ones. Here enthusiasms are gossip and pleasure.

Bruce Banners, an assistant professor of art, specializing in aboriginal artwork of Australia. His enthusiasms are creativity and debauchery and he has brutally murdered at least two people who stood in the ways of his ambitions.

Giselle Kershaw, a widowed assistant professor of economics and a firm believer in social Darwinism. Here enthusiasms are status and gossip and her recently deceased husband Rupert left her with a scandalous fortune.

Relationships. Beau thinks Brigitte is one hell of a lady, and Giselle is trying to be one hell of a man. Brigitte is somewhat disgusted with Beau but ever since seeing Bruce naked and inebriated on his vision quest in Australia has had a thing for him. Bruce believes Brigtte tried to poison him and claims that he needed to have a kidney removed after her application of medicinal herbs. He is very attracted to Giselle and her money and has already killed her husband (Rupert) to get closer to her. Giselle is affronted by the criminal element allowed at Pemberton and in addition to being Australian suspects Bruce of some foul play. Meanwhile, she finds Beau’s manly pursuits to be refreshing and a welcome addition to the university.

The roach. At start of play, none of the professors had swallowed the roach.

First, event. Fall Convocation.

Beau drew the “Tenure” card and would be promoted to Full Professor.
Brigette drew the “Ruin” card and opted to make Beau loose reputation
Bruce drew the “Slander” car and chose to bring down the woman who poisoned him
Giselle drew the “Champ”card and gossiped away merrily.

What I liked:

We immediately jumped into character. Each of us full of flaws were happy to start roleplaying before we even drew card or started the event.

The initial relationships created some great antagonism right from the start which drove play throughout the night.

The scenes were short and as soon as we felt like wheels might be spinning the dice came out to resolve the conflict.

In the first event (which was as far as we got) two people died. The Chaplain, accidentally bludgeoned to death by Beau and then Reginald, the faculty member in charge of filling the Chancellor’s position, whom Bruce shot with a .38 pistol before he could make an announcement. As the roach commanded… kill them, kill them all.

Mood. The game is beautiful in its presentation of a community of self-serving, power hungry, backstabbing, ne’er-do-wells. We all laughed as we did atrocious things to each other. Great fun.

What could have been improved:

I had a hard time juggling NPCs and my own character. I tried changing voices between them, but it was still tricky. I wanted have lots of people involved but it was tough.

In some of the scenes one player or another hardly played a roll at all. I was searching for a mechanic to draw a player character in but could only find means to draw in NPCs, which was fine, but I wanted to see the actual characters pitted against each other.

Nobody ever used their expertise. I kept trying to think of ways to argue of aboriginal art, but even when it camp into play, it was always as a side conversation and never connected to the stakes.

Suspension of disbelief. We got pretty ridiculous pretty fast. In the first scene, before the opening of the convocation, Bruce and the Chancellor got ragingly drunk as the Chancellor cracked under the pressure of loosing grants to the university. This was all very good until the second scene where the Chancellor opened the convocation and was drunk as a skunk. We all thought it was scandalous and wonderful but we did find it difficulty to imagine. It seemed to us that more of the debauchery would happen behind the scenes.

Some thoughts:

This game would be great in an L5R winter court game. Change the roach to taint and you’re set.

The game seemed a bit too mundane to one of the players who felt she did enough of these political games in her own life at work and this was a bit like playing real life. Wow, what does that tell us about UC Davis?

Nobody swallowed the roach, though I’m pretty sure we will as soon a command looks promising.

One question:

If you swallow the roach in the middle of an event, do you change your event card and follow the command instead of the opportunity?