Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

Some Thoughts on DRYH

Posted by Nathan P. on November 3, 2006

I ran a Halloween-themed game of Don’t Rest Your Head at StoryGames Boston the other night. The premise of the game was that the characters would be insomniac children going Trick-or-Treating on Halloween, and they would slip into the spooky suburbs of the Mad City over the course of the evening. I made some pre-gen characters (filling in bio info, What Keeps You Awake and What’s On The Surface – I used the latter to put down their Halloween costume!). I had three players (Jon Walton, Dev and DJ).

I have two main observations. First, was that I made a poor choice. DRYH does not specify how narration rights are distributed, and explicity says “each group will have its own style, you should talk about it with your group.” I thought it would be interesting to experiment, and have me as the GM basically have all narration authority. I wanted to see how/if this would work, with the way that the game produces outcomes through it’s dice mechanic.

In restrospect, this was a very poor choice. I was tired anyway, and boy, it’s hard to do all the talking! It led to at least one case of hard deprotaginization, of Jon’s character, because I had a specific idea in my head of how a conflict would go, and he had a very different idea. The burden was all on me to make the cool happen, and I petered out pretty quick. It was a very solid illustration of the Czege principle – I was creating the adversity for the characters, and I was also resolving it. The resolution was informed by the mechanics and the information I got from the players between rolls, but it was still coming from me.

Next time, I think it would be most awesome to split up narrational authority based on what is dominent in a roll. So, Pain = GM, Disclipline = Player, Madness = Player to left, and Exhaustion = Player to right. Or Madness and Exhaustion are explicitly “lets all brianstorm on this one.”

The second observation is about the game itself. It’s very interesting to me that it’s totally up to an individual player as to whether they engage with the reward system or not. I mean, yes, the GM can present huge amount of Pain in order to push a player to bring in more dice, but, really, until you choose to bring in Exhaustion or Madness, you don’t engage with the reward system, AND you don’t face the two ultimate penalties (falling asleep or snapping).

Once you step onto the spiral, the GM has more tools to push you, and you have more forces pushing you farther down. But, that first step is totally up to the player, and thats very interesting.

3 Responses to “Some Thoughts on DRYH”

  1. DevP said

    About narration: the amount of GM control like that could have worked fine, even if it might have been a good choice given the amount of energy it takes to be the sole narrator. I think that hard deprotagonization instance was a complicated knot of issues; but there are ways to interface with DRYH while still having mostly GM-centric narration. (And even with this, there’s always room for the GM to just throw out there, “does anyone want to take this one, or else I’ll go for it”.)

    One thing that may make narrating easier is defining the stakes “smaller”/more specific (rather than for the whole scene, sorta?) and not worrying as much about the influence of the dominating element on narration. It could well be that my narration would be the same whether or not Madness or Discipline dominated; if that’s the case, then I think that’s fine. You can relegate the dominating effect to just slight color on narration, or even just let it be a mechanical effect (which will be brought into future scenes). Am I right that we had more “open” stakes in that game because we wanted to see how the dominating trait effected how the scene went?

    I’d be up for doing this again – with the kids’ or grownup storyline – with some more opposition throw at the players, to help people step up onto the spiral.

  2. Fred Hicks said

    Yeah. The whole thing about narration is meant to explicitly allow people to operate more in their comfort zone rather than in experiment-zone, though I applaud your courage in going for that.🙂

    As to the “engage the reward system” — yep. Since the reward system *hurts*, it was important to me that players have that option to step off the edge and into risk-territory at the get-go. My perspective really is that it’s the GM’s job to make that an attractive (or at least necessary) choice.

    As a GM, I’m big on the idea of offering temptation, and making it *stick*.

  3. I look forward to playing this again. I think our first game was a good ranging shot – it really showed me where the boundaries lay in terms of how much opposition the GM should provide, and how narration and such should work. Next time will be better.

    Fred, is there anything in there about how to approach scaling opposition? I don’t remember anything. But I remember thinking “3 Pain should be fine…no, thats not enough…4? No, not really….but 6 seems like an awful lot…”

    I guess there’s something about the granularity that makes it hard to judge whats appropriate.

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