Dread was the first roleplaying system that I used as a game master and I recently had the pleasure to be a player of it remotely. My friend wrote a scenario that was inspired by an SCP article and it was an excellent time for all involved – I even died horribly to some freaky monster and like all good monsters I cannot begin to even describe it properly. Traditionally a game of Dread uses a Jenga tower and has players pulling a block for a given action should their character be under duress or working out of their skill. This lends to a beautifully tense table that blends perfectly with the horror genre that Dread lends itself too, however using a Jenga tower remotely is uncomfortable.
These are a multitude of options available as a substitute for a Jenga tower for Dread to be played remotely, though most of them attempt to replace the physical challenge of Jenga with a mental challenge and many of these do not create the feeling of dread for me. In the recent session that I played in we used Minesweeper but the feeling of dread for me was not caused by the game of Minesweeper, instead it was the skilful storytelling of my friend as the game master. Minesweeper did not work because it does not meet the criteria that I believe a physical Jenga tower meets for a game of Dread to successfully impose suspense on the players.
The Criteria and Options
For a game of Dread to work I believe the primary manner of resolution must meet the following criteria:
- A visibly diminishing chance of success
- Flexibility to make multiple ‘pulls’
- A quick action to perform
- Provides choice for the player
Many people have suggested rolling dice, drawing playing cards, digital Jenga, or playing minesweeper to be a substitute for the Jenga tower. Each may work to some degree; however, I find that most fail to meet the above criterion as described below.
- Minesweeper fails at criteria 1-3 because it is simply too easy given the information the game provides (a possible solution could be a time limit imposed on the player for picking a square to click and maybe banning the use of flags)
- Digital Jenga is difficult to manipulate as transferring 3-dimensional movement with precision form a mouse to the computer is awkward and it could easily lead to players feeling cheated. A potential solution could be VR, however that is an expensive solution
- Playing cards may work and there are several methods for doing so such as drawing the single joker resulting in a death and a reset though depending on the software used then you may not be able to visibly see the diminishing deck. The problem with this is that it does not provide much choice for the player
- Rolling dice is another flexible option that most people tend to focus on strict probabilities for that can sometimes result in lacklustre player without choice for the players. A possible solution for this is described below
How I Will Play Next Time
The next time I play Dread remotely I intend to use the following method. On paper, it seems like it could work and successfully meet the criteria outlined above though I suspect that it may require some tweaking.
Players will use dice sizes from D4 to D20 and for each pull must roll a number of dice required to have the maximum face value of each be greater than or equal to 12. Dice remain on the virtual table and if the player rolls a number that has already shown up, they are removed from the game (the Jenga tower falls) and the dice on the table are then removed. Players then reset the table following these rules in conjunction with the Dread tower reset.
Here is an example:
- P1 chooses to roll 1d20 and they get an 18
- P2 chooses to roll 1d4+1d8 and they a 3 and a 7
- P3 chooses to roll a 1d6+1d12 and they a 6 and an 11
- P4 chooses to roll 1d20 but they roll a 3 which has already shown up thus they are removed from the game
This method meets the criteria above as players have choice in how they wish to roll to hopefully increase their chances of being safe while showing a diminishing chance of success. The action to roll is quick and players can easily perform a second or third roll if required by the rules of Dread. If you ever have the chance of testing this approach out, then please let me know how it goes!