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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: [ http://www.evilhat.com/?dryh ]
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: ,

10 comments or Leave a comment
timgray From: timgray Date: June 28th, 2006 06:56 am (UTC) (Link)
This sounds interesting, but on a very brief skim here and on the product web page my most striking impression is that he's priced it significantly below market rates. More love than money?
drivingblind From: drivingblind Date: June 28th, 2006 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm doing direct sales only, and I'm leveraging that to justify keeping the prices down where folks are happy to afford it (and, where applicable, the shipping costs). Maybe that's more love. Maybe I'm just trying to get my name a little more made. :)

As it stands, I'm making $3 (print version) or $4 (pdf version) per sale, and given that I kept my production costs real low on this, I can live with that.
chadu From: chadu Date: June 28th, 2006 11:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you are undercutting yourself a bit on the price: I would have gone up to $8 for the PDF version or $15 for the print version.

For what you get, the pricing you have right now is an absolute steal.

drivingblind From: drivingblind Date: June 28th, 2006 01:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fair enough -- as it stands, I can always classify this stuff as a sale price. I dig the impulse buy potential of the pricing as it stands -- but thanks for the observations. I'll keep 'em in mind. :)
tundra_no_caps From: tundra_no_caps Date: June 28th, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
This one sounds very interesting :)

I have to ask, how can I lure you into looking at my (unfinished) game?
chadu From: chadu Date: June 28th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can try to take a look at it some time after I finish some current projects on my plate. Drop me a line and check my availability at the end of July?

tundra_no_caps From: tundra_no_caps Date: June 28th, 2006 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cool beans :)
drivingblind From: drivingblind Date: July 2nd, 2006 06:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
After some examination, it's clear that the underpricedness of Don't Rest Your Head is going to get corrected in a few weeks. But I'm extending the current sale prices ($9.95/$4.95) for the next couple weeks. They'll be increasing shortly before I head off to, or shortly after I return from, DexCon. So if folks are looking to get the current "deal", act soon. :)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 3rd, 2007 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

given the really low price,

and specific nature of the game, it seems to me to be ideal for tacking onto any game system that has characters that go mad on occasion. I'll be using it for a singleton game of CoC that I'm running, so much better than those "youre stuck inside an asylum for X months" episodes.
From: baileyd211 Date: January 17th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Tough sounding board games

BOARD games like the “Magic The Gathering” series do tend to get complicated for a lot of people especially first-timers who don’t have a snowball’s idea in hell what statistics in the card are supposed to do during the game, i.e. immunity, health and so on.

These kinds of games which presumably fall under the role-playing, strategy type games are better understood when played out in the PC rather than having to roll the dice, ala Yu-Gi-Oh! (the animated version is hilarious, wonder how it would translate into film).

At any rate, any game that has a title like “Don’t Rest Your Head” or other similarly tough, street-sounding names would attract more than its fair share of attention and can even get people to buy them outright, even if it’s slightly priced high.

Bailey Dorminc


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