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There ain't no sanity clause

So SAN and Cthulhu Mythos in Call of Cthulhu, what's the point of it apart from a metre to gauge your next bout of random insanity? What can and should it represent?

How about this.

SAN represents to what extent you subscribe to the vanilla model of the universe, the one with whatever god you might follow but without any of the Mythos. Diminishing SAN therefore does not so much describe madness as a reappraisal of the evidence in the light of new facts and a change in the way the universe is perceived. It was actually all mythosy all along, you just didn't know how to interpret the clues.

Now you've been exposed to the Mythos, the doors of your perception have been blown off. You see things differently. You know now that a red car followed by a blue car followed by a van has implications for the state of the world, that a perculiar smell in your sock draw portends danger and that a strange shadow on the iris of your first born is more than just a mote of dust. The GM should make occasional SAN rolls for your players and if they fail them, feed them a strange perception.

How do you know what these things mean? Well, you have to mug up on it. Cthulhu Mythos is your skill at interpreting this brave new shutterless world. It tells you that that smell is an indication that a conjunction of Mars and Venus will be a propitious time for the Mi-Go to land in Vermont, that a particular sequence of coloured vehicles is a warning to the wise to stay of the beachfront tonight. A succesful Mythos roll will give you some interpretation of the perception, a failed roll some nagging suspicion that there was more to it than meets the eye. Remember, this is the Mythos - there's no earthly reason why this has to be consistent, or logical. Greater forces are at play, beyond the ken and barbie of mankind.

As for your kid's eye, you really don't want to know what that means. Trust me.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 7th, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)

I seem to remember Ron-who-must-be-obeyed saying expressly that Humanity is not a gauge of how human one's PC is. It's an indicator for the player rather than the character. I haven't yet played Sorcerer so I'm not sure to what extent players adhere to this.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:14 pm (UTC)
And I think that when he talks about his own game, I'd tend to treat Ron as somewhat of an authority.

But that's like treating authors and artists generally as the authority on their works! That goes against every bone in the critical body! Where would Lit Crit (and post-modernism) be if it entertained that though?

But if the Humanity score never constrains behaviour, how can it inform play, except in an yes/no kind of way? It's a bit like hit points, at 1hp I'm fine, at 0hp I'm dead.
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
I like that as a notion, although maybe ignores the human tendency to force some sort of interpretation onto such things, no matter how inaccurate?
Nov. 7th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)
I'm quite happy for PCs to make any intrepretation of what they see. They will only know it's true if they make their Mythos check. And the uncertainty gets round the problem that Cthulhu Mythos seems to be a random thing.
Nov. 7th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC)
So, upon reaching SAN zero, does the character Really Understand What Is Going On?

It's an interesting notion, but I wonder how it would work in play. I've seen many CoC games where one characters starts at (say) SAN 80 and another character starts at SAN 50. Both players treat their characters as 'sane', both have no Mythos knowledge at this stage. By the model proposed, should it be that the SAN 50 character is actually closer to a realisation of the Truth About The Universe than the the SAN 80 character? Then there is the possibility that the SAN 80 character can actually learn more about the Truth than the SAN 50 character.

Should we then be thinking of a SAN model for CoC that is divorced from a stat relationship (I'd say yes, but that's just me) and starts at a pre-determined level, modified by how experienced and 'involved' you want you character to be?

Nov. 7th, 2006 05:14 pm (UTC)
a SAN model for CoC that is divorced from a stat relationship

Would you then be making POW checks rather than SAN checks for "does witnessing this horror affect your equanimity?" situations?
Nov. 7th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
SAN is not an indicator of understanding what is going on. It's an indicator of how much weirdness you see. It's Cthulhu Mythos that is the indicator of how much you understand.

I'd say that the SAN 80 PC is more set in their ways which makes them less likely to see the weird shit. It's just not on their radar.
Nov. 7th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC)
To cheapen the discussion, the same sort of thing happened in Buffy -- people couldn't believe in the supernatural and/or rationalised away and subsequently forgot anything weird that they were lucky enough to survive.

Alternatively, there is no truth to the universe and SAN loss is the mere and inevitable result of forcing oneself to read Lovecraft's turgid prose. Think of the master and his creature, Lumley as a cumulative poison, the literary equivalent of arsenic. No exposure is safe and eventually, repeated contact will do you in...
Nov. 8th, 2006 10:41 am (UTC)
HPL wasn't the best, was he. I like a few stories, Call of Cthulhu and Colour out of Space but most of them are difficult to read. He's not very engaging.

But, given that I've read most of his prose output, I guess I'm a lost cause now. I have manage to avoid Lumley since the unfortunate contact with Hero of Dreams.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 8th, 2006 10:42 am (UTC)
That's exactly what I was getting at.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 8th, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)
Not at all. Your comments were apposite and clear. And someone has just bought me lunch.
Nov. 8th, 2006 02:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's how I've always played it. As your SAN drops, Timecube makes more and more sense.
Nov. 8th, 2006 10:54 pm (UTC)
... I'm not sure that any amount of SAN loss could achieve that. Great C'thulhu himself must look at TimeCube, shake his head, whistle through his tentacles and make the elder sign to ward off madness.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )