Valentines Day “Holiday”
*** Updated Note– There is additional context and information in the comments. Avoiding a complete rewrite, you may want to start by reading the comments.***
With the Valentines day holiday now passed, I think many people are left wondering, why is this holiday such a “hallmark” of modern life? Surely we all feel affections for our significant others, but why must we focus these emotions and over think how to demonstrate our affections so overtly? And at times when we do not have significant others, why must this emotional ovation make us feel depressed and lonely?
Anyways, this got me thinking– why don’t we see more mental maladies in Dungeons and Dragons? Now, I’m not necessarily saying “love” is a mental disease, but there are a lot of mental and emotional colors that can be used to paint a character, and it seems we leave a lot of characters in D&D very… “monochromatic”. So here’s a few ideas to spice up your characters, and your game.
A Campaign Idea
After writing about half of this post, a great villain idea came to me. Why not have an Incubus/Succubus pair, or a demon who can take either form, prey on our character’s emotions, and manipulate everyone they come in contact with?
Mental and Emotional States
These states could be used as magical abilities, or as diseases that worsen over time. Bad things can happen when a character is bitten by “the love bug”. These ideas could be expanded in a more general sense to encompass the whole of human emotions, but for the sake of simplicity, I have embraced two of the most common emotions prevalent on Valentine’s day, “love” and “anger”.
Traveling through cities, and interacting with the peoples of the world, chance are someone will catch your eye, and even without interacting, you might “fancy” them. This happens often enough in the real world, but what if a mage or demon could cause this feeling in a person at will?
As a “status” I would say “attraction” would cause a penalty to attacks against the fancied target, and a penalty to other acts of aggression (skill checks). The penalty could vary based on the nature of the creatures involved, but as a baseline, let’s call it a -2 penalty.
A more intense feeling of attraction, Desire would increase the penalties of the Attraction status. The afflicted character would still have their wits about them, but they would feel strong emotions that would deter them from doing harm to the object of their desire.
The target becomes obsessed with pursuing carnal pleasure, and begins using actions to disrobe. Similar to the Dominated state, the character will use actions to disrobe and/or defend the object of their lust. The DM can consider allowing a will save at the beginning of the turn to see if the character must spend actions removing garments.
Affection penalty plus the “Dazed” status, save ends. The character is distracted by daydreams of frolicking through meadows of tall grass and flowers with the object of their affection.
Love at first sight, or blind love, is something people talk about often enough. It can overwhelm a person so absolutely that it seems to be one of the most likely emotional targets for an evil manipulator to take advantage of.
Character must attack the target that angered them… even if the only attack options available are illogical or not optimal. This temporary state of fury causes the character a -2 penalty to attack rolls.
The character will not surrender under any circumstance, and sees the battlefield in a shade of blood red. The character attacks every round, doing as much damage to enemies as possible. The afflicted character no longer communicates with allies, and does not listen to them until the battle is over.
Bloodlust plus the following additional effects. The character may make basic melee or ranged attacks as a minor action. The character cannot spend healing surges, and every action must be an attack. Charge attacks no longer end the characters turn. The character attacks at a -4 penalty, but a +8 damage bonus.
In the real world, we do not need magic, curses, or evil beings to make people screwy in the head. We seem to accomplish this feat just fine on our own. Given this tendency, I can’t think of any reason why more player characters and non-player characters would not have these kinds of conditions.
Some people are unable to see the world as it is, and they apply a wide variety of irrational filters to the things they see, hear, feel, etc. Although a “miss skill” could apply to any skill, I think knowledge skills make the most sense– especially perception.
If a character was afflicted with “miss perception”, they might be the crazy old man in town who sees all kinds mundane objects as dangerous, or sees horrible creatures where there are none. This can also be a really fun trait for a DM to play with. For example, what if the old man actually IS seeing things, but not in this realm? What if the old man was seeing creatures in the parallel realms of the Shadowfell or Feywild? In an adventure or campaign where the player characters move between these planes, such an NPC could transform from the village idiot to an invaluable member of the party.
Perception, at its root, is one of the most powerful motivators. Arguably, the way we perceive the world around us is the ONLY motivator for our actions. This builds on the “miss-perception” idea, justified by disease. Whether by magic, or mental disorder, when our perception does not match reality, bad things can happen.
“Thanks for that healing word, but do you think this cut looks infected? You better perform a Remove Disease ritual ASAP! Seriously, I think gangrene is already setting in!!!”
“Wait a second– were you bitten by that Vampire or Werewolf in that last fight? I’m watching you– and the second I think you’ve turned, OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!”
While I think hypocondria could provide some fun comic relief in a campaign, it could also have serious consequences. Would such a character really venture into a dungeon? What if there is rusty metal down there? They could get tetanus! In a campaign or adventure setting, I would recommend this trait for an NPC that the characters occasionally have to deal with, but don’t over do it.
Maybe I’m crazy, but as a DM, I enjoy playing characters that have multiple personality disorder, or who talk to beings (imaginary friends) that aren’t actually there. I have actually seen one such character in published material– the shopkeeper “Madroon” in the LFR adventure Crystal Clear is a lot of fun. So much so that I integrated his character into my LFR homebrew campaign.
Schizophrenia can take many forms, but I recommend staying away from the “cleptomaniac” flavor unless you want your players to kill your NPCs.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
After every kill, does your defender spend a minor action cleaning off their blade? Or does the controller count the number of enemies aloud in every combat? “Seven ogres, definitely, definitely, seven…”
This trait has a lot more potential for character flavor than for mechanical effects, but I kind of like the idea of a Savant Mage Rain Main.
Have you ever had a character in your group who never liked to talk to the NPCs? Well now you can give him an excuse. Aspergers is a mild form of autism, that generally includes difficulty handling social interactions, particularly with strangers.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
I remember playing in a campaign that had a “spaz” player. He had little patience for talking to NPCs, and liked to charge into rooms with no regard for traps. Needless to say he burned through several characters in the Tomb of Horrors. In our group, we often found ourselves very agitated by THE PLAYER’S antics. It didn’t matter what character he played, they all made the same mistakes. If he player stated that all his characters had ADHD, we might have forgiven at least a couple of his transgressions.
Another way to spin disease or mental illness is to have a political or merchant entity “fabricate” an illness. The town/city/region is then at their mercy, because, sure enough, they happen to be the only ones with the “cure”. It is widely known that ritalin was over prescribed to children throughout the 90s. Surely DnD provides an arena that is perfect for similar conspiracies, whether it be diseases, curses, warding away “evil” creatures, etc.
I think a lot of player character’s are afflicted with this, and they don’t even realize it. I would argue that anyone who plays a character who often goes from “willing to talk” to “Hulk angry! SMASH!”, might want to find an apothecary to even themselves out a bit.
Do you think 5th edition dungeons and dragons will be modular and flexible enough to accommodate an “emotion” or “morale” system? Would you be interested in adding this kind of emotional sensitivity to any of your campaigns? Or do you think it would just be irritating?
Or maybe a better question, would you allow a Succubus/Incubus demon villain to utilize these kinds of love and hate powers?