Sanity in RPGs

We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.

– – H.P. Lovecraft

It’s spooky season so I thought I’d take a look at some of the “horror” games out there.  Specifically I will be talking about the fear/horror/insanity rules for a handful of games.

First off we have the Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium.  Might as well start with the classic.  Now in its 7th edition, and making its own additions to the Lovecraftian Mythos, it is the standard by which other games dealing with fear and insanity are measured against.

It’s a simple % based ruleset, and when you experience something that may affect your mental stability you make a SAN check.  Roll equal to or under your Sanity score on d% and you are good, you handle the event and can Keep Cool and Carry On.  You may lose a point or two for the egregious threats, but not much compared to what you lose if you fail the roll.  This is a downward spiral, each time you lose points it makes the next check that much harder with your now reduced Sanity.  A failed check, with the character losing self-control, allows the GM to make a call on what involuntary action the character takes.

There are different levels of insanity in CoC: Temporary, Indefinite, and Permanent.  As a character loses Sanity, they accumulate Phobias, Manias, Compulsions, or Amnesia.  There are Bouts of Madness, Delusions and Reality Checks, and psychoanalysis to regain Sanity,  Also, gaining Mythos Knowledge results in Sanity loss – the more you know about the Cosmic powers the looser your grip on the real world

In short, an entire minigame of dealing with Sanity loss.  It’s something I’ve never gotten into with great detail, my main exposure to Call of Cthulhu is one-shot games where the Sanity loss is played fast and loose for dramatic effect.  When Deep Ones are scaling your oil platform, therapy isn’t an option.

On the other end of the spectrum is Aliens & Asteroids.  Here you have a Morale score and when something freaky happens you make a morale check, if you fail the morale check you lose morale points.  Since the checks are your Morale score or less, losing points means you are more likely to fail and lose even more points.  When you fail your first check, you are Shaken and suffer disadvantage to your actions.  Then, when your Morale Points drop to 1, you become Panicked with possibility of Freeze/Fight/Flight.  Each round after you become Shaken you need to make another moral check: success and you shake off the Shaken effect, fail and you lose more points.

Dice Goblin – all the more

I have a previous post about dice, but thought I’d make another, This time to talk about the wonderous explosion of hand made art dice that has been spawned by the mainstreaming of TableTop RPGs.

Confession time: I’m a Dice Goblin, and I’ve infected others with the fever.
The Dice Goblin Mantra – the shiny math rocks make click-clack sound. Needs the more. All the more.

My gaming didn’t start out with dice, my first D&D boxed set was the print run where they ran out of dice to include, instead I got numbered chits to cut out and randomly draw from a cup. Living in the edge of Appalachia there was no dice to be had. Luckily my grandmother lived in Dayton, Ohio and there was a game store that carried them. I will forever be in my grandmother’s debt for my first set of polyhedrals. Shortly there after I picked up the Gamma World boxed set and it had dice. Both my first set and the GW set were, by any standards, pretty crappy dice. I still have them, but the plastic has deteriorated and they are ugly as sin. TSR later provided sets with their box sets and you had to fill in the numbers with crayon. Still, in my youthful mind they were beautiful.

For a quick fix for your dice goblin heart there are sellers on Amazon that can get you a bag full of nice sets for not a lot of money, pretty, but not necessarily the prettiest, but good for extras to loan out. But the true dice goblin must have a set or two of the specially crafted shinys. Metal, wood, sharp edged, hand made, liquid core, with everything from gold foil to rubber duckies included, the art of dice has taken a myriad of directions in recent years. Etsy is full of people selling beauties and the prices can be down right reasonable. Some, like Crystal Maggie, source their dice from China, so that might be an issue to consider. I have bought from Crystal Maggie and my purchases have been quality product, though they take a little longer to ship. Elsewhere on the internet are the purveyors that raise the humble dice set to staggering heights, along with prices that wound. Fans eagerly await the next release of stock into the wild and they sell out quickly. New dice sets are lovingly produced and some of the reputable artists even auction them off,

Making resin dice looks deceptively simple, I got a set of molds and gave it a try, the results were less than spectacular. Less than serviceable would be a better description. Resin can be a pain to mix in small doses, the smaller amounts are less forgiving in the mix. For truly professional looking dice without bubbles I hear that having a pressure pot can make the difference. Resin dice are usually a bit lighter than the old reliable acrylics like you get from Chessex but well within the “good feel” range.

I’d recommend rolling your special shinys on a dice tray or even just a mousepad to protect them. I’ve not had any issues, but one can’t be too careful with your investments.

Scavengers TTRPG

This week I picked up the Scavengers TTRPG from Metal Weave Games. The pdf is available from Drivethrurpg and the print copy is from Amazon’s print on demand service. The print copy is a good print, 142 pages, color interior, the colors pop and the binding is solid. My only quibble is with the covers, the outer edges are the tiniest bit rough, and the covers tend to rise up at that edge. I’ve worked at a print bindery, so I notice these things and it’s unfortunately a problem with Amazon’s printing service. That said I doubt most people would notice.
Note: I haven’t played this, only read through it.
The art in the book is fun, without being funny, and uses the same artist throughout. Travis Hanson’s work captures the mood of the game and I always appreciate it when a game can have a cohesive look.
For the game itself, players take the roles of crew members on a salvage ship that visits the locations of space battles to salvage anything worth credits, survivors included. Unlike most RPGs there is a “win” condition; whoever has the most credits at the end of a campaign wins. This should lend itself to the desired play experience/ character attitude of “anything for a buck”. Rules for the money grubbers include getting payment for assisting others, acquiring loot, and getting the survivors to go with you, which can be an issue.
The setting uses bungee drives, you teleport out to a battlefield then teleport back to your original location. This makes it easy to give new assignments and allows development of an anchor station. The setting has 5 factions in conflict, your crew is Randians who are just out for the sweet sweet lucre.
The rules are light. For characters, 8 crew Positions take the place of classes, spending 16 points across 8 Skills flesh them out, pick a talent from your Position, spend a few credits and you are off. The system is a dice pool, count successes. 5 and 6 bring success. You can Risk It – where you keep successes and 1s, then reroll the remaining dice. If you risk it, all 1s from the roll and reroll gives you danger points. Danger points accumulate and if you lose your last one your luck has run out and you die. You check to clear them when you are back at the station. Rolling a 1 on these checks can result in a permanent loss of a danger point. Losing a danger point permanently gives you an experience point with which to bump up a skill or buy a new talent. Combat is very abstract, using the same type of skill rolls as overcoming other threats.
Game play has the GM rolling dice to determine threats and loot, describing the scenes and roleplaying interactions. The debris field provides random ships and for a more structured encounter you can use scenario ships that the GM designs. Problems and threats prompt die rolling to test your skills.
The game ends based on the accumulation of Danger Points, or when the characters decide to retire.

All in all, I’d call this an excellent beer and pretzels game. I see potential to while away a few hours with friends, maybe have a bit of a plot on the anchor station, maybe some espionage, but mostly shaking down other player characters for credits in exchange for favors.

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