02 July 2009


Witnessing unspeakable supernatural horrors – always a professional risk for any protagonist in a ‘swords and sorcery’ adventure – can drive a mortal man or woman mad.  Deliberately delving into ancient eldritch secrets for the purposes of unleashing unnatural forces or contacting demonic intelligences radically increases this risk.  Insane sorcerers and men whose minds have been broken by ancient evils are standard staples in ‘swords and sorcery’ tales.

In order to simulate this aspect of the ‘swords and sorcery’ genre, these rules treat a character’s Wisdom score as a measurement of his/her sanity.  A character with a Wisdom score of 18 has a firm grasp of the nature of reality, considerable self-discipline, and remarkable strength of will.  In contrast, a character with a Wisdom score of 3 is barely lucid, easily confuses reality with fantasy, and is on the border of lapsing into madness.  Characters with Wisdom scores of 2 or lower are utterly insane, and must be treated as non-player characters.  (If this Wisdom loss is temporary, as explained below, the character is under the control of the Game Master until he/she regains his/her sanity.)

If a character witnesses an unspeakable horror, the Game Master may require the player to make a saving throw (versus ‘spells,’ if using a system other than S&W).  The saving throw should be modified by the severity of the horror in question.  If the character fails his or her saving throw, he or she loses points of temporary Wisdom.  The exact amount should be determined by rolling 1d6.  If a ‘6’ is rolled, the character also permanently loses one point of Wisdom (i.e., one permanent point of Wisdom and five temporary points of Wisdom).  Temporarily lost points of Wisdom may be regained at a rate of one point per day of complete rest.  The spell ‘Restoration’ (which I treat as a 6th level spell of ‘white magic’ in my game) will restore instantly temporarily lost Wisdom points, but will not restore any permanently lost Wisdom points.

Characters may also lose Wisdom by casting spells that are characterized as ‘black magic’ in nature.  This will be explained in a future post.

(Note: This house rule will appear in a longer article in Knockspell # 3.)


  1. This is really cool. As a big fan of Call of Cthulhu, I definitely like this. I've always thought that sanity check system like that wouldn't work well in fantasy. I played in a Ravaloft flavored campaign once that used something like this and it didn't feel like a perfect fit. Your system here, however, seems rather elegantly simple. I would love to try this out.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Ironbeard! The house rule has worked well in practice so far (although I've only used it for two adventures).

  3. I've never thought of a wisdom-sanity correlation before. That makes it slightly easier to distinguish intelligence and wisdom (though having a 3 intelligence and an 18 wisdom is still really hard to imagine).

  4. @bobcat 3 int, high maybe not 18 wis == Forest Gump.


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).