Reading List and Dark Space

Over Christmas, I set myself three goals, one of which was to read the Call of Cthulhu rules. I had only ever played the game, never run it, so was familiar with the rule in practice but had never sat behind the keeper’s screen.

It is now the middle of Feb and I am still reading.

Alongside that, quite a while ago I borrowed Dark Space from one of the guys in my Rolemaster group and I have now bought the book from him as he has said that he will never run it.

This throws up the issue of insanity in Rolemaster. I have written an article about this in the latest Fanzine. The gist of the article is about how dodgy using something as glib as a low-level neurosis spell is on a player or a player who has never experienced mental health issues trying to play a neurosis for laughs could be if you have someone sat at your table that has been struggling with their own mental health.

I don’t think the argument that a group may have been playing together for years and none of you have mental health problems so this doesn’t apply to you doesn’t stack up. People can and do hide issues for years. I know that my long term GM suffered from Schizophrenia for decades before getting a diagnosis. It is also recognized that role-players as a group have higher instances of mental health issues than the population as a whole. Presumably, the possibility of living someone else’s life for a while has an appeal. I cannot find the research right now but I think it was based upon a sampling of US role players so that may not apply globally but I cannot see why it shouldn’t. People are people all over the world.

Since writing the article in the fanzine I have been thinking about this a bit more. Not from a mental health perspective but from a game mechanic point of view.

Dark Space has two options. The first is to use Stress and Depression criticals from RoCoIII, which I am really not that impressed with. The second option is to use a new Stat called Rationality (Ra). The Ra stat is a complete carbon copy of the CoC Sanity stat and you lose Ra points depending on what the character experienced and loss of Ra leads to temporary or long term insanities, which you roll on a table. This pretty much imports all of the potential problems with CoC into Rolemaster.

The Criticals solution is equally crass. It just tells the player to play their character as either depressed or suicidal with a percentage chance of suicide each week.

I am thinking about a solution that has more shades of grey to it. We already have Co drain from the undead, could we have mental [temp] stat drain from a variety of stats. So studying some material that makes you question your very understanding of how the universe works could give you a resistance roll with your Re bonus as an assist but failure leads to a reduction in your Re stat, x number of points for every 10 points of RR failure. But, here is the first of two clever bits, if the trauma were emotional you could use In as the pertinent stat and damage the In temp as a consequence.

We can import the idea of temporary mental health issues from CoC. If you lose 20% of your remaining temporary stat in a short period of time but rather than rolling on a table what we, as GMs, do is you talk to the player and discuss how their character should react to this to that trauma. This negotiated behavior means that two characters facing the same emotional hurt could react very differently. One player could choose to be callous and unfeeling, wall themselves off from others and emotional bonds. Another player may choose to make their character desperate for emotional support.

As GM you are there and agreed with how the player was going to play this personality change. That means that you can use it to reward good role-playing. You know the criteria so you can measure performance against expectations.

Now we have a system that allows you to model different types of stress and trauma, it gives the player an active role in portraying the effects and the character gets rewarded for the player playing their character well.

You could also introduce parapsychology and psychiatry as skills and use these to restore lost tempory stats. There has long been a lack of clarity in how undead Co drain was supposed to be recovered.

8 Replies to “Reading List and Dark Space”

  1. If you are looking for more reading on Cthulu-esque elements in Rolemaster, you should check out (if you haven’t already) the Ogrillion Horror: an official ICE Cthulu-type adventure set in Shadow World. Creatures and Treasures II (for RM2) also introduced a whole group of Cthulu-esque monsters (the ones that are also in Darkspace).

    I agree RM has never dealt with mental health issues very well. The ideas you propose would definitely be better.

    Have you ever considered treating it as a disease? RM diseases have different effects for different severities, so you could have characters roll each week or month to see how the disease affects them, and the severity would depend on their degree of failure. You could even slot in the mental diseases alongside the other types: a creature could induce a lvl 5 anxiety disorder/disease, then another might induce a lvl 10 personality disorder, and another a lvl 20 cognitive/psychotic disorder, etc.

    1. In the fanzine article, this is exactly the approach I took. I thought it was a pity that diseases and poisons got the most sophisticated treatment in an RPG that I had ever come across but the one thing that could have a real impact on the player was missing.
      I imagine that a player with mental health issues would appreciate those conditions being treated in a mature and realistic way rather than dumping everyone under the ‘insane’ label and carting them off to the asylum.

      1. Hi Peter,
        I found no other way to contact you than to post here. I’m an old RM and lovecraftian RPGs fan and I wanted to take a look at your article about sanity in RM, included in RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue #34. Thus, I got it from DriveThru, but something went wrong: even though I paid for issue #34, issue #33 was downloaded (mistakenly labeled as #34). Is there any way you can help me, please? May I can contact you privately somehow?
        Thanks in advance

  2. This is good stuff Peter. There are a few standard mechanisms in RM that were never really dealt with in the original rules. (it could be in later iterations of RM but I haven’t read those!)
    1. Undead that drain constitution.
    2. Mental afflictions via the Mind Disease spell list.
    3. “Battles of Will” via a intelligent magical item and/or corruption by a malevolent force like the Unlife in Shadow World.

    These are substantial effects that hav

  3. For another take on how a BRP system handles Sanity, ihave a look at the Delta Green Agents Handbook. It handles the immediate impact of sanity loss – fight, flight, struggle – plus IMO a better approach to long term impact of sanity loss via the breaking point mechanism. I am more conversant with HARP these days than RM, but my gut instinct would be Resistance (Will) vs a RR set by the amount of sanity loss… or convert the Sanity loss to a difficulty – for example, most people would agree that the sanity loss from a Great Old One would be Absurd.

  4. Hi Peter,
    I’m an old fan of RM and lovecraftian RPGs (particularly, Delta Green). I got a copy of the Fanzine issue #34 from DriveThru to take a look to the Sanity rules article, but instead issue #33 was downloaded. Can you help me with this? Is there any way I can contact you privately?


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