Deranged emotional attribute - Mental sanity loss for BWG

Born from a G+ discussion:

So, my current BW game is set in a fantasy version of early 17th century’s Venice. The game itself has a very occult/weird/lovecraftian undertone.

We’re dealing with fear, horror and surprise simply following the Steel rules. However, ths standard Steel mechanics seem not to convey that sense of “mental instability” of the PCs facing threats of cosmic horror lurking beyound the threshold of their perception.

So we wanted to add some sort of “mental sanity/madness” mechanic to the rules, a-la Call of Cthulhu games.

I was thinking about introducing a “Mental Sanity Grayscale”, similar to the PTGS. Failed Steel tests for horror/fear and automatic tests gained as per the rules hit that scale. When a first threshold is reached, the character gains some “temporary insanity”. One more hit, and it may become a partial inability or mental illness - in form of a “mental insanity” trait (chosen from a list). After reaching the “Mental Sanity Mortal Wound” threshold of sort, the character goes permanently mad. Instead of withdrawing him from the game, I was thinking on letting the player write a fourth Belief reflecting the insanity, and act accordingly.

And the subsequent suggestions - especially from P T

Here’s the first proposed draft of the new Emotional Attribute: Deranged.

Comments very welcome (you can comment on the Google Doc).

I’d run Madness similar to how Nature is handled in Torchbearer or Mouseguard. Discovering things, seeing that which should not be, etc… counts as tests towards advancing your madness. Using it to aid you in escaping said horrors, drinking your visions away, or just taking a long vacation taxes it. Tax madness to zero and your character retires to a nice sane job in the countryside, run madness up to the top and the character’s mind snaps. This is an inversion of the standard Nature handling (which would then necessitate some thought about what nature discriptors to give it) but I like the idea of the crazier your are, the more it helps.

My reason for suggesting using something like the Nature mechanic is two-fold. Firstly, it mechanically lets you get your shit under control in a way that standard Emotional Attributes don’t. Secondly, I’m enamored with the way Nature makes you thread the needle between going home to a quiet life and being too far in to back out. I also really like how Nature-type stats are an indicator of how /different/ the character is from everyone else (which is part of why I like inverting nature for things like this and making 0 be baseline and 7 being off the deep end).

All that said, I like the idea of having a “how crazy are you” EA for a horror game since as you said, Steel doesn’t cover it (actually, with Steel, the more stuff you see the harder and less crazy you are).

A few thoughts and comments in no particular order.

Love the Ob table. Very nice flavour, very lovecraftian.

There is a strong similarity between this one and corruption, have you looked at corruption for inspiration?

The traits you gain are pretty damn sweet, good incentive to risk getting more deranged.

Perhaps there should be some rule ala the corruption trait table? For each awesome trait you have to take a weird or sucky one? Otherwise the weight is really on the players/gm to choose fair traits.

It is almost a shame that corruption is never rolled or tested, which also means that grayshading it has little effect (other than lowering the exponent). Perhaps a skill or two could be based on it? A social skill that’s about obfuscation and incite action could be fun - a magical version of the conspicious skill or something similar. The orcs have a few skills rooted in hatred, they could serve as inspiration.

You could take some inspiration from Honor/Shame and have deranged mess with you beliefs and/or instincts if it gets high enough. If it exceeds your will you have to take a belief involving some weird or lovecraftian obsession, if it exceeds your steel you must replace an instinct with a phobia or obsessive behavior.

That could also serve as justification for having it affect tests more. If you have an obsession or belief/instinct directly tied to your deranged attribute, you can help yourself with it for a fate point, let it replace a skill or stat for a persona and add it for a deeds.

The hard thing is to figure how it should be applied. Perhaps something similar to dwarves where you have to choose some things you are crazy about and some you aren’t?

Pretty neat and very Lovecraftian, but I think you could get an interesting Unknown Armies version too. A simple way to do that would be to have Steel tests only count towards derangement if failed, so you either go nuts or you become able to look unflinchingly into the abyss with a clenched jaw.

You could also use Honor/Shame mechanics with Deranged/Hardened. That would really be effort, but then there’s an option other than just going bonkers. Which is anti-Lovecraftian but also makes for interesting stories.

Thank you all for the feedback, first of all.

@ cathexis: I’d take a deeper look at the Nature attribute in TB. Right now I’m not playing TB, although I read it, but willing to try it as soon as possible!

@ Suicide King
Yes I looked at Corruption. To be honest, some paragraphs are pretty much a shameless cut + paste from the MaBu. You’re right the traits are sweet. I think they could be balanced by the fact that Dernaged by itself has no other mechanical advantage. It’s only a countdown to madness; while instead Corruption could be used (and tested for advancement) in many situations. I like however the idea of having some drawback traits, at least for the Call-on/Die traits of the second list. Maybe simply having the player ALSO choose for free a trait from the first list? They’re only character traits, but in general they’re pretty much on the “you’re (quite) nuts” line. Socially hampering, sort of.

The idea of having Deranged (you spelled Corruption but I imagine you intended Deranged instead) is quite neat! Maybe it can be used instead of any other skill for Obfuscate and Incite maneuvers. Sounds also reasonable it can be FoRKed in some skills/stats for social interaction, or in wises based on Lovecraftian-like mythos, or esoteric academic skills.

I initially thought about the idea of having quite Deranged characters (Exp 5+ maybe?) penning down an extra Belief to represent their obsession and impending madness, in a similar manner to Faithful characters. Then I dropped the idea in this first draft, but it is my intention to take the idea to the next draft.

@ Wayfarer
Good input there. I initially thought about having only successful Steel test count towards Deranged advancement. The rationale: you stand horror, you internalize it and elaborate it and you can live with it - or at least you think you can. If you fail a Steel test and hesitate, it’s like your brain raised unintentional, subconscious defenses, blackening you out for a while, but also preserving your mental sanity. Essentially, this way Steel would opposite, but also complimentary, to Deranged. If you can Steel it, unflinching, then you go Deranged quicker. If you hesitate, you’re out of the scene and risking your life, but you can still save you mind and soul somehow.
What about it?

I think they’re all fine approaches to different ways to approach horror in your campaign.

In fact, you could make Steel entirely equivalent to Derangement. You’re not becoming braver, you’re just becoming numb, dissociated, and unhinged. (I wouldn’t do that, but it would certainly send a message about sociopath-heroes!)