Madness and Sanity are not really rules that I have had to worry about too much in the past. Recently however I have taken an interest in the Primeval Thule (sword & sorcery) setting, and horror and madness have the potential to play a more significant role than in my usual DnD games.
So I began searching about for the best sanity/madness rules I could find. By “best” I mean adding the most fun to the game. What I’ve found is that there isn’t a whole lot of madness rules out there to choose from! Or at least not a lot of madness rules that seem very fun to me as a player, or provide much guidance on adjudication as GM.
Gaming Madness. Not real mental health illnesses.
This is a delicate area in some respects, since mental illness can be a very serious issue in real life. But at the dice table, from a purely gaming perspective, when I’m playing DnD or Crypts & Things or Dark Heresy, I want madness rules that add fun to the game, not suck the fun out of it. And I don’t want a list of dry mechanical penalties either. I want madness to be an opportunity to play a fresh and surprising twist to my PC, to facilitate drama and conflict (and probably comedy) that the GM and other players can build upon.
Naturally, I took a look at the DnD 5e madness rules. And the Call of Cthulu rules. And Dark Heresy. And a bunch of other systems. Of what I read, I very much liked the creative roleplaying approach and not identifying specific mental illnesses the player attempts to adhere to. I like the focus on the slow descent into madness, not the final destination.
I don’t like those madness rules which turn the PC into a stunned mess, wrapped up in a foetal position, mid-combat. In my view those kinds of powerful incapacitation effects are best left to magical fear or charm or similar – they are just too immediate and overpowering to be used mid-battle in my opinion (and will tend to lead to dead characters).
So what do I want to see in my ideal madness rules? On balance, it seems to me fun madness rules incorporate the following:
So here it be... Houserule #8: Fun Madness and Sanity Rules. I’ve done my best to meet the five criteria above. I hope they help make madness a more desirable option to consider for your game.
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