Friday, 31 October 2014

Dread - Tower Hack & Homebrew

Happy All Hallow's Eve Everyone! 

I thought now would be an appropriate time to finally publish this draft for a homebrew/hack I've been working on and off for over a year for Dread. Hopefully I'm going to be running a few of these concept for the first time tonight. Enjoy!

Ever since I got the storytelling game Dread, read it, and later played it, I've been considering a way to hack it. Many months ago I acquired a jenga tower that suited my needs, both visually and practically.

I thought I was being so clever with this idea back when I conceived of it up a couple years ago, so you can imagine how disappointed when I saw a popular RPG webcomic had produced a strip containing a Dread variant with similar effect. Great minds think alike. :) I might've been beaten to the punch in this regard, but I'm still going to share my thoughts and ideas:

The Hack:

First, I marked each pieces with a symbol in with pencil.
Imprint each piece with a symbol of some sort. It could be a number, letter, character, sigil, glyph, or any combination of them. The average tower has 54 blocks, making up to 54 possible symbols. This each symbol corresponds with a result on a chart.

Making all of the results negative can make the players even less inclined to do pulls, so averaging the results between 27 positive and 27 negative (even or odd numbers); or having 18 positive, neutral, and negative (1-18, 19-36, 37-54) results can create a better risk-vs-reward dynamic.

If the GM doesn't want to or doesn't have enough material to fill all 54 options, just double or triple them up to 27 or 18 results respectively, and ignore any result that has been pulled before, or use the result above or below it. This option works best for increasing the chance that a more important results, such as clues, might be pulled.

Another way to divide the tower results is between more than one concept. Example: Even numbers are Regained Memories, and Odd numbers are Creepy Effects.

Also, even though 54, 27, and 18 aren't particularly nice round numbers, they can still be fudged for use with tables from other games by stretching or shrinking 54 to 55 or 50; 27 to 30 or 25; or 18 to 20 or 15 respectively. Just ignore results that are out of that range, or substitute your own or others' ideas.

Then I traced over the markings with a wood burning tool.
You can either imprint the symbol on both ends of each piece so the players can see the symbol options before they make an attempt; on the sides so most can be seen, but some will be hidden; or on the tops and bottoms, so the results will be mostly hidden.

Numbers 6 and 9 can easily be mistaken for the other one upside down. Optionally this can be intentionally vague and left up to interpretation; or the Host can choose between either of the results.

Numbers not your thing? The English alphabet has 26 letters, one shy of 27, half the number of pieces. The remaining pieces could be filled out with letters from other real (Greek, HebrewCyrillic, Runic, Egyptian hieroglyphics, etc.), undeciphered (Rongorongo, Vinča, etc.), blissymbolicsalchemical symbols, behenian fixed stars, or fictional alphabets or glyphs. This could lend an mysterious/occultic flair to the tower.

Also 54 is the exact number of cards in a deck of playing cards with the two jokers included, so you could potentially use this tower hack in many RPGs that use a deck, like Savage Worlds or Castle Falkenstein.

The Host can use the examples below to mix up their game a bit, but I do stress that they should not be used with every draw as doing so could spoil the tension of the game. Many results are red herrings that could distract players, but they could also be easily tied into the fiction with a little thought. Still, use them like spices when cooking: just a right amount to give flavour without being overpowering.

Chart Result Concepts:

  • Sanity Loss/Recovery
  • Uncover a Clue/Secret
  • Recall a Lost Memory
  • Creepy/Weird Effect
  • Time Progression, Countdown, or Event Cue
  • Physical/Mental detriment if negative, or removal of a detriment if positive

The assortment of symbols I made for my set. Some are vague, some are obvious in intent.
Here's a makeshift table I created that corresponds to my set. I might get around to filling in the blank results. Feel free to ignore results and send in Suggestions!

Pulled # Pulled Symbol Weird Twist
1 'I' / Vertical Bar Nothing Seems to Happen...
2 Chevrons Voices character(s) hear issue from the wrong individual(s); or from the wrong direction.
3 Delta / Isosceles Triangle
4 Diamond within a Square Images (paintings, photosgraphs, statues, videos, etc.) appear distorted or unnatural.
5 Lambda / 'V'
6 Asterism Slowly the location gradually fills with a sort of fog or haze that limits sight, muffles noises, and may also be choking.
7 Ankh Special: Whichever player drew the Ankh has their character immune one time from being removed from play if they knock down the tower. Do not return the Ankh peace to the tower after drawing it; the tower is rebuilt minus the Ankh piece, which is removed from the game.
8 Star of Lakshmi Without reason the character(s) lapse into unconsciousness; upon awakening vaguely recall prophetic, precognitive, or delusional dreams.
9 Eight-pointed Asterisk Insects, vermin, or strange lights are unnaturally attracted to one of the characters.
10 'X' Special: The Host can declare any a single pull attempt by the owner of the 'X' an automatic failure. This declaration can happen only once to each player.
11 Spiral Intense vertigo suddenly grips the character(s), who may vomit as a result.
12 Eye The character(s) experience disturbing visual hallucinations.
13 Skull Special: Whichever player drew the Skull has their character removed from play instead the character belonging to whichever player next knocks down the tower.
14 Trefoil Something hazardous is to be found in this area.
15 Infinity The sound of a distant voice screaming echoes through the air; it sounds exactly like one of the characters.
16 Alchemical Phlogiston
17 Saturn/Lead
18 Spider The character(s) develop an irrational phobia of something (e.g. dark, being alone, spiders, water, etc.)
19 Rongorongo
20 Stylized 'VV' Briefly everything appears artificial or two-dimensional to a character before reverting to normal.
21 Wheel Cross Character(s) get an uncanny feeling that they're being constantly watched, even when alone.
22 Strange Sigil
23 Bullseye
24 Jupiter All text becomes flipped, mirrored, or unintelligible gibberish.
25 Hourglass Any timekeeping pieces and/or electronic devices cease working and freeze indefinitely.
26 Yellow Sign Colour appears to bleed out from the character(s) vision, sounds become distorted, and time itself seems to slow down for a long moment.
27 '?' The character(s) suffer temporary amnesia, unable to recall a critical memory.
28 Crux / '+' Special: The owner of '+' can declare any a single pull attempt by made by any character automatic success (negativing the need for the pull). This declaration can happen only once to each player.
29 Thunderbolt The pressure, climate, or atmosphere rapidly changes, creating weather/climate phenomena
30 'Eye of Fire' The next time a character sees their reflection, it is out of sync, that of another person, or someone/something momentarily appears behind them.
31 Waves
32 Arrow The character discovers an object or item (perhaps bloody) on their person that they have no knowledge of.
33 Crescent No sources of illumination function well or at all in an area.
34 Elder Sign The character(s) receives sudden aches and pains as a near subsonic/ultrasonic vibrations rhythmically grow then fade.
35 Sulphur A disturbing scent emanates the area; the source of which cannot be located.
36 Wheel
37 Room/Container A hidden item, object, or room is discovered, scrawled with a character's name.
38 Dragon's Eye Special: Whichever player drew the Dragon's Eye secretly selects another player's character and privately informs the host of their decision; if the selecting player's character is removed from play, the selected character is removed from play instead of their own, likewise if the selected character is removed from play, the selecting player's character is removed from the play instead. If the tower was knocked down intentionally by either side, both characters are removed from play.
39 Hash / '#' The character(s) begins to notice a surreal repetition in a seemingly random pattern in images, sounds, and/or events.
40 Hand Foot/hand prints or marks appear on surfaces, composed of water, blood, filth, ice, etc.
41 Mask The character(s) feel that someone close to them has been possessed/replaced with a nearly perfect double with malicious intent.
42 Key Every container and/or exit has been inexplicably opened/closed and/or locked/unlocked in an area the character(s) enter/exit.
43 Obelus Suddenly the characters are separated from each other when a darkness falls, doors seal shut, or a structure collapses.
44 Crossed Swords Feelings of deep animosity and/or resentment develop between characters, with or without justified reason.
45 Comet An odd light appears in the distance that moves of its own accord, perhaps directed upon the character(s) ; possibly disappearing/reappearing.
47 Pentacle/Pentagram The character(s) encounter a brief but disturbing out-of-body experience; or are seemly possessed by a maleficent force.
46 Omega A character finds blood on his or her clothes, with no obvious source.
48 Semicircle A once accepted truth turns out to be the opposite.
49 Atom Batteries and powered devices rapidly lose charge and low-tech devices stall/jam/break.
50 Fire The character(s) breaks out a cold sweat despite the cool temperature; or they see their breath in the air despite it not being cold enough to do so.
51 Teste Morte The character discovers an well-known/loved item that belonged to themselves or another character; the character hasn't seen the item since they were young.
52 Chaos Unnerving sounds echo through the air; all noise ceases; or communication devices generate static and/or unearthly voices/sounds.
53 Labrys Axe An item or weapon, appropriate or otherwise, is found in a bizarre location.
54 Oroboros / Ensō The character(s) experience déjà vu; or a witness a recent scene happening in reverse.

Setting Homebrew:

Concept: All of the characters in the story have amnesia, and can only remember a certain number of things from their past, but can uncover more details as the game progresses, both literally and figuratively piecing them together.

The game starts out as normal with the players filling out the questionnaires given to them by the Host. After reviewing the answers as satisfactory, the Host, using a pair of scissors, will cut each questionnaire width-wise into strips containing each question and its answer, hereafter to be referred to as 'memories'. He will do this with all of the questions except for a remainder, (one of which might be the Character's name).

Either randomly or systematically, the Host corresponds each of the 'memories' to a labelled piece of the tower. In game, whenever a player makes a pull, they are given the strip that corresponds to the result they pulled, thus recalling a bit about their background. This recalled memory might not even be one they answered on the questionnaire they filled out!

So to determine the remaining number of 'memories' that should be returned to the players at the beginning of the game, the Host has to do a bit of simple math. First he should take the total number of all the questions and multiply them the number of players. He should then subtract that number by a number that 54 is wholly divisible by: E.g. 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 18, 27, or 54.

That difference is then divided by the number of players, and the result is the number of 'memories' each player begins the game with. To make sure the players have an even amount of starting 'memories', the total number of questions should be wholly divisible by the number of players.

The Host then divides 54 by the selected number, the quotient is the number of the tower pieces that are tied to each 'lost memory'.

Here's an example:
Let's say the game has 3 PC's. The Host decides to give them each a questionnaire of 12 questions for a total of 36 questions. She selects 27 has her number to subtract from 36: The result is 9, which is then divided by the number of players, which results in 3 'memories' returned to each player.

54 is then divided by 27, which is 2, so she decides every 2 pieces from the tower are tied to a 'lost memory'. To make this easier, she writes the corresponding number on the reverse of each 'lost memory' and keeps them nearby face down. As the players pull pieces that match coinciding 'lost memories', the Host hands it to them and they read it only after the pull is completed, successful or not.

Happy Haunting!