Super Simple Stress/Horror Rules for D&D

Horror, dread and stress can add a lot of flavor to roleplaying. However, when nosing around, I found that a lot of mechanics (such as Mothership, Call of Cthulhu)…

  • Take away player agency at one point or another, to represent them losing control. This is a neat idea, but a hard sell in a heroic D&D campaign with a long-standing main cast. Losing a character to stress is not very heroic.
  • Are solid, but really different from D&D, requiring a lot of separate stats and rolls and saves.

There exist other systems that are more suited for D&D, such as Giffyglyph’s Dread or Sandy Petersen’s Dread/Madness. These either involve tracking a lot of things, or an Exhaustion-like table – which I never found really fun.

So, how do we keep it simple? Here’s what I did:

Stress & Scary Stuff

Hit Points can be considered an abstract representation of life force, health, endurance, luck, and will to live/fight.
Hence, psychological stress and damage can be represented as ‘psychic damage‘.
When facing intense, scary or stressful situations, the DM might call for a Stress Save. You can choose how you want to make it:
INT Save: Explain how you try to rationalize what you’re seeing.
WIS Save: Explain how your senses might have tricked you, or how the thing you are perceiving can be interpreted.
CHA Save: Explain how you lie to yourself, laugh it off, or pull yourself together.
On a failure, you take 1, 1d4, 1d6, 1d8 or 1d10 psychic damage, depending on the situation.
This type of damage cannot drop you below 1 HP. If it does bring you down to 1 HP, it means you are basically so stressed out, you can barely defend yourself.

That’s it, really. What do you think?

One thought on “Super Simple Stress/Horror Rules for D&D

  1. I like how different characters have the choice between these three ways to deal with their stress.

    Plus, that’s an interesting use of the HP abstraction as an awareness of “how to avoid serious damages”, rather than the traditional videogame-like HP bar.

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