Using a deck of cards for Dread

bloody_playing_cardsDread is a horror rpg from Impossible Dream Publishing. It’s a game with bare bones rules designed for one shot sessions. At the centerpiece of Dread is a tower of wooden blocks (Jenga) where players attempt to pull blocks and place them back on top of the tower for task resolution. If they can complete this manual exercise, the task in the game is successful. Knock over the tower and your player suffers some horrible fate, being removed from the game (they die, go mad, slip into a coma, etc.).

I love the idea, however I can see it getting a little clunky later in the game. Block pulls can take more time near the end as the tower gets more unstable. While that added tension is part of the charm for Dread, it can add some dissonance as you are switching from narrative tension to one revolving around a physical task. Lastly once a tower does fall, you’ve got this break in the game where the tower has to be assembled for the remaining players, further deflating the tension at the table.

Also as pacing goes you can get those crazy flubs of a pull (or the accidental table bump) which send the tower crashing. Everyone can always shrug this off and keep going, but it means additional downtime as the tower is reassembled.

Playing cards can be used as an alternate to the tower with a joker randomly placed in the deck (check in the downloads section). I wanted to give the game some more structure though. Dread is based on a normal assumption that a tower would fall between 35 and 55 pulls. Placing the joker randomly in the last 20 cards of a deck ensures there are some safe draws for about half of the deck.

Tension is in the game though, as players will see their safe options dwindle. Each draw of the card continually makes the deck smaller and smaller. With that joker card ever moving to the top draw of the deck. However this is a still a little too structured though as players can figure out exactly how many draws are needed before something bad could happen.

One way to work around this is having some suits and cards force additional pulls. I opted to have some require another draw from the deck, yet other cards would allow for an option. For those, players may choose to fail instead of making another draw from the deck. Both of these speed up the number of cards being drawn, pushing that joker to the top of the deck faster.

Another tweak was allowing aces for certain suits to be set aside and saved. They could be used instead of pulling from the deck, or offered to other players. The one exception would be for the last 10 cards of the deck. At that point players would be required to draw from the deck as the story scales tipped to the point of being out of control.

What I whipped up here certainly has my mind racing for applications in other games. I’m digging the idea of suits and ranks of cards trumping others allowing players for some options with altering task outcomes. I particularly see this being a means to remove a GM from the game, or potentially move it into being a shared activity. I think that is a big stumbling block for some RPGs. While a GM allows for amazing games they also are an entry barrier, and RPGs that could be played without the need for one likely might expand the hobby more. Hope folks get some use out of this Dread option at their game table.