The scariest games I’ve ever played have all been sessions of Dread. Let me tell you about our very first playtest of the game. We already had most of the rules there (plus a few extraneous bits that we thankfully dumped before we published), so it was pretty much what you’ve played if you’ve played Dread (though characters were pretty different). Eppy and I were playing in our kitchen with our friend Dan, with the lights low. Eppy was running the game. He had set up a playlist of mood music, looping on his computer a couple rooms away. We were dealing with some creepy cultists in a recently post-apocalyptic land. We had discovered they were engaging in human sacrifice and maybe cannibalism, and decided we needed to get away while we still could. Dan was working on a pull, his hand almost on the tower, and the music was so quiet as to be inaudible. Then, with no warning, an agonizing scream erupted from the next room. We all jumped a foot in the air, Eppy included, and had to take a break before Dan could finish his pull and we could continue the game. Sure, it was just a coincidence and a startle, but it wouldn’t’ve mattered if the game hadn’t been so scary to begin with, if we hadn’t all been so tense through the combination of the events in the game and that looming tower on the table.
I don’t think we ever bothered with music for a Dread game again—it was almost too much. But we continued to play and run scary sessions of Dread, and I’ve even seen it work its magic in loud, brightly-lit, crowded convention rooms.
Oh, that scream? It’s part of the opening of a Samhain song, which actually has some very soft other sound effects, but those were inaudible on computer speakers a room away. Unfortunately, neither Eppy nor I can remember the exact song, and some quick googling didn’t provide the answer.
Favorite published adventure? Not sure how to answer that. I’ve never run a published adventure, not even an intro or quick start for a game that I can recall. I’ve read and even bought a few, but the closest I’ve ever come is using a story seed or published NPCs to create my own scenario. And I haven’t, as far as I know, ever played a published adventure, either. So, for lack of anything else, I guess I’ll have to be a little narcissistic and choose an adventure I wrote and ran that was later published: the werewolf “hunt” Beneath a Full Moon, one of the example scenarios in Dread.
I’m going to start with the best convention game that I wasn’t actually part of. It was Con of the North, many years ago—I think before Dread had actually been published. So people had heard of Dread—it was part of why we were invited to the con—but it wasn’t yet known, and our games weren’t yet swamped. One of the games that Eppy was running only had 3 players, which is pretty much the minimum for the game to really be fun, and he nearly lost 2 of them when he was doing the scenario introduction and they realized that they would be playing rabbits. Not anthropomorphic rabbits, not rabbits with magic powers, not people transformed into rabbits—just rabbits. [We had thought this was clear from the event description, but apparently not.] And that this was nonetheless a serious game. He nearly lost them again when he busted out the Jenga™ tower. Luckily for all concerned, they decided to give it a go.
Con of the North is the best convention for playing Dread that I’ve been to. At least half the gaming space is in cleared out hotel rooms with just 1 or 2 tables in them, so you don’t have the dull roar of a large convention hall, and at most you have one other group making noise. Luckily, for this game it was just them in the room. So as night fell on the rabbits they turned the lights down in the room. I had finished running my game, so I had come by to sit and watch. As the rabbits tried desperately to escape the owl stalking them, they all were hiding, verging on tharn, which would’ve made them easy prey. Eppy told each player that they would have to pull for their rabbit to keep their wits about them. One of the players volunteered to go first, and started examining the tower. Then, with no warning, in a silent room with just the light spilling from beyond the door, he smacked the tower, sending blocks everywhere, almost-shouting “I bolt!” at the same time. Everyone, Eppy included, jumped, and that rabbit became owl food, but gave his compatriots a chance to get away.
I recently got an inquiry about selling some play aids and scenarios for Dread. The short answer is “go for it!” But I thought I’d put the long answer up here for everyone to see, and maybe generate some discussion.
In this part 3 (of 3) of my analysis of a Dread game based on the movie Inception, I’ll look at how the scenario construction was different from most Dread games, and bring the discussions from all 3 parts together.
In the last post, I talked about using multiple, multi-colored towers for my Inception-inspired Dread game. Now I’ll move on to discussing other mechanical tweaks to the towers and block pulling.
A couple weeks ago at Con of the North I ran another playtest of Dreamthieves, a Dread scenario I first ran a couple months ago. Inspired by someone’s description of an Inception-inspired Dread game at Gen Con last year, I set out to see what it would take to make the two work together. I first ran the game a few months ago at a local game day, but with only 3 players (only one of which knew anything about Dread before then) and a shortage of time, it was really hard to tell whether or not it would work. This time, I had 5 players, 4 of whom had played Dread multiple times before, plenty of time, and some ideas from the 1st run-through. We also were able to discuss the game afterwards, so I could get some feedback this time.
In summary: It was awesome! It was also slightly broken. And I think I may be inventing a Dread variant, rather than just another scenario.