Archive for the ‘Giger Counter’ Category


Draft Cover

August 23, 2007



Expert at Making Bad Movies

August 9, 2007

Finally played zombie survival horror with the latest version of Giger Counter. It went really well, overall. I’m getting a firmer handle on what the mechanical pacing should be like, at least for a group of 5-6 players. However, I’m beginning to worry, because, so far, we’ve only made really BAD movies.

Playtest #1: Storm Windows, a late night tv movie about a high school caught in a major storm while a slasher was on the loose.

Playtest #2: Queen of the Swarm, SciFi channel movie about a government-sponsored group sent to investigate the alien infiltration of a secret research facility.

Playtest #3: Til Undeath Do Us Part, hordes of zombies assault a wedding party trapped on a private island.

I enjoy the occasional bad horror movie as much as the next guy, but I was kinda writing Giger Counter to create GOOD survival horror movies in the vein of Alien(s), Scream, and classic zombie flicks. I’m not sure if it’s the current rules that are keeping that from happening, if the players (who have mostly been new to the system each time) don’t have enough of a handle on things to pull that off the first time, or if we just need to collectively decide we are going to make a really good movie and not play it for cheesy laughs.

One thing that I think would help would be spending more time on the brainstorming that leads up to picking an overall premise. That’s one thing that makes Primetime Adventures work so well and may be the key ingredient missing here.


Monster Mash

August 7, 2007

Wow, two weeks is a long time to go without brain-dumping game thoughts. Here’s a bunch of things that I’ve been thinking about for Giger Counter, my survival horror game.

Playtest Condition List

  • Trapped: Can’t leave current Location as long as this Condition is active.
  • Fleeing/Chased: Can’t spend more than one scene in the same Location as long as this Condition is active.
  • Alone: Can’t be in a scene with any non-Monster/Traitor characters as long as this Condition is active.
  • Unprepared: Can’t use any Tools as long as this Condition is active.
  • Lost: Is in an unmarked Location that is not on any card, so it is impossible to move into or out of without changing the “Lost” Condition to something else.
  • Presumed Dead: Can’t be in any scenes at all while this Condition is active, though the character’s “corpse” can be. While you are Presumed Dead, feel free to assist in playing Monsters.
  • Freaking Out: Can’t use any of your Background or Dark Secret/Hidden Talent dice while you’re in this Condition.
  • Infected/Compromised: Once you take this Condition, every character that’s in a scene with you should roll a die during the scene. If they get a 5-6, they also gain this Condition, in addition to any other Conditions gained during the scene. You cannot change this Condition until you have given it to at least one other character.
  • Traitor: Reveal your Dark Secret. From now on, you must actively seek to harm, delay, or otherwise impair the progress of non-Monster/Traitor characters. You can still fight other Traitors and Monsters and they may decide to fight you. You can only gain this Condition if all the Monster’s traits have been revealed and you can’t change it once you have it.

What You Do On Your Turn

1. Change your characters Conditions to other Conditions, if you like.
1A. Describe a mini-scene explaining how those Conditions change.

2. Pick the characters and location for a scene that you will frame. Try to avoid framing scenes that include your own character until all the Monsters’ traits have been revealed.

3. Set the scene, describing the Location and characters (including their current Conditions) in lurid detail, using shot-framing if you like.

4. Give the characters a few minutes to explore the scene, describing anything they encounter.

5. Create a conflict, assuming the characters don’t find one on their own. The conflict can be of 4 different types:
— impair their progress towards their goals (the passage is blocked! the car breaks down!)
— there is strange new information that must be deciphered (wait, why is it dark? where’d everybody else go? what do these symbols mean? what’s that smell?)
— they are suddenly attacked by Monster or Traitor characters!
— an inter-character dispute arises between them from their exploration of the scene

6. Describe and resolve the conflict, possibly earning characters some Conditions and/or discovering new information about the Monster(s).
6A. Have a mini-scene where the new Conditions or Monster information is explained.

Honestly, I’m not sure about the placing of the “a” mini-scenes. I want them to fit organically into the pacing of the game, but I’m not sure how. If suddenly you are Trapped, it’d be good to explain how you came to be Trapped. We’ll try this for now and see how it works.


Sharing the Plague

July 19, 2007

There are, coincidentally, a whole bunch of people working on survival horror games, all of which are tangentially related to Vincent’s work on Dogs in the Vineyard and Afraid. I am going to list them here for personal reference and to remember to read them all carefully before playtesting Giger Counter again.

– Vincent Baker, Afraid
– Ashi, A Quick Survival Horror Dogs Hack
– Carl Rigney, Zombies in the Vineyard
– Eric Provost, The Infected


How to Solve a Problem Like Conditions

July 16, 2007

So I meant to revise both Giger Counter and The Last Days of Old Macao over the weekend, but had too much fun doing nothing. But I need to post so Shreyas can post (this is the tension that makes Secret Wars work), so I’m going to talk about my issues with Conditions.

Conditions are something Giger Counter inherited from Vincent Baker’s Afraid. Basically, over the course of play, usually by Taking The Blow (or losing conflicts), characters gain Conditions, which are short phrases (“Alone,” “In Trouble”) that describe their gradually deteriorating state. As a mechanic, Conditions attempt to do multiple things at the same time.

1. They create a downward spiral, in which characters keep gaining more and more Conditions until, burdened by them, they are killed or (in the case of Giger Counter) turned into aliens.

2. They help structure play by creating hooks for scene framing. If we know that Player X is “Lost” and Player Y is “Unprepared,” we have some basic ideas about what they are doing when the scene starts.

3. They encourage players to frame situations that resemble classic horror scenes, where the characters are seperated or isolated or being chased or don’t have the equipment they need.

In the slasher game, I went a step forward by adding “Dead” as a Condition and allowing players, on their turn, to adjust which Conditions are active while still keeping the same number of active Conditions. This means a character can gain “Dead” early on and then, later on in the game, turn out to not be dead after all. This is a staple of the survival horror genre, I think.

In the most recent playtest of Giger Counter, we allowed characters to take up to three Conditions before they had to take “Dead” (their fourth and final Condition) and then play on the aliens’ side. Dev’s character took “Dead” as his third Condition, came back to life briefly, and then gained “Dead” for good. The Four Strikes policy on Conditions (which’ll probably be only a Three Strikes policy in future playtests) made Conditions more like a traditional damage system, which I think I’m okay with. Future playtests will show for sure.

Also, and I think this was a less successful experiment, we allowed players to invent Conditions on the spot, since Conditions — in a change from previous playtests — had no mechanical effects. This made the playtest run faster, I think, but lost a lot of the flavor. I think I ideally want to create a set of about 10-12 Conditions (including “Dead”) that all have pseudo-mechanical effects. A good example is something like “Trapped: the character cannot leave their current Location.” Since players can change their active Conditions during their turn, none of these effects need to be permanent, but they should have some real effect on a character, otherwise they lose much of their power.

In any case, those are my thoughts at this point.


Dong Chensheng vs. Aliens

July 12, 2007

If I could have any cover art I wanted for Nine Suns, I’d choose Dong Chensheng’s “Yi Shoots Nine Suns” (yi she jiu ri). Nobody does a better depiction of the neolithic archer king than Mr. Dong.


Also, we played Giger Counter last night at StoryGames Boston and it went pretty well. The aliens ended up killing all the humans, but only barely. If the humans had bothered to pick up all the equipment laying around and used it against the aliens, they might have won. I feel like I just need to play it a bunch more and keep tweaking the numbers slightly to get the balance right (so that, in most cases, one or two humans will manage to survive). Otherwise, it’s pretty much ready to go, once I update the current draft to reflect this last playtest.

So now I’m all set to run Giger Counter at GenCon as planned, in a scenario based on Clint Kraus’ Roanoke where some mysterious thing is preying on the earliest English colony. I can’t wait. Should be a great time.


When You Absolutely Must Play A Game About Chest-Bursting Aliens

July 6, 2007

Instead of working on Nine Suns today, I posted an initial draft of my game Giger Counter over at Thou And One. The intro goes:

    Giger Counter is a survival horror game in which the main characters are gradually turning into alien monstrosities. It is inspired by Vincent Baker’s game Afraid and the films by Ridley Scott (Alien), James Cameron (Aliens), David Fincher (Alien 3), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien Resurrection), Paul W.S. Anderson (Alien vs. Predator), and the upcoming film by the Brothers Strause (Aliens vs. Predator). The aliens in these films were originally designed by H.R. Giger (hence the name of this game), based on several paintings from his Necronomicon

I haven’t actually playtested Giger Counter, but I playtested an earlier version of the same system that was meant for running Scream-style teen horror movie games. This new version fixes a bunch of minor issues with that version of the rules, but I still need to do a thorough re-write of the rules for Conditions, which I more or less stole directly from Vincent’s Afraid.

Originally, Conditions were meant to be the core of the game. In the new draft, there’s some neat stuff going on with “It’s My Time to Shine,” “Revealing My Secret,” and Tools. Those new elements will take some of the weight off Conditions, but Conditions still need to be revised to be more interesting and powerful before the game is really ready to rock.

That said, I’m really excited about it. It’s a quick-and-fast game that’s less thorny than Avatar, but is based on many of the same principles and design concepts. Giger Counter and Avatar are the two games I’m hoping to finalize through playtesting over the summer, while I start putting together a draft of Nine Suns and (maybe) Good Ship Revenge.