[The Shab-al-Hiri Roach] Why does everyone keep bursting in?

edited June 2009 in Story Games
I played the Shab-al-Hiri Roach last night for the first time. I had never read the game prior to yesterday, and it always seemed like something that would not interest me (No GM? Campus politics in early 1900s New England? Some sort of evil cockroach? No GM?)

I am pleased to report that I was hugely mistaken. Not only was the game super fun, it was one of the funniest game sessions I can remember.

A few observations and questions...

"In-character" role-playing

For whatever reason, this game led to more "in-character" (first-person narration) role-playing than I've ever experienced. Almost every player spoke in dialogue for every scene. (This is a group that normally has what I would call an average balance of first-person and third-person narration). I am not sure what it is about the game that accounts for that phenomenon.

GM-less play

To me, this is a real hallmark of dirty hippie gaming, and something I have never done before. It went fine, although some of the people who normally GM for this group ended up doing some prompting and directing, in the sense of moving from scene to scene, or helping to add up dice for conflicts. (And also shaking our heads in disapproval at the resident dice-mongerer when he tried to use his Enthusiasms for every conflict).

To me, gameplay felt similar to In A Wicked Age, which is a game I think can work without a GM, but may work better with one, depending on the nature of the group (experience, engagement, etc). I could see a Roach session benefiting from a GM, although our game worked fine without one.

Recurring NPCs

I really loved the recurring NPCs, especially when one player would give an NPC some sort of personality trait in their initial portrayal (ie - the reverend as a painfully long-winded speaker that everyone ignores, the young radical professor as a racist xenophobe, etc) that subsequent players would have to recall and build upon when they were assigned that NPC for a scene.

Some rules questions

1. If someone has the roach, and they are helping you in a conflict in *your* scene, you get their base dice, plus a d12 for their roachiness. If they are also furthering the roach's command by helping you, do you also get the additional d12, or does that happen only in their scene?

2. Anyone can bring NPCs into the scene for a conflict, not just the scene-framing player, yes?


  • Hey Brian, I'm so glad you had a good game. I really want to hear about it! What happened to Regina Sutton? Mercy, I hope she's OK.

    In my experience GM-less play often reaches equilibrium with a player serving as facilitator - somebody without any extra mechanical authority but perhaps a bit of social authority - someone to turn to to explain rules who also keeps an eye on pacing and tone. This seems very natural.


    1. If you are slave to the Roach, you always always always get a d12. When you are doing your master's bidding in your scene (explicitly obeying your command) you get an additional d12 and are thus pretty much unstoppable. You shouldn't get that extra d12 outside of that narrow circumstance.

    2. Yes, and they should! As a group you need to establish informal, social limits, but this is generally self-regulating. You know when a scene is crowded enough.
  • Regina made it through the first two events, but fell prey to a vivisectionist shortly after the Senate Faculty Meeting. (We didn't finish the game yet, and I am looking forward to her eulogy at the Halloween Ball).
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarWhat happened to Regina Sutton? Mercy, I hope she's OK.
    Is Regina ever okay?
  • I've seen her rise to power as a Sumerian priest-queen with an army of suicide bombing cheerleaders at her disposal, so maybe that counts.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI've seen her rise to power as a Sumerian priest-queen with an army of suicide bombing cheerleaders at her disposal, so maybe that counts.
    It may not count as okay, but it definitely counts as awesome.
  • The only other casualty so far was Stoudenmeyer, who was brained with a wine bottle in his study. His manservant, Griswold, was also struck, but survived to finger the wrong suspect. When the police arrived, two of the other player-characters were outside the house, dressed *AS* Regina Sutton, for reasons that remained unclear at the end of the scene.
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