Cooperation between the players’ characters in Dread usually takes the form of the players divvying up the pulls, sharing the responsibility and the risk. And this works largely because it lets each individual player experience a little ease in their burden without tampering with the pacing of the game.
But recently, in Piratecat’s ever-growing ENworld thread on Dread, there was a request for a mechanic that helped to focus the game on trust between the characters, and this inspired the following optional rules.
When hosting a game that focuses on trust, you will want to create situations in which the players’ characters need to rely on each other. A situation where at least two pulls will be needed to complete the task at hand safely, and at least one of the pulls can be shared with another player’s character. A situation that would require trust for the two characters to work together. Perhaps one character is keeping watch while another breaks into a building (one pull for breaking in and one pull for doing without being seen). Or one character is applying pressure a bleeding leg wound of a victim of a car accident while the other tries to treat the slightly more pressing sucking chest wound (one pull for each wound).
The players can then decide that they trust each other. If this happens, then one of the pulls does not have to occur. This is the bonus you get for trusting each other. The host should decide which one of the players will have to make the remaining pulls (or the host may be a little mischievous and leave it up to the players to decide). In many cases this will be obvious. When in doubt you can just go with the player whose character’s actions provoked the need for pulling in the first place.
However, if the tower should fall while the remaining pulls are being made, both the characters share the gruesome fate. This is the price for trusting each other. By putting your trust in someone or allowing someone to trust you, you agree to share this risk.
The Betrayal system is a twist in the Trust system described above, giving one of the players has the option to betray the other for a little bonus down the road. Once the players have established their characters’ trust in one another and the remaining pulls have started, the player not pulling may declare after a pull is made but before the block is placed on top of the tower that they are breaking the bonds of trust.
In the fiction of the game this does not have to be something big. Simply an indication that they aren’t doing what they were trusted to do to the best of their abilities. A teenager trusted to keep watch might spend his whole time on his cellphone chatting up his girlfriend, or someone trusted to keep pressure on a wound while the medic administers to more pressing injuries might become momentarily overwhelmed by the gore and freeze up. That sort of thing.
If a player decides to break this bond of trust, then the block that was going to go on top of the tower is handed to that player. It may be used later on as a free pull–simply place it on top of the tower instead of pulling another block. That’s the reward for being a jackass.
And the player who was betrayed must now also make the pull that their trust had originally eliminated. Whatever the betrayer was trusted to do has now failed–just as it would have failed if the player simply elected not to pull. That’s the penalty for trusting a jackass. (Thanks to Asmor over at ENworld for making this suggestion.)
If the tower falls after this point, the characters no longer share a fate.
When to Use Them
If your game doesn’t focus on issues of trust or betrayal, you probably shouldn’t use these systems. They are specifically designed to change the feel of the game and focus more closely on how the characters interact with one another. They can lead to a lot of conflict between the players’ characters, which can be fun for some types of stories (especially things like survival horror), but disruptive for other sorts of stories.
Not all games that use the Trust rules need to use the Betrayal rules either. Trust by itself lends more hope to the game, and can be used on its own in games where the players’ characters need to work together to overcome incredible odds. The Betrayal rules definitely put a darker, more self-serving twist on things.
When someone deliberately knocks the tower over while someone else is trusting them, be sure to honor the greater sacrifice with greater results.
While it seems possible to create more than one bond of trust for any given situation, simulating a well coordinated team working towards a common goal, I’d highly recommend against it. One slip-up could end the scenario entirely by wiping out everyone involved in the web of trust.
If using the Trust mechanic without the Betrayal, you could add even more hope to the game by allowing one character to trust another without lending anything more than an encouraging word or a reassuring peck on the cheek. “I’m so confident you can land this plane, even with a burnt-out engine, that I’m not even going to bother to bail out like all the others.”
At the moment, the Betrayal mechanic can be gamed in a serious way. Players who have assessed the situation and decided that they’re not going to make all of their pulls, can call for another player to trust and then betray them. The end result in the fiction is very similar to pulling for some things and electing not to pull for others. But mechanically, a player has earned a free pull for later. The only thing that might prevent this from happening all the time is that in the fiction the character getting the free pull ends up looking a bit like a jackass. There might be a need for a stronger mechanic deterrent to such tactics.
Be sure to let your players know upfront if you’re going to be using either one of these sets of rules.