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 Horror and Sanity

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Join date : 2010-08-10

PostSubject: Horror and Sanity   Thu Sep 09, 2010 2:42 pm

Sanity in the World of Darkness
In order to give the horror some bite, there should be game mechanic that aptly illustrates how such horrors corrupt, break down and destroy the characters' minds...

Although all of White Wolf’s World of Darkness games have horrifying things in them, none of them really take advantage of it through eventual loss of the character due to it. The potential for true, mind-numbing horror exists in every game, yes, but that horror is often more of a roleplaying matter that may be glossed over or ignored. In order to give the horror some bite, there should be game mechanic that aptly illustrates how such horrors corrupt, break down and destroy the characters’ minds.
Vampires, Mummies and normal humans are in danger of losing Humanity, but Humanity is not really sanity; it would be hard to have a person with a low Humanity who could be judged totally sane, though such a thing may be possible, but one could very easily have a very humane person who is totally insane by medical standards -- just crazy in a way that isn’tinhumane, destructive or bestial. We must also recognize that the other WOD games don’t have Humanity, either: Mages, Changelings, Werewolves and Wraiths aren’t concerned with it as a game mechanic.
So how can we have WOD games where horror has some real consequences to the game mechanics, and one that will help foster the roleplaying of dealing with that horror? One possible solution is to create a Sanity score, and one way to do this is listed here. It borrows ideas from the sanity system from Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG (1), and adapts them for WOD’s game mechanics: Storytellers should adapt or adopt them as they see fit, if at all.
Please note that these are general rules, and do not take the complexities of the various White Wolf game systems into full account: later additions will accomplish this, but for now the system is good for mortal, "hunters hunted" chronicles (Not Hunter: The Reckoning -- that will also have to have its own addition.)
Also note that it has been done for the purposes of bringing the so-called "Cthulhu Mythos"into the World of Darkness’ game systems, and, as a result of this, makes mention of it in a few spots in the rule mechanics. If you do not wish to sully the waters of your chronicle with Hastur the Unspeakable, or whatever, then simply remove all references to "mythos"from the rules and proceed as normal.

Sanity, for WOD purposes, is a ten-dot score in which a Current Sanity Pool is marked and the Base Sanity is indicated. It’s a lot like Temporary Willpower in that it will go up and down a lot during the course of play. Sanity is derived from the character’s starting Permanent Willpower rating at character creation; Sanity cannot be increased with freebie points, nor bought up with experience later on.
Blacken in the dots from left to right, as usual: this is the Current Sanity. The dot where Current Sanity ends -- equal in number to that character’s Permanent Willpower -- should be circled or otherwise noted as this will be the character Base Sanity. At creation, Current Sanity and Base Sanity will be one in the same.
Base Sanity, unlike Current Sanity, will never change: a character who started out with a Base Sanity of 7 will always have a Base Sanity of 7. Current Sanity can go up or down, of course, but can never go up higher than the character’s Permanent Willpower. Since Permanent Willpower can be increased with experience there is the chance that Current Sanity may go higher than Base Sanity.
However, whenever the character takes points in the Mythos Lore Knowledge, for every dot in Mythos Lore that a character has, a dot of the Sanity score is crossed out and can never be used for Current Sanity ever again. This crossing out goes from right to left, usually destroying potential places for Current Sanity before it ever gets to Base Sanity or Current Sanity. This is done to represent the mind-shattering nature of the Mythos.
Current Sanity Loss:
Current Sanity is lost whenever:
*A character fails a Sanity Roll.
*A character learns of the Mythos, and this is in addition to whatever else may be lost by taking points in Mythos Lore.
*A character uses Mythos Magic.
Current Sanity Gain:
Current Sanity is gained back whenever:
*A character succeeds in a Sanity Gain roll, most of which are awarded for Storytellers awards for a job well done, destroying entities who can cause Sanity Loss, or else defeating their plans, or those of their henchmen. If Permanent Willpower is higher than Base Sanity, then Current Sanity can go over Base and will stop at the last dot of Permanent Willpower.
*Successful Psychoanalysis is performed upon the character. Every month’s worth of successful Psychoanalysis gives one dice per success scored by the Psychoanalyst. However, such gains can never go over the Base Sanity.
*A character achieves up to the 4th dot in any Talent, Skill or Knowledge: this is cause for a Sanity Gain roll of three dice. If Permanent Willpower is higher than Base Sanity, then Current Sanity can go over Base and will stop at the last dot of Permanent Willpower.
There is also another, optional method: any time the character regains a point of Temporary Willpower by fulfilling an archetype’s goals, there is a chance that the player can make a
roll to see if the character’s Current Sanity is increased. The willpower point just gained must be sacrificed, and the player must roll her character’s Temporary Willpower against a difficulty of the character’s Current Sanity. 1’s cancel successes, as always.
A success means that the Current Sanity is increased by one, but no more than one dot of Current Sanity can be increased per roll in this method. Failure means the willpower point was wasted, and a botch means that another point of Current Sanity has been lost. Any such gains can never go over the Base Sanity.

Sanity Factor
Any entity or situation that might call for a Sanity Roll will have a score known as a Sanity Factor. This is notated as X/Y, with X being the number of dice the Storyteller rolls if the Player succeeds in the Sanity Roll, and Y being both the difficulty of the roll and the number of dice the Storyteller rolls if the Player fails.
For most low-level situations or entities, X will often be zero. For some more grotesque
things, X could go up to two or three dice. Y could go as high as ten dice in some cases.
Also note that there are some situations and entities where, no matter how well a
Character’s player rolls on the Sanity Roll, at least one level of Current Sanity will be lost. This is for the worst and most horrifying of things, which are, thankfully, rare and hardly-ever encountered. Any situation or entity like this will have this automatic loss noted in the Sanity Factor.
Sanity Rolls
Any time the character is presented with a situation with the potential to shake her sanity, the character must make a Sanity Roll. This is a three-step process
Step 1: The Storyteller should check the Sanity Factor for the entity or situation encountered, and then call for the roll. The Player involved rolls a number of dice
equal to her Current Sanity, with the difficulty being whatever is called for in the Sanity Factor.
If the player succeeds in Step 1, then the character has succeeded, and will only have to go step 2 if the X in the Sanity Factor is not zero. In those cases where player succeeds, but Current Sanity is lost no matter what, deduct the point and go directly to Step 3. If the player failed, then he will have to go to step 2.

Step 2: The Storyteller gets out a number of dice equal to the X or Y of the entity or situation’s Sanity Factor: this will usually be the Y when a character fails Step 1, but there are cases where X can cause Sanity Loss, too. She then rolls against a difficulty of the character’s Current Sanity.
Each success scored removes one dot of Current Sanity . Any 1’s rolled cancel out successes, and, as with Step 1, this roll cannot be botched, only failed. This may lead to the character being Shaken, Insane or Permanently Insane, and must be resolved in Step 3.
Step 3: If the source of the Sanity Roll was not Mythos related, the player should make a straight Wits roll. If it was Mythos related, then the player should make a Wits + Mythos Lore roll. Both rolls are made at a difficulty of 6.
*If the roll fails, then no matter how many points of Current Sanity were lost the Character is just fine, unless the Current Sanity went to zero, at which point the character is Permanently Insane.
*If the roll succeeds, then the character understands what’s going on, and will be subject to the following:
Sanity State Table
Base Sanity 1 - 5: -1 Current Sanity = Shaken; -2 or more Current Sanity = Insane; - all Current Sanity = Permanently Insane
Base Sanity 6 - 10: -1 Current Sanity = Sane; -2 Current Sanity = Shaken; -3 or more Current Sanity = Insane; - all Current Sanity = Permanently Insane
Sanity States
There are four states that a character will find herself in at any given time: Sane, Shaken, Insane and Permanently Insane.
Sane characters are just fine. They may have Derangements of one form or another, and may start the game with one, but for the most part they’re pretty much okay in terms of Sanity.
A character can become Shaken if her player loses too many points of Current Sanity and succeeds in a Wits or Wits + Mythos Lore roll. A Shaken character loses as many dice as she lost from her Current Sanity from all pools except those directly relating to fight or flight. This lasts for a number of Turns equal to the Y in the Sanity Factor for the entity or situation that caused the Sanity Roll, minus the Character’s Base Sanity. In cases where this equation produces a result of zero or a negative number, then the character is Shaken for only one Turn.
A character will go Insane if her player succeeds in a Wits or Wits + Mythos Lore roll, and has lost enough Current Sanity to drive them Insane according to the Sanity State Table. Insane characters are Insane for a number of months equal to the Y in the Sanity Factor for the entity or situation that causes the Sanity Roll, minus the Character’s Base Sanity. As with Shaken characters, a result of zero or less means that the Character is insane for one month.
But the fun is not over there! Insane characters gain a Derangement of some sort, usually in reaction to whatever caused the Sanity loss. They also lose a number of dice equal to however many successes the Storyteller got in the Sanity Roll, and this loss is applied to any appropriate Physical, Mental or Social rolls made during the period of Insanity.
Appropriate rolls are those that conflict with the nature of the Derangement, or are complicated by its symptoms. Once the period of Insanity is over the Derangement is still there, but the dice roll penalty is no longer there; the Derangement becomes a matter of roleplaying until it is worked off, if ever. The Storyteller may wish to have the pool reduction go away gradually, or all at once, depending on its severity, the sort of mental care given, etc.

Example: Barney finds out that his mother, father and best buddy were all taken over by Ye Liveliest Awfulness. Dealing with them all cost him big and, due to a roll where the Storyteller got four successes and he made his Wits + Mythos Lore roll, he has gone Insane for two months (Y was six, and his Base Sanity is 4). The Storyteller decides that Paranoia is an appropriate Derangement, so, for two months, any Social roll that Barney’s player makes is at minus four dice, any attempt for Barney to realize that his friends aren’t out to get him is also at minus four dice, and so on. After two months the dice pool reduction is gone, but the derangement remains until worked off in the traditional manner.
Permanent Insanity is usually just that: permanent. This happens when a character’s Current Sanity dips down to zero or less. At this point, the character is either too messed in the head to be played, or has gone over to the Mythos, or whatever. In either case, the Permanently Insane character should be surrendered to the Storyteller much like one would a Vampire lost to the Beast.
Storytellers can, if they wish to, say that Permanent Insanity caused by non-mythos sources can eventually be recovered from. This takes some of the horror out of the notion, though: if such a life-line exists some players might try to take full advantage of it. At any rate, it’s recommended that mythos-related Permanent Insanity, as well as some sorts of non-Mythos sources (other Deep Umbral nasties, run-ins with the Nephandi, etc.) be as permanent as the name suggests.
Sanity Gain Rolls
Just as Current Sanity can be lost by a die roll, it can be regained as well: this is done with a Sanity Gain Roll.
The players are given a certain number of dice to roll, depending on what the occasion calls for. These dice should be rolled one at a time, and the target number is below the character’s Current Sanity. Each die that comes up less than or equal to that number grants one dot in Current Sanity, and the next die’s roll will have to be less than or equal to the new number, and so on. This roll cannot be botched, only failed, and Willpower cannot be spent on this roll.
Astute Storytellers will note that this means it is much harder to regain Current Sanity when one’s Current Sanity is low, and easier to do so when it is high. This is done to illustrate how hard it is to drag oneself out of madness once one it in it: kinder Storytellers may wish to reverse this state, making it easier to pull oneself back from the brink but harder to get further back up the mountain.
Example: Barney is down to three Current Sanity after a Story. His player’s Storyteller decides that the Troupe’s efforts are worth a Sanity Gain Roll of three dice, so his player rolls the dice, one right after the other. The first one comes up 3, so Barney’s Current Sanity is now at four and the target number for the next one is four. The second one comes up 1, which is also a success, and the Current Sanity, and target number for the next roll, are both five. This time Barney’s player rolls a 7, which is a failure.
The Storyteller can call for a Sanity Gain Roll any time she feels it is appropriate, though they are usually given when:
*The Characters have defeated or destroyed an entity that had the potential to cause sanity loss, or have defeated or destroyed the pawns of that entity. The Sanity Gain Roll’s dice pool is usually equal to the maximum number of dice the characters stood to lose (the Y in the Sanity Factor)
*The Characters have come to the end of a story, or Chronicle, that had the potential to cause sanity loss, and have succeeded, at least partially, in what they were trying to do. (Conversely: failure may be cause for a Sanity Roll, especially if failure to act or succeed causes more damage) The Sanity Gain Roll for the end of the Chronicle is usually greater than one made for a Story’s end, and it should be proportional to what was done: dealing with a malevolent ghost in a haunted house might be worth one or two dice, while stopping the construction of a Hive, or the summoning of Azathoth, could be worth ten.
*Non-game time (downtime) spent could be cause for a small Sanity Gain Roll as the characters rest, recuperate and return to their normal (un)lives.
Characters who are Insane can always make Sanity Gain Rolls, but this will not decrease the time spent Insane unless the successes rolled thus far have taken the Current Sanity up to its maximum (that is, up to maximum Permanent Willpower), and there are more dice left over. If such a possibility should occur, then have the player continue rolling dice with the maximum number being the target to get under or equal to. Each success past this reduces the time spent Insane by one month. This can never reduce the time to less than one month, though, and will not reduce dice pool minuses during that time, nor get rid of Derangements.
Turn now to Barney’s friend Shiela. She’s got a Base Sanity of three, a Permanent Willpower of three, and she’s down to one dot of Current Sanity. She’s gone Insane for three months, suffering from Arachnaphobia and a two dice pool reduction on any appropriate rolls after a run-in with a horde of hungry goblin spiders. However, she killed the damn things in the end, so her Storyteller lets her roll six dice (same amount as the Y in the Sanity Factor. She rolls two successes, which take her up to her Base Sanity, but she still has four dice left over. So, in this case, the Storyteller lets her player roll the other four, trying to get scores of three or lower, to lessen the time spent Insane. She gets two successes from this roll, which has lowered her Insanity’s duration to one month -- note that had her player rolled three or four successes, Shiela would still have to spend at least one month Insane because that is the minimum.
Getting Used to It All
After a time, repetitive sightings of the same sort of thing lose their horror: the first time an Elder Thing is seen in a story, a Sanity Roll is called for, of course, but after a few times of dealing with them in the same story the horror is lessened, if not absent altogether.
To simulate this, it’s suggested that a character should never lose more Current Sanity points total than the Y from the Sanity Factor for any one type of entity or situation in any one story. So if Jerry runs across something that has a Y of six, and if he loses up to six Current Sanity in one story from those things, he should not have to make any Sanity Rolls for it for the rest of the story. However, if he runs into the entity that those somethings were trying to call up from beyond, he’s better get his Current Sanity dice out and pray..
After long-term exposure to any one situation or entity, the Storyteller has the option of saying that a character is immune to further Current Sanity loss from dealing with it.This should never be the case with Mythos Magic. Using it should always have the potential to cause a loss of Sanity, regardless of how many times the character has used "Summon Bog Monster" in the past. After a time, the character might be immune to Sanity Loss from seeing the Bog Monster, but the act of calling it forth should always be a surreal thing that breaks down the barriers of reality as it is understood.
Entity Schedules
Some creatures, by their nature, may not be as horrified by the sorts of things that mortals may be horrified by. An ordinary man, when encountering a Deep One, might want to run in fear, while a Vampire might just think it’s an ugly creature. On the other hand, both the mortal AND the Vampire would want to run in fear from a Garou in Crinos form, or a Hunting Horror. To keep some track of what should be scared by who, and vice versa, we present the Entity Schedules.
The Entity Schedules work on the idea of comparative horror. Any playable sort of character within a certain Schedule is immune to sanity losses caused by seeing something else inside that Schedule, or below it. This will be true in most cases, but there may be exceptions: truly frightening members of that certain species (like vampires with the "Monstrous" flaw) could be cause for a Sanity Roll at the Storyteller’s discretion. However, anything in an Entity Schedule higher that the creature’s own WILL be cause for a Sanity Roll.
Some level of recognition should also take place. If a mortal sees a vampire at a club, but does not know the vampire is a vampire, he will not have to make a Sanity Roll until the vampire bares its fangs and attacks, gets caught feeding on someone else, or does something that is too far above human norms to be accounted for (lifting a car and throwing it at someone half a block away). Also, the American vampire might not be frightened by the silly, old country vampire until it turns into a Zulo, at which point the roll becomes needed.
For Example: Bob is a mortal. Bob goes to a party and gets hit on by a rather cute lady, who just happens to be a Ventrue with a taste for his kind of man. She gets him to the back of the club and drinks from him, and he’s so enraptured by the kiss he doesn’t know anything’s going on. After she’s had her fun, she Dominates him and sends him on his way, and he’s none the wiser. No Sanity Rolls are called for.
Bob goes to another party, and Bob gets attacked by the lady vampire’s jealous Brujah boyfriend, who’s all fangs and claws. As Bob’s in Schedule 0, and the Brujah’s in Schedule 1, this is cause for a Sanity Roll. Just Bob’s luck, the bastard decides to embrace him and use him for a whipping boy.
A year later, after his nature as a vampire has sunk in, Bob’s at another party and sees some weird-ass vampire. This vampire bares his fangs and attacks Bob but Bob is now in the same Schedule as the other lick, and doesn’t need to make a Sanity Roll anymore. After a few turns the other vampire uses a certain discipline we don’t like to talk about to attain Zulo form, which is in Schedule 2. So Bob DOES have to make a Sanity Roll, and this is now the least of his worries, anyway...
Schedule 0:

* Fae (most Kiths)
* Ghouls (vampiric)
* Humans
* Nyarlathotep (less weird, human forms)
* Risen (less grotesque ones)
* Tawil At Umr (Yog Sothoth Avatar)

Schedule 1:

* Animated Corpses
* Bunyips
* Byakhee
* Chaugnar Faughn (when inert)
* Color out of Space
* Cthonians (small ones)
* Deep Ones
* Dimensional Shamblers
* Garou in Hispo
* Ghouls (not the Vampiric kind)
* Great Race of Yith (bug form)
* Grotesque-looking Risen
* Insects from Shaggai
* Nightgaunts
* Nyarlathotep (in most humanoid forms)
* Redcaps (except for other Changelings)
* Sand Dwellers
* Serpent People
* Servants of Gl Laaki
* Sluagh (except for other Changelings)
* Spectres (Doppelgangers, other less-grotesque ones)
* Trolls (except for other Changelings)
* Vampires
* Wraiths (non-grotesque ones)
* Yig

Schedule 2:

* Atlach-Nacha
* Being from Xiclotl
* Chaugnar Faughn (active)
* Cthonians (large ones)
* Dark Young
* Elder Things
* Father Dagon or Mother Hydra
* Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua
* Garou in Crinos Form
* Great Race of Yith (cone form)
* Hounds of Tindalos
* Hunting Horrors
* King in Yellow (Avatar of Hastur, true form)
* Lloigor
* Malfeans (most once-born that have retained a humanoid appearance)
* Methuselahs (once identified as such, if it’s not obvious)
* Quachil Uttas
* Servants of the Outer Gods
* Spectres (nasty ones, especially Nephwracks)
* Star Vampire
* Tsathoggua
* Vampires in Zulo form
* Wraiths (really grotesque ones)
* Schedule 3
* Antidilluvian Vampires (really nasty ones, anyway)
* Cthonians (REALLY big ones)
* Cthugha
* Dholes
* Flying Polyps
* Glaaki
* Hypnos (true form)
* Lesser other Gods
* Malfans (The really bad and ugly ones; the Never Born)
* Nyogtha
* Shoggoths
* Shudde M’ell
* Star Spawn of Cthulhu
* Ubbo-Sathla
* Vohzd
* Y’golonac
* Yibb-Tstll
* Zhar
* Zoth-Ommog
* Schedule 4
* Azathoth
* Cthulhu
* Cyaegha
* Daoloth
* Deep Umbral Nasty Things
* Ghatanothoa
* Hastur the Unspeakable
* Ithaqua
* Nyarlathotep (howler at the moon form, various other nasty forms)
* Shub-Niggurath
* Yog-Sothoth (sphere form)

Mortals and Sanity
A mortal’s Sanity and Humanity are separate scores, but they do affect one another from time to time.
Mortals can have more Humanity than Sanity, and vice versa. But whenever a mortal’s player fails a Conscience roll and loses a point of Humanity from the character, the player must also make an abbreviated Sanity Roll against her character, rather than any situation or entity presented by the Storyteller.
The normal Sanity Roll sequence does not occur. The player rolls her character’s Current Sanity at a difficulty of ten minus however many points of Humanity are left. For example, if the character’s Humanity was 5, and is now 4, the difficulty for the Sanity Roll is 6: 10 - 4. Success means the character is fine, failure means that the character loses one dot of Current Sanity. This roll cannot be botched, only failed.
Also, mortals can go down to zero Humanity. When this happens, under the current rules, they bounce back up to one Humanity and gain a derangement from the experience. With the new Sanity rules here, this is still in effect: however, the player will also have to make a Sanity Roll at a difficulty of ten. If this is made, the character loses one Current Sanity, and if it is failed, the character loses two Current Sanity.
If a mortal ever goes permanently insane, she may be immune from Humanity’s constraints, or may still be bound to them, depending on how she went insane, or what the Storyteller has in mind. Another option is to say that mortals who had a Humanity above zero when they went permanently insane have the appearance of humanity and sanity, but hide their true natures under that diguise. Psychopaths are a good example of this. On the other hand, having zero humanity and zero sanity tends to lead to Sociopathy or bestial behavior that cannot be hidden at all.
Storytellers may, if they desire, allow players to retain characters with the appearance of sanity and humanity. They might also allow people to start characters off as such. However, this is akin to letting people play vampires on the Path of Evil Revelations: risky and often counterproductive. Without the constraints of Humanity, much less Sanity, the game loses a lot of its meaning.
Humanity Versus Sanity
In some cases, the Storyteller might not be sure whether to make characters roll Sanity or Humanity when faced with something horrible. If your character accidentally calls up something from beyond which eats Muncie, Illinois, is that Humanity or Sanity? Or both?
The best way to do this is to ask what role the character had in it. If the character has SEEN something, but has not knowingly participated in it, then a Sanity Roll should be made. If the character DID something, abut does not know that he caused it, then a Sanity Roll should be made NOW, and if the character ever finds out that he caused it a Humanity Roll may follow.
In cases where the character did something and KNOWS he did it, then the player should make a Humanity Roll for that character. What happens then is up to the Storyteller: in cases where the effects were bad, but small or at least localized, the possible loss of a dot of Humanity, followed by the possible loss of a dot of Current Sanity, may be enough. In the case of the eating of Muncie, Illinois, the Storyteller would be within her rights to say that a Sanity Roll -- perhaps one requiring an automatic loss -- will happen no matter what the player rolls for Humanity. The character might be able to rationalize what has happened, but could still be in danger from losing sanity from guilt, or horror, even if it takes her no further down the spiral to lower Humanity.
Loss of Humanity and Situations
It could be said that those of lower Humanity would be less likely to find some things worthy of their horror. The kindly old man (Humanity Cool who finds a horribly mutilated dead body should make a Sanity Roll, but what of the serial killer (Humanity 1) who lives to slaughter Chinese boys and eat their kidneys? If he’s elbow-deep in little bodies most of the time, then finding such a thing might not be cause for a Sanity Roll, especially if it just makes him hungry...
In these situations, Storytellers may wish to say that those of lower Humanity may not have to make rolls for situations that those of higher Humanity would have to. And, again, after a time of being knee-deep in such things, a character of higher Humanity might get used to such things and not need to make the Sanity Roll at all. And if that isn’t cause for a Conscience check when the realization hits, then what is?
In any case, Mythos-related Situations or Entities should always be one step beyond conventional horror, and treated accordingly. A serial killer who comes across one dead body may not care, nor may she care when she comes across the bodies of those killed to please some bloated vampire once she knows that vampires exist. But coming across the wreckage of a town fed to sate the hunger of Azathoth should be a Sanity Roll situation, especially when she realizes what’s happened...
(1) Petersen, Sandy, Lynn Willis et al, Call of Cthulhu, Ed. 5.1.1, Chaosium Publications: 1993. (This book remains the standard in excellent, easy to learn RPGs that deliver what they promise on the front cover.)
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