Actual Play – How We Came to Die Here (12/10/2011)

GM: Noam Rosen
Players: Sean Nittner, Kristin Hayworth, Duane O’Brien, Eric Zimmerman, Lalita Devi, Karen Twelves
System: Dread (setting material from How We Came to Live Here)

I was so excited to play this game, and I wasn’t at all let down. Components of the awesomeness:

  • Players: Every single one of these players are awesome. I’ve gamed with all of them before and loved it. This was no exception.
  • GM: I’ve heard lots of good things about Noam’s games. I’ve played with him in my games, sat beside him as a co-player.
  • System: Dread. I love Dread; it makes me all kinds of happy. The tension that builds as the tower get’s more and more filled with holes.
  • Setting: I wasn’t at all familiar with the setting, but was immediately enchanted by it. The Native American Mythos.

Character creation started with picking from lists of members of secret cults (which all of us were in) and descriptive names (like “Laughs with Spirits, Dances with Fire, Who Ties Them Together, Fights them All”).

After picking characters we read up on our secret societies and then created a relationship map that bound us to each other. This processes started the game’s interactions. My character Dances with Fire, for instance wanted to have a child with Fights them All.

As the game started with a pronouncement from our inner chief Always Pregnant that the crops were fallow because there wasn’t enough children in the tribe. We were to marry and make children. We played a game of hacky sack (forget what it was called in the game) for the women to show off to the men and then went about partnering off. Dances with fire had eyes only for Fights them All and I was pretty bold about it. Dances with fire told him point blank to put a child in her or she would humiliate him… which she proceeded to do, loudly, in front of everyone.

I turned to Duane, who I really apologize for doing this given how hung over he was and pulled a block, “You going to let Dances with Fire shame you into giving her a child?” Duane stood up to pull to resist but somehow his leg go caught on the tablecloth and the whole tower went down. So sad for the player, but a great way to start the game.

He Fights them All said he take her out on the prairie (read: they would have sex) if she caught him. So they ran together, but as Dances with Fire pulled ahead she suddenly realized Fights them all was missing, he had been lost and it would be dark soon.
Noam took that one act and used it as seeds for the challenges. We all went out to search for the missing member of our tribe, and in doing so faced the ogre Sharp Tooth, summoned Father Sun to give us direction, and lost most of the tribe. Good times.

In the middle of this, there was another plot thread, a Cord Maiden who wanted to marry Kristin’s character (sorry I can’t remember his name) and went to Karen’s character who was both a midwife (semi-open secret) and a witch (totally secret). Horrible things ensued as Karen agreed to help her and did so by trying to cast a love spell on Kristin’s wizard, who woke in the night with a sweat. We all know just how well love spells work!

Karen later said she didn’t click into her character until she had failed the magical battle casting her “love spell”. During the spell, she really didn’t want to lose, but when she finally forfeited, despite her original disappointment due to losing that element of control over her character, it gave her character a really powerful motivation.

Noam picked up that motivation, used it to bring another threat (the Night-Eyed people) into the game.

As we traveled to a village to confront them, we saw a giant monster in the sky crawling up to devour the moon. My character threw a rock at the monster but only angered it into coming down to devour me first. In the darkness, the witch and the wizard however, merged their powers to bolster the moon and drive back the monster. Their sex-magic was epic.

Thoughts on the game.

I really did the proto-history setting. It has a sense of timelessness, and metaphoric reality that allowed us to range from the mundane to the cosmic.

Noam is fantastic and reincorporating our ideas into external threats so that we felt like all the challenges presented were results of our failures. He had a list of five or six threats and then brought them into the game in response to our actions. Very well done.
Often I worry (or third, or fourth) character in a game robs me of the connections established by the first, but this game assumed all of us knew each other well, so when a new character arrived, there was never a feeling of them being an “outsider”. Very important when you’re playing Dread in a 6 hour time slot.

That Noam had hacked the setting to the Dread system didn’t seem to be a problem at all. Our character sheets had all kinds of pools and traits but mostly those just gave us direction for role-playing. Generally speaking, if we were trying to do the think our character was all about, we got to do it for one less pull than anyone else, but that was about the extent of our “stats”

The kivas (secret societies) were cool, in that we didn’t really know how far they went, or what we would gain when we advanced within them. We had several characters get to 3rd rank in their kivas and that certainly made them interesting. I imagine in a long term game the GM(s) would want to slow down advancement a bit but in this game, we were having a blast trying to talk to spirits, killing monsters, etc.

With six characters we ended up playing all 11 PCs (that tower fell over several times) and we had the foreboding sense even at the end that our small victory paled in comparison to the larger threats. The tenor of the game was not scary but the themes presented felt like they were right out of the Mythos (Cthulhu, et al). There was an inescapable premonition of doom the entire game, and much, much more so by the end.

The “secret” part of the secret societies seemed a little ridiculous. I mean, our characters were running around doing things that made their affiliation obvious. Heck “Laughs with Spirits” was our spirit talker, which is pretty darn clear. I get that the idea was to mitigate sin, much like modern society would mitigate STDs and unwanted pregnancies with birth control, so it was always an imperfect solution, but I think there should have been some clearly “known” societies, rather than all of us pretending that we didn’t live in any. My guess is this is a setting element I don’t (or the game doesn’t, or both) fully understand.

Playing my second character (Who Ties them Together) was SO much fun. I was the total matchmaker and tried to get everyone to hook up. I dug it!

Best line in any game ever. “The sex was so good, there is still moonlight trickling down your leg.” – Noam Rosen
Other fun quotes:

  • “I lost my man so Father Sun put a child in my womb” -How to be outcast by your village.
  • “Sex was so good I saw my ancestors” – Laughs with Sprits
  • I threw a rock at the creature that ate the moon. It climbed down and ate me. The tower fell!