View Full Version : D&D 5e/Next Horror and Fear System

2017-03-11, 11:21 AM
In order to create a more significant feeling of fear using mechanics in games centered around horror, I'd like to present the following system based on three core tenets:

1. Simple Rules to minimize number crunching and time distracted from the core events.
2. Bounded Accuracy is a great combat balance, but horror is a creeping thing that builds until it can't be resisted.
3. Fear should be engaging, but not debilitating.

With these in mind:

True Horror isn't a single thing. It's not "Oh, look, a monster!" and if it was D&D would be horror from start to finish. It's atmosphere. It's setting. It's considerations and expectations. It's the way the world is meant to be compared to what it is and what it could be. So fear and horror in 5e should be based on a series of functions added together to create a result.

1. Setting.
In any horror encounter, there will be a setting. How creepy or normal that setting appears determines the basic DC of any Horror Check made in the area, modified by other functions.

Setting-------------------------------------------------Base DC--------Example
Somewhere the character is very used to.--------------5-----------Home, a frequently visited tavern, etc
Somewhere the character has never been.-------------8-----------A foreign nation, a seedy tavern frequented by thieves
A place which is by it's nature somewhat scary. -------10---------An abandoned house, a graveyard, a collapsing ruined castle.
A place which by it's nature is quite scary.--------------12---------A Haunted House, a Dragon's Lair, a Torture Chamber.

2. Setting specific details.
In addition to the basic setting itself, certain things can change the tenor of a horrific encounter. Going into a Haunted House is scary, going into a Haunted House in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm is much worse. Unless, of course, those things have a different meaning to your character.

At Night------------------------------------------+2----------------Characters with Darkvision ignore this increase.
During a Storm----------------------------------+2----------------Tempest Clerics and Storm Sorcerers ignore this increase.
Harried by Something---------------------------+2----------------Being chased into the ruins, hiding from a vampire, etc
Weakened----------------------------------------+2----------------Poisoned, half health, out of spell slots, etc.
Madness------------------------------------------+2----------------Characters with multiple madnesses only increase the DC by +2
Wrongness---------------------------------------+5----------------This only applies to well known settings.

3. Events triggering the check.
The event which triggers the check itself also has an increase to the DC, based on what it is. A powerful enemy, the sight of a grisly murder, betrayal by a close friend, and other things can trigger this sort of check.

The arrival of a powerful foe.-----------------+2-----------------A dragon rears up out of hiding, the Vampire appears from invisibility.
Scene of Carnage/Wrongness.----------------+2-----------------Finding the cult's latest child sacrifice, falling into a mass grave.
What should not be-----------------------------+2-----------------Interacting with aberrations or writings from the Far Realm.
Jump Scare--------------------------------------+2-----------------A cat leaping from a cupboard, an unexpected explosion or attack.

And with this we create the ability to craft saving throws against Horror. Based on the horror, you might use different saves. Wisdom, for example, might help one stay calm in a haunted house by assuring oneself that the haunt can't harm them. While a Charisma roll might relate to learning about the Far Realm and holding onto your sense of self. Finding a scene of grisly horror could trigger an intelligence save, to resist your mind snapping, or a constitution save, to avoid vomiting on the spot.

But now that we've got a check one can fail, we need a Result. One could simply apply the Frightened mechanic to the character and call it a day, but I think it's far more interesting to give the player a non-mechanical change. Specifically: Roleplaying Traits.

When you create your events, think of the sort of reactions you might want players to have. Revulsion? Terror? Anger? Create Traits tied to those events.

Someone who is Jump Scared might grow more cautious, possibly to the detriment of the party. Mayhaps they won't open cupboards or containers for fear something other than the cat might jump out. Maybe they refuse to go near a mirror for fear of seeing something else reflected in it (either a twisted version of themself or a being behind them that doesn't belong). Create a Background trait for it and give it to the player, temporarily... or permanently if they continue failing saves.

Does the character have a child? Maybe seeing what the cult did to the little boy on the altar sends the character into a raging hatred where they refuse to accept any plan that doesn't involve chasing down the people who did this and making them pay, whatever the cost.

Does the sudden arrival/attack from the unexpected and powerful foe shake the hero to his very core? Have him roleplay a character who becomes fearful and angry at the slightest unexpected sound, paranoid of the unknown and fearful of what might be around the next corner...

In this way, fear is both a mechanical and a roleplaying construct without truly hindering the characters's capabilities, but introducing interesting complications. It would be best to have each encounter planned within the session have a pre-written "Horror DC" compiled ahead of time, to speed up gameplay. Maybe even have notecards written ahead of time you can pass over to the players who fail which outline their new background traits. Push for those checks a few times during the horror session, but don't push too hard. What is an interesting system can quickly become an overbearing chore. Maintain the fear of the group through atmosphere, and the threat that you might force the roll just beyond the next door...

Getting rid of the traits should be possible, if not simple. Perhaps a Greater Restoration cures the terror, or a few days rest in a comfortable place. Maybe your characters have to confront their fears and are cured of them in an almost magical fashion once the threat which inspired such visceral fear is shown to be truly dead or otherwise passed? Don't be afraid, though, even in cured characters, to bring up a callback now and then. The guy who was scared of mirrors may, months later, see a reflection that isn't his own, or a person behind him in the mirror. Such callbacks should be used, sparingly, to create a sense of dread rather than frustration.

*Edit* You could, if a character were to fail multiple fear checks, introduce Madnesses. But they should be selected from the list to fit the situation and/or the character rather than rolled.

2017-03-11, 12:03 PM
There we go... What do ya'll think?

2017-03-11, 02:53 PM
I think this (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?517416-Darkest-Dungeon) might be a good read for some mechanical effects. I tied in sanity (not so much horror, but it could work) to resting.

One thing, though, is your base DC is 5 for home. +2 for Jump Scare, meaning if your cat jumps out at you in your house in the middle of the day, the average person has 30% chance of failing. (Hell, some PCs might be worse off-they can have 8s.) I don't think that's very reasonable.

In addition, I'd say Darkvision should reduce the penalty to 1, instead of negating it entirely. While you aren't helpless like a non-Darkvision creature is in the dark, it's still dim and spoopy.

2017-03-12, 11:17 AM
I've been thinking about a Scooby Doo style game so I've been thinking about fear, though more of the run away variety than eldritch horror.

The rules are solid - I like the base level and modifiers. I like the role playing traits, and the idea of tailoring them to the adventure, but wouldn't want to over use them. Characters are going to vary in how good they are at adapting to non-mechanical constraints, and it would be hard to track if most characters were under a condition most of the time. Also, it might be good to have a rule that, if you get a trait card and have one, you keep only the stronger one (or the player or DM chooses) because multiple issues are hard to roleplay.

Maybe mix in simple mechanical effects with roleplaying ones. Maybe if you fail a roll by 5 or more (or 10? I dunno), you get a trait as well. Or, maybe if you fail two checks in a row, you get a trait.

In addition to frightened, a character might be:
incapacitated - as they stand there too dumbstruck to do anything for a few moments - realistically this is practically the norm when unexpected things happen.
panicked - must keep running away until their save DC improves, due to improved environment or the source is out of view.
unconscious until the end of their next turn (or a random length of time) because they fainted.
a penalty to further checks and/or to other rolls.
prolonged fear or being on edge might give a level of exhaustion - in extreme cases, over days, this could literally scare someone to death.

Exact mechanical effects could be randomly determined, determined by how badly a character fails a check, determined by the source of the check, or chosen by the DM.