I’ve been thinking about some sort of mental anguish rule for a while now. It seems to me that adventuring types both imagined and real are often looking to escape or move beyond emotional pains.
My mom was decapitated by Thulsa Doom, then I had to turn a wheel for fucking ever until I murdered for the entertainment of some assholes. So I escaped to have sex with a demon witch lady before continuing my quest for vengeance. Wouldn't you know it, my Red Sonja-y girlfriend gets shot by a snake arrow. Back to killing.
I feel alienated from peer group and girls don’t really like me that’s why I hate myself, maybe it’s the way I look or maybe it’s something else. So I escape to shows where the place gets trashed and the cops get called and we run away and maybe talk some shit to a football player marine future cop who can kick my ass but again I’ll run away before I’m too badly beaten and try to get drunk and find some drugs and maybe a bit of enlightenment on a tab of LSD.
So adventurers want treasure and carousing, but why do they want treasure and carousing? Because they are miserable! So let’s make misery sorta like hit points, but different.
The next campaign I’m going to be running is a post-apocalypse game. One of the cores of this will be the suffering and misery of the characters. I’m also going to be running a convention one shot at Bash Con next month that is a funnel type thing about a mining disaster on a moon of Jupiter. So my goals for this initial pass at the MISERY INDEX is for it to work in campaign play as well as a one off.
At its most basic Misery Index can function somewhat like a sanity mechanic. The James Raggi insanity dismissal is fairly sound until one considers his description as unipolar. It is true that D&D characters act like maniacs all on their own, but what about the crippling depression when the campfire embers are low and the only company one has staring into the dark abyss is the memory of the twisted visages of slaughtered wee-goblins from the morning? That terrible wicked shit might get to even the most hardened mercenary killers.
Those are not heroic acts of self sacrifice saving the rest of the party. No it is suicide by dragon.
These rules should be usable in just about any system, though as of now the numbers are wholly untested and may need serious reworking. This is more of a starting point.
Misery Index: The Rules
Misery Index is the numerical representation of the terrible shit a character has felt, has seen and has done. It is a score that tracks the late night hauntings and the time in the mornings needed to adjust to remembering they are in fact who they are and that dreams were only a temporary reprieve.
After any rest or encampment and whenever Misery Index increases, characters must make a saving throw (Will, Magic, Wisdom Check). Failure requires a roll on the following EFFECTS Table, modified by their current Misery Index score. This roll can be skipped if it gets old or tiresome.
Roll % + Misery Index
1-15 Under the weather
The character just sort of feels shitty, but no mechanical effect.
16-25 Feeling Down Blues
The character is down enough where social tests (persuasion, charisma checks, interactions with retainers) is at a -1 penalty
Fuck It! is the thought of the day. The character would rather be doing nothing. Any roll made while not wearing pajamas is at a -1 penalty.
36-40 Generalized Anger
You know what, not fuck it, Fuck This! The character is pissed. On the plus side all acts of violence are given a +1 bonus. Even damage.
41-49 Misplaced Rage
No not fuck this. You know what FUCK YOU! The character is extra quick to violence today. They still get the anger +1, but they are at a -2 penalty to all social checks and have a 1 in 6 chance of attacking nearby allies in combat (This should be an extra attack, rather than a replacement. If you are using tactical minis or Roll20 grids only make the check when they are adjacent, but then maybe make it automatic, to keep the system from being gamed)
50-59 Dissolving of Bonds
Really I’ve had enough of your shit. If there are Dungeon World or 5th Edition bonds in play, cross one off. Helpful spell effects don’t help. Bardic songs are just pissing you off and inspiring jack shit.
60-68 Foolhardy Self Destruction
One time when I was having a really shitty week, like disintegration of cohabitation cuckolded shitty, I got robbed at gunpoint. I did not give up my wallet initially and got into a fistfight after being pistol whipped. I am a weakling and a coward, so D&D guys should be doing waaaaay stupider shit than this even.
69-73 Crippling Self Loathing
Everything is -5
Don’t need a penalty because nothing is being done.
75-83 Roll Two More Times Ignoring Repeats
84-89 Roll Two More Times Rerolling Repeats
90-93 Roll Two More Times Compounding Repeats
94-97 Roll Three More Times Ignoring Repeats
98-99 Roll Three More Times Rerolling Repeats
100+ Roll Three More Times Compounding Repeats
Earning Misery Index Points
First Kill 5 points
Next 10 kills 2 points each
After that, saving throws when appropriate, success, no effect, failure the victim reminded the character of something stirring up emotions that seemed buried. 3 points
Death of a companion 4 points
Death of a loved NPC 3 points
Death of a parent sibling or mentor 5 points
Death of offspring 10 Points
Death penalties are doubled if the character has any possibility of blaming themselves for the death.
Getting Rid of Misery Index
Only time can decrease the misery. For every month of game time, 1 point is removed.
Mitigating Misery Index
The Effects of Misery may be waived if the character engages in drug and alcohol abuse (though saves must be made or misery is incurred the following day) carousing, sex, revenge, killing and violence (should the character embrace bloodlust), dedication to a project or quest.
Awards for Role Playing the misery:
DCC = luck
5th Edition = advantage
Savage Worlds = Bennies
XP if you do that sort of thing
After I get some play in with this I’ll return to the subject. I’d love to get some feedback on this, I think with the right tweaking it could be a cool plot driver and resource to be watched by the players.