Published on March 8th, 2016 | by Nicole Jekich3
Using Jenga for Roleplaying Games
Horror, Survival and Intense Situations in Dread
I recently added this well-known party game to my shelf. Now Jenga isn’t a game that you would expect to find on our game shelves and it definitely looks odd when nestled between Viticulture, Argent the Consortium and the many strong-thematic indie games in our collection. Jenga itself represents a different type of gaming experience: a dexterity-driven party game with no flavor, but a clear objective. Just you, your friends, and a tower of blocks that you are trying to not knock over. With just a piece of paper, pen and some imagination, Jenga becomes another great tool to add to your roleplaying game.
A Break From Your Normal Campaign
Luke is our current DM for our World of Darkness campaign set in Seattle. This campaign has a rotating cast of characters who are part of a supernatural investigation group. This group has a YouTube Channel “Under the Emerald City” which recently discovered that monsters, ghosts and plenty of unexplained creepy things exist in our world. This group is delving deeper and deeper into the paranormal underground while also trying to keep their recent TV deal. Coralling 5 people who have multiple characters in a city with notable supernatural signs to investigate is tiring work. So every 2-3 sessions we take a break from the normal campaign and bring out Jenga to use in a single-session storytelling with completely new characters using rules from Dread: a casual roleplaying game that uses Jenga instead of dice to determine the fate of your character.
How Does Dread Work?
If you know how Jenga works then you are pretty much ready to play a roleplaying game with Dread. Pulling Jenga blocks represents your character facing a challenge or scary situation where death or another horrible fate is on the line. The author of Dread, Epidiah Ravachol, explains it best:
“When a character attempts a task beyond their capabilities, the tower determines their success–they can succeed by pulling a block, or choose to fail by not pulling. Tension builds as the tower becomes more and more precarious.
If you knock over the tower during your turn, your character is removed from the game, never to return. Your character’s fate could be death, insanity, cowardice, imprisonment, possession, or some other horrible fate.”
When you pull blocks is up to the DM and the result (whether the tower falls, doesn’t fall or you have a close call) is role-played out between characters. Using Dread is especially good when you want to portray quick, tense situations like in a horror, heist or survival game. We have used Dread to further flesh out our WOD Seattle world by bringing in fodder characters -characters we wouldn’t mind potentially killing off because of a failed Jenga pull. These resulting story or event from these Dread games would come up in our next campaign meetup and shape how our main characters interacted and investigated the world. I highly recommend Dread if you want a casual session or have friends that are hesitant with playing roleplaying games. Games don’t get more simple than Jenga.
A Character’s Dramatic Exit
All our regular players are welcome to run a single-session Dread game set in Seattle. The scope and location are determined by whoever is running the Dread game and we have had a lot of fun events to remember. Character creation is quick and simple. The DM will ask us a couple questions about our character, we give them a name and usually a goal or sometimes we receive a secret objective.
Dread is flexible and is applicable to many settings beyond just the horror genre. A couple months ago we were Catholic school girls and boys nervously participating in their winter formal until the Latin Club summoned a vengeful spirit and a bacchanal erupted in the middle of the gym. Only one of us made it out alive and the rest were unfortunately caught or sacrificed to the spirit. In our latest Dread game players were two teams from Veridian, a supernatural clean up company, send to contain and eliminate a mysterious specimen found in a park. Each character had a secret objective they were trying to accomplish or an item they were tasked with using a special moments. These added challenges helped us build the story and tension between our characters, the two teams and ultimately lead to an exciting twist! The surprise was my character, Tammy looking to take off with the samples of the specimen and eventually retire to Vegas from her payout by the buyer. Unfortunately the fallen tower above is what determined Tammy’s fate–she ran through a red light with a stolen vehicle only to crash and become infected by the specimen herself. Her story took all of 3 hours to accomplish and now this character will live on in our game forever.
I never thought I would say that Jenga is a great game for creating memorable and thematic experiences, but in the hands of people looking to build interesting stories and characters it is another great tool to bring even more people into gaming.
Read the full list of Dread rules for FREE and to learn more about Dread or to buy a copy, visit Dread the Game. I’m also interested in knowing: Have you played Dread before? If so, what was the setting, event or context of the game? If you haven’t played Dread, How would you incorporate Jenga into your roleplaying game?