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The challenge is finding a suitable substitute for The Tower. For those that don't know: Dread is a horror game that uses a Jenga tower instead of dice. The tower is shared among the players. Successful pull is success. Toppling the tower is (usually) death of the character.

I'm looking for a Jenga-like game and some mechanism for the players to take turns and for everyone to see the game's progress in real time. The game should be an open ended one of dexterity (with keyboard or mouse) that becomes progressively harder over about 20 to 40 short levels till failure is almost certain but not guaranteed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the accidental death-by-too-much-gesturing something you want to keep? \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Oct 13 '16 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Preferably, but what I want to capture the most is the defusing-the-bomb feeling when you have to pull. \$\endgroup\$ – Ansis Māliņš Oct 14 '16 at 9:54
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If you and your players all happen to have Android phones you could try using the Multiplayer Online Jenga App for Android.

There is an iPhone version for those with iPhones. (I don't know whether the two version play well together if you have a mix of phones in your group.)

So, only suitable if you have the hardware handy, but possibly an option.

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Another option is Tabletop Simulator, which is a piece of software that allow you to play many board games online. The majority of the contents are user made and shared trough Steam Workshop (like FlickIt, a Jenga clone) or some other site (e.g., NexusMods).

If you are planning on doing a single adventure the $20 per-player price tag may be too high. But if you want to have a long lasting campaign, Tabletop Simulator is gonna pay for itself very quickly.

With it, and a bit of preparation, you can have — shared to any other player — anything you would have on a real table: character sheets, maps, miniatures, pictures, entire PDFs, a handy tablet for quick internet research and many other things.* Everything can be stored as-is for the next session.


* Note that I'm not familiar with Dread — those are examples of things which may come handy in many other RPGs, but may still relevant with Dread.

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One idea: Reverse Hangman. The players have to give a letter, and this adds to a word in front of them. When the word/phrase is completed? You're dead!

Oh, they'll try to cheat it. They'll guess their "q"s and "z"s early on. But then they run out of the rare letters, and things get interesting. They start to work out what the phrase is gonna be, and they keep trying to dodge around it, but eventually they have no choice. This does risk losing some of the suspense, though—by the time they reach the last letter, they'll know they're about to die before even guessing. You can mitigate this by not showing them where the letters are—"Yes, there is an x," you say, making a note on the hidden spaces. "Only two spaces left!"

Maximizers: If you can't think of quite enough many-lettered words, a few ways to extend it:

Each guess = one space filled. So, if you guess "a" for the phrase, "Apples Are Awesome", you would only fill in one of those three "a" spaces. The host has to let you know when you've gotten all the "a"s, of course.

Fractured Phrases: You actually go through a whole sentence, but you split up the rounds (so you can't guess for the end of the sentence until you've reached that point). Once you've guessed the first section, you move on to the next. For instance, you might guess for the phrase, "Dead men tell | no tales."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you given this a try in the past? \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Jul 30 '17 at 4:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nah, I haven't even gotten to play Dread yet. For all I know, this is total BS. I think it would work, though, and it produces a lot more menace than dice—there's still an element of choice to it, and choice breeds nerves. I can also think of lots of ways to play. Maybe the GM gives a creepy riddle at the start of the game, and the answer to the riddle is in the hidden phrase. Ooh, I might say that the way to "knock the tower over" is to simply guess the phrase. \$\endgroup\$ – Nik Geier Jul 30 '17 at 5:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ "A few more tests," as Willy Wonka would say (wow, wait, is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory a Dread game? TELL ME it's not). I'd need to play a few Reverse Hangman games and work out about how long it takes to come around to a given word or phrase. \$\endgroup\$ – Nik Geier Jul 30 '17 at 5:42
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The option we opted for was to have every player buy or borrow their own Jenga tower. So every character has their own individual tower. This meant more pulls but also parallel pulls, which sped up the game a bit (i.e. if each character has to make a pull, they can do it at the same time).

Every tower started with 9 blocks left over by the side. This reduced the total number of possible pulls. Also for heroic sacrifices (and only for heroic sacrifices, not if the tower was knocked over accidentally) the players got to place 3 of the left over blocks into their towers to increase stability.

It made for a longer game but it worked quite well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Ronald, and welcome to RPG Stack Exchange. Thanks very much for this answer and for sharing your experience -- you've met our homebrew answer requirements, apparently the first one to do so for this question. I've placed a bounty that will be yours in a few days. Since you've reached 20 rep you're also welcome to join us in Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 26 '18 at 10:59
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Use a d20 (or a d30). Record the result of every roll. Each time a player would pull a piece from the Jenga tower, instead, they must roll the die. An action succeeds if the player rolls a number which has not already been rolled.

  • If the player decides not to roll, the action fails.
  • If the player rolls a number which has not already been rolled, the action succeeds. Record the result. The next action will be just a little harder.
  • If the player rolls a number which has previously been rolled, the tower collapses. Reset the list of results for a new "tower."

This really doesn't give the same feel, but it provides reasonable compromise in an online environment where not all players can use the Jenga app.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just an FYI, this will lead to quite short games. using a D20 leads to an average of roughly 6 pulls from the tower. Using a D100 results in roughly 12. (These numbers would produced by simulation using Excel's RANDBETWEEN, not actually calculated. Using a d365.25 results in a 50% probability of the tower having fallen after 23 pulls. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Oct 13 '16 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a good point. I still think the basic idea is a good one, providing increased risk as you proceed. What would you suggest for a decent run, with an average number of pulls between 25 and 30? \$\endgroup\$ – Longspeak Oct 13 '16 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it definitely meets the core requirement of dread and could work well. I think some sort of '3 strikes' system could work. You have 3 'hit points' each time you roll a number that has been rolled before, you lose a HP. The 3rd time you roll a duplicate, you lose. With a d100, this gives you somewhere between 23-25 pulls before losing. 4 HP instead of 3 gives 27-29. For people who only own d20s, you need 9 hp to have 27-28 pulls on average, which I think is unlikely to lead to a fun game and feel similar enough to the 1 HP feel of vanilla. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Oct 14 '16 at 1:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking in terms of what random die to use. If it's online you can use nearly any range of numbers, like a d365 or d400. \$\endgroup\$ – Longspeak Oct 14 '16 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried this in past games of Dread? \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Jul 30 '17 at 4:30
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Use pulls from a Tarot Deck. Obviously the Death Card is the one that will kill someone. You can also impose if things pass or fail based on if they are drawn face up or face down just like Tarot Card readings. You can even get creative and give bonuses or penalties based on cards.

Example: The Sun Card could be kept and turned in by a player to automatically pass without drawing a new Card.

You could use a regular deck of cards as well, but Tarot seems more Horror appropriate. I once had a group have to pull cards to determine how many blocks they had to pull from the Tower. It worked well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you experienced something like this working in Dread? Random results is not necessarily conducive to the gameplay. Have you tried this, and how did your players respond? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 23 '18 at 18:09
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I think you would need to fundamentally alter the base mechanic of the game. That's actually not a huge deal but I would let the players know you're doing it.

The first solution that comes to mind is pretty simple, roll a die and after that number of turns count that as if the tower fell. I would use a d20 for this, but I can see it working with a d10 or a d%.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To me, the d20 takes the agency out of the hands of the players. You've got to have something that the players control to some degree, but also includes the inevitable collapse factor. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Oct 29 '12 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough. What if they had to say a unique number then? If they hit the number then the nastiness happens and you have the loomingness occur via the restriction of numbers. \$\endgroup\$ – Gonten Oct 29 '12 at 17:02

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