[A Dirty Job] Sanity mechanic help

A Dirty Job is the current title of the thing from that dungeon fever thread.

I'm having some trouble with the sanity mechanic. Here's what I want:

* Binary sanity: you're sane (enough to get by, anyway), or not.
* Some way of tracking how close you are getting to insane.
* Some way of deciding whether you get closer to insane upon experiencing something horrible.
* Some way of regaining sanity before you hit the breaking point.

Hitting the breaking point removes the character from the player's control. At that point, different things happen to him based on the character's class. For instance, a Cooler goes nuts, disconnects his Personal Refrigeration Unit, and cools ALL magic in a huge radius until his blood boils out of his ears. A Maddog goes all Friday the 13th on your ass, chasing you around the dungeon relentlessly and trying to kill you just for being alive. A Tattooist loses control of his magical tattoos, and they escape.
Basically, the point is that something bad happens, and the character is essentially removed from play permanently.

My main problem here is numbers. I have no idea how to express any of this in numbers (or some other method, whatever). I don't actually have any familiarity with sanity mechanics in other games.

The other thing is, how do you get it back? I'm hardpressed to think of something there, but it seems necessary, considering how harsh the results of insanity are.

Any ideas?



  • The Call of Cthulhu Sanity mechanic is now part of the SRD for D&D 3rd so available for use.
  • Ah, thanks! This should give me some ideas.
  • I don't mean to be flip, but it sounds like all your requirements are met by hit points, with zero indicating madness rather than death. If your entire game is about going crazy, there you go. If you need to track physical injury as well, have a parallel track.
  • I've done away with hitpoints for the physical damage track (instead you accumulate discrete injuries with specific mechanical effects), so I kinda thought it'd be a little lame to have just mental hitpoints for Sanity. But possibly I'm just too hard on myself.
  • Why don't you do the same thing for insanity. I find CoC Sanity meter to be the height of Yawn ("yay, a countdown to when we get to stop playing this lamo game"). But what you described for physical damage sounds way more interesting.

    Accumulate discrete bouts of madness with specific mechanical effects...yeah...that sounds more fun than a sanity meter to me.
  • Hm. Cool idea, but daunting.

    Anyone up for brainstorming? What are some discrete problems affecting your mental state that you can suffer while dungeoneering in a world sorta like ours but rundown and weird?
    And, if you wanna, what are specific mechanical effects that can occur? The system is task-based. It uses d20 rolls; roll high, but under your attribute (there are 5: HIT, SEE, THINK, MOVE, ENDURE; they range from 3 to 18, although less than 8 is unlikely). Bonuses and penalties are in the form of extra dice: rolling +1D means you roll 2 dice (the base die, and one extra) and take the best; rolling -1D means you roll 2 dice and take the worst.
    There's also a healthy dose of GM determinism. When something comes up that there's not a rule for, the GM can just decide it or call for an attribute roll (GM is required to abide by all dice results when dice are rolled). If there's already a rule for it, you follow the rule.

    Some obvious ones out of the way real quick:

    Panic: THINK -1D until you calm the fuck down. (Possibly on a THINK roll, or by being sedated, etc.)
    Worse Panic: (for suffering Panic twice before calming the fuck down) run away screaming until you calm the fuck down
    Worst Panic: (suffering Panic three times before calming the fuck down) stand inactive, paralyzed by your panic, until you calm the fuck down
  • For effects like that...

    Hesitation, Catatonia, Rage, Hallucination, Phobias
  • Also, here's the way death works:
    Certain injuries are described as "Fatal." This means they kill you right off the bat. F'rinstance, gettin' your head chopped off.

    Others are described as "Mortal." This means that you're in the process of dying, right now. Make ENDURE rolls every turn until your condition has been stabilized by medical attention (from a Croaker, Sawbones, Snake-Eater, or Hardcase), or you're dead.

    SO. To get to the point where your guy is totally cracked mentally, and getting the crazy dangerous effects I mentioned in the first post, we need to establish certain mental shocks as the mental equivalent of a fatal wound and/or a mortal wound. "Fatal" mental shocks should be extremely rare (and, of course, legitimately avoidable in-play), probably limited to things like watching Cthulhu take a dump.
  • ...and let's try coming at this from the other direction, which I think will be easier:


    ...you see someone die a sudden or gruesome death? What if he's your buddy? What if you did it to him?
    ...you cannibalize a person? What if he's your buddy?
    ...you stumble across a gruesome corpse and, like, accidentally put your hand in a puddle of goo that was recently his face? What if he's your buddy?
    ...you go really long without light?
    ...you go really long without sleep?
    ...you hear strange noises?
    ...you hear unearthly noises?
    ...you hear noises that are absolutely monstrous?
    ...you see a monster?
    ...you witness a mutilation? What if the victim is your buddy?
    ...you get mutilated yourself?

    ...and probably some other likely eventualities that I can't think of at the moment.
  • Are the 3 tiers (Panic, Worse Panic, Worst Panic) by design or just what you happened to think up.

    If by design then you're looking at things like?

    Nervous --> Anxious --> Panic
    Hesitation --> Frozen --> Catatonic
    Irritated --> Aggrevated --> Raging
    Hearing Things --> Seeing Things --> Delusional
  • Marshall, you already know the answer better than any of us can. In fact, I think you wrote it up exactly right two posts up. Presumably there's some mental equivalent of ENDURE, and failing the WILL roll against an UNSPEAKABLE thing sticks you with a temporary insanity (imposing whatever the equivalent of a -2 gave-up-the-high-ground penalty is in your system), whereas failing against YE LIVELIEST AWFULNESS splatters your mind all over the place and makes you unplayable, just as if you were dead. So what you want here is just to convene a usage panel, yeah? "Is seeing Cthulhu take a dump UNSPEAKABLE or YE LIVELIEST AWFULNESS? How about seeing Cthulhu taking a dump, backwards?"

    Aside: Ralph, some other time, if you'd like, I'd love to sell you on how the CoC Sanity mechanic is much more than a countdown - it's an elegant part of the system, it's a resource with Baker-ish escalation implications (will you risk 0/1 for your goals? 1/1d6? 1d10/1d100?), it's a pacing mechanic, it takes into account the size of chunks you lose, it ties that into the temp/indef insanity system, and it can even be used with a printed optional rule to represent hardening. But part of its elegance is that in CoC, SAN works kind of like HP and kind of like a skill, and that doesn't necessarily apply here.
  • The tiers were just something I happened to think of at the time. There's a similar thing in the damage track, "Bleeding" wounds, where if you stack up three then you're mortally wounded, but other than that it was just a thing that popped to mind. Basically because I need different effects for losing your cool so that you don't think as fast, running away screaming, and being frozen in panic.

    Perhaps a better thing would be to describe them, y'know, descriptively. As in:

    Lose Your Cool
    Run Away Screaming
    Freeze in Terror
    Go Apeshit
    Rave and Gibber
    Lose It Totally

    Perhaps I should just roll it from a chart, like the damage?
  • Colin,
    Well, the damage system is far more varied than that. "Fatal" and "Mortal" are just two of the many effects, which include Bleeding, Crippled (insert extremity here), Stun, KO, Knockdown, Armor Damage, and so forth. If I take this approach for sanity, I'd like the effects to be similarly varied.
  • edited May 2009
    I'm with Colin--I think you're already done, but for the naming:
    • A sword hit does FOO, and I suppose you have some kind of chart or roll/table for FOO, right?
    • So a "Shock" does BAR: another chart or roll/table.
    Shock Severity could follow the same scaling as your wounding system:
    • Physical Trauma:
      • Knockdown - 1 action to rise, or -1D to physical attacks and defense
      • Armor Damage - Reduce Armor Value (whatever) by X
      • Bleeding - -1D until treated; X turns before becoming Mortal; Y turns before becoming Fatal
      • Stun - X actions lost; no defense allowed
      • Knockout - Down for X turns; helpless
      • Mortal - Helpless; will become Mortal in X turns
      • Fatal - Instant death; make new guy
    • Mental Trauma:
      • Startled - Lose 1 action; -1D to defend
      • Upset - Reduce "Mental Toughness" (whatever) by X
      • Traumatized - -1D to HIT, SEE, and ENDURE until treated
      • Frozen - X actions lost; no defense allowed
      • Catatonic - Curled up in a ball for X turns; helpless
      • Psychotic - Helpless; raving looney
      • Lost - Become NPC; hideous effects ensue
    You know... or something like that. Basically a second track of "mental wounds" that are generated by shocks and horrors just like physical wounds are generated by blunt trauma and sharp, pointy objects. And as for the shocks and horrors:
    ...you see someone die a sudden or gruesome death? - Anything from disgust to nausea to PTSD. I've seen a guy bleed his brains out of his ears, and it didn't paralyze me but it definitely brought on some sobbing later and bad dreams. And, as with CoC, it probably diminishes with repetition: my aunt is an ER nurse, and I doubt she freaks out from ANYTHING less than a baby carrying its own dismembered foot with a heroin needle broken off in its arm.
    .....What if he's your buddy? - The above plus anything from sadness to extreme depression. Which reminds me that someone's relative "callousness" could seriously skew any "static" scale of mental trauma: a hard bastard might laugh at another person dieing, while a loving person would be far more traumatized. Perhaps you need another stat, similar to Willpower, or even something like an alignment system?
    .....What if you did it to him? - The above PLUS extremities of guilt, I'd imagine. Could lead to hallucinations ("No, Bob's not dead; he's standing RIGHT BESIDE ME!")
    ...you cannibalize a person? - Self-loathing, disgust, possible eating disorders down the road. Possible eventual psychosis or dissociative disorder.
    .....What if he's your buddy? - Above times about ten.
    ...you stumble across a gruesome corpse and, like, accidentally put your hand in a puddle of goo that was recently his face? - Probably a lesser "eww" factor than watching someone die violently before your eyes. Possible development of cleanliness obsessions (OCD; Lady MacBeth Syndrome).
    .....What if he's your buddy? - Above plus sadness and so forth. This "buddy" thing is important, eh?
    ...you go really long without light? - Nyctophobia.
    ...you go really long without sleep? - Plenty of research on this--Google it.
    ...you hear strange noises? - What-The-Fuck?-Phobia. Overactive imagination. Probably the most minor trauma so far, I'd suspect. Foreboding, maybe? Heebie-jeebies?
    ...you hear unearthly noises? - See above. Though I wonder just what an "unearthly noise" is, come to think of it. Mystified, probably? ("What the fuck was THAT noise?" "A washing machine overflowing Jell-O, I think.")
    ...you hear noises that are absolutely monstrous? - Aversion to terror: run screaming or stand and drool (hey, good point: have you read about Steel in Burning Wheel?).
    ...you see a monster? - First time: shit pants, fight or flight. Tenth time: analysis and cunning pleasure of the hunt.
    ...you witness a mutilation? - I'd say about the same as seeing a violent death, but prolonged and therefore more likely to really "stick in."
    .....What if the victim is your buddy? - Ditto, plus sadness or depression. Or extreme anger at the perpetrator (animate or not).
    .....you get mutilated yourself? - Horror waning down to self-pity (or self-loathing, if one feels "diminished" by or responsible for the mutilation). Rage against perpetrator.

    But I don't dig the approach, in general: there's WAY too many possible discrete events. Better if you approach them in some categorical, combinatorial, multi-axial manner, I think:
    • Destruction (severe wounds, torture, death, desecration) - Fear and loathing; disgust; sorrow; rage (VERY situational, actually, as I think about it)
    • Effluvia (blood, ichor, fecal matter, phlegm, mucus, ejecta) - Sliding scale of disgust and PTSD
    • Bonds (filial, familial, romantic, fraternal, friendship, amicable, stranger, rival, enemy) - Sliding scale of extreme sadness -> wicked glee (schadenfreude), depression, and guilt (even if you didn't do it--survivor's guilt)
    • Uncanniness (unnatural, disturbing, freakish, horrifying) - Anything from fear to aggression to disgusted fascination
    • Deprivation (sustenance, warmth, rest, light, comforts) - Anything from hallucinations to catatonia to murderous desperation or despair
    • Culpability - Sliding scale of guilt and depression, factored by degree of control you had over your (re)actions
    Then you can sort of "design" mental traumas as values on each scale of the above categories, with resultant combined/amplified mental debilitation. Just as a severe compound fracture of an arm will not only start to kill you but also make the arm useless; a freakish monster eating your friend's guts out while he still lives would combine high Uncanniness, Destruction, Effluvia, and Bonds into a cocktail of terror, rage, disgust, traumatic stress, and guilt.
  • Hmmm... and the higher the initial combined trauma, the longer-lasting its effects--with or without treatment--I should think. You can shake off a spine-chilling howl in the darkness; but you might spend your whole life with PTSD and hallucinations and even schizophrenia from seeing the situation I just described in the example.

    ...the more I try to unpack this, the more I am inclined to start Googling psychiatric classification schemes and diagnosis methodologies. Stimuli lead to discrete symptoms, which in toto define a disorder, right? Stimuli gives you the signal to test for mental trauma; symptoms emerge, adjust by the victim's mental toughness, experience, empathy, and other factors (some of my categories above); and the disorder bubbles out from the set of symptoms which the victim suffers, post-test(s).

    Yeah... you got some reading to do, I think. ;) Or just run with the ideas that came of my armchair psychology above.
  • Man. Great food for thought.

    Here's a thing I'm thinking about: taking some real psychological disorders -- ones that look like they'd really add to the game on both the Color and Challenge levels -- and giving 'em cool slangy names. Then making up some other ones, custom designed for game relevancy, and giving 'em cool slangy names.
Sign In or Register to comment.