Thursday, November 25, 2010

Madness Points

Last post I talked about introducing a creeping insanity system into 7th Sea, and how I modeled it after the hubris system. In that, I said a player would have to spend extra in order to counter my offer of a drama die. I'm currently rethinking that. While the underlying idea is sound (make madness more insidious than any other purely human character flaw), the mechanics still feel like they softpeddle the idea they're trying to convey. Drama dice are all about heroism and drama. Something about giving a madman the ability to jauntily vanquish a cluster of inquisitors seems wrong to me at a fundamental level.

Clearly, there should be some kind of benefit to having an insanity attack; being able to roll a mythos lore knack now and again to recognize certain rites or translate arcane texts is not tradeoff enough for suffering an ongoing malady of the mind. Yes, yes, I understand that Lovecraftian horror stacks the deck against the investigators and that Call of Cthulhu is one of the most fundamentally unfair games on the market because the genre itself is very much unfair. I know that. But I'm not running CoC. I'm running 7th Sea, and I'm bleeding in mythos elements gradually. Therefor, I want a more give and take kind of mental flaw system. Yeah, I really want to pound foolhardy scholars in their frontal lobes, but I want to give them a hard candy afterward to entice them to do it again. More than that, I want to give them that sucker to make the overall experience fun. If all that waits for them is madness and death with nothing good along the way, they'll do that annoying player pragmatist thing and stay away from the death trap.

Players, man, all looking to preserve their characters. I tell ya....

I'm sure my work with Fate's aspect system has no small part in this desire. The idea that if you offer the right incentive, players will willingly crank their own thumbscrews is one that resonates deeply with me. I love anything that promotes greater player investment in the game and their character. I have what I think is a largely typical group of players. Nearly all of us cut our teeth on red box D&D and moved through the early TSR offerings, ultimately each picking unique paths of later games from other companies. One thing that nearly all these games of the 80s and 90s had in common, however, was the game structure that the GM was in charge of everything, and the PCs played their character. Good players were ones that picked up on the crumbs the GM threw out and played nice with one another.

It's a tried and true method of gaming, one that goes all the way back to its roots, but it's one that leads to player passivity. Even today, most of my players tell me things like "this is your story, and I'm really interested in seeing where it goes." That's great that they're into it, but it's not supposed to be my story. It's supposed to be theirs, and I'm just helping tell it. At least that's where I am right now.

What's this got to do with giving out drama dice? Aspects, drama dice, these things are rules designed to encourage greater player activity in certain ways. They're rewards for playing penalties, and they're rewards that happen right then and there, on the spot, that can be used immediately or stored away for later. Bonus xp is great, but if the flaw gets you killed, you'll never get to use it. But bonus dice, well, you can use them whenever.

So I want to give out dice for madness penalties, but I don't want them to be bright and shiny things indistinguishable from drama dice. I bought a handful of gold colored dice just to hand out as drama dice last time I ran 7th Sea, so we're talking literally bright and shiny. Madness dice should be darker. They can provide a bonus, but I want them to feel edgier, prickly, less wholesome and maybe not entirely safe.

This brings us to madness points. They'll work like drama dice, but they're separate because the devil, or in this case the Old Ones, are in the details. Spending one still gets you 1k1 to a roll, but you can't use them to buy off a madness attack. You can still use drama dice for that, but I have a feeling in the end that'll be all you're using drama dice for in that case.

You can use madness points for just about anything, but not quite everything. They can apply to nearly any physical action, representing a sudden manic burst. You might not look suave when bolstered by insanity, but it can get the job done. You're in a fight and the shadows flicker in just the wrong way. Suddenly the mask of sanity slips and you glimpse the true face of your opponent. These aren't church men after you, but deep ones. You fly into a berserk rage, madness flooding your muscles with insane strength as you rip your foe apart. It's not pretty, but it works.

Similarly, you can use madness points to help you in any mythos check, be it recognizing a particular beast, deciphering some scrap of foul pictographic script, or gleaning some buried truth from historical record. In this, it's a simple matter of your mind becoming more accustomed to the alien thought patterns necessary to make sense of the sanity blasting truth that most remain blessedly blind to.

You can also use madness points when making fear checks, provided the check's not against some mythos monster. You've had a peek of the true horror of the universe. How can a master of the Rogers school possibly stand against that? You're so numbed by the overwhelming truth, nothing else can make you quake.

You can even use madness points to assist in wound checks. Sure, those wracked with madness in Lovecraft's stories tend to be frail and ill of health, but if we expand our view to something a little wider than Lovecraft's own world we find many examples of the mad exhibiting not only great strength, but great resilience as well. Again, this is 7th Sea, not CoC. I'm willing to make that stretch in this game.

No comments:

Post a Comment