Thursday, October 7, 2010

Insane, or Perfectly Scripted

And Today, a very special post from Guest Blogger Vales, I hope to live up to the Saga Mechanic name.

To carry with the October theme of dark and spooky, I’m going to tackle the idea of madness in gaming. There are only a few games than directly handle madness or sanity within the game, although as an avid tabletop gamer, I love adding Sanity as a floating stat to my players character sheets. In the video game world there are two games that come to mind which use sanity as a meter of strength or closeness to the truth. The first is Eternal Darkness. In ED you got quick flashes of the truth or a freakish horrific incident (or sometimes just the screen going black with the no video signal blink for 10 seconds), and it really screwed with the character, let alone the player holding the controller. The first time I saw the no video trick, I was honestly taken. I tried to figure out what happened, because it just cut that scene and I wanted the next moment. Bastards got me good. The next game is a bit newer, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This game is a bit more touchy with your characters sanity, as for you sanity equals health bar, and just like anyone going over the edge, you’re never really sure when you’ve lost it completely. No on-screen indication always makes it a bit more intense.

But I mentioned sanity in tabletop gaming, and that’s where I understand it best. There is nothing quite like have your players gather up to discuss their plans on how to attack the necromancer’s stronghold and because one character has a low enough sanity, I make some quiet d20 rolls behind the scenes and pass him a perception note. For all he knows, he’s picked up on someone spying on them. He hears someone in the hall, then gets the eerie feeling that he’s being watched. I get to watch it all unfold from across the table. The one perception character laments his “terrible roll” I must have made for him, and demands to make his own roll. Others stat trying to put out spying counter-measures, magic spells, mechanical locks, anything. I watch the mild panic settle on my players. After ten minutes, it goes away, the feeling of being watched, they move on - but they wonder.

Sanity is not just a health bar for your mental abilities and faculties. It’s your paranoia meter, it’s your hidden fear triggers, and if you play it right, as a developer (damn you ED) you can evoke a huge range of emotions.

Got any other times you’ve seen Sanity come up? Or remember a time you got had in a tabletop game because you didn’t know everything going on? (Any game of Paranoia done well does this.) Post a comment, I’ll be back here to respond to your thoughts.

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