Sanity Mechanic


So I know it's been awhile- life has been nuts, but I'm finally really getting back into game and recommitting to actually being active in the community again.

I'm running a new campaign, and have been working on a new mechanic for it, "Sanity". So far it's gone well, and has really helped the players focus on and develop their character. The idea is that as the story goes on, their supply of sanity slowly starts to dwindle. In order to maintain and possibly build it back up, they must play to their core character traits and kind of rely on themselves in both a story element and meta aspect.

I know it's a long read, but I'd love some thoughts on the mechanics:

Each character starts with a Sanity score cap equal to their Wisdom score x 4. This score represents the mental well being and balance of the character and they can never earn or regain more than this cap. A player may choose to sacrifice 1 Sanity to gain the benefit of an Inspiration Point. Regular rules for use of Inspiration apply, but this boon can be used as often as the player desires. However, doing so more than ONCE per day may lead to unfortunate consequences. Each point used between long rests after the first will increase the likelihood of incurring temporary insanity or some other dissociative malady.(Sanity Table link:

Other uses are, but not limited to:

At any level where you may raise your base attributes or gain a feat, you may permanently sacrifice 15 Sanity points, lowering your maximum cap, to gain either the attribute increase and a feat, or gain 2 feats.

Saving throws Players can spend their reaction and a Sanity point to reroll a saving throw.

I have a thing for that Allow a player to spend a Sanity Point to “remember” their character purchased a non-magical mundane or useful item, and that they have it somewhere on their person.

I know a guy… Allow a player to spend Sanity to create and describe an NPC contact who can help with the current situation or mission. Must be within reason and context (agreed upon by the player and DM). The results of exactly how useful/trustworthy/forthcoming that contact is will be determined by Char rolls (persuasion, intimidate, etc.) and the description. Think Han Solo calling on Lando Calrissian (very mixed results) vs. James Bond going to Q (sweet new goodies!).

Battle of Wills  :  If both parties decide to engage (and are intelligent enough to do so), a creature, NPC, or PC may initiate a Battle of Wills. To do so, each opponent can choose to spend up to 12 Sanity (if they have them) to force the other to falter and submit. The number spent will be represented by either 2d6 or 1d12, and revealed at the same time to each opponent. The margin by which a victory is claimed will have varying degrees of consequence for the losing party.

To gain the upper hand before the roll, the opponents can make Deception vs Insight to either tell how powerful their opponent is, or trick the other into thinking that they are weaker or stronger, thus trying to influence how many Sanity points to spend.

Sanity Check: During gameplay, a player may make an Sanity Check to attempt to use a Sanity Point or multiple points to achieve something otherwise outside of their capabilities. The DM then may offer a Counter. This may be simply a number of points to accomplish the Sanity Check, or some other action or sacrifice. They then Negotiate and resolve the outcome based of the Counter agreed on.

Sanity may be gained through story arc development or other special circumstances. In addition to regular gain , at the end of each session players regain a Sanity point for each time they played to their characters personality trait, bond, ideal, or flaw during the session.

Sanity may also be lost if faced with traumatic events or creatures that disturbs the psyche.

If a character reaches 0 Sanity… Well, let’s just hope it never comes to that…


  • Kallak
    Posts: 1,090

    Welcome back man, great to see you back in the saddle. I'll have a respectable response for your sanity setup when I've got a bit more time, but I just wanted to throw this out quickly.

    All the best,
    - Kallak
  • Conan_Lybarian
    Posts: 240

    Thanks @Kallak! Glad to be back and excited to see so many new active people!

  • GamingMegaverse
    Posts: 3,001

    How do the players like the sanity mechanic?  Its a different way of looking at it...

    Great to have you back on the boards @Conan_Lybarian

    Just trying to help out.

  • Conan_Lybarian
    Posts: 240

    Thanks @GamingMegaverse!

    It's worked out really well actually! I love it because I can slide in little narrative pieces and really tempt to players to spend. They've really been playing to their traits to gain the points and develop their characters. At first I was worried that it would turn into a meta tactic just to farm points, but I'm lucky to have players who like to drive the narratives themselves and actually act on the Trait for the story- not just say a thing and ask for a scooby snack. I should clarify that it's a 10% chance to start to incur an effect, and goes up by 10% each time, or more if it's part of a Counter. So far points have been used to:

    -Win a Batyle of Wills to force a Brain in a jar into stasis

    -Boost Create Fire into a large spell (at the cost of additional points and higher % chance of a sanity effect). All the players got involved to Negotiate the Counter.

    -Reroll various fails or low rolls

    -communicate telepathically with eachother 

    -one player used one simply to be able to recall every herb she's ever heard of to school some random NPC shopkeeper

    -Take the extra bonus on level up. I really knew it was something they're taking seriously because 2 players specifically chose not to because they do not want their caps to go down so they can use them for checks. There was an extra conversation around it at level up and the words sacrafice, boon, resource, were used.

  • Abersade
    Posts: 436

    This is an interesting take.

    GM of Rise of the Durnskald: Wrath of the Fallen Goddess - February 2016 CotM

    GM of Core: The Ashes of Alcarna - April 2020 CotM

    GM of Stream of Kairos

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  • Conan_Lybarian
    Posts: 240 edited July 2020
    I mostly have the outlines and rules to help guide the players and give them kind of jumping off points. It's defenitly a fluid mechanic that I'm willing to play with on the fly if they want to do something interesting. I got the idea from seeing alternate Inspiration Point usage mechanics and skinned mine with more of a psionic feel. They all used to be Illithid thralls so it was an easy sell. Eventually I want to come up with my own table, but this one is working for now. It's had some pretty fun results on fails.
    Post edited by Conan_Lybarian on

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