Posted on July 10, 2008 by Flames
In this strange land between waking and sleep, you can wield strange and wondrous powers, but your talents make you a target. Push too hard and you’ll fall asleep. That’s when the Nightmares come to feed. Stray too far from reality and you go insane, eventually becoming one of Nightmares that hunt you. Fight for what you believe and remember who you are, but whatever you do, don’t rest your head.
“Don’t Rest Your Head,” is a roleplaying game of insomnia, madness and super powers written by Fred Hicks and published by Evil Hat Productions.
In DRHY you play a normal person who has lost the ability to sleep, but gained extraordinary abilities as a result. These talents come at a price, however, because they sap both your strength and your mind as you use them.
Each character has two main abilities. One is an Exhaustion Talent, a human ability they can do better than a normal person, like running, talking, fighting or doing complex equations. Then there are Madness Talents, abilities no human could possess. These talents can be any sort of ability you can dream up. In one game, I created a character who could start fires with his mind when angry or afraid. Another player had a female character who could cut things by looking at them.
Each ability has a dice pool, a number of six-sided dice you can use in a conflict. Each 1,2 or 3 rolled counts as a success in a conflict. Anything higher is a failure.
Whenever a player rolls the dice, the pool of dice with the highest number is considered to dominate a scene, and causes and in-game effect.
There are three white dice called Discipline. These are the main dice rolled any wondrous conflict. If Discipline dominates your character holds it together. It also allows the player to reduce a penalty from one of their other two dice pools: Exhaustion and Madness.
Exhaustion is represented by black dice and can be brought into play anytime you need to work harder at a task or when you want to use an Exhaustion talent. Using Exhaustion adds one permanent black die to your pool. End up with more than six permanent Exhaustion dice and your character crashes, falling asleep. If Exhaustion dominates a scene, even if you succeed, it feels like youáve just run a marathon and it is a little harder to go on.
The red dice indicate Madness, those moments when you do something insane. You have six to eight Madness dice at your disposal and can call upon as many as you want in any scene. Each character also has three fight-or-flight boxes, indicating how they would respond in a scene dominated by Madness. Each player gets to choose what combination of fight or flight responses their character will have. If Madness dominates during a roll, the player checks off one of the responses and the character reacts accordingly, either trying desperately to get away or lashing out violently. Check off all the boxes and you go Mad, losing a Discipline die and replacing it with a permanent Madness die. Lose all your Discipline and you become one of the Nightmares of the Mad City.
The game master uses a pool of dice called Pain, and the number of dice used sets the difficulty of the scene. Monsters and non-player characters have only a Pain stat, and most of the monsters gain more Pain dice the more of them there are in a scene.
There also is Hope and Despair, the currency of the Mad City. Represented by coins, Hope allows players to stave off bad events, while Despair allows the game master to make a situation worse for the player characters. In other words, Hope is like a fraying rope that keeps you from falling off the edge of the cliff, but it won’t hold for long, while Despair is like the eclipse when you try to call for help on your solar-powered radio.
Paying into one of these gives currency to the other, so if you cash in some Hope now, expect the game master to spend some Despair later. It is a nice little give-and-take mechanic that allows both sides equal control over key parts of the story.
“Don’t Rest Your Head” is a very stylized, creepy and fun roleplaying game, both for new players and RPG veterans. Players and game masters alike have a lot of narrative control and the dice system is simple but allows for a lot of possibilities. The Mad City is a genuinely fascinating and disturbing place, and players are encouraged to take the various parts and characters of the city and decide how they interact with one another.
I don’t want to give too much away about the setting, which is like a Victoriana/Industrial Revolution nightmare. The villains are as creepy as the setting, and each has their own goals, desires and weaknesses. The game really isn’t about making sweeping changes or saving the day, however. Things in the Mad City rarely change, and then almost always for the worse. The real theme of DRYH is one of personal sacrifice and the lengths people will go to get what they want. Actions have consequences, powers have prices and endings are almost never happy.
For more information on the game or more Evil Hat Productions products, visit www.evilhat.com.
Review by Michael Erb
Staff Writer – The Parkersburg News and Sentinel – www.newsandsentinel.com
Look for more Evil Hat games at the Flames Rising RPGNow Shop.