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Simple DRYH GM Trick: Modifiers

One of the interesting things about Don’t Rest Your Head is the GM dynamic. 90% of the GM’s decisions points & influence are narrative, as there’s only one mechanic to immediately press: how much Pain dice is rolled in a moment.

Normally, that’s determined by the sort of threat you have in play (or, if you’re like me, you decide how much you want to throw this beat, and adjust the moment accordingly by adding or attracting to the scene[1]). But let’s talk modifiers!

Because DRYH is narrative in focus, and because mechanics make tactile elements of the world, you might want to show how other things are influencing the moment. When you do so, link the mechanical effect & narrative trigger together in your description.

I came up with this a few years back entirely on accident. When I first ran The Bad Man, one of the kids ran off and bumped into a Nightmare. I said, when the conflict went to dice, “So, that’s six Pain for this guy. Hey, you’re alone right? Awesome. It’s scary to be alone. That’s two more Pain.” The look of horror on the player’s face was pretty fucking sweet. So I kept this in my bag o’ GM tricks.

The trigger could be anything. “Wait, you guys are standing on cobblestones? Yeah, that’s a couple more Pain.” or “There’s a raven watching you from the rooftops. So this is three Pain less.” When you do this, you create two things: a sense that the world is bigger and stranger than the immediate conflict, and that there’s mystery all around. What’s up with the cobblestones? When do ravens make things easier? Can I trust that?

Be as consistent as makes sense, and keep in mind that cause & effect aren’t always direct or constant. After all, this is the Mad City…

– Ryan

[1] A future post

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2 Responses to Simple DRYH GM Trick: Modifiers

  1. Micheal Garcia says:

    Neat post! I like your idea of reducing pain and have it hint to something beyond that one moment of conflict. It certainly will intrigue the player and can be used to guide them down a narrative you have in mind.
    “How did that that raven just help me climb that wall. I better find out what’s going on about them.”

    I was doing something similar in my DRYH games with Despair where I would use it under certain circumstances. For example, a PC rescued his daughter from two Ladies in Hating, but because pain dominated, I added that one of them bit his hand in the fight. I included that it was swelling as if from a spider bite, but left it at that. Later he confronted Mother When who, in their fight, seized his daughter and hurled her off the High School, and of course, he tried to save her. It was then I asked “Which hand do you try to catch her with? The injured one? Uh oh, I think its time to spend that coin of despair.”

    Considering Mother When’s monumental pain already, the shift wasn’t that huge, but oh, the look of dismay the group gave when they realized I was keeping track of the injuries they had sustained.

  2. Marche Hare says:

    Awesome idea. This could also work for a game like Lacuna… or really any game with a bit of a surreal feeling to it.