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[Mythos] Critique my Sanity system

Started by Eric Bennett, February 28, 2006, 07:49:12 AM

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Eric Bennett

Hello there once again, Forge folks. Drafting of Mythos proceeds apace, and can be followed at the site included in my signature. I wanted to bring up here for some critical feedback on the basic ideas of my Sanity system, so I have some info from not-me people to ponder.

Inspirations: This system very admittedly contains elements of my two preferred means of tracking Sanity. Call of Cthulhu's numeric Sanity score, and Unknown Armies' Madness Meters. However, this is distinct from them, in that it offers more specificity than Cthulhu's general Sanity score, while also offering a more usable measure of things than the Madness Meters. Think of it as something of a middle ground perhaps? Or don't think of this aspect at all.

What does it mean to be Sane?

Sanity in Mythos is defined very simply. It is the mental state of being a completely normal plain vanilla average Joe human. Some people fluctuate a little here and there throughout their weeks and months, but most tend to fall back to the baseline. Your characters won't be spending a lot of time there, at least not if they really get after their investigations.

Sanity is divided into four Aspects, each reflecting a different element of a healthy human mind. Note that these Aspects are not and could not be exhaustive, they are merely those most applicable to a role-playing setting.

The way a Sanity check works is pretty easy. When a character is exposed to a stress, they roll their Mind score (one of the three main scores a character possesses). If they succeed the roll, then their rating in the Aspect in question increases by an appropriate amount (determined by the oh-so-easy mechanism I have concocted, but that is an issue for another thread) and if they fail it decreases by the same amount. A positive rating in an aspect represents how hardened the character is to that sort of stress, while a negative rating represents a vulnerability to  issues of that stress. Extremely high or low ratings are both rather bad things, considering that 0 is the golden mean of mankind.

Additionally, losing a Sanity roll means that you might suffer a breakdown or dementia, which is resolved by checking the number on the dice against the new rating in that Aspect. If it is lower, you've got some new mental problems to deal with, for a while at least.

Violence: The Sanity Aspect of Violence is defined by destruction. Violence destroys flesh, possessions, families, and lives. Being hardened to violence means that the character finds himself distant from the consequences of violence on others, fails to display all the socially expected reactions to violence or depictions of it, and finds it easier to resist mental shock from violent stimuli. A character who is vulnerable to violence displays too great a reaction to violent stimuli, avoids situations where violence might break out, gets nervous around threats of violence, and generally starts freaking out of if someone actually pulls a weapon.

Unnatural: The Sanity Aspect of the Unnatural is defined by corruption. It is triggered by the supernatural, things beyond conventional human explanation, the defiance of nature's laws, exhibitions of advanced science (the backlash against scientific advancements can in part be attributed to setting off Unnatural stress checks by moving too fast, possibly) unnatural entities and magic. Being hardened to the Unnatural means that you have adopted your worldview to it, opening up what you think of as "possible" and "right" to include your experiences. While this keeps you from going bannanas, it also means that you become more credulous, accepting things into your worldview that are hokey, silly, unlikely, or just downright dangerous. However, the thread running through the behaviour of a character hardened to the unnatural is the belief that they have power over such situations. Wether that is true or not is, of course, up to the individual Mythos involved and the abilties of the character, but their mind manufactures some connection between what they do and what they aim to achieve. Being vulnerable to the unnatural works basically the same way, except that the theme of the character's behavior then becomes one where they are overpowered by the unknown. The occult and the mysteries works its way into their lives, but they are the ones being controlled. Such people often report senses of forboding doom, see omens of their fate everywhere, and claim things like demonic possession or divine inspiration.

Identity: The Aspect of Identity is defined by deceit. It is the character's sense of personal identity and worth, and their ability to divide their own will and existence from that of the universe or humanity as a whole. Identity checks are triggered when doubt is cast on an character's personality, past, or capabilities that they refuse to accept, personal failures, a feeling of just being 'part of the crowd', basic military training, cult indoctrination, or anything else that attacks a character's sense of being a separate, valuable being. Being hardened in Identity means that the character has an elevated sense of self worth, often manifesting as an infalted ego, a sense of invulnerability in social situations or areas in which ther aptitude is called into question. At the highest reaches it can even become something as severe as a messiah complex. A character vulnerable in Identity lacks or is losing their sense of personal identity and worth, becoming just another "cog in the machine" in their mind. Characters at the extreme of vulnerability are little more than empty shells, devoid of personality and ripe for the picking by any supernatural (or not so supernatural) being that could make use of a willless, empty sack of flesh.

Trust: This aspect of Sanity is defined by greed. It is a measure of how much importance and worth the character places in other people, as well as a measure of how emotionally open they are, in general. A character hardened in Trust is much too much trusting, a grifter's delight as they rarely question anything someone says and are more than willing to believe that everyone can be Someone if givena chance. Characters vulnerable in Trust doubt the worth of other people, becoming emotionally guarded and stunted. This can seriously hamper social situations, and at its worse can lead to the character either becoming an utterly callous abuser of humanity or
a total hermit, off to live on their own merits without the interference of "lesser" mortals.

What can your Sanity do for you?

These numbers are good for more than just measuring how screwed up the character is. I don't have the time to go into great detail at this point, but values of different Sanity meters will be available for the GM to skew social and mental rolls one way or another depending on the situation or wether the meter itself is positive or negative. For example, a character with a hardened Identity rating is going to come off self-confident and reassuring, which might give a bonus to their social rolls equal to their Identity rating. On the other hand, maybe some folks think this fellow is too full of himself, bringing him a penalty in the same amount to social rolls with or against these people. A second, last example would be the magic system, where the absolute value of a person's Unnatural Aspect is a bonus to their magic/weird tech using rolls, though wether that base number is positive or negative could have some serious consequences.

In general, there should be one good thing and one negative thing about being more one way or the other on the Sanity Aspects.

Becoming more human...

So, you've seen quite a lot, and you are starting to scare yourself. Your Sanity ratings are spiking all over the place, and it is becoming harder and harder to keep control. What can you do about it? The general answer is to ground yourself. Get back in touch with those things that make you human: your hobbies, your interests, other people. Go out to the bar and spend a night mulling things over over beers with some friends. Sequester yourself in your private library for a day of pleasure reading. Basically, get out and reinforce that yes, you are human and are a unique and special snowflake, just like everybody else.

Depending on how much time you devote to which activities, you can ground your Sanity scores to some degree, moving them closer to 0 and restoring your outlook to something resembling human.


Well, what do you guys think? Does this sound, conceptually, like a workable system? Is it too complex? Is there not enough information here? Basically, what are your thoughts?


James E. Bennett
Check out the developing draft of Mythos, the game of horrific discovery here!

Tommi Brander

That identity is quite modern thinking. I haven't read more about the game, so it is probably not a problem.