Two old friends and two recent acquaintances and I are playing The Shab-al-Hiri Roach tomorrow afternoon. The premise? From the publisher's site:
"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?"
In December, I pitched three different games to a group of people I'd either played with in the past in some setting, (role-playing or designer boardgames), or who I'd met recently at one of the Portland Indie RPG meet-ups. The three games were all designs I was interested in and all had the mode "GM-less" in common: Contenders, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, and Polaris. The game that gained the most enthusiasm, at least for a one-shot, was the Roach.
Four of us have our characters mostly done. Our college faculty will have as PCs one New Englander (me), and a few "people with funny accents": a Brit, an East Indian, and a Brazilian. Pretty diverse for 1919, even for such a "modern institution" as the fictional
To get an idea of what might be in store, I'm posting the characters below:
Name: Jack Haversham
Background: Mad Genius and Egyptologist. Misogynistic, jingoistic, and casually racist - A Victorian Englishman trapped in the 20th century. Has crackpot Von Daniken-like theories about aliens (very British in character, naturally) influencing the development of ancient peoples. His abrasive nature and wacky theories got him thrown out of
Standing: Assistant Professor
Enthusiasms: Debauchery, Cruelty
Name: Professor Rajib Muthusuthubran
Background: Renegade Hindu mystic masquerading as a Professor of Philosophy to gain employment and prestige. Believes fervently in past personalities; he's pretty sure he was Alexander the Great (or maybe his horse, it's not clear). These personalities tend to appear during moments of great stress, although he has learned to cover well. Loves to argue, hates to lose. Sexually prudish in appearance and manner, but strains to maintain control over his libido at sporting events. Not that he's into strapping young lads, it's just all that testosterone flying about lowers his self-control. Was kidnapped at age 10 by Jesuit missionaries hoping to save his heathen soul, he escaped several months later through a freak accident involving bees and a large and fortuitously placed pile of elephant dung. As a result, he hates Christian clergy and will plot their demise at the hands of Kali if he even sees them on the street. So far, he has never had the attention span to actually hurt any men of the cloth, but it's just a matter of time...
Standing: Full Professor
Expertise: Philosophy, emphasis on Eastern Thought
Enthusiasms: Pleasure, Sport
Name: Dr. Helvio Peixoto
Background: Insists his friends call him “Dr. Peixoto”. Less interested in explaining to you his breakthrough work on Stigma Calculus than you are in attempting to comprehend it. Wife’s homesickness for
Standing: Assistant Professor
Enthusiasms: Deception, Wit
Name: Henry Stafford
Background: Generally amiable, in his late forties, Dr. Henry Stafford is a decent enough sort. His reputation is as an inspired teacher, but a mediocre academic and researcher. Most students like him. His family is old money from
Standing: Full Professor
Expertise: Biology, with primary research in enzymatic systems and drug metabolism.
Enthusiasms: Sociability, Gossip
Also as prelude and to provide context for the game, I thought I'd post part of a preparatory e-mail I sent out for the players. I've been re-reading Keith Johnston's, Impro, and thinking a lot about improvisational techniques and their application to role-playing:
I meant to send out some rules snippets and possibly some NPCs prior to Saturday, but I think a few bloated philosophical admonitions will be a better and more genre-appropriate use of my time and yours. Starting out the year by pitching a GM-less game was a risky proposal on my part. Even more so than a game with a more standard GM/player dichotomy, this sort of game is vulnerable without significant player investment and sensitivity. That said, I'm sure we will fumble through it well enough and have good time with adherence to the following principals:
a) Each of us share responsibility as players for the enjoyment of the other participants.
b) Listen to each other.
c) Accept each other's reasonable "Offers" and be proactive with "Offers" to others.
In a game with a traditional GM, he or she creates and describes the world and the players respond to this imagined reality. We will all be creating the reality of the world as we go. In improv theater terms, an Offer is a any action or dialogue which advances the scene.
Example of an Offer:
Matt: "Later that night, some hours after the Social, Professor Stafford is researching in the Drummond lab. Dr. Helvio Peixoto, still furious over the indignity he suffered earlier, comes to the lab to confront him.
(scene progresses a bit, some dialogue back-and-forth)
Dave: (Offering as Helvio): "Suddenly, Helvio notices something and asks with some alarm, 'Just what do you think you're up to with those scissors, Henry!?"
(Matt has made no mention of scissors previously)
Matt: (Accepting the Offer and providing a Complementary Offer): "What does it look like, Helvio? I'm cutting your tenure recommendation letter into ribbons." Alternately: "Possessed by the Roach, Henry leaps at Dr. Peixoto and drives the scissors he'd been holding into Helvio's hand, attempting to pin it to the desk."
Matt: ("Blocking" the Offer): "What? I don't have any scissors!"
Easy enough to give a clever example, harder to put into practice, but that's the basic idea.
Following the above e-mail, one of the players, Colin, directed me to a podcast I hadn't heard of yet (2d6 Feet in A Random Direction). Their most recent podcast included advice informed by improvisational theater and was eerily similar to my own (which I know I've heard elsewhere as well). They even made mention of GM-less games and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach! Anyway, it made for good listening and inspiration for the game tomorrow. Hopefully a good omen.
Apologies for the lengthy post if I've lost you, gentle reader. I don't intend to make this place a slumberland in more than title.
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