Google+ Dorkland!: Horror Saves in Old School Games

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Horror Saves in Old School Games

Welcome to my obligatory Halloween post. It is funny but I've never seen the fascination with running horror scenarios or games, just because it is October. Maybe it is because I have always played a lot of horror games that I don't see the need. Horror and superheroes (I know, a strange mix but it makes sense to me) are my preferred genres over fantasy any day. I was reading my PDF of The Book of Unremitting Horror (which is a scary ass bestiary written for d20 Modern but that could easily be adapted to other d20 or old school games) the other day when a reference to Mongoose's OGL Horror book sparked an idea: genre specific saving throws for a horror-themed old school game.

It seems easy enough to me to add a few new categories of saving throws to things. I'm not going to quote everything directly, so you might want to check out the OGL Horror book on its own. I'm not really one to get behind OGL [Blank] line from Mongoose, because I think that most of them suffer from the company's typical need for more speed than editing. There are interesting ideas that can be mined from some of the books, but on their own many of them are shambles.


Anyway. There are three basic kinds of what I am calling Horror Saves: Panic, Fear and Madness. Let's start by talking about Madness.

No, not that Madness. A Madness Save covers those situations like what you might commonly see in games like Call of Cthulhu where characters encounter things that fly in the face of their general conceptions of reality. In games where magic is real and magic-users exist, it can take a lot for that to happen. Failing a Madness save would lead to the deterioration of a character's view on what is "real" and what is "possible." The followup to a failed Madness Save is much more situational and up to the adjudication of the game master than other Horror Saves. I would give Magic-Users a better chance at making a Madness Save than other classes. If you are looking for more insight into the effects of failing a Madness Save, check the OGC Sanity rules from Unearthed Arcana over at the Hypertext SRD. There's plenty of ailments and dysfunctions that can be adapted to your old school games from there.

A Panic Save is for those situations when characters encounter immediate, and often overwhelming, immediate danger. I would say that a Panic Save is like the fight or flight, you fail one and your character wants to flee the scene. Fighters and Clerics should have a better chance at making a Panic Save.

A Fear Save is for those times when the situation is scary or disturbing. Failing a Fear Save would mean that the weird sounds and shadows and general creepiness is getting to a character. Thieves should have a better chance at making a Fear Save.

In a Swords & Wizardry game, the game that I regularly run via G+ Hangouts, I would suggest just rolling these types into the general Saving Throw of that game, and give each class mentioned a +1 bonus for Saving Throws in those situations.

For games with a traditional approach to Saving Throws (like Labyrinth Lord or Lamentations of the Flame Princess) the following tables like this might be helpful:

Fighters/Clerics

Level
Fear
Madness
Panic
1
15
16
14
2
14
15
13
3
13
14
12
4
12
13
11
5
11
12
10
6
10
11
9
7
9
10
8
8
8
9
7
9
7
8
6
10
6
7
5

Magic-Users

Level
Fear
Madness
Panic
1
15
14
16
2
14
13
15
3
13
12
14
4
12
11
13
5
11
10
12
6
10
9
11
7
9
8
10
8
8
7
9
9
7
6
8
10
6
5
7

Thieves
 
Level
Fear
Madness
Panic
1
16
15
14
2
15
14
13
3
14
13
12
4
13
12
11
5
12
11
10
6
11
10
9
7
10
9
8
8
9
8
7
9
8
7
6
10
7
6
5

Yes, I stop the progression at 10th level for each of these. After 10th level, the save progression doesn't change. Basically, what I used was one of the variant ideas that circulated through d20 for a while of the strong/middle/weak save. I broke down the saves according to what I thought the classes should have better saves at. I'm curious to hear any feedback that people who actually use these rules might have. I'm sure that I missed something in my progressions, or someone else would do them differently, so I am curious to hear how this survived in an encounter with actual play.

I'm also not sure how these rules would interact with Castles & Crusades. It has just been too long since I had a chance to read them over. I may tinker with these in conjunction with Amazing Adventures, the pulp game that Troll Lord Games has come up with. They might fit better into that game.

One important thing to think about when adding these things to your games is the fact that, under normal circumstances the situations that fantasy adventurers put themselves into every day would trigger these sorts of things in "normal" people. Because of this, the things that frighten a hardened adventurer should be so much bigger and more scary than the things that would scare the town Innkeeper. These are important things for a game master to keep in mind.
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