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What's Unnatural in a basic mid-power low fantasy game?


Layec

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I'm using the madness meters from Unknown Armies and Nemesis to model mental health in a new campaign I'm planning. The rest of the meters have all adapted easily, but unnatural is proving difficult.

The game world has a modified version of the psionics system from Traveller (thanks soltakss for the idea), and there are a smattering of supernatural creatures (haven't determined those yet). The problem is that Nemesis' meter has examples that are mostly meeting up with eldritch horrors at the higher intensity levels, and Unknown Armies' are suited to modern mundane minds.

So what is an Unnatural stress in, say, a magical equivalent of 15th century Europe/Mediterranean Sea?

Any help would be appreciated, because I'm rather stumped at the moment. Thanks!

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I have the same issue! I was thinking about adapting the Madness Meter for an Elric! game and absolutely decided to adapt it for a BRP Ravenloft game. How do you scale Unnatural when the supernatural is a semi-known quantity?

The best I've come to an answer is to set anything of supernatural or magical origin at 1 and to rate higher depending upon how dangerous that unnatural event is to the character, using Violence as a guide. Or how far away it strays from understood norms. An obvious portent or omen might be worth 1, where as a visitation might be worth 2. A violent omen might be worth 2 while a visitation from an angry spirit might be worth 3.

It's been a while, honestly, since I have pondered this. I have some notes someplace that I'll pull up but I've not really found my happy medium yet. I look forward to discussion on this topic.

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The honest answer would be that it depends on how common are the supernatural elements of the setting are.

If villagers can go a generation or two without ever seeing an Elf, Dwarf, Orc, etc., or the only magic they see is what comes from their prayers lead by their Shaman or Priest, or the odd healing by said individuals, then just about anything could trigger such an event, at least among some individuals. An Elf showing up on the doorstep might cause Grandma in the back of the hut to scream and faint for example, or the same for a physical manifestation of a spirit or a visual effect or outcome of a spell.

Depending on the exact nature of the world, you might want to award... sorry "award" the PCs Hardened and Failed notches at character creation based upon their occupation and regional background based upon probable exposure. A Wizard might have one or two Hardened notches for example, or perhaps one or two Failed... or a combination.

I've been thinking about a more BRP focused version of the Madness Meter thing lately. If I can will myself to sit down and type it out, I'll post it in a new thread.

SDLeary

SDLeary

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So what is an Unnatural stress in, say, a magical equivalent of 15th century Europe/Mediterranean Sea?

It does become more tricky when the supernatural is less super and more natural. In a world where magic is real and things like dragons, trolls, and ogres are no more myth than bears and wolves, I would aim for things like the undead and demons and the such. Some things regardless of setting are just wrong.

Rod

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I'd take a cue from classic sword and sorcery fiction: Things That Were Once Men, assorted semi-intelligent manlike/apelike killers of no particular species (either loners or whole degenerate tribes), giant spiders/snakes/snails/octopi/lizards that may or may not be worshiped as gods by the locals, ancient skeletal sorcerers who just won't stay dead when you mess with their stuff, etc.

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SDLeary - I'm sure I'm not the only person who would be interested in seeing what you come up with, because while the Madness Meters can be adapted as is with minimal effort, it doesn't really *fit* into BRP. All those boxes...

Chaot - Thanks for putting it into such eloquent terms as, "How do you scale Unnatural when the supernatural is a semi-known quantity?" I kept trying to find the words, and someone else did it for me. Oh well. ^.o

Everyone - This is why I love this board. The ideas you people are capable of producing is truly mind-boggling. Right now I'm thinking of scaling back the knowledge of the supernatural (access to information is at a comparative premium in fantasy, after all), and expanding the supernatural so even those who are experienced might still be surprised.

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Limiting knowledge is a good idea, and the basis of terror. When they confront a creature, player-characters shouldn't yawn, "Ah. Centaur, 4th level." They should exclaim, "OMG, what is THAT?" This is true whether your campaign is based on Greek mythology, sword and sorcery tales, the Cthulhu saga, or a kid's history book on Columbus.

Mentioned the last because that's the era you described in your OP. Think of Chris and crew Boldly Going Where No Man Has Gone Before. Sure, they're scared to begin with, but mere animals aren't going to freak them out -- unless the whale pursues and attacks their ship, or unless that group of monkeys follows them, half unseen and making weird noises, the whole time they are exploring an island, snatching at their clothing if they happen to turn their back on the shadows. A sea serpent, on the other hand, is inherently unnatural -- but something the crew partially expected to encounter. The difference between the whale and the sea serpent and monkeys and hostile man-like things is perception, what's in a name. When planning your encounters, describe what the PCs see and hear -- or think they see and hear -- instead of naming a critter.

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So, somewhere I have a notebook with mad scrawlings about Ravenloft and adapting the Madness Meter. Not sure where it is htough, so I pulled out my UA book.

You could also go with teh idea that, in a setting with supernatural elements, PCs all start with Hardened or Failed points in the Unnatural meter, since they're going to have been exposed to weird stuff by teh time they hit adventureing age.

Exactly. In a fantasy setting, if I'm making a warrior type, I may not have killed someone but I'm weathered enough that I know my way around a fight. I'm nearly 100% positive that what I ended up doing is allowing players to distribute three hardened notches between Violence, Unnatural and Self (I condensed Isolation, Helplessness and Self down to Self).

Chaot - Thanks for putting it into such eloquent terms as, "How do you scale Unnatural when the supernatural is a semi-known quantity?" I kept trying to find the words, and someone else did it for me. Oh well. ^.o

Thanks. It only took about three years for me to compose the question. I've blocked out the next seven to come up wiht the answer! ;)

So I think it's a good idea to look at checks 1-5. Six through ten are really extreme circumstances that can be built upon after establishing the foundation. Also, again, I combined Isolation and Helplessness together with Self. I did this because I didn't think those checks would come up as much and because I already had so much going on with my rules hack that I wanted to cut whatever chaff I could.

In Violence, stress checks range from being attacked (1) to killing someone (5).

Helplessness ranges from unintentionally embarrassing yourself in public (1) to spending a month in jail (5).

Isolation ranges from spending a day without seeing anyone you know (1) to spending a week in solitary confinement (5).

Self ranges from breaking a minor promise (1) to going against something you strongly believe in because you are afraid that it is dangerous (5).

Now, Unnatural ranges from strong deja vu (1) to being attacked with magic (5), which seems a bit too low for a fantasy game where magic is more out in the open. If you remove/combine every other stress, beginning with the first one I think you're closer to something workable.

1 See creature or object that is supernatural in origin.

2 See/perform minor magic (2+2 does not = 4). Illusions, blessings, simple spells like Make Whole or Rat Vision.

3 Attack, be attacked or see someone else attacked with magic. Magic having a significant and dangerous affect on the world around the character. Major flashy magic.

4 Kills someone with magic.

5 Be present in major magical event or entity. Being in the company of a magus, lich or dragon.

After that you need to figure out what the magical equivalent of 'watching someone you love tortured to death' is and set that at ten. Six through nine should fall into place.

Then take a look at failed notches and decide what you want there. Pretty sure I moved nightmares to 3 and obsessive, ritualized personal and ineffective wards and rituals to 4.

I think that's pretty representative of what I came up with and hopefully it's along the lines of what you were thinking, or at least useful enough that you can riff on it.

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What about situations that break with entrenched social conventions and traditions?

I've been watching a lot of 'Upstairs Downstairs' lately and noticing how threatened and disturbed the (Edwardian English) characters can be when something happens that challenges their very mannered/ordered view of the world. I think those folks would take as long to get used to a maid marrying her master as they would a goblin in the pantry... and I'm guessing it gets worse when you go back to where people thought the King and his bloodline were somehow the chosen of the gods and those classes/castes actually WERE an extension of nature somehow.

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You can totally do that. I would have it fall under a Self stress check, which deals with social norms, constructs, self image and one's place in the scheme of things.

Note of clarification, when I said I would let them distribute 3 hardened points, that didn't mean one each. A PC could put 2 in Violence and 1 in Self or 3 in Unnatural or whatever. Thought I would clarify, as when I reread it it read wrong.

Also, there's a short thread about stress checks over at RPGNet and I only bring it up because I think Tancred has a good description of how failed stress checks can play in games and I like Garlick's idea of skill penalties.

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OK, still don't have it written up, but here is the basic outline.

Stresses are as in Nemesis, that is to say:

Violence

Unnatural

Helplessness

Self

Each value is rated from 1-100, as befits BRP. The lower the score, the more brittle the psyche in that category, the higher the more hardened the character is.

Each stress event has a percentile rating. The character, when faced with that event, must roll over the stress rating, but under their Stress Save<?>; rolling exactly your Save is a Critical, a 00 a fumble (this of course open to playing with). If the events rating is half or less of the Save of the character, then they do not have to roll.

An alternative is to have the GM roll the Stress Event in an Opposed Roll with the Player. This would yield a fifth success level (Partial Success), and make things a bit more interesting.

Save results:

Fumble
: Character immediately feints, and immediately lower their Save. 1d3?

Failure
: Character Freezes, Runs Away, or Frenzies, players discretion. Failure Check given (negative check)

Partial Success
: Character heavily shaken. All skills are Difficult. (This result optional)

Success
: Character is able to shake the event off and may function normally. Success check given (positive check).

Critical
: Character is able to shake off the event and may function normally. In addition they may immediately
increase or decrease
the Save just rolled by 1d3.

For every 10 percentiles below 50% the character falls in a Stress Category, they pick up an Aberration. As in Nemesis, these can be a Phobia, Depression, Chemical Dependencies, and Fugues.

A character may be given aid that will mitigate the event:

Counseling
: Another player or NPC must have a Counseling skill to accomplish this. In fantasy settings, perhaps the skill should be Empathy? The character rolls against the difference between the patients current Stress Category value and 50%. Thus someone who has a Violence of 63%, and who just received a check due to an event has a target for the Counselor of 13% (63-50). This can be rolled either method listed above, either by the player against the static value, or against the GM in an opposed roll situation. Success on the part of the Counselor erases the Check so that it doesn't have to be rolled. Counseling is NOT available if the character rolled a Critical or a Fumble. Counseling MUST be given the same game day.

Psychiatry
:

And more later.

SDLeary

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Stresses themselves as skill checks... very interesting...

Yes, in this case the inspiration was the mRQ SRD based games that use things like Persistence and Resilience as skills, though the Stresses cannot be trained. In this case 50% represents the best, as its a balance. The lower you fall, the more instability you show. Too high and you are considered callous or sociopathic.

SDLeary

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It really does depend on the setting and on your take on magic.

For example, imagine a 17th century game where a witch uses witchcraft. It wouldn't bother those in her coven, it probably wouldn't bother the people in her village, but it would freak the hell out of a puritan preacher.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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I think one of the strengths of the Madness Meter does is in being a great equalizer. A puritan preacher is likely to freak out a little bit when experiencing an authentic minor miracle for the first time just as a witch is likely to freak at her first prophecy. It's a sort of induction to the reality of the invisible world. Now, the puritan is going to have a certain relationship with his god and the witch with their spirits. A puritan who has experienced a miracle will be more prepared to deal with a witches prophecy because they are slightly hardened to the supernatural.

This exists separate from how they react to the other's world view. They are still going to be adversaries for a puritan shalt not suffer a witch to live. The more holy mysteries the preacher is exposed to though, the more hardened he is against the supernatural and the more collected he is when facing evidence of witchery.

The cool thing is, if the puritan steps it up and starts some sort of judgment and purification ritual on the witch or if the puritan is presented with or subject to a hex, it's a step up on the meter and the puritan may freak out more until hardened. Just like a witch would if situations are reversed. The puritan's hatred of the witch is divorced from their reaction to the supernatural. The puritan is going to kill the witch because that's what puritans do. If their not hardened first, their going to go a bit crazy. If they are hardened, their going to be a bit sociopathic.

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