For some time, particularly when considering ongoing campaigns in Call of Cthuhu, I’ve been wondering about handling Sanity in a different way. I have a deck of Insanity cards that make a great alternative to how SAN works. (Unfortunately no longer available) These give players a choice of madness – such as Anger, Fear, Obsession, etc that builds as you gain more cards. While this can be used for campaigns, I feel they work best in one-off or short term games of traditional Mythos adventuring.
In a “normal” CoC game you can regain SAN for a successful adventure, but its generally a down-ward spiral into complete madness, assuming you actually live that long. In a game where there may be more unusual or occult connections, than actual mind-blowing Cthulhu Mythos, I want a structure that does something similar to SAN, but with perhaps more temporary symptoms/effects, so I’ve been internet surfing and reading.
Stress exists in the Alien RPG. Gaining stress dice gives you more dice to roll (greater chance of success) but rolling a 1 on a Stress die means you make a panic roll.
Uncounted Worlds (Vol 2, 2011) has an article on Stress replacing Sanity in BRP (Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing) and Call of Cthulhu; “a system where characters reach debilitating levels of psychological shock fairly quickly, but recover faster, and with fewer permanent scars.” It’s slightly complicated: Max Stress = POW+CON, a Stress roll is trying to get < 2 x Max Stress, and symptoms/penalties for being Shaken, Traumatised, or Fractured apply once your Stress is negative.
I’ve mostly run with these two ideas to come up with the following:
Base Stress = 100 – (5xPOW).
Adjustments: -10 if Age is ≤ 20, -5 if ≤ 25; -5 if INT or EDU > POW, -10 if both > POW; +10 if fought in WW1. Minimum of 30 for starting characters.
Any encounter that would cause stress to a character results in a Stress roll. Failure when d% roll is ≤ current Stress, which adds to current Stress in amounts similar to SAN loss in CoC rules, or a d4, d6, or d8 roll as determined by the Keeper. Gaining 5+ stress from one roll, rolling 00-09 (critical failure) or hitting 80, or 90 current Stress results in drawing either a Insanity card or a Stress card. Uneventful days or an undisturbed/comfortable nights sleep restores either POW or 2d6+4 Stress.
Stress cards have titles like: Adrenaline, Anger, Confused, Dazed, Distracted, Fascinated, Fear, Focused, Hysteria, Shaken, Stunned, Weakness. Most apply minor penalties to rolls, or restrict/dictate actions, etc, but some (Anger, Focused) give you a bonus. All have effects that occur for a number or turns/minutes.
At the end of an adventure, current Stress is reset to the base value. Insanity cards are returned. Successful completion may award a roll to decrease base Stress, and anyone who played more than one Insanity card adds +1d6 to their base Stress.
At this stage I’m not sure whether to use the Insanity cards for very disturbing stress events (or hitting 80 or 90), or allowing players the choice between cards. Insanity cards are mostly role-play hints with a possible Stress increase at the end of the adventure, while Stress cards are usually a temporary penalty. I’m also considering whether a player who had multiple Insanity cards records the base effect of one of those effects on their character sheet.
In other news, I received my Witcher: Old World board game last week, so I now have 19 new figures to paint! A future post should be on the game itself. My wife and I have played the basic game twice now, and are really enjoying it.