“What stops me from just refusing to pull?”
It’s a question I often get when introducing someone to the rules of Dread. And it is a legitimate one. Usually, I’m moments away from hosting a game for them, so I can answer with an enigmatic, “You won’t.”
But recent discussions on the Dread message board and through e-mail have me reconsidering this terse answer.
In the book I set the tower up as a physical representation of one particular point of tension: the promise of success versus the threat of elimination. As presented, the sole reason for pulling from the tower is to have a competent character. Not pulling from the tower of course means failure.
However, failure is most likely preferable to elimination. And given this choice alone, there are players who would be tempted just ride the game out without once touching the tower. Fortunately there are other tensions hidden within the tower.
Hand in hand with the question of success is the tension between affecting the story and being removed from it permanently. Pulling from the tower allows characters to have an impact on what is going on. Most folks aren’t in the game to be passive observers tossed around like a rag doll from one horror to another. So players will naturally want to step up to the tower from time to time.
Along the same lines, anyone who is pulling automatically takes center stage. During the breathless moments that the block is being slid from the tower, everyone at the table is concentrating entirely on character whose life is at stake. This time in the limelight will also draw players to the tower when it might otherwise be too risky for their characters.
Given all this, there may still be a point in the story when most, or even all, of your players will be reluctant to pull. Congratulations, they’re scared. This is a wonderful time to be a host, because it means you can do all manner of vile things.
Here’s the key: if the players aren’t moving the story along, then the host should. Failure shouldn’t just mean the opposite of success in Dread. It should cause the characters to move within the plot. Force a retreat. Slay a loved one. Capture a player’s character! Do whatever it takes to crank the story up. If the players are giving you free reign, revel in it.
Take a moment and think about whatever evil the players’ characters are up against and just what could happen at this moment that would best exemplify this evil and keep story moving. The serial killer drags a character off to his lair. The alien horde forces the characters out of the safety of their own dropship. The symptoms of the disease appear on a character inside the quarantined area. The devil offers a deal so tempting, the players’ will have to pull to refuse.
If you can, make it personal and make it change as much as possible. But don’t eliminate all hope. You are not trying to force the players to pull, just move the story along until they gather the courage to pull again.