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?

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