Terrible Sights and Insanity

I’ve been working on a series of custom moves for Heresy World to be used when a character’s mental resolve is tested. When you’re greeted by a slobbering mutant, or a gruesome murder scene, or a daemon of the Warp, you must steel your mind to resist succumbing to your fear.

My first iteration of this mechanic used two moves, listed in this commit. The first is when you see something terrible:

Fight Your Fear v1.0

When you witness a terrible sight, roll+WIS. On a 10+ you steel yourself against the horrors you see, take +1 forward. On a 7-9 you maintain your resolve, but your mind is shaken – you take -1 forward. On a 6- you gain 1 insanity.

The insanity you gain for a miss is based on the insanity points system from Dark Heresy. The idea was to give players insanity points, then have them roll on a custom move to keep themselves from going insane. This new move is based a bit on the harm mechanic in Apocalypse World 2nd Edition I saw, where you want to roll low and having more harm or insanity makes that harder.

Insanity v1.0

Whenever you gain a point of insanity roll+insanity. On a 10+ choose an affliction from the list below and reset your insanity to zero. Describe how it affects your character.

  • Your dreams are forever troubled
  • You become paranoid
  • You are sometimes plagued by visions
  • You develop a nervous tick

On a 6- do not mark xp.

The problem I had with this was that I was taking a very serious effect – gaining a permanent mental disorder – and making it possible to get too early and too easy to get. By the nature of this move you are always rolling with at least +1, so your chances of getting a permanent insanity disorder the first time you need to roll it are 27.78%.

I do still like the idea of permanent marks left by insanity, but I feel I need to ease into it with less permanent effects. My next version of the move did away with the permanent effects and just did temporary ones. Permanent effects would likely come later, perhaps on a 12+ result.

Insanity v1.1

Whenever you gain a point of insanity roll+insanity. On a 10+ choose a temporary breakdown and describe your character’s reaction.

  • You begin repeating the same phrase over and over
  • You run away as fast as you can
  • You are frozen by fear
  • You laugh hysterically
  • You try to self mutilate

The effect lasts until you have a chance to calm down or someone snaps you out of it.

After writing this out I realized that I didn’t need two moves for this. The insanity mechanic can still be added in later, but the temporary reactions can just be combined into Fight Your Fear. Thus I’ve scrapped Insanity for now, and just have the singular move Fight Your Fear. Here is the new version added in this commit:

Fight Your Fear v1.1

When you witness a terrifying or gruesome sight, roll+WIS. On a 10+ you steel yourself against the horrors you see, take +1 forward. On a 7-9 you waver for a second but then gather yourself – describe how. On a 6- choose a temporary effect and describe your character’s mental breakdown.

  • You repeat the same phrase over and over
  • You run away as fast as you can
  • You are frozen by fear
  • You laugh hysterically
  • You try to self mutilate
  • You sob uncontrollably

This effect lasts until you have a chance to calm down or someone snaps you out of it.

I think what I’ve ended with here will be a fun move to try out. It’s something I as a GM want to be able to throw at my players whenever they see something terrible. In my previous play sessions (you can read my notes here) I found that I wanted to make them roll when they saw a pile of headless corpses or a horrifying mutant, but just telling them to Defy Danger with WIS is kind of lame.

This move also has a few good prompts that force the players to expand on the fiction. The 10+ result is very basic and simple, but I think that’s good in a move that is already fairly wordy. My vision for the 7-9 result is for the players to quickly describe themselves shaking their shoulders loose, taking a deep breath, cracking a joke, saying a prayer to the God-Emperor, making the sign of the Aquilla, or cursing their enemies.

The 6- result also forces players to describe their actions after picking a breakdown. I wanted to keep the choices open ended and some of them do that better than others, so the list might be culled later. Further play testing will help me flesh this out, but I’m excited to see just how my players go insane.

The rules for ending this temporary effect are intentionally vague. I want GMs to be able to use these breakdowns with a lot of flexibility. Slapping someone who’s crying their eyes out might just bring them back, or it might force a Defy Danger roll from either player. A hard move might be that the character simply doesn’t recover until they have a chance to gather themselves.

I’m going to be using this new move in my next play session so expect updates on how it works.

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