To Make that Blind Leap
Your typical RPG system is a determination engine: it gives structure (often, a chance-based structure) to the determination of how likely a character is to succeed or fail at a given task based on capabilities and hindrances. DRYH isn’t really typical in this sense. Sure, there are small elements of it with talents, but what it really is, instead, is an escalation engine. The game is less concerned with whether a character can do something than it is with keeping him or her doing something.
The natural consequence of making a roll is getting you into a situation where you’re compelled to make more rolls. The more you roll the bigger your Exhaustion pool is going to get, and the faster your own personal countdown to solving this scenario before you crash is going to tick. The session of the game I ran had the most beautiful adventure cadence of any one shot I’ve ever run: comfortable start in player directed activity, quick increase in pace after the Exhaustion started to build, and then a furious descent toward the climax. A huge portion of this was player directed: they didn’t want to crash before dealing with their biggest problem, and the closer they got to crashing the more dice they had to deal with that problem.
However, I do wonder if the system couldn’t be slimmed down even further. It’s still using a lot of the language of a deterministic system when it doesn’t necessarily need it. Moreover, there might be a way to streamline the mechanic so you can play the game without the requisite rainbow-colored pile of d6s that has become the hallmark of the indie gamer. Given the players’ ability to succeed at virtually any challenge by taking on more risk, and similarity of dice pools, it seems like a similar effect could be achieved with fewer dice. But there is something to be said for the tactile advantage of fistfuls of dice.
One area where I really would have liked to see a game system would have been making purchases at the goblin market that springs up every night at 13:00. As recounted by Harbinger, I was able to use the character backgrounds provided by the five questions to come up with a satisfying payment method in the moment, but given how central this market is to the setting, I would have liked some system or at least advice on how to present a meaningful and long-term financial system using the ephemeral goods usually traded at such places.
At the end of the day, though, DRYH does something very right. Much like Technoir, the players of my one shot have been very excited to potentially play again. The system may be almost unnecessary in the face of the natural draw of the setting and ability to be arbitrary and freeform, but what it does do it does well, and that’s define the structure of play. My normal caveat applies to GMs that are uncomfortable improvising: player characters in this game gain a lot of agency very fast and you’ll find yourself following the lead of what they want to do pretty early on. From my own point of view, as a GM that loves having just enough structure to assist improvising, it meets most of my needs. As mentioned, there are a few things I’d tweak, but I’d gladly run it again.