As part of developing EpicTable, I’m always on the lookout for interesting dice mechanics. I’d heard that Don’t Rest Your Head, from Evil Hat Productions, had some interesting mechanics, so I picked up a copy…and promptly lost several hours to reading and to the sudden compulsion to build white, black, and red dice pools for EpicTable.
In Don’t Rest Your Head, you play one of the Awake, insomniacs who have stopped sleeping entirely (they hope) and who have become able to traverse the portals from our world to the Mad City. Your character tries to achieve his goals (tied to what’s keeping him awake) before he falls asleep and becomes meat for the Nightmares of the Mad City.
I have to admit that I haven’t actually gotten a chance to play Don’t Rest Your Head yet, but it’s a bit of a perfect storm for me due to my love of…
- Dark City (think The Matrix with less philosophy and more Clive Barker)
- Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (The series is good; the book phenomenal.)
- the notion that exhaustion can make you supernaturally better at something (I’m rolling black dice most nights working on EpicTable. That might make more sense in a bit….)
The dice mechanic used for conflict resolution in Don’t Rest Your Head fits the theme perfectly. The player rolls a combination of white, black, and red dice.
- White discipline dice reflect the character’s skill and are safe to roll.
- Black exhaustion dice let the player tap into his exhaustion to call upon extraordinary abilities; but it comes at a cost.
- Red madness dice allow the character to exercise overtly supernatural powers, but carry significant risk of the situation spiraling out of control.
The GM rolls pain dice, and when these dice dominate, win or lose, there’s no sunny outcome for the character.
Conflict resolution is along two axes:
- The person with the highest number of successes (1s, 2s, and 3s) wins the conflict.
- The pool (discipline, exhaustion, madness, or pain) with the high die value is dominant and shapes the outcome, regardless of whether the character won or lost.
The player has some choice in how many of each color dice are brought to bear in the conflict. More dice means more chances to win the conflict, but more chance of the exhaustion or madness pool dominating the outcome. This creates a really interesting range of outcomes.
Character Creation, Hope, and Despair
The character creation process is also really engaging. Its questionnaire seems inspired by Spirit of the Century, but the result is wholly appropriate to the theme. There’s also an economy of Hope and Despair coins, which seems interesting and somewhat akin to fanmail or action points, but again, done in very thematically appropriate way.
Impact on EpicTable
From an EpicTable perspective, supporting Don’t Rest Your Head means support for mixed-color dice rolls and yet another reason to implement success counting. You can read more about this in my post on EpicTable’s Dice Cup Designer. It also means support for token pools (though my recent foray into Primetime Adventures had already planted that seed).
The first nine pages of Don’t Rest Your Head are available on Evil Hat’s site, and they’re quite possibly the best nine pages of game material I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to play this game, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I get the chance. In the meantime, I’m going to grab some black dice and get back to implementing that success counting mechanic for EpicTable….