I saw the preview for Realms of Crawling Chaos, and it looks great. However, perusing the table of contents, there's not a sanity mechanic. No sanity mechanic in a Cthulhu supplement? Is this heresy?
To answer, let's take a look at the role of sanity mechanics in the two Cthulhu games I've played - Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu.
The Call of Cthulhu (COC) Style
COC comes at sanity from the perspective that there are truths to the real nature of the universe so awful, it shatters the mind. The more you learn the truth, the less sane are you. As your Mythos Knowledge skill increases, your maximum sanity steadily dwindles.
I find the sanity mechanic is a big fail. It's hard to role play an insane person at the table; most of the time players try it, it devolves into camp. Funny, but not scary. Sanity can act as a resource pressure; it's a precious resource (like hit points), and players want to preserve it and stay in the game. Resource pressure keeps them on their toes and can be an instrument of horror.
Unfortunately, COC sanity has the exact opposite effect of reinforcing the genre; instead of plunging forward like an intrepid Lovecraftian delver who goes too far and learns the awful truths of the universe, the sanity mechanic in COC actually discourages learning those awful truths.
The Trail of Cthulhu (COC) Style
Okay, how about TOC? TOC maintains a watered down sanity mechanic, but its primary mechanic is something called Stability. Stability more or less functions like mental health - mental hit points. Any scare, fright, or eldritch horror makes an attack against your character's mental health. As stability erodes, the character's ability to function and use skills decreases.
However, the stability mechanic is counter-balanced by a mechanic called a drive. A drive is that thing that causes the character to willingly embrace the tropes of horror - to go alone into the dark basement, to keep reading the evil book, or to urge everyone forward to see the thing on the doorstep. When a character allows their drive to push them into harm's way, they get a mechanical benefit - they heal some stability back because they're following their inner muse.
The combination of stability and drives emulates how characters in a Lovecraft story behave better than the straight sanity mechanic. In a COC game, everyone knows something creepy is in the basement, and because of the potential sanity loss, they react as gamers - "I'm not going in there - no way. Let's come back in the morning." In a TOC game, everyone knows something creepy is in the basement, it's midnight and the moon is out, but everyone wants to gain some stability back by following their drives - "I feel compelled to press onward and see what's making that noise..."
The D&D Approach
Here's the real question though - do any of these approaches belong in Dungeons & Dragons? D&D is primarily about exploration and recovering treasure; at least, that’s how characters are rewarded by the system. Monsters are only an obstacle; fighting is often the least preferred option.
Would D&D benefit from a sanity mechanic that discourages exploration? (No)
Does D&D need an additional mechanic (like drives) that encourages exploration? (No)
Dungeons & Dragons characters are already adventurous and inured to awfulness. You don't need a sanity mechanic to tell you when to act scared. There are plenty of other ways to add horror to your D&D game.
'You don't need a sanity mechanic to tell you when to act scared.':ReplyDelete
Totally agree. Some people believe mechanics should drive(even trump) roleplaying. Not me.(I took Fear and Horror Checks out of Ravenloft!.[I also used LL, so..] I kept Corruption, though.)
Trail of Cthulu:
This game's pitch about solving the problem of failed rolls never worked for me. Our games weren't set up that way. At best, Library Use got you additional info, it was never crucial. YMMV.
Interestingly enough, Realms of Cthulu, the Savage Worlds version of CoC(still can't believe I'm typing that...[Oh, but wait, D20 Cthulu. Never mind]) adds a sanity mechanic to its system. This s a wild, wahoo game about Big Damn Heroes and now there's Cthulu. Really? Round Hole, Square Peg? D20 Cthulu->Trail of Cthulu->CthuluTech->Realms Of Cthulu->Paranoia Cthulu Edition, maybe... ;-)
No San, makes sense in D&D to me. But, if you decide you need a mechanic you could always designate WIS as a placeholder and do decremental checks or something, right?
'Dungeons & Dragons characters are already adventurous and inured to awfulness':
otherwise known as the problem with Ravenloft. Imports from say, Forgotten Realms didn't work so well 'cuz of fearless werewolf killing, zombie stomping, and wight bashing past experiences, ya know? With the 3rd edition book, Domains of Dread, TSR started emphasizing natives of the Demiplane which made more sense, imo.
Great topic! Looking forward to this!
3rd Edition of the Ravenloft Setting, not the D&D Rules. Sorry for double post!
Pretty much my reasoning too. Remember that the whole concept of a sanity mechanic was created by Chaosium for CoC. Not by Lovecraft. Just because they chose that sort of approach in CoC doesn't mean any other game should also do so. I see it more as personal horror in the stories, but what we have to remember is that we're twisting Lovecraft's assumptions to fit Labyrinth Lord (there is a discussion of this in RoCC which wasn't in the preview). Characters will do things in LL that they would never have done in Lovecraft's stories. Motivations are totally different. I think it's time broadly to totally reconsider Lovecraft influences if we will include them in a game like LL or D&D. In Lovecraft's stories we should be totally wigged out by the Fungi from Yuggoth, run away from, etc. but in LL maybe instead we chop a few with battle axes and steal their weird technology! See, you have to reconcile this and I felt a new mechanic wasn't the right way. I think this should be handled by each referee depending on what sort of world it should be.ReplyDelete
For the most part, I agree.ReplyDelete
However, even the LBB's make several references to characters going insane. Contact higher plane, for example, can render the magic-user insane for up to 12 weeks. Contact with artifacts of a different alignment can drive a character insane for a month too.
Presumably, those characters become NPC's until they regain their sanity. That's pretty harsh if you're playing the recommended 1 week of game time equals 1 week of real time.
Wasn't D&D supposed to be about Conan-style heroes rather than Lovecraft-type investigators? I mean, could you imagine Conan, or Aragorn for that matter, going insane from seeing a monster, terrible as it may be? No! They'll hack at it with their broadswords!ReplyDelete
And even the meek Hobbits did no go insane after meeting a Barrow Wight, which was, more or less, as creepy as Tolkien could be.
Yes, there are terrible, terrible monsters in D&D. But the game is not about running away from them to save your sanity, but rather bravely charging them to cut them down to size - that is what heroes do! ;)
Pretty much what everybody else said.ReplyDelete
Sanity or similar mechanics are for genre emulation, I think. The "standard" D&D genre doesn't seem to need them.
Which is not to say someone could play a form of D&D where they might be useful, but that would be a variant sort of setting.
In Lovecraft's stories we should be totally wigged out by the Fungi from Yuggoth, run away from, etc. but in LL maybe instead we chop a few with battle axes and steal their weird technology!ReplyDelete
I agree here - the more "mundane" Lovecraft monsters, servitors and independent races (in COC terms), wouldn't threaten character sanity in a D&D setting. But one can achieve the right tone in how they're used; if the Mi-Go abduct a henchman, and the next time the characters meet him he's a brain in a cannister, that's pretty horrible and would typify the kind of alien dread these kinds of monsters engender.
Contact higher plane, for example, can render the magic-user insane for up to 12 weeks. Contact with artifacts of a different alignment can drive a character insane for a month too.
This is a really good point - summoning Yog-Sothoth or Azathoth would be conceptually similar to Contact Higher Plane; if such spells are part of Realms of Crawling Chaos, maybe Dan pu the insanity risk there (or if not, it could easily be added).
"Wasn't D&D supposed to be about Conan-style heroes rather than Lovecraft-type investigators? I mean, could you imagine Conan..."ReplyDelete
I seem to remember eldritch sorcery making Conan's hairs stand on end. If run-of-the-mill human magicians evoke a primal fear response, then alien things from the stars would get an even stronger reaction.
"Sanity or similar mechanics are for genre emulation, I think. The 'standard' D&D genre doesn't seem to need them."
Beebo's point, if I understand him, is that sanity mechanics—even in a genre game like Call of Cthulhu—are not effective genre emulators in that they more often provoke laughter in the players than fear. It's a position I've heard before, and one with which I tend to agree.
"...if the Mi-Go abduct a henchman, and the next time the characters meet him he's a brain in a cannister..."
Yes, that's the kind of creepy that works on players without any sanity mechanic required for the characters. It's a much harder job for the referee to consistently strike the right tone with details like that than to subtract from a pool of "sanity hit points". You need to consistently creep people out without degenerating to slasher movie cliches or going too far and genuinely turning-off players (see Carcosa).
'In Lovecraft's stories we should be totally wigged out by the Fungi from Yuggoth, run away from, etc. but in LL maybe instead we chop a few with battle axes and steal their weird technology!':ReplyDelete
Wow. Ravenloft flashbacks.(Until the designers realized having 'Deathdealer'/'Red Sonja) drop in for pick-up fight was a bad idea, and started encourage Joe/Jane Sixpack characters instead[by D&D standards]) The REAL horror is that the mummy is only worth 860 XP, amirite Ax Battler?!?! :-D
'I seem to remember eldritch sorcery making Conan's hairs stand on end. If run-of-the-mill human magicians evoke a primal fear response, then alien things from the stars would get an even stronger reaction.:'
Depends, for example: Yag-Kosha. Conan had a conversation with him. And he assisted in avenging his torment by helping him ensorcerel Yara!
Also, many people are not terribly familiar with the stories, and believe Conan knows no fear, rather than the truth: that he fights through it!
And the term used was 'Conan-like', so I guess a tough, skilled fighter(usually without regard to his intelligence) who routinely slaughters his opponents, sometimes against all odds is what is meant.
'going too far and genuinely turning-off players (see Carcosa).':
The Gaming Community's Mileage Varied on that one. Some loved it; others didn't. There were(are) even some that loathed it without ever having seen it(some of whom even admitted it![they hated the concept, not just the execution, of grisly spells])! Not their D&D, and all that. Which was fine, but it IS D&D to others. In fact, a new printing is coming up!
Obviously, the tone will be set by the GM and players, as Dan said: 'I think this should be handled by each referee depending on what sort of world it should be.' Totally agree. This looks like an awful lot of research went in to it, and I'm looking forward to reading it over and adding it to a campaign using LL or T&T or BRP, depending.(Maybe even classic Ravenloft, 2nd Edition mashup!)