The following review was originally posted at Roleplayers Chronicle and can be read in its entirety at http://roleplayerschronicle.com/?p=19581.
Don’t Rest Your Head is a psychological, player focused mind trip of a game that incorporates aspects and ideas from some of today’s most innovative writers and film makers into a unique game setting that will keep you up all night.
Don’t Rest Your Head isn’t new, it’s been around for 6 years and during that 6 years it has helped to change the way designers and players look at RPGs. Don’t Rest Your Head is a high concept advanced RPG that is player centric and player focused. Character creation is mechanically simple, but intellectually challenging. The game focuses on the players who are suffering from insomnia in such a way that they are now known as the awakened. The player’s lack of sleep has opened up an existence that inhabits a place called the Mad City. The Mad City plays host to diverse denizens like the Wax King, the Blind Knights, the Roof Rats, the Paper Boys and the Ladies In Hating to name a few. In the Mad City there is a 13th hour and it is dangerous. All of these elements combine to create an RPG that easily gets into your head and is as far from the normal hack-and-slash dungeon crawl as can be.
Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
Don’t Rest Your Head was produced before the concept of crowd sourced funding was around. Even without the benefit of public support Evil Hat Productions managed to produce a solid product that is minimalistic, well-thought out and useable. 99.95% of this rulebook is in black and white; the only color present is some red shading and a touch of blue on the face and in the hair of the person depicted on the cover. When color is done right it blows my mind, when black and white is done right it holds this eldritch power that is hard to explain.
Fred Hicks showed sheer genius in his use of black and white to create the mood and feel for Don’t Rest Your Head. At first glance, the page borders create the feeling of ripped pages, but as I delved into the book I got more of a feeling that the black around the edges of the pages represented the darkness creeping into the reader’s soul as they become immersed in the world of Don’t Rest Your Head. The fonts used in this rulebook resemble old newsprint typeface. You could easily picture this being done on an old school typewriter or printed in an even older school newspaper. This book sets the standard for the use of stock photos. All of the photos are in synch with the text and the skilled use of Photoshop makes some stock photos that many people will recognize feel fresh and in some cases imposing. Some of the art has been altered just enough to look like the old plates that were inked then pressed on paper in the early days of printing. Nothing in this rulebook is overdone or overwrought in this book.
Mechanics: 10 out of 10
Don’t Rest Your Head does not have a crunchy rules system. For the type of game that Don’t Rest Your Head is, the rules are just right. When there is a conflict the player rolls three dice then can add additional dice based on the possible addition talents and madness dice. A roll of 1,2 or 3 is a success, the total number of successes is called a degree and the person who has the highest degree wins the conflict. Conflicts can occur between players, between players and the GM or between players and the environment. Tie goes to the player. There are other factors that come into play but this is the basics. If you want to get all of the details, buy the book. This is a game of simple dice pools and easy to learn rules. The rules are easy to learn and not complicated, they are flexible and simple enough to cover most situations and the entire feel of the game follows the rule of cool. The rule of cool states: If it is cool and not covered by the rules always go for cool, or strange or odd or just plain freaky. (Please note that the rule of cool is a subset of the Bro Code, unisex version 2.5.)
Desire to Play: 10 out of 10
This game is not for everyone. If you are the type of player who likes to name your character Fightor and the only time you speak at the table is to let the GM know your roll results, avoid this game like the monster under the bed. If you enjoy role-playing games that focus on the player, this is for you. At the more than fair price of $15.00 USD for the hard copy and $5.00 USD for the PDF there is no way you can go wrong with this book. This is a great convention game and perfect as a short term game. There are mechanics that allow you to run an extended adventure, but I think it works best in the short role. Because of its’ outstanding price point it is an affordable game to introduce to most gaming groups. This game is worth your time and money.
Overall: 10 out of 10
Don’t Rest Your Head was, and in some way still is, ahead of its time. This game embraces a player centric focus that many games forget. For many GMs, especially the ones who normally railroad their players, this game will be a huge change for you, in the best possible way. In this review I used the word players but throughout the entire Don’t Rest Your Head rulebook, the player characters are call protagonists. While this might not seem important it really is. This lets us know that this game is a storytelling game that is focused on the players, not the GM. There is no room in this game for NPCs in god mode. There are points in the game where the players actually take the game over. For some players who have never run a game or are table flowers this could be a deal breaker. This game is truly a team effort and if you have the right team or even mostly the right team you will enjoy it. This is a game that delves into human emotions, feelings and, most of all, fears. Don’t rest your head opens that closet door that kept you awake at night. It crawls under the bed where that unseen, but well-known, creature lurks. Don’t Rest Your Head looks down between its’ legs to see the potty hands before they grab you!
[5 of 5 Stars!]