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.