Topic: Horror Pt 1

jimlotfp wrote:

If you have any sort of sanity or fright mechanic that applies to player characters, your idea is already very bad. Throw it away and start over.

Jim, in this context, what's your opinion of special fear attacks, like that of a mummy, or result 61 on the Special Abilities table of your creature generator?

Can you draw a line, distinct or fuzzy, between fear attacks and fright mechanics?

To be clear, I'm in general agreement with your post, and not trying to "gotcha" or anything. Just sincerely interested in your perspective.

Re: Horror Pt 1

giantbat wrote:

Can you draw a line, distinct or fuzzy, between fear attacks and fright mechanics?

I see them as very distinct things.

I never use passive fear effects like that of a mummy or a dragon (referring to the AD&D mechanics for both right now), for instance. I do find it weird that the dragon fear works two ways (one way is automatic flight, the other way is either flight or paralyzed with fear), and the mummy fear is just the too frightened to move variety.

But why a mummy is somehow more frightening than a zombie or ghoul or wight, I don't know. That a 0 level guy that sees a dragon is going to run for a minimum of forty minutes, and a maximum of FOUR STRAIGHT HOURS, is just silly.

Active magical abilities and flat-out psychic assaults (I use this in Death Frost Doom) are a different matter, I think.

Sanity and Fright systems seem to confuse different things, and to me seem to just be a hammer that games use to enforce genre and force players to "role-play properly." CoC seems to think that being exposed to the true nature of the universe and dealing with monsters and magic leads to the same thing as dealing with mundane horrors that any emergency services personnel might encounter on a bad day.

If it was merely some sort of "Keep Your Cool" characteristic to prevent a mild-mannered accountant from reacting to situations the same way as a twenty year police veteran, that's one thing, but a characters' "Cool" should improve drastically on each contact - that mild-mannered accountant isn't going to be bothered at the end of a rough night by the same thing that freaked him out to start the night.

Same thing with the supernatural and magic and such. The idea that humanity is in its little shell, ignorant of the real truth of the universe and the forces that control it. The tearing of that veil might be stressful, but once you realize the Necronomicon isn't making all of that up, what further mental breaks are there? Seeing your first monster?

In either case, I think that the lowering of the "mental hit points" would mean a character staying more in control as their normal lives as shattered. The "insanity" is built-in to the role-playing experience... PCs dealing the magic and cultists and monsters are going to seem eccentric at best, and most likely absolutely batshit insane to the man on the street, what with their propensity for violence, paranoia, belief in impossible things. No need for a mechanic.

Two SAN 0 characters from fiction: Jack Bauer and Ashley J. Williams.

Re: Horror Pt 1

For those interested, I took the comments James made about horror and sanity, and I used them as a springboard for a write-up on my blog. Reading over the blog comments, most people seemed to either be totally against his opinion, or totally backing it up. I think I come in somewhere in the middle.

James, thanks for posting on the subject in the first place. It made me rethink the way I was approaching horror and sanity in my games, and in the end I am a better game master for it.

Here is the blog post.


Re: Horror Pt 1

Sorry to necro this thread, but I've been catching up on the blog, and I just read the post quoted.

Has anyone seen the Unknown Armies Stress system?  (Summarized in )  Its advantage is that characters can become hardened to terrifying things as well as develop neurotic fears.  It also tracks multiple sources of trauma, from violence to the supernatural to moral compromise.  Opinions?

Horror games do need additional mechanics for fear effects, for the same reason they need mechanics for wounds: a bunch of people sitting around a table won't react the same way as real people in those actual situations.  (People who have never suffered from depression, PTSD, or phobias sometimes underestimate their effects.)  Existing D&D mechanics and spell-like effects work to some extent (e.g. the Fear spell), but in a vaguely realistic game with significant amounts of horror, somehow players and GMs need to represent cumulative effect on the psyche.  In a pulpy swords and sorcery campaign where everyone is as hardened as Conan, not so much.

Frank Mitchell
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." -- Anatole France