Dread Jeopardy and Other Variants

Most of my Dread games as of late have been rather straightforward. I’ve been showing the game off to new players, and so I don’t get too experimental with it. The players in these games are usually interested in purchasing or hosting games of their own. So the fundamentals become the focus of my game.

I miss the early days of Dread, when we’d toy with all sorts of wackiness, including a mad dice system for determining how many pulls you should make and a table of 218 standard questions that rolled on to make your initial questionnaire. The core of Dread was there from the beginning, and all the experiments just led me back to it, but that doesn’t me we didn’t have fun along the way.

In the spirit of those salad days, here are some variants on the questionnaire that I’ve been dying to try, but haven’t yet had the opportunity.

Jeopardy-Style

There are two ways to go about this, I believe. The first is to have the host come up with a bunch of facts and phrases about the character, and then have the player fill in the appropriate questions, like the popular game show Jeopardy. The second is to have the players supply the answers first and then have the host give the questions.

Both of these will take a little more work on the part of the host, but the first option seems the easier of the two. And shouldn’t be too difficult to engage the players with. I suspect the key would be to give ambiguous answers, which can allow for a number of interesting questions. And you’ll need players willing to stretch these questions.

Example:

Host Answer: I played college football and almost went pro until I broke my leg.

Player Question 1: Why are you in such good shape?

Player Question 2: Why do you walk with a slight limp?

Player Question 3: Aside from never patching things up with your brother, what is your greatest regret in life?

From each of these answers it should be easy to discern what each player wants out of the character. Some day soon, I’m going to try this one.

The second way seems interesting, but a bit more problematic.

Normally, the host’s work with the questionnaires comes before the night of the game. I can take my time writing them up, bring them to the game, and I know that about a half-hour after I present them to the players, we will be playing. But this style of questionnaire will most likely have to be done entirely before the gaming night. It’s just too much pressure on the host otherwise.

Each player needs to be attentive to how they write their answers. Much like in the first option, the answers should be open enough to lead to a variety of interesting questions. Also, they should cover the sorts of themes and capabilities the host is asked to cover with the questionnaires in a typical Dread game. Players shouldn’t just list a bunch of incredible things they want their characters to have or be able to do. Mix it up with interesting problems they want their characters to deal with and so forth.

Even so, answers like “Because I can punch through a cow,” can be twisted a bit with an interesting question. “Why are you wanted by the police?” “Why did you join the circus rather than finish high school?” And so forth.

Host should be careful not to negate answers, though. If the player offers, “That’s because of all the time I spent as a Marine sniper,” you might squash their character concept with a question like: “Why do you refuse to ever touch another firearm?”

But then again, some players may love that. Know your players, basically.

Amnesia

In this variant, the players again start the questionnaire process off, but they supply all the questions. “Why do I have this scar?” “Why can I recall all of Shakespeare’s King Lear?” “Why does the name Angela repeat itself over and over in my head?”

They hand a dozen or so of these questions to the host, who then fills in the answers. Preferably, this is done well ahead of the night you intend to play on. The questions are returned to the players, but they do not get to see the answers.

The game begins with their characters unable to recall anything about their past except for these burning questions, which will hopefully be answered as the story unfolds.

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9 thoughts on “Dread Jeopardy and Other Variants

  1. In the case of the first jeopardy, are you envisioning an open style “answer” phase? Or do you see it as the host has 5 answer sheets and gives them to the players. When I first read it, I saw it as an actual jeopardy layout with categories like “Weaknesses”, “Strengths”, “Friends”, etc. and players would pick one and everyone has a chance to answer with their question.

    Then the “best” question gets it and it keeps going on. I kind of even think that maybe folks could pre-pull the tower in order to “steal” the answer on the table for their characters if they wanted to. That might get crazy though.

    I really need to play this game. I’m all theorydreading without any experience!

  2. I originally envisioned answer sheets handed out to the players, but now I can’t get your idea out of my head. I think openness of this method would be excellent for a Band of Brothers sort of game–something in which the characters have been working closely together for a while, and know quite a bit about each other. Also, the fact that it is a little game in its own right should help to generate relationships between these characters.

    This is how I might implement it. I’d start with five or six categories of answers, like Careers & Hobbies, Family & Friends, Things That Keep Me Up at Night, etc. When a question is revealed, the players bid on it with their questions, and like you suggest, the one the host prefers wins.

    That’s a wonderful way to encourage interesting questions. If the answer is “Because of all the time I spent in the military,” the question “Why do you feel you’ve missed out on the best life has to offer?” might win out over “Why can you driver a tank?” or “Why are you such a damn good shot?”

    Each player will have to win two and only two answers in each category for their character. So in the end, everyone has the same number and a nice mix of topics.

  3. It gives the players a bit of control too since they can just sandbag a answer they’re not interested in. Like if I don’t want to play a military guy, I could sandbag a crappy question and hope a better answer comes up in the History category. I’d be taking a bit of a chance though, since the answer pool is finite!

    Sounds pretty cool for a Band of Brothers thing. I didn’t anticipate the creation of closeness, but I guess since the players get to hear all the questions and the answers, they know it all together. Very cool.

  4. Those are really neat, epps!

    I wonder if you could do a subtle variation on the amnesia one where the players create their questions just before the game starts and neither the GM nor the players actually have the answers to those questions when the game begins. Then, as the story develops, both GM and players can influence the answers to those questions, and then of course the answers to those questions will influence the story. The GM would just come prepared with a skeleton of a scenario to start things off and maybe keep things rolling, but the asking and answering of the questions is what would create the juicy parts of the game.

    I wonder if you’d need a system to give the players some extra narrative control in order for them to have significant control over the answers to their characters’ questions. How about this: the players are limited to “standard” RPG control, ie. they control only the actions of their characters and they can not otherwise influence the story or the world around them, EXCEPT when they say the words, “Wait, I remember…” and then they can explain returning memories of their character which are considered true for the rest of the game. Maybe there could be a system where other players could veto a memory if it was too out there, or maybe every player gets one veto per game that they can use on another player.

  5. This will be an interesting angle to revisit in a couple of days. I’m working on a post that explains a new set of rules for using the tower to handle the post-game denouement. It steps into that same area, but for a different reason.

    For now, let’s just say that I think you can do a lot of this work through the elective pulls. Things like, “I’m going to pull to remember that I know how to hotwire a car.” Then you wouldn’t need to add the veto rules. Of course, the host could always forbid such a pull if it makes no sense, so there is some regulation beyond the tower. Or, the host could require more than one pull–this could be influenced by the player telling a more convincing flashback and so forth.

    It might also be interesting to explore these ideas in less horrific ways with the Enle-Matrix Game or Wushu.

  6. Very nice ideas indeed, I’m all for a bit of wackiness. The Questionnaire must be one of the coolest character creation methods around. I love how the questions can be used to generate precise, thematically interesting characteristics that go right to the point. Everything we get to now about the character is meaningful and relevant.

    Any chance of us having a look at that table of 218 standard questions? That could be a great inspirational tool, too.

  7. Unfortunately, that was almost a decade ago, and I believe three hard drives ago. I still have a hard copy which I could type in, but I’ll have to dig it out first. For the most part, it’s long gone. It was mostly culled from various Internet lists of questions for writers could ask of their characters, and fairly generic in content.

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