Love and Other Mental Maladies in DnD

cthulhu heart inks m Love and Other Mental Maladies in DnD

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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”.

Attraction/Affection

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.

Desire

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.

Lust

Do not be this guy Love and Other Mental Maladies in DnDThe 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.

Smitten

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

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.

Anger

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.

Bloodlust

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.

Rage

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.

Mental Disorders

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.

Miss Skill

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.

Dimensia/Hallucination

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.

CrocoDuck 300x199 Love and Other Mental Maladies in DnDJust look at that flock of ducks. Aww, so cute, too bad I don’t have any bread. Why are they coming toward me?? I  said I don’t have any bread. Oh no! They’re CROCODUCKS! RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!!!”

Hypocondria

“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.

Schizophrenia

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.

Aspbergers/Autism

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.

Bipolar Disorder

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.

Your Thoughts?

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?

4 comments for “Love and Other Mental Maladies in DnD

  1. Sunyaku
    February 23, 2012 at 1:48 am

    Conversation migrated from Google+ may add some clarity–

    Anonymous Faithful Reader– “I usually find your posts interesting even when I disagree with you. I avoided reading this one for quite a while because I was worried about where it was going. :/

    I think there’s a place for mental disorders and emotions such as love in D&D, but what you’ve written is… um… to put it kindly a bit inappropriate. You put a huge premium on the physical attraction/lust side of love and included a gratuitous cleavage shot of some random woman (not even a fantasy pinup, just some random woman… why?). This all seemed very focused on the kind of love that’s based on pure surface appearances and leads to sex but not much else. That’s the shallowest kind of love I can possibly imagine and not one I would find interesting to role-play.

    Your descriptions of many of the mental disorders were at minimum inaccurate and possibly also a bit insensitive. I don’t think that disabilities are some sort of sacred thing we shouldn’t ever talk or joke about, but if you’re going to turn someone with a mental disorder into a caricature to laugh at, I think it’s a good idea to describe the disorder more or less accurately. :/

    I like you and I’ll still read your posts, but I’m going to be honest, I’m a little disappointed here.”

    • Sunyaku
      February 23, 2012 at 1:48 am

      Sunyaku’s response: “I want to thank you for taking the time to comment, and for the opportunity to discuss this further. I’m sorry you found this piece somewhat offensive, though I’m not sure I completely understand the lens through which you viewed this content. I will, however, try to answer the questions you posed.

      #1) Talking about love as a force that can be manipulated through magical means in a fantasy world quickly becomes a philosophical problem, IMHO. I’ll call it, the “Aladdin Paradox”. In the Disney movie Aladdin, the “all powerful genie” could not make a person truly fall in love with another. In that universe, the manipulation of “deep love” was not possible. I think if a game allowed this level of external manipulation, things could very quickly get out of hand, and not be fun at all. Thus, I did intentionally stick to the more “shallow” and “physical” aspects of love, and distanced the content from deeper mental/spiritual aspects. In the DnD universe, “shallow love” is the kind I envision an evil entity like a succubus or incubus manipulating.

      #2) I probably should have added a note or clue– but to explain the “pinup”, the white guy in the background has a crazy crazy lustful look on his face, and the tooltip says “Do not be this guy”.

      #3) I quickly reviewed the post, and I will concede that the mental disorders were described in a very broad-brush manner, but I disagree that they were as inaccurate as you suggest. I tried to provide a few very generic examples as they might apply to a common DnD character. I don’t expect everyone to be intimately aware of the details of each brand of psychosis, but if I got any of them completely wrong, please let me know. I didn’t want to provide a DSM within the post, but I suppose I could link to resources for people to learn more.

      This type character detail is naturally a controversial and serious topic that may not be fun for everyone. Given the real-world seriousness of mental disorders, I did treat the content in a lighthearted manner, but it was not intended to be insensitive. I think mental disease can probably fall into the same category as slavery, sexism, genocide, racism, classism, cancer, STIs/STDs etc. etc. … very serious, real-world issues than can find their way into games, but DMs should be wary about including them in their campaigns.

      Thanks for reading, and I hope you find the next post more to your liking.”

      • Sunyaku
        February 23, 2012 at 1:49 am

        Anonymous Faithful Reader– “When you started talking about emotional states in the post, it was not in the context of manipulation (although that context was mentioned earlier). I think your general idea of “Aladin Paradox” would have added a lot to that section. While it’s not the theory of magical-emotional manipulation I would prefer in D&D, it would have made the subsequent emotional state descriptions more sensical for me.

        My personal preference for role playing emotion tends more towards emotion driven by personal feelings and connections. I don’t have a problem with the idea that someone could artificially enchant a more emotional type of love in a character. I think it brings up interesting questions about the meaning of love and gives the character something to struggle against as they realize that the person doesn’t match the image that they were magically manipulated into believing they are.

        I understand your desire to consider love in the context of manipulation. If I were running a game focused on a particular series of stories or world leans heavily on that kind of manipulation (Maybe Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?) I could see the kinds of rules you proposed being useful.

        As far as the mental disorders you discussed, I can give you a list if you want. Here’s a brief summary of what I noticed on the first read through:

        Hypochondria is generally a personal condition, not extending to seeing illness in other people and it causes physical problems, not just paranoia. People who are hypochondriacs are not simply afraid of everything (as they’re often portrayed in modern media), they can genuinely create physical symptoms of illness in their bodies because of their fear of being sick. People tend to ignore the physical component of this illness and assume that hypochondriacs are lying when they complain about symptoms, which is unhelpful in treating them and a bit cruel.

        Schizophrenia is not the same thing as multiple personality disorder. People who are schizophrenic have problems perceiving reality and sometimes have symptoms like visual or auditory hallucinations, paranoia or delusions. The last time I was following psychology in a serious sense there was some debate about whether or not multiple personality disorder was a real condition or not, but either way it is not the same condition as schizophrenia, despite the fact that the media tends to link them.

        OCD doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being a savant. I found that section rather confusing as I wasn’t sure what you were saying about OCD.

        Bipolar disorder is not about flying into berserker rages. I understand what you were going for in that paragraph, but the juxtaposition between someone who’s manic and someone who’s depressed is not at all like the behavior of most D&D players.”

  2. amazonite
    February 23, 2012 at 2:00 am

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