Dread: Actual Play

So, way back here, I’d just finished reading the Dread rpg. At the time I’d only played a single game of Dread and it was an Inception-based hack, which while pretty awesome was still a hack. I’ve been itching for a chance to play the actual game ever since.

Well, a few weeks back at The Walking Eye con I finally got a chance. Megan from The Jank Cast ran a session of Dread and I managed to get in on it.

Verdict: awesome. I’d love to go into some AP specifics, but it was a published scenario and Dread definitely benefits from not knowing things before going in. For those curious or those that have played, we did The Dead City scenario.

I’ll at least give the premise, but no more: the characters are all semi-strangers and wake up at the same time in a grocery store. Their last memory is of a blinding light and an otherworldly high-pitch wail. The game focuses on the characters exploring their environment and trying to find out what happened.

Further Thoughts

Like I said in my previous post about Dread the Tower and pulling mechanic really do a wonderful job of creating tension. Even in a con environment. The text of Dread has a lot to say about setting up the environment (low light, ambient music, that sort of thing).

In the beginning pulls from the tower were almost gimmes, but a Jenga tower is still somewhat unstable from the beginning. So there’s always a risk of it falling due to a careless player, although that chance is much lower in the beginning.

Amusingly, it turned out we had 4 people that were all pretty good Jenga players. And I think that two of the players had never touched Jenga before in their life. Towards the end of the game, before the tower ever toppled, we had nearly 30 full levels of blocks — I believe a full Jenga tower starts at 17 or 18 levels. Here’s a pic maybe a pull or two before the first topple (we were quickly running out of blocks that could be pulled):

Shortly after that I made a “heroic sacrifice” and purposely toppled the tower in an effort to save a fellow PC. In the end I just bought her a little more breathing room, because after the tower was re-assembled it wasn’t much longer before the tower fell. Mostly I just wanted to push the tower, because fuck you, I’m going out on my terms.

Which is actually pretty interesting. We’d gotten the tower to an impressive level at this point. After the tower falls and it has to be re-assembled it first has to be “primed” a bit — some number of blocks have to be removed to set it up (I believe it’s 3 blocks per character that’s out of the game). At that point that was two characters, so 6 blocks to be removed between the remaining two PC’s. At that point you would kind of expect all the tension to be gone. “We’re starting (nearly) fresh!”. But the game was reaching a climax and nerves were tense. it wasn’t too many more pulls before the tower toppled once more. That was certainly an interesting twist.

Final Thoughts/Verdict

Before I’d had some misgivings about characters being removed from play because the tower has fallen. I’m okay with it now. Plus there’s an option that I hadn’t really noticed before (not sure how I missed it): knocking over the tower still means certain death, but it doesn’t have to be immediate. Re-build the tower and keep playing. However, the player that knocked over the tower can no longer make pulls. Anything they really endeavor to do in the game will simply fail. Then, at the GM’s discretion, they can be killed/removed from the game at an appropriate time. This is especially good for accidental or early crashes. I definitely plan to make use of that should I ever run the game.

Overall I really like this game. It does what it sets out to do amazingly well. Horror is a genre of hope and fear and the Jenga tower is an amazing physical metaphor for that.

Definitely worth owning and/or trying out.


9 responses to “Dread: Actual Play

  1. One of the things that I hear a lot while playing other games is “you don’t die outright, it’s a Dread type death”. By the rules, a tower fall doesn’t necessarily means death, it just means that the character leaves the story. He might die, or go mad, or leave town, or do any of a number of things – he’s just not a character anymore.

  2. I’m glad you fun playing at Walking Eye Con – I’m usually not a GM type of person, but I kind of like running Dread. I think the Jenga mechanic is one of the most brilliant game mechanics tied to genre out there.

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