If you are in for horror games, but think making D&D have scary plot elements isn’t enough, I absolutely recommend Dread. This game is horrific and actually emulates the tense feelings of a horror movie by a very unique game mechanic. You don’t roll dice, but rather pull Jenga blocks. You heard right. Success or Failure depends entirely on playing a game of Jenga.
My alternative opening would have been: “You want to play Jenga, but want to have a story to the game for each block you pull?” but this seems more probable. While Dread makes for a good party game, for the solo player, it might need a little adjusting. For one, you may need to find the space, time, and money to grab a Jenga tower, set it up, pull blocks from it, and do it all over when it topples over. Heck, you might be looking at this because you’re playing the game with your friends, but the problem is that you don’t have the tower, or it’s in such a bad quality that it’s unplayable.
Let this guide save you the hassle. For this, you’re going to need the Mythic GM Emulator, though only the Fate Chart applies, though if you wish, you can also use it to help guide your game like you would any other solo game. You will use this chart’s Odds rank to substitute the tower, with the starting rank being “Impossible”. By now, Dread and Mythic vets might get where I’m going with this. But first, we have to start at the beginning.
For starters, consider how many characters are playing. For example: if solo, how many do characters you’ll play and if group, how many people are playing. If it’s less than five, then shift the Odds rank up by one rank for the number of players you lack to make five. For example, if you have four players, the Odds rank starts at “No Way” instead, and if you have three, it starts at “Very Unlikely”.
Play continues like a normal game of Dread, except for when you do pulls. Now here’s where the Mythic GM Emulator comes in. For those who don’t know what the Mythic GM Emulator is, it’s a simple engine that has you roll a D100 to answer yes/no questions using a chart based off certain factors like the odds of the question turning up yes or no and how bad things have gotten up to that point.
The latter is referred to as the Chaos Factor. Make it high enough and you can make impossible questions like “Does a cow land on me for no reason?” very probable. However, for making pulls, the Chaos Factor is fixed at 5, the regular Chaos Factor. Whenever you make a pull, the question you ask will not be “Do I succeed?” or any variant of what the context of the pull is. Instead ask “Does the tower fall?”
For those who haven’t played Mythic, the way to read a Fate Chart is simple. Associate the odds with the Chaos Factor (which in this case of the question is always at 5) and make your roll. Line up the two axis and read the number there. If the number matches or is lower than the center number, then the answer is a yes, but if it exceeds it, then it’s a no.
In the case of Dread, you’re asking the Fate Chart if the tower falls. If yes, the tower falls and you fail your task, having horrible stuff happen to your character. If no, then congrats, you made the pull. For every three pulls made, push up the Odds rank by one. So, in the example mentioned above, after three pulls, the “Very Unlikely” rank becomes “Unlikely”.
The mechanic behind this idea is to emulate an actual Jenga tower. Early on, the tower is sturdy and there are loose blocks to pull out and easily place. But as the game goes on, the tower becomes more unbalanced, finding the loose blocks will be harder, and one mispull could spell the doom for the entire tower. In other words, you can easily play a game of Jenga with paper and dice.
When the tower “falls” and you “build it back up”, the Odds rank resets with the exception of two factors: one, the Odds you set up if you had less than five players at the start and two, an added rank for the fallen character. For example, if there were five players and one of their characters falls, the odds go to “No Way” instead of “Impossible”. If another one falls, it becomes “Very Unlikely” and so forth. Same holds true if there were less than five.
By now, Mythic vets will be asking “what about the exceptional answers?” to which non-Mythic vets will be asking “the exceptional whats?” For the latter, you may notice two numbers next to the large center number. These are the Exceptional Answers. Meeting or being lower than the left number means you got an exceptional yes while meeting or being higher than the right number means an exceptional no.
So how do you factor that into Dread? Simple. An Exceptional No will mean that the Tower has become sturdy enough to facilitate more pulls and that you push the rank down instead of up. For example, if the odds were around “No Way!” and you got an Exceptional No, then it goes down to “Impossible” and any pulls counting to the next Odds shift get reset to reflect that, so if you had one pull left before the Odds rank got shifted up and the Exceptional No happens, then you reset that and start at 3 Pulls until Rank Shift.
If it’s an Exceptional Yes, however, it’s different. The character pushes the tower down (which for those who haven’t played Dread means they succeeded the task, but heroically sacrificed themselves in the process) and the tower is rebuilt like normal.
And there you have it. That is how you play Dread with the lack of a Jenga tower. You can also use this system for multiple reasons, such as playing with kids who might not be good at playing Jenga or if you or a friend lacks the dexterity to play Jenga. The main idea though is for people who are experienced in Solo RPGs and would like to give this game a shot without having to hassle with a tower
However, if you can, use the tower. It is ridiculously fun with it and Dread can easily be a good party role playing game much like Snakes on a Plane or Fiasco.