Horror, terror and sanity in Dungeon World?  How would / do you model it?

Horror, terror and sanity in Dungeon World?  How would / do you model it?

Horror, terror and sanity in Dungeon World?  How would / do you model it?

My personal preference is to create a sort of wagering system using Wisdom as currency.  Like HP, in a way.  Your starting Sanity is your Wisdom + a number based on your class.  

When you encounter something that threatens to overtake your sanity, risk between 0 and 3 points, and roll plus that number.  On a 10+ choose 2, on a 7-9 choose 1.

– you keep the points you risked

– you resist the effects of fear

– you won’t suffer trauma later

Something like that.

The goal here would be to create a move that;

1) shows a slowly dwindling supply of mental fortitude

2) doesn’t ever take away player agency

3) reflects mechanically the narrative of being “afraid” etc

47 thoughts on “Horror, terror and sanity in Dungeon World?  How would / do you model it?”

  1. I was thinking of something along the lines of hold; were you’re not so much holding as having it thrust upon you. The amount of horror you’re “holding” could be a -ongoing to mental tasks, but then you could have moves that allow you to spend horror for stuff, like bigger spell effects or something.

  2. The idea here (as with any move) is that the mechanism should feel as much like the “actual” thing as possible.  That the choices being made should reflect the tension in the moment.  The trick with the move as presented would be, like hit points, modelling how fast / slow you want sanity to dwindle.  

    Also, I sort of like the way this model says “you can suck it up and be brave forever, but even if the battle is done and you retain your sanity points, you’ve pushed that trauma somewhere deep inside, to wait and rot at your soul”.

  3. Marshall Miller basically everything about the classes is designed to encourage character behaviour that feels like it fits in-fiction.  The Barbarian is a perfect example of this.

    So any mechanism created, like you said, has to encourage play.  If you want the game to be “scary” you need the players to fear for loss of resources (potentially including their characters’ life).  

  4. Nice.  I’d probably also add an option related to the Lore of what you face- to model the increasing Mythos skill from failure of SAN checks in CoC if I were to do it.

  5. I think I would start from the insanity equivalent of Death’s Door and work backwards. What happens when you totally lose it and make a new character?

  6. “Wagering system” doesn’t read as fear-like to me, at least not at first glance. I would think that would engage the probability-calculating rational cost/benefit part of a player’s brain, no?

  7. Alfred Rudzki True, but (to me, anyway), a large part of horror is the idea of helplessness. The loss of control not just over yourself, but over your idea of how the world works.

  8. There’s a move I made and never used, feel free to steal it:

    When you survive Unspeakable Horror of the Hill, roll +WIS. 10+, all three. 7-9, choose one.

    * you can report clearly and in detail what happened to you

    * you can meet the horror face-to-face

    * you can sleep peacefully 

    Also you may write a Bond with it.

  9. I kinda wonder about a move where having a high WIS helps you understand the true nature of the horror before you… but that’s not always a good thing. That way, Wizards are more prone to corruption (which gives them greater power but less control) and Fighters are potentially a bit insulated from the true madness, because they just see it as a confusing monster made of darkness, rather than the baleful and unnatural marriage of Baphomel The World-Breaker, She-Who-Breathes-Knives, and the being known to the ancient elves as Woe-Be-To-Those-Who-Suffer-Its-Anguished-Presense.

  10. srsly though ,

    Instead of Sanity Points, Make the players choose between getting what they want (standing up to the horror, not running away etc.) and permanant neurosis: agorophobia, hearing voices, obsession, insomnia, and the like. 

  11. I think there’s a big difference between “play-act like a scared person” and “feel like you are in a scary situation.”

    If I wanted something that felt more like anxiety, I might do something like:

    Add a new game stat called Stress (maybe something else so it doesn’t have an ambiguous abbreviation with strength…) that can never go below zero. Every move roll now also subtracts Stress (e.g. Hack&Slash is now roll+STR-Stress). Add a new GM move, “add Stress”, similar to Do Damage, but it adds a point of Stress to a character.

    Add a new basic “Cope” move: When you attempt to convince yourself that your current situation is normal and acceptable, Roll+WIS. On a 10+, think of a course of action that will give you a sense of control, comfort, or normalcy, reduce Stress by 1 if you follow that course. On a 7-9, the GM will suggest a course of action that might give you a sense of control, comfort, or normalcy. Reduce Stress by 1 if you follow that course. On a 6-, the GM will suggest a course of action that might give you a sense of control, comfort, or normalcy at the expense of someone close to you. Reduce Stress by 1 if you follow that course.

    That seems like it’s pretty invasive to the system, though, and I would think it would lead people toward inaction and away from proactive action (but that’s kind of the normal effect of fear and anxiety, so…)

    edit: maybe collapse my 7-9 and 6- into the 7-9, and use commentary on move to suggest to the GM that there’s a range of how mean you can be (e.g. “run away”, “say emotionally hurtful things to your friends”, etc.). Having the opportunity for a hard move while a character is dithering trying to make sense of non-euclidean geometry seems like it would be a thing you’d want in the game…

  12. I’m imagining a system where you have domains of thought or experience that get corrupted by your exposure to darkness or whatever and whenever you’re rolling a move related to a problematic domain — something that might be a trigger for the character, you roll an extra (distinctly colored) die and if that die is lower than the lower of your two dice, use it instead and if that results in a lesser outcome for the move, then the character’s slipping grasp on reality had an impact on their performance and it gets narrated in. 

    I suppose the system for acquiring problem domains is just what Ross said above.

  13. The best thing about all these moves is that you could use a bunch of them in the same game, to show how individual people (and not just classes) react differently. The GM could just say, “Well, seem like you need to roll to withstand the horror” and the player could roll whatever their move was.

  14. Sage LaTorra, I totally thought of Steel as well.

    For the short of it, when you fail a Steel test (made when you’re in shock or you face something utterly disturbing), you get to choose one of a few reactions: Stand and Drool (you’re dazed), Faint, Fall Prone, and Run Screaming.

    So you could have a move like this…

    Terror: if you face something frightening, you may choose one and remove 1 Horror:

    * Run screaming

    * Freeze in shock

    * Faint

    Horror could be an accumulating stat which acts as a flat penalty to all moves, sorta an “ongoing -X”.

  15. Adam Koebel I was thinking more like THRICE-DAMNED MANUAL OF THE ENDLESS FORMS OF MADNESS, but we can call it COPING MECHANISMS if you really want.

  16. When you encounter horror, write a one-word tag to describe what you experienced. This tag is now a trigger. When you encounter a trigger, defy danger but roll + Wis.

    When you can’t defy your trigger, take -1 forward to defy that trigger.

    End of session, mark XP if you succumbed to a trigger or remove a tag.

  17. So if there’s a 1-page intro and one page is a random-roll table for picking your horror move, that leaves 30 Scoutbook pages, with a different 200-word horror move on each one?

  18. …adding neurosis tags to your character increases the fictional rational for a defy-danger, or a MC hard move.

    Player:I’m going shopping for some rations

    GM: Cool, there’s a ton of people in the market place today, Saaaay, aren’t you agoraphobic? 

  19. And if we can’t get 30 horror moves that are significantly different, we throw some outrageously horrific monsters in the back? Wait a minute, I think I already have art for this somewhere…

  20. I’ll also point out that, in a sense, every hard move takes control out of the players’ hands. So you could work something around treating a bout of madness as a hard move that needs to be set up properly (or failed into).

  21. Horrific compendium classes could be cool. Blood sorcerer. Bezerker. Necromancer. Chaos cultist. Include an option for: “When you and/or the group decides the character has become an irredeemable monster…”

  22. Paladin’s Quest as model for insanity.

    Don’t need to eat and you can’t make me.

    Don’t need to sleep but can’t sleep either.

    Discern Realities well but always Discern Realities.

    Carrous for free but have to carrous.

  23. The body horror move from Geiger Gamma…

    When you encounter the horror, you feel:

    * nauseous

    * enthralled

    * arroused

    * stripped bare

    * maniacal

    * paralyzed

    * disoriented

    * kinship

    The horror:

    * takes a part of you

    * gives you a part of itself

    * gets inside you

    * comes out of you

  24. Adam Koebel I know  it doesn’t meet your criterias, but I think having to deal with Sanity points may slow down the pace of the game. PC are heroes, they’re used to things like that (I mean Deep Ones, Azatoth, Sponge Bob, etc.)

     Like Marshall Miller and Ross Cowman I would simply stick to “Defy danger”+WIS:

    10+ Just another slimy thing, let’s hack and slash !

    7-9 OMG, this slimy thing must be the twin sister of your mother-in-law ! Choose one:

    – You can still act but take a phobia tag (GM will tell you). You’ll need a looong therapy to cure that.

    – Your mind isn’t strong enough to endure this nightmare. You flee in terror/faint/drop in catatonia (your choice) to remain sane.

    6- You flee in terror/faint/drop in catatonia (your choice). From now on, you’re having serious mental problems (discuss it with your GM) and you’re not aware of that. Act accordingly.

  25. I recently started playing Darkest Dungeon and wanted to bring that atmosphere into our Dungeon World. These sanity rules may fit, but has anyone used this method (or any other for that matter) and succeeded?

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