Halloween Roleplaying – Dread

I am the storyteller of an annual Halloween one-shot at our local gaming store. This will be our second year using the roleplaying game Dread. I’m a big fan of this little independent roleplaying game. I have not found a better game to create suspense and tension at the gaming table.

So, this year I took the Dread scenario, “Beneath a Full Moon” and then tweaked it to better suit our purpose. In the original scenario players take on the role of college students, rafting in the Grand Canyon for spring break. They are soon attacked, chased and hunted by a monster. For our Halloween game we dress up in costumes and for this reason I thought college students were a little mundane. I set our story in the Weird West, combining elements of  Western, steampunk and the occult genres. The characters survive an airship crash in the mountains and have to escape from a monster that relentlessly hunts them. I renamed the scenario “Beneath a Clockwork Moon”.

Again this year my players did a great job with their costumes and a few even took on accents for their role. As always our story is told by candle light. Which really adds something to the spooky aura. I find it liberating to role-play by candle light. You can really step out of you comfort zone and go all in on the acting. There is no need to feel silly or shy when the shadows partially hide you.

My silent storyteller was Alex. He listens to the game and then cues sound effects. I describe things and then the players really hear the wolves howl, the wind blowing, the rain pouring and the thunder booming. It adds an immeasurable amount of verisimilitude while we play.

I recently subscribed to the free trial offer over at Project Alpha. I have been watching  @Hydra_Lord masterfully storytelling his Sagas of Sundry. His Dread games are really something to behold. He adds a number of physical challenges to the Dread RPG and I borrowed some of them for our Halloween game. For example, I asked a player to balance a stack of large wooden blocks on their outstretched hand, while the other players made pulls from the tower. I taped a prop (journal) to the bottom of the table before the players arrived for the game. Then when they went reaching under some floor boards, I had them literally reach beneath the table blindly to find the journal.

It was another great Halloween game of Dread and I can’t wait for next year’s story! Check out some pictures of the game below.


Weekend in Thule

Many times life interrupts gaming, friends move or work gets in the way. This was the case for a group I played with 20 years ago. We were playing 2nd edition D&D at the time and after 4 years of gaming our campaign came to a close when life interrupted. Fortunately, I’ve stayed in touch and we will occasionally set up a weekend to play D&D together again.

At the other end of things, my oldest son (age 11) commonly observes my current gaming group and I  playing D&D. He asked if he could join us on our next adventure and it happened to coincide with one of these rare weekend games with the old crew. I was elated and invited him to join us for his first game of Dungeons & Dragons!

A weekend game with old friends always takes the form of a one shot and it was my turn to jump behind the DM screen. I decided we would step into the world of Primeval Thule and I would run Richard Baker’s, Secret of the Moon Door. I’m a big fan of this setting and I wanted to expose more of my friends to it. Baker did a great job with this module and its very easy to customize.

With a table of friends (some from the past and others from the present) and of course my son, we ventured into the Atlantian colony of Katagia. We solved the disappearance of the sage Ghilean. We discovered a lost temple to the dead goddess Selene and unlocked the Secret of the Moon Door.

I tried something a little different and let the players design the NPC Ghilean. They all knew Ghilean was a sage/historian, but they each had to answer three questions at the beginning of the session. First, how did they meet Ghilean? Second what was one thing they liked about her? Lastly, why are they answering her letter for assistance? As we went round the table each player’s answers begun to flesh out Ghilean and the type of person she was. The players were immediately invested in the NPC because they had help create her.

We ran a little short on time. The module is broken up into three parts and unfortunately the final part had to be trimmed so that we’d reach the final battle with the villain. I think I needed the equivalent of one more session (4 hours) to really do the third part justice. However, I think most players still enjoyed themselves and understood we were under time constraints.

Halloween Gaming – Dread

I dungeon master an annual Halloween one-shot D&D game. This will be my third year doing it. We’ve done a vampire adventure, a mummy adventure and this year it was a haunted house. I always DM with a costume on, and our hostess does up the house and food in Halloween fashion. It’s great fun, but it’s never scary, tense or nerve wracking. I don’t find D&D to be a very good game engine for horror stories. I’ve been in a few spooky Ravenloft games, but the system falls a little short in my opinion.

So, I looked around the internet for a better way to run Halloween one-shots and I came across the independent RPG Dread thanks to Wil Wheaton (twitter @wilw). Dread is a storytelling RPG that uses a Jenga tower to determine outcomes instead of dice. If the tower falls while you’re pulling on it, your character is dead (or removed from game). The stories you tell can be any genre/setting and the tension created by the teetering tippy tower bleeds over into your story.

Honestly, I was a little skeptical. How suspenseful and doom inspiring can a bunch of blocks be? I decided to give it a go, I ran two games of Dread leading up to Halloween. The first was more of a play test and both games used the same scenario. In both cases there was real tension at the table as players had to pull blocks from the unstable tower.

In the second game of Dread, the players dressed in costume and we played by candle light with spooky music. This seemed to enhance and amplify what we were going  for. On one occasion a player simply could not work up the nerve to make a pull from the tower. He instead chose to intentional knock it down and make a heroic exit. This intentional destruction is a part of the game and leads to some awesome role-playing.

Following the game I heard back from multiple players with comments like: “That was an awesome game.” and “I wasn’t expecting that, it’s visceral. I could not recommend Dread more! If you’re looking for a Halloween game that your friends will remember, this is it. Also, the rules are so light (almost non-existent) that non-gamers can easily join in on the game and not feel lost. The Jenga tower doesn’t create fear, but it does create suspense and the feeling of impending disaster… aka DREAD.



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