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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 166 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Review & AP  (Read 2391 times)

Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff

« on: August 30, 2006, 11:08:27 AM »

Posted this over on my livejournal, but I'll put the relevant pieces here in case anyone is interested...

Don't Rest Your Head (henceforth DRYH) is the latest release from Evil Hat Productions, a name which you might have heard in conjunction with the upcoming Dresden Files RPG or the pulp game Spirit of the Century. DRYH is a modern fantasy/horror, inspired by things like Gaiman's Neverwhere and films like Jacob's Ladder and Dark City. It's all about riding the fine line between exhaustion and madness for long enough to achieve your goals.

Mechanically, it's pretty simple: it's an opposed dice pool game. 3 and under are successes, and the most successes wins. Where things get interesting is that there's another, orthogonal comparison going on based on where you got the dice from. PCs can get dice from Discipline, Exhaustion, and Madness, and the GM gets dice from Pain. Each has a different effect based on which pool has the highest dice in it. So if your highest rolling dice are from, say, your Madness pool, you might still succeed, but you'll temporarily snap and undergo a Fight or Flight reaction.

Characters are generated with a simple questionnaire, which focuses on the important things, like "What's keeping you awake?" (Since all the PCs are insomniacs, this is much more relevant than it may seem at first glance.) There's a great GM section that guides you in how to use these responses to really focus in on your players and what they're looking for in the game.

Beyond the questions, there are a few simple mechanical choices to make - this isn't a game with extensive lists of skills or benefits. There's no minmaxing here Each character has three madness responses (which are divided between Fight and Flight as the player chooses), an exhaustion talent (which lets you be good - supernaturally good - at a given skill or ability, increasing the more tired you get), and a madness talent (which lets you do the impossible, like teleporting or turning invisible). The talents are powered by your Exhaustion or Madness dice, meaning that every time you roll, you're forced with the tough decision: do I need the extra dice - or the power the talent provides - badly enough to risk it?

Mechanics out of the way, it's time for setting, and the game delivers here too. The default setting is the Mad City, a place full of things lost and abandoned. It's a place where the clocks strike thirteen, where your gambling stakes are more likely to be memories and emotions than they are to be money, and where Nightmares like Officer Tock and the Tacks Man wait for you to slip up. Hicks does an excellent job of taking the insecurities and apprehensions of modern life and turning them into these metaphorical Nightmares, resulting in a setting that is bizarre and surreal yet eerily familiar.

So what's it actually like to play?

We started out with character creation, and it was a doozy.

Phil's character turned out to be Malachi, a gun store owner/militia member whose insomnia was due to years of unpaid taxes. At the beginning of the game, he was holed up in his store with the police outside wanting to talk to him about a missing IRS agent and some highly suspicious blood stains on the subpoena. His exhaustion talent was gunplay, and his madness talent was the ability to duplicate himself.

John played Raul, a punk-type (with a heart condition!) who worked at Guitar Center - but while he was an excellent salesman and could talk the talk, he was really a poser, and couldn't play a riff to save his life. He was being kept awake by the fear that his pacemaker was malfunctioning, and the belief that if he went to sleep he would die. As the game begins, he has just plugged a patch cord into the wrong input and shocked himself badly - it's the big one! Maybe this time they'd believe him about the pacemaker! His exhaustion talent was fast-talk, and his madness talent was the ability to generate and control electricity.

Malachi's store was assaulted by the police, who fired tear gas into the store and then advanced. Malachi was prepared with a gas mask, and opened fire on the officers, only to realize that they were apparently some sort of wind-up automatons. The ensuing firefight resulted in the creation - and death - of one of his duplicates, the first time he'd actually used the Madness talent. The sight of his own dead body unhinged him, and he fled.

Meanwhile, Raul was in the ambulance, strapped into the gurney. As the truck careened around corners at high speed, two figures seemed to be preparing for surgery with a wide variety of implements that would have been more at home in a toolbox than in a hospital, let alone an ambulance. When one turned towards him holding a knife, he saw that it wasn't wearing a surgical mask - its face was blank skin below the eyes. Raul cut loose with his own Madness talent and the resulting EMP sent the ambulance careening off the embankment to smash through the back wall of a gun store.

With the players now united (and Malachi and Raul having determined that the other was not a wind-up cop or a faceless doctor, respectively) they made their escape in Malachi's Humvee. Having little time left, I put them through a series of fast-paced chase scenes before they found themselves in the warrens of the Wax King, who offered them a way out of the city...if they'd just do one small favor for him.

I'd like to have had more time to explore how the mechanics work long-term - although my players were more than happy to use Madness dice (which go away after every roll) they were both rather leery of taking Exhaustion dice (which stick around). Being able to push them harder, or over a longer period of time, would help that out.

Maybe one of these days I'll get a chance to run a short DRYH campaign. It's a great game for a small group, or even one player/one GM. If you're a fan of any of the influences, I highly recommend it.
Posts: 863

« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2006, 06:08:18 AM »

Thanks for the post!

I find that each player will favor a different mix of things.  Those who are willing to go into Exhaustion dice will do so because they've got a badass Exhaustion talent and all of those minor uses really start kicking in hard-core around 3 or 4 Exhaustion. 

But if someone's more committed to using the Madness dice, great -- that'll help them against a lot of  (but not all) opponents, so long as they're fine with losing control of themselves for a while afterwards. 

Let the players seek the flavor they want.  Either path leads to some entertaining times.

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