Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fear and Madness

Alan Lee

The psychedelic, demonic, Dung Age/Crapsack paradigm dictates that there be things that man cannot look upon without soiling himself or gibbering and quaking like a frightened toddler. I like the insanity rules in Call of Cthulhu and concur with whoever the hell it was I read once who wrote of the insanity rules as the reward mechanic of that system.

Now I am not going to go to the extent of constructing a whole 'nother mechanic because I believe in parsimony whenever possible. I like D&D because it is like a twelve-bar blues. One need not get too ornate to be able to tell a compelling story if one uses a solid foundation.

Fear and Insanity in Labyrinth Lord can be adequately modelled with spell effects. This is not an original sentiment and I am sure someone in the OSR has written almost precisely this post probably around 2009-ish but since I cannot secure the resource and intend to incorporate something of a fear mechanic into monster descriptions I will go ahead and describe the mechanics. Someone tell me and I'll credit the originator.

In ascending order of frightfulness;
Daunting - make morale check (hirelings only)
Fearsome - flee in terror (as cause fear)
Terrible - faint dead away (as sleep)   
Horrifying - freeze rigid in paralytic fear (as hold person
Abominable - become utterly bewildered (as confusion
Unspeakable - lose your mind (as feeblemind)  

 From Labyrinth Lord, it's not like I think you kids don't know this but I like convenient things;

Remove Fear (reversible)
Level: 1
Duration: 2 turns
Range: Touch
This spells instills courage in the subject, and potentially
removes the effect of magic-induced fear by allowing the
target a saving throw versus spells to attempt to remove the
effects. The subject receives a saving throw bonus of +1 per
level of the caster.
Remove fear counters and dispels cause fear. The subject must
be touched for the spell to take effect.
Cause fear (reverse of remove fear ) will cause a subject who is
touched to run away, hysterical, at full running movement for
a number of rounds equal to the casterÊs level.
Level: 1
Duration: 4d4 turns
Range: 240'
A sleep spell causes a magical slumber to come upon
creatures with 4+1 Hit Die or fewer. The caster may only
affect 1 creature if it has 4+1 HD, but the spell will otherwise
affect up to 2d8 HD of creatures. Calculate monsters with less
than 1 HD as having 1 HD, and monsters with a bonus to HD
as having the flat amount. For example, a 3+2 HD monster
would be calculated as having 3 HD. Hit Die that are not
sufficient to affect a creature are wasted. Creatures with the
fewest HD are affected first. Sleeping creatures are helpless
and can be killed instantly with a blade weapon. Slapping or
wounding awakens an affected creature, but normal noise
does not.

Sleep does not affect undead creatures.
Hold Person
Level: 2
Duration: 9 turns
Range: 180'
When this spell is cast, most humanoids become paralyzed
and freeze in place. Undead and any monster of a greater
size than an ogre are unaffected. They are aware and breathe
normally but cannot take any actions, even speech. Subjects
may attempt a saving throw versus spell. This spell can effect
1d4 beings, but if directed at a single monster or character,
the saving throw is attempted with a –2 penalty
Level: 4
Duration: 12 rounds
Range: 120'
This spell causes 3d6 targets to become confused, making
them unable to independently determine what they will do.
Roll on the following table at the beginning of each subject’s
turn each round to see what the subject does in that round.
Roll 1d10 Behavior
1-4 Attack caster’s group.
5-6 Do nothing but babble incoherently.
7-10 Attack creature’s group.
A confused character that can’t carry out the indicated action
does nothing but babble incoherently.
Level: 5
Duration: Indefinite
Range: 240'
If the target creature fails a saving throw versus spell with a –4
penalty, it becomes a mental invalid. The affected creature is
unable to speak, cast spells, understand language, or
communicate coherently. The subject remains in this state
until a dispel magic spell is used to cancel the effect of the

I think of this system as being something that can be applied to the more bizarre chimaerae and spectral entities and things from the bottomless pit and something that complements rather than replaces the caution of players - insta-kill and level-drain creates its own fear.
 -Dwarfs are next


  1. Might I suggest switching the effects of Terrible and Horrifying?

    For someone who is hiding and sees the beast slither by and devour a horse, the Terrible would be worse than the Horrific (unless the level 4 limit still applies)

    1. Interesting idea. I'm thinking in this case I might allow a saving throw vs. paralysis but the really significant thing here is that that sleep is silly at first level, but we all knew that.

  2. D&D is like 12-bar blues played by a teenage garage band that only knows a handful of tunes.

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