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TTRPG Review: Dread - A GM's Tale, Game Tips and Prep

I have talked about playing Dread in the past. Today, I'll be sharing my GM perspective.

For context, I've now run this three times and been a player twice. This doesn't make me an expert, but I have learned a thing or two. The first two rounds I ran a Jurassic Park scenario. The third and most recent was an Evil/Haunted House scenario inspired by the film "1408." This last round doubled down on why I love tabletop gaming. Everything just fell into place (pun only mildly intended but fully enjoyed).


For Jurassic Dread, and with the games I was a player, there was little to no prep involved (I've chatted with the other GM about it). I found a map, chose why the party was together, and how they ended up on the island. I had a vague list of dinosaurs and an NPC. That was about it. I rolled with the players' ideas and kept throwing hazards at them, keeping the tension high and the pressure on. These were games of pure improv and reaction. And while the responses I received from those games were positive, I knew there was more potential in this system...

For the haunted house, I wanted to do a bit more, so more I did! I wanted the threat to be smart, not just a mindless monster. It needed to be an evil intelligence. Something that could interact with and manipulate the PCs.

I started asking myself "what if?" ....What if we don't actually see the victim's death? What if they're just absorbed into the house instead? I leaned into psychological thriller and away from monster movie.

I also really wanted to play a high-drama game. To create a high-drama game, you need characters that know each other, are stuck with each other, but also care about each other. With that in mind, I decided to give the players one character creation restriction: They needed to make a family unit.

Everyone could play what they would like but within the idea that they are a family. As usual, the questionaire is very important - not just for the players but also for my own set-up.

Here's what I used:


Relation in family:



Favourite things:


Family member I'm closest to: (this can be answered later)

Something I'm proud of:

Something I'm ashamed of:

Something I'm hiding from my family:

Let me tell you, the answers that came back were poetry! There were a few characters that heard voices, the daughter had attempted murdering Grandpa but killed his dog instead (the dog ended up being taxidermied but Grandpa thought he was still alive), there were paranormal enthusiasts and skepticks. The fodder they brought was perfect for intrapersonal issues but also buttons for the "house" to press.

GM Note: It's important to get the characters sorted before the session if you want to prep. They'll give you more to work with. It isn't required, but I find it very helpful. It also increases the hype.

Even with my PCs sorted, I didn't know how they were going to approach the issue of the house being haunted. So I came up with why, what, and how as well as a possible solution to the haunting.

Across the house were cursed runes inscribed - under floor boards, corners of rooms, etc. This meant that should the players want to remove the evil, there could be a way. How they would do that would be something I would follow the lead of the players (if they picked this thread). The main look of the house's "avatar" was a shadowy, Slenderman-like spider thing. However, I had little intention of having it fully reveal itself during the game. I wanted to fully embrace the less-is-more mentality. I found sound effects I could possibly use. We had a soundtrack running that Katie used for The Darkest House (it's perfect).

Just a nice, relaxing holiday...

Game Play that Made all the Difference

The basics for Dread still applied. If a character is in a situation that could be dangerous, I had them pull a block. What I added (after researching across Reddit): Players occasionally had the option to pull 1-3 blocks, depending on how many they pulled they would receive different outcomes. The more blocks, the more information they got.

In addition, when a character died (the tower fell), we reset by having all the living PCs pull 3 blocks. The rules that I come upon said that you pull 3 blocks for every dead PC and then an additional 3 for every PC >6 still alive. I found this unnecessary, as I was playing with 8 PCs and it got excessive. We decided to do 3 pulls per living, and 1 additional for the dead.

One rule that I chose to stop using during the game was doing a random pull every 15 minutes. I can see this helping if you have players who are indecisive, if as a GM you aren't asking for frequent pulls, or you have fewer players. But we had 8 PCs, and we were pulling a lot of blocks. There was little worry about pacing.

Finally, the last thing I did was pass notes. The house whispered to PCs throughout the game, pushing on their fears and shame and secrets. This amped up the RP and players made clear choices based on what was "whispered."

Combining all of this made this game so memorable and enjoyable and terrifying.

Mystery and suspicion are your best friends.