Originally published at http://screenmonkey.blog.com/?p=43.
DRYH is a fascinating little indie game that really brings it's theme out with the mechanics of the system. It's one of the first Indie games I ever bought, and remains one of the few I've actually had a chance to run. The PDF is fairly short, being only 87 pages long, including the cover. But they manage to pack a lot of game in there.
The art in the book is pretty decent, all black on white photo's of really people, very grainy and evocative of the setting. That setting is the Mad City, which is a lot like our cities, turned up to ten and seen on an acid trip. It's always night there, and you can find things that just could not exist in the real world, like a marketplace where you can buy and sell memories. Or the Tacks man, an entity that will take you apart piece by piece, not just physically but also metaphorically. Maybe this time he wants your ability to laugh, or the way you feel about music, and he can take it from you, a little at a time.
The game centers around the Awake, people who were once garden variety insomniacs who have been sleepless so long that now they no longer have a choice about being awake anymore, they've lost the ability to sleep voluntarily. In exchange they've found their way into an impossible place that butts up against our world, and they've also found power that defies reason.
Mechanically the game is very simple. You start with your Discipline dice pool, which is always three to start. Any roll of 1,2 or 3 is a success. You roll against the Director, who rolls a Pain pool based on what you are facing. This pool can run from a single die up to over a dozen. Seems like the player has a distinct disadvantage, but they also have two other pools that help out. The first is Exhaustion, which they can add to any roll. It starts out at zero, but in any scene you can voluntarily increase it once, even right before you roll. Once you have an exhaustion die going though it sticks around. Once you hit seven exhaustion in your pool you are going to crash, falling asleep and becoming a helpless victim. There is also the Madness pool, and you can add up to 6 dice of Madness to any roll, and they do not stick around like exhaustion.
Another part of the die mechanics is that you also look at your highest die, in all pool. That tells you which aspect dominates the action. If it's Discipline, skill dominates and you have no downside to the roll. Exhaustion dominating means that you taxed your resources and you add another exhaustion die to your pool. If Madness dominates you give up a bit of control and things get more chaotic. You have a number of responses available to you, either fight or flight. If Madness is dominant you check off a response and act accordingly. If you choose flight, you try to get away, huddle in a corner or generally flee the area if able. If you choose fight then you stick around and get aggressive, which may not be a good thing when you are outnumbered. And finally, if the Directors Pain pool is dominant then things get a little worse for you. Maybe reinforcements show up or a stairway gives out under you and you loose track of the person you were following. All of these are independent of the success or failure of the roll, so you can succeed and still have it be a hollow victory if pain is dominant.
The awake also have talents, one exhaustion and one madness. Exhaustion talents are things that normal people can do, but for some reason you excel at. You might be a master gambler, an amazing shot or just so smooth you can talk your way out of trouble. Madness talents on the other hand are things that are flat out impossible. Teleportation, Mind Reading, Flight, all are on the table for Madness talents. The thing is, to use either type of talent you have to roll the appropriate dice as part of your pool, and they get more effective as you increase the number of dice rolled.
Another thing to note in the system is the way they handle the typical character creation 20 questions thing. In DRYH there are only five questions, but they define your character and what they are trying to do, as well as their past. The questions are what's been keeping you awake. what just happened, whats on the surface, what lies beneath and what's your path.
The first is why you are even one of the Awake to begin with. The second deals with what happened to push you over the edge into being awake. What's on the surface shows the way people view you, and what lies beneath is the hidden aspect of your personality or past. What's your path is your ultimate end goal, what you are trying to accomplish overall. These are used by the Director to shape your own personal plot. In most games these questions, if answered at all, would be going into back story and might come up once in a great while. In DRYH, they are the central reason and motivation for everything you do. The characters of this game are not necessarily going to be hunting for treasure or lost secrets, and their reasons for doing what they do should be much more personal and visceral than the typical adventurer in a fantasy or modern game.
This is one of the two indie games that I always mention to people who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, and I highly recommend it.
[4 of 5 Stars!]