Roach Play at the End Game July 2006 Mini-Con

         This was the second "mini-convention" organized at a game store in Oakland, called "End Game", which was organized in collaboration with RPGnet. I'd been to the previous event the previous April (cf. my End Game April Fool's 2006 Mini-Con Report for the details).


The Shab Al-Hiri Roach

         This was a straightforward introduction to the system, playing it as-written. The organizer had taken a bunch of notes to help verbally explain the system to those new to it (which we all essentially were). However, there was no other special preparation other than printing out character sheets. The event description was simply:

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach is a dark comedy of manners, lampooning academia and asking players to answer a difficult question - are you willing to swallow a soul-eating telepathic insect bent on destroying human civilization?


Even if it will get you tenure?

A fast paced and hilarious game, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach requires no Game Master and can be played in a single evening. If you enjoy crazed one-upmanship, furious stake-setting, and chanting gutteral commands in Sumerian, The Roach would like to have a word with you.

         The organizer, Chris, proceeded with explaining the system and the procedure for creating characters. Most people came up with character concepts fairly quickly. Elliot went with a gay Southern professor of Classics; Chris Bennett made a sporty rowing-obsessed instructor who barely managed a philosophy degree; Mark made a drunken Scottish professor of physics; Brian made an egotistical German professor of mathematics; Chris Hanrahan made an adventurous professor of archeology. I got a little stuck, but then went with an obsessive professor of astronomy convinced that the stars were almost right -- a soon-to-be cultist already leading depraved secret society meetings. We then formalized our departments, selected enthusiasms, and went around the table defining our connections. That was one of the funnest bits of the game -- we all loved the irony of the person you like always hating you.

Player Character Department Enthusiasms Connections
Chris Bennett Asst. Prof. Phineas Coburn Philosophy Sport
Hates Montague for their unnatural pairing after a drunken staff party
Likes Huggins in guilt over accidentally drowning his son
Chris Hanrahan Asst. Prof. Edward Huggins Anthropology ...
Likes Templeton for his astronomical expertise
Hates Coburn as a stupid jock
John Kim Prof. St. John Templeton Astronomy Creativity
Likes McLeod for supplying booze for his ritual
Hates Huggins for disputing Templar history
Mark MacVicar Prof. Dante McLeod Physics Debauchery
Hates Templeton for wasting fine spirits on a whore
Likes Von Schtoffer for his brilliant advice
Brian Isikoff Prof. Erick Von Schtoffer Mathematics (?Gossip?)
Hates McLeod for profiting from his ideas
Likes Montague for his good gossip
Elliot Wilen Asst. Prof. Ashley Montague III Foreign & Ancient Languages Pleasure
Hates Von Schtoffer as a crushing bore
Likes Coburn as an attractive, athletic man

         So after character creation, we explained more about the cards and dice mechanics, which had only been briefly covered earlier. We discussed our lines of horror -- and seemed to agree that anything went so long as it was not graphically described. We then started with the convocation. We did stop a number of times to review the rules. At first, we thought that the outcome of a conflict affected whether the Opportunity effect comes to pass -- i.e. it was conditioned on winning a conflict.

         Speaking generally about our play, we took to heart the brief advice in the book about "stacking up bodies like cordwood". So we were at each others' throats fairly quickly. It started a lot of accusations flying back and forth over misconduct. Templeton's bizarre rituals, Montague's homosexuality, and Coburn's affairs featured prominently. Then the deaths started, which were prominent. There was little academic squabbling per se. The only real academia was Coburn's brief bid to present a paper on the physics of rowing during the convocation, which was shot down.

         The event was scheduled for a 4-hour slot. I'd say roughly half of that was character creation. We got through 4 out of the 6 Events during the remaining time, though not every Event had a full set of six scenes (for the six players). I can't reproduce the whole, but highlights for me included:

         As we ran out of time, we were coming to the end of the fourth Event, the Homecoming Football Game. Everyone except for McLeod and Von Schtoffer were controlled by the roach. Templeton (my character) was in the lead for Reputation with 11, followed second by Huggins with 10. Huggins had just doubled his Reputation in a last-minute all-or-nothing gamble. However, McLeod was not roach-bound and had a strong lead with roughly 4 Reputation over Von Schtoffer with 1. So Mark was the winner.

         I reflected afterwards on the winning/losing aspect. I feel like I did push things a bit far in both nastiness and collecting-points aspect (which go together to a degree). However, at the end it seemed pretty random whether you are eligible to win or not -- since you can be roach-ified by a card at any point. Odds are pretty good that you'll draw a roach card at some point -- and if you only get one roach card, then you're stuck that way to the end of the game and therefore can't win. Then again, maybe I'm missing something.

         A bit of conflict confusion, but still a great game.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Wed Aug 23 13:43:44 2006