Geiger Appendix

July 26, 2008

The Director’s Commentary Or, Things I Learned from Playing a Lot of Geiger Counter

Points to be expanded later:

1. The game isn’t a perfecty balanced mathematical system and can be busted up pretty good if you try to subvert it. However, it’s a tool for creating fun experiences, so it’s up to you and the other players to figure out how to use it to best create the kinds of experiences your group enjoys.

2. Play often proceeds in the following general stages: 1) “These readings don’t make any sense,” 2) “Something is very wrong here,” 3) “Oh my god, it’s found us!” 4) “There’s only one way out of here… *chu-chuck*” and 5) epilogue or false epilogue.

3. Optional final confrontation rules. Declare a final confrontation and keep rolling against the menace until one side is dead. Consider allowing the menace to escape when it only has one or two dice left and no longer seems to pose a big threat in this scene. That allows them to come back, in a false epilogue or sequel.

4. Optional “overrun” rules for horde-style menaces (credit Ben for the name). When losing to the menace in a conflict, you can declare a location is “overrun” and flee, though Overrun still counts as one of your conditions. Mark that location. Afterwards, the menace gets a +2 bonus when attacking characters in that location. If multiple characters declare “overrun” after losing to the menace in a single scene, mark multiple adjacent locations. The Buyoff for Overrun is winning a conflict against the menace in that location (it removes the bonus).

5. Looting the bodies. Like many things, only do it if it would make sense in the movie, if you’ve majorly played up the importance of an item. Even then, consider letting the items be lost with the death of their owner, as a way of building tragedy and resolve, even if the item is critical to someone’s goal. Failing goals is okay and expected!

6. If the menace seems too easy, push harder on goals and inter-character conflict. That’s a major part of hitting the right level of lethality. Characters should die due to the direct or indirect consequences of other characters actions.

7. If the menace seems too hard, the characters should either team up against it or try to gather the remaining advantage dice. However, losing completely to the menace can also be cool, but you may have to find a way to spin it to make the tragedy palatable for everyone.

8. Traitors and villains. Sometimes a character decides that they are the villain of the movie and sides completely with the menace. That is okay, but that doesn’t mean the menace doesn’t also want to kill them. Just because they’re on the menace’s side doesn’t mean that the menace is on their side. They’re welcome to roll their dice against the other characters in a conflict… but they also have to use that roll to defend themselves from the menace, if the menace decides to attack them in this confrontation. Sometimes the menace will choose to recognize an ally and not attack traitors and villains at every opportunity. However, if the menace no longer sees a use from such an ally, they become food.

9. Take your time in the planning stage, especially when discussing the general location, what the menace is like, and the characters. These things don’t have to be detailed and in fact should be able to be summarized in a sentence or two, but make sure those sentences really pop. “Arctic research station” is okay, but it doesn’t vibrate with energy and opportunity. If you can make it an “arctic research station examining the frozen remnants of an ancient meteorite impact…” now you’re playing with power. This can be the difference between a great game and a mediocre game.

10. You know those games where the characters are central and every decision a character makes is an opportunity for the player to say something about who that character is? This isn’t usually one of those games. Sure, you can be surprised when your scumbag character decides to sacrifice himself for someone else, but, as an audience, what we’re most interested in is the group and whether anyone makes it out alive. Individual characters just aren’t that important, especially since, unless they survive for a sequel, we’ll never encounter them again. The characters are simply cogs in a much larger machine and are not necessarily even the most important cogs. The most important cogs are “what happened?” and “how awesome was it?” Questions like “how did they feel about it? what did it mean to them?” are much further down the list of priorities. By default, Geiger Counter isn’t really “about” anything. There’s no inherent theme or premise here, just action, messy demises, and a lot of running around.

4 Responses to “Geiger Appendix”

  1. Paul Tevis Says:

    Have you played Last Night on Earth? There’s a few things here that make me think you should (if you haven’t).

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    I keep meaning to, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I definitely plan to before I finalize the GenCon ashcan, though some of the fallout from playing Last Night may have to wait until a later version. I’ve definitely heard some pretty great things about it.

  3. Jason Says:

    The whole “it isn’t perfectly balanced” thing is strictly awesome. I urge you to be crystal clear about what’s critical and what’s a polite fiction, so people have some understanding going in how to use the rules to have fun. I think I’m clear about this in The Roach but not beat-you-over-the-head explicit, and sometimes it leads to unhappy play. The guy diligently trying to ‘win” always ends up having a bad time if left to his own devices.


  4. Yeah, that was one thing our group had real trouble with about IAWA. Vincent keeps saying it works if you play it really, really hard, but it really doesn’t in our experience. There’s an important fiction surrounding a lot of indie games where you’re supposed to play the system strategically… but not that hard, only half-seriously. And, in Geiger, it can only be played a quarter seriously, really. It’s just a pacing mechanic in the end.


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