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.
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.
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.
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.