Designer’s Notes: Mad as Bones


“That boy is mad as bones.” My grandmother would say that about me often as a child. I was . . . a handful. Hiding in places and shouting “Boo!” at passersbys, climbing on the roof at night to look at the stars, playing out in a nor’easter, and in general just running wild. As a boy, I had no fear – and as we all know, that’s not necessarily a good thing. You might even have thought I was a bit crazy. Most of my family did. Thus, I was mad as bones.

The bones (I am not sorry for that) of this article was been around since early 2015 and come from two Patreon specials (here and here). +Patrick Burroughs was the first to just help me dive into the guts of the rules. He made many additions that just became part of the system. Then, about 2 months ago I began planning for my new campaign and I decided to update the system and use it. My players had a lot of input and ideas on how it should operate and after a near 3 hour conversation and a flurry of emails I made a massive series of changes. Rebranding “Sanity Points” as “Stability Points” was the first big change, the second was adopting Long-Term Fatigue Points. I made a bunch of changes and the system was almost not recognizable after – but in a good way. I decided it would make a great Pyramid article and I formatted, proofed, and sat it aside. Not even three days later I decided to submit it and now its in your collective hands. I hope you enjoy it because a lot of work went into this thing (much like Crafting Imbuements) and not all of it was me.

All in all it took me about 150 hours to write, 70 hours to edit, 10 hours worth of research, and 200 hours of revision (too much). I spent a further 5 hours looking over the preliminary PDF for any issues and revising. This makes it the second most Pyramid article time-wise (about 11 40-hour work weeks).

I ended up take some stuff out for both space and not entirely-RAW builds.

Example Ability: The Abyss Stares Back
This wasn’t entirely RAW, but fun. So here it is.

The Abyss Stares Back (+416%): Stability Attack 3d (Always On, -20%; Based on the lower of Perception or Will, +60%; Extended Duration, x100,000, +200%; Increased Range, LOS, +40%; Side Effect, Secondary Hallucinating and Nightmares, +11%; Resistible, Will-5, -5%; Vision-Based, +150%, Vision-Based, Reversed, -20%) [155]. Notes: Anyone looking into your eyes whom you can also see must make an immediate roll against the lower of their Will or Perception (minus any bonus to Vision). Failure results in them losing 3d SP (doubled after accounting for protective traits) and 3d LSP. Critical failure or failure by 5 or more requires a Will roll at -1 per 2 points of SP loss or be wracked with Terrible Pain and Nightmares (no self-control roll!) for days equal to their margin of failure. Those who already have Nightmares suffer double normal effects (-2 FP and -2 to skill, and Perception rolls fail on a 17 or 18). 38 points.

Optional Rule: Dread Attribute and Damage

Mixing the rules for Intrinsic Fright Checks (GURPS Horror, p. 139) and the Terror advantage (p. B93) the GM could assign a “Dread Attribute” to monsters and instead of the usual roll on the Fright Check table (p. B360) this could instead result in “dread damage,” i.e., Stability Point loss. The Dread attribute always starts at 10 and may be lowered or increased for ±10 points/level. You can choose to activate your Dread and force a Quick Contest of Will between anyone that can see you or hear you (choose one when you buy this attribute). If you succeed, look up your Dread attribute level on the Damage Table (p. B16) and read this as the number of SP you inflict.

Any modifier available for Terror can be directly added to the cost of Dread. For example, if you can’t turn your Dread off you’d add “Always On” (-20%) turning the cost to 8-points for each level above 10 or -12-points for each level below 10. Maddening attacks use the Swing column, while Sanity-Blasting inflicts both SP and LSP damage, and uses the Swing column!

Intimidation can be used in place of Will, if better. Add +1 to your final Dread level to determine SP loss for knowing it at Will+2, +2 for knowing it at Will+4, +3 for knowing it at Will+7, +4 for Will+10, and a further +1 per +3 to skill thereafter.

The GM would have to decide who get such an attribute in the first place, but a good guideline is that beings who have one of. . .

. . . Appearance levels that are Hideous, Monstrous, or Transcendent.
. . . An appropriate Unusual Background worth at least 30 points (this mimics the first level of Terror).
. . . An appropriate racial template.
. . . An appropriate Social Stigma such as Social Stigma (Dead) or Social Stigma (Monster).

The GM could allow other traits to enable the Fear attribute, such as Social Regard or Trained by a Master. GMs could also use a variant of Awe or Confusion (GURPS Powers, p. 85), instead of inflicting fear your overwhelm your target’s mind with bliss or befuddlement. The effects are effectively the same, however.

Quotes That didn’t Make It
Like the header says. Some stuff that didn’t make it in but was highly appropriate.

“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
–Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give it up,” Alice replied: “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

“Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind over tasked.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

“Though this be madness, yet there is a method in’t.”

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Picking Over the Bones
A couple of afterthoughts on the article itself:

Indulging in Compulsive Behaviors ought to be as good as an indulgence when regaining Stability Points. The GM ought to allow the rules for regaining points under Mental Disturbance all the time for for Compulsive Behaviors, but restraining yourself should inflict twice as much SP loss.

The GM should be pretty generous about relaxing activity and regaining points simply due to the fact that when a character starts gaining LSP he’s going to go into a downward spiral. This is pretty realistic given how most mental ailments work.

Those with Bad Temper, Bloodlust, and similiar “I like conflict” disadvantages might be able to regain SP by being in combat. The thrill of battle is enough to help them decompress. Similarly, Combat Reflexes may reduce SP loss by 1 (to a minimum of 0) or allow a roll to resist SP loss due to combat. Veterans rarely flip out after a few combats!

Ritual Path Magic could cost 1 LSP (Oh, my Glob!) per Greater Effect in a spell to represent various magic systems where toying with such powers result in madness or insanity if used too much.

Psychiatric Wards ought to give +/TL as a bonus to recover LSP for those receiving care within them. Psych wards in horror games might give a penalty if monsters, magic, etc. are real and the target went mad because he was exposed to it. The doctors are repressing what you know to be real and it’s making it worse.

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  1. Hi, Chris, I love the article/system. I’ve been thinking about converting some of the newer Delta Green stuff over to GURPS, and I think this system will help a lot in terms of getting that feel of building up stress. I do have a question concerning this paragraph about LSP:

    “You gain 1 LSP whenever you go below a multiple of SP/2.
    For example, if you had SP 10 and lost 5 of them, you’d also
    gain 1 LSP. When you gain LSP, you also lose SP equal to the
    total amount lost! If you have LSP equal to your SP or worse,
    you fall unconscious or suffer from one of the listed effects
    until you recover; see 0 SP to -1×SP, p. 7.”

    I’m confused about that sentence about also losing SP equal to the amount lost, when gaining LSP. Does this mean you essentially double whatever SP loss you had just suffered to cause an LSP gain, or do you double your current SP deficit? Could you provide an example of that?

    Thanks for your time!
    Shawn Close

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