Don't Rest Your Head (Evil Hat, 2006)
A small indie game by Fred Hicks, a horror story that could be Dark City meets Alice in Wonderland (and lots of other inspiration I don't know but am really tempted to track down). Your worries and stress overwhelm you to the point where you... awaken. Now you are awake you cannot afford to sleep again or you will leave you open to the Nightmares of the Mad City.
The Mad City runs on top of whichever city you are in, which never stops and obeys rules which don't make sense and constantly change. There are normal inhabitants, who carry out their role forever, Nightmares, mad creatures with strange agendas, and a few Awakened just trying to make it out with their sanity.
The awakened are normal humans but with the sort of tortuous background which would drive someone to sleeplessness. The rules doen't require it, but the flavour seems to encourage adding extreme twists to your background; considering the game is expected to be driven by character and backgrounds these are important elements. Maybe "Hollywood everyman/woman" might be the best descriptor.
DRYH is one of those games that uses an awesome system that only really works in its own context.
You start with three discipline, something you are good at and something a little more supernatural. The ST rolls Pain dice. You roll Discipline + Exhaustion + Madness: but you have control how many of these you roll. Any dice scoring 1-3 are a success, so you are hoping to beat the ST. Simple so far?
You also look for your highest scoring dice and compare against all types of dice. Whichever is highest is Dominant has an effect on you. Exhaustion dominating makes you more exhausted... until you fall asleep and leave yourself vulnerable: a little is good but rapidly gets bad. Madness makes you lose control - or worse. And Pain gives you despair. Yay! Characters are constantly having to gamble just to survive, let alone achieve their goals.
The villains in DRYH are not the lethal, fight-or-die type. They are definitely "we're going to keep pushing you until you go over the brink" type. Everlasting supplies of minions will keep the players moving and worried. This isn't even a spoiler.
They are also really atmospheric and encourage similar creativity from the players and ST.
The book only lists four major antagonists, their minions and a few others - but that's enough. The villains mentioned are those which are those who are going to be constant threats whatever your story. They are the bedrock of the Mad City horror level, giving the ST enough to emulate with whatever crazy ideas they or the players come up with.
The author photoshopped some stock photos. Well it's an indie game, what do you expect? He's a lot better than me at it.
I really love the system. It's very simple and yet forces exactly the right kind of choices on the player that you want them to make. There is just enough light (Hope) that you can keep going despite the downwards spiral the PCs are pushed down.
The book is what it is and within that scope there is nothing bad.
What it is however does fit here. At less than 87 pages, it's not a roleplaying tome. If you are not the sort of group who like to create your own worlds, together, and to tell ripped-apart lives of ordinary people this is not going to be for you.
It would also be difficult to create an ongoing adventure; but it is fine for a one-or-two story arc. However that is reasonable for a horror game.
Execution - 7
Ideas - 6
Not bad for 87 pages!