Monday, February 10, 2014

Dread: Welcome to Night Vale

Lately I've been obsessed with the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, and it occurred to me that it would make the perfect setting for Dread. I got to steal a lot of flavor text, in italics below, from the show itself (specifically the episode "Pyramid"). I also recommended that each player listen to a few episodes if they hadn't already, so they could get a general idea of the background and tone. I'm still working on getting the characters right for this game, but I'm planning to post those later.

The System: Dread is a role-playing game that uses Jenga® instead of dice. Pull from the tower and you succeed. Refuse to pull and you fail. The choice is yours. But if the tower falls, your character will be eliminated from the game!

The Setting: "Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events. Turn on your radio and hide." 

Setting: “A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.”

Opening: Roll a six-sided dice - an odd number means that you are at work today, and even number means it is your day off. What are you doing? If players are doing something creative, encourage them to PULL to add some equipment. If there is no obvious equipment to be provided and the player cannot think of something themselves, roll a six-sided dice and offer: 1- rope, 2- jelly beans, 3- lantern, 4- gun, 5- small decorative mirror, 6- tote bag.

Suddenly, you get a text from your boss, Carlos, telling you to turn on the radio now. The only station that comes in clearly is the community radio station…

Our top story today: A large Pyramid has appeared in the center of the Beatrix Lowman Memorial Meditation Zone, destroying over half of the Zone’s state-of-the-art meditation equipment and paraphernalia. Experts have been contacted as to what could cause sudden Pyramid existence.

However, as it turns out, there are no experts in Pyramid materialization. And the town’s other experts offered up merely shrugs, followed by panicked conjectures, and finally, screams and moans, all of which fell uselessly upon the City Council’s merciless ears.

The Pyramid itself is broadcasting, on low-wave frequencies, a repeated message. The message is the following:

"In the darkness, squalling, I have birthed an abomination. And it hungers, it hungers! Sharp teeth, sharp claws, digging into a swollen teat and when it is weaned oh! Oh, you will suffer. How you will suffer..."

The Sheriff’s Secret Police has responded with surface-to-surface missiles which, they say, will “silence the dark heart of the beast.” So far, they have not so much as created a smudge on the Pyramid’s broad, shiny surface. And now, the weather.

Carlos texts again, saying that he feels that a scientist’s touch is needed here. He dispatches the lot of you (as the only scientists not working on more pressing problems than the arrival of a threatening monolith) to investigate. When you arrive on the scene, the Sheriff’s Secret Police are busy shouting to the gathering crowd that the Pyramid never existed in the first place.


Investigation: Each character should do something to explore the problem - PULL one if it’s in their wheelhouse (because of their area of research, their secret identity, or some other reason), PULL two if it’s outside of their wheelhouse. Attempts to communicate with the Pyramid will be met with no audible response. Using equipment to receive transmissions will allow players to hear a sound like the writhing of snakes against one another, and sometimes a guttural cry. Attempts to damage the Pyramid will have no effect. Characters can climb the Pyramid, but they get the sense that the Pyramid expands as soon as they are touching it - climbing up will just lead them on and on forever. Climbing down takes them to the ground almost immediately. If someone is listening while the Pyramid is being attacked or climbed, they may hear a bout of maniacal laughter. Once each character has made some kind of attempt, the next broadcast goes out.


Every radio in the area sudden comes to life, even those that are broken or unplugged or turned to the wrong station. The radio show host speaks:

An update, listeners. The Pyramid has altered its broadcast, sending out a second message, which is as follows:

"I see your minds, your small and petty thoughts. You think to kill my child aborning, but you are too late! Even in its infancy, it knows a power and a horror that you cannot comprehend. Your blood will be the first but not the last, no never the last. So come… come… come...”

An opening has appeared in the side of the Pyramid, but any attempts to enter are met with immediate vaporization. Sheriff’s Secret Police are now attempting to charge the Pyramid with resisting arrest, on the grounds that they couldn’t figure out how to arrest it. More as the story develops.


If the characters balk at entering the Pyramid, Carlos and any NPC that they have connections to urges them to keep up their investigation. Carlos urges them to do it “for science!” The NPCs offer them literally anything they have expressed interest in while RPing. If all else fails, Mayor Pamela Winchell arrives on the scene and offers them unlimited research funding to proceed with their investigation.

The interior of the Pyramid is pitch black. Any sources of light seem to dim, only illuminating a few feet in front of the characters. Tossing some kind of light source ahead reveals a slimy pink tunnel dripping with ooze. Upon touching the ground, the light source promptly goes out - plunging the characters into a darkness somehow blacker than before.

The smell - of dried blood and vomit and some kind of musk - is overpowering. When you brush against the walls, they are sticky, warm, and somewhat spongy. Walking forward, the characters feel the same sponginess under their feet. The smell becomes stronger - each character must PULL or give a story reason to withstand the smell, or become physically weakened (any physical actions will require an additional PULL).

Straining their ears, the characters might hear the same writhing sound that they heard outside. If they follow the sound (or the largest of the passageways), they get the sense that they are walking far further than the size of the Pyramid would allow. Each character must PULL or give a story reason (e.g. if they climbed) to withstand the terror, or become psychologically weakened (any mental actions will require an additional PULL).

If most of the characters have succeeded to withstand the terror, they notice a dim light around a corner ahead. Those characters that wish to proceed with caution (mental action) must PULL - a success allows them to peer into the chamber beyond without being detected. Characters that heard the broadcast from can avoid this pull. Those characters that wish to move forward without caution can do so without a PULL, but will certainly be detected. Those characters that wish to stay behind must PULL to withstand the terror (mental action). If most of the characters failed to withstand the terror, they do not notice the light until it is too late to avoid detection.

If ALL characters avoid detection, they see a large domed chamber stretching out before them. Most of the space is filled with a swirl of black tentacles so dense it is difficult to see beyond it. When an opening does emerge, they see the body of a naked baby sprawled atop some kind of table. It appears to be breathing, but is clearly in danger of being crushed. Characters must to PULL once (twice if physically weakened) to get past the mass of tentacles. Any character that does not try to get past the tentacles must still PULL to anticipate their movements and dodge out of the way (mental action). Alternatively, characters can try to use equipment at this juncture to avoid making a pull.

Any character that makes it past the tentacles and approaches the baby’s body soon realizes that something is terribly wrong. The tentacles that seemed to be crushing the baby are actually emerging from it’s body. Suddenly, the baby’s head whips around - revealing milky white eyes and a mouth full of blood-stained, daggers-point teeth. It rears up, supported by tentacles, to face the characters. The “table” it was resting on seems to be a bulbous protrusion growing directly from the floor, and an open wound on it’s surface shows that the baby was feeding.

If ONE OR MORE characters do not avoid detection, all characters see a large domed chamber stretching out before them. In the center of it, they see the body of a naked baby sprawled atop some kind of table. As they enter the room, the baby starts to cry and squirm. When the characters approach the baby, it’s head whips around - revealing milky white eyes and a mouth full of blood-stained, daggers-point teeth. It rears up, sprouting hundreds of thick black tentacles, to face the characters. Soon, the tentacles fill the majority of the room. The “table” it was resting on seems to be a bulbous protrusion growing directly from the floor, and an open wound on it’s surface shows that the baby was feeding. Every character that is mentally weakened must PULL to stay conscious. Every character not already mentally weakened must PULL or become mentally weakened.

The baby then makes an attack on each character, which they must dodge (physical action). At this point, characters can use equipment or physical actions to defend themselves. Failure means that the character becomes physically weakened. If already physically weakened, failure to PULL means the character falls unconscious. After three people defend themselves (successfully or not) the baby lets out a guttural cry, which reverberates within the character’s minds. The characters must pull to resist the cry (mental action) - on a failure, they forget about the Pyramid and the tentacles and just see their colleagues attacking a newborn baby. Unconscious characters awake at this point with the same impression. Accordingly, they will attack the nearest active player to their left (at the table).

To defeat the baby, the characters must make a total of four successful PULLS against the baby directly. Successful attacks against allies do not count. Characters cannot avoid pulls by using equipment at this juncture (the rope breaks, the gun jams, etc). A character can choose to sacrifice him or herself, the equivalent of two successful pulls for their allies.

When the baby is defeated, the entire Pyramid is filled with a desperate, soul-wrenching wail. The walls being to shudder and the room starts to fold in on itself. Characters must make a successful PULL to run out (physical action). Seconds after they emerge, the entrance to the Pyramid collapses. Bright light fills their vision, blinding them momentarily.


Well, listeners, it seems the Pyramid has disappeared - as mysteriously and suddenly as it arrived. The Sheriff’s Secret Police are declaring victory in their standoff against the Pyramid…because, they say, it’s about time they won something.

Meanwhile, the Pyramid has left behind a much tinier Pyramid, a mere souvenir of its looming, inscrutable mass. This tiny Pyramid is broadcasting one final message.

"I am defeated. The corpse of my stillbirth lies here at my feet and I weep, I weep. I lack the power to exact revenge, but make no mistake - it will always be my purpose, my intent, my ambition, my dream to destroy you all...”

Ha, ha, ha! If I had a nickle for every time I said that. Well, thanks for listening, listeners. Stay tuned for an hour of half-crazed ramblings from a grieving polyhedron. And remember - every exit is an entrance somewhere even more terrifying. Good night, Night Vale. Good night.

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