Want to run Lovercraftian horror using the Cortex RPG system? Or any horror campaign for that matter?

Central to the Chthulu games is SANITY…usually, if your character doesn’t get snuffed, they go mad. It’s not my cup of tea, personally; I rather like the possibility of success in a game, but CoC always felt like the point was to go mad in an inventive way.

So I propose the addition of another secondary attribute — you guessed it: Sanity! Like Life Points, Sanity measures your resistance to the horrific, tentacled menaces you might meet in a 1920s Spanish seaside town, or could be used for zombie post-apocalyptic games, or what have you. Sanity = Intelligence+Willpower.

COURAGE in the face of these horrors is tested using Willpower+Discipline/Morale vs. either a target number based on the nasty in question, the number of them, or the situation — I’m suck on a spaceship months from help and a acid-bleeding monster is killing my crew! I’d call that a Formidable difficulty, but your mileage may vary… Failure of a courage test results in Sanity damage…it is the equivalent of Stun in Life Points: past 1/2 damage to your Sanity and you’re so gripped with fear you lose the capacity for rational thought and receive a -2 die step to your attributes until you have time to heal (psychically.) Once below your Sanity rating, you have gone starkers and will require psychological treatment to hope to recover. Any damage after that has the chance of simply killing you out of fear: you roll your ENDURANCE vs. the damage: a success and you’re alive.

Recovering Sanity: Up to your Sanity in damage, you can conceivably recover on your own. You will roll a Sanity test once away from the monstrous occurrence causing you psychic pain vs. damage as with ordinary healing rules. Success and you start recovering a Sanity point per day (extraordinary success and it’s per hour.) If you surpass your Sanity, you can attempt to recover yourself, but the time frame is a month/point recovered. Psychological treatment can aid in the process.

The slippery slope: each time your Sanity dips below the full rating, you lose a point of Sanity. This can be mitigated by buying up your Intelligence or Willpower stat. Once your Sanity rating has been reduced below half it’s rating, you must take a Complication — a physical tick that afflicts you, a phobia, the Unstable complication…something to show you’re not quite right anymore. If reduced permanently to 0, you are irrevocably insane. At this point the character is unplayable.

CORRUPTION — Lovecraft was something of a Luddite, who saw scientific exploration as frightening and ultimately destructive. Knowledge of the occult is an analogy for science in Lovecraft’s Mythos: the more you know, the more corrupted by it you become.

A character that takes Knowledge/Occult is well kitted out to fight the evils from beyond this dimension…but the knowledge of that infests them with evil — they are not quite as sane, not quite as good as they once might have been. The die rating of the Knowledge can be applied to the difficulty of Courage or Resistance (to their foul lures) tests when facing the evils awaiting you.

Alternately, the GM could require that “real” occult knowledge be bought as a Trait (Uncommon Knowledge) with a Corruption complication that is equal to the knowledge and that corruption counts toward the difficulty of Courage or Resistance tests in the face of whatever they’re investigating.