Don’t Rest Your Head is an independently published (indie) roleplaying game written by Fred Hicks which like Microscope, I’ve owned for a while but finally got to play at the recent Kublacon.
The premise of Don’t Rest Your Head is that you are someone who hasn’t slept in days. This isn’t simple insomnia however, there is some important reason you can’t rest, some goal you must reach or trial you must face. Much like the main character in Dark City, you now can see the true world, a world of living metaphor and nightmares. And much like in Dark City you possess special powers and are hunted by the rulers of this world.
Mechanically Don’t Rest Your Head uses contested dice pool rolls where the flavor (or color) of the dice is important. The four kinds of dice are discipline, exhaustion, madness, and pain. The player rolls his dice (Discipline, Exhaustion, Madness) and the gamemaster (GM) his (Pain). The pool with the highest numbers showing wins. For example if the player rolls 6 dice and gets a 6, two 5s, a 3, and two 2s against the GM’s roll of a 6, 5, and 3, then the player wins. But if the player’s 6 came from Madness and the other results from Discipline, then the winner by pool would be Pain since that pool has the highest overall result. This is used to determine what dominates.
Pain is used by the GM to represent the power of the foes you encounter. The strength of the opposition can range from a few dice (for minor threats) to 12 or more (for the lords of this realm). When Pain wins out there is a cost to victory or an extra harshness to failure.
Madness dice are used by the Player Character (PC) for their powers. These powers can range from flight to time manipulation to the ability to turn to hardened steel (to list some examples from the game I played). Madness is largely in the hands of the player. They can choose to use up to 8 dice whenever they use their powers. If Madness dominates then your character goes a little crazy either lashing out in violence or fleeing as best they can. If you go too crazy you begin to turn into one of the nightmares that plague this world.
Exhaustion represents a characters mundane talents, enhanced by their new perspective. Each character has a talent, something they do better than others. This could be any mundane talent such as perception or storytelling. Unlike Madness there is less control here. You can always add Exhaustion but you can’t remove those dice under normal circumstances. They stay and if they dominate you grow more exhausted and the pool grows. Once you pass 6 dice you collapse into sleep. This leaves you vulnerable as you are unable to perceive the real world and can’t access either Exhaustion or Madness dice and powers.
Last you have Discipline dice which represent your innate abilities. All characters begin with 3 dice which marks them as superior to most mortals (who only would have 1 or 2 dice). If Discipline dominates nothing bad happens instead you can shed Exhaustion dice or some of the consequences of Madness.
That is the mechanics in a nutshell. The rest of Don’t Rest Your Head is highly focused on the roleplaying elements of the game: why you are awake? Where are you when the game begins? What is your path to resolving your issues? And so forth. It is a fairly narrativist game which means story comes first over game rules or simulating reality (which has little place in a world of super powers and non-human caricatures of government officials).
There is an imaginative version of reality that you can take as a jumping off point for your own cities and stories. The game I played in transplanted the default urban setting to a small town. The basic symbols were there but the monsters and powers that be were altered to accommodate this new vision of the world.
I think Don’t Rest Your Head is an excellent light weight game for quick pick up and play. a character’s story could be told in a few sessions with ease allow for easy short campaigns or longer sagas if that is what your players want.