In Dread the game naturally lends itself to suspenseful play. As the game progresses the tower gets more wobbly and tension builds naturally due to the game's mechanics. I'd like to somehow bring this same natural tension building technique into a 4e D&D game.

My thought would be to do it as a one off all-day kind of session where the Dread tower is a secondary mechanic that ties to the plot somehow rather than to the lives of the characters. I am certainly open to other suggestions or thoughts.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Not enough for an actual answer or even the same system but I feel it lends itself to an example of in-game dread. In my on-going PF game we play with a critical fumble deck. Anytime we fumble on an attack roll we draw a card, depending on what type of attack it is (melee, spell, ranged, natural, etc) there is a consequence. Some are tame like breaking your weapon and some are intense like being petrified (the terrible ones are generally more spell casting related.) How this is related is that every time we roll there is terror in the back of our minds. Every roll actually counts. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2011 at 22:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Part 2: If you had them pull on every natural one on an attack, skill, etc it would lend itself to that natural in-game tension through meta elements. Maybe this would make them more cautious or more prone to think out their actions, or it could in fact make them reckless and have a death wish. Either way, there is real dread there (pun intended!) You could implement the deck idea with a random number to pull (probably between 1 and 4) on each card that they have to draw upon a critical fumble. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2011 at 22:26

3 Answers 3


A few things come to mind when I think of the Jenga tower:

1) When the tower pitches over, that's it. The end result is something catastrophic and final. For a D&D game, you would need to include a powerful and irreversible consequence to reaching the end of the line, whether it be a curse, or one or more PCs' deaths.

2) The worsening situation is obvious. You can see that there aren't many blocks left to remove, and the tower gets a little more wobbly as time goes on.

3) You know things are getting worse in Jenga, but you never know how close to the end you are. The structure might look like it can take three or four more block removals, but the next one just might send everything tumbling due to an unsteady hand.

In 4e, I'd run a modified skill challenge, something like: find the secret counterspell to the curse before the demon awakens (and the party meets a Very Bad Ending). I'd make it complex, with a high DC for most checks. That satisfies the first consideration above.

Instead of the standard three failures, though, have something like six, but every time a skill check is failed, roll a d4 and add that many failures to the count. That way you might have six chances to recover from failure, or only two, but if your first roll is a three, you have no way of knowing whether or not the next mis-step will be your last...and that should give your players reason for worry. Just be sure to give them ample opportunities to use secondary skills, and consider giving automatic successes for clever actions that the players suggest (which goes for regular skill challenges as well, I'd think).


A good way to build tension is to have characters working against a clock (in this case represented by the tower). My first thought is, unlike Dread, where the tower always falls eventually, give the party a chance to "win" the tower (reset) by accomplishing whatever task is at hand. You would need to carefully plan how to set up the encounters to get the balance just right. Consider adjusting the reward they get based on how much they accomplish before the tower falls (if that ends the encounter) or by the height of the tower when they finish the encounter.

Here is a possible example: The party is fighting in an ancient temple, and the disturbance caused by the battle is destabilizing the aging structure. They pull X times every round (have to play with the numbers to make it work), but the number of pulls increases every round. When the tower falls, the debris attacks everybody's reflex and makes some parts of the floor fall through and turns others into difficult terrain. If you pick enemies that float and have high reflex defense, this will turn up the difficulty. Think of other things which may happen as the result of the tower falling, such as the room flooding or enemies' reinforcements finally breaking through the barred door from the next room. If it becomes obvious that the best option for the party after the tower falls is to flee, even better!

You could also spread out the tension over a few encounters and skill challenges, such as a level of a dungeon. Make sure to keep the clock ticking between encounters in this case. Find an excuse to give them back encounter powers, but decide between recovering full HP or not having to pull. For example, make them pull for every healing surge spent (or something similar).

Another possibility is letting successful skill challenges skip a few pulls. If they are trying to outrun the slowly flowing lava which is filling up the rooms behind them, give them an opportunity to figure out a way to slow it by collapsing a room, reinforcing a door or blocking the passage with some water, redirected and frozen into a solid block.

You'll definitely have to play it by ear and adjust the consequences.


I think the 2 ultimate questions are "When do i want the players to pull from the tower, and what impact will a falling tower have?"

Should a player have to pull every time they do a skill roll? Should a player have to pull every time they attack? It really depends on how you want to do it. I think i would have them pull every time they roll the dice. If you go that way i think that, should the tower fall, they are reduced by their bloodied value (ie half their hp). that should make the cleric's heal check more interesting.

another alternative is to have to pull on dice rolls that they fail to meet the dc

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I like the "pull on failure" method. \$\endgroup\$
    – C. Ross
    Aug 9, 2011 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I vote for the "pull on failure" method as well. That builds great tension. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2011 at 22:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I would be careful about making them pull on failure. They may a) feel like they are being punished and b) start playing very cautiously and stretching out the game to search for that optimal choice. The delays may end up killing the tension instead of building it. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10, 2011 at 3:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .