I’ve been sitting on this game for a while, mulling it over since it came out last March. I’ve been considering Til Dawn for a while and might finally have the opportunity to run it. That means you all get to come through it with me!
Til Dawn is a Fate Accelerated game about DJs battling it out in a near-future world of holograms and dance parties. It attracted my attention as a non-violent game with some dramatic conflict at its center, and for the strong (and divided) reviews on DriveThru RPG. Some people loved the game and others were critical of it, but I wondered if they were critical because they wanted a game of shooting people and stealing stuff and weren’t satisfied with a non-violent conflict system. I’m going to lay out its case today.
As a Fate Accelerated game, Til Dawn uses approaches instead of skills. These work the same as in Fate Core except that everyone has these approaches at some level. These match up with different adjectives for how DJs might present themselves: Chill, Dark, Fabulous, Fierce, Shady, and Technical. You choose one of these approaches to be Good (+3), two of them at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1), and one at Mediocre (+0). These are the bulk of your mechanics so once you’ve got them picked out your well on your way to a completed sheet.
Next, you come up with four different aspects which you can bring into play for the cost of a Fate point. The first of these describes your performance and why you are DJing. The second is about your relationship with the other PCs, whether your romantically involved with them, related to them, in a fight with them, etc. The third aspect is a background of your culture and how you grew up, and the last is about your creativity and how you like to present yourself.
Characters next come up with a squad name for your group of DJs and their DJ skins for their performance. These are essentially extra aspects but you can only use one at a time as you change outfits during the performance. One is a squad skin that is shared by all members of the squad and another two are individual to the DJ. You create skins by combining a look (goth, colorful, kitschy, etc), media style (soft, erratic, smooth, etc), and emotion (melancholy, confidence, spite, etc). DJs use these costume changes to fine tune their mechanics during a DJ battle.
To wrap things up you pick out three stunts for your character and record three refresh. There are lots of stunts listed in Til Dawn and lots of guidelines for creating them in other Fate books. The ones provided are things like De-escalation (using Chill to suppress an enemy’s aspects), Flirty Bitch (options for making new flirt-related aspects with Shady), and Ice Queen (better defense against criticisms).
NPCs are slightly different than player characters, quicker to make and simpler to use. You choose three approaches for the NPC (one Good, one Fair, and one Average) and two aspects. Give them a name and you’re good to go! NPC squads are just as quick to pull together, especially when you get the emotional themes that the player characters represent and you choose the flipside for your NPC DJs. If they become regular opponents you can further refine them into something more.
Fans are another type of NPC that comes with even fewer game requirements. They don’t have mechanics, they just enter as story elements for the players to react to. Media are the same way, although they’re less likely to be interested in the characters themselves and more interested in the story that they can sell. Groupies and roadies can help a squad out with their show, providing bonuses as the GM sees fit.
The stories in Til Dawn are focused on social conflict and culture clash, though things can get physical as well. Characters don’t have stress tracks, just consequences. As soon as you’re hit with something there are mechanical effects, including if you decide to take the hit on your DJ skin so that it becomes damaged.
A big part of the story will involve relationships, and these are impacted by conditions too. Those relationships with other PCs that you came up with during character creation are a way to get favors from your squad and further the drama of the story. Players can always just agree to these favors but for drama’s sake you’re encouraged to roll from it. Failing a roll you can choose to succeed at a cost by making your relationship Awkward, then Strained, and then Not Speaking.
These conditions are removed with roleplaying steps and emotional challenges are a big part of the story. The GM has lots of different suggestions for emotionally powerful themes in your story, including a strong suggestion to create weird futuristic culture to serve as the story’s background. To flavor the story of Til Dawn in a way that feels like the media blitz world of DJ battles. A game session can start off with a one-on-one confessional where characters talk about their feelings and motivations, then scenes in and around the arena to establish the stakes. You get a little green room scene to set the stage and then it’s time for the DJ battle (see below) and then a debriefing scene after the battle. Things wrap up with another one-on-one opportunity for grudges to be established and gauntlets to be thrown.
The big scenes that will dominate the stories of your Til Dawn campaign are the DJ battles where the player characters face off against their opponents in epic battles of loud music and dancing bodies. Squads are ranked in the world and winning or losing a DJ battle will change that ranking for better or worse.
The higher-ranked squad picks what the approach will be and the GM puts a crowd token in the middle of the battle map (shown above). To battle, the squad picks out a DJ to perform and that character rolls that approach against the opposition’s DJ. The one with the higher result moves the token toward their stage and makes what’s effectively an attack on the other group. Winning this exchange earns your squad a victory point and the first squad to ten points wins the competition. You can also try to change the approach or otherwise shift the situation but this is the basics.
The venues that the battles take place in are both the scene of the mechanical exchange above and settings to roleplay in. They have aspects and some notable locations around for the scenes pre- and post-battle, as well as some venue stunts for use during the story. Never forget that this is a sci-fi setting with crazy, futuristic elements so there is a need to explore those crazy parts of Til Dawn.
This game is truly something different. It is a high stakes science-fiction with tons of drama and a really fun setting. The conflict system is both compelling and dynamic so you’d have to be really determined not to have fun to not be drawn into the story. Things are also pretty adaptable so your DJs and squads can be as silly, threatening, or fabulous as you like. This could be Zoolander or it could be Black Swan with turntables. It’s a great game that totally meets the expectations it sets. If you’re at all interested then I highly recommend it.