Dread: Only the Food and Aliens

(TL;DR? Just need the files themselves? Skip to the bottom for Copies on Dropbox.)

Some friends were planning to watch a midnight showing of Aliens, at the local Santa Monica Nuart theater. What better time to run a game of...

Dread and the Only the Food scenario

Dread is a role-playing game by Epidiah Ravachol, which uses Jenga as its mechanic, and a questionnaire as character generation. I've played it many times at prior Strategicons, however have only run it myself in a hacked form: the Mad Max Fury Road Dread game.

Needless to say, the Mad Max version is very high paced, whereas a normal game of Dread has got a slow build up. I was definitely worried I wouldn't be able to pull it off, or at least lack confidence in my capacity to do so.

Only the Food is a scenario for Dread, written by David Schirduan, available off his website, which is a sci-fi horror adventure. I found it when looking for simple Dread scenarios to run, and it felt about right.

Preparation: Setting

In preparing to run the game, I found that the scenario itself was great, however I wanted to add some more flavor, and it wasn't organized in a manner that I could use off-the-cuff.

In a conversation with my friend Howie, one thing we quickly agreed upon was that the players should not be told about the history of the game world in the way the scenario describes. In the actual write-up, it mentions that the AIs win over humans, and mostly use them as tools. We figured it'd be much better to make it sound like the AIs were benevolent savior types, and give it more of a Paranoia vibe.

Preparation: Cheat Sheet

My first step in preparing to run it was to break down the scenario, and then put together a cheat-sheet that I could use. I'm a big fan of bullet lists with short phrases that remind me of what I need to know. The scenario as written by David was comprehensive enough (and definitely without too much information), however it fit over 5-6 pages, and would be difficult to use during game time. Hence I ended up with something that fit on a page. It looks roughly like this (with very minimal spoilers here): 

The first few parts of the cheat sheet.

The first few parts of the cheat sheet.

Each "scene" of the scenario is self-contained, and has a bullet list of things to remember, or obstacles that will occur. The obstacles give some guidelines on the types of obstacles that might be encountered, and even the number of block pulls. Keep in mind these are rough guidelines to help understand the pacing of the adventure, but you can easily veer from the path if you feel comfortable. 

Preparation: AI Speeches

The "AI speeches" mentioned on the cheat sheet, refers to those times when the ship's Artificial Intelligence communicates with the characters. I transcribed these onto a separate pieces of paper that I could then cut into separate speeches, and hand to the players. Although I knew I could read them out loud, or play them on audio files (as you'll see I do, below), it's nice to have it written out in case players have a hard time hearing you or the audio, or simply want clarification on what was said.

Example of the AI speeches, transcribed.

Example of the AI speeches, transcribed.

Preparation: Character Sheets (EMS Personnel Forms)

I liked the questionnaires, however the ones that David provided were simply a bunch of questions on a sheet. I wanted them to have more visual flavor, and decided to give them more of a application / employee form type of vibe. I ended up going with a look something like this (with separate sections, highlighted roles for easier visibility when choosing your character, and some font choices meant to provide some flavor). In addition to the "What is your designation number?" question from the original form, I added a "Gender #" field (nothing is done to define what this means), and both the character's physical age (how old they appear) as well as their calendar age (how long since the year they were born, as time changes strangely when dealing with cryo-stasis). 

Here is what the top of the final form looks like:

The top of an EMS personnel form.

The top of an EMS personnel form.

The six character choices all consist of a top "Worker Information" section, a Questionnaire with 3 very simple questions (you can see the first one, above in the example), and then a Private Information section with 3 additional questions. I changed some of the questions slightly from Dave's originals, and specifically had at least one question about general distrust for the AIs, in general. 

Preparation: Audio and Recorded AI Speeches

I am a big fan of audio in my sessions. For this game, this comprised of 2 different sets of audio files.

The first set of audio tracks were the AI speeches. To create these, I used the Text2Speech website, because it allows you to freely download an MP3 file which corresponds to this audio. I wasn't a huge fan of the unmodified speech, as the speed is a little too fast:

I then take the MP3 file, and make some small tweaks to it using Audacity (which is free audio editing software). I used the Effect menu in Audacity to both Change Speed (to make it a little slower) as well as add Reverb (which makes it sound like audio coming from speakers and echoing in the ship.

Screenshot of Audacity, showing the Effects menu.

Screenshot of Audacity, showing the Effects menu.

Here is the final result, of which I'm quite proud:

The second set of audio tracks are related to the background music, which plays in a loop in specific areas. Each room, or travelling sequence, had a different audio track associated with it. Almost all of the tracks are from Plate Mail Games, however there were two tracks from DJ Spooky's Songs of a Dead Dreamer. You can purchase them from those sites, respectively

Here's a list of the audio tracks, as I've organized them:

My audio playlist for Only The Food. Purchase songs from Plate Mail Games or DJ Spooky

My audio playlist for Only The Food. Purchase songs from Plate Mail Games or DJ Spooky

The best part is that my sound board app can play the music loops at the same time as the AI speeches. The way they layer is awesome.

Preparation: Ship Compartments / Map

Again, in preparation, I started to become concerned that the players would get confused if I told them where they were in the ship, but without visuals. I mean, you can just play this "in the mind's eye", however I could already see myself having to explain again and again where things were in relation to each other. Especially since there were more than a few rooms.

So, I decided to go for a modular, simple design for rooms and hallways. This allowed me to print them, put them out piece-meal (one at a time), and also customize them if I wanted to change things during the scenario. In the end I used Microsoft Word tables to create simple room designs, which I could lay out on the table as the players moved around the ship:

Rooms

Rooms

EDIT: I just found these sci-fi tiles, which are pretty cool as well!

Running Only the Food

Well, writing all that makes me realize how much work actually went into it, given it was a scenario that was already written. However, what can I say. It's some of the prep that I actually enjoy, and that I believe the players would find fun and immersive. So how did it go?

I had 4 players. 3 are relatively seasoned, all having played Dread before (at least once, if not more). One was an RPG newbie.

  • Howard as Fred "Brown" (O2/H2O)
  • Sasha as Thoron (Electronics/Sensors)
  • Thong as Kaylee (Heat/Mechanics)
  • Sinh as Wilbur Hatchett (Hazmat/Psych)

We didn't have an unlimited window, and in fact had a pretty strict 3-hour time limit (due to the movie we were going to later). I felt like the pacing was very good, starting slow and building, which is what Dread is supposed to do. And although I ended up removing a scene or two at the end, we had a roughly satisfactory conclusion, with two character deaths through Jenga (one dropped the tower, the other sacrificed himself), and one character just making a weird end-game decision which caused me to epilogue him going out an airlock. The final character "won", by getting the 10% raise and getting back into the cryo-pod.

One of my favorite aspects and memories of the game was using a few player-generated events into the scenario. I also felt like the little touches I added did make the game run smoother, including the little ship compartment cut-outs.

I was able to do a little "roses and thorns" at the end with a few of the players. All in all, everyone loved the game. The newbie player said he thought it was a little on the long side, but he's also admitted to not being used to role-playing games, so wasn't sure if 3 hours was normal. Everyone loved the music and though it added a lot to the scenario.

I do have a suggestion on the additional character sheets that aren't chosen by the character. I would use those as NPCs, and as soon as the players have selected their characters, I would create names and define the remaining characters of their "team". This allows the PCs to create some bonds with some of these NPCs (as some of the questions allude to other members of the team). This works brilliantly in having one of the NPCs be a character that is killed by defective or destroyed cryo-pod. And makes them excellent cannon fodder for attacks and collateral damage.

Copies on Dropbox

And just in case you want these for your own use, here's the files:

Casualty through sacrifice.

Casualty through sacrifice.