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The rules of Dystopia Rising

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DUSTIN GLATZ
  • Dustin Glatz

For all its immersive storytelling, Dystopia Rising is still a game, and every game has rules. Each session starts at 9 p.m. on Friday with opening announcements, and runs until 1 p.m. on Sunday. Then players clean up the site, maybe meet for an after-game meal, and return to office jobs and the general mundanity of day-to-day tasks. In between, it's 41 hours of full-immersion horror and very little sleep. There's no scoring, no leaderboards, no first place — just survival and storytelling.

Every game has its share of number-crunching, but DR keeps it mental-math simple. Characters have four big statistics: Mind, Body, Infection and Build.

Mind is the capacity to use abilities, like building or combat skills. Running out is not a bad thing. Characters get their Mind score refreshed at noon and midnight, in most cases.

Body is hit, or life points. Run out, and you go into "bleed out," in which you have five minutes to be "stabilized" by a doctor, medic or item. Run out of time, your character dies. Characters can wear armor for a little extra protection — it takes damage before Body does, in most cases.

During bleed out, if someone comes along and takes five seconds to deal a killing blow, your character dies. Most non-player characters (NPCs) can't deal a killing blow. An NPC is any character designed and written by the game staff instead of a player. The anonymous zombie hordes are NPCs, and so are the various merchants, travelers, criminals and the like who pass through.

Infection is how many times a character can die and come back. It's set at character creation, based on Strain — "species" of sorta-human — and it's hard to increase a character's Infection. Die, and it goes down by one. Run out, and your character dies permanently, returning as a nasty Zed. It's up to your character's friends to put that Zed down for good (think: when Simon Pegg's character in Shaun of the Dead has to shoot his own mother). Storytelling staff will then help the player either start a new character, with loaner weapons and costuming if needed, or play an NPC for the rest of the weekend.

Build represents experience, or potential for growth. It goes up at the start of each game, and it's spent to increase Body and Mind or to learn new abilities. Players can get additional Build by bringing in new players or spending assistance points, accrued by donating supplies or volunteering. If a character dies permanently or is retired voluntarily, their player gets some of that character's Build on a new character.

All of these stats and abilities are tied to a character and travel with them as needed, tracked in a huge database, in which every player has a number.

When a character dies, the player goes up to the logistics area to cool down and get debriefed — dying in game gets intense, and it's a big deal. The player reflects on the circumstances of their character's death: Physical things like method of death and sense memories, as well as mental things, like why they died and any regrets they would have about it, affect the experience.

A physical return happens at the morgue. Inside, a storyteller helps guide the player back into character, and back into the emotionally intense state that makes a character death memorable. Theirs is the voice of the Grave Mind, the collective consciousness of the undead horde, poking around for regrets and insecurities. Eventually, the character emerges, hopefully into the waiting arms of relieved friends and allies. It's different for everyone and, by design, very personal.

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