The Game: Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium
The Publisher: Neoplastic Press
Degree of Familiarity: I’ve been all over this one, but haven’t played it thus far.
Books Required: Just the corebook, baby.
It’s easy to dismiss Dread as a horror game in the White Wolf mould—characters hunt demons, while using black magic that is itself spawned from Hell. But to do that you’d have to miss the point by a fucking country mile. Dread is Sin City meets Kult: a game of furious, violent action driven by a lightweight system. Dread does balls-out horror in a more splatterpunk vein to other games, and it does it really well.
Here’s the skinny: the world’s buggered, it just doesn’t know it yet. While the mouth-breathers on Fox News insist that everything’s going to Hell to rile up the Religious Right and appease the bloated Beast of Murdoch, the protagonists of Dread—Disciples—know that the pundits are right. Hell’s come to Earth. Each one encountered a demon, unleashed on the world when the barriers between the world and Hell broke down one day. Were it not for the group’s Mentor, they’d all be dead. She saved their lives, taught them some black magic of their own, and how to handle a gun. Now, she points them at demons. The Disciples hope they’re good enough to win, but know that even if they do, all she’s going to do is point them at the next demon.
The book’s a riot to read—Rafael Chandler is the kind of writer that the RPG field sees maybe a couple of times a generation. It’s also drowning in specifics. The corebook has 40 demons, each with details of what it does when manifest, what it looks like, and what happens if the characters manage to take it down. It’s crammed with black magic spells as well, and this ain’t your grandma’s Cure Light Wounds—more like Grow Fuckoff Great Lobster Claws To Carve A Punk Up.
The game’s all about attitude. That carries through to the Disciple12 system, a simple enough stat+skill affair that uses Fury as a drama-point mechanic. Fury’s various effects all have descriptive names, from the Suicide Run to the Cockpunch.
I think that the game only really falters in two locations, and they’re both to do with style: first, a lot of the art illustrating the demons is a bit low-rent. Looks like it could come out of a Rifts book or SCAR’s time illustrating Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and I don’t intend that as a complement. The other is the black magic. I’ve nothing against the concept, but every single effect is referred to as a spell, usually by name rather than effect, and the only verb used in relation to unleashing the magics is “to cast”. That doesn’t grab me, man. “Unleash”, “let rip”, go with “use”, anything sounds better than “cast”. It feels like a D&Dism that’s crept into this game, and that’s not right.
Rafael recently dropped all the books but the full version of Spite to nothing when bought in PDF (avoid the bundle, that’s a legacy from when everything cost). Spite, the sequel game, is Dread with the knobs turned up, and will be appearing on this journal soon. The free player’s section has character creation and all the rules, but no GMing advice and none of the demons.
As is typical, I’ll come up with a brief, broad concept to start with.
Temple didn’t pick his own codename, he’d been Christened with it on the streets years ago. It’s a name that fits—he’s a big guy, with muscle that’s almost sculpted on. He’s also quiet, to the point that a lot of folks think he can’t speak. He can, he just knows that he’s not too smart—being quiet gives him the air of a big ol’ wise man, even if he’s no such thing.
Attributes & Discipline
Nine points to split between Strength, Sense, and Soul. One of the three has to be at least 5, so my actual options are 6-2-1, 5-3-1, or 5-2-2. The highest Attribute defines what the character does. In my case, Temple’s done everything from minding the door at a bar where the fights are a feature to breaking Mob legbreakers. He’s a genuinely nice guy—not smart, but nice. What the hell. I drop six into Strength, one into Sense, and two into Soul.
Having a high Strength means we have the Combat Discipline. A quick diversion: a character rolls her Combat Pool to attack, and to defend against all incoming attacks. Normally it’s equal to Strength, but the Combat Discipline kicks it up by one. It also means that one can attack multiple foes (normally it’s one character, one attack) by splitting the pool between them. Temple rolls 7 dice when trying to kill people, and can break that down as far as attacking seven people with one-die attacks as a single action.
Characters have twice Sense ranks in Skills. The list of Skills is short, but characters should note what they used to do as a profession in order to pick up the Skill. I put both points into Intimidate (Bouncer). Crime initially looks like it might fit, but it’s far more the B&E end of the scale. Done here.
This is a one-word explanation of what keeps the character going. Temple’s drive is Freedom. For so long he’s been nothing more than a tool, a handy meat-machine for scaring people off or turning people into funerals. Having a demon eat his leg, getting recruited, it’s shit. And it’s following orders. But nobody’s telling him what to do, who to hit. He’s free to fuck up mafiosos and demons and cultists and who knows what else. That higher calling has freed him from the people who would have controlled him, and it’s a bliss that he’ll never let go.
Characters have two contacts, who act as information sources and low-level favour machines to keep the plot going. Temple’s brother, always the smart one, left home to join the army. He saw action in Iraq, and was rotated home six months ago. While he’s willing to help his brother out, Private Baldry knows that his brother’s mixed up in something weird and doesn’t want too much to do with it. Maxie Clark, on the other hand, doesn’t care what Tem’s doing these days. He pulled more sleazes off of her than the other bouncers put together, and he didn’t try getting a freebie out of her as thanks. She feeds him the word on the street, but sometimes needs Temple’s help when she gets in over her head.
All Disciples start with a Cash score of 1, so anything of Cost 1 is there for the taking. Starting characters can also pick three items and roll to see if they can afford them, rolling Cash and trying to get higher than the item’s cost.
Temple still carries a lead pipe (cost 1) from the old days. I want him to back that up with something meatier—a big axe, say. That’s cost 3, I roll a 5. Score. I also want a shotgun—it’s cost 7, so riskier, but worth it. The die turns up 11. Get in! A bulletproof vest won’t harm his rep none, and is only cost 4. I roll a 12. That’ll do nicely, netting me 5 armour.
The Magic rating is equal to Soul. A Disciple can cast spells up to his Magic each day (including repeats), and knows double his Magic in spells. For Temple, I’m thinking combat magic. Cancer is the hands-into-claws spell, and I’m definitely going for that. Denial prevents magic from working on Temple when used. Ordal enables him to challenge anyone to a duel to the death. Finally, Nacreous summons iridescent armour.
Life & Fury
Characters start with 12 points of each. Fury’s used for special effects, usually in fights. Life is also spent in fights, but it’s harder to get back and when you run out, you die.
|Intimidate (Bouncer) 2||Lead Pipe (1/1) |
|Pvt. Baldry, soldier |
Maxie Clark, stripper
|Bolt Cutters |
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