The insanity system is an important element of the game that can be daunting to approach. This guidance page is intended to explain it in more depth and help set expectations, as well as provide thematic clarification and guidance for players coming from Gothic: the Lion Age.
What is Insanity?
All insanities are alterations in the human psyche, where the normally-flexible human mind has become rigid and unable to avoid certain patterns. This can happen “internally”, where one’s own actions create burnt-in mental pathways – or “externally”, where some force reaches in and alters the mind, sometimes subtly and sometimes not.
Insanities are a game concept that should not be confused with real-life mental illnesses or conditions. While there are some overlaps, e.g. some real-life phobias that can be reasonably modeled using in-game Phobias, there are also many real-life mental conditions that are not well modeled by this system. Players should be cautious about attempting to represent such a condition using this system, as a poor representation may be harmful or disrespectful to those with such conditions. See the code of conduct for more information about respectful play.
Insanity is Common
The borders of the Throne are constantly beset by the terrors of the night and their accompanying afflictions, and Luisant is no exception. In such places where Mankind is embattled with these forces, sins and their accompanying Insanities are fairly common. A good half the population of the town has at least one by the time they reach middle age, and many have more. These tend to be considered simply personality quirks. As with depravity, a single powerful insanity is more remarkable than a handful of mild ones.
The most typical sources of Insanity are exceeding the Depravity threshold, and effects from inhuman entities, including Malefic. It is widely known and expected that those who spend a long time in the forest are affected by it.
Insanity Is A Source Of Character Development
The purpose of the system is not to punish characters or players, but to represent and encourage a character’s change in response to stresses, choices and circumstances.
In particular, mild insanities are not intended to be serious hindrances. While more severe insanities become increasingly detrimental, and Crippling insanities can reasonably lead to character endings, they are also generally not surprises – insanities are intended to build over time; barring truly extraordinary circumstances, a character will not jump from nothing to a Crippling insanity in one event.
Internally-generated Insanities often reinforce existing actions and traits. A character could gain a Compulsion to do something they are already actively seeking out, or a Phobia of something they already avoid. Therefore they usually make a character’s personality more pronounced rather than changing it entirely.
Externally-generated Insanities, such as those imposed by supernatural forces, are more foreign to the character’s current personality. They are a consequence of the specific event that triggered them, and should be strongly thematically associated with that event, such as a specific Malefic or Arcane magic.
Staff’s goal, when designing Insanities, is to drive roleplay and interaction. Therefore, players can expect that insanities which induce action and involve others are more likely than those that restrict action.
Notably, Phobias are restrictive by their nature – these are usually given when the story impact balances out our desire to avoid restriction, e.g. when the phobia matches an existing behavior by the character. They may also be good as an obstacle to overcome, and become part of the story arc in that way.
Positive examples are what we consider a good, representative instance. Negative examples are listed to show what falls outside the boundaries – so players can know what to not expect.
Compulsion: Protect the Weak
This would be easy to acquire by Despair caused by losing friends and loved ones, or by Depravity in a related context. It could be caused by guilt over one’s actions after committing Wrath on a “weaker” person, or might result from excess Vanity (letting others die for you).
This is good because: this will very frequently match existing character ideals and thus is a natural extension of their personality. It is focused on others and thus strongly encourages interaction, including encouraging questing and exploration as the character seeks to accompany their protected targets. It can cause conflict at the higher severities, and that conflict would most likely be relatively complex, as the character can try to “justify” themselves.
- At mild, the character will step in whenever they see a “vulnerable” character in danger. They would have to spend discipline to resist volunteering for any given call for guards/militia/protectors, or just to walk someone to their house.
- At severe, the character will actively seek opportunities to protect others. They will try to find those who are setting out on dangerous expeditions and convince them to bring the protector. This could be taken in different directions – they might start to try to convince “vulnerable” people not to leave the safety of town, or they might actively try to set up scenarios where the weak person is in trouble (so that they can satisfy their compulsion by saving them).
- At crippling, the character is obsessed with protection of others to the point that they will discard any other employment or task. They may latch onto a “weak” target and refuse to let them out of their sight, maybe even kidnapping them “for their own safety”. They might spend all of their personal resources on trying to fund a defensive fortification around the town.
Obsession: Physical Strength
This might be acquired by a Vecatran who exceeds their insanity threshold by committing Heinous Weakness, and becomes obsessed with never failing in that way again. It would be a common insanity among Kuarlites, and might be imposed on others by their powers.
This is a good insanity because it often matches a character’s existing desires (especially for warrior-type characters); it encourages action, specifically training and assistance from others who can offer some avenue to strength.
- At mild, the character would set a workout/training schedule and shuffle their other obligations to make sure they always get their training in. They would need to spend discipline to deny anyone offering an impromptu physical training session, or offering magic or rituals to enhance strength.
- At severe, the character would use every opportunity to train and increase their strength, even to the detriment of other obligations. A member of the militia might be found doing workouts even when on duty; a judge might pause a trial to do some push-ups. The character would actively seek out magic, drugs, and other supernatural enhancements to strength, and beg or bribe strong warriors to train them. Note: player physical safety always comes first – the player could make a pretense of physical effort rather than actually overworking their body.
- At crippling, the character’s sole focus would be the enhancement of their physical strength; every action should be taken in pursuit of that goal. They would need to spend discipline to turn down an offer of strength even if it meant sacrificing others or swearing loyalty to dire powers.
Delusion: “Drugs protect me from the Malefic.”
The character could gain this delusion when they commit Gluttony via consuming drugs and that act exceeds their insanity threshold.
This encourages action – the character seeks out a resource, which is likely to involve others (apothecaries, herb-gatherers); it can lead to a character more actively participating in quests and explorations.
- A mild version could simply be belief that drugs reduce your risk from Malefic. The character won’t think they’re completely invulnerable while under the influence, but will think that they’re safer.
- A severe version could mean the character thinks they’ve found some key correlation between Malefic and intoxicating substances, e.g. that hallucinogens are a necessary part of any Malefic-warding rituals, that consuming the right combination might allow them to command Malefic, and so forth.
- A crippling version could mean the character thinks that the drug-altered state shows them the true reality, and that the “sober” mind is the one that is seeing the world wrong; “Malefic” are just an aberration created by the “sober” mind when it fails to understand “true reality”. This character could believe that heavy consumption of hallucinogens makes the Malefic disappear entirely – and might even start to see “Malefic” around them whenever they become sober.
Delusion: “I am the rightful ruler.”
This is a good delusion to gain when excess Pride sin puts the character over their insanity threshold. Alternatively, it might be imposed by a Malefic that is related to some kind of past nobility.
This generates interaction both when dealing with those who have power, and when dealing with others that the character now believes should be under their authority. It can generate both conflict (if the character takes an imperious/commanding attitude) and non-conflict (if the character takes a “noblesse oblige” attitude).
- Mild: The character believes that they are actually part of the noble family line, which should have been the “primary” line but was lost for some reason. Perhaps they justify this as some political manipulation generations ago, or as some complex genealogical “mix-up”. They still recognize that their “claim” isn’t likely to be accepted by others – even though they “know the truth”, they’re aware that challenging for actual rulership is going to go poorly.
- Severe: The character believes that they were specifically and maliciously excluded from rulership. It is no longer just a mistake – their rightful authority has been usurped. They may or may not act on this belief; the “usurper” still has swords and guns at their disposal, after all.
Crippling: The character believes they actually are the current ruler. They may view the ruling noble house as an affront – or they may justify the situation by declaring that the ruling nobles are “acting in my stead while I enjoy a long vacation”. They may demand that they be given the entitlements and respect due a noble; they may also simply believe that this is being given to them, e.g. consider their peasant house to be a “noble mansion”, refer to their breakfast porridge as “game hen and venison”, claim and act as if their peasant clothes and shovel are “a knight’s steel full plate and pistol”, etc.
These are examples of what isn’t a good Insanity – things that are either not preferred, or in some cases simply not allowed as part of the system.
This insanity technically fits the system, but is likely to severely limit interaction and encourage a highly passive playstyle. Staff would avoid this unless it specifically boosts the player’s desired playstyle or the story arc of the character.
Phobia: The Emperor
This insanity technically fits the system, but the trigger is so unlikely to be encountered that it would not be reasonable in our game – barring unusual plot developments.
This can’t be properly modeled by the system. The closest you could get is a Delusion that involves believing the character has forgotten something – but it would still be possible to extract knowledge about the “forgotten” memories, e.g. by spending Discipline or via Obey calls.
Insanities don’t directly model prohibitions on actions. Compulsions are always to “do something”, never to “not do something”. The closest options are a Delusion that you can’t speak (which would be overridden by Discipline and/or Obey), or some kind of Phobia. Further, even the approximations would reduce interaction rather than increase it, so it would not be preferred by Staff.