Thursday, June 9, 2011

Insanity Rules

So, I'm interested in looking at examples of siple insanity rules for my next game.

These need to be of the old school sensibility.

I'm aware that insanity rules exist for other games, but I'm not really sure which games/examples would be worth looking reviewing.

Left to my own devices I'm thinking of using perhaps the wisdom or intelligence score as a base threshold. Characters start at zero and depending on the situation, circumstances, unwholesome things they are exposed to, a number accumulates over time leading to insanity (whatever ability score). Having said that, I'm open to alternatives.

Can anyone suggest insanity rules that I could use in an Old School D&D game?


  1. I'd suggest ability score damage (Int, Wis, and Cha).

    If an adventurer contemplates the alien geometry of the Hound of Tindalos's movement, they might be forced to save or gain 2-5 insanity points, which each pose a one point penalty to one of the three nonphysical attributes.

    The damage might be distributed as the player wishes, or as the DM wishes, depending on how you run your game.

  2. I'd suggest involuntary additions to Wisdom, using exploding dice (roll again and add on a maximum result) so nobody is safe.

    At WIS > 18 the victim possesses the Wisdom of the Gods - has eaten of the tree of knowledge - sees the crawling void beyond the stars - is thoroughly bughouse mad.

    Makes a great temptation for clerics. Or magic-users if you make the augmentation go to the higher mental stat. Also explains why dumb people are the most stable.

    Hell, this just makes sense for me.

  3. If you are using D&D or one of the retro-clones, I suggest using the spells that are already in the game to help emulate fear and insanity, and how it affects the characters. The saving throw system is there for a reason, so use it as the character's defense against these kinds of effects. I have a blog post on this very thing that explains more:

  4. I'm thinking a combination of using fear effects (etc) and saves but with each failed save adding (either from zero to say the characters WIS score, or from the WIS score to 18 or 20) resulting in insanity. IF that makes sense.

  5. I've got a set of optional sanity rules in the Adventures Dark and Deep Game Masters Toolkit (sortakinda loosely based on COC). Sanity is treated as another stat that starts as WISx5. Seeing or experiencing different reality-shattering things makes you make a SAN check; if you fail, it takes away from your sanity score. That way, the next time you need to make a check, you're less likely to make it; the ever-faster slide into madness. You hit certain thresholds and you're temporarily insane. You hit 0, and you're screwed.

  6. I really like Roger's idea of extra WIS/INT/CHA with anything exceeding 18 resulting in madness; it reinforces the alien-ness of individuals that close to the divine/the arcane/their own inner strength, and has a whole 'power corrupts' thing going on.

  7. I'm not sure if this is old school enough, but it should be simple to handle and do the trick.

    For horrific sights or events you do a appropriate save. If you fail, you suffer from a "confusion" or "groggy" status that give penalties e.g. to perception, fear saves and such things. If stay for some time, maybe 4 hours.

    If you fail a save while suffering from above status, you go temporarily insane, which implies more severe penalties or may even give bonuses. Maybe penalty to ac and bonus to attack or bonuses to saves against divine spells (BELIEVE!) and penalties for arcane spells (Logic? What?). this lasts until having one or two good nights of sleep.

    Failing hile suffering from the second status effect means you become really insane. This should disallow certain actions to do, making social interactions mostly almost impossible and require some kind of magic or ritual to recover. Or spending a month in the psychiatric clinic if such thing is available in your setting.

    Failing critically on a save means to omit one status and suffer directly form the next severe one. Like going temporarily insane from suffering from nothing at all.

    but I guess summed up it does not matter that much what system you use, as long as it is not totally screwed up. I think it's more important that the effects of insanty are interesting and not jsut simple penalties. That's where the fun comes in. But I personally don't have much inspiration there because I never really played Old School D&D, except for some horrorfying AD&D 2nd sessions ;)

  8. I think I'd like the players to roll more than one character to begin - with the idea that through fear effects etc their sanity will slowly deteriorate to the point where either the character will go insane or will need to spend sessions "resting" to regain/lost the accumulated sanity points (thus playing a second character). If you used WIS and went backwards there are already natural deleterious effects for a low ability score. Although I think I should have a table of descriptors (nervous tick, always sweating, bugged eyed, others?)

  9. Check out the sanity mechanic from Unknown Armies. The basics of it are that you have five ways to make sanity checks. Self, things having to do with how you view your self. So having a false memory would instigate a self check. Isolation, Helplessness, and Violence are pretty self explanatory. Last is Supernatural, seeing a skeleton rise from the grave would be a supernatural check.

    You keep track of these, and depending on if a player passes or fails on any given track. The more successes you have vs any given type of sanity check the more OK you are with the extremes of it. And the more failures you have the more afraid you are of that type.

    So lets say you have a character that has nine successes (in UA they only go up to ten, more on that in a second) vs violence and no checks at all vs helplessness. This character could do acts of violence that would break most people without any real threat to their current sanity, but has no real experience with being made helpless.

    As a character builds up more and more successes they become harder and harder in that aspect. A character with ten successes vs any given track is essentially immune to those checks from then on. But people can tell, the character has see so much they they still function, but have lost a bit of their humanity. And for failures, they start to develop psychosis based on the sanity they have failed at.

    I really like this model since you can have a character that is unshakable vs one type of horror, but very weak against another. The knight who can face down demons and strange magics with no problem, but who has been tortured (helplessness and probably isolation) and cannot handle the thought of going through that again.

  10. The sanity mechanic found in Unknown Armies is also used in NEMESIS: Roleplaying in Worlds of Horror, which is free and excellent by the way. I spent quite a lot of time playing and developing new material for NEMESIS when it was released. Here is the link for the free PDF: