I played Dread for the first time this week and I enjoyed it, but it was totally not what I expected, and I had to radically adjust my expectations mid-game to continue enjoying it.
I had expected a narrative "create a horror movie story together" game. When it became clear that the story was mostly pre-planned, and minimally responsive to the characters we created or their relationships, I shifted this expectation. My second round of assumptions was that this was a challenge-based fictional-positioning game, where the odds are stacked against us but with clever problem solving we just might be able to survive. I wasn't satisfied with this either, as it was clear that actions outside the scope of the planned story simply were not possible.
After playing, I found this thread
, which matched my experience of Dread: as a low player-input railroad. With this perspective, it was really fun. Players contribute color, especially about their psychological state and conversations with other characters. Players can also color scenes by their actions, but these (in my play experience) impacted only the color of subsequent scenes (what order they witness things in, whether they are missing a limb during the climatic showdown, whether the showdown happens in a different room) but the arc will remain unchanged.
They can change the story significantly by:
1) Dying at variable points
2) Discovering the planned resolution of the scenario
I think this highly constrained player authority makes the tower very intense. It is essentially the thing
that impacts your participation in the story. I'm wondering if this experience matched the experiences others have had with the system. My impression of the game text is this is the intended play style, but I could see another GM handling things very differently.
I had bought the book before playing, but not read it, so I went through it over the last couple days and was surprised by several of the recommended GM techniques. I gather that a lot of these stem from the totally binary not-dead/dead resolution system and from the importance to adhering to a certain pace to stay in-genre.
- I had thought that when a player pulled a block from the tower, they achieved their intent (comparable to a successful die roll in other systems. In play, we succeeded at several pulls but failed at our intent, which actually seems necessary to keep most of the included modules on track as written.
- The scenarios explicitly recommend 'red herrings', getting players to spend pulls on totally hopeless activities, so that there are fewer blocks in the tower and more tension at the climax. Since choosing to pull from the tower gives a player a tiny bit of narrative control, wasting this resource on something that had no effect on the short or long-term narrative felt like fake player-agency.
-As far as I can tell the GM (host) frames every scene, and the scenarios suggest framing not on the logical progression of events but to control pacing of the story. So if players are picking up on clues and describing actions that make the planned-for terrors less daunting, subsequent scenes are framed with them in a worse position, to compensate.
I'm wondering if others had the same read/ similar play experiences (players are willing participants in a largely linear plot) or if this is only one of several possible Dread styles.