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Dread – Play It This Halloween (Trust Us)

Recently fellow gnome John Arcadian and I attended “Con on the Cob” where we hung out with the crew from Windmill Game Co [1]. They are the creative power behind the new Dread: Tales of Terror series which are supplements that provide wonderful scenarios and questionnaires for the fabulous game Dread [2].

CotC_Dread [3]

Now every year I run a very simple RPG for non-gamers around Halloween time. In the past I have used games like Fudge [4], or Savage Worlds [5]. Both are simple and wonderful systems, and each can do horror well with a few tweaks.

Not this year. Probably not ever again. Nope, I will still play other RPGs but  when it comes to running a Halloween game for anyone it will be Dread from now on. Why? Because there is no other game out there that can compare to the perfect blend of mechanics and design, easy to follow rules, and lack of typical RPG jargon that makes other RPGs less than appealing to most non-gamers.

Why Dread?

I am not saying that Dread is the perfect game for everyone, but I do not praise a game like this often. I am friends with some of the people behind the game, but I was a fan long before I ever met them. The truth is that Dread is that good at what it does: provide you with an experience akin to watching a great horror movie. Your heart beats faster when you play this game!

You Probably Already Have Everything You Need

Dread uses a tower of blocks, the most successful commercial version being the game Jenga [6], and a questionnaire as a character sheet. So if you have a tower, some paper and pencils to complete questionnaires with, and this easy to follow quick reference [7] you can run a Dread game.

Now I hope that you buy the actual Dread book and the Dread: Tales of Terror supplements, but you have to admit that games that you can play for a small investment are awesome to begin with.

Character Creation Is Easy Yet Precise

The questionnaires have twelve questions like “What have you been doing since you quit your job?” or “Why did you steal from your family?” and always end with the thirteenth question “What is your name?” That is all there is to it. Players just answer the questions in order and then hand them to the GM upon completion.

Non-gamers will not be confused by charts, tables, dice rolls, skill picks, etc. They just answer some leading questions and in no time they have a completed character that is as detailed as you need it to be as a GM. Yet the player has customized that character to their vision as well. There is an elegance to this character creation process that should be appreciated.

The Tower Provides The Fear

The tower is used whenever a character takes a risk within the game, needs to do something beyond his or her normal abilities, or attempts to take an action against another player character. A player makes a “pull” according to the rules of the tower game, and if the tower collapses that character is out of the game.

That is it. You as the GM simply describe the scenes to the players and ask for a pull, or perhaps several pulls when appropriate, and the tower does the rest. In several games that I have played, ran, and observed the result is always the same:

One hour into the game your players do indeed DREAD having to make a pull from the tower.

Hands shake. Sweat appears upon brows. Players hold their breath with terror when that tower starts to sway.

When was the last you played a game of D&D that had the same effect on everyone at the table?

Best Quality? Anyone Can Play!

We say this about a lot of RPGs, but the truth is that many complex rules system require a certain level of savvy with common RPG lingo and practices to really enjoy them upon first play. Without an experienced group a newcomer can often feel lost and bored while playing the game.

Dread is like the Wii of RPGs. Your grandmother can play it within 10 minutes of being introduced to it. Combine this with the openness of people to enjoy a good scare and the pitch of “It is just like playing Jenga, but with a horror story!” and you can easily launch a game of Dread at any Halloween party. Even the people who are not playing will get goose bumps!

This is the best part of a Dread game. Players, GMs, and observers alike become immersed into the story emotionally. Yet it does not matter if you have been playing RPGs for years or if this Dread game is your first RPG ever – everyone just naturally starts to play in character because of this palatable tension. You have to experience it for yourself.

Call Me If You Think I’m Bluffing – Play Dread

I rarely endorse a game so strongly, but when I realized at “Con on the Cob” this year that I was enthralled by every Dread game that I played and observed that singing Dread’s praises was warranted. In the interest of expanding our community of gamers, and because I love a good Halloween game, I wanted to be clear that Dread is the game that you should be playing this Halloween.

My special thanks to all of the Windmill Games Co. staff for explaining what they liked best about Dread, and to John Arcadian for his part in helping to shape this article. You all rock!

Have you played Dread? Do you have questions about the game? Maybe you know of a worthy adversary to Dread for the title of “Best Halloween Game Ever”? Leave a comment below, and remember that the GM is a player too. Have fun with it!

34 Comments (Open | Close)

34 Comments To "Dread – Play It This Halloween (Trust Us)"

#1 Comment By The Bearded Goose On October 23, 2009 @ 9:38 am

I wholeheartedly endorse everything this article states. I was also at CotC, and I frequently ran into the Windmill Games staff throughout the weekend. The constantly asked me to get into a game, to give it a try, to find out what they were so excited about. Let me say this, those guys are as enthusiastic and fun as gamers can be.

And Dread? Holy crap! It ties at the top of my all-time favorite role-playing experiences I’ve ever had. This is a game that is all about the role-play, and all about what you’re feeling.

And I really, really hate that damn tower. I’d be calm as clams until the GM would say: “Alright. Make a pull.” And he usually said it so damn calmly, too. Those words came out and my hands immediately started shaking. Usually, I’d swear, too. Yup, this is a hell of a game.

This was the final game I played Saturday night, and ended my Con for the weekend. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed. It was a great way to end a fun weekend. I was able to grab the two books of scenarios that Windmill had on hand, and I’m anxiously awaiting the finalized core rulebook they’re putting together.

Yes, it’s a great game. Get it. Play it.

Dread the tower.


#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2009 @ 9:49 am

[8] – Gus! Great hanging out with you at the con this year!

I’ve played Dread several times, and what you describe happens in every single game. I’ve yet to become numbe to the effect. I love it!

And when running Dread I’ve found myself being more observant of my players’ body language and tones. You really need to know what will freak the players out the most, and sometimes that means being as calm as possible just to conflict the amazing tension that the game builds up. Because of this I strongly believe that running the game has made me a better GM.

I hope see you again at CotC next year. I had a great time there this year.

And yes, Dread the tower…

#3 Comment By Tyson J. Hayes On October 23, 2009 @ 9:53 am

I get way to competitive when playing games like this, it sounds like way to much fun and I would get really into making pulls off this.

This sounds like an amazing game and something I’ll be picking up soon. Thanks for the review.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2009 @ 10:35 am

[9] – Good to hear. You won’t be disappointed!

As for being competitive, well that is one of the great aspects of this game that I did not mention. You can be very competitive with other players, but also with yourself. There are times when you look at that tower shaking and barely holding together and think “I can do this!” Next thing you know you either have bit off more than you can chew, or you are standing their victorious with one more block pulled and on top of the tower!

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 23, 2009 @ 11:01 am

I am so going to have to play this.

The only downside I can see is that I know a number of people whose fine motor skills are a bit underdeveloped. They’ll have a distinct disadvantage in this game.

#6 Comment By deadlytoque On October 23, 2009 @ 11:34 am

I love Dread but — having played it numerous times — I offer you one warning: make sure your players have something else to do once their characters are dead. Early player removal is the BANE of RPGs. Dread games usually don’t run too long, but a player who is taken out early by a bad pull may have nothing to do but sit there, go home, or worst: turn on the TV or Xbox. It kills the mood and distracts other players.

Me, I tend to prepare 2 or 3 more character questionnaires than I have players, and then when someone dies, I let them feed back in with a new character, once a suitable excuse arrives.

Also, if a player knocks the tower over on their first pull, I take them aside and tell them that I’ll let their character live, but but only if they take a “dark secret”, usually that they are infected/mind-controlled/etc. by the evil in the story, and should start subtly working against the rest of the group.

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

[10] – It can be a problem, but I’ve seen the “dark fate” option work very well for those situations. Let that player stay in but he or she can no longer make pulls, yet they are still influencing the story.

They can get into trouble that is a catalyst for the other characters to deal with, or even better they are the unwilling (as a character, let the player still have influence) vessel through which part of the terror in the game flows. Like the character River from Firefly/Serenity was trouble for the rest of the crew just because she was there. Or how Regan is just a victim of the conflict between the Devil and the priests in The Exorcist.

Yet your tactics are just as valid, and I think you can easliy work past an early exit from the game with just a little effort.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

[11] – I have a bit of trouble in that department myself due to a medical condition. On a bad day holding steady is an issue, but the guys at Windmill Game Co. do have ideas for alternate mechanics including a method that uses cards. They are nice guys, and if you visit their site and send them an email I’m sure that they will help you find an alternative that works for your group.

#9 Comment By Akira On October 23, 2009 @ 2:15 pm


We do indeed have a card mechanic, which has worked pretty well in the past. It doesn’t encourage the ambiance as well as the Tower does, however, which is sadness. But it works.

#10 Comment By robinmotion On October 23, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

To anyone who has tried the game with newbies …

I’m going to combine this with the related article post about turning non-gamers into gamers. Has anyone tried running Dread without the character questionnaires, but rather using your friends “playing themselves”? I know them pretty well, so I know what some of their fears and skills are. I just feel like asking them to “be” someone else might take them out of the idea that it’s just a ghost story that they’re part of.

Anyone have thoughts? Perhaps I could do a simple questionnaire that we all do verbally, just to gather ideas, and then let them “play” as themselves?

Or would that just get too creepy when they have to start leaving one another behind or giving the mercy killings after the zombie bite ;)?

#11 Comment By Akira On October 23, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

[13] – I’ve never tried it, but it sounds awesome. Though it could be a problem when the aforementioned mercy killings happen.

#12 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

[14] – Yeah, the tower is definitely the best mechanic I’ve seen for Dread. It is tactile and always staring you right in the face as it stands before the group.

I still like having alternatives though. Except for the campfire alternative we joked about at “CotC”. For those who weren’t there, it goes something like this:

GM: The monster is attacking you!
Player: I dodge and escape.
GM: You can either pull six blocks from the tower, or one from the middle of the fire!
Player: Bare handed?
GM: Bare handed.

GM: Well?
Player: That tower is way to unstable. Get the ice ready…


#13 Comment By Akira On October 23, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

[15] – Muahahaha! Er, I mean… we would never set a player on fire. Honest.

#14 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

[13] – The occasional “Let’s play ourselves!” game with any system can be fun, and I would love to try it with Dread.

But those mercy kills? Oh man, those are going to be harsh!

#15 Comment By Tyson J. Hayes On October 23, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

[16] – I personally always suggest to new roleplayers to play themselves, as it’s easier to understand your own motivations then to invent them.

Though this game does lend to the amusing thought experiment of what it would be like if you were in the situations described.

#16 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 23, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

[16] – A great way to soften those mercy kills: The mercy killed drink free for the rest of the night.

#17 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

So who is planning on a Dread game for this Halloween? I’m going to try out a new scenario of my own where the PCs are attending the wake of a childhood associate. Seems some secrets are coming out of the closets, and a restless spirit wants the truth to be known.

What will others be running?

#18 Comment By Akira On October 23, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

[17] – I will be running a game of Dread at our Friendly Local Gaming Store (hi Pegasus Games!). Most likely it’ll end up being a game from our upcoming Tales of Terror: Monsters, probably Prometheus Unleashed.

#19 Comment By Akira On October 25, 2009 @ 1:31 am

So… what other kinds of scenarios would you guys like to see us come out with at Windmill Games?

#20 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 25, 2009 @ 10:08 am

[18] – I love how the next Tales of Terror will focus on the classic movie monsters. I grew up watching those on TV with my brothers and have a lot of fond memories of conversations like “Okay, if you built a Frankenstein out of Wolfman parts would silver still hurt it? Silver doesn’t hurt Frankenstein, but now he’s Wolfman-stein and hairy with claws.” When your 8 years old those kinds of discussions made more sense. 🙂

What do I want to see? More ghost stories. Movies like “The Ring”, “Poltergeist”, “Stir of Echoes”, and variations on the classic haunting tale like “The Others” are all in the vein of what I am thinking. Slow build up followed by intense scenes of fright!

I’m working on a couple of scenarios, and I might share one with the GS community before Halloween if it is ready in time. I’m way behind on other writing projects, but I think I can squeeze this in for a GS article before Halloween.

If I post an article with a complete Dread scenario with questionnaires and a link to the quick start reference will GS readers run it and describe how it went in a follow-up post-Halloween article? All you readers need to do is get a tower game like Jenga.

So if I provide a scenario (and there are also free ones available on the web) who will run a Dread game soon?

#21 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 26, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

FYI – RPGNow.com has the first of the Tales of Terror books available for download now:


I am sure that the second will be available soon from there as well.

I played the Dead City module at CotC that is available in this volume. It was the same event that the picture for this post came from. It was a great game!

#22 Comment By Epidiah Ravachol On October 26, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

God damn, you know how to make a designer blush.

#23 Comment By Martin Ralya On October 27, 2009 @ 3:32 am

I played Dread at GenCon ’07, also with someone from Windmill (whose name, regrettably, I’ve forgotten!), and had a great time.

I agree with everything Patrick said in his article, and the only thing I’d add is that watching everyone gradually go from sitting around the table like normal people to sitting about three feet away from it — so as not to accidentally knock over the increasingly precarious tower — over the course of the night is absolutely delicious.

#24 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 27, 2009 @ 11:45 am

[20] – Happy to do so when the game is worth it! Nice work on Dread all around from you guys at The Impossible Dream.

[21] – Oh yes, the pic for this article is a good example of that. No one was sitting at our table at certain points while playing the game. 🙂

#25 Comment By NinjaCakeGirl On November 6, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

I played in the game that the article’s picture was taken from. I absolutely loved that game! I chose the tourist character sheet, who became the Japanese schoolgirl tourist who had an ongoing quarrel with the old man throughout the game until he died. If I remember right, he died saving me, despite his senile, stubborn rantings. I’ve never played a game before where I felt so nervous that I didn’t want to go anywhere near the table and I definitely did *not* want to pull a block. But I’ll tell you what, we were damn proud of that tower!

#26 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 9, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

[22] – Hey there! I was the old man, and that character was a lot of fun to play. You were awesome in how you reacted to the old man’s endless rants!

#27 Pingback By Habrá que echarle un ojo: Dread. « Padre, marido y friki On November 25, 2009 @ 5:14 am

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#28 Comment By AvatarArt On January 28, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

[22] – That would be the ‘Jenga Onyx Game’ via B&N right?

#29 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 29, 2010 @ 11:00 am

[24] – That is the version of Jenga that was used for the Corn on the Cob game. It is an excellent set.

#30 Comment By AvatarArt On January 29, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

And its on sale this weekend: save 15% online with coupon code E4Y4N9P at checkout. So with shipping + tax mine was $24.73 thank to Member Discount & 15%.

Just FYI. Its cool to play Dread with the ‘Dark Tower.’

Legalese: (“This coupon is valid from January 29, 2010 to February 1, 2010 at 2:59 a.m. Eastern Time. The 15% discount will be applied to the most expensive eligible item in the order – not the entire purchase – and will be deducted after all other eligible discounts, including (if applicable) the standard Member discount, are applied.”)

#31 Comment By matthewbaldwin On February 16, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

Late to the party here, but I just picked up Dread myself and was searching the web for folks who had play it. The character creation and action resolution mechanisms strike me as brilliant, but I can’t say I found the included scenarios too engrossing.

What scenarios have you played, and are there any in particular you would recommend?

#32 Comment By Akira On February 16, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

Hey Matthew,

There are tons of Dread scenarios available. You can feel free to check out the other one The Impossible Dream has for free on their website at [25]

Windmill Game Co. also has 4 scenarios available (not free, sorry) as part of our Tales of Terror series. You can get them on DriveThruRPG [26] (for PDF) or on our website [27] (for hardcopy or PDF), and I believe there are a couple of free scenarios in our forums somewhere.

I KNOW there are other fan-made scenarios out there. I’ve seen ’em. People have run ’em at conventions.

#33 Pingback By Habrá que echarle un ojo: Dread. On August 11, 2010 @ 4:24 am

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#34 Comment By woodelf On October 25, 2010 @ 1:55 pm


Maybe, maybe not: Several years ago, someone showed up to a con game who had a diagnosed palsy of the hands. He turned out to have a blast, and wasn’t really that much worse off than the folks with “normal” fine-motor control. So, yes, it’s something to be aware of, but I wouldn’t automatically rule out Dread, just because you or your friends are less dextrous than average. And, if everyone’s cool with it, you could always have a “designated puller” if someone really is at a disadvantage.

#35 Comment By woodelf On October 25, 2010 @ 1:57 pm


Having extra characters ready to go is a great idea. In practice, I’ve only once seen someone eliminated so early in the game that it would’ve been necessary–that’s actually the genesis of the “dead man walking” option in the rulebook–but if you’re worried about it, that’s another good way to be prepared for it.

#36 Comment By woodelf On October 25, 2010 @ 2:00 pm


Just wanted to clarify, in case you’re still waiting, that the core rulebook exists, and has existed for 5 years. You can get it through Indie Press revolution or the Impossible Dream’s website (www.tiltingatwindmills.net). Windmill Game Co. is a separate entity, which produces the Tales of Terror scenario collections (as well as other, non-Dread-related games).

#37 Pingback By What approaches are there to lessen or eliminate reliance upon dice in an RPG? [closed] | CL-UAT On December 25, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

[…] Gnome Stew has an excellent article on replacing a dice system in a survival-horror game called Dread (by Epidiah Ravachol) with a Jenga tower; every risky action requires a block pull, and the game […]

#38 Pingback By What approaches are there to lessen or eliminate reliance upon dice in an RPG? [closed] | XL-UAT On March 6, 2015 @ 4:46 pm

[…] Gnome Stew has an excellent article on replacing a dice system in a survival-horror game called Dread (by Epidiah Ravachol) with a Jenga tower; every risky action requires a block pull, and the game […]