Even more frightful…

by mshrm

As one would expect, there’s a lot of discussion about Fright Checks in GURPS Horror. I think I’ll be incorporating some of the options into the upcoming post-apocalyptic campaign.

First, we’ll use all the options in the “Not Just Stunned” sidebar from page 141. In short, if you roll a “stunned” result on the Fright Check Table, you can substitute some equally useless, but hopefully more amusing, behavior in its place. At best, this might mean “panicked flight”, where appropriate, but usually it means “burst into tears”, “close eyes and repeat ‘This isn’t happening’ while rocking self in corner”, or the like. Knowing this group, if you come up with a good way to demonstrate abject terror, you’ll likely get voted extra points for it.

Or, for example…

Furthermore, it’s always acceptable to dig the hole deeper. It’s always permissible to take a worse result than what’s rolled. For example, if you roll a 17 on the table, but really don’t want to faint, you can offer to take a 22 or 23, stay on your feet, and pick up a new mental Disadvantage!  (Which I’m sure sounds like a great deal to somebody. “I can skip the fainting and stay in the fight? Sign me up!” Now, let’s consider some possible 10-point Disadvantages:  Cowardice. Confused. Partial Amnesia. A whole world of Phobias, starting with a fear of weapons and heading rapidly downhill from there. Which is worse in a fight, losing 5 seconds to stun, or taking 5 seconds to strip off all of one’s clothing?)

Second, I think we’ll be using the optional rules for Stress and Derangement, from pages 141-2. The idea is, as you fail Fright Checks for one reason or another, you’ll accumulate Stress and/or Derangement. Stress is just nerves, gained by being scared, removed by calming down. When you’re investigating the spooky thumping and the cat jumps out at you, you gain Stress. Derangement is deep-down mental damage, the kind you get from suffering prolonged torture or accepting the Collect Call of Cthulhu. If you accumulate too much Stress, it can spill over into Derangement, much like Fatigue loss can lead to loss of Hit Points. Derangement can be “healed” naturally, but just like Hit Points, if you’ve down too many, you’ll want the care of a professional. If you accumulate too much Derangement, you start accumulating Disadvantages.

Both Stress and Derangement count against you when making Fright Checks. Once something damages your calm, it’s hard to maintain composure in the face of even more shocks. Terrify a person long enough with respite, and you’ll drive them mad.

(Now, the question is, does this tweak to the rules prompt anyone to play a character with psychiatric skills? It’s almost a given that we’ll see some kind of doctor, or veterinarian, or former combat medic, or somebody familiar with bandages, in the first cohort of PCs. Will the players be as worried about their characters’ mental health, as their physical? Will we see more priests, social workers, mental health professionals? Nah, I bet we just see a lot more horrifying backgrounds.  “Grew up under the stairs like Harry Potter, see,” they’ll say, “but in a south Alabama funeral home, not a London suburb. Fed nothing but dirt and moonshine. Taught myself to read from the Shooter’s Bible. My buddy, here, was raised by wolves.”)

Finally, just to pull in another book, GURPS Tactical Shooting has some thoughts on Fright Checks in grittier games. There’s a section I’ll be using, on page 34, that talks about replacing Delusion results from the table with other Disadvantages of equivalent point value, chosen to simulate the effects of PTSD. More important than that is the section preceding, “Cool Under Fire”, which mentions situations that might prompt a Fright Check from some characters. I think my favorite is “being the target of a near miss… from any attack”.

Fright Checks get applied at the GM’s discretion, when something comes up that might frighten the characters. It’s a subjective call. A character depicted as a normal, unassuming citizen might have to roll when confronted with a corpse in broad daylight. The inevitable combat medic wouldn’t. Both would roll if they opened a closet door and were suddenly wrestling with good ol’ Uncle Bob’s gory zombie. The first time a character kills a zombie, it’s a task and a trial. Some folks panic, or flinch, and they die. By the time a character’s survived, say, five seasons, zombie-killing gets to be as routine as chopping wood.