Did a little more work on the Madness stuff inspired Jonathan Walton.

Did a little more work on the Madness stuff inspired Jonathan Walton.

Did a little more work on the Madness stuff inspired Jonathan Walton. Still a few gaps, and a few things that need to be tightened up.


Madness is a new stat that measures your slow descent into insanity. Madness starts at 0.

When you are confronted with a scene of true horror, be it monster or event, roll +Wis. On a 10+, you manage to stay in control. On a 7-9, you take -1 ongoing until the source of terror is gone or dealt with. On a 6 or less, you gain a point of Madness and must flee, panic, beg, or fight.


For every point of Madness you have, you take -1 forward when Defying Danger with WIS, or when you are are confronted with a scene of true horror.

When your Madness pool equals your INT or WIS (whichever’s higher), your character has descended irrevocably into insanity and is now an NPC.


You can reduce your Madness pool by performing one of the following tasks:

• A Cleric with the “Destruction of Otherworldly Foes” or “Healing and Restoration” domains can use the following new level 3 spell: Restore The Mind – Remove 1 point of Madness from the target.

• A Paladin can use Lay On Hands to transfer a point of Madness from the target to himself instead of healing damage

• Take a Debility to any stat to remove one point of Madness

• Take a Madness Bond or Fear Alignment to remove one point of Madness


The following options for basic class moves are added to the base playbooks and do not require Madness to take:


• Tales of Terror and Madness


• The Destruction of Otherworldly Foes

• The Will of the Old Ones


• Your religion spreads like a disease: add Petition: Dive Mad With The Truth

• Your religion fights against the darkness: add Petition: Fearlessness


• The Void Between The Stars

• The Forgotten Deeps


• Immunity to Madness


• Horrifying

When you have at least one point of Madness, you can take the following moves when you level up:

BARD: Voices In Their Heads – You do not need leverage to Parley with someone, but they know you’re doing something weird to their mind.

CLERIC: Speaker for the Old Ones – You can use Turn Undead on creatures of otherworldly origin. It works as per the normal move, but on a 10+ the creatures come under your unwilling control.

DRUID: Shape of Madness – When you Shapeshift, your damage die increases one step, but you gain the Horrifying tag, no matter what you shift into.

FIGHTER: Fanatic’s Fervor – When you deal damage, it’s always considered “messy” and you deal +Madness damage. However, as long as there are valid targets around (friend or foe) you must Defy Danger with WIS to stop fighting.

PALADIN: But Now I See – You have the following additional option on “I Am The Law”: Drive the target mad for a short time. Your list of available vows when Questing is completely replaced by the following list:

• Violence (forbidden: Allowing enemies to live)

• Hedonism (forbidden: Showing restraint)

• Pestilence (forbidden: not sure)

• Chaos (forbidden: Maintaining a status quo)

RANGER: Symbiote – Your animal companion becomes a literal part of you. It can hide inside your body, and gets +1 Ferocity and the Horrifying tag. Even when hidden, there is an obvious Tell that you’ve got something living inside you, such as a sickly wound that never heals, or something crawling under your skin.

THIEF: At One With The Darkstill no idea

WIZARD: Power In Madness – When you roll a 6 or less when Casting a Spell or Spouting Lore, you may take 1 Madness to change it to a 7-9 result.

34 thoughts on “Did a little more work on the Madness stuff inspired Jonathan Walton.”

  1. Jonathan Walton Just bear in mind they’re not done yet; there are still some gaps and the mechanics haven’t been tested.

    Magi max That’s a good point; I didn’t take level “scaling” into account, but I think it’d be better to treat it like hit points, where the max goes up every three levels.

  2. The Pestilence vow could forbid curing diseases and debilities, potentially. Or possible Forbidden: leave a settlement untainted.

    The Thief could have something similar to the Wizard, but for Defy Danger; they move in an uncanny shadow-spanning angle-twisting fashion to avoid the danger, but take 1 Madness. Alternatively, it could give them an extra Trap Expert question (e.g. Where is reality thin here?) or Backstab option (e.g. you terrify them, leaving them babbling and incoherent).

  3. THIEF: The Spaces Between Shadows – When you Defy Danger to go unnoticed, you can take 1 Madness to pass through small cracks or gaps you couldn’t normally pass through, or to fit into small places you shouldn’t be able to fit inside.

  4. I think the “make a new character” move might work better as a session move. Like, at the beginning of a session, you check to see whether your madness is higher than X, then you either take debilities or reduce your madness below X in other ways, or you make a new character. Yeah? I feel like, however mad you are, your player should be able to play out the session, maybe, and not make a new character or lose control in the middle of play unless they specifically want to (which is also possible, since high madness is pretty incapacitating).

  5. I get where you’re coming from. So something like this:

    Price of Insanity

    At the start of the session, if your Madness is above your Madness threshold, you must perform one of the following:

    • Take a Debility to any of your stats, and remove a point of Madness.

    • Take a Madness Bond, and remove a point of Madness

    • Take a Fear Alignment, and remove a point of Madness

    • Reliquish control of your character to the GM and create a new character

    You Madness Threshold is the highest of your INT or WIS, plus one point each at levels 3, 6, and 9.

  6. Yeah, looking at it now I like it a lot better. It’s a nice balance of a sliding decline into insanity, keeping things just out of complete control of the player. And during a session, the play can still take the debility/fear alignment/madness bonds to reduce the pool even more.

    Also, just thought of this: If you take a Madness class move, your Madness can never drop below 1 by any means.

  7. This is very timely.  I’m starting up a weekly DW game this evening, and one of the setting choices on offer is a gothic horror fantasy world (Innistrad, from MtG).  If the players go with that setting, I’ll give these rules a test run.

  8. I like these a lot in theory, but I’m wondering whether setting the Madness Threshold to INT or WIS is too harsh. Wouldn’t this mean that unless a player made either INT or WIS the +2 stat, a Level 1-3 character would go irretrievably insane the very first time he/she received a point of Madness? 

  9. David Thiel I hadn’t thought of that…I think I agree with Jon and say “Madness Threshold starts at the higher of your INT or WIS, plus 2, plus one more at levels 3, 6, and 9.”

    That’ll give a starting Threshold of 2 to 5, yes?

  10. For the Thief, how about something like “When using Parley, you can roll +madness instead of +CHA, but no matter the result the other party will never want to deal with you again”.  Make it reflect how uncomfortable people are around you or something.

  11. Peter Rebecca Well, I think Parley-ing is more in the Bard’s wheelhouse than the Thief’s. Also, there’s not much of a benefit to using Madness instead of CHA, since you’d need a good amount of Madness to have it be a benefit for a one-time Parley.

  12. Sean Dunstan Ah, you’re right, also I didn’t read closely enough as the Bard move already effects Parley and is frankly completely better.

    Maybe a Starting Madness Move could be another option for poison?

  13. Fear Alignment presumably means to define something you’re terrified by, and whenever you act out fear of that thing, take an xp?  

    I’m not quite sure what a Madness Bond would be. 

    It seems like a player who was inclined to cheap out on the rules could take a Fear of something unlikely to come up in play, and reduce Madness with very little real cost.  (Some players have a hard time voluntarily hurting their own character, and will strongly prefer to have rules that specify bad consequences, rather than having to choose something themselves.)  Do you have a guideline in mind to clarify that, or will it be a matter of GM approval that the fear is appropriate?

  14. Fear Alignments and Madness Bonds were something that someone else created (I forget who).

    A Madness Bond would be something like “____ will be the perfect host for my Master” or “________ is ONE OF THEM!”.

    As for players who don’t want have bad things happen to their characters…well, they probably shouldn’t be playing a horror game then. And of course anything a player comes up with would have to be approved by a GM.

    To tangent a bit, I don’t think games should design around That Guy who’s looking for the easiest mechanical “out”, because no matter what that guy’s going to tweak things so he gets a benefit without a downside. You should design a game under the assumption that the people playing are going to play with the game instead of trying to “beat it”.

    When you try to come up with rules and conditions to stop That Guy from saying “oh, I need to be afraid of something? I’m going to be afraid of three-legged purple dogs”, what you’re doing is adding unneeded complexity to the system and making things harder for the non-That Guy players. Stopping That Guy from doing stuff like this is part of being a good GM, not something that should be codified in the rules.

  15. I actually think you can do both. There’s nothing wrong with modeling appropriate behavior. AW/DW provides lots of lists to choose off of for exactly this reason. But then it’s also okay to leave it open ended and allow players to make other, non-list decisions that feel appropriate.

  16. Colin Roald Madness bonds would be kind of like fear alignments.  You would want to have things that triggered your madness or find ways of acting on your madness in the game because you couldn’t get XP at the end of the session if you didn’t interact with or resolve your madness.  If the end of the session comes up and you look back and your madness hasn’t come up, you are neither hurt nor benefit from your madness. 

  17. Yeah, what Jonathan Walton said. 

    Maybe these have been written elsewhere, but it seems there are some things to clarify about Madness Bonds.  Do they provide the same bonus to Aid/Interfere as regular bonds?  Do they overwrite existing bonds, or do you get extra?  Or do you have to have an open bond slot to take one?  Can you overwrite one Madness Bond with another?  Presumably you don’t get xp for resolving a bond if it just gets overwritten, right? 

    With other bonds, you’re pretty much allowed to just decide when they’re resolved and can go away — presumably it wouldn’t be appropriate to do that with Madness Bonds. 

    On the other hand, maybe I’m not a good person to comment on Madness Bonds, because I really don’t like the sound of the intraparty chaos implied by a bond like “__ will be the perfect host for my Master.”  The rest of this sounds pretty awesome, though.

  18. Well, like I said, Madness Bonds and Fear Alignments were someone elses’ things; I was just piggybacking on it because I liked the ideas and I needed more Madness-curing options than “cleric spell and lay on hands and that’s it”.

  19. On a different note, I really like the handling of sanity in Unknown Armies — in particular, the idea that succeeding at too many horror checks makes you hardened and callous, and eventually you can lose your humanity from that, too.   Looking at this system, it might fit in as a good option on a 7-9 result, something like “you can take -1 ongoing until the source of the horror is dealt with, or you can take a Callousness Alignment, and this particular horror no longer affects you.”


    Presumably you could also elaborate on the Madness score with the full five tracks of sanity from UA, too, but I’m not sure if it would be worth the effort.

  20. Colin Roald I love the madness mechanic in UA too, but it’s really more appropriate for modern occult horror (where you look at the psychological effects). I was going for more of an “evil/madness as an actual corrupting force”, since that’s a pretty common trope in fantasy.

    And yes, performing a Quest or Ritual should be options there. Thanks!

  21. Colin Roald Madness is basically a bond with yourself.  I’d say it would be a bonus bond slot that disappeared but also gave you a bonus XP when resolved.  If your madness applies, you may roll to aid yourself.  Remember that to aid, you must describe how your madness applies to the current situation and act accordingly.  On a hit, your madness is a boon, take the +madness forward.  On a 7-9, your madness escalates (max +3) and you don’t get the bonus to the roll.  On a miss, no bonus to the roll and, while you may succeed at the roll, the GM will make a hard move related to your madness.

  22. We played the first session of my weekly DW game this past Tuesday, and the players opted to play in the Innistrad setting, so we will definitely be getting some use out of the madness rules.  I gave them best of INT or WIS +3 as their madness threshold, since I plan to expose them to a lot of madness inducing stuff.  We’ll see how that plays out.

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