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Home » The Dusk Before Dawn – RPG Journaling Review

The Dusk Before Dawn – RPG Journaling Review

In this solo journaling game, you are a member of a species in decline. Your world is changing and extinction is rampant. Not only are there environmental challenges abound, but to make matters worse a new apex species is on the rise. Time is running out for you and your kind, and the prospect of survival lessens with each lunar cycle.

Loneliness, perseverance, and survival are the main themes presented in The Dusk Before Dawn. As the world evolves into something no longer suited for you, finding safety and prosperity may seem like an impossible endeavor. However, as bleak as your future may be, the instinct to continue your existence pushes you forward against insurmountable odds.

– Description from author

Game Description

The Dusk Before Dawn is based on the Wretched system designed by Chris Bissette.

It uses:

  • A standard deck of 52 playing cards, with one joker set aside
  • A single six-sided die
  • A coin
  • A tumbling block tower (optional)
  • 10 tokens or counters

Like most Wretched games, your journal progresses until the tower falls.

Your deck of cards represents the challenges you face during your journey.

During setup, the standard deck is split into red and black piles.

The 6 sided dice determine how many cards are pulled for each round of play, and the coin flip decides if each card is drawn from the black or red piles.

How to Play

The game is divided into lunar cycles. Each cycle has two phases.

  • The Events
  • The Journal

The Events

Roll your die and remember the number you rolled.

If you are using two decks, flip a coin before pulling each card. For each heads, draw from the red deck. For each tails, draw from the black deck.

Keep the cards you have drawn face down. A low number means the cycle was uneventful, while a high number means it has been very busy.

Turn over the first card you drew and consult the tables of prompts. If the instructions ask you to do a specific thing, do it.

Continue turning over cards and consulting the instructions until your tasks are complete.

When you have completed all your tasks for the day, discard the cards you have used unless you are told otherwise.

The Journal

Take a moment to consider the events of the cycle:

– Your hardships.
– The successes.
– What keeps you awake at night.
– What inspires you to keep going.
– How you are feeling during all of this.

Record your journal entry for the cycle.

The Card Prompts

Each of the 52 cards has a unique prompt that relates to the face value, and the suit it belongs to.

Hearts are used to represent your species. Each of these cards will invoke memories of your tribe members and their beliefs about the universe.

Diamond cards relate to your own survival. Individual cards could be about getting rest, finding food, staying warm, suffering injuries, or dealing with mental health.

Clubs relate to your ability to adapt. These cards are about broken tools, new discoveries, and learning to overcome various difficulties or obstacles.

Finally, the Spades are cards that relate to the strangers form afar. The strangers carry out specific actions, leave things behind, or interact with you.

Note: I don't post actual prompts in my reviews. This is to protect the IP of the designer. You will need to buy the game to read the actual prompts.

What makes it different?

Dusk Before Dawn splits the 52 card deck into red and black piles before the game starts.

Instead of pulling cards from a common deck, a coin is flipped before each card is drawn to determine which pile it is picked from.

The Joker adds a level of unpredictability. When certain conditions are met, the joker is added to the pack to change the chances of winning or losing.

What I liked

The prompts are really well thought out and produce an interesting story. There is plenty of time to reflect and to get into the theme. But there is also enough action to keep you engaged.

What I didn’t like

I didn’t see the reason for the coin flip. A well shuffled deck of cards would give a similar outcome without the added confusion.

Overall Impression

The prompts are excellent and really invoke feelings of being the last of your kind. There are several cards that introduce unexpected twists into your journey.

Unlike some wretched games that only ask you how you feel about things, or what you see, many of the prompts in The Dusk Before Dawn initiate actions that make the story really interesting.

Even though the game is designed to take place 40,000 years ago during the Paleolithic era, the same cards could be applied in any time (past or future), and would work equally well in a fantasy or science fiction setting.



This game includes themes of fear, suspense, despair, violence, and death.

Read and play with caution, keeping in mind that you can take a break or stop completely at any time. Your mental health is important, and this is just a game.

This game is designed to make success very difficult and very unlikely. It is meant to be challenging and harrowing and emotional. If that doesn't sound fun to you, that's absolutely fine.

If you ever draw a card that makes you uncomfortable, or that you do not want to journal about for any reason, discard it and draw a different card.

Remember that you can change, ignore, rewrite or abandon any part of this game that you want.

The Wretched

This work is based on The Wretched, product of Chris Bissette and Loot The Room, and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

THE WRETCHED™ is a trademark of Chris Bissette. If you want to make your own game, the System Reference Document (SRD) can be downloaded from the Sealed Library page

How to get the Game

The Dusk Before Dawn was created by Overload Chris