Monday, November 22, 2010

On Madness

You knew this was coming. You can't play any game with Lovecraftian mythos involvement and not eventually talk about losing your mind. To leave that part out is simply inappropriate.

I knew I'd have to deal with some kind of sanity system in 7th Sea eventually. What I didn't expect is that one of the players would latch onto forbidden texts right away and spend every last moment of free time plumbing their blasphemous depths for every kernel of forbidden knowledge he could dig out. Serves me right for beginning yet another campaign without having every last mechanical contingency planned out.

So far I've been winging it. I knew that I didn't want the mythos lore skill to be something that you picked up like anything else in the game. Spending xp and getting additional points in it made the entire thing too mundane, too normal. So I tied it to an open research roll. The player's been rolling his research knack and I've been keeping tabs on his total across all the rolls. As he hits certain benchmarks, I award him with a new dot in the skill. So far he's managed to get two dots.

As for the downside, well, that turned out to be a little more elusive, but as of our last game I believe I've gotten it. Each point in mythos lore now comes with its own arcana. As soon as you gain the point, you also gain the arcana. These are like hubris, in that I can toss a drama die at the player and he'll suffer the effects, but unlike normal hubris, he can't buy these off with a drama die of his own. I might allow a 2 for 1 buy off so as not to remove all control from him, but I'm designing these to be deeper and darker than your standard heroic foibles.

I have a little work left on the list of madness arcana, but here's what I've got so far:

  • Obsession - you've uncovered something. You don't know exactly what yet, because you don't know enough to make sense of it, but it's clearly something, and something big. It gnaws at your thoughts constantly with the promise of amazing knowledge, especially when you're doing something else. When this arcana activates, you must drop whatever else you're doing and devote yourself fully to furthering your research into the unknown. 
  • Fear - you've uncovered something, and now what has been seen cannot be unseen. You still don't know what's out there exactly, but you understand enough to know that the world is nothing like you thought it was, and it's not safe. Anywhere. There's something out there, something sinister, unresistable, and while your prior ignorance didn't protect you, it did protect your peace of mind. Things, crawling, sucking, things lurk... somewhere, and one day they're going to, well, that's not entirely clear, but it won't be pleasant. This arcana functions similarly to the Cowardice hubris, but can be activated at any time, since it's not man you're afraid of, but things far beyond his ken. 
  • Insomnia - your mind won't stop anymore. It runs through the litany of blasphemy you've learned in the day, and puts on plays of horrors in your dreams every time you sleep. You awake not refreshed, not even exhausted by night terrors, but trembling to the core from the sensation that every time you dream they can see you, and they draw you to them. The dream world is theirs, and you are sucked closer to their forbidden cities awash in nightmares and insanity with every slumbering breath you take. When this arcana activates, you cannot sleep that night. You do not rest, and therefore cannot heal.
  • Illness - The forbidden lore you've uncovered inflames your mind. The knowledge is so overwhelming, so conceptually difficult, that it takes tremendous amounts of will and mental contortion to make sense of what you're discovering, and even then you only get half of it. Perhaps it's the late hours and little sleep, perhaps it's a physical reflection of your fevered mind, but you're not well. You're pale, bedraggled, you have a fever, and might be a little shy of lucid sometimes. At least that's what others tell you. In those fugues you feel you're at your clearest, and the jumble of knowledge begins to crystallize. When this arcana activates, you lose 1 die from all Wits tests other than mythos rolls but gain 1k1 to mythos rolls. This adjustment lasts for the scene. However, every mythos roll inflicts (1+x)k1 of flesh wounds, where x is the number of raises you make. 
The list isn't in a set order, though I think the order presented above is pretty good. That leaves me one short, but I've got a little while before I'll need all 5. Back to the notebook....

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