Insanity in The Fantasy Trip

Insanity in The Fantasy Trip

One of the things that is missing in The Fantasy Trip is a simple set of rules for dealing with insanity. There are tons of situations where that would come into play, or even creatures that would cause it. Here are some simple house rules that make a stab at guiding players and GMs on insanity (madness!), but keep things as simple as possible.

The Case for Insanity

Madness or insanity comes in many forms, and can have small or large impacts on game play. Whether you are playing the evil wizard who slides into madness because of his dabbling in the necromantic arts, the victim of trauma at the hands of a demon or just a warrior who has seen too many friends die bloody deaths–insanity adds color and roleplaying opportunities to any game.

(One important caution: It is an unfortunate fact that a large number of men and women in America have PTSD (and many other forms of mental illness). Please be sensitive to your group–other players may take offense at your roleplaying of an illness they live with every day).

In practical terms, madness will not be an issue in most games, simply because it takes a pretty dedicated roleplayer to go that far, except in small doses. Mostly it will be seen when an NPC is obviously insane or character is afflicted somehow by magic (such as the Madness spell) or as the victim of some creature.

Situations where insanity can be possible for a character include magical or demonic possession, encountering demonic or mind-blowing creatures (think: Cthulhu) or being the victim of some kind of madness spell. One additional situation is that of PTSD. In traditional fantasy stories or gaming, that is never brought up–warriors wade through seas of gore and go home to a sound sleep. That is not realistic–but this is also a fantasy game. GMs may just decide not to deal with those effects in fantasy games, but maybe deal with it if playing in a science fiction setting where most people are not used to that level of violence. Your call.

A Simple Solution

No matter how it is implemented, insanity is not detailed in the rules of TFT. Here is a simple method for integrating insanity into TFT without going full-on GURPS. These rules are heavily borrowed from Dragon Warriors, but with some tweaks thrown in. I thought about using a form of Insanity Points, like Call of Cthulhu, but discarded that idea–I wanted to keep this as simple as I could.

When a character is in a situation where madness is possible, and the character fails any saving roll (usually 3d vs. IQ), the GM makes 2 dice rolls: one determines the severity of the affliction and the other determines the form.

Severity Table

Roll 2 dice:

2-6 Mild The character suffers a mild form of the insanity once and recovers completely.
7-10 Intermittent In any situation where the insanity may manifest itself, roll 1d. On a 6, it appears.
11-12 Acute The form of insanity appears at all times. In a stressful situation, roll 1d. On a 6, a severe form of the insanity manifests itself.

Insanity Form Table

Roll 3 dice:

3-4 Catatonia The character behaves as he normally would, but stands as if petrified. No actions can be taken during the attack. The circumstances that trigger the attack are known only to the GM, but should be related to the situation that inflicted the madness.
5 Paranoia The character believes that one or more people or groups are out to get him. The character gets a -1 on all reaction rolls when dealing with the suspected people or groups.
6 Obsessive mania The character has an obsessive-compulsive behavior. The focus of his obsession should be related to the situation that caused the madness, but could also be related to the exact opposite. The character may be forced to repeat actions, or become obsessed with daily rituals. This may earn him a -1 on reaction rolls.
7-8 Phobia The character develops a strong fear of some object or situation. This should be related to the situation where the insanity was caused.
9-11 PTSD The character has lingering effects due to highly traumatic events. This can take the form of anger and irritability, loss of sleep and lack of concentration. This can lead to a -1 on reaction rolls made during the attack, or -1 ST in fatigue and -1 on IQ-based rolls.
12-13 Hysteria The character laughs uncontrollably. This can be at an awkward or even dangerous moment. The character can take no other actions during the attack.
13 Amnesia The character loses memory of certain events, usually associated with the situation that inflicted the madness. The memory may or may not return.
14 Uncertainty The character loses the ability to take decisive action. Even simple, obvious decisions become difficult, if not impossible. The character may not be able to decide between spells or weapons to use, which path to take or make any decision in similar circumstances.
15 Megalomania The character becomes arrogant and overbearing. He believes he is better than everyone else, knows more, is of better birth, etc. He is particularly arrogant regarding anything that relates to the situation where he gained the madness. This leads to a -1 on all reaction rolls.
16 Multiple personalities The character develops one or more additional personalities. The GM and player must work out the details of the new personality, but it usually will be some form on “protector” of the main, original personality.
17-18 Psychotic break The character becomes a true psychopath during the attacks. He may stalk and kill people or creatures that somehow relate to the situation where he was afflicted with the insanity. This form of madness is particularly dark and dangerous, and must be worked out between the GM and player.

How To Use This in The Fantasy Trip

The intent here is not to provide rigid rules for every possible situation of insanity, but rather a slightly more structured way of guiding the GM and player than just saying “roleplay it!” Use the dice rolls and results tables to provide a starting point for working an interesting story line into the game–do not be a slave to the dice rolls.

Once the madness is determined, though, it should be difficult to get rid of. About the only way to cure the madness is the IQ 19 spell Remove Curse or the IQ 15 spell Major Healing–or a Wish. Any character that struggles through his insanity and somehow fights his way back to sanity should get a heavy dose of experience points for it.

One final suggestion: don’t let any instance of insanity get in the way of having fun. Some forms can be light, but some forms can definitely be dark and bring the mood of the game down. Be careful, and be sensitive to your group. If that is what your group is playing, thematically–go for it. But it might not be for everyone. After all–we game to enjoy ourselves and escape from life for a bit, not to be reminded of the problems around us in daily life.

Marko ∞


  1. That’s a pretty good conversion of Dragon Warriors to TFT. I have been doing something similar. The big difference in our approaches is that I tried for something more “over the top” than “gritty;” that is, I didn’t use things like PTSD (which has way too much of a chance of hitting home in today’s America), and instead went with more “Call of Cthulhu” types of insanity (in the First Edition version of that game, anyway); which are, sort of counter intuitively, actually easier to roleplay, since they are far removed from the average player’s day-to-day life and therefore much less likely to hit a hidden trigger or step on a rake in the game.

    To my mind, insanity in a game like TFT ought to be more “cinematic” than anything else — a chance for a player to do something clever with a difficult situation — and not something that would necessarily meet today’s clinical definitions of “insanity.” Also, in CoC, you can get treatment in the form of Psychoanalysis; clearly your solution of using magic is the closest thing to that. But players can also recover on their own, and it’s helpful if we have some sort of rules mechanism that can codify that as well — not necessarily for the players to know, but for the GM to use as a consistent way to apply “recovery” standards to the players. Again, that doesn’t reflect messy reality so much as it does a Fantasy Game, but that’s okay in this case, I think.

    But I definitely like the way you approached the topic. In Dragon Warriors, they have the player undergo a type of attack to determine whether or not this could be an outcome (Fright Attacks), and I’m still trying to figure a way to elegantly translate Fright, Gaze and similar attacks into TFT terms so that it doesn’t always depend on the GM to judge when and where such attacks occur. Again, I sort of go back to the Call of Cthulhy, 1st ed approach — that certain circumstances can inflict a “mental save” (3/IQ or 4/IQ, or more), depending on the severity of the event, which can then force the player into a “my saving roll failed, now what?” situation.

    Unlike CoC, I don’t think that the average medieval warrior, seeing a dead body, or even seeing one severely mutilated as a result of a sword or axe fight would count as a “shocking” situation; after all, in the medieval world, death of all kinds was pretty much par for the course. But seeing an “Outer God,” or being tortured, or suffering the vagaries of Demonic Possession, knowing that someone you love has been kidnapped by Orcs and marched to the dungeons of Thangorodrim, yeah, all those things could lead you that way.

  2. Thanks for the write up I enjoyed reading it.
    A word about PTSD:
    My background, I was a staff Sargent in desert Storm (’90-’91) my PTSD started after I got back to civilian life. (Hence POST Tramatic Stress Disorder) The forms it took were:
    5 Paranoia: an uncomfortable feeling around groups of people I didn’t know.
    6 Obsessive mania. My things had to be in the correct place, socks rolled, clothes folded per military reg. Etc…
    7-8 Phobia: fear of NOT being in an open space. Not exactly claustrophobia. But being some where I couldn’t see to the horizon.
    12-13 Hysteria: laughing about it all after the fact. Uncontrollably.
    15 Meglomainia: In any situation where someone else was in control, I would become loud and demanding. (Things that happened, someone cutting in line at the coffee shop, yes he got a dressing down. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Stand up straight when I’m yelling at you! 5 minutes of military dressing down later he didn’t want his coffee any more. I am truly sorry to that person.)
    I also had/have nightmares.

    Today 25 some odd years later I could deal with the issues of PTSD, but it could be uncomfortable for some of the other players ;-)

  3. Yeah, I had a little bit of that after Desert Storm too, not to the extent that others (including you, Graylock) did, though — I had nightmares, low tolerance for people and their crap, and a bit of OCD too, but that was about it. It’s sort of scary — like having someone else running your mind while you sit there helplessly looking out. Somehow or another, I got over it. Not even sure how I did it now, but I got a lot less arrogant and a lot more accepting of other people after that. Probably made me a better officer, too.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re doing better, and stay strong, brother!

  4. First off, thanks for your service, guys. Can’t say that enough.

    Thanks, too, for the comments. I have to admit, I was looking at this from 2 angles: fantasy and sci-fi. I’m looking to use TFT for solo gaming in a sci-fi world I’m working on, so I was being kinda selfish. That being said, the nice thing about this setup is that you can adjust the Insanity Form table to meet whatever needs you may have. Gritty sci-fi or cinematic fantasy–the theory is sound. I was going for something in the middle. Something simple, but with some structure.

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