Playing Dread over G+ Hangouts

Dread is a great game.  It's a horror/suspense/slasher movie simulator, and one of the few horror role-playing games that really works.  Part of the reason is because it uses a Jenga tower, which gets ricketier as play goes on. In order to do almost anything, players have to make pulls from the tower, and when the tower falls, the player's character dies.  The tension created by the tower adds to the atmosphere of the game and creates a real sense of threat and impending doom that is hard to come by in similar games.

Issues with Dread on Hangouts

Dread would be an ideal game for late-night G+ Hangout play, except that there's only one way to play Jenga: in person, sitting around a table, with a bunch of able-bodied people. This doesn't work for all play groups!  The Dread book does suggest alternatives to Jenga, but they all have a similar physical component.

We'd like to find a solution that will work for people playing remotely, or for people who lack fine motor control.  Any alternative mechanic should fulfill at least the following requirements:

  1. It should use readily-available materials.
  2. It should build tension - the lethality should start near zero and ramp up over time.
  3. It should be obvious to all the players how "rickety" the tower is - how dangerous a "pull" will be for them - at any given time.
  4. It should kill players in about the same number of "pulls" - 35-55 according to the authors - that the Jenga tower in Dread does.

I believe I have a Hangouts-friendly alternative that meets all of the above requirements - I call it "D20 Dread".

D20 Dread

D20 Dread only requires two items: a 20-sided die or die roller and a shared sheet of paper.  That's it - all you need!  Here's how it works:

  1. Write the numbers 1-20 in the left column of the document
  2. Every time a player would make a pull, they roll a d20.
  3. For each result, make a mark next to the number that was rolled.
  4. When the fifth mark is placed next to any number, the player who rolled that number dies, as if they had knocked over the Jenga tower.
  5. A player may elect to "knock over the tower" at any time, with the same rules as in the normal game.
  6. Any time the rules refer to resetting the tower, instead erase all the marks.

This system fulfills all the requirements set out above. DiceStream is always available in G+, and failing that, most gamers have a d20 lying around.  The only other object needed is a piece of paper, physical or digital, which can be provided by Google Docs on G+.  The tension also ramps up over time as the checks next to each number fill up.  As I'll show later, for the first twenty rolls or so, there will be almost no danger of death.  Once the number goes north of 30, however, the danger ramps up significantly.  And based on the number of rows with four check marks, it's pretty obvious to players exactly how dangerous a roll is going to be.

Continue reading Playing Dread over G+ Hangouts

Music Plug #6: Ticheli, Schuman

(That's "tih-KAY-lee" for those of you who don't grok Italian, by the way.)

Frank Ticheli is one of those composers that writes the sort of modern stuff that typically only gets played by academic ensembles.  As expected, he gives us lots of atmospherics, mixed measure, drifting tonality, purely rhythmic stuff, etc.  The thing is, while his compositions aren't ground-breaking, some of them are quite exceptional and deserve a wider audience than just the few tens of friends and family who can make it to the Krannert Center for a Thursday night Wind Symphony concert.

While Ticheli follows in the footsteps of the great 20th Century composers, William Schuman is one of those composers.  His works are very cool, very orchestral (even when written for wind band) and a pain in the ass to read, as they're written without key signatures and with rehearsal numbers ever 5 or 10 measures instead of at natural phrase breaks.  Some things I'm glad we've left behind...

This edition of Plugs is a bit of a cop-out since I've recently played two of these pieces, but they're also two of the better wind ensemble compositions from the respective composers.

Continue reading Music Plug #6: Ticheli, Schuman