chadu (chadu) wrote,

Underkoffler's Overviews: Don't Rest Your Head

I've finally had a chance to read this game; here are my brief impressions.

This is not a review, per se -- you probably won't get much out of Underkoffler's Overview if you haven't read the game. What you will get is my opinions on the Negative, the Positive, and the Verdict.

[ Underkoffler's Overviews Archive ]

Don't Rest Your Head
Written by Fred Hicks / drivingblind

Website: [ ]
Reviews: [ None as yet. ]

The Negative

  • Who in the What Then? I question the wisdom of putting the Example of Play -- "Running on Fumes" -- immediately after the Introduction. Too much stuff, too fast, not enough explanation. (However, all of the game elements are cross-referenced to their page numbers in the main rules, so this is a mild negative.)
  • A Daunting Number of Dice! Every player needs to have between fifteen and seventeen six-sided dice in three consistent colors (white, red, and black preferred). The GM needs ten to fifteen, but I think they can be any color or a mish-mosh. The players and GM also need some pocket change, and there needs to be two different bowls on the table. That's a whole lotta stuff (thankfully, it all makes sense eventually).

The Positive

  • Q&A. Character generation revolves around a question and answer method. Now, what separates this from innumerable "character questionnaire" type methods is that each of the main questions has a Think About and Why This Matters discussion associated it. Those two extra bits -- which tie directly into the concept, rules, and setting -- elevate DRYH above similar Q&A methods.
  • Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting/Flighting. One of the elements of chargen I particularly liked is that players select three checkboxes for their Normal Responses, divvied between Fight or Flight. This has a character-based effect when madness dominates a challenge (see below). What's cool is that the player can go totally fighty, totally flighty, or a mix.
  • Everybody in the Pool! The main mechanic of DRYH is an interesting dice pool system. Now, I'm not generally a dice pool sort of guy. However, DRYH's looks really interesting. It's sort of like the One-Roll Engine (ORE) of Godlike, but avoiding it's shortcomings (by spreading the "height" or here, "dominant," across all rolls made in a contest -- all the players plus the GM). Also, the dominant is tied to one of the four main modes of the game -- Discipline, Exhaustion, Madness, or Pain -- and each has a narrative effect feeding into results and next scenes, alongside an immediate game mechanical effect. Furthermore, player choices (past and present) directly and explicitly effect the size of the pool they're rolling. This mechanic is most exceedingly worthy of further examination!
  • Easier Done than Read. While the rules for DRYH initially look tres complex, they seem pretty straightforward once you see how they all connect. While I haven't yet played it, I suspect strongly that it will all fall into place rather easily after someone shows the player how it works. This is probably a case of how sometimes explaining and easy concept takes a lot of text for clarity. (Also, there's a handy cheat-sheet/rules summary on p. 34 that is short, sweet, and too the point.)
  • Three Coins in the Fountain. . . . . . or, rather, those two bowls I mentioned above. These are the coins of despair and the coins of hope, which is a nifty mechanic: when pain dominates, no matter if the protagonist/PC succeeds or fails, they put a coin of despair in the bowl. The GM can use these coins of despair to abuse the PCs. However, then the GM has to put that coin into the other bowl, making it a coin of hope. Players can use that coin of hope for good things after the current scene.
  • Beating the House. It's a small, but vitally important thing: in any cases of a tie in a contest, the protagonist/PC wins, rather than the GM/NPC. That's just damned cool.
  • The Talented Mr. Hicks. PCs have two types of Talents related to their Exhaustion and their Madness. Exhaustion Talents are more-or-less mundane, and have minor and major uses. Madness Talents are wacky supernatural or superhuman powers. Using the former makes you more tired, using the latter makes you more crazy. I love it.
  • Cause privacy is my middle name / My last name is control. . . In DRYH, there are several ways for Narrative Control to be handled; the game supports both the traditional gaming style (PCs control their characters, GM responds and refines) and a more player-centric way (whoever had the last dominant die result has control until the next roll). Additionally, all of the chargen elements and game mechanical rules feed into various spins and shades of meaning for subsequent events in the game.
  • Mad World City.</i> The core setting of Mad City is pleasantly cracked, holding both humor and terror in a fantastic mix. You don't know whether to be creeped-out or amused or both simultaneously. It works remarkably well.
  • Flattery Will Get You Everywhere. Fred said some very kind words about Dead Inside in the Afterword to DRYH, and of course I see that as a Positive! (In truth, the Afterword lists the inspirations for the game, plus personal commentary on each item, which makes it a heck of an insight into what Fred was trying to do -- and succeeding.)

The Verdict

  • If you liked Dead Inside OR Dogs in the Vineyard, I recommend looking into this game. If you liked Dead Inside AND Dogs in the Vineyard, I highly recommend buying this game right the hell now.
  • Don't Rest Your Head is like the mutant love child of DI, DitV, Donjon, Lacuna, and Little Fears. It is utterly fantastic, and once I started reading it, I couldn't stop. I'm really eager to play a game of DRYH sometime soon. Fred has seriously set the bar high with this game; I'm certain it will be talked about for years to come.
  • PDF Preview here.
  • Available in softcover format - 84 pages, 6"x9", perfect bound; $9.95
  • Available in PDF package (with both "print quality" and "stripped down" formats); $4.95

Check it out.

Tags: gaming, underkoffler's overviews
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