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[Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium] MACE 2006

Started by rafael, November 13, 2006, 07:23:22 PM

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NOTE: I cross-posted this at Story Games.  Hope that's okay.  If not, please let me know.

This past weekend, I ran four games of Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium (Unrated Edition) at MACE.  Three on Saturday, and one on Sunday morning (after which, everyone packed up and bolted, so I decided not to stick around for my 2pm slot, seeing as how no one had signed up for it).

The games went well, and the players were mostly of strangers who had heard about the game, but didn't know much except that it was modern horror.

I first explained the nature of the game setting and mechanics, and then walked them through character creation.  The process took about thirty to forty-five minutes.  We then jumped right into gameplay.

The game played well, which was fun, because I hadn't run Dread with anyone outside my gaming group since it the first edition debuted at Trinoc*coN 2003.  Playing with people you don't know is always kind of a gamble, but I definitely enjoyed the sessions, and everyone else seemed to get a kick out of it as well.

However, there were some issues.

1. Breaking The Law

I found it interesting that despite the core concept of the game (the characters are people with nothing left to lose, essentially suicide agents on a one-way mission to seek and destroy as many demons as possible before dying a horrible death), the players were often reluctant to, say, break down doors or punch strangers.  It's interesting to me, and I think that it might be setting-related.  People who wouldn't hestitate to burn down and orc fortress or take a swing at an ogre may still hesitate to do something "illegal" in a game set in the "real world".  I guess.  I don't know.

It really took some coaxing to get people to just cut loose and flip out.  During a car chase, when Andy K's character jumped out of his car and landed on the hood of the mafia dude's SUV and opened fire, shooting the guy through his windshield and killing him, the other players were startled.  It was like someone had flipped a switch.  Up until then, I'd been saying, don't hesitate, do what you must, you're badasses, go for it, you're not going to get arrested, and if you do, you can disappear or hypnotize the cop or whatever.  But it wasn't until someone in the group got loco that everyone else realized that it was "safe" or whatever.  I'm thinking that I might need to find a way to explain this more clearly in the rules somehow.

2. Fly Into The Danger Zone

The players had access to Fury, which is a dice pool that the player can call on to perform crazy stunts like the Cock Punch or the Suicide Run.  However, even though these stunts were listed and described on the character sheet, the players appeared wary (for lack of a better word) of using these stunts.  Again, it took some coaxing to get them to kill points of Fury and do unreasonably dangerous things.

Of course, I know that the pressure of playing with strangers at a con means that people are just a little less likely to cut loose the way that they would in front of their friends, so I'm factoring that into the equation as well.  And don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that the players were a disappointment to me because they didn't jump through my hoops and dance for me like well-trained monkeys.  I just wanted to convey to them that they were free to rampage through the city like monsters themselves, but I was having a hard time finding ways to say this without just giving orders ("Hey, why not just break that door down with your shoulder?")

I do feel like I should point out that I liked the groups, and everyone was really into the role-playing, and the games went well.  So I guess I'm saying that I feel like I either didn't explain something properly, or maybe it's just not conveyed sufficiently in the rules and whatnot.

The Right Kind Of Fun?

Given that my system is more or less final, having been playtested during the four years since the first edition's release, I'm more concerned about the game's text.  As a user manual, it's got to convey everything that the player needs to know about the game experience.  Then again, are directives like "don't forget to blow shit up and do stupid crazy neckbreaker stunts" really appropriate?  At that point, it's almost like I'm saying, "If you don't play the way my gaming group plays, you're not having the right kind of fun."

Then again, given the way that many horror RPGs involve the use of characters who are considerably more fragile than the opposition, it may be that the players have been conditioned into a kind of timidity.  Perhaps the answer lies in the way that I describe the game.  Calling Dread a horror-action game may lead people to envision games like Cthulhu, in which the players are generally outgunned by the monsters and demons.  Maybe I should call Dread a supers game?

Hell, I don't know.  I just want to make sure that the players don't spend all their time stalking about with flashlights, peering nervously into shadows.

Overall, I'd say that this didn't happen too much in my con games this weekend, but there was enough trepidation that I wondered if maybe there was something amiss in my approach to the game experience.

Of course, any feedback from attendees would be greatly appreciated.

-- Rafael
Rafael Chandler, Neoplastic Press
The Books of Pandemonium

David Artman

[Sunday afternoon was kinda sad, huh?]

I think there's a couple of things you could try to get players more "wild," without making systemic changes. If I am correct on the Big Model, Color is what provides the best cues to players as to how a game is played. Therefore, perhaps you could add more examples of play, artwork, or even book graphic elements that would clue the players into the fact that the game is a mix of horror and wire-fu. And though you as a GM during play might not be comfortable with "direction" or "suggestions," there's no reason the in-book GM, during play examples, can't suggest wild moves to the in-book example players. Or just make sure EVERY example of play involves wild, loco players--don't even suggest that there's a lurking and investigation and paranoia element. Similarly, with artwork, don't have any "creep in the night" or "the lurking horror" images; instead, show wild moves, spraying bullets, splattering blood, daring leaps, ravening demons.

But if that doesn't seem sufficient, you could try to introduce something akin to Exalted's Stunt dice: introduce a reward mechanic that encourages dramatic, daring maneuvers and desperate attacks, rather than avoidance or defensive, conservative hedging. Forgive me if there is already such a mechanic... but if there is, then you might want to emphasize it in the book, be it with additional text or merely by the use of headings (or by "promoting" it to a higher heading level or to its own section).

Had I not been working nearly every session, I would have liked to get into this. I am fairly sure that, if you'd just told me up-front to go buck wild, I would have done so and, perhaps, inspired others (I could have flipped that switch in the first scene, basically). Not bragging, just saying that I might be the opposite of a "typical" con-goer, in that I jump right into whatever I can find.

Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages