Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Sanity sliding list

(this post is mostly a quote)

Saw Socially Appropriate Noesis post by Liche's Libram and couldn't help but think that the list of things we consider "sane" that they present as an example of sanity, to quote in full:

"• the world makes sense;
• everything will work out in the end
• bad people will be punished and the good will be rewarded
• but if good people suffer there’s an unknown good reason for it
• I am one of the good people
• causality flows from past to future
• the adults know what they’re doing
• I can trust my senses most of the time
• my emotions are mostly appropriate responses to my situation
• people have meaningful subjective experiences and laundry machines don’t."

would work as cross-out list to represent the eroding sanity quite well in a games where it is important. 

What I mean is that instead of forcing poorly implemented parallels for real mental health issues into the game once the SAN-related numbers say so, it might work to let the player have a list like that – maybe ordered top down from most crucial to less crucial – and then upon encounter with the eldritch and unknown the player has to cross one of the lines out of list and adjust their character's belief / personality accordingly. Crossing out "People have meaningful subjective experiences and laundry machines don’t" will create an eccentric but mostly harmless quirk but eventually the player will run out of these small beliefs and will have to move on 'causality flows from past to future' and then eventually cross out 'the world makes sense.'

(The list can be adjusted depending on the setting/nature of the game, and maybe include things personally related to each character, such as their believes and/or bonds)

Again, even if all stuff is crossed out it won't automatically mean that the character has something from DSM but it would be increasingly difficult to keep such character any way functional, although I would like to see the player trying to work around such eroded sanity to create a cohesive/functional, even if probably highly unusual, personality.


  1. This is a really, really interesting idea.

    I would offer a couple of initial thoughts.

    1. There does not need to be an order in which these are crossed out.
    2. The crossing off of any one of these might represent a minor or a major change in attitude and behavior, left for the player to determine. The example of the one about “people have meaningful subjective experiences and laundry machines don’t” for example – crossing this off could manifest as a more minor quirk, as you suggest (A belief that the things I put into it matter to my backpack, that it has likes and dislikes etc) or a dangerous psychosis (“No one has meaningful subjective experiences except me, my subjective experience is the only reality, therefore I can do to other people whatever I like, since they are not real and do not actually feel anything).
    3. I think many of us walk around with some of these crossed off pretty much all the time. There's a Robin Williams quote, something to the effect of "People don't fake depression, they fake being ok." This could get very, very real very, very fast. It’s not something I think I would try in a pick up game or with players and or people I didn’t know extremely well and implicitly trust.
    4. The crossing off of one of these items is not necessarily permanent (though it could be).
    5. All of these seem as though they are appropriate responses to any kind of trauma; that trauma does not necessarily need to be in the form of “things which man was not mean to know”

    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thank you, I am glad you found it useful, but all credit should be for Liche's Libram, who made the list.

      1. Yes, exactly. I would leave to the player to choose which ones they wish to cross out first and then to adjust the character's personality accordingly.

      2. My reasoning behind ordering them by severity was to 1) give players some 'easy hits' to get accustomed to the system, by clearly signalling that this or that position on a list is treated as a (relatively) minor shift 2) because people tend to get rid of such 'easy hits' first it would reflect, in-world, the slow erosion instead of going right away for the big shifts.

      Although it is entirely can be done in your way too and maybe for experienced players or certain games it would be an option from the start? I just thought as a new subsystem it would be easier to explain it that way.

      3. If my experience with mind-controlled PCs is of any significance, most players will try to sabotage / rebel against such imposed shifts by technically behaving within the imposed limitations but trying to turn them to their advantage / antagonists' disadvantage at any turn. "Call of Cthulhu" as a game can be played as a explosive-trotting crazy-prepared adventure with the same rules it can be played as slow and tragic character drama, after all, so I think it is possible to use this subsystem in a less severe way, for example, by randomly generating the list for each individual player and making sure there is nothing there that might cause OOC harm.

      But in case if people take this subsystem seriously, then yes, I'd advice a caution and respect, as with any game where such matters are concerned.

      4. Yes, absolutely. Again, I think it flows from how much of that possible severity is desired at the table.

      5. In games where such things are concerned, probably yes; it is only that I don't see many games where sanity trauma is not a result of some kind of occult or outwordly interference. "Unknown Armies" have trauma responses, IIRC, but it is still an occult game.