I think we’re pretty much there with how we’re going to handle Sanity in our interpretation of Call of Cthulhu. To recap; Sanity (SAN) is a key part of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. It is also a key narrative part of Lovecraft’s work, where losing it is an understandable reaction to the discovery of the titanic forces of trans-dimensional beings that are abound in the universe at large and who threaten to snuff the fragile candle of humanity out at any point. However in a computer game, doing an emotion like Sanity is a much harder proposition. Game engines are simulations of a world and don’t really deal easily with grey areas like Sanity; games can inspire an emotion in the player, but reflecting that feeling back into the game; that’s much harder.
The solution was to focus on one particular expression of Sanity; Mania. In the Call of Cthulhu when your character goes into a state of ‘Short Temporal Insanity’ there are several possible outcomes you can roll the dice for; panic, hysterics, phobia, stupor and mania. We think in game terms, mania is an interesting emotion. A manic character can be stronger, faster and less susceptible to pain; helpful characteristics in a fight! Yet, that extra power comes at a cost. Once a character goes insane, they will get a burst of manic energy and can do more as well as take more damage. However the candle that burns twice as long burns twice as bright; after a burst of manic energy, the character is burnt-out and lapses into unconsciousness and needs to be revived.
How are the game characters able to focus their emotional reactions so? That is thanks to Professor Brightmeer’s genius. I’ve documented more about his skills here.
So each of the player-characters has a Sanity score (SAN) that is impacted by seeing horror within the game. As with the Call of Cthulhu RPG, seeing horrific things slowly erodes your character’s Sanity. The more horror your characters sees, the more SAN they lose. Where our game will differ is that Sanity cycles will be much more fluid. Rather than seeing the SAN score as a longer term statistic that erodes over many adventures, with occasional lapses as it progresses, Brightmeer’s interventions mean that Sanity and the lapse into mania will be a constant cyclic-threat. In The Wasted Land we want Sanity to feature over the levels of the game (something you don’t get in the paper RPG) so we’ve adapted the Sanity score to be something that rises and falls throughout the game. Unlike in the paper RPG, where loosing a few points can cause temporary Insanity and loosing all your sanity means your character has checked out (or in) forever, in this version of the game Sanity is more fluid. Loosing a few points has no impact, but then you’ll loose points more often. Loosing all your sanity means mania and then unconsciousness. However the burst of power that mania offers will also give players a chance to use the focused insanity in their favour, a strategic emotion, if you like…
The use of Magic will also impact Sanity, as it does in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. This approach I think gives us the narrative power of Sanity, but re-interpreted to make it work in a game engine. I think this adaptation keeps the spirit of Sanity from the RPG but makes it work in a game setting. It should make Sanity both a fear and a boon.