DREAD at Nightham Dale

Hey guys, I have been silent for a while, but I feel it is right to give a bit of an update on a couple of things that have happened over the past few weeks. So  first I’m going to start with a game of DREAD I hosted….

DREAD

It was my birthday recently, and as part of this I decided to get a couple of friends around to play an RPG called DREAD. DREAD is a horror-themed tabletop Role Playing Game by a chap called Epidiah Ravachol which is, at it’s core, Jenga with a story.  This is one of the simplest RPG mechanics I know of; tell a horror story, and if your characters want to do something that has a chance of failure, they pull a block from the Jenga tower. If they succeed, guess what – they succeed. If they tumble to tower, their character either dies or goes insane (or some other sort of consequence relevant to their situation). I tweaked the rules a little bit in order to fit my story. There were a few times when I needed to know pull orders, so I added a few d20 rolls to figure out initiatives.

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One thing that is beautiful about the game is that it tends to be a complete one-shot, as most people tend to wind up dead. Because of that, the Games Master has complete control over the rules of the world’s setting and the general narrative. You also have a bare minimum on your ‘character sheet’ – you can get by with nothing but your name and your strengths and weaknesses. Typically, however, because it is less of a combat game and more about intrigue, it’s nice to add in a backstory and any secrets the players may know. In order to facilitate this, and to encourage the players to have ownership of their characters and a slight element of influence over the story, the GM would send out questionnaires regarding player’s characters, with some generic questions for all characters (name, apprentice, character traits, strengths/weaknesses, fears) and some specific questions aimed at specific characters (what do you know about the recent murders in the area? What is it about the hidden ruins that terrifies you so much?). The answers to some of the more specific questions may influence the worlds setting or overarching narrative. This makes DREAD a truly collaborative storytelling experience.

The Characters

I had a number of friends I wanted to invite, mostly just to get an idea of who would be interested. I sent a message out to about 12 people, assuming most of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. 8 people were interested. 8 people wanted to play, to spend a night exploring a silly story and playing Jenga. Now, I am not an experienced GM, and 8 imaginary people in my imaginary world is a lot to keep control of.  And then, part way through the week, I had another friend who wanted to join.

9 players. 9 characters. 9 questionnaires.

I wrote up a springboard for each character describing what has led them all to the same place at the same time. This little piece of prose is intended to set the scene, set the tone and establish connections to the area of the game; Nightham Dale.

Below I have a link to a document that outlines the springboards for each character. These initial ideas changed slightly as the players filled in their questionnaires, but the basis stayed the same into the game.

Nightham Dale – Character Springboards

The Story

The story behind my DREAD game isn’t particularly new or groundbreaking; it involved a ghostly attack on a tavern, a race through the woods, the discovery of an ancient ruin, and the betrayal of a party member. All of this against a backdrop of unexplained murders and the sense of a local cover-up.

Due to the one-shot nature of the game, and the time restraints on the night (not to mention the fact that I had given myself under a week to organise it all), I chose to try to direct the players as much as possible, whilst still allowing them free reign. The issue here is that the story must reach it’s intended conclusion in one night, it cannot run over into ‘the next session’ because there wasn’t one.

It was best that I divide the night into three acts, allowing moments for cliffhangers as we have toilet and drinks breaks. Below I have added a link to the story notes and hope to follow it up with a short account of what happened on that night in Nightham Dale.

(it is important to note that I allowed the Betrayer to choose ‘the song’ that plays when an enemy is near – All I can say is that I really appreciated their choice, and through out the night when I started to sing it, the players all panicked. Great times!)

Nightham Dale – DREAD Session Notes

The Response

On the whole, the evening went well. There were no real mishaps and the characters tended to do what I had expected, with the exception of one or two, who went in completely the wrong direction, and, despite any encouragements to move them back to the group, refused. One lady almost got her face torn off by the ghastly enemies, and two had to be saved by an NPC, and eventually thrown out of the troublesome area.

Due to these mishaps, I had to speed through a couple of sections of the story in order to get them to the final encounter; fights against ghosts as the master of the ghosts is being born into our world via a statues yawning mouth. They also managed to solve the puzzle to defeat the master just before it was fully in this world – after each turn I rolled a d20, this gave me a percentage increase of how far the master was out, once it reached 100% it was Game Over.

I’ve got to admit, some of the people playing were not RPG people. The idea of playing a game inside their imagination was something brand new and, some may say, a little scary. However, even these people got into it after some time, making choices for the group, arguing points and playing their characters well in the situations they found themselves.

The game ended, everyone relieved that they won. Or relieved it was over… I couldn’t tell. They all seemed to have a good time, and we spent a good few hours talking through the games and the characters each player had created. This, to me, was a sign of a good night.

One issue I did note, however, was that one or two players felt as though they didn’t have the space to explore their character’s back story. The reason for the back story was for player’s understanding and ownership of their character, not necessarily to be explored within the game. If I gave 9 players the opportunity to do that, we would need a lot more than one night. Some other players felt as though they were in the back seat for most of it, though I tried to include everyone with their own personal piece of the puzzle.

Still, this sort of thing is to be expected when you are doing a one shot with a high number of player. Next time I will make sure there are only 3 or 4 of us!

Anyway, I have rambled enough for now! Cheers for reading,

Oz

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