Actual Play – Dread at GPNW (6/30/2013)

dreadGM: Dale Horstman
Players: Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner, Jennifer Lyseng, Adrienne Mueller, Christoph Sapinsky, and Lisa Sapinsky.
System: Dread

In the morning we didn’t have anything planned. We had a small huddle with folks and Dale offered to run Dread for up to six players. Karen and I were game, so we sent Dale into the donut to get a few more players. BOOM! In seconds we had a full game!

I’m a fan of Dread. More of playing than of GMing (I’ve actually never run, but see thoughts below), specifically because the fact that any person taking a dangerous action make everything more dangerous for everyone else.  And, because even if the tower looks steady, you really never know when it’s going to fall.


Dale started off handing us the standard format questionnaires to define our characters. We were all on a cruise ship, for various reasons. The questions we’re about that (at least mine weren’t), they were about how messed up our lives were before we got on the ship.

We had a family, including my character, his wife, and their daughter. Additionally we had a corporate executive taking a work-vacation (emphasis on work), the creepy guy obsessed with serial killers and trying to pick up on chicks, and the probably drunk too much looking for love lady. A motley crew for sure, but that’s exactly what you want to have wake up and find a…

Zombie Invasion

The ship had left port last night and in the morning, getting ready to take her morning run, Sam (Christoph’s character) spotted to bodies in the hallway, and a man lumbering towards her. It was on!

Our characters, led by Richard “Don’t Call me Dick” (Jennifer’s character) pretty quickly came to the conclusion that OH MY GOD, THESE ARE ZOMBIES.

Some great highlights of the game for me were…

Jonathan (my character) and Sam, who were teetering on the edge of divorce, getting into marital spats (mostly over their daughter), while in the middle of running for their lives.

The not quite cute, but kind of cute, romance that started to brew between Don’t-Call-Me-Dick and Adrienne’s character during all the madness.

Realizing, fuck it, getting shot in this game is a good idea. You can’t die till the tower falls but injuries and impairments might make for more future pulls, so have at!

Losing Sam (the tower fell) as she valiantly defended the rest of us with a fire hose… and later finding the divorce papers in my pocket (which I brought with me on the cruise) signed by her. That was a heart-breaker.


Taking out the helicopter (yeah, a helicopter was sent to contain us) with a mixture of shotguns (taken from the skeet shooting range) and skeets!

Doing the “zombie walk” to cross a deck filled with them unnoticed.

Being afraid of the dark. Always a nice touch in a horror game.

Adrienne’s character’s turquoise dress over her sunburned skin. It was such a vivid image for me. This bright color on top of her lobster colored skin. She had fallen asleep in it the night before, and so was wearing it throughout the game. Such an awesome detail.

Sophia (Karen’s character) and her obsession with getting work done, and being efficient. Karen plays these characters really well. They don’t come off as worrywarts or sticklers, they come off as people who have a lot of VERY HIGH PRIORITY THINGS TO DO.

Thoughts on the game

Running a three hour game (as a I saw on Saturday) is tough. The questionnaires still take plenty of time to fill out and then it takes some time for the players to introduce their characters. End result is there isn’t a ton of time to get the story in. Dale handled this constraint pretty well but leaping us right into the threat. We had one flashback to the night before (when things were normal) and then started our game with Zombies eating our brains.

I think it was a good call for the time allowed, but I would have liked some lead up if we could have afforded it. Something to hint at what was wrong (did we pick up a strange package at the last port, did some of the people who went on land while we were docked come back looking ill, etc) and well as a bit of discovery during the adventure itself (why were unmarked helicopters telling us to stay put and firing machine guns at us when we didn’t?).

Dread’s resolution does this thing, which I like as a player, but troubles me as a GM. Pulls happen at the speed of players trying to do things. Now, sometimes they don’t have much choice. “The Zombie is coming down the hall and is going to eat your brains” is a prompt that is almost certain to provoke an action from the player, and thus potentially trigger a pull. The more pulls that happen, the more dangerous everything becomes, until of course the  tower falls, in which case you have a momentary reprieve. But my beef is in the granularity. There are times in a game where I might take a roll to the dice, but the stakes might (no matter how badly the roll is) be dire. Dread has no “direness” dial. Anything that isn’t trivial (no pull required) could cause you to die (or be taken out of the game, or whatever). It’s a little rough for me to get my head around, because while I really like the idea that seriously bad things happen in a horror game, I don’t want those bad things (as a GM that is) to categorically always include death.

I’d like to see questionnaires having more impact on the game. They are our character sheet, and therefor should be more than just hints at how to play our character, that stuff should matter, and to matter it should come up in game. In part I realize there was only so much plumbing of our character’s depths that we could do in such a short slot, but I’ve seen this happen before in other Dread games as well. The questions are answered but few if any have significance. I’d like to see a game with a) fewer questions and b) more meaning associated with the answers. I’d say something along the lines of each answer poses a problem for your character. Once you’ve address and resolved the problem in game, you check off that question and get a free pull in the future. That might disturb the balance of the game too much, but I’d like to see those questions do more.

Dale is a very welcoming GM. He’s a friendly guy so I think that comes naturally, but it’s worth noting that when you’re planing a horror game, it’s nice to have friendly face describing the horrific things happening to you.

Spotlight management was also done really well. I was super glad to see all six of the characters get their moments in the sun. Or in some cases the unforgiving depths of the sea.

Playing on a cruise ship at sea is awesome. Good call!

3 thoughts on “Actual Play – Dread at GPNW (6/30/2013)”

    1. Cool. I dig that idea of making the tower fall meaning something terrible happens (like the dream collapsing) rather than death. For pure horror, death should be on the table for sure but I can see using alternatives for other genres and having it work really well.

  1. Great write-up! I think there might be something in the rules about circumstances in which you can delay death. Then, instead of “You die now,” it’s “You die next.” The moment can be saved for when it’s more dramatically appropriate.

    Inception looks really fun!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *