Go crazy? Don't mind if I do!

Someone I play with in one of my weekly games brought up a great question which I thought I would answer on the site. He wanted to know how to play out a curse which would make his players go a bit crazy. Now I don’t think he wants them straight jacket slobbering crazy, but just a bit freaked out. Having tried something like this in two different campaigns with varying levels of success I thought I would share what I did to accomplish this affect.

Attempt #1: Letters to the players

At the outset of the campaign I wrote letters to the players in the party. Each letter had different instructions. I passed out the letters at random so even I didn’t know who had which letter at first. I explained to the group that no one was to share what was written on their letters even after the game. This system would only work if everyone kept their letters to them selves.

Unaffected: Most of the letters explained to the players that when a certain dice was in play on the table top (used a classic red d20 for this), figures would appear but their characters did not see them and could not interact with them. These players were the unaffected players.

Crazy: One lucky player received a letter which only had one word. “Boo” This player would be the only player who would see the imaginary figures in play when the red d20 was on the table. He/she could interact with them, touch them, talk to them and even attack them. But no one else could understand what he/she was doing.

Kind Friend: One other player received a note which explained that the player was concerned about his/her team mate but didn’t want to alarm anyone so he played along with the “Crazy” player. The instructions for this player were a bit complex but fun. This player was not to interact directly with the imaginary figures directly but more indirectly. If the crazy player started talking to one, this player could also pretend to talk to one but only using the crazy players side of the conversation. If he/she were asking for directions to a tower from the imaginary figures this player could also chime in and ask if them if they had been there or knew a short cut. Though he/she couldn’t hear the answer it gave the crazy player the idea that the imaginary figures were real.

This system worked well for about two sessions. The sane players did a great job of not out right admitting that they couldn’t see or hear the people the crazy player was talking to, but did react at times with bewilderment. The crazy player had a very hard time trying to figure out why his party wouldn’t help him when he got into a brawl with two imaginary figures in a bar. The player who received the third note actually hit a real person in the bar just to cover for his friend. I even went so far as to have an imaginary wizard bestow fake powers on the crazy player. I gave him an extra encounter power as a free action to shoot lighting when he said a magic phrase. The power wasn’t real and didn’t do any real damage but I let him roll the damage and acted like I was writing it down. The whole rest of the party knew it wasn’t real and they loved it. In the end this system fell apart when the player began to figure out that something was very different for him from the rest of the group. He talked his roommate, who was a player in the group, into telling him what was going on in the week before our third game. He wasn’t a guy who liked surprises so I guess I could have seen that coming.

I would be willing to try this one again at some point. Though it really has to be with the right group. It was a blast watching the player who drew the crazy letter trying to figure out why the rest of the party didn’t want to join in fights or conversations.

Attempt #2: The note cards of peril! Dun dun duuuuunnnnnn.

So for this system I used note cards instead of letters, and a curse style effect attacking the whole party. This system would allow for multiple crazy people instead of just one.

The curse: Triggered when the party entered a specific wing of the dungeon. The initial attack + Lvl appropriate vs. Will. on a hit the player would be affected by the disease “Dungeon madness” it worked like this: At the start of the disease the player takes a -1 to will and reflex saves. Each short rest the player rolls a will check d20+ base intelligence or wisdom bonus no half level. If the player rolled 16 or higher he gets better. If they roll 15-11 they are stable but the -1 to will and reflex persist. If the player rolls 10 or below they begin their decent into madness and the DM gives them one crazy card. If the players fail their second roll they are given a second card. No one player can have more than two cards at a time. Once the player has cards a successful will save allows them to give one card back, randomly chosen by the DM. A second save would remove the second card and a third would cure them of the madness. Remember that saves can only be made during short rests.

The cards: Each card had different psychosis and neurosis on them ranging from paralyzing phobias which gave them penalties to hit and defend against certain creature types. To paranoia which caused them to remain at least 2 squares away from all allies in combat. I have designed the first page of “Dungeon Madness” cards.If you would like to download them to print them out they are here & here.

This system was a ton of fun. If I find time later I might list most or all of the cards for anyone wanting to try this system out. All but one of the players ended up with at least 1 card through out the game, and no one knew what the others had drawn. So the whole party was going crazy and having fun doing it. One of the players in they party was a bit of a ham. He drew the paranoia card and really played it up. The party eventually had to subdue him until he made his will saves.

I wrote into the system to ability to make Arcana and heal checks at a level appropriate DC to aid others in overcoming the curse by granting them a +2 bonus to their save rolls but no one thought of it. I also would have allowed an endurance check by players also at a level appropriate DC for players to give them selves a +2 bonus to their saves.

There are multiple options open to a DM who wants to make his player’s characters experience insanity in in 4e. A bit of creativity and the disease progression rules can go a long way. Have you ever done anything like this? Have you driven your players to the brink? Leave a comment and let me know what you did. I’m always looking for new ideas or ways to improve on my ideas.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.


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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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