Last week’s STP post had me talking about my experience with gaming and what brought me to loving all these nerdy habits in the first place. Long story (post) short? Basically it was Heroquest and the Mage Knight miniature strategy/skirmish game.
Where I left off, intrepid reader, was with my brother and I deep diving into the Call of Cthluhu Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games. No, not the Arkham Horror LCG that continues to be incredibly successful (and in my opinion is the best LCG they’ve got!), but rather their first incarnation that was strictly competitive.
We loved this game, and although I was loving horror movies before playing this, I suddenly began understanding all the references being dropped in episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and my favorite horror franchise of all time – the Evil Dead trilogy.
At the same time, we were playing games like Battlestar Galactica (almost constantly) and Shadows Over Camelot. All these more traditional tabletop experiences were beginning to bring about some really unique emotional experiences, and that leads me to trying, finally for the first time, my first RPG.
One word, a stark white cover of a tiny book with a bloody red handprint on it, and of course, THE TOWER.
If you’ve never played Dread, do it. Go do it now. Unfortunately, traditionally, Dread is one of the games that is best served by playing in person with other people, so it’s not the greatest gaming suggestion at the moment, but give it a year and come back to this recommendation.
I’m not going to go into my love or Dread with too much detail. Suffice it to say, it was a time before actual play podcasts and Critical Role showing everyone what an RPG could look like at the table. I was intimidated, but excited, and Dread has left an imprint on me forever – both leaving me with a lifelong love of horror role playing and forever influencing how I run games.
The thing about Dread (RESIST THE TEMPTATION OF FURTHER ELABORATION PAUL) is that it has no numbers. No math is needed. The only prep you REALLY have to do is to put together some character questionnaires, and even then you don’t need many questions to have a fully-formed character for your players.
Because of Dread, I found that I, as the GM, have to enjoy the game as much at minimum as my players. I run games and include ridiculous, stupid stuff (have you seen my 1d6 modern day items found in a dungeon table?) that creates potential for further shenanigans. I love the Lord of the Rings, but I don’t know if I’m capable or gifted with the capacity to run a serious game like that.
Dread forced me to rely on my instincts, on the bizarro collection of tropes stuck in my head, to always pick the option that will make me laugh or make my players smile precisely because there are so few rules to rely on in the rulebook.
In short, Dread is a game of almost pure “rulings, not rules” which should sound familiar if you’ve read much of the OSR blogosphere ever before finding this blog. It relies on you knowing what works in a horror story at each beat, and if you do, the Jenga tower mechanic is simply a way to reflect both physically and mechanically what you’re already doing by moving the story forward.
So it built those skills up in me as a GM, for which I’m eternally grateful, and it’s also, by the same merit, a fantastic tool to teach your players to rely on their wits and skill rather than on any abilities of their characters – another foundational aspect of OSR play.
Again, I’m going to probably write about Dread in the future as I think it’s an incredibly powerful tool to teach OSR philosophy, but that’s not what this post is about.
From Dread, our group played a ton of 4E D&D (which we unanimously ADORED and still want to get back into to this day), I ran a fair amount of Star Wars Saga Edition (the last, and easily best iteration of d20 Star Wars), and have run a ton of more story games like Fiasco, Fate, Monster of the Week, and more. My brother is still a huge Call of Cthluhu fan, and I couldn’t tell you how many adventures I’ve played with him with characters losing countless sanity tests, and me grinning every time.
Today I’m running The Black Hack and playing in a D&D 5E game. Obviously very different experiences, and not just because I’m on either side of the DM screen. We’re wrapping up our TBH run of Necrotic Gnome’s Hole in the Oak, and I’ve got my eyes on running several one-shots in various systems, freaking out most about my desire to play the new DUNE quickstart from Modiphius Games. I’m all over the place, I love gaming now more than ever, and I don’t see it ending any time soon.
Let’s see where we go from here!
I didn’t even MENTION Gencon or the tradition of RPGs in my family with not just my brother but my sister and her husband too! Oh boy I could just talk forever and ever and ever and ever…