Posts Tagged ‘Geiger Counter’

Advent reviews: Geiger Counter

Today, we look at the first roleplaying game of the advent reviews. It’s been a while since I played this, but I have had loads of fun with this, so I remember it fondly.

What kind of game is this?

In Geiger Counter, you play through a survival horror film – the kind of film where you start out with a big cast of characters that are slowly killed off by some horrific thing that haunts them – an alien monster, a creature from beyond, a zombie horde, fate or maybe a maniac killer with a mask. You do this is one sitting of about four hours.

You start off brainstorming a rough concept for the film and the threat – the game calls it the “menace”. At this point, the concept for both should be vague, but you should have an idea of the setting, and what the monster is and isn’t – “it’s got inhuman intelligence, but no overtly supernatural powers”, for instance. Then you brainstorm some character concepts and some secret agendas, then you make your characters by pairing a concept and an agenda.

The game comes with an integrated warm-up exercise: making a trailer for the film. Going round the table, everybody narrates a shot from the trailer, until it fades to the title of the film – which you will then agree upon.

Then you start the film from the beginning, playing scene by scene. Each scene has one player as the director for that scene, framing the scene by telling us where we are, who’s there and what is going on. In the beginning, the game tells players to avoid framing a scene with themselves in it. The other players will play their own characters as well as any supporting characters necessary. When the director calls “cut”, the scene is over and the player to his left directs the next scene.

An important part of the game is the building of the Menace. Each scene featuring the menace adds one die to it, until it reaches the maximum, eight dice. When it reaches eight, the fight against it begins in earnest – from then till the game is over, the players can reduce the menace by one die by defeating it in a showdown.

Speaking of dice, there is a very simple conflict system in the game. If I recall correctly, you roll all of your dice, then use the two highest dice, and compare them to your opponent. The first two times you lose, you gain a condition – the third time (as far as I recall) you die. You have two dice to begin with, but can pick up more on the map.

The map, I say? Yes, an important part of the game is keeping track of the map. Everybody should have a token to represent them. In the middle of the table, you should have a big piece of paper, on which to draw a map of the location. Whenever you set a scene, you move the tokens of the involved players, so that you can always see where somebody was last seen. On the map are also some dice – a few single dice, a couple of pairs and one group of three. When you draw a location onto the map, you may put one of these groups of dice in that locale. Later on, players in that locale can define what those dice represent – something that will help them against the Menace.

Elimination of player characters is an important part of the game. To get the “survival horror” feel, you need quite a few players dying. This is not as important in this game as in many others, though, as an important part of your experience as a player is framing scenes and helping scenes along. Whenever someone dies, one of their two dice goes to another character, making that character stronger against the Menace.

The game ends when either all the players are dead, or when the Menace is defeated. At this point, there will usually only be one or two characters left alive.

How many people should you play this with?

I would say five to seven. You need five to have the ensemble feeling, but at eight, it’ll be a while before you are on the screen again.

What do I think of this game?

This game is a favorite of mine. It’s easy to play, even with beginners, and it usually rewards you with a great story with very little fuss, and in a limited amount of time. It’s also good, because it makes everybody be both player and GM. It teaches framing, and it gives you some very simple yet efficient story telling tools.

The dice mechanics are very simple, and that can sometimes make them feel a bit clunky – but they are simple and fast, and that’s what they are there for. The map is a great visual aid, and it helps everybody get on the same page.

In short, Geiger Counter is a go-to game for me when I am going to play for one session with a group of people with limited or mixed experience with story games and indie games.

A few interesting things to note

  • This is a good game to teach scene setting. Everybody has to do it, but it’s not so dramatic to do it. In general, it’s a good game to teach story gaming.
  • The game instructs players to make a cutting motion with their fingers when they want to signal to the director to cut the scene. A simple, efficient way to give the director cutting power, but also let the others have a say.

[PR] Geiger Counter: Frigid Fear

I just came home (this thing was written 24 hours ago, but only published now) from playing a game of Geiger Counter. We were five people: Ole, Andreas, Oliver, Jacob and me. We enjoyed the game a lot, and everybody was more than willing to give it another go sometime. Oliver is going to write a play report as well, hopefully including a scan of our map.

For those who don’t know it, Geiger counter is a storygame in which you jointly tell a survival horror film, along the lines of the Alien films, 30 Days of Night, the Sphere, or a host of other, marginally similar films. The idea is that you have a cast of characters, most of whom are going to die, up against a “menace,” that is, some kind of nonhuman threat that is going to increase its threat trough the film, then be fought down by the surviving protagonists. You take turns as the director, framing scenes, as well as being responsible for one main character each.

We had a long brainstorming session, finding different elements that we wanted to include. Andreas wanted a zombie game, I was quite intent on playing something with cramped spaceship corridors, and Oliver wanted “body horror.” Then, someone (I think it was Oliver) mentioned radioactivity, and we started riffing on nuclear plants. I said research station, then suddenly, someone said old Russian base under the Ural lake (or something along those lines). In the end, this is what we came up with:

  • The movie is set on an underwater research base under Antarctica.
  • The base had been closed and forgotten when the USSR collapsed. Now, it’s been reopened.
  • The menace is some Cthuloid thing, with plenty of tentacles, spawned from experiments made back then, and inadvertantly released by the new scientists.

The characters were as follows:

  • Vasilli Gregorin(Oliver): A russian bureaucrat, intent on keeping the base running.
  • Michael Lloyd Adamson (Jacob): A Canadian marine biologist who wanted to open up the secrets contained in the station.
  • Jorge Dreyer (Ole): An Argentinian of German decent, Jorge was the security chief who wanted to get out of there alive.
  • Captain Yankowich (Andreas): A russian naval captain who wanted to make sure the Russian secrets contained within the base never saw the light of day.
  • Dr. Ramin Zanjani (me): An Iranian doctor, who was looking for certain secrets to take with him from the base. I considered making it plans for a nuclear plant, but didn’t think it fitted him. On the other hand, the way it ended up was far too goody two-shoesy.

We made survival dice be some characteristic about the character that would make him strive to survive. Mine, for instance, was his rock-fast believe that the world WORKS, provided by a synthesis of his Islamic beliefs in a higher order, and his scientific beliefs in a logical, sensible world. Others had stubbornness, selfish self preservation, and a curiosity making it imperative for him to find out MORE.


The trailer started on the surface, graduately zooming in on the base, maybe showing the nuclear reactor. I missed a voiceover or some dialogue, but in the end it turned out fine. After that, we tried coming up with a good name, eventually settling on my suggestion, “Frigid Fear.”

The game itself

The game then proceeded to the preview. Here, two Russian scientists were walking about the storage of the underwater base, stumbling upon a box they didn’t know. They open it, and light pours out. The screen “shatters;” opening credits.

The next scene was the three characters coming down from the surface (Andreas, Jacob and me) coming towards the base in a submarine. After that, we had a scene with me being rushed to the scene where one of the scientists had been killed and the other had vanished. I took a look at him, then rushed off to the med-bay. Then I framed an alternate shot of the same, seen from a dark corridor, a pov shot from “something” slithering about at floor height.

[In retrospect, the opening scenes were not that good. We should much rather have framed the scene when the newcomers arrived at the base, thus having an opening scene of everyone. This way, Oliver wasn’t properly introduced to the plot untill relatively late in the game.]

After that, Andreas discovered some strange marks on a wall. Discounting it as rat markings, he orderd a goon to fix it, then went to the submarine bay, where he and Ole had a row, because Ole had ordered his men to load Andreas’ submarine. As a matter of fact, Andreas’ character would have wanted to do the same thing. But out of stubbornness, he countered Ole’s orders, and the submarine was unloaded again. Then, after I’d had a row with Ole and Oliver over gaining access to dead crew’s files and quarters (something I really wanted in order to be able to spy), Andreas and a goon found one of the dead scientists sticking out of a hole in the wall. When the goon tried pulling the scientist out, he was suddenly being pulled in instead, and Andreas failed to save him, instead finding himself Lost in the corridors.

Jacob went to the lab, and talked to a female scientist. She showed him a new kind of sea urchin they had found that had developed a very lethal toxin. We had a great scene with me (as the scientist) describing the effects, and Oliver (as direcor) cutting to shots of a goon suffering the effects.

After a scene of Oliver not noticing the lost Andreas on his surveillance screens, the poisoned goon arrived in the lab. I went to Oliver to show him; in the meantime, Jacob arrived in the lab and started examining the dead goon, when something sprang from the dead flesh and at him. He won the confrontation, and was able to get the mask off, before it could reach him.

When I returned Jacob and I examined the thing, discovered its cells were mineral in nature, then being attacked by the dead corpses that had arisen, animated by the Meanace. Using the medical equipment, including a saw and a laser cutter, we fought our way out.

Meanwhile, Andreas saw something going into the reactor room and down into the reactor water. Ole and Oliver arrived, and tried getting him out of there. Andreas won a conflict with Ole, and Ole became Hysterical when he saw what was down there.

Out in the corridor, Jacob and I, still chased by the creatures from the Med-Lab, suddenly ran into another monster. We tried running on each side of it, but we lost, and I was injured, Jacob had the corridor be Overrun. We barely managed to fight our way into the reactor room.

In the reactor, Oliver, Jacob and I were attacked by the Menace. We lost. Ole hit the emergency button, then left in a hurry, while Oliver was presumed dead, I was Alone on the other side of the containment doors, with the overrun corridor on the other side, and Jacob was Trapped in the reactor room.

Jacob had an encounter with one of the reanimated creatures, beating it soundly with the crane for lifting out the fuel rods, then spotting some sea urchins down in the reactor water. Andreas made Ole pull together, then they armed and gathered their goons, and set out down the corridor to rescue me. They failed, however, making the storage area from the prelude become Overrun as well. This, however, allowed me to leave while the beasts were engaged, and go to the lab. Here, the computer was done analysing the urcin’s toxin, and I could start working on something to fight the creatures, while looking for the documents I had really come there for.

Oliver woke up from being “dead,” and saw Jacob fotographing the things in the reactor. He tried getting the camera from Jacob, so he wouldn’t reveal the problems in the base, but lost becoming “hysterical” (we interpreted this as him losing all hope). Meanwhile, I encountered Andreas, who was going to destroy all the research. I’d just finished the “menace repellent,” but he wouldn’t listen, and just wanted to destroy everything. In the end, I tried attacking him with the toxin, but he shot me, and burned everything in the lab. (We had planned this scene, so that, no matter what, one of us would get our goal in that scene).

Ole and his goons made a barricade in the storage, but were all killed, Ole being turned into a mutant. Oliver set the reactor up for meltdown, then they all got ready to leave in the sub. (The sub-bay had been blocked by me earlier, but they found a way to get out).

While they were leaving, the hive mother suddenly left the reactor where she’s been living, exiting the base through a panorama room with all sorts of aquariums and Soviet memorabilia, all of which was destroyed when the creature crushed the glass of the room, and the water swept in.

Back in the subbay, they encountered Ole’s character as a monster, before finally leaving in the sub. They fought the creature with the sub, first using it’s robot arms to cut its tentacles, then raming it, thus killing it when it was cought in the explosion of the dying base.

Andreas, Oliver and Jacob all made it to the top. However, Oliver wanted his character to die, and the Menace still had a die left. So I scripted Ole’s revenant character coming up, eating Oliver, then attacking Jacob, who gave it a sound thrashing. The end.

Or rather… there are still a few sea urchins attached to the bottom of the ship…


We all really liked the game. However:

  • The condition “overrun” is too hardcore. A minus 2 to all rolls effectively means that the meanace is unbeatable, making it impossible to beat the menace there. As that is the buyoff, a location being overrun effectively makes it unusable for the rest of the game. The minus should be reduced to 1, so it is easier to beat. Or maybe the buyof should be changed – all the other conditions can be bought off with play and not with dice, but Overrun needs dice to be bought off.
  • We interpreted “Hysterical” very liberally, as paranoid, broked, etc. However, it might be a good idea with more psychic conditions, so that you can more easily have non-physical conflicts.
  • We took too long to start fighting the menace. That meant that none of us got any conditions until the second half of the game, and that too many characters survived. It also meant that we didn’t define aids till very late in the game.
  • We learned how important it is for the Director to set his scenes very sharply: He needs to set it quickly, and be very specific about the purpose of the game. What are we trying to accomplish, here?
  • It really helped that someone were keeping track of the Menace and the secondary characters, so that we alway knew what was established. We need to do that even more. For instance, we had a great secondary character that only appeared in one scene. Maybe you need something corresponding to the map where you can draw every secondary character you introduce?
  • We had two locations called “nondescript corridors” (though one quickly contained the creatures’ lair). However, we made the mistace of attaching them to other rooms, thus turning the map into a physical map, instead of just a visual index of locations encounters. Next time, things like the corridors and roads should maybe somewhere where you’re not tempted to connect it to other rooms – becase that ties our hands, and makes it difficult to set new locations. And, really, it’s not that important WHERE the corridor is, as long as we know it’s a corridor.

All in all, Geiger Counter is a good game, and one we’re likely to try again. One thought for the next edition, though: the rules needs more explanation. As it is, many rules are only properly explained in the examples, making it difficult to quickly find a rule.

Thus ends my report on last nights game. I am happy to say that Geiger counter lived up to the hype online.