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Old 04-17-2024, 06:54 PM   #1
whswhs
 
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Default Psychological stress

So I was talking with a very old friend, who brought up the idea that contact with alien species tended to create cumulative psychological stress (apparently this is current in the ufological community). And I was thinking about this as an element for an SF campaign I had thought about for a number of years.

What are game systems that provide suitable mechanics for keeping track of this sort of thing? How do they do it, and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

I'll accept suggestions about GURPS approaches, but proposals need not be confined to GURPS. I'm just looking for ideas.
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Old 04-17-2024, 07:05 PM   #2
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Default Re: Psychological stress

Maybe use the SANity mechanic from old Call of Cthulhu? IIRC, every encounter cost you some sanity, and if you lost more than 5 in one go you went loopy. And you could regain SANity through therapy.
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Old 04-17-2024, 07:13 PM   #3
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Default Re: Psychological stress

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Originally Posted by Anders View Post
Maybe use the SANity mechanic from old Call of Cthulhu? IIRC, every encounter cost you some sanity, and if you lost more than 5 in one go you went loopy. And you could regain SANity through therapy.
That’s an obvious option but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted. It seems rather to treat alien encounters as shock rather than erosion, which may be closer to what I want.
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Old 04-17-2024, 08:50 PM   #4
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Default Re: Psychological stress

Perhaps something similar to the Humanity mechanic in V:tM? It can erode slowly over time (in the case of the Kindred, it's with exposure to the things they have to do to survive), and there are (not very easy) methods of restoring lost points. It's not a one-to-one map with the concept of sanity, but it's the first thing that came to my mind.
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Old 04-17-2024, 09:54 PM   #5
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Default Re: Psychological stress

A number of games have corruption as a game mechanic. TVTropes has a good long list...
https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.p.../TabletopGames
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Old 04-17-2024, 11:33 PM   #6
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Default Re: Psychological stress

Quote:
Originally Posted by Irish Wolf View Post
Perhaps something similar to the Humanity mechanic in V:tM? It can erode slowly over time (in the case of the Kindred, it's with exposure to the things they have to do to survive), and there are (not very easy) methods of restoring lost points. It's not a one-to-one map with the concept of sanity, but it's the first thing that came to my mind.
Fundamentally this is just a mental analog of Hit Points, where the more episodic kind of fright check mechanics are more akin to Soak rolls, or Saving Throws.

A third mechanic for handling stuff like that is essentially Hit Boxes associated with particular locations/subsystems (I guess for mental ones that would be particular cognitive abilities). Check enough of them for any given ability and it shuts down. Though these are really just several different kinds of hit points.
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Old 04-18-2024, 03:22 AM   #7
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Default Re: Psychological stress

This also gives us uses for carousing and other downtime mechanics (see, for example, the landmark computer game for this sort of thing Darkest Dungeon) and the use of background features such as hobbies and dependants ... and to give the players a reason to spend more than the bare minimum on subsistence and anything except combat gear.
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Old 04-18-2024, 04:33 AM   #8
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Default Re: Psychological stress

I had thought about something comparable to hit points (malloyd), and that had led me to wonder about the Humanity mechanics in Vampire (Irish Wolf), especially since loss of humanity would be thematic. I don't know what hit boxes are (malloyd). I'm not familiar with Darkest Dungeon or with any computer game (The Colonel), but I'm not concerned about motivating my players to be less exclusively focused on combat gear—I used to have one player who strongly resisted anything but combat capabilities, but sadly, her health is no longer up to gaming, and most of my others were enthusiastic abou downtime mechanics, to the point of playing entire sessions with no combat at all. Which is probably how the alien races campaign would work; I wouldn't envision combat being a focus in a psychological drama campaign.
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Old 04-18-2024, 05:58 AM   #9
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Default Re: Psychological stress

In that case, I believe Delta Green had an interesting take on SAN that used important elements of the PCs backstories as anchors and ways to recover lost SAN in downtime, whether that be religious practice, time spent with family or sports and hobbies ... but I never played Delta Green, nor found anything that I recognised as a rulebook for the system.

Darkest Dungeon is basically a horror-fantasy dungeon crawler where the player runs a stable of ... characters (heroes might be pushing it) ... from whom they assemble teams to probe traditional dungeoneering locations. A big part of the game is the psychological stress the characters accumulate, which requires them to be allocated to various relaxation facilities between missions and/or placed in psychiatric care. Appropriate forms of de-stressing can vary between a tavern/brothel/casino complex and a monastery offering prayer, meditation and self mortification. The personalities of the various characters will determine who benefits most from what...

The combat gear was more of a shorthand - I think we've all encountered at least one player who will look at the starvation rules, note that his character needs x food and y water per day, decide that all other money spent on subsistence could be better spent on violence adjacent materials and declare that the PC camps outside town on minimum supplies and the GM can do nothing about it ... RAW. The same player often gets upset when they find that the curse of Pigpen has been placed on their character and all his social actions are suffering a hobo penalty. Granted, we've seen previously that you (Bill) seem to attract a better class of player - and avoiding "that RPG" certainly helps.
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Old 04-18-2024, 07:18 AM   #10
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Default Re: Psychological stress

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
Darkest Dungeon is basically a horror-fantasy dungeon crawler where the player runs a stable of ... characters (heroes might be pushing it) ... from whom they assemble teams to probe traditional dungeoneering locations. A big part of the game is the psychological stress the characters accumulate, which requires them to be allocated to various relaxation facilities between missions and/or placed in psychiatric care. Appropriate forms of de-stressing can vary between a tavern/brothel/casino complex and a monastery offering prayer, meditation and self mortification. The personalities of the various characters will determine who benefits most from what...
Ah. There is a system somewhat like that in the (now some years old) Miskatonic University supplement for Call of Cthulhu.

Quote:
The combat gear was more of a shorthand - I think we've all encountered at least one player who will look at the starvation rules, note that his character needs x food and y water per day, decide that all other money spent on subsistence could be better spent on violence adjacent materials and declare that the PC camps outside town on minimum supplies and the GM can do nothing about it ... RAW. The same player often gets upset when they find that the curse of Pigpen has been placed on their character and all his social actions are suffering a hobo penalty. Granted, we've seen previously that you (Bill) seem to attract a better class of player - and avoiding "that RPG" certainly helps.
It does help that most of my campaigns specify themes/primary activities other than killing and looting.
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