I’m gonna bust something out of my skunkworks for today (the skunkworks being the folder full of projects I work on with no intention of ever releasing any part of them to the public, but which occasionally produce something that isn’t so mired down in my own niche interests as to be uninteresting to anyone who isn’t me). I like the idea behind things like Darkest Dungeon afflictions, points where a character takes enough psychological damage that they suffer some kind of madness. One fatal flaw that many such systems have, however, is being utterly random. This ranges from the minor issue in Darkest Dungeon itself where a character is varyingly cowardly or suicidally aggressive depending on what dice they roll when their stress hits 100, regardless of what afflictions they’ve had previously, to the Call of Cthulhu problem where characters develop completely random phobias in response to seeing something sufficiently spooky. My solution: Each character, at chargen, selects a specific means of going mad from the stress of it all.
The specific numbers and skills referenced here are in relation to a greater skunkworks project which is mostly compatible with 5e mathematically except in that there are obviously meant to be lots of guns in this setting. You could buff that out yourself, but really, this should be taken as a prototype, an example of how things could work, rather than something that can be copied into an existing game unaltered.
Fatalistic characters have spent so long trying to survive against such hopeless odds, and safety seems so impossible, that they give up. They become more and more cognizant that the reason they’re constantly crippled by stress is because they want to live, they lose hope in pulling through the conflict altogether, and something in them decides to just go ahead and die and get it over with.
-Mildly fatalistic characters have a mildly flattened affect and aura of despair that imposes a -2 penalty on social checks except Insight.
-Moderately fatalistic characters have developed an apathy towards their ongoing survival and receive only a +2 bonus from cover, not +5, and cannot take the full defense action.
-Terminally fatalistic characters are actively attempting suicide by enemy fire. They cannot take cover or move away from enemies. They also take a -5 penalty to all attack rolls, as they are no longer making any effort to actually win the fight, just to be consumed by it.
Frenzied characters come to rely on violence as a means of stress relief. In battle, they are easily pushed into berserker rages in which they disregard strategy and survivability in a mad obsession with killing their foe, and their quick tempers make it harder and harder for them to solve problems with anything else but violence.
-Mildly frenzied characters have become irritable and constantly angry. They take a -2 penalty to all social checks except Intimidate.
-Moderately frenzied characters have become dysfunctionally violent and aggressive. They take a -5 penalty to all social checks except Intimidate, and must take an attack action before moving away from any enemies or otherwise disengaging from combat. The attack action does not have to be against an actual enemy – shooting or hacking at the wall is fine – but it does prevent the character from withdrawing or sprinting. Once a frenzied character has begun to withdraw from a fight, they can continue to do so at full speed so long as they do not pass within melee range of any enemies on their way out.
-Terminally frenzied characters are wholly consumed by a desire to kill the enemy, to the exclusion of all other considerations. In combat, they must move as close to optimal range on an enemy as they are able and attack each round. A terminally frenzied character is not considered to be in optimal range unless they are within range of their most effective attack and at an angle from which the enemy has no cover. If a terminally frenzied character cannot reach optimal range this round, they must get as close as they are able. They can take cover if there happens to be some available at optimal range, but cannot move out of optimal range to take it, even if they’ve already attacked this round, and cannot delay their advance by even one square to take advantage of cover. Whenever a terminally frenzied character fails any social check, they must make a TN 25 Willpower save, and if they fail, they must make an immediate attack on the character who resisted the social check, or if they’re out of range of all attacks, on a random object or wall nearby. The attack does not have to be lethal, but if only lethal weapons have the range to attack the character who resisted the social check, the terminally frenzied character is still required to make the attack and thus, in that situation, must use a lethal weapon to do so.
Guilty characters are scarred by what they’ve done, or even just what they’ve survived when other haven’t, and become less and less able to function both in a war zone and in normal life without breaking down.
-Mildly guilt-stricken characters are becoming uncertain about the cause they fight for and unsteady in their aim. They take a -2 penalty to all attacks against living creatures (including attacks that will obviously harm living creatures without targeting them directly, like firing a rocket at a tank or tossing a live cable into a pool of water with enemies wading through it, but not including attacks that are unlikely to harm any living creatures, like targeting the treads on a tank or firing a rocket at a drone).
-Moderately guilt-stricken characters are increasingly convinced they have done something horrible, even if that “something” is just surviving when other, better people died. They take a -5 penalty to attacks against any target and a -2 penalty to all social checks.
-Terminally guilt-stricken characters can’t handle fighting any longer. They must immediately move to the nearest cover and hide behind it as though suppressed, even if no one is attacking them, until combat is over. They take a -5 penalty to all social checks.
Paranoid characters are hypervigilant against possible attacks and convinced that enemies are around every corner. As this conviction grows stronger, they face panic attacks whenever they feel they’re unprepared for an “inevitable” conflict.
-Mildly paranoid characters take a -2 penalty to all skills when unarmed as they are constantly distracted by a fear of attack. A small, concealed weapon is enough to allay this fear (for now). When touched unexpectedly or upon hearing a loud noise or seeing a sudden flash or dimming of light, they must make a TN 10 Willpower check or else immediately draw the weapon. They also take a -2 penalty to all Willpower checks made to resist being suppressed by enemy fire.
-Moderately paranoid characters take a -5 penalty to all skills whenever they aren’t armed with an assault or heavy weapon (a concealed weapon still counts, although hiding weapons that big is no easy task), and to Willpower checks made to resist being suppressed. When touched unexpectedly, upon hearing a loud noise or seeing a sudden flash or dimming of light, or when caught in a large crowd of people or having their last or only means of egress from the situation impeded or cut off completely, they must make a TN 20 Willpower check or else draw their weapon and brandish it threateningly at the source of distress, or, if none is immediately apparent, just sweep it across the room.
-Terminally paranoid characters must take the withdraw action if in melee range of any enemies, or the dash action if not, unless suppressed by enemy fire, in which case they automatically fail any Willpower saves to resist the suppression. The Willpower save from the moderate effect is triggered by the same stimuli, but is now TN 30, and upon failing, the character must immediately attempt to flee.