Psychological Stress Top



Whenever a character experiences a traumatic event they trigger a Sanity check. The character compares their Hardened Rating for the appropriate stress type (either Violence, Unnatural or Self) to the triggering event’s Stress Rating. If the character’s Hardened Rating is less than the Stress Rating, they roll to Defend against the Rating with Resolve.

On a success, The character gains 1 Hardened Rating against to the stress type of the incident. On a success with style, the character also gains a boost.

On a tie, a boost is created against the character, based on the event that caused the roll. This boost usually falls along the lines of fight, flight or freeze.

On a failure, the character takes mental stress equal to the amount they failed the check, plus 1 stress per Vulnerable Rank they possess. The character then adds 1 to their Vulnerable Rank for that stress type. If the character failed by 3 or more, the GM can choose to reduce the stress dealt by 1 to create a boost against the character. Consequences represent the short and long term effects of insanity.

Stress Types

There are three broad categories for the types of traumatic events a character may experience: Violence, Unnatural, and Self.

Violence Stress. You have an instinctive revulsion towards actual violence. It’s stressful to hurt others, to watch others get hurt, and to get hurt. This stress also covers the fear of death that everyone suffers from in varying degrees.

Unnatural Stress. It hurts your brain to think of things that don’t belong in your concept of the world. Contemplating infinity for too long, seeing proof that sometimes 2 + 2 = 5, and realising that magic actually works are all unnatural stresses. It’s more subtle and unnerving than Violence. Everyone recognises that violence exists, even those who are insulated from it. Unnatural stresses don’t just attack your idea of safety. They attack your idea of how the universe works.

Note: Mages count as having +2 Unnatural Hardened Rating for the purposes of determining if they react to Unnatural stress. This does not affect any calculations to determine if they’re becoming callous or turning into a sociopath.

Self Stress. One’s sense of Self is made up of a myriad of aspects, including one’s sense of control of their self and their environment, their self-confidence, self-image, as well as their guilt and self-loathing. It also includes the support and connection you have with friends, families and allies.

For mages, this also covers the hubris that they develop as they develop their powers. It’s a measure of how differently they see themselves compared to the rest of humanity. At what point should they no longer be considered human? Is it be OK to twist the mind of another to your whim, just because it’s convenient? What about using magic to perform simple tasks that could have been done just as easily without it?

Sample Stress Ratings

Rating Examples*
Average (+1) (V) Be attacked with a weapon—shot at or slashed.
(U) Witness minor supernatural activity, such as a the influence of a minor spirit or low-level haunting.
(S) Let down by, or let down a close friend; a minor betrayal. Using magic to accomplish a task that could be achieved just as well without it.
Fair (+2) (V) Witness an act of torture. Causing visible serious injury to a person.
(U) See a creature or machine that cannot logically exist. Experience a minor paradox.
(S) Be confronted with proof that your self-image is incorrect. Using magic to coerce another towards a specific action (which they may have done so under his own free will anyway).
Good (+3) (V) Get shot at random. Be tortured briefly.
(U) Realise that a vision you had of the future has come true. Observe a Minor Spirit (Rank 1).
(S) Fail at something when it’s imperative that you succeed. Magically coercing another so that he acts against his own free will.
Great (+4) (V) Kill someone in a fight.
(U) Observe a Moderate Spirit (Rank 2-3). See a werewolf in War Form.
(S) Betray your ideals, or lie to conceal some aspect of your personality from a close friend or loved one. Magically coercing another so that he violates his own moral code. Erase someone’s minor memories.
Superb (+5) (V) Be present at a massive battle, with hundreds of deaths on both sides.
(U) Observe a Powerful Spirit or Minor God (Rank 4-5). Experience an Anomaly paradox.
(S) Decide not to act on an impulse from your High Concept because it’s “too dangerous.” Forcibly binding an unwilling sentient being or spirit to a place or task, or transform them against their will.
Fantastic (+6) (V) Perform an act of torture.
(U) Observe a Lesser God (Rank 6). Witness a minor (Rank 1) Manifestation paradox.
(S) Betrayal of important ideals, betrayed by family member. Erase someone’s important memories. Using magic to force someone to do something they’d never otherwise do.
Epic (+7) (V) Deliberately kill a helpless target.
(U) Observe a Greater God (Rank 7). Witness a moderate (Rank 2-3) Manifestation paradox.
(S) Betray or be betrayed by a close family member. Make major changes to an individual’s identity, or forcefully causing a possession.
Legendary (+8) (V) Get tortured for an hour or longer.
(U) Observe an Ancient (Rank 8) entity. Witness a powerful (Rank 4-5) Manifestation paradox.
(S) Be deeply, painfully, and violently betrayed by someone you love, or watch someone you love die. Completely change someone’s identity
Mythical (+9) (V) Witness a brutal mass execution.
(U) Observe manifestation of a universal concept, planet, etc (Rank 9)
(S) Kill someone you love or be treated like a stranger by your closest friends. Steal a Soul.
Godlike (+10) (V) Watch as someone you love is tortured to death.
(U) Glimpse an elder god of the abyss (Cthulhu-esque entity)
(S) Deliberately destroy everything you’ve risked your life to support. Destroy a Soul.

Note: Mages count as having +2 Unnatural Hardened Rating for the purposes of determining if they react to Unnatural stress. This does not affect any calculations to determine if they’re becoming callous.

Getting Callous

Cops, coroners, and social workers know about getting callous. When you’ve seen enough horror, it loses its power to horrify you. The more hardened ranks you have on a single meter, the more it takes for that kind of stress to rip up your head. Once you resist ten incidents on a meter—that is, a hardened rank of ten on that gauge — you’re so jaded and blasé about it that nothing in that category of stress can endanger your mind.

This is not a good thing.

Mental stress makes us vulnerable. But it also makes us human. If you gain too many hardened marks, you become so completely callous that you are unable to feel fear at all. That’s because you are now cut off from a broad range of emotional experiences that everyone else shares. You’re “hardened” alright: hardened into an emotional fortresses, completely isolated, unable to make a fundamental connection with other human beings.

Becoming a Sociopath

You’re a sociopath when you have all ten hardened ranks in one or more stress types, or when your total sum of hardened marks exceeds fifteen. As a sociopath you can no longer use aspects in an emotional manner — you simply can’t relate to such things anymore.

Psychological Recovery

You can get counselling to help you with your mental problems before you become certifiable. To do so, you need a psychotherapist, social worker, philosophical counsellor, or another professional you trust. Even if you’re a mental-health professional, you cannot perform this on yourself.

The GM decides what your counsellor’s relevant skill score is. After a few introductory sessions to get trust established, you make a Resolve roll (after about one to two weeks), representing you attempting to overcome your issues, and your counsellor makes a skill roll on her Insight, Knowledge or Rapport skill (GM’s choice) for each session. The difficulty for the roll is equal to the higher of your failed or hardened ranks. Each session thereafter may occur up to once every week.

Result (Patient/Counsellor)

  • Fail/Fail: The session is unsuccessful.
  • Fail/Succeed: You can choose to reduce any hardened rank by one (or choose not to reduce any —and get a lecture on “resisting therapy”).
  • Succeed/Fail: You can choose to reduce any failed rank by one.
  • Succeed/Succeed: You can reduce a hardened rank or a failed rank of your choice by one.
  • Success with Style (Either): You can reduce a hardened rank or a failed rank of your choice by one.
  • Success with Style (Both): You can reduce any one hardened rank or a failed rank of your choice by three.

Another option is to get psychological first aid, though this only works to reduce failed ranks, not hardened ones. If you’ve got a friend with psychological training, he can attempt to counsel you right away—as long as you talk to him within an hour of your Will check failure.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that people who get counselling right away tend to do better in the long run. After all, if the counsellor can put things in perspective right away, it saves the effort of uprooting an entrenched and sick attitude. If you can get counselling that fast, your counsellor makes a roll. If he makes any success, you can drop that failed rank.


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