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How do you deal with a PC Character that have 0 SAN?

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#1 HelplessBystander

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 07:10 AM

Alright, this might sound like a stupid question, but how do you generally deal with this situation?

Most of the time, when my scenarios become too Mythos-heavy; the investigators' SAN commits suicide via jumping off a cliff as their maximum Mythos knowledge ends up in the high seventies as they ended up fighting off a Formless Spawn (I used to some Pulp rules), They go coo-coo and then their character went mad as a dingbat.

At this point, I either NPC their characters into evil cultists or ask them to give me a new character sheet. Is there any other way to deal with it? Maybe a more...creative approach to screwing with the PCs that doesn't make 'em go off the deep end after an extensive campaign but still face the consequences?


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#2 Patterns

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 12:13 PM

I haven't played enough to really formalize an opinion, but here's a hot take:

 

0-SAN investigators becoming evil cultists feels like a betrayal of the central fiction. The primary conceit of Call of Cthulhu, in my mind, is a heroic one. The investigators are underdogs that are nevertheless expected to go up against literally unimaginable odds for little to no reward. There's this altruistic sense of sacrifice about it all, instead of going up in power or gaining money or fame the investigators are literally degrading for every step they take.

 

Being annihilated at the end of that journey feels reasonable and completes a kind of path to martyrdom, however futile in the face of an ocean of cosmic horrors. Joining up with the cultists, though, feels like one slap in the face too much. The investigators have already suffered so much for so little, the least they deserve is the chance to retain their values.

 

Besides, I can't think of a Lovecraft story where the protagonist comes to the conclusion that armageddon is all right. Inevitable, sure, but never all right. Lovecraft's villains are born that way, either due to being alien or, well, foreign. They're an exclusive kind of other, not a persuasive one.

 

Funnily enough, I'm pretty okay with players deciding to become cultists while they still have their wits about them. I think it's a fun kind of post-Lovecraftian take on the fiction. But I don't think SAN should be a catalyst for that, feels too much like a punishment for investigators doing exactly what the premise expects of them.


Edited by Patterns, 27 September 2017 - 12:42 PM.


#3 wcburns

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 05:41 PM

An easy one would be simply imprisonment, or committal to an asylum. While I'm sure it might be argued against by some Keepers if the PC has completely lost their sanity, the latter option could potentially provide some level of rehabilitation after many years. It would be an interesting idea, for example, if a character completely lost their mind in the 20's, and spends decades in an asylum before being let out in the 40's-50's, their already questionable sanity compounded further by culture shock.

 

You could also have the character reside in some other mythos locale, removing them from the sane world for a period of time. Perhaps later characters can find and try and rescue them, or they become a potential villain.

 

I personally think there should be a serious consequence of losing all your sanity, even if it's for a (relatively) short time. If nothing else, the player should not have control of the character for the rest of that particular story, and a great deal of time, therapy and treatment should be applied to get the PC to be usable again.


Edited by wcburns, 27 September 2017 - 05:43 PM.


#4 HelplessBystander

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 11:28 PM

I haven't played enough to really formalize an opinion, but here's a hot take:

0-SAN investigators becoming evil cultists feels like a betrayal of the central fiction. The primary conceit of Call of Cthulhu, in my mind, is a heroic one. The investigators are underdogs that are nevertheless expected to go up against literally unimaginable odds for little to no reward. There's this altruistic sense of sacrifice about it all, instead of going up in power or gaining money or fame the investigators are literally degrading for every step they take.

Being annihilated at the end of that journey feels reasonable and completes a kind of path to martyrdom, however futile in the face of an ocean of cosmic horrors. Joining up with the cultists, though, feels like one slap in the face too much. The investigators have already suffered so much for so little, the least they deserve is the chance to retain their values.

Besides, I can't think of a Lovecraft story where the protagonist comes to the conclusion that armageddon is all right. Inevitable, sure, but never all right. Lovecraft's villains are born that way, either due to being alien or, well, foreign. They're an exclusive kind of other, not a persuasive one.

Funnily enough, I'm pretty okay with players deciding to become cultists while they still have their wits about them. I think it's a fun kind of post-Lovecraftian take on the fiction. But I don't think SAN should be a catalyst for that, feels too much like a punishment for investigators doing exactly what the premise expects of them.


Personally, I believe that investigators are by no means heroic. They aren't Batman (not even with Pulp rules), and they're, more often than not, just average guys with a shaky idea of good and evil.

I honestly disliked Derleth's interpretation of Mythos fight derailing into a punching match between 'right' and 'wrong'. My interpretation of 0 SAN Investigators are people whose worldview are completely and irrevocably shattered. They are...enlightened to the way of the universe. Indefinite insanity can be cured; but I don't think 0 SAN should be. That would be taking the easy way out.

#5 HelplessBystander

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 12:11 AM

...You could also have the character reside in some other mythos locale, removing them from the sane world for a period of time. Perhaps later characters can find and try and rescue them, or they become a potential villain.
 
I personally think there should be a serious consequence of losing all your sanity, even if it's for a (relatively) short time. If nothing else, the player should not have control of the character for the rest of that particular story, and a great deal of time, therapy and treatment should be applied to get the PC to be usable again.


It's an interesting idea, getting the PCs into a Mythos Locale after they get to 0 SAN. Thanks for the advice. I'll have to look into how to implement this further, but I think it's pretty great.

#6 Patterns

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 05:27 AM

An easy one would be simply imprisonment, or committal to an asylum. While I'm sure it might be argued against by some Keepers if the PC has completely lost their sanity, the latter option could potentially provide some level of rehabilitation after many years. It would be an interesting idea, for example, if a character completely lost their mind in the 20's, and spends decades in an asylum before being let out in the 40's-50's, their already questionable sanity compounded further by culture shock.

 

 

I would love a long-form campaign like that! Going insane, spending years on the mend and then re-emerging to find that the world has moved on without you would be a pretty amazing moment.

 

You could also have the character reside in some other mythos locale, removing them from the sane world for a period of time.

 

I actually had this happen in a campaign I ran, though at the very end. An investigator got caught in a crossfire of divination gone horribly wrong and suffered a tidal wave of SAN loss as a result. This opened his mind to the Howler in the Dark, manifesting as a hazy figure of a screaming giant over the horizon. The investigator hopped on his boat and set sail for the open seas, intent on catching up to the distant giant.

 

The other investigators went on to destroy an immortal magician and save the life of another and I was about ready to end it there. I asked the player of the 0-SAN investigator if he wanted to play out the things he found out wherever he was going, but he declined, choosing instead to retain the mystery and essentially fade to black as his character disappeared into whatever valhalla of revelations awaited him. The right choice, in hindsight, and a great end to the campaign.

 

Personally, I believe that investigators are by no means heroic. They aren't Batman (not even with Pulp rules), and they're, more often than not, just average guys with a shaky idea of good and evil.

I honestly disliked Derleth's interpretation of Mythos fight derailing into a punching match between 'right' and 'wrong'. My interpretation of 0 SAN Investigators are people whose worldview are completely and irrevocably shattered. They are...enlightened to the way of the universe. Indefinite insanity can be cured; but I don't think 0 SAN should be. That would be taking the easy way out.

 

That's definitely a valid way of looking at things, just not one I share. I have no problem with investigators suffering and being torn apart, but the idea of going through all that trouble and pain just to end up at the discovery that human beings are inherently evil doesn't sit well with me. The player has already been patient and selfless throughout the investigation, taking great losses for no personal gain, so the least the Keeper can do is let them end their character in defiance of the cosmic apathy of the Mythos instead of dragging them to the mud. The conflict of Call of Cthulhu is about understanding versus survival, in my mind, not good versus evil.



#7 ReydeAmarillo

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 06:15 AM

I guess it depends on a Keepers style but my take is there is no "good"or "evil" with the Mythos. For us Humans it is just a matter of staying alive and sane one more day (decade / millenia etc etc).

Our view of existence may be deeply flawed, provincial and limited but it is ours, and low or zero SAN represents a continuing reversal of that mental and emotional construct.

I think our Investigators are heroes. No, not Superman or Indiana Jones, but selfless, sacrificial, stubborn, determined - even if ultimately futile! Exactly what armies give medals for in wartime!

Heroism is to fight overwhelming odds, keep on fighting even with no hope of success, never giving in. Just like our Investigators.

So for me, to turn a zero SAN Investigator into a cultist is a slap in the face for all that hero believed in and fought so hard for. Yes, the zero SAN Investigator knows that human sanity and normality are based on a lie, but they should also know that lie keeps our race and society from degenerating into the chaos of the Mythos.

Just because you understand your enemy (even intimately) doesn't mean you have to agree with them and " go native"!

Just my opinion though.

Edited by ReydeAmarillo, 28 September 2017 - 06:55 AM.


#8 HelplessBystander

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 07:14 AM

"You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…" —Harvey Dent

 

From a philosophical standpoint, that's who I agree with and keep in mind when writing a Mythos-heavy scenario where PCs might go nuts when see a swarm of flying polyps coming for them. My interpretation of the 0 SAN is a complete denial of humanity itself, values, and his/her own identity (which would explain how 0 SAN would differ from an 'Indefinite insane' 5 SAN schizophrenic). Harvey Dent died as a villain, but he was, at one point, a selfless ally of justice. It took a little push, and he was no longer the man who attempted to protect Gotham.

At that point, I see the investigators as someone who has repeatedly questioned whether they were fighting for a 'greater good' and/or 'the meaning of their struggle'; this being the lovecraftian universe, they were responded with an indifferent shrug from the universe at large. They came in knowing that their struggles are insignificant, and the fragility of the human psyche. It would be the only 'rational' response for them to find something more worthwhile to do. At that point, existence is pain; law and order are nothing but meaningless BS concocted by those too blind to see the Byakhee in the room, why should they fight for Humanity at large?

My interpretation of 0 SAN is that the investigators realised the so-called 'greater good' is no more than a delightful daydream. With nothing left to lose, they might decide to accept the shoggoth and, ultimately, fight for something else. Furthermore, every investigator have a differing set of values that they uphold, I see this as a completely feasible scenario where they decided to join the dark side after coming to the conclusion that there's something more that could be gained.

My opinion, of course.



#9 johnmcfloss

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 09:50 AM

I think an awful lot of it depends on context - generally by this point they've picked up a stack of insanities already, and hitting 0 just pushes that trend up to the point that they become impractical.

 

I think "they're a villain now" is potentially a bit of a cop-out - this is the equivalent to the death of the character, and should probably be handled with the same nuance. Although I have had players turn into cultists (generally before hitting 0 san - a member of the party at present is a Hastur Cultist, because she's not actively working to bring him back, so isn't really a threat).

 

(One of my favourite write-outs for a 0 san player, was one who lost everything at the conclusion of a chapter of a campaign. So the dust settled, and I explained to them how everything had turned out alright - the sun was shining, the world was saved, her missing cousin had picked up her daughter for the summer holidays, and just arrived in a car - they were going to go back to London together. Then explained to the rest of the party that the character wasn't responding when they tried to get her attention, and was just staring into space, mumbling).



#10 HelplessBystander

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 09:53 AM

I mean, it depends on how the villain thing was played out, I guess.

#11 HomoLupusDomesticus

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Posted 01 October 2017 - 02:59 PM

Doesn't your level of insanity depend on losing a certain amount of SAN in a certain amount of time?


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#12 ElijahWhateley

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Posted 01 October 2017 - 05:55 PM

I let the player choose. Not the character - I tell the player that, by hitting zero sanity, the character is now out of the game, and ask how they think it would happen, given everything we know about the character so far.

 

Unless there's something the player immediately wants, I usually lay out the following choices:

1. The character successfully commits suicide.

2. The character loses the ability to function as a human being; perhaps they become a screaming feral animal, or perhaps they lapse into a coma.

3. The character devotes themselves to fanatical worship of something they've encountered along the way, becoming a gibbering cultist.

4. The character sees and accepts the universe on a level above ordinary human understanding. They may or may not still be able to pass for human. They are now a Mythos threat and possibly on their way to becoming (or already have become) a sorcerer.  

It's often apparent from how a character has acted so far which of these options makes the most sense, but it's still worth letting the player choose how their character will break when it's finally over for them.


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#13 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 01 October 2017 - 08:18 PM

Any of the ideas above sound great to me.

 

I'll add an unconventional option that developed in regards to an insane character wanting to enter the Dreamlands to recover sanity:  (link)

 

The short version:  It should never be an easy or mundane thing, but why not use a Dream Quest to send a party of Dreaming investigators deep into the Dreamlands, into the insane character's own personal, mad Dreamland, to help their suffering friend recover his sanity and guide that character back to waking sanity?  (It's not appropriate for every story, but if a campaign ends on a gloomy note in which a well-loved PC went mad, the character's player doesn't feel that was the right ending, and the group really wants a chance to end the campaign on a lighter note, this might fit the bill....)


Edited by yronimoswhateley, 01 October 2017 - 08:34 PM.

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#14 ElijahWhateley

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Posted 02 October 2017 - 01:05 AM

Given how easily sanity is lost, it feels like it would be a bit anticlimactic to go on a Dream Quest to pull someone back from zero to, say, twenty sanity, and then have them go crazy anyway next session. I guess if it's for an absolute session, but I wonder if maybe the character would be better off choosing to stay in the Dreamlands.


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#15 HelplessBystander

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Posted 02 October 2017 - 02:34 AM

I let the player choose. Not the character - I tell the player that, by hitting zero sanity, the character is now out of the game, and ask how they think it would happen, given everything we know about the character so far.

 

Unless there's something the player immediately wants, I usually lay out the following choices:

1. The character successfully commits suicide.

2. The character loses the ability to function as a human being; perhaps they become a screaming feral animal, or perhaps they lapse into a coma.

3. The character devotes themselves to fanatical worship of something they've encountered along the way, becoming a gibbering cultist.

4. The character sees and accepts the universe on a level above ordinary human understanding. They may or may not still be able to pass for human. They are now a Mythos threat and possibly on their way to becoming (or already have become) a sorcerer.  

It's often apparent from how a character has acted so far which of these options makes the most sense, but it's still worth letting the player choose how their character will break when it's finally over for them.

 

that, quite honestly, sounded like a great idea! I'll probably incorporate this into my next story! Cheers! :)

 

Any of the ideas above sound great to me.

 

I'll add an unconventional option that developed in regards to an insane character wanting to enter the Dreamlands to recover sanity:  (link)

 

The short version:  It should never be an easy or mundane thing, but why not use a Dream Quest to send a party of Dreaming investigators deep into the Dreamlands, into the insane character's own personal, mad Dreamland, to help their suffering friend recover his sanity and guide that character back to waking sanity?  (It's not appropriate for every story, but if a campaign ends on a gloomy note in which a well-loved PC went mad, the character's player doesn't feel that was the right ending, and the group really wants a chance to end the campaign on a lighter note, this might fit the bill....)

 

I mean, that works, but it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense in the long run as, more often than not, the point of the game is how to deal with a spiralling downfall of your own sanity whilst fighting for/against the eldritch monsters.

 

Given how easily sanity is lost, it feels like it would be a bit anticlimactic to go on a Dream Quest to pull someone back from zero to, say, twenty sanity, and then have them go crazy anyway next session. I guess if it's for an absolute session, but I wonder if maybe the character would be better off choosing to stay in the Dreamlands.

 

Yeah, about that ...



#16 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 02 October 2017 - 06:38 AM

...I mean, that works, but it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense in the long run as, more often than not, the point of the game is how to deal with a spiralling downfall of your own sanity whilst fighting for/against the eldritch monsters.....

 

Is it? 

 

Or is "the aim of playing Call of Cthulhu... to have fun with your friends as you explore and create a Lovecraftian story... the heroes of the story attempting to seek out, understand and eventually confront the horrors, mysteries and secrets of the Cthulhu Mythos"?  (Quote from the Call of Cthulhu RPG)

 

As I said, happy ending wouldn't be appropriate in every situation; variety is the key.  And, as I said, you don't want it to be easy or mundane - wondrous things that come too cheaply are actually what would be antithetical to a Lovecraftian story. 

 

But, note that not all Lovecraftian stories or their monsters, secrets and mysteries involve a spiraling downfall of sanity, inevitable death, or even a gloomy ending:  if Lovecraft's fiction were to be left up to all the "you can't do thats" of fans who think a Lovecraft story has to have a gloomy ending full of ruined protagonists, we'd never have gotten "The Dunwich Horror" (the protagonists successfully banish the monster, no protagonist goes made or gets hurt), "The Call of Cthulhu" (Cthulhu gets run over by a steam ship), "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" (Randolph Carter successfully finds his dream city while an impotent Nyarlathotep throws a temper tantrum), "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (the eldritch horror a protagonist accidentally summons is actually friendly, and helps defeat the villains; the protagonist survives with sanity intact), "The Shadow Out of Time" (I don't believe anyone dies or goes mad, the monsters were rather benign, and human beings, though doomed to eventual replacement as the dominant species on Earth, are at least revealed to still be alive many thousands of years into the future)....

 

And that's just Lovecraft - Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith also provide plenty of comparable, if not more extreme, examples.

 

That's not to say that all Lovecraftian stories had upbeat endings - the upbeat endings, like the pessimistic ones, were just one of the many tools that Lovecraft used to tell what he called "wonder stories" or "weird stories" (see Lovecraft's comments on horror and weird stories in the opening paragraph of "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction" - to Lovecraft, horror was one of the easiest tools to work with in telling a Weird story and thus the one he was most likely to use, but certainly not the only one; more importantly, Lovecraft describes the main effect he want to achieve not as a mere erosion of sanity and fights with weird monsters, but instead in this way: "to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis....")


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#17 HelplessBystander

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Posted 02 October 2017 - 07:36 AM

Is it?

Or is "the aim of playing Call of Cthulhu... to have fun with your friends as you explore and create a Lovecraftian story... the heroes of the story attempting to seek out, understand and eventually confront the horrors, mysteries and secrets of the Cthulhu Mythos"? (Quote from the Call of Cthulhu RPG)

As I said, happy ending wouldn't be appropriate in every situation; variety is the key. And, as I said, you don't want it to be easy or mundane - wondrous things that come too cheaply are actually what would be antithetical to a Lovecraftian story.

But, note that not all Lovecraftian stories or their monsters, secrets and mysteries involve a spiraling downfall of sanity, inevitable death, or even a gloomy ending: if Lovecraft's fiction were to be left up to all the "you can't do thats" of fans who think a Lovecraft story has to have a gloomy ending full of ruined protagonists, we'd never have gotten "The Dunwich Horror" (the protagonists successfully banish the monster, no protagonist goes made or gets hurt), "The Call of Cthulhu" (Cthulhu gets run over by a steam ship), "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" (Randolph Carter successfully finds his dream city while an impotent Nyarlathotep throws a temper tantrum), "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (the eldritch horror a protagonist accidentally summons is actually friendly, and helps defeat the villains; the protagonist survives with sanity intact), "The Shadow Out of Time" (I don't believe anyone dies or goes mad, the monsters were rather benign, and human beings, though doomed to eventual replacement as the dominant species on Earth, are at least revealed to still be alive many thousands of years into the future)....

And that's just Lovecraft - Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith also provide plenty of comparable, if not more extreme, examples.

That's not to say that all Lovecraftian stories had upbeat endings - the upbeat endings, like the pessimistic ones, were just one of the many tools that Lovecraft used to tell what he called "wonder stories" or "weird stories" (see Lovecraft's comments on horror and weird stories in the opening paragraph of "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction" - to Lovecraft, horror was one of the easiest tools to work with in telling a Weird story and thus the one he was most likely to use, but certainly not the only one; more importantly, Lovecraft describes the main effect he want to achieve not as a mere erosion of sanity and fights with weird monsters, but instead in this way: "to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis....")


It's an interesting angle, and I honestly do like that comparison, but my players do enjoy Lovecraftian horror a bit more than the usual happy endings. After all, everyone's too jaded about the happy endings.





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