The Game: Don't Rest Your Head
The Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
Degree of Familiarity: I love this game, but I've never had a chance to play it, so I can't claim particular familiarity
Books Required: Just Don't Rest Your Head.
Don't Rest Your Head is the kind of surreal horror game that makes Call of Cthulhu look like a day-trip to the seaside, and even Kult look like a visit to an elderly relative. Sure, not a nice elderly relative, but it's still a lot easier to deal with than the kind of weirdness that happens in the Mad City. See, DRYH is about what happens when people stay awake long enough to cross into the Mad City and touch the underlying insanity throughout the world. They've got superpowers (fuelled by insanity, natch) and a driving purpose. And to reach their purpose, DRYH pushes them and pushes them and right when they think they can't go any lower, that things can't get worse, it pushes some more. It's unrelenting, pulse-pounding action that naturally builds towards a crescendo. The mechanics are based around three pools of dice: Discipline, Exhaustion, and Madness pitched against the GM's Pain dice. So yeah, it's firmly in the "conflict resolution" camp of games, to the point where everyone starts with the same amount of dice.
Creating a character is a case of answering questions, so let's get started.
My Name Is ____ And I Am ____
Basic concept and name first. I want someone who's going to have a particularly weird time in the Mad City, and I think that does mean grounding it to the City Slumbering, the real world. So, I'm thinking a journalist, probably a hack journalist.His byline's Lex Deighton, though that's not his real name.
What's been keeping you awake?
So, what's driven him? This is the real hook into the backstory, the driving force into the game. In this case, I think his wife went missing several weeks ago, and the police couldn't find anything. It was like she'd vanished into thin air, and plain worry has driven him to the bottle.
What just happened to you?
This is a great question. The player frames the scene that introduces his character to the game, handing over narrative control and giving everyone a chance to show off. In this case, I want something that showcases the surreal and bizarre nature of the game.
He'd been out at Eddie's Bar again, but by the time he'd walked home he was sober once more. Without his wife, he couldn't stay drunk. Entering his flat, he saw his wife on the bed, screwing the brains out of some guy. The guy turned around, and he's got JFK's face.
What's on the surface?
The basics "what do you see at a glance" question, which also helps frame scenes and shape other people's reactions.
Hack journalist chic. The kind of guy who chases ambulances and hookers to get a sordid story, creased suit and no tie and too many cigarettes and an all-pervasive smell of cheap whiskey.
What lies beneath?
What secrets lie in his past, and what's lead him to this point.
Even when he was a kid, Lex wanted to be the guy who got the big story. He got plenty of breaks, but he was too busy getting wasted to capitalize on them. He did have a talent for digging out sordid details, and that lead him to a cushy job for a tabloid. Thing is, he could never say no to the next drink and people capitalized on that. After a while, he got a rep as the go-to guy for manufacturing a sleaze scandal. Now, he looks back at his life and wonders if the city's sleazemonger is all he'll ever be. Somewhere in that corroded lump that was once a heart, he still wants to get to the truth.
What's your path?
Or, what's the setup for the end-game of the character's personal journey. Again, it's all about providing a whole bunch of story hooks and direction for the game. There's a lot of that going on
Lex wants to turn himself around. Sex and drugs and sad old politicians in Nazi orgies aren't what he wants to do forever. He wants to find the truth, but that means breaking his ties with the worse parts of the city's underground. While doing that, he's actually got to find this big truth, dig until there's nothing left to find and he's blown it all open. Problem is, he's going to need the sleaze to drag the truth to light, and it's not an easy balancing act to maintain.
What do you do when things get crazy?
Every character starts with three Response Boxes. These get checked off when Madness dominates a scene, and they determines how the character reacts, whether he turns to face the problem head on or turns tail and runs.
I'm thinking that the booze has eroded his sense of what to do. He's going to turn and fight when it's a bad idea, and run away when he's got no need to. In general, I'm thinking he's wanting to keep his own skin safe first. One Fight box, two Flight.
What are you good at?
Every character has an Exhaustion Talent, something that they do better the more Exhaustion dominates. After a character gains a few Exhaustion dice, they're constantly operating at peak human ability—or beyond.
I'm thinking he's damn good at talking people round so they do what he wants. When he's just a bit knackered, he's got a silver tongue. When he's almost ready to crash, he could convince the Tacks Man to ignore one of his own rules.
What do you do that nobody else can?
Madness Talents break the rules. Some of them are typical super-powers—setting things alight with a glare or flying—while others get properly crazy. I want one of the latter. Lex can get into anywhere, quite literally. A minor use opens doors that just rely on locks, but a major use gets properly weird: he can grab onto just about any solid surface and give it a good hard pull, and part of it swings open like a door.
...there's no point doing a character sheet, as I'd just be copying and pasting most of this entry all over again. So that's me done.
Oh, and I should probably mention: Hunter: The Vigil on Tuesday.