Archive for the 'Geiger Counter' Category

Geiger Gamma: Three Sources of Conditions

2011 Aug 10

In Geiger Counter, there are three sources of conditions. Collectively, we call these sources “the Menace.”

First, there’s pressures, which are environmental or circumstantial factors that place the characters in imminent danger, all by themselves. There’s a list of these and each one has 2-4 conditions attached to it. The list includes pressures such as being underwater, underground, in the dark, in space, in a research facility, on a ship, amidst ancient ruins, amidst hostile terrain, isolated far from civilization, or more specific things like being in the arctic, having some critical machinery just break, or facing an impending disaster like an approaching hurricane. Each game can involve more than one of these. After all, Alien vs. Predator takes place underground, in the arctic, amidst ancient ruins. That’s a bit much, but it’s a good example. The associated conditions clearly derive from the pressures, with the arctic being a great place for debilitating frostbite, for example.

Second, there’s ambitions that are unique to each character, often the reasons why they ended up in this pressure-filled deathtrap. A character might be here for thrill-seeking, science!, to rescue someone else, due to a poor choice of occupation, because they were forced at gunpoint, for the money, for the fame, to guide an expedition here, because they are an expert in something, to escape somewhere or someone else, due to desparation, because they are following orders, to do something impossible, to save the world, or for any other stupid or noble reason. Consequently, each character has a few conditions unique to their particular circumstances and hubris, recorded on their character card. Sometimes these conditions can also be given to others when that particular character is in play, since a character might carry a mysterious cursed artifact or expose others to danger through their recklessness.

Finally, there’s horrors, what were traditionally referred to as the menace, an abomination of science, nature, or the supernatural that stalks or swarms after the characters. Having horrors in your game is, in fact, completely optional. The pressures and ambitions your characters are saddled with are enough to doom them, but you can use any combination of pressures and horrors to form the external threats to the survival of your ill-fated band of misfits. Different types of horrors, of course, also allow for characters to be vexed with different types of conditions.

When it’s your turn to play the Menace, its your job to hit on whatever assortment of pressures, ambitions, and horrors makes the most sense to you and for the game. Bring on the storm, play up the captain’s self-loathing, or have the kraken pick off a crew member… or do all three. And there will be better guidelines — a cross between AW-style GM guidance and what I was already working on for Geiger Gamma — on how to do this in a really effective way.

Additionally, as you can already tell, breaking up the Menace this way makes it much more adaptable and open to hacking and new material, in the way that AW and Fiasco are. Creating new pressures, characters (w/ ambitions), and horrors is going to be part of the fun.

Geiger Gamma: New Character Cards

2011 Aug 9

Starting doing some layout on one of the finished chapters of Magic Missile last night. it’ll be good to really nail that template down and be ready for the other chapters.

Here’s a sketch of what I’m thinking right now as far as character information for the new version of Geiger Counter. The game would include 30 or so of these characters, and I’d post the InDesign templates for folks to make more on their own. Playsets would include a list of the most appropriate characters to use for a particular premise (you might have Choi in an Aliens-inspired game but not in Jaws), plus maybe a couple new characters.

Geiger Counter: Flashback/Flashforward

2011 Aug 6

I just found these cards I made a while back, 3 years ago, probably. And I don’t think I’ve ever posted them, but they’re a good hint at more of the direction the current version of Gamma is going. It’ll look pretty different from this, but the seeds are here.

Check out the included stands for marking where your character is on the map and the abstract symbols to represent different characters! Several cool ideas here.

The Return of Geiger Gamma

2011 Aug 5

So… I’ve started working on Geiger Counter again. I’ve been away from it for a long time now, two years basically, but I think I finally have the perspective to let go of all the former trappings that weren’t quite working for me (though they apparently worked for a bunch of other folks) and make it into a game I can be really happy with and proud of.

Of course, a lot of things have changed since 2007-2008, when I first wrote it. Game design has moved forward and outward in different directions. There are other single-session GMless pick-up games now, like the one that just won the Diana Jones award and the one by that Ben Robbins guy. The release-early-and-often model of incremental publishing has gotten more traction through games like Lady Blackbird and Dungeon World. In general, everything has gotten better and looks to continue that way.

Geiger Counter is going to get better too. While the earlier versions will continue to be available — and I’ll probably end up slapping a Creative Commons license on them, in case some of the die hards want to release their own revision — it’s going to look pretty different in this next incarnation. That’s not a threat; it’s a promise.

More news when I have something to show.

Mapping as Fictional Positioning

2011 Jun 21

Archived from Barf Forth.

So this may not be revelation to anyone but me…

Last week, the PCs in my near-earth-orbit game responded to a distress signal from this orbital monastic community called Sanctum. The folks who run Sanctum try to help people clear their minds from domination by the Psychic Maelstrom and, thus, escape from a life of reaver-esque cannibal savagery. Our touchstone is a “graduate” of Sanctum’s psychic rehab, but apparently not all their recruits took to their training so well (surprise!), so the PCs are basically walking into a bloodbath of insane debauchery and cruelty.

I began making maps like crazy, drawing the main airlock, the cargo room, the corridors leading to the medical facility, the kitchen, the training rooms, the initiates’ monastic cells, the flight deck where they launched shuttles, the central meditation chamber, etc.

All this mapping was inspired, for the most part, by our touchstone asking where certain things were, based on her memories, alongside some Reading of a Charged Situation and Opening of Brains. And then, once the PCs starting moving through Sanctum, with the vibe and setting of our game, plus the horrific atmosphere, it felt very much like Geiger Counter, surprisingly enough. Room-by-room, situation by situation, with the sense of danger building.

But what really struck me was that, unlike in some Geiger Counter games I’ve played, the map really served to ground the fiction in ways I wasn’t expecting. Without the movie-inspired jump cuts that sometimes happen in Geiger, the map really provided some tight constraints on player choices through the fictional positioning that went along with it. Unlike in Geiger or PTA, we weren’t thinking about what the next cool scene should be about; instead we looked at the map and were like, okay, clearly we have to go through X place next.

For example: The PCs proceeded first to track down Hugo, the initiate that sent the distress signal, who was in one side of the space station. But then, having come across some horrific scenes, the touchstone decided that Hugo must be dead and that they should proceed to the training rooms to confront Rufus, the failed initiate who seemed to be orchestrating this descent into base passions. Consequently, as demanded by the maps and the fiction, they had to make their way across the entire rest of the station to get to where Rufus was. No jump cuts, no excuses. That was clearly what the fiction — through the map — demanded.

Sure, the players could have decided to do something else: go out an airlock and walk around the outside of the ship, leave and not fight Rufus, blow up Sanctum, whatever else. But their choices were limited — in significant ways — by the little bit of sketching I did of the station.

I guess maybe I’m used to maps as a form of railroading, showing where you clearly must go, or as a series of light cues to help you remember things you’ve done and preserve consistency in the fiction, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the geography of a map really matter in a game that didn’t have wargame-inspired rules for cover or range calculated in squares.

So anyway, I’m thinking about that now and my future play of both AW and Geiger Counter will be better for it.

Random Thoughts: Geiger Counter, Ghost Opera

2011 Jun 7

Geiger Counter

The new version of Geiger Counter that I’ve been tinkering with, which may or may not be called Jet Black Aurora, might have short tables for generating the premise and characters, tables halfway between Fiasco playsets and what I’m doing for Super Suit. Unlike Fiasco, though, I think there’s only one set of tables for the entire game, though obviously I’m not sure yet, because I haven’t done it.

The tables would cover things like whether your facility is in space, underwater, underground, in the arctic, on a barren planet, and/or on an island. Perhaps it’s both underground AND in the arctic, as in Alien vs. Predator. Perhaps it’s on a barren planet AND in the dark, as in Pitch Black. I think this may be called the “Isolation Table.” Then there’s another table that’s about determining what particular brand of human hubris is about to send all the characters to their deaths.

Plus, to steal another recent idea from Super Suit, I think you create the trailer, but it’s like the daydreaming in Apocalypse World, it’s vital to get a feel for things (as a group rather than as the MC), but it’s not real until someone enacts it in play. If it’s not memorable to stick in players’ minds, or the events of the game don’t lead that direction, it’s cool. That’s kinda how folks have been playing it anyway, but it’s good to have a solid idea of why it’s that way.

Ghost Opera

Martin Luther King Jr. famously paraphrased Theodore Parker when he said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Ghost Opera is exactly such a universe, but one built upon my understanding of early Chinese cosmological thinking about fate, justice, and the way of heaven (tiandao). You know the grotesque threat moves in Apocalypse World where you “display the contents of its heart” or “display the nature of the world it inhabits”? Those might essentially be the only moves that the GM of Ghost Opera makes, though of course I’ll phrase them and break them up differently.

Essentially, the GM is playing heaven. And heaven wants the bullshit in the world to be fixed. But the way it gets these things fixed is to put them on display, right out in front of people, and show human beings — again and again if necessary — the consequences of letting that kind of bullshit go on. Then it counts on people eventually doing the right thing and stopping the bullshit. And they eventually will, no doubt. But, in the meanwhile, heaven keeps escalating, shoving their faces in it and causing lots and lots of suffering. Like Laozi says, “Heaven and earth are heartless, treating creatures like straw dogs.” Heaven bends towards justice, yes, definitely. But it is also infinitely patient and the arc can indeed be very long. Plus, people have to stand up and actually change things.

The bullshit that heaven is concerned about mostly revolves around people not treating each other properly. People are often bad parents, or bad friends, or bad children, or bad kings, or bad neighbors, or bad shamans, or bad hosts. Heaven doesn’t care about some cultural bullshit that you choose not to follow. Run off and marry whoever you want, that’s not heaven’s problem. But if you do so and, in the process, violate the relationship you have with your father, then you’re fucking things up, or maybe your father’s fucking things up by being a jerk about it. Heaven doesn’t really take sides, but it definitely knows that the situation is bullshit and needs to be fixed. So maybe it will send your ancestors to haunt you or have someone in your family contract a horrible disease or die in war. Or, more often, heaven just lets humans do its dirty work, like having your father straight-up murder the dude you ran off to marry.

Dogs in the Vineyard calls the bullshit that causes problems “pride,” but ancient China made allowances for people being ignorant as well as arrogant and, occasionally, just straight-up wicked. The only people who naturally understand how people are supposed to behave are children, the elderly (remember, most people didn’t live to be elderly), and sages. Everyone else, we’re bound to fuck it up fairly often, even if we’re striving to be good. But luckily we’ve got heaven there to clearly lay down the rules for us by showing us the negative consequences of our behaviors. Unfortunately, often people have a hard time understanding how the bad things that are happening are connected to violations of proper relationships. But that’s okay, heaven’s very patient and, eventually, someone will figure it out. Maybe. In the next dynasty. After this one’s been completely destroyed.

[Simon’s Quest] Super Suit: Post-Daydreaming

2011 Jun 5

Hi Simon! So this isn’t in the rules yet, but this is what I’m going to suggest we do now.

All that stuff you rolled up? It doesn’t matter now. That stuff served to get us on the same page and inspire our daydreams about the game. From here on out, we don’t look at it anymore, okay? That was just the initial brainstorming, not anything that’s set in stone in the fiction. If some of it caught our imagination, we remember it (without looking back!), and we want to preserve it, that’s great. But the stuff that we don’t remember anymore obviously wasn’t that critical in the first place. And we’re free to invent whatever new details we like to paper over any holes that exist.

BUT! From now on, everything (well, most everything) we say happens in the game, just like that.

Now, having generated some material and daydreamed about it, let’s nail down the premise (in the normal English sense) of the game by doing this:

1. First, you tell me about Joney: who she is and what’s her deal. We don’t need a lot of detail, just the kind of stuff that would show up as scrolling text in the beginning of one of these games.

2. Then, I tell you about this alien world and illustrate a map of Joney’s landing site.

3. Next, you tell me why you’re on this planet (your mission) and what your super suit looks like when you step out of your ship.

4. Finally, you walk me through Joney’s initial recon of her landing site and I tell you what signs (clues) she finds there, before she heads deeper in.

How’s that?

The Process of Narration

2011 Apr 17

Jamie Fristrom, who I finally met last week, is asking good questions about narration rights in GM-less games over on SG. Actually, I think Jamie’s one of the most interesting new voices to pop up there and lord knows SG needs some new interesting voices.

In any event, I wanted to log my response here, because laying it out explicitly helped me think more clearly about Geiger Counter and, also, how narration works in games with deterministic resolution, where the formal process of narration is especially crucial to structuring fictional outcomes.

Some of these games break narration rights down into various different steps or stages, yeah?

Like, in Geiger Counter, there’s:

  1. Deciding what/where/who the next scene is about (“Jack and Maura are meeting in the airlock”)
  2. Framing the scene (“So Jack’s just come back from printing out some readings and Maura is running a routine check on the space suits”)
  3. Playing characters (“Jack says, ‘Maura, can you double check these figures for me, they look really strange’…”)
  4. Adding new information to the story (“Maura says, ‘That’s impossible. It looks like something is alive inside that asteroid’…”)
  5. Invoking a threat (“The airlock starts activating by itself! The inner door shuts and the outer door is preparing to open!”)
  6. Invoking traits, gear, or other fictional circumstances (“Maura tosses Jack a space suit and struggles to put one on herself!”)
  7. Resolving the conflict after dice have been rolled (“Jack manages to get his suit on, but he loses consciousness just as he gets the seals closed”)
  8. Ending the scene (“And…. cut.”)

It’s not really the case that you can narrate whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s a process you have to go through, and the kinds of things you can narrate are restricted by what “stage” of a scene or the overall game that you’re in. As another example, in Geiger Counter, the menace doesn’t attack PCs until it has at least 2 dice to roll, it’s just hinted at. Or, in Mist-Robed Gate (another game you should look at), you can only hint at what you want before the blade has been uncovered.

Also, each time you narrate something, you’re restricted by what you or someone else has narrated previously. Like, above, when Maura’s player introduces the idea that there are things living inside the asteroid, she’s limited by the concept of Jack’s printout of some readings. The new information she introduces has to be something her character could figure out by looking at some printed data. And, if the contents of Jack’s printout had been established in a previous scene (he was taking a geological survey of the asteroid, say), then the kinds of information she can introduce is limited further. Likewise, if someone’s character isn’t in a scene, unless things change, they don’t get to play their character in that scene. That’s a pretty big restriction!

So it definitely matters how games structure the process of narration as well as the issue of “who has authority to say what.”

Black Aurora?

2011 Apr 6 is having a $100 off sale on custom booklets until the end of April, so I’ve been pondering whether I can knock out a new version of Geiger Counter in a month, probably with a new name and focused solely on space horror (and also probably open-source, so other folks can make “Jurassic Park” playsets if they want).

I also found some amazingly striking Giger-esque photographs on iStock, which are giving me ideas.

Follow-Up: Time + Hard Work != Great Game

2011 Feb 28

As a sidenote to my post from last night…

This is about also needing the spark.

I had about a 4-5 month break between when I stopped working at my last job and starting grad school. During that time, aside from a little freelance graphic design work, I had nothing on my plate except finishing Geiger Counter. And yet, it didn’t get finished, despite me trekking to Starbucks multiple times a week and spending 3-5 hours on it.

Sometimes, what’s wrong with the game isn’t something you can fix right now. Maybe you won’t be able to fix it ever. Or maybe you’re just not in a place where you can really work on it. Time and hard work isn’t a substitute for the insight and energy that you may need in order to move forward on a project and people come to their insight in different ways. For me, it almost always happens when I’m doing something else — walking the dog, doing dishes, in the shower, playing a game written by somebody else, or working on a game idea supposedly unrelated to the other one.

But, during those 4-5 months, I was so stressed out about finishing Geiger Counter that I wasn’t really open to those moments. Or I was depressed or anxious about the other crap in my life, and music was a much better creative outlet that game design was, at least for that period. In any event, the insight didn’t come. Geiger Counter still had a number of issues and I wasn’t in a position or state of mind to address them.

I was just chatting with Elizabeth and she was saying that the important part is combining the insight with time to work on it. Sometimes the insight, the spark that gives you the ideas and energy to move forward, comes when you’re too busy with day-to-day life stuff to take advantage of it. That sucks. But then other times you have the time set aside but the spark isn’t there, at least not for the project you’re “supposed” to be working on. That sucks too, maybe, but not nearly as bad. You still have the time set aside, right? Doing something else with it, something that excites you right now or something that connects you to the people you care about. Those are the very things that throw fuel on the fire, that nurture the spark.

And then hopefully you’ll be ready when it strikes again.