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...
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.
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.
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?