South Wagner ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly Treasurer
When one thinks of tabletop gaming, the first thing that comes to mind is an elaborate table, covered in miniatures, maps, and objects. Dice clatter, paper is shuffled, and the DM hides an elaborate plan behind a screen, one that the players will inevitably derail. The set dressings of tabletop games have been ingrained into popular culture, featuring in shows like Stranger Things, or the elaborate sets of podcasts like Critical Role or Dimension 20. But what if we stripped that all away, even the dice, leaving nothing but some wooden blocks and a few sheets of paper?
Enter Dread, a horror-themed tabletop RPG where rather than rolling dice, players pull from a Jenga tower to determine the result of their actions. If the tower falls, the character is removed from play, simple as that. This usually results in a gritty, slasher-style death, though it could also mean zombification or any other means of removing player agency. The constant threat of the Jenga tower falling amplifies the feeling of dread the story induces, and vice-versa, until both the narrative and tower come crashing down. Every minuscule movement a player may make with their body, every shuffling of feet, could break the tension and get someone killed, and that is the beauty of Dread.
The characters aren’t bogged down by stats either, as all character traits are developed through a faux psychological questionnaire. These questions depend on the setting, and may range from “What is your greatest fear?” to “What crime did you get away with?” They give the Game Master room to toy with the characters, and the players an opportunity to develop their character and strengthen their roleplay.
There are a few rules that can spice up the simple framework, such as actions that require multiple pulls or a “heroic sacrifice” in which one purposely knocks down the tower, but that framework serves well on its own. It can also accommodate players who are simply too good at Jenga, by simply re-using the characters and giving them new fears.
The game is perfect for both experienced players and those who are completely new to tabletop gaming, and the rules only take up 37 pages of the 100-page book, the rest of which is filled with horrifying tales to inspire you. The whole thing can be purchased for 12 dollars on the publisher’s website.