Game: B+
From 407 reviews

Dread

First Edition

Contents

Publisher Description

Dread is a game of horror and hope. Those who play will participate in a mutual telling of an original macabre tale. The goal of Dread is to sustain the delicate atmosphere that invokes the hand quivering emotion that lends its name to the game. The thrill of a Dread game lies within the tension between desire and loss. You will take on the role of someone trapped in a story that is only as compelling as it is hostile—someone who will find themselves making decisions we hope never to face in real life.

It is the horror roleplaying game that uses Jenga® instead of dice. Pull from the tower and you succeed. Refuse to pull and you fail. The choice is yours. But if the tower falls . . .




 

Horror Role-playing Meets ... Jenga? [ edit ]

Dread, from independent author Epidiah Ravachol, is very much not like other role-playing games.  For one thing, it focuses primarily on one-shot adventures and short campaigns (although longer campaigns are possible) ... but that's actually not uncommon for horror RPGs.  For another, it focuses heavily on story over rules ... buy again, many other "rules-lite" systems (like FATE or TinyD6) have a similar focus.

What truly makes Dread unique is that the game doesn't use dice, or a deck of cards, or any other "normal" source of randomness.  Instead, the game uses a set of wooden blocks (eg. from the game Jenga) to determine all random events.

Everytime the character wants to do anything involving risk they have to take a brick out from the tower and place it back on top, resulting in a game with zero number crunching, but lots of mounting anticipation and drama.


Dread, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse

Character Creation [ edit ]

As a system with no numbers involved, Dread character creation doesn't require rolling any dice, or spending any points.  In fact, all it requires is answering a questionnaire written in advance by the game's "Host" (ie. GM).

The Host provides a different questionnaire for each player, and the questionnaire is a roughly a single page full of questions, with plenty of room for corresponding answers.  The player answers the questions, defining aspects of their character, and then ... they're ready to play.

There are no official  classes or races in Dread, but because the Host can provide different questionnaires to different players (potentially with leading questions on them), there's nothing stopping them from offering different roles or even different races for each character.  For instance, a host might want to run a game where one character has already been bitten by a werewolf, and so  that character's questionnaire might ask "when and where were you bitten?"

Core Mechanics [ edit ]

To accomplish most things in Dread the player simply says that their character will do them, and they do.  However, whenever there is a serious question of whether they can (ie. when other RPGs would have you make a "skill check" or similar roll) the player "rolls" by removing a block from the Jenga tower and placing it on top.  If they succeed, the action succeeds.

However, if at any point anyone (even someone other than the puller) causes the tower to fall, not only does the action fail, but the person responsible's character is removed from the game.  They may die, or they may go into a coma, have to visit a sick relative, etc., but they are gone for the rest of the session.

If, in the middle of a pull, a player wants to stop (because they are afraid of tipping the tower), they can, but their action fails (and if they somehow wind up accidentally toppling the tower anyway, they still lose their character).  Also some actions, which are particularly long or complex, may require multiple pulls to succeed, at the Host's discretion.

Each time a character is removed and the tower is restacked, three extra blocks (per character) are removed and added to the top of the tower, making it increasingly less stable later in the game.  However, at any time (if the tower looks too unsteady), a player may opt to sacrifice themself, knocking over the tower and dying, and but getting an automatic success on their final action in the process.

Finally, players can always opt to take an unnecessary pull, in order to do some regular action exceptionally well.

Combat [ edit ]

Because of the simple game system, combat against NPCs is similarly a simple question of pulls, with the Host deciding how many (if any) are needed to win.  A character with a military or street fight background (per their questionnaire) might be able to beat up an ordinary person without any pulls, but most fights will require at least a pull to win, if not one pull per "attack".

If players wish to fight amongst themselves however, things get a bit more interesting.  First the attacker makes a pull to succeed, then the defender can make a pull to defend themselves.  After that the defender can opt to make an attack by making (yet another) pull, and the process continues back and forth until one side backs down.

There are no hit points or similar injury mechanic in Dread, simply Host-assigned consequences.  A successful punch might knock a man out, give him a black eye, break his jaw, or do all three.

Despite it's very unusual rules, Dread has won wide praise from a variety of sources.  For instance, in an episode of his show "Tabletop", actor Wil Wheaton (famous from Star Trek: the Next Generation, Eureka, etc.) praised Dread as having a:

very innovative device to build up tension and really put the scare in players

But Wil Wheaton isn't the game's only fan: in 2006 the ENnie Awards nominated Dread for both Best Rules and Best Game, and while it didn't win either of those, it did take home gold in the Special Judges "Innovation" Award.

On top of that, with 125 (paid customer) reviews on Drive Thru RPG, the game has maintained an extremely high average score of 4.8/5.0.  Even more impressive, on RPG Geek Dread is currently ranked in 18th place ... of the entire site (ie. the vast majority of published RPGS)!

In short, if you're looking for a rules-heavy RPG ... or heck, even just one with a moderate amount of rules  ... Dread's simplistic Jenga-based rules just won't be what you want (see Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, etc. instead).  But if you're looking for a flexible and fun horror RPG for one-shots or short campaigns, Dread and its unique Jenga-based approach to horror games will likely be a welcome departure from the norm.