Monday, October 11, 2010
The Best of Dread From a Hopeless Point of View.
To tie up our discussion of Dread for Shocktober 2010, the three of us have decided to reflect upon our great experiences over the years with the game. I'm not going to give too much of a pre-amble here as this is just a bit of reflection on our parts. The take home message here is that Dread has taught us a lot about tabletop gaming. I believe it's in large part to the free-form aspect with light rules that allows players and GM alike to experiement. Interestingly enough, both Chuck and Andrea chose to write about the same game, but as you'll see, they each took very different lessons away from it. On with the flashbacks!
While we've run plenty of scenarios at home, some of my favorite Dread memories have come from Gencon games. My all-time favorite was a scenario where we were hired henchmen on an evil villain's island. I was playing the wife of the lead henchman, and when things started to go bad (as they often do in Dread games), I decided to be as true to my selfish character as possible. My character abandoned the rest of the team, leaving some of them in some pretty dire situations. I don't want to give away too much of the scenario, but while everyone else was trying to find a way to quarantine bad news on the island, my character made a ton of pulls to find a boat and escape... to naively wreak havoc on the rest of the world. It was a great lesson in letting go of the urge to meta-game... even though the scenario probably didn't go exactly how the GM anticipated, she did an amazing job adapting and we all had a blast.
For the last five years (at least) we have played Dread at GenCon. Sometimes we play with the group that created the game and sometimes with an independent GM. Both experiences have been very fun, but one game stands out above the rest. We played a scenario called “Henchmen” at GenCon 2009. The GM created a great atmosphere of terror and suspense by effectively switching between characters/scenes and using concise, dramatic descriptions to bring terror and dread to every aspect of the game. I especially appreciated her juxtaposition of the main villain’s obsession with cleanliness and the absolute, rotting description of the aftereffects of his experiments.
The GM’s techniques changed the way I run games. I used her techniques in running Digging for a Dead God both with my usual play group and while running the scenario at Cons. The key, I learned, is to take quick scenes with each group of characters and leave switch to the next group as soon as you have tension filled moment. This changing focus allows everyone to fell connected to the game and interested in what happens next. So, in addition to a great scenario, I learned a lot about running games in general, and horror games in particular.
It was very difficult to pick a favorite moment of Dread as it's something we make sure we get in at least one game every Gencon. My favorite player moment (versus GM's moment) would be the second game we played the year we played in the Henchmen game mentioned above. It was a WWII setting game where we played a group of U.S. soldiers that dropped into Europe on D-Day. As we were forming up, we realized we weren't in our version of Europe anymore but somehow fell into a fae world. It was a very deadly setting but provided a lot of great role-playing moments.
My character was insubordinate as a result of not believing our commanding officer (another player character) was competent enough to lead us. It was a character trait I picked as a result of my questionnaire. At one point I made the mistake of saying my officer's name in front of a goblin. The goblin then subvertly controlled the player character (names have power!) to order me to let the goblin go. I was ready to resist the officer's order by pulling a block from the tower when I realized my insubordination was a strength. Instead of pulling a block to resist, I recognized how this order was even more incompetent than usual and hit the goblin with some iron we found earlier (goblins hate that!). I came away from that game with a great feeling of accomplishment and really realized how important the character questionnaire is to think your answer through. It was also a rare occurence of playing a competent and serious character myself (I usually play idiots), so it was a great experience.