I'm just about to run a game of Dread (the Jenga RPG) and I'm really confused about conflict within it.

Do I create a combat order from who I deem most suited to this particular combat from both the environment and their questionnaire?

Also, do I pull for NPCs? If I don't, how can I justify giving the characters injuries etc. without just saying "what the GM says goes"?

With that said, how do I tell when it's time for an NPC to die during combat? The only idea I have is to make the player state their exact intent and how they are planning to go about it, allow them to make the necessary amount of pulls for such an action and gauge (relatively) the damage that would be caused. I just feel that makes it too easy for an opinionated party - such as the one I have - to contradict what I say or feel the decisions I have made are unfair.

Is the idea to just keep away from sustained combat? Whilst there are ways, I feel I could only keep that up for so long without the party becoming restless as more and more enemies hit and run off into the distance to avoid complications.

Has anyone come up with a work-around for this OR, EVEN BETTER, has anyone came up with a system using the Jenga tower which works for sustained conflict?


I've run a handful of games and it's always best to narrate conflict and have all of the action dependent on what the PC wants to do.

To answer your bolded questions:

  • Don't establish an order. Basically if you need some way to keep track of things, have it be "PCs act" "NPC acts" however, generally the is unnecessary. Let your characters dictate who is acting or the story dictate it.

  • NO. Never touch the tower. EVER. Like seriously. Don't. Possibly don't even touch the table it's on. If an NPC attacks, you characters should pull to avoid the blow. If they refuse the pull, they take an injury that likely leads to more pulls later.

  • Let your characters dictate this. If they are dealing a blow, they can pull an extra time to kill the NPC, or you can just decide what happens. Remember that often actions will be multiple steps and require multiple pulls to complete.

  • Basically, yes. Sustained combat doesn't really work. Dread combat should be resolved in 1-5 pulls or so. It's intended to be primarily narrative driven.

This all gets back to what Dread is. It's a horror game. In horror movies, generally conflict is sort of a strafe run. The protagonists either triumph over the conflict, they run away or they die. That's pretty much it and that typically happens *very quickly.

Sustained combat in Dread should lead to very premature PC death. It's not a skirmish combat system. Trying to use it as one will leave you feeling very dissatisfied.

The genius of this system is in how it naturally builds up tension in the game. What you want is for the situation to continually escalate towards a climax where someone is definitely going to die. The party shouldn't feel restless after a string of enemies have attacked hit and run style. It should instead start to feel a sense of tension and anxiety as it dawns on them that one of them won't make it out alive. Set up challenges that are not simply enemies coming in waves, but ordinary things like dealing with fear, dealing with blood. Have the enemies return fiercer and more intensely as they are driven off. Remember to have some kind of win condition in mind for your players that will come at a cost.

As far as sustained combat games that use Jenga...I'm not aware of any. Dread definitely isn't the game for this as the mechanics are definitely not what you are looking for with that type of game. It's excellent for horror games, and games that need a lot of tension, but it's definitely not suited to sustained combat.

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Dread is a strictly narrative game, and a particularly nasty one at that. Not only are you the sole arbiter of when and how badly the characters are injured, you are actively encouraged to do so to add tension to the game.

As the GM, it is within your power to do anything to a PC's character, so long as it doesn't remove that character from the game. If a player tells you they jump off a landing (and didn't take an optional pull to protect themselves), you are within your right to say they've landed badly and sprained their ankle.

Dread does not have a special-purpose combat system. It handles combat the same way that it handles everything else: The GM presents a scenario, the players react, and the GM narrates the outcome. All the standard rules of pulling apply in combat: Players can make voluntary pulls to protect themselves, complex or difficult actions can be broken up into multiple pulls, and so on.

Combat Tips

Here are a few tips I've picked up for Dread combat:

  • Be aggressive. Don't start combat by saying they see a bad guy... Start it by having the bad guy leap out of the shadows, knock them to the ground, and then start chewing on their nearest limb. Then ask them what they want to do.

    That lacerated forearm might never have any impact on the game. Or it might justify a pull (or additional pull) later on. Either way it's something for the players to chew on.

    Naturally, if the players don't want to be ambushed, they can make elective pulls. Which is great, because later on it will get the players thinking about the structure of the tower, and (later in the game) whether they really want to take things slow or risk an ambush.

  • Don't forget to ask for extra pulls for difficult tasks. It is well within the players rights to ask to make an extremely precise shot (a bullet directly to the left pupil, or the like). It is also well within your rights to ask the players to pull several blocks to make that happen.

  • Keep all the players involved. Unlike D&D, you're better off spreading attacks throughout the party rather than focus-firing a single character. Once a monster has spent some time mauling the first player, it can wheel around and jump to someone who's been trying to keep their head down.

Answers to your specific questions:

Do I create a combat order?

No. Combat should flow fluidly, based on the actions characters take. You can use a rough order to make sure you aren't leaving anyone out, but it should still flex to handle the narrative.

Do I pull for NPCs?

Absolutely not. The GM should never touch the tower. If the players can try to game the GM into pulling, it undermines the tension inherent to the tower.

How can I justify giving the characters injuries?

Your job as a Dread GM is to arbitrate the effects of the story. If players aren't making voluntary pulls, Dread assumes they are at the GM's mercy.

How do I tell when it's time for an NPC to die during combat?

When the player characters have done enough to it that you feel it's appropriate for it to be defeated. If it's one mook among an army (like the aliens in Beneath a Steel Sky), it might go down with only a couple of pulls. If it's a lone villain (like the wolf in Beneath a Full Moon) it might require some clever thinking and many pulls.

Is the idea to keep away from sustained combat?

You will rarely have combats as long as, say, a typical D&D combat (everyone at the table taking two to three major actions). The system is fine with longer fights, they just tend to be unnecessary. You shouldn't feel obligated to stretch a fight, but you can if it feel appropriate.

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