Don't Rest Your Head

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Don't Rest Your Head
DRYH cover.jpg
RPG published by
Evil Hat Productions
Authors Fred Hicks
First Publication 2008


Don't Rest Your Head (DRYH for short) is an RPG by Evil Hat where players take on the role of people who haven't slept for so long they have "awakened" to the Mad City and the Nightmares that live there.

It is fairly rules-light, with the GM using Pain dice for every obstacle the players have to overcome, the author even recommending that the dice only be rolled when something significant is at stake and that the protagonists automatically succeed at all other tasks. It also lacks any system for keeping track of physical injury, instead having boxes for Permanent Madness and Exhaustion. Of course, both those things will kill you (or turn you into an evil NPC) once you accumulate enough of them, and happen to be extremely difficult to get rid of.

DRYH is also made of fuckwin, as a typical session might include using a voodoo teddy bear to cause a massive traffic accident, summoning legions of cannon fodder ninjas to beat up a mob of clockwork cops, or drop-kicking the incarnation of death into the depths of hell itself. There's even a Madness Talent (read: insomnia super power) that allows you to turn into Jesus Christ himself, complete with the water-walking, fish-multiplying and absolution powers.

Despite the fact that the players can kick the ass of pretty much anything in the entire setting from day one, the most important thing to remember is that since most of the negative effects the players can suffer are more or less permanent and become more frequent the more of them they accumulate, they're pretty much doomed to eventually either fall asleep and get gang-raped by the Nightmares living in the Mad City or go batshit insane and become one of them. Probably both.

Mechanics[edit]

Player characters are created with a past, a reason why they've stayed awake longer than ever before, and a goal. Characters have three abilities:

  • an Exhaustion talent, something that anyone can do but the character discovers they have a best-in-the-world level of ability, like running, brawling, driving a car, salesmanship, adding up numbers in their head. Exhaustion dice are black, and starts at 0.
  • a Madness talent, something supernatural they can do because they've been awake too damn long. This can be something fantastic like cutting things by looking at them, summoning dead army buddies to do battle, causing blood to rain, the more bizarre the better. Madness dice are red), and they are related to your response points, which you have a total of three between:
    • Fight Response you will go berserk when you lose one of these.
    • Flight Response you will run away in blind panic when you lose one of these.
  • a Discipline rating which starts at 3. Discipline dice are white. These dice are your friends, and they will eventually abandon you.

The GM uses only one ability for the difficulty in conflicts:

  • Pain dice are blue (or green, or marbled), and they are not nice to you. The nightmares and terrors of the awakened city only use Pain dice.

In a conflict, the GM and the player(s) each roll dice pools made from the abilities they will use. Dice that show 1,2,3 are successes. If the player has more successes than the GM, they overcome the difficulty, and the player wins ties. The GM's pool is always Pain dice, but the player will roll their Discipline dice + Exhaustion dice + up to 6 Madness dice. They can choose to +1 their Exhaustion just before rolling, but every time you increase Exhaustion it is permanent.

  • If the GM wins, the player fails. Ow, shit, fuck. Furthermore, the GM can knock off a Response point or bump up the PC's Exhaustion by 1.
  • If the Player wins, yay!

Now check the dice to see what color has the highest number showing (in case of ties, priority is: Discipline, Exhaustion, Madness, Pain). This is what dominates the conflict, and it taints the success or failure as follows:

  • Discipline dominates: The PC kept their cool, looked confident. They can decrease Exhaustion by one or get back one of their Response points (can't exceed what they started with in Fight nor Flight).
  • Exhaustion dominates: The PC is wiped out by the effort. Increase Exhaustion by +1 even if you already did that before you rolled.
  • Madness dominates: The PC lost their shit, and chaos prevails. The PC checks off a Fight or Flight response point and narrates an appropriate flip-out scene (which may include reality doing a spit-take, or you could ignore your Madness talent altogether)
  • Pain dominates: Ow, shit, fuck. The player lost something in the exchange, and the GM gains a Despair coin.

Despair coins can be used by the GM to fuck with players, by either adding a '6' to any pool that was rolled in a conflict, or removing a '6' from one of the pools. "I failed, but at least I rolled a 6 in my Discipline pool." "*clink* No you didn't." "Shit." GMs can spend as many Despair coins as required to be a dick, but every Despair coin spent turns into a Hope coin that the players share for spending for their advantage. Hope coins can be used to undo a point of Exhaustion, get a Response point back, add a '1' to their discipline pool for more successes, or even to undo permanent Madness.

If you gain 6 Exhaustion, you fall asleep. You don't know how long, and while you're asleep, the Nightmares know exactly who and where you are. Death is probably one of the nicer things that can happen to your character at this point.

If you lose all of your Reaction points, you go psycho for the rest of the scene. When you recover you have all your Reaction points back, but one of your Discipline dice is replaced by a permanent Madness die.

If you lose all your Discipline dice, you've gone full-blown psycho -- you ARE one of the Nightmares now, and you know exactly where you "friends" are.

You'll notice that it's easy to add Madness dice to win, but you're probably gonna flip out if you do. And you actually WANT to be a little bit Exhausted to get those extra dice, and it's if you just spent one more Exhaustion you could probably beat the GM's 10 Pain dice... So the players are really screwing themselves over just as much or more so than the GM.

Nightmare On Elm Street Dream Warriors shit, and the players are dooming themselves by their own actions -- this sandwich is made of win and god.

Setting[edit]

Start with the movie Dark City. Add a little steampunk, maybe some American McGee's Alice...

Oh hell, just ask your players about any reoccurring nightmares they have and sneak them into the game. Fuck with their heads. Spiders on scrotums. Seriously, this is an opportunity to see your players squirm. Even how the dice mechanics force the players to undermine themselves will them them feeling doomed. It's a horror game -- make 'em pay.

My players had a lot of fun dealing with a killer they called "the Coupon Cutter" who was slashing his way through the city's Paper Boys. Imagine newsboys but actually made of newspaper. They just about lost their shit when they found this half-alive Paper Boy stapled to a wall through his hands and feet, bleeding ink, and he looked up at them and murmured "Help... wanted..."

This game would be good for some old-school Cthulhu gaming, since insanity is built in right there. Just rename "Madness" to "Arcane" and put it in a 1920's setting and you're good to go.

Supplements[edit]

Examples[edit]