The Chaosium Digest

The Chaosium Digest supports the role-playing games produced by Chaosium Inc. and all content is fan submitted. Begun in 1994 by Shannon Appelcline who passed it to myself in 2000 and previously distributed via email, this is the newest incarnation of the Chaosium Digest. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Chaosium Digest Classics: Another Look At Insanity

by Eric Yin
originally appearing in Chaosium Digest v28.06 on July 17, 1999.

In everyday life, there are insane persons who go about life relatively unimpaired, and completely recognized as such. Others exist who should be institutionalized, but are not. Because of this, I had made up these rules for playing insane characters in Call of Cthulhu back in my undergraduate days. It is a set of guidelines that add game mechanics to help the role-player simulate the uncontrollable nature of insanity and put some checks on what he may do while insane. Of course, there are certain liabilities to playing an insane character, since continued exposure to trauma and lack of competent care results in further deterioration of the character's condition.

An Overhaul of Indefinite Insanity

Under the Sanity rules used in 5th edition Call of Cthulhu, a character losing 20% or more of his SAN in an hour goes indefinitely insane, and the player loses control of his character to the Keeper. However, unless the Keeper has specific plans for that character, it seems quite reasonable to allow the player to continue playing the character until it becomes obvious that he need to be institutionalized or incarcerated. In the meantime, if the authorities are unaware that the character has gone mad, or his colleagues have nowhere to hospitalize him at the moment, there should be no reason that the insane character should be discarded.

While in certain cases insanity results in extreme behavior that would be difficult to role-play for most, there are other cases in which the symptoms that are more subtle, and leave the character with many of his faculties unimpaired. In such cases, a few appropriate guidelines should be enough to allow the player to continue controlling his character. Sanity (SAN) is a representation of the character's mental stability, and should reflect his state of mind. Thus, a person who suffers a breakdown, but has SAN 70 is in much better shape than a person with SAN 30. The degree to which the beliefs, behavior, and perceptions of the character with the higher SAN is altered should not be as drastic as the character with a lower SAN.

The degree of seriousness to the character's insanity is determined by his SAN score. Those characters with SAN 48 or less, are severely disturbed personalities, and must make a successful SAN roll to overcome his irrational impulses for a short period of time. Characters who have Minor or Moderate disorders will only succumb to the irrational if they fail a SAN roll. The duration of the temporary lucidity, or irrationality could be determined using the Temporary Insanity Table. When to make rolls is up to the Keeper, who should take into account whether the character's actions would be consistent with his insanity.

Indefinite Insanity Table
SAN Disability Notes
64-79 Minor Relatively unimpaired
49-63 Moderate Considered eccentric
32-48 Serious Considered strange
16-31 Debilitating A probable danger to self and others
0-15 Incapacitating Must be institutionalized

Using this system, each class of insanity should be broken down into five degrees of Disability, each with its own characteristic symptoms. Thus, Paranoia could be described in this manner:

SAN Disability Symptoms
64-79 Minor The character exhibits hypervigilance, and is suspicious of those with whom he is unfamiliar.
49-63 Moderate As above, but the character may entertain the idea that there may be someone or something out to get him.
32-48 Serious As above, but even more so. The character may become compulsive about safety precautions or protective rituals.
16-31 Debilitating The character becomes delusional. All his beliefs and perceptions become focused on a conspiracy directed specifically against him.
0-15 Incapacitating The character becomes unhinged and maniacal. He is a very dangerous person to be around. He may see hallucinations.

Phobia can be described like this:

SAN Disability Symptoms
64-79 Minor The character is frightened by the object of his phobia. He will cower and maybe run whenever this object is encountered.
49-63 Moderate As above, but the character becomes panic-stricken by the object, and perhaps even representations or things that are similar to the object. He may even lose SAN if the object is encountered.
32-48 Serious As above, but his reactions are even stronger when the object of his fear is encountered. He may start developing paranoia with regard to the object of fear. He may develop a split personality to deal with his fear.
16-31 Debilitating The character has delusions regarding the object of fear, and hallucinations where he sees the object of his fear. He becomes more and more irrational.
0-15 Incapacitating The character is so enthralled by his phobia, that he is completely unable to function. He may have locked himself in a fortress against the object of fear, or may have gone catatonic.

Insanity is a complex disease, and symptoms manifest themselves differently in different people. The tables give a general guideline on how the player should play the character, but the Keeper can be as specific as he likes. Keepers should tailor each character's insanity and its progression based on the cause of the trauma, and the character's personality (Originally, I had a large list of symptoms gleaned from abnormal psychology class, with descriptions, and how they could be interpreted in game terms, but I think that it is very similar to material in The Taint of Madness, so I left it out. Besides which, it was too much to retype).

An Overhaul of Temporary Insanity

Temporary insanity should result in short term symptoms that will go away at the end of the period for which the character is insane. Thus, phobias, schizophrenia, and the like would be inappropriate. The following table lists some immediate symptoms that could afflict the character following a crisis, and some residual symptoms that could follow.

Temporary Insanity Table
roll duration symptoms
1-4 1-10 rounds immediate
5-7 14-20 rounds immediate
8-9 ~1 day immediate + residual
10 1-10 days immediate + residual

Immediate Symptoms:

Flee from scene of SAN loss.
Become helpless with hysteria.
Nausea, vomiting, dry heaves.
Frozen, loss of involuntary muscle control.
Paralyzed with fear.
Pass out.
Physical symptom (e.g. stroke, heart attack).
Psychological symptom (e.g. trigger split personality).
Perform reckless act of heroism.

Residual Symptoms:

Suffer from flashbacks to SAN loss event.
Suffer from bouts of headache.
Undergo change in personality (e.g. exhibit fits of rage,
depression, hedonism).
Suffer sleep disorders (e.g. nightmares, insomnia).
Go into denial, accompanied by partial amnesia or detachment from reality.
Suffer amnesia, fugue.
Psychological incapacitation (e.g. enter state of delirium, senility, or delusion).
Enter state of shock or catatonia.


Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind but I plan to intergrate you fantastic and completely logical approach to insanity into my more radical overhall of the sanity system. My approach was more of a Hierarchal view of the Sanity system and it was written for d20 CoC but I think your approach will merge quite well. Here is my approach unchanged.

Mike’s Hierarchy of Terror d20™

(the following replaces the sections Temporary Insanity & Indefinite Insanity. These house rules provide an alternate system for determining the effect of Sanity loss upon an investigator. This system focuses more upon the accumulated and compounding effect of terror. It is intended to simulate a decent into madness through attrition.)
Starting Sanity
A Characters starting Sanity is equal to the characters Wisdom score. This score represents a starting characters current sanity points, as well as the upper limit of Sanity that can be restored by the Psychoanalysis skill. After creation, a characters current sanity score often fluctuates considerably and might never again match starting Sanity. A change in a characters Wisdom score changes the starting Sanity score in regard to what Psychoanalysis can restore. Current Sanity, however, does not change if Wisdom rises or falls.
Maximum Sanity
The Cthulhu Mythos Score skill simulates character comprehension of aspects of the Mythos. Once gained this horrible knowledge is never forgotten, and the character consequently surrenders mental equilibrium. An investigator’s Sanity weakens as the comprehension of the mythos increases. Such is the way of the universe.
An investigator’s current sanity points can never be higher than 19 minus the ranks the character has in the Cthulhu Mythos skill. This number is the character’s maximum Sanity.
Current Sanity
Making a Sanity check: When an investigator encounters a gruesome, unnatural, frightening, or supernatural situation the GM may require a player to make a Sanity check with a d20. The check succeeds if the result is equal to or less than the characters Sanity.
On a successful check, the character either looses no Sanity loss or only a minimum amount. Potential Sanity loss is usually shown as two numbers or dice rolls separated by a slash, such as 0/1d4. the number before the slash indicates the number of Sanity points lost if the check succeeds (in this case none): the number after the slash indicates the number of Sanity points lost if the Sanity check fails (in this case between 1 and 4 points). A investigators current Sanity is also at risk when the the character reads certain books, learns spells contained within, and attempts to cast them. These losses are usually automatic (no Sanity check is involved)- the character who chooses to undertake that activity forfeits the required Sanity points. See the Magic chapter for details.
For the most part a new Sanity-shaking experience requires a new Sanity check. However the GM always gets to decide when characters make Sanity checks. Seeing several horribly mangled corpses at one time or in quick succession may call for just one Sanity check, while the same encounters at intervals of several hours may require separate checks.
Loosing it: Any time an investigator looses any amount of Sanity points from a single roll, he or she has suffered enough shock that the keeper must test Sanity, and ask for an intelligence check DC 10: if the roll succeeds, then the Investigator realizes the full significance of what was beheld, and Looses It. An investigator who Looses It must check on the table below to find the number that equals their current Terror. If the Intelligence check fails, then the investigator does not Loose It, but the sanity points lost accumulate into the Terror Pool.
The Terror is a pool made up of all the lost Sanity accumulated by an Investigator during the course of an adventure. Each time an Investigator loses Sanity it goes to the Terror Pool where it accumulates so that each time the investigator is tested, the effects of Loosing It is greater and greater. It matters not if the Sanity loss is caused by one event or several successive events, the investigator Looses It as determined by the table below. The accumulation continues until the Keeper determines that all the aggravating factors have been alleviated at which point the Terror Pool goes back to 0. At the Keepers option, accumulations in the Terror Pool may be reapplied even after the fading of the aggravating factor if the factors are close enough in nature to warrant it (i.e. faced with the same situation all over again).

1. Flinch (loss of a Move action)
2. Startled cry (loss of a Move action)
3. Retreat a few steps, may trip (loss of a Move action)
4. Short scream (loss of a Move action)
5. Shy away in horror and run for a move action(loss of a Move action)
6. Long scream, or unable to make a sound (loss of a full round action, considered stunned)
7. Run away screaming or faint for one round(loss of a full round action, considered stunned)
8. Back away in stunned silence (loss of a full round action, considered stunned)
9. Cover your eyes/ hide face or vomit or loose bowel control (loss of a full round action, considered stunned)
10. Grapple nearest investigator (loss of a full round action, considered stunned)
11. Stand fascinated until roused. Develop a Disorder (roll on Table 1.1-tier 1) until helped.
12. Run away screaming unwilling to return. Develop a Disorder (roll on Table 1.1-tier 1) until helped.
13. Go into blind rage or faint until roused. Develop a Disorder (roll on Table 1.1-tier 2) until helped
14. Run in circles babbling until stopped Develop a Disorder (roll on Table 1.1-tier 2) until helped
15. In denial of the events taking place. Wander off mumbling. Develop a Disorder (roll on Table 1.1-tier 3) until helped
16. In denial of the events taking place and become child-like until helped
17. Immediately develop a Disorder (roll on Table 1.1-tier 3) until helped
18. Immediately develop a Disorder (roll on Table 1.1-tier 3) until helped
19. Go into an epileptic seizure until helped
20. Become catatonic until helped
21. Cardiac event

Table 1.1
First Tier Disorders
1.Eating Disorders
1. Anorexia Nervosa
2. Bulimia Nervosa
2.Psychosexual Disorders
3.Sleep disorders
1.Night Terrors
4.Substance Abuse Disorders
5.Impulse Control Disorders
6.Somatoform Disorders
2.Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Second Tier Disorders
1. Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorders
Motor tension
Autonomic Hyperactivity
Expectation of Doom
Panic Disorder (Panic Attacks)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Phobia or Mania
2. Impulse Control Disorders
Pathological Lying
Kleptomania (compulsive thieving)
Pyromania (the compulsion to set fires)
Intermittent Explosive Disorder
3. Mood Disorder
Bipolar Mood Disorder
4. Somatoform Disorders
Somatoform Disorder (mild-dizziness, impotence, phantom pain, etc.)
Conversion Disorder

Third Tier Disorders
1. Personality Disorder
2. Dissociative Disorders
Dissociative Amnesia (Psychogenic Amnesia)
Dissociative Fugue
Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)
3. Schizophrenia
4. Somatoform Disorders
Somatoform Disorder (serious- blindness, deafness, paralysis, etc.)

4:16 PM  
Blogger The Editor said...

So long as it's for your own use, have fun! Thanks for your version for CoC d20. To make it easier to share, I'll be giving it its own place in the blog.

8:49 PM  

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