... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do Sanity Mechanics Suck?

Over at LotFP is a post about handling horror in fantasy RPGs. James Raggi raise an interesting criticism of sanity mechanics: NPCs can be overcome by horror, but don't take control of a PC as a result of a failed sanity roll, and certainly don't have PCs frightened by stuff they normally would just fight.

Now, the last part is pretty solid advice, but there may be a problem with PCs never feeling the effects of fear unless the players choose to. There is a Cause Fear spell, after all. The main problem with sanity rolls, as I see it, is player resistance to being told how their characters react. Players accept the risk of death, and should, logically, also accept the risk of fear. But how can you implement this without taking over player characters?

Maybe make fear results beneficial, so that players might opt to choose fear?

A quick fix would be to allow a panic bonus: if a player opts to be panicked, the character can run at triple speed away from danger, but risks fatigue damage from the exertion. Simple. No one is being forced to do anything, but a player now has an incentive to choose panic. Likewise, you could allow a "paralyzed with fear" bonus: paralysed characters would get some kind of bonus against being physically forced closer to the object of their fear and may even be partially or wholly immune to hypnotic/magical commands to move closer, but the character must make a save to regain the ability to attack or take other action.

I have another idea on this, which I'll save for another post.


  1. I disagree that fear/sanity forces player action any more than hold person, charm, paralysis, confusion, sleep, curses, alignment changes, and heaps of other spells/effects.

    When a character dies it is taken away from the player, maybe to be returned if they are raised. Same for insanity, character is taken away from the player, maybe to be returned if they are de-crazied.

    If your game-style rules out / avoids player death then it should also rule out insanity for the same reasons. And your beneficial fear ideas are a good fit/idea.

  2. I like your positive twist on this concept, though ultimately, for me, rules for insanity are just one step further than I want to go. I like things pretty damn rules-lite so I just don't see myself screwing with stuff like this. Plus, like Raggi, philosophically I may be in the "just scare them" camp. Thanks for the new interpretation here, though!

  3. @Carter: I like things rules lite, too, which is why I think of this as a pattern for improvised forms of insanity, rather than a plan to definitively list all kinds of insanity. Actually, it's just an application of the general pattern of labels, so it's semi-freeform.

    @Norman: I'd say that not all those things (hold person, charm, paralysis, confusion, alignment change) are the same kinds of things. Some are pure effects, like the effect of falling into a pit: they change what your character can do, but you can still react to it. Others are pure behavior controls, with someone else taking control of your character and making him act in specific ways. And some are somewhere in between. Some DMs dump the pure behavior controls or exempt the PCs from them. Some convert mixed behaviors/effects into effects. That's basically what this suggestion does.

    I have another suggestion which addresses the death/insanity comparison directly.