Dread is a horror role-playing game where tasks are judged a success or fail by pulling a block from a Jenga® tower (or some other stacking block game). And if the tower falls? You die.
This is one of my favorite role-playing games of all time simply because the randomizer mechanic is just so perfect for the genre. Imagine the suspense, the tension, and the fear mounting as the horror game progresses … then magnify it as the tower becomes more and more unstable, and the pulls you have to make become more and more crucial to your character’s survival.
Each “pull” is like a roll of the die, a skill check. If you completely pull and place a block without the tower falling, you succeed. If it falls, you are destined to die, whether now or later. Players start purposefully failing to avoid dying.
With death being the alternate to success, you suddenly have your players hiding behind their chairs as one is shakily reaching for the rickety tower to complete a vital story task. I played once where a co-player’s hand shook so badly it took him ten minutes to actually pull. And no one complained because we were too scared to say or do anything.
There are some innate issues with using a Jenga® tower as your pass/fail mechanic. People with fine motor skill issues will not do well. Engineers will be insanely good at it. People who spend hours honing their Jenga® skills before the game (*cough*like me*cough*) will have an advantage. You need a flat, stable surface to play on. You can’t play a Jenga® over the internet — oh wait, yes you can. You can’t do it communally though, so it loses part of the magic.
There are no stat blocks, classes, or anything of the sort in Dread. Instead, Dread characters are made through probing questionnaires your players answer as their characters. In the full book, it goes into great detail on how to craft a questionnaire, and includes hundreds of questions (creeping along the bottom of every single page).
You can do any setting, so elves and aliens are available to use if you want them to be.
Character skills aren’t written down and ranked. The GM decides if that person can do a skill without a pull, with a pull or two.
For people who like to number crunch, feat hunt, and create builds … this isn’t the game for you. It’s a horror game. Your character cannot be all powerful. If you like a narrative and focusing on role-play over combat, this is definitely your game.
Creator Epidiah Ravachol wrote a lovely paperback for about $24 that I highly recommend. It’s well written, and helps the GM craft a true horror story. It also offers several scenarios you can play. You can also buy the PDF for $3. Or download the quick start rules for free.
Long story short…
- Mechanic encourages horror atmosphere
- Open-ended rules system
- Narrative-based characters instead of stats based
- Free basic rules, but great paid content
- Good for one shot games
- Requires fine motor skills to be successful
- Narrative based characters (all pulls are up to GM interpretation)
- Requires all players to be physically together
- Not suited for campaigns
*BONUS* Free Scenario: Corporate Retreat
I made Corporate Retreat for PolyCon 32. It ran for 4 hours, including character creation and rules explanation. Here was the description:
Every year, the private security company SUNDER sends its staff on a corporate retreat at a off season ski lodge in the mountains. Attendees are supposed to review company core values, explore the corporate mission, examine challenges and opportunities for the future, and initiate newest hires into SUNDER’s corporate culture…
I give you the character questionnaires, the IT Specialist’s extra handout, corporate retreat invitation, company logo, retreat agenda, and the GM notes. You can completely change the behind the curtain plot to fit your needs, or just run with it.