Every year my local game shop hosts a Halloween party. Part of the tradition of costumes, good food, and gaming is that I run a game of Dread for whoever wishes to play. Each year this game of Dread has a full table, and it always turns into a sort of spectator sport for non-players who follow the story as it unfolds.

There has just been one significant problem with this game of Dread: Character creation takes too long for people to focus on while in the middle of a party. Dread requires that each player complete a questionnaire of thirteen questions in order without knowledge of what the next question will be. This is not the easiest activity to focus on when you are surrounded by good food and good times.

I decided to hack Dread this year in order to avoid this one issue. To keep my hack from going astray I committed to keeping the changes to a minimum.

Addressing Only the Key Issue

The problem I needed to address was not a problem with the rules. I had a problem with the situation in which that game was going to be played. The character creation process could not take a great length of time, nor could it require more than a minute or two of focus for the players.

The solution was to break the questionnaire’s up so that instead of answering all of the questions in order at the beginning of the game, the players instead answered one question at a time in no particular order while playing the game. I reduced the questions from thirteen to seven and wrote each question on an index card. My plan was to hand the players a card when they did something in game that should be rewarded, or when they took a risk in the game for the purpose of gaining a question.

My original problem was now solved, but I had inadvertently created a whole new one.

What is the Incentive?

The rules for Dread’s character creation gives the player a foundation and incentive for playing his or her character. By changing the character creation process I had removed that incentive.

I needed a setting that would work with the changes I had made to the character creation process, but at the same time was going to offer player incentive without causing anymore problems. I decided that I would make each character creation question answered an accomplishment that would be reflected within the game world. Since Dread is a horror game I decided to go with the scariest setting that I could think of: Hell.

The Premise

Each of the characters was a soul that had been sent to Hell. The characters had no memory of their lives before Hell though, and unless the characters were willing to risk plummeting into the depths of Hell to discover their pasts they would be tortured for eternity without ever knowing why. Seemed like a perfectly valid form of damnation to me.

Now I had my incentive for each player to learn more about his or her character, as well as incentive to interact with the game world. Sitting around in the game world would result in horrible things happening to each character, and each player’s natural curiosity resulted in plenty of requests for a chance to learn more about their character. I added a rule that you had to wait 15 minutes between taking on challenges to receive a question. Rewarding player actions that resulted in more fun for the group with a question also helped to keep the game on track.

The End Result

The game was great fun, and while my hacks probably would not hold up for a reoccurring game of Dread, they did work splendidly for this particular night. The reason I suspect that it worked is because I kept my hacks to a minimum. Each was focused on either resolving the initial problem (character creation during a party takes too long), or providing the players with incentive to play the game that fit the mood of the event (playing a scary game at a Halloween party).

What about others? Have you hacked a game in order to address a particular problem? What new problems did it result in? What were the end results? Leave a comment below and share your stories about hacking a game’s rules with the rest of us.