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"You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed."
This is a mod that cranks up the insanity - as if UA didn't give you enough reasons to check yourself in.
UA tells us about "trigger events" that opened your eyes to all the weird shit out there (Core Rules, 2nd Ed., p26). Enough stress, and your sanity goes crumbling down. Maybe when you put the pieces back together, normal people don't recognize it any more - and you've become what they call an "adept" (p112-3). For most, it takes time. Others aren't so lucky.
It's bothered me that the absolute worst that any life event can put you through, the very highest price you can pay (psychologically), is one failed notch (per mete, anyway). If you saw your mother attacked by a mass of teeth and tentacles, and dissolve in screams and white fire - and no-one in the world but you thinks she even existed anymore - could you relive that 3 or 4 more times? Or would you already be riding first-class to Crazytown by then?
"In a world as psychotic as this...any other response would be crazy!"
This is a different way to handle stress checks that allows for the "One Bad Day" plummet into lunacy. The human mind is a prodigiously powerful logical system, and the things it can cope with over time are incredible. But if you push it too far too fast, the whole thing can't always take it - the engine doesn't just hiccup, it explodes, and now you have to put it back together.
But you don't know how to build engines. So you just put it back together the only way it makes sense to you. Maybe now you're a Faceless Man. Or a Chaos Mage. Or maybe you're just chewing the padding on the walls, giggling to yourself, and plotting...
Here's how it works:
When confronted with a stress check, take the difference between its rank and your hardened notches, divide by two (round down, to a minimum of one) - and make that many madness rolls.
For example: If you have 2 hardened notches in Violence, and you have to make a Violence stress check of rank...
...3, that's one roll (3-2=1, 1/2 = .5, so minimum of 1)
...4, that's one roll (4-2=2, 2/2 = 1)
...5, that's one roll (5-2=3, 3/2 = 1.5, round to 1)
...6, that's two rolls (6-2=4, 4/2=2)
...and so forth. (If you're really diabolical, round up instead of down.)
If you fail at least one roll, no matter how many others you passed, you have to choose a Fight, Flight or Frenzy reaction as normal. (The GM is encouraged to fudge here, and lessen the duration of the reaction depending on how many successful rolls they made; someone who got 2 successes and 1 failure obviously dealt with it better in the long run - they just lost their cool in that moment.)
No matter how many successful rolls you make for any one stress check, you can only get one hardened notch per meter that you rolled in. If you had more than one successful roll in a meter, and one of them was a matched success, you can earn that second hardened notch - but the absolute cap is at 2 per meter. If you get a critical success, you can ignore any of your failed rolls for that stress check - but the maximum is still 2 hardened notches per stress check.
However, you get one failed notch for each failed roll.
Similar to how it's easier to break your back lifting too much weight than it is to become an instant bodybuilder; resistance takes time but trauma can take moments.
There are a few reasons to treat madness checks like this:
Not all players are star method actors. In survival/horror settings, one of the more effective ways to make situations actually tense for the players is to make them as frightening in mechanics as it is in flavor - no matter how much hand-waving you do, if the worst they pay for it is just one failed notch, it's just not as daunting. And when something is visibly trying to be much scarier than it actually is to you, it kills the atmosphere. It's just a guy in a rubber suit (or a GM with some prose), after all.
With this mod, the most horrifying things imaginable (i.e. rank 10 stress checks) could potentially shatter a PC's sanity in one go. That should leave a real impression - and give good pause before the PC charges into something truly messed up. There's now a mechanical justification for why those in the occult underground who keep their wits about them enough to be successful, are so very rare.
"All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy."
It's not all bad, though. Failed notches rack up much faster in this system, but because so many more rolls are being made, hardened notches are accumulated more quickly as well. If you make two rolls, one fails and one succeeds - you get a failed notch, and flip out, but you still keep that hardened notch. This is especially beneficial for street-level campaigns, where PCs tend to be psychologically in way over their heads; they'll be able to deal with crazy stuff sooner, but still likely pay the price. After all, getting crazy and getting desensitized aren't mutually exclusive, or even separate, all the time.
"If you hurt inside, get certified, and if life should treat you bad...don't get even, get MAD!"
The idea is borrowed from a friend of mine; I liked it and started using it enough that I standardized my GM-fudge - the above reflects all of that. I don't know if my buddy is on the site, so I can't give credit by name - but if I could, this is by-and-large their good idea, not mine.
The quotes above are all from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke.
This entire page gets my approval solely because of the quotes.
Michael Keenan | profile | Dec 08, 08 | 4:49 am
I second that comment. Good work.
Victoria Gothic | profile | Dec 08, 08 | 11:17 pm
That's so awesome that I've gotta use it from now on.
Wratts | profile | Dec 25, 08 | 10:32 pm
Another option would be to have either rolling sanity checks (each time it's really driven home that nobody but you remembers your mother ever existing, you make a sanity check. At low levels of Hardened, it would be every time or at relatively light reminders, but as it gets higher, it would require a higher summative number of times you've been reminded or increasingly intense reminders, such as eating in the restaurant you always took her to and then when harder when eating at the restaurant you always took her to and it's Mother's Day, etc.).
The other idea I had would be "prolonged Fight/Flight/Panic" as a response to either a very high Unnatural/Isolation event rating. Humans flip out, sometimes for a long time, but can often eventually return to not normal but not quite as crazy. Vengeance quells some guilt about letting your mom cease to exist, but you're never going to be the same.