Posts Tagged ‘Ole Sørensen’

[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.

Trailer

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…

Thoughts

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.

Allnighter: Imperiet

After our pizza dinner, I set down with four players to play Imnperiet. We agreed on two humerous games: “The Butter Forger” by Olle J0nsson and “Averland Averessen” by Johannes Busted.

Averland Abendessen

We started out with Johannes’ game. Quickly arranging a “kitchen” out of tables, we placed dice around the place to be readily available. The game is organised into four timed “courses,” each including a number of suggested scenes to play. I started each course by reading the menu, and asking them, what their characers were doing at that exact moment. Then I would count down, starting play. We did it “semi-larp”-style, playing out most things, but narrating a lot of things. I would tell them when things woould happen, then they would react. At a certain point they would roll the dice, attempting to vanquish the opposition.

The game was a big success. Most of the time, we had people running around, shouting, screaming, sweating. Pretty soon, they would start doing things when I was paying attention to someone else or the trying to decide what to do next, just as I soon lost all count of their dicerolling. In the end, we were tired, sweaty, and sore with laughter.

We did have some critiques, however – listed here, as far as I can remember them, along with other pieces of advice and shareworthy experience:

  • Johs suggests running several scenes at once – but playing semi-larp and with only one GM, that seemed almolst copmpletely impossible. I tried it in the beginning, but in the end, I had enough just trying to keep up with running one scene at a time. An assisting GM /NPC-player would have been ideal, freeing me to narrate and moderate the game, instead of jumping between playing and moderating.
  • We had saved a number of lids from pizza trays. These were priceless as “trays” for the players to imitate carrying things.
  • The characters were far too busy to ever develop their personal plots. They requested a bit of calm to enable them to talk a bit and to catch up to the pace.
  • Some suggested plots involving the character’s internal relationships might have been appropriate – maybe telling Rofus (the chef) “Geo (the cook) is cutting the carrots in uneven slices.”
  • The Skaven events were impersonal, and needed a bit of a twist. I liked how it (and most of the other plots) escalated during play – but you needed something that made a bit more sense, even if it was the “buffer plot,” being something you could always introduce several times in the same course.
  • The characters were not ideally suited to this kind of fast play. By the time Tomas von Grieg, the poetry lover, enters the kitchen, Geo’s player had completely forgotten that HE wrote those poems. Maybe characters written mostly in bullets, might have been better, pointing out very clearly which points were important. This would also help the GM to tailour plots to each character.

But in the end, we really enjoyed Averland Averessen. Props to Johs.

The Butter Forger

The next game didn’t quite live up to the first. We set up a courtroom and went through a number of witnesses, but when one player had to leave after 45 minutes, we decided to stop. We just weren’t having a lot of fun, though were were laughing a bit.

On one hand, this surprised me – I thought the buzz was, that the Butter Forger was one of the games that people had really liked from Imperiet. On the other hand, I didn’t find it the least bit odd – when I read the scenario, I could never envision how the game could really work.

One part of the problem was of course, that the prosecuter and the defence attourney didn’t really get into the characters, not even once shouting “objection!” And their questioning of the witnesses weren’t the sharpest I’ve seen. On the other hand, I think Ole very firmly put his finger on the problem when he said: “What’s the point? The game clearly states that he’s guilty – so why are we doing this? There is nothing to help us achive a curve of intensity, no guide to what we should attempt to play for.” The point of the game seems to be in the comedy of the witnesses – but comedy with out direction and purpose has about as much bite as butter dentures – forged or not.

Allnighter: Return of the Chainsaw larp

This weekend, Ole and I had organised a so called “allnighter” for our kids (so called, because it lasts all night – funnily enough). We met up at the school at 1 o’clock pm, and leaft again at closer to 7.30 am (well, actually, we left the building at just after 6 o’clock, but we sat outside for an hour after that, playing Werewolf).

There were 11 of us, so we were split into two groups for most of the time – one set of groups untill dinner, a new set after. In the first, I helped run the larp from the Lumberjack academy, in the second, I ran Imperiet.

It had been my plan from the start to have the people in the Lumberjack Academy do a rerun of their larp at the Allnighter, with me as moral support and NPC. Unfortunately, one of them had to cancel shortly before the weekend, and I had to step in as assistant GM. In the end, I think the other GM felt it was a success, but I am afraid I interfered a bit too much, and that she may have felt like a good bit of the success was my doing. But while I did do a good bit, I tried hard to let her make the decisions, and it was still their (well, mostly her) game that succeeded.

For this game, we ahad two male and one female player. Two of these players were some of the kids, the last was my co-teacher Ole. This did mean that they were mismatched in personality power – on the other hand, I know Ole worked hard to help the two others along. Unfortunately, the traitor was the character that lent itself most easily to being converted into a woman, but the female player was the Weakest Link, not being wery comfortable playing “bad” characters.

The other GM did the casting, and did it exactly opposite to what I would have done. She cast the young guy as the old, stubborn character and Ole as the young, fiery guy. As always, the casting completely coloured the game. In many ways, I think her casting was better than mine – while it would have been more believable to cast Ole (who is ten years their senior) as the older guy, playing to strong emotions can be hard, and I am not sure the other player would have been as able to play the character. BEsides, the older character was already the more powerful, and casting Ole in that role could have meant that he would be completely dominating the game.

In the end, it turned out very well, albeit very differently from last time, probably providing the GM’s with more challenges than last time (I was a Player then, so I can’t be sure). For instance, at one point, we started putting a lot of pressure on them (“The PM wants an answer NOW”) – to which they replied by sending one of them to meet the PM, which effectively, at least in our (well, my) mind ment out of the game. We countered by putting a juicy clue into his hands, both feeding the tension in the room, and giving us an excuse to put even more pressure on them (“You said you were sending someone over, yet you didn’t -WHAT’S GOING ON?”). Their solution was also completely different. Where we were ripped apart by strife, they ended up covering the whole thing up, with Ole lying to an old journalist friend cementing their common moral fall. A much sweeter tragedy than ours, in which two of the three were consumed by their own righteousness.

In the end, all of the players were very happy and impressed. As Ole said to the girl who was GM, this was her first larp – and even compared to larps generally, this one was pretty good.

Lumberjack Academy: Bringing out the trusty, old chainsaw

I am preparing to run a workshop in writing roleplaying games, larp in particular. The workshop is based on the principles of the “Chainsaw Manifesto,” an idea that originated with Ole Sørensen, was named by me, and is fostered by both of us under the aegis of our association, Eidolon. I named the workshop “Skovhuggerskole,” or “Lumberjack Academy” (the English title is far better than the Danish), because the aim is to train the participants in the use of the Chainsaw.

“What on earth is the Chainsaw Manifesto?” I hear you cry. Well, I’m glad you asked!

The basis for the Chainsaw is, that the expectations that we have to larps (and to tabletop games, for that matter) in the Danish community have grown into the sky. Now, some of the established gamemakers spend countless hours of their life living up to these expectations and pushing the bar ever further. They create games with better settings, better characters, more players, more well thought-out mechanics. Others give up, give in, turn to administration, or to living a life outside of rpg. This would not be a problem – if new forces were ready to take their places.

Problem is, they’re not. There is a drought of new game writers and organisers. And no wonder – the big expectations that the consumers (because a group of rpg-consumers has certainly appeared) and the other game creators have, shade the fresh, young saplings that should be the big boys of tomorrows scene.

And what do you do with old, rotten trees shading the young plants you want to see grow into big and healthy trees? That’s right, you bring out the trusty old chainsaw and cut them down to size.

And so, the Chainsaw is about allowing young, inexperienced gamemakers to make small, simple games that may not revolutionize the genre, but are fun and easy to both make and play.

For this reason, we set a number of conditions for a Chainsaw larp (some of them would be applicable to tabletop games – but we are focusing on Convention larps, since this is the home field for Eidolon). All of these can of course be broken, if the game requires it.

The requirements are:

  • A game must be playable in one (1) standard classroom of a Danish municipal school. Societies in Denmark can borrow schools for free, which is why the term is worded like this. Besides, classrooms are fairly generic rooms, usually a wide rectangle without carpets, and loads of chairs and tables that can be used or pushed against the wall.
  • All the props of a game must fit in a bag that can be brought on the bus on the way to the location. This requirement has a number of reasons. First of all, the typical Chainsaw-game will be run at a convention by a gamemaster without a car – and therefore will be taking the bus to the convention. Secondly, this is a good way of preventing prop fetischism. One of the trends we wanted to combat was the tendency to spend lots and lots of time on preparing and setting up props, thus taking time away from preparing the actual play. We realize that props can enhance a game – but props also complicate matters for the gamemaster, which we explicitly wanted to avoid. Besides, rather a good game with bad props than the other way around. The third reason for this is, that we want this game to be cheap to run and cheap to participate in – the expectation go up with the price.
  • Any part of the players’ costume that you cannot expect them to find in their own wardrobe must be part of your props. Again: simplicity and cost. Many gamemakers become entranced with fancy costumes – but we’re roleplayers, our trade is fantasy. Sure, putting the soldier in a full military uniform is way cooler – but just put him in green trousers and a neutral t-shirt, maybe with a cap or some boots and, hey presto, Bob’s your uncle! We need to be reminded that we are actually sitting on hoards of hidden treasure, just waiting to be used. Take a look in your wardrobe – think how many costumes you could make with what you have there!
  • There should be a minimal amount of text involved. If there are written characters, they should be no more than a paragraph or two. Verbal characters are fine. One of the big stumbling blocks to making games is writing it down. I know this myself: you know your game is good – but once you see it on paper, it seems insignificant, frail, like it will never run. Besides, writing takes time, and can remove the momentum from the process. Besides, lacking writing skills should not prevent you from using you talent for gamemaking.
  • There shall be no critique of the game. This one, Ole and I disagree a bit on. Ole is (or at least used to be) very categorical: No critique, no evaluation! I tend to think that there should always be constructive critiscism. We do agree on the basic idea, however: that one of the important things about the Chainsaw is that it should be legal to make bad games, full of beginners mistakes, and that there is nothing more hindering for you desire to continue improving your creative skills than being told that the thing you toiled to make is rubbish. And, let’s face it, some people, often people who do not themselves create, seem to think it is their God given duty to point out every flaw and every imperfection. This requirement means they can’t. That’s the idea, at least.

These are, as far as I remember, the basic requirement of the Chainsaw Manifesto. There may be a limit on the number of players, as well, but I can’t remember what it was. Besides, it most likely comes naturally with the restrictions on space and props.

So, what do you think? Are we dead wrong? Have we missed the point? Or would you like to take the Chainsaw out for a spin…?