Making The Roach a shorter game

edited July 2009 in Story Games
I'm a recent convert to The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, and I'd like to set up a game for some non-gamer friends (one of whom actually *is* an eccentric college professor, and another of whom actually *is* an ancient Sumerian god-bug). I'm expecting to have 4-5 players, plus myself.

I know the game will go better if it's confined to a single four-hour evening, or thereabouts. I thought about just cutting the number of scenes in half, and maybe reshuffling the NPCs to lose a few, but I realize that messes with the mechanics a little.

Does anyone have a more elegant suggestion for streamlining things?


  • Why not play as long as you can and want to and then end the game?
  • Hi Brian!

    I've run "actively facilitated" the Roach successfully a number of times in 3-4 hour con slots and it really sings.

    The keys for me have been:

    -Keep the character creation fast and tight. Should only take 30 mins max. Don't let the players start to metagame or work out character backgrounds too much. Just get the necessaries and the good/bad relationships and then jump into the first scene!
    -Accept that you will only get through three events (if you are lucky) in that timeframe with first-timers. So just take the events that are most interesting to you and run with those.
    -I like to give everyone their own scene in the first act. But after that, the scenes typically get so convoluted with multiple PCs and NPCs in each scene, that you can get away with 3-4 scenes per event and it will still feel like everyone got screentime. Just make sure that others get a chance to at least chime in on the scenes that are being created so no one feels left out.
    -One thing we started the last time playing the Roach (just a few weeks ago) was to write the name and "title" of each NPC down on separate notecards and put them in the middle of the table during the event they are in. It makes it a lot easier for players to pick NPCs on the fly to add into scenes. But I would keep all the NPCs and not necessarily eliminate any of them.

    Hope you have a great game!
  • My advice is to facilitate actively and edit scenes ruthlessly, encouraging others to do the same. Everything Chris says is very good advice, except I'd spend 15 minutes on characters. If everybody knows the game's premise, ask them to come with a character in mind.

    Take the very first scene and strongly model the behavior you want to encourage, explaining procedures as you go.

    You'll notice that the scenes are split between active/public and sedentary/private. When you crop out scenes, make sure you don't remove all of either sort. Let your group decide which sound most fun, tempered by this bit of advice.

    Have a good time with it and let us know how it goes!
  • Thanks, guys. I appreciate the advice. Except for Eero, whose advice I am rejecting with an imperious wave of my hand, though I appreciate the effort.

    Chris, NPCs written on cards is a great idea. In fact, I'm surprised there isn't some sort of fan-made Roach play-aid out there with NPC portraits.

    Jason, I did not grasp the public/private dynamic in the events, so thanks for pointing it out.

    I think I might explicitly limit the number of scenes per event. Not be all hard-ass about it, but suggest up front that each event should only have a few scenes, and everyone should get equal screen time.
  • For shorter games, I will run only three of the six events. I'm fond of Convocation for the start and the football game is always fun. You'll want to mix up events that cater to the specialties of both academic and non-academic types.
  • Brian, I'd encourage you to play it as written, without making any chances in advance. Cut scenes ruthlessly and jump in to suggest conflicts.

    Then, keep an eye on the time, and drop an event or two later if you must.

  • Posted By: GrahamBrian, I'd encourage you to play it as written, without making any chances in advance. Cut scenes ruthlessly and jump in to suggest conflicts.
    Thanks, Graham. I have played the game as written, and I love it, but I think this group will have more enjoyable time if they are able to play with a firmer time limit up-front.

    I think for people who don't have built-in expectations of games that take 4+ hours, or spread out over more than one day, the concept can be off-putting. ("This game takes HOW long? Let's just watch 'Ice Road Truckers' instead.")
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