John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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The Sanity Clause (You Don't Believe Insanity Clause?)

Per kesh's recommendation, I checked out the 4E Disease Track rules today for possible adaptation as a sanity mechanic. While I can see what they were going for, and it looks like a good mechanic, it doesn't really capture the kind of experience I'm looking for. But it did lead me to think about other possibilities for a sanity mechanic, and here's what I've come up with:

CoC-Style Sanity

This is the standard OGL Sanity mechanic, lifted straight from CoC and what I've currently adopted. Sanity starts at Wis x 5. When confronted with something horrific, roll d%:

Roll under SAN: Remain unfazed or take minimal SAN damage.
Roll over SAN: Lose SAN based on how horrible a thing you've seen.

If you lose (1/2 x Wis) SAN at once, you make a second Sanity Check. If you fail this roll, you've understood the horror confronting you and go temporarily insane for several rounds. If you succeed roll, you go into denial about the event and have only a hazy recollection of it at best.

If you lose 20% or more of your sanity in rapid succession, you become indefinitely insane for a period of weeks or months, probably removing that character from active play for a while.

When your SAN reaches 0, you go permanently insane.

Effect: Your overall sanity trickles away, losing a few points here and a few points there in an ever-worsening spiral. (Your lowered SAN makes it more likely that you will fail future Sanity checks and therefore lose more SAN.) Towards the climax of an adventure or campaign, as the horrors increase, it becomes harder to resist temporary or indefinite insanity, although most characters will probably retire before permanent insanity sets in. One downside is that using this in a d20 game introduces an aberrant "roll-under," percentile-based mechanic which is antithetical to the core d20/Saga design principles. (There's a reason most d20 variants do away with the "Arcane Spell Failure chance" mechanic.)

Sanity as Mental Hit Points

Characters start with 18, 24, or 30 Sanity Points + their Wis modifier and gain a d6, d8, or d10 "Sanity Die" every level. (They default to d6 and can improve this with feats.) Every time they encounter something horrible, they take "Sanity damage" as an attack vs. their Will defense. A low-level horror might do something like "+2 to hit, d6 damage," whereas something like seeing Cthulhu rise out of the depths might do "+20 to hit, 5d10 damage" or something like that. (The numbers will take crunching.) When the damage overcomes the "Sanity Threshhold" (probably based on Will def, the way damage threshhold is based on Fort defense), the character moves down a "Sanity track," starting at "Slightly Disoriented" which is comparable to the -1 step on the damage track, going all the way to "Comatose" at the -5 step or when they reach 0 sanity points.

Effect: This is nice and consistent with the already-existing SWSE rules and is not quite as binary as the "sane/not-sane" states of CoC-style sanity. On the other hand, unless sanity damage is persistent or has other long-term effects, this system loses some of the "creeping doom" effect of the classic SAN mechanic. Perhaps SAN is only regained when leveling-up? One problem with this is that it takes the dice-rolling out of the players' hands. Instead of actively making Sanity Checks, they're passively being told how much sanity damage they suffer.

Sanity as Wisdom Damage

This is similar to above, except that instead of losing SAN points, SAN loss is treated as damage to your Wisdom score, which will lower your Perception and other Wis-based skills as well as your Will defense. A low-level horror would do 1 point of Wis damage, while Cthulhu might do 3d6 or more. (Again, the numbers would have to be crunched.) Perhaps a "critical hit" by the insanity attack would cause temporary insanity. When your Wis reaches 0, you are indefinitely insane (until your Wis heals) and permanently lose 2 points of Wis. When your Wis is permanently reduced to 0, you are permanently insane.

Effect: As above, this is somewhat more consistent with the d20 system, although the general effort has been to move away from ability damage and towards conditions. This does incorporate the long-term spiral, although the permanent Wis loss and indefinite insanity should probably be more disconnected somehow. This system also has the problem of taking control (or pseudo-control, in the form of dice rolling) out of the players' hands as discussed above.

Sanity as Skill Check

It's kind of weird to think of "sanity" as a skill, but in this case I simply mean skill in the mechanical sense of the players attempt to beat a DC by rolling d20 and adding some bonus. In this particular case, it could be a Wis check, which would remain more or less static over the characters' careers, or it could be actually treated like a skill, where characters could be "trained" in Sanity and would get the standard +1/2 levels. The DC of a Sanity check would determine not only how tough it was to pass, but possibly also how much they lose, with a low-level horror having a DC of 10, and Cthulhu having a DC of 60. Failing a Sanity check by 5+ would cause temporary insanity, 10+ indefinite insanity, etc. As for what it is they actually lose, that could be either a CoC-style Sanity score, trips down the Sanity Track, or Wisdom damage, as above.

Effect: This mechanic gives the players back some control over their destiny (by letting them make the roll), but by itself is incomplete. It also not only fails to incorporate the downward spiral, it actually makes Sanity checks easier over time if it's treated like a regular skill. The DC that players will be rolling against is likely to keep going upward as they confront bigger, scarier things, which cancels that effect to some extent, but in the classic method the likelihood of insanity is determined purely by the character's state of mind, rather than by the sheer scariness of what they're seeing. (A CoC investigator with 75 San is just as likely to succeed their Sanity check when they see Cthulhu as they are when they see a dead rat. But if they fail — whoa!)

What Do YOU Think?

Which Sanity Mechanic Should Gneech Use?

Classic OGL (CoC-style) Sanity
Sanity as Mental Hit Points
Sanity as Wisdom Damage
Sanity as Skill Check
Other (I'll describe below...)
Ia! Cthulhu fthagn!

-The Gneech
Tags: gaming, uncanny midnight tales, yog-sothothery
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