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A sanity mechanic for D&D 4e


A couple of weeks ago I won an old Call of Cthulhu game book on eBay. As I was flicking though the book, I realised that this game provided something that I have struggled to present in my D&D 4e game: a feeling of fear and impending Doom, as well as true fear of the unknown. I almost immediately began considering ways to introduce these factors into my game.

I considered simply running my players through a haunted house, but soon realised that the investigation and exploration of the house, while being ripe sources for role-playing, were not going to put the player’s characters in any real danger of repercussions, other than succeeding or failing to find their objective.

What was needed was a way to present the build up of fear, the danger of making connections, and the impact that all of this would have on the player’s psyche.

After reading through the Sanity rules in CoC, it was clear that this sort of idea could be modified to work in 4e, but it would take a little work.

I considered the skills and stats that the players had available to them. It seemed pretty clear that the best stat to base a Sanity score on was Intelligence. This represented the player Character’s ability to make connections and recall information, as well as their ‘book smarts’.

I got the players to roll their INT mod + half level worth of d6s. The players a level 6, so the lowest INT mod was 2 and the highest was 8.

I allowed the players one re-roll if they thought the score was too low, but with the condition that they had to keep the second roll. Interestingly, almost all of them rolled a second time, and nearly all ended up with a lower score as a result. I’m sure there is a psychology study in there somewhere.

Now that the players had their sanity score, I explained the method I had for rolling a check. Each of the players had 3d10. If they rolled above their SAN score, they were unable to make a connection or deduction about what had just happened. In this way, the players with super low scores were protected from death, and the players with really high scores, reflecting their greater intelligence, were more likely to lose sanity.

One thing I did change from Call of Cthulhu was the much reduced chance of permanent insanity or death. Once a player got below three, they were virtually unable to lose any more sanity.

The final factor to consider was the effect of losing a large amount of sanity in one go. To deal with this, i used to random tables of insanity from CoC. This gave some really good results, with a wizard becoming obsessed with fire and an artificer looking for a reasonable explanation for a wardrobe attacking him.

All in all I think the experiment went fairly well, with the players genuinely worried by what was going on, and a little frightened about what was waiting in the basement.

I found the weakest aspect of the mechanic was having to enforce SAN rolls, as well as finding reasons to have the players roll. It requires a much more complete idea of an adventure than I generally prepare, and if I were to do this again, I would have to prepare to a much greater extent.

Does anyone else know of attempts to play sanity in 4e? feel free to comment below and discuss.


Character Creation


First of all, an apology. It appears after only two weeks I have fallen behind in my self-imposed requirement of at least one post a week. So, here is the first of two posts for this week, to make amends!

Over that last two weekends we (me and my group of players) have had two Character Creation sessions. The aim of these sessions was to create not only interesting characters with plenty of role-playing potential, but also to create a compelling reason for the group to be together, and to build some relationships, and some tensions, between the player characters.

The inspiration and direction for much of this exercise came from a post by the Chatty DM, entitled the Party Creation Session Template. This post gave me a heap of tips and strategies to get the players to think about ways they knew each other, and also to create a bit more of a history for themselves in the world.

For some of the players, this was a simple matter, as they had a very complete view of their character, and quite an extensive history. Others had a much less complete character concept, and I think this exercise helped them to think a bit more about their character and how they fit into the campaign world.

The major recent event of the campaign world has been an extended war against the demons, which ended a year ago in-game. A number of the players’ characters had fought in that war, and were able to establish that they knew (or, at least, knew OF) each other from their Army days.

From this base, the PCs were able to construct an entire back story that saw them venture around the southeast of the continent, gathering a group of famous veterans of the war together.

I gave the players a pretty wide scope to be able to shape the world and people within it in ways that they felt would help their ideas. This is, I feel, the area that the exercise faced the most trouble.I have a history of being fairly resistant to changes to game cannon. I have tried to open up this new world to be a bit more of a collaborative approach, but it would appear as though my reputation has scared the players away a little. I will endeavor to encourage them to be a bit more forward with suggestions.

Finally, I asked the group what they wanted from the game, what sort of game would they like to play in?

The responses I got ranged from “more fantastic locations” and “more natural environments” to “some political intrigue” and “more puzzles and riddles.”

It would appear I have my work cut out for me!

All I need to work out now is, how and where am I going to start the adventure?


Why I play D&D


So, why D&D I hear you ask? Or maybe, why 4th edition D&D?

( I assume no-one reading this is going to be asking WHAT is D&D, so I’ll just skip that question!)

I’m an (amateur) actor, and a(n aspiring) writer. I am extremely interested in Character Creation and story development. I’m also a pretty big geek, and enjoy games. seems like a pretty simple equation, right?

Well, for some reason, it wasn’t. Somehow I managed to grow up, through the entire 80s and 90s, and the vast majority of the 00s without ever encountering D&D. Not once.

I don’t really know the reason for this, and I don’t really know if the IS a reason. It may simply be bad luck.

At any rate, about a year a go, I started to look into D&D, prompted by a number of sources, including Penny Arcade, PvP and a couple of friends.

I bought the Starter Set and played by myself trying to work out the rules and make sense of it all. I took a while, but in the end I started to make some headway.

Over the past year I have recruited some friends to play, and have managed to run two reasonable successful campaigns, both a published adventure and a homebrew adventure.

But, to answer the question I posed at the start of this post, the reason I play D&D is to tell stories. I really enjoy the fact that this game allows me to get together with my friends and create a new world and to do pretty much whatever we want within it, only limited by our imaginations.

And the reason for $e, rather than another game, or an older edition? Well, that’s pretty simple, It’s the only game I’ve really played. I’ve read previous versions, and I’ve read other role-playing games, but I’ve not yet managed to sell it to the others in the group, who are nowhere near as eager to memorise a book load full of rules.

Not really that revolutionary or controversial, but a reason none-the-less.

Next week, I’ll run through past campaigns, and explain the reasons to start on a new world and a new adventure.


An introduction


Hi everybody!

My name is Kip, and I’m a budding writer and Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master, two hobbies that are closely related.

I’ve only recently started playing D&D, having never played role-playing games before (I grew up in the country. We played sports. I assure you I am still a nice person!) and I am now getting close to the end of a second campaign.

I have learned a hell of a lot over the past year, and from the two campaigns.

The first campaign I ran was Keep on the Shadowfell, the official WOTC module designed for characters levels 1 to 3. We had a ball playing that game, and by the end, I was itching to try to design a game of my own.

I designed a campaign revolving around the PCs having to find and reclaim a lost city, learning as they did that a demon was sleeping beneath the city. The demon was the source of all the cities woes and would need to be defeated if the PCs were to be finally victorious.

After about six months of play, and a bit of rotation of players, we are approaching the end of this campaign. So, now as we come to the end of my first ever home-brew campaign and it’s time to start working on the next one!

And that is where this blog comes into play. This will be a record of all the trials, successes and failures that I experience in the course of designing, building, fleshing out etc of this new world, and new adventure set therein.

I’m going to concentrate on the story telling aspects of the new world, because that is the side that is most interesting to me.

So, I don’t know at this point how successful this will be, or how well I will stick to these aims, but I’m gonna try my best, dammit!

I’m aiming for at least one post per week (there, now it’s in writing, so I can’t go back on it!) and these will vary in topic, whether I discuss party building, adventure design, various encounters, up to and including world design.

Well, that’s probably enough of an introduction for now. Stay tuned for future posts!