You and a group of friends decide to go survival camping alongside the Colorado River in the middle of the Grand Canyon. You all pull up to a starting site in the same vehicle to be greeted by a gentleman of Native American descent. He is your guide, the one to make sure that everyone gets through the trip alive and well with plenty of stories to tell. He explains to you that the trip will take about a week or a little more. You have to travel “x” amount of miles daily in order to get to your goal in time. He has you go through some basic lessons like first aid and CPR, afterwards you go through the basics of rock climbing and river rafting.
“How bad do the rivers get?” you ask your guide. He simply looks at you and cracks a smile as if to tell you it won’t be easy, but it’ll sure as hell be fun. Your group has decided that this is how you are going to spend your spring break… on the great outdoors. The party consists of the basics of a typical eighties horror movie; The Nerd, The jock, The Rich Kid, The Hippie, The Kid that isn’t special, and The Freshman.
The first day down the river goes smoothly and just as planned, but everything goes wrong come night. The dead silence is broken by the sounds of a tent being ripped open, and the screams of your guide as you can hear the unmistakable sound of bones snapping. The sound is enough to wake everyone and you and your friends sleepily emerge from your tents with confused expressions. Then, it’s there again. The loud snapping accompanied with the deafening screams of your guide. With the sleep pushed from your bodies by adrenaline you look around, and only then do you notice several pairs of glowing yellow eyes staring at your group. A howling fills the air and you get the sinking feeling that this trip has come to an end. )
This is your reality in the world of Dread, a story telling game of my favorite kind, horror. For several years, storytelling games have not only been a way to pass time, but an experience. Dread allows the players to not only play but to become a part of the game itself (accomplishing what virtual reality attempts to). In 1974 “Dungeons and Dragons” was created and was a game of pure immersion. For many years to follow, games similar to this style would continue to be developed.
Dread came out of nowhere. It had a different take on storytelling and imagination. For starters, it doesn’t take place over the course of multiple sessions. Instead it is played out from start to finish, completing the story in one session. The creators use a survey system to get the players more actively engaged without spoiling any of the stories. Asking vague, yet specific, questions like “How did you get that scar?” or “When do you feel most alone?” the GM (story teller) will be able to make the story more personalized, along with having a bit of ammo to use for creativity. All forms of stats and leveling are thrown out the window, as well as the any dice rolling. A player will instead use a tower of blocks and will pull out an amount of blocks proportionate to the difficulty of the task. All you are left with is a horror based game of storytelling, word play, and some talented block pulling. When you are faced with a scenario within the game, the GM will ask you what you would like to do. For example, “The killer is outside of the room where you are hiding, what would you like to do?” You decide you want to find a weapon in your hiding space and the GM would determine the amount of blocks that need to be pulled to be successful. If you succeed, your action goes through. If you fail, you die. No re-dos or mulligans. In the above example, your character may knock over a shelf while searching prompting the killer to enter. The game gets much harder the longer it is played. Finding the best solution to a problem to keep the number of pulls down coupled with your dexterity is the only way to win. )
When I first introduced the game to my group of friends two years ago, I can honestly say it was the most fun I’ve ever had. Telling the story and watching them transition from playing the game to becoming a piece of it was mesmerizing. I chose the base scenario described above and tweaked it a little bit to match my players. As they filled out their short surveys I told them the title of the campaign would be “Beneath a Full Moon” (one of the beginner stories you can find on the Tilted Windmill website). As they answered they all thought the story was about a werewolf and answered accordingly. I even let them choose a couple of items to bring with them on their camping trip, and most chose items to fight the “werewolf” they would be encountering soon. Throughout their scenario they came across a severely wounded guide and a pack of coyotes. They dragged the half conscious guide to the raft and began their adventure down the river. The guide slowly came to and after finally waking up they learn that their only hope for survival will lead them down a path to insanity. The werewolves that they thought they were to encounter turned out to be an ancient spirit created by human hunger. Throughout their entire scenario my friends were chased by the curse of the Wendigo. The curse had them second guessing all of their choices and eventually became untrusting of their own instincts.
As the night went on the game had come full circle to sunrise and the tower of blocks was twice as high as the starting tower. My group was pulling insanely well and as the GM, it was the most frustrating experience. Not that I was against my players or needed them to die off, but I felt that I wasn’t making it hard enough on them. So I kicked it up a notch. As the players entered the mine of the Wendigo curse, their guide abandoned them running deeper into the mine despite his wounds almost seeming… possessed. Hmm. After wandering around without a guide for some time, they heard what could only be described as dead weight falling from the ceiling. “The guide…” one of my players exclaimed, and I could almost see the fear in their eyes. As they turned around they were barely able to make out the motionless and mangled body of their previous guide. Approaching the situation cautiously they only dug their hole deeper as the longer it took them to take a decision, the more blocks they would have to pull. As the Wendigo came crawling over the corpse of the deceased guide with yellow glowing eyes, the group bolted for the way they came. It was amazing to see my friends at the edge of their seats and not only playing their roll but caring about it. In the end the tower stood as a rickety monument and all survived. They may have made it through the night but the curse followed them to the end.)
This has been our first blog as a company and honestly my first one personally. Please leave your comments and tell us your experiences with this game, tell us your story!