Saturday, March 05, 2011

Fear in RPGs

            I have been going over the various versions of the rules I did for Tai’eres, and have come to the conclusion that I want to revise them and make another attempt at putting together a game. Given my COPIOUS amounts of free time, this will take more than a while.

            One of the things I am looking at inserting into this revision are some ideas I’ve had for fear mechanics in a role-playing game.

            Most RPG systems have a character make some sort of save or roll when something frightful or horrifying is encountered. If the player makes the roll, then nothing happens, but if the player misses the roll… well… I’ve seen all manner of things happen from the character being forced to run away from the scary thing to the character just dropping dead from a coronary. Now, while some of these results can be amusing, they’ve never really sat well with me as it takes control of the character AWAY from its player, and forces the character to do something that is essentially no fun for the player. A lot of the folks I know play RPGs in order to be heroes, and it’s very difficult to be heroic when a character is fleeing and screaming like a little girl, or just… dead.

            Player 1: “Get ‘em, Jim!”

            Player 2: (no response)

            Yep… fun… NOT!

            Now, I’m thinking of a tweak like having the player make the self-same roll as usual. If the player makes the roll then it’s no big deal. Carry on. If they miss the roll, I’m thinking that they should have a “fear penalty” imposed for their character’s actions for the duration of their exposure to the big, scary thing. This penalty could affect skill checks, attack rolls, and/or damage rolls (and possibly other things) while they are in the presence of the big bad.

            Now, the PLAYER has a CHOICE; he can either choose to have his character stay and fight despite his current handicap, or he can choose to play it safe and have the character run away, at least far away enough for the character to have a chance to gather his or her wits about them. I like this idea a lot because it places the choice in the player’s lap. It allows the player to continue to be active in things that are happening and have a say in how his character reacts despite the fear and the danger.

            If the scared-out-of-his-wits character dies at the hands of the thing that frightened him… well…

            …That was the player’s choice. He could have run away…

-- GopherDave


  1. Your post inspired me to post the PC Morale rules I've been working on...

    Hope you find them useful!

  2. Arrghh. Massive reply lost to blogger. Maybe just as well.

    In short, I prefer for mechanics not to be involved unless there's some supernatural/magical/superpowered effect going on, but if there is to be a mechanic, I like the way you're going by not restricting HOW the PC reacts, but HOW WELL they may do so.

    I also think that instead of "fear" you could just call it "shock" and apply it to all sorts of things that could throw you off for a few seconds - alien monstrosity, sure, but also unearthly beauty, seeing long-lost sister, something benign but truly bizarre, etc.

  3. Wow...

    Hey Guys! Welcome to tiny little corner of teh interwebz. It's kind of nice to have folks I don't see on a regular basis comment. It makes me feel special. =P

    James: I went looking at your rules. Interesting... I don't play much (if any) D&D or its derivatives anymore, but good mechanics are always fun to look at, analyze, and outright swipe for my own projects. ;)

    Taurus: I called it "fear" mainly due to the fact that it's usually scary situations that cause a fight or flight reaction. I can see broadening the scope of the mechanics to cover some of the other situations you've brought up.

    Definitely food for thought, Gentlemen... =)

  4. As an aside, this has made me realize that I must introduce an undead critter with the power to surprise and confuse into my games sometime...the Flabberghast!

  5. Hmmmm...

    Ghast = REALLY smelly Ghoul

    So, by extension of "logic", a Flabberghast should be a smelly, morbidly obese Ghoul.

    You know, something Nurgle would be proud of. =)