So this Halloween, I have the distinct pleasure of hosting a Dread roleplaying game for my D&D group this year. Dread is a narrative storytelling game that has a unique feature where there are no stats, no abilities, and no dice (I know it sounds weird but bear with me). Instead, all actions that involve chance or possibility for failure are resolved by a mechanic the game calls the Tower of Dread. This mechanic builds tension as the blocks from the Jenga tower are pulled, until inevitably it falls, which often results in the player who caused the collapse to have their characters removed from the game in some fashion (generally death but madness or insanity are also appropriate). Now the game has been around since 2005, back at the time (I’m old but that old) I only D&D and the World of Darkness systems, after college I learned about other roleplaying game systems from play-by-post forums I frequented. But Dread, unfortunately, I never got to know about until it appeared on Geek and Sundry’s Tabletop web series, hosted by Wil Wheaton (see part 1 here). I instantly became a rabid fan, besides my return to the behind the DM screen at the end of November of 2014, my love for roleplaying games has never been stronger.
Now looking at the title, you may be asking yourself, “Dread meets D&D?” Yes, if there is one thing I loved to do years ago in my early DMing days, I loved to incorporate mechanics I liked from other systems into my D&D games and vice-versa. Before 4th edition of D&D, I had conceptualized a system relatively similar to skill challenges, requiring multiple successes (of a single skill or group of skills) in order for the party to successfully navigate a non-combat encounter. The concept of multiple of dice rolls used as successes was based loosely on the World of Darkness mechanics, of course, adjusted for D&D. I used some Exalted rules here and there for the D20 system for my anime/mecha crossover based games. I mean I have experimented with the game multiple times and they’ve either failed miserably or worked stupendously. Luckily my friends love the Tabletop web series and loved the idea of Dread, so I ended up crafting my own Dread story for my players and they are unbelievably excited for this game. But had the times not work for the players or if I could not gauge enough interest, I had considered incorporating some ideas of Dread into my D&D game. These are just suggestions and brainstorming I had done prior to the completion of my Dread storyline. But I think they add a nice bit of tension and suspense, especially if you do it a classic gothic horror setting, oh I don’t know, like Ravenloft? Yes, that’s right folks, the setting where hope is but a dream and defeating evil is nigh improbable.
Let’s look at the mechanics, in Dread, the sole resolution of all actions are generally through the Tower of Dread, no this is of course under the pretext that no stats or abilities as numbers are superfluous in this context. But since D&D deals with numbered stats and abilities, we need to figure out a middle ground. In Dread, it’s advised to the Game Master (GM) that skills that fit into the context of the player character’s (PCs) questionnaires would generally not require a ‘pull’ but if the PCs wish to willingly pull to secure a particular result, they are allowed to do so. I believe in this regard, we can implement a passive check on the PCs’ skills. For example, if a wizard decides to use Arcana, there should be passive skill check threshold for the DM to establish that would imply that the player does not need to necessarily pull from the tower, but anything strenuous or above the expertise of said wizard would obviously require a pull. Or (as the Dread manual states) there can be a voluntarily pull from the tower to help ensure success or improve the chances of success.
Or instead, whenever a player rolls a natural 1 or 20 for any sort of d20 roll, they have to make a mandatory pull from the Tower. This method is a bit more loaded and tends to slow the gameplay extensively. Unless you wish to imply Disadvantage/Advantage on rolls. But honestly, it still feels too loaded. Not to mention the tension becomes gradual and not as meaningful either. This idea is suggested if you simply want to toss in some fear but what is fear without real consequences?
So if we return to my previous suggestion of using passive skill’s checks to justify pulls and reinforcement of these skills through a pull from the Tower of Dread. But what about when the tower inevitably falls? How do we handle player elimination? Well if we’re just splashing Dread into a D&D session, then you might want to stay away from character deaths (unless this is a one-shot adventure than sure why not). But madness or an injury that will incapacitate the character? That is more reasonable.
Remember that the entire exercise is to create dramatic tension and suspense, the Dread game manual gives advice for resolving player actions and issues that may arise in the midst of games. The structure of this idea is really to have the players feel the weight of their choices in the end, and I honestly believe that even the game by itself has solid validity and is worth playing. But for those experimental DMs and players (like myself) who want to test the waters and push the boundaries of a roleplaying game experience, give it some thought and be willing to playtest. It’s never going to be perfect, it might not even work at all. But that’s the fun part of experiments, you are always looking to the results.
Thanks again for reading and I hope this article inspired you for your upcoming Halloween themed games or future games since horror is not exclusively for Halloween. Please like and/or comment down below if you have suggestions or have played around with other systems’ mechanics and incorporated them into your games. Subscribe and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.