"Dread is a game of horror and suspense. Those who play it participate in a mutual telling of an original macabre tale. The goal of the game is to sustain the delicate atmosphere that is necessary to produce the hand quivering emotion that lends Dread its name. The thrill lies within the tension between desire and loss. You will take on the role of someone trapped in a story that is only as compelling as it is hostile--someone who will find themselves making the sorts of decisions we hope never to face in real life."
Publisher: The Impossible Dream
Category: RPG (unusual randomizer)
While browsing the wares at Connecticon, we happened upon a book entitled Don't Rest Your Head. As we were flipping through that book, one of the guys working the booth came over and told us that if we were looking for a great horror storytelling game (we weren't) then we needed to check out Dread. He pulled the book from the shelf and proceeded to tell us why this is his favorite for horror storytelling.
Dread is different from many RPG's in that it doesn't use dice and stats. When he said no dice, my interest waned. I admit it, I'm a lover of dice. I own several sets and am always on the lookout for more. But then he explained the use of the Jenga tower. You know that game of wooden blocks where you pull one out and place it on top, continuing until it suddenly comes crashing down? That's the one. As the story is told, the GM (or "Host") will ask for pulls to be made from the tower in order to resolve the action. If the tower falls at any time, something horrible happens to the character of the one pulling. Usually this means death.
I was intrigued but not really in the market for a horror storytelling game. We thanked him and moved on.
But I couldn't get the idea out of my head. I'd never run a game myself and had been seriously considering giving it a try. The idea of an original macabre story rather than jumping into a well known 'verse was appealing, as well as the fact that it could be completed in one night as opposed to a longer campaign. And I really wanted to see if the Jenga tower added that "horror story" tension that would be impossible to recreate with dice and stats. I found myself back at the booth on Sunday, buying the book.
Imagine my surprise when my friends in my gaming group wanted me to run it that very next Friday. I read through the book quickly and learned that the game is reliant on questionnaires that each player fills out for their character. These help to build the story and really make it the group's. Questions such as What could you have done to save your brother's life? Why do you have a picture of someone you've never met in your wallet? Why do you refuse to touch scissors anymore? How did you get that scar? What's the worst thing you've ever done to a loved one? and What would ruin your reputation if it were ever to be found out? are leading ones designed to pull out motivations and back story and really flesh out a character in a short amount of time.
My friends are not the biggest fan of horror and I wasn't sure how well that would go over, but the great thing about this system is that the flavor of the story is really left up to the host and the players. The book includes chapters on running a suspenseful, supernatural, mad, moral, mysterious and/or gory game. We've played two games so far and while both included horror tropes and moments of suspense and tension, they also included their fair share of humor (if you knew my group of friends, you'd know this was inevitable!).
And the Jenga tower? Did its use live up to the hype? You betcha. There were girly screams involved, and not from the girls. The tension as the story geared up and the tower became more unstable was incredible, and it really made the story so much better. I'm loving Dread and hope to continue running games for awhile. I can't wait to feel comfortable enough with the system to create my own stories. Highly recommended.
Check back in the near future for more game mechanics info, as well as the notes from the scenarios we've played!