Monday, October 4, 2010
Review - Dread: The Game of Wooden-Blocked Terror
Intrigued yet? Wondering why it looks like I have a deathgrip on the book itself to the right here? Keep Reading to find out more about this unusually excellent horror game and what I'm hiding underneath my hand!
We've played 80's slasherfest, psychadelic Hastur-inspired Lovecraft horror, a Buffy-style high school horror game, and a late 90's self-aware game. Each of these games have been equally compelling in their own way even though the types of suspense and horror generated vary quite a bit. The tower is versatile in its story-telling capabilities.
What kind of tension is pulled out of the tower? Let's take a step back. First, players must follow the rules of Jenga proper when making a "pull" from the tower. The GM can ask a player to make a pull at any time to succeed at something they're trying to acheive. Players may also elect to make extra pulls in order to better prepare for something or even pull something out of their purse they didn't even know was there at a crucial moment. ("You think you have a silver cross in your back pocket when the vampire rushes you? Make a pull and see if you're lucky.") Alternatively, in a time where the tower has gotten too tall and too unstable and you just don't think you can pull, you can always heroic sacrifice to knock the tower down and acheive something truly epic.
This may sound like a daunting task for the GM, and sometimes it can be, but the best way to look at the questionnaire is to use it as a tool to create all those hooks and connections to the story and within the group you always wanted to. Go ahead, make two of the players married or another two twins - it's completely up to you. The players have to answer the question in a way that doesn't directly contradict the premise. It's also not too bad as the bottom of each page in Dread is a running list of questions GM's can include (see above and to the right there). It's a great way to randomly add a couple of questions to an almost-complete character concept and is a very nice little touch the author threw in.
The pages are a non-glossy stock, and the rest of the book is in black and white, but you're really not buying Dread for how it looks. This thing is thick with great horror role-playing tips and tricks. Considering how light the actual rules are, and that the book weighs in at 167 pages, it's safe to assume that it's one of the best GM guides to running a horror game out there. Yes, a lot of the advice specifically supports how to build tension using the tower, but if you want to run a horror game, tension-building should be a main concern.
The second half of the book includes vignettes on running several different kinds of horror games that focus on the overall feel of a game rather than a given genre like serial killer or monster. I've turned to these chapters on several occasions when planning a game just for the helpful advice listed within. The end of the book includes three Stories (Dread's name for adventures). The three stories provide a beginner, intermediate, and advance look at stories in three different genres (monster, aliens/sci-fi, and 80's slasher fun). All three scenarios are great in their own way, and we've had fun with each of them. They do a great job of preparing you to host your own Dread games and give a good feel for how often players should be making pulls.
Another aspect of gaming that does not shine in Dread is sustained campaign play. Dread is the quintessential horror one-shot game, even moreso than Call of Cthulhu. The game is deadly, Total Party Kills are not uncommon, and suspension would need to rise and fall quite tensely every session. You'd need to be able to make sure you got a full story (or chapter I guess, in this case) in each play since saving the tower for the next play is pretty much out of the question.
The big caution here is that Dread takes a play or two to really wrap your mind around it. It's a very different game from traditional RPG's. Pacing is more important in Dread than any other game, and the GM will need some breathing room to get the amount of pulls required just right. It might not work every time - some times it'll be incredibly deadly while others it'll be a walk through the park - but when it clicks it's golden.
Hope you enjoyed the review, and if you're wondering where to go next, I've got some links for you! First you should go check out The Impossible Dream to find and download the quickstart rules. They will literally get you started quickly and are enough to play your first game. Then go back (or start here, they need your support!) to their site to buy the book or purchase the pdf. Looking for a scenario to play? We posted one yesterday, but make sure to come back often this week as we continue to explore Dread, relate some of our best experiences, and provide you with some more fodder for you to use in your own games! Tell your friends!