Horror Gaming with AGE: Fear Checks
As I stated last time, for a game to hit my sweet spot of built-in genre tropes and fast play, a sensible yet quick to resolve system needs to be in place to handle when your characters come across anything that has the strong potential to unhinge them. This is usually called a Fear Check, a Guts Roll, a Horror Test, or what have you. I’m calling them Fear Checks and this is my initial take on the idea.
Characters who encounter a horrible scene, suffer a deranged madman’s ministrations or come face to face with the face of the supernatural must test versus Fear. These circumstances are called Fear triggers. Typically a Fear test has a variable TN, just like most other tests. A Fear test of 12 is Startling, while a Fear test of 16 is Maddening. Characters who succeed by more than the TN are fine, they have weathered the shock and moved past it. Those who succeed exactly are slightly shaken, but still fully functional. There are no long term or short term problems. Those who fail outright are not so lucky. Any character who fails a Fear check is affected by the scene, visage, or torture. Those who fail spectacularly (their dragon die is a 1, they fail by more than 5, GM’s choice) are deeply affected.
Affected by Fear: The character suffers a -1 penalty to all actions for the duration of the scene, and suffers an additional -1 penalty (bringing it to -2) for actions targeted directly at overcoming the Fear trigger. Characters who play up this penalty by undergoing nausea, vomiting at the first sign, or otherwise playing to the disadvantage should earn a reward such as a small experience bonus for good roleplaying.
Deeply Affected by Fear: The character is in Shock, and must either flee, (and be outside the scene for the remainder of its duration), or be Petrified with terror.
Petrified by Fear
The character is unable to take actions except Move once per round for a number of rounds equal to 8 minus the Dragon Die of their Fear test. Once they are able to undertake actions, they are then Affected by Fear and have the normal penalties for the remainder of the scene.
Overcoming Fear triggers: Characters who have to deal with the same type of stimulus repeatedly eventually build up a resistance to it. In effect, they become Jaded. In each further encounter, in a later game story, the TN is one less. Once the TN reaches 10, the character can safely ignore the Fear trigger.
Example: Silas has encountered the horribly mutilated corpses left behind by the Ripper of Barstow before. This is the third story that he has seen the bodies, and thus the original TN of 14 is now TN 12. If his fellow detectives and he don’t stop the Ripper before two more stories occur, he will become so jaded that he doesn’t even register them as terrifying any longer.
Long term effects of failed Fear checks: Characters who are Deeply Affected by Fear often have nightmares. Those who have been Deeply Affected by Fear more than once in the same story can begin to lose sanity. Essentially, the guideline is the character’s Willpower is the number of times they can be Deeply Affected per story, before they begin to have long term problems that will require outside intervention to overcome. Even being affected can cause nightmares, but being shocked into an incapacitated state multiple times in the same day, or week, can rend the fragile psyche of the character to shreds.