If there’s one thing I felt d20 Freeport was missing, it was insanity rules. With such strong cosmic horror overtones and clear connections to Lovecraftian horror, madness and insanity are two concepts conspicuously absent from the rules. Granted, the Unearthed Arcana offers the insanity system from d20 Call of Cthulhu, and while serviceable, its use feels less like an integrated part of the game and more like an add-on. Other systems, notably taint and corruption, as well as some insanity rules from other official sources might also work, but the consequences can be severe and even crippling, making their gain less fun and more like punishment. So when setting out to design madness and insanity rules for the d20 Freeport Companion, I took these factors into consideration to ensure insanity felt like a natural outgrowth of the existing system while also providing mechanisms for players to employ these rules in fun ways.
Insanity Points are the heart of Freeport’s Madness system. Whenever your character peruses a forbidden text, encounters the awful, or anything else that tests the mental faculties, the character is at risk of acquiring Insanity Points. The most common methods for accumulating Insanity Points include being the target of mind-affecting spells and effects, encountering terrifying creatures, witnessing horrific acts of violence or utterly wrong acts, and researching mind-shattering subjects.
Creatures: The first time a non-humanoid, non-animal creature is encountered, you must succeed on a Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 the creature’s HD + the creature’s Cha modifier) or gain a number of Insanity Points determined by the creature’s HD—1 point for 1–3 HD, 1d3 points for 4–6 HD, 1d4 for 7–9 HD, and so on.
Forbidden Lore: Every rank of Knowledge (Forbidden Lore) attained through researching forbidden or unnerving texts grants 1 Insanity Point.
Mind-Affecting Effects: Whenever you’re the target of a mind-affecting spell or effect and you fail the save by 5 or more, you gain a number of Insanity Points equal to the spell’s level or effect’s equivalent level.
Mind-Rending Encounters: Anytime you encounter the awful, you must succeed on a Will save or gain Insanity Points. The number of points gained and the save DC is determined by the severity of the scene. Enduring a few minutes of torture, for example, has a DC 10 and imposes 1 Insanity Point on a failed save. Being buried alive, however, is severe and imposes 1d4 Insanity Points on a failed DC 20 Will save.
Whenever you gain Insanity Points, your Wisdom score suffers. For the purpose of skill checks, ability checks, Will saves, your effective Wisdom is equal to your Wisdom score minus your Insanity Points. For spellcasting, however, your effective Wisdom equals your Insanity Points plus your Wisdom score. This system intentionally favors divine spellcasters since being a little crazy removes the barriers to divine influence. You can’t gain more Insanity Points than your Wisdom and if your Insanity Points would reduce Wisdom to 0, you stop gaining Insanity Points and henceforth behave as if under the effects of an insanity spell.
In addition to the basic effects of Insanity Points, you are also subject to fear as a result of a failed Will save. If you fail the Will save by 5, you become shaken, by 10, frightened, and by 15 or more panicked. The fear condition persists for a number of rounds equal to the Insanity Points gained.
Insanity Points stick around until you do something to remove them. The easiest way to rid yourself of Insanity Points is through magic. Lesser restoration removes 1d4 points, while restoration removes them all. Healing can also remove Insanity Points. Each week of treatment allows the healer to make a DC 25 Heal check to remove 1 Insanity Point. Finally, you can voluntarily acquire a madness to remove a number of Insanity Points equal to the severity of the madness.
Madness functions as a pressure valve for Insanity Points. It offers a way for a character to rid himself of accumulated Insanity Points at the expense of temporary or permanent erratic behavior. Short-term insanity can impose unconsciousness, inaction, fear, immobility, and so on. Long-term madness, which removes more Insanity Points lasts longer and imposes penalties on certain skill checks, imposes conditions, and other difficult effects.
The worst form of madness is indefinite madness. Each gain removes 8 Insanity Points but imposes a significant behavioral change, including Anxiety (–4 penalty on initiative checks), manic/depressive (+2 bonus or –4 penalty on all checks, equal chance of each every day), or substance abuse (addiction to a random substance).
Madness can be removed in ways similar to removing Insanity Points. A heal spell removes a madness and any remaining Insanity Points. A DC 25 Heal check made for a character after 1d6 months of confinement can produce a full recovery, though the subject is always at risk of a relapse.
The hook with this system is that it places the effects of accumulated insanity in the hands of the player. When and how the PC freaks out is up to the player. You might tough it out and absorb Insanity Points to stave off the slide into utter depravity or you might accept some short-term losses to keep your mind hale and relatively healthy.
Insanity Points, while clearly a setback, have some benefits. Divine spellcasters find their spells easier to cast and more potent, while certain feats, spells, and magic items may offer new ways to employ Insanity Points, making the descent into madness an interesting character choice rather than just another way to weaken characters. At the end of the day, the madness system in the d20 Freeport Companion is optional, but it captures the grit and flavor of the city and expands the game in exciting and harrowing ways.
Evan (he/him) got his start in tabletop games in 1995, as a co-founder of Rubicon Games. Among other games, he has worked on Cranium, Cranium Hullabaloo, and the Pokémon trading card game. RPGs he has edited for include Everway, Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Spaceship Zero, Warhammer Fantasy second edition, the d20 System, A Song of Ice and Fire, Mutants & Masterminds, Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE, Blue Rose, Pathfinder, and Critical Role (5e). He has been managing our web sites since about 2002. He co-designed Walk the Plank, our card game of piratical trick taking, currently available in print-on-demand format via DriveThruCards.com.