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Convinicing my players that the Unnatural is sanity-blowing

Extrakun

Tinker of Games
Validated User
I have been running a couple of sessions of Delta Green for my players, and the most often-heard complaint from them is "this shouldn't cost sanity loss". Their arguments are as:

Zombies? People watched enough zombie movies not to be scared of them.

Extra dimensional creatures? Time travel? Undead? There has been enough exposure of them in mass media that if they were really to happen, everyone watched enough Walking Dead not to be scared.

Cruel god-like beings that doesn't care about the existence of the human race? Maybe that's sanity bending but now many people are post-modernist and don't give a care about deities and gods.

Other than not stick to the core premise of Delta Green, or besides insisting that's the way the game is, how can I convince them that if their characters were to come across a real zombie in the game, they would be scared shitless rather than to think "Cool, now it's time to reenact Walking Dead!"
 

Makrakken

Registered User
Validated User
They've seen heavily made-up actors. They haven't seen or experienced the stench of a decaying corpse, grave juices dribbling from their old (& new) orifices actually shambling towards them with the single purpose of really eating them alive.

They've seen CGI creatures. They haven't seen beings whose very existence twists reality in the immediate vicinity, their many-angled forms causing the human brain to short-circuit through the lack of comprehension.
 

Vaalingrade

Registered User
Validated User
"This is not the real world where sanity is a balance between experience and chemical reaction. This is a world based on HP Lovecraft and his... many phobias. It is a quality of the supernatural that erodes sanity, not just that it's weird."

"Seriously guys, why are we playing in this genre if you're not going to play with the tropes?"
 

DavetheLost

Registered User
Validated User
First counter argument to zombies not being scary: Everybody knows Walking Dead is fiction. A real zombie walking around, and more importantly not dying when you shoot it in the head like all the movies say to do is something quite different. I think seeing things that should not and cannot exist, but do exist would freak anybody out. Even your jaded players. If you have them encounter zombies break all the horror movie cliches.

Post-modernists who don't give a shit about gods? Show them an actual, existent God. One that can regularly reshape the very laws fo reality to suit its will. Post-modern attitudes toward gods are that they are an outmoded concept for simple minds and don't exist.

the whole point of the Yog-Sothothery (to use HPL's term for it) is that reality is vastly different to what we know and theorize. The Mythos entities are completely impossible in our reality. They are wrong on a fundamental violate all the laws of physics, metaphysics, reality and human ability to conceive and comprehend. They fall upwards. Parallel lines converge. Obtuse angles get narrower as you approach the vertex. Red is a sound and a bell ringing is a smell.

To mak ether game scary rip every reference to the Mythos and Mythos entities, spells, etc out of the rulebook and throw it away. Make your players do the same. Tell them none of that applies to the game any more. Do NOT use any of the CoC/Delta Green/Lovecraft fandom names for anything. Get a copy of Sine Nomine's Silent Legions and build your own Mythos from scratch. Tell your players absolutely nothing about it. are them discover in character everything about the unnatural in your campaign world from scratch. Be sure the Mythos analog stuff does not follow constant rules. Make it completely unknowable.

Remember zombies are known to be fiction. This is what makes them not scary. Ultimately we know that not only are they not real, they can't be real. An actual real zombie absolutely violates the "zombies can't be real" rule of reality that the player characters have ingrained in them as central to their belief system. How many of them actually believe in the supernatural as fact, with no rational, scientific explanation? All the ghost stories, hauntings, miracles, gods impregnating mortals in Ancient Greece, the whole lot of it true. That is what the game world is. Things you know aren't real and true, can't be real and true because that is not the way world works, except they are real and true and somehow the world is working that way, even though there is absolutely no possible way it can work that way.
 

GrahamWills

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
There are many experiences that your players have had that they should know they could not have described exactly how it feels until it happens to you. You can see it on TV, you can read books, but, at least for me, the following would have been impossible to describe:
  • Sex
  • Living a week with a severe back pain
  • Panicking while nearly drowning
  • Having a newborn child
  • How a Bloody Mary tastes
  • Being kicked in the balls
  • Marmite
Tell your players they are not losing sanity because they have seen zombies; they are losing it because they are experiencing zombies. If they disagree, use an item from the list above or your own, e.g.: "Do you think that learning about sex is the same as experiencing it?".
 

Gallowglacht

Registered User
Validated User
Wait? What?
It isn't about getting a surprise or a fright, or thinking it isn't real, it's about traumatic events impacting a character.

People get messed up by mundane events all the time. My buddies knew car crashes were real but still ended up with months of nightmares after being flipped in a car.
They aren't even all predictable or repeatable. Before having my first child, me and my partner had 3 miscarriages. One we didn't even know she was pregnant for, but the other two were planned. The first I was basically able to keep things together and be a rock for my partner, the other I basically ceased to function for almost 2 weeks. I couldn't even get out of bed for 2 days until the need to use the bathroom got to much.

A zombie isn't just a physical threat. It means your understanding of a basic part of reality is wrong. Late at night you will stare at the ceiling and wonder if your dead brother is trapped, clawing at his coffin lid in the dark for God knows how long? When you die does your consciousness stay and feel? Did your Aunt feel being cremated, does your brother feel himself rot or be eaten by parasites. Have they always done that or did something change? Does someone or something really have power over death and did they really use that awesome power just to send a zombie after you? Wait, why just one? Are there more out there? Shit does my dead brother remember where I live? Did I lock the door?

We live in a world where mundane traumas and illness can cause people to beat themselves up, feel worthless and despised, retreat from their friends and family, the things they love, even kill themselves.
Mental health harming supernatural events seem pretty plausible to me. And games where they happen and you have to think about them, deal with them and overcome them are probably a good thing.
 

KaijuGooGoo

Not Woke until I’ve had my Coffee
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It isn't about getting a surprise or a fright, or thinking it isn't real, it's about traumatic events impacting a character.
Yes, SAN loss in a modern context also covers things like Traumatic Stress, in addition to Things That Violate Your View of Reality.
 

LordofArcana

Registered User
Validated User
How difficult would it be to switch up the rules a little and have it be "panic OR lose sanity" instead of "panic AND lose sanity"? That way there would be a mechanical incentive to panic when facing something strange: why bother spending a limited resource if you aren't sure it will ever come up again? On the other hand you'll pretty quickly get used to stuff you encounter all the time because dealing with being scared would get old quickly.

The lower your sanity is, the less you fit into society. The Delta Green organization would find you increasingly troubling while the cultists' logic gets increasingly reasonable (this last bit would be difficult to do if there are wildly different sanity levels in the party, but it sounds like they would all have their sanity drop like a stone). Eventually you start crossing some lines (or the character gets retired).
 

vitorrossi

Proud grognard
Validated User
"This is not the real world where sanity is a balance between experience and chemical reaction. This is a world based on HP Lovecraft and his... many phobias. It is a quality of the supernatural that erodes sanity, not just that it's weird."

"Seriously guys, why are we playing in this genre if you're not going to play with the tropes?"
This. Why the hell are your players in Delta Green if they don't seen in "the mood" for this kind of game? I once GM'ed a D&D3e game where two of the players insisted that no sane people would go into a dungeon that is known to be cursed, and that they could earn more money selling spices than "robbing graves". Obviously, I told then that they must have missed the game name, and that we're not playing Merchants and Warehouses. They actually got pissed that I was "ignoring their practical reasoning".

On a more serious tone, no amount of description, preparation and will of the GM will make a terror game feels at least a little intense and tense without player buying the premises in. You should talk directly to the players and ask what they expect to do, and what they expect from the game.
 

Victim

Registered User
Validated User
Personally, I found the SAN damage elements from lovecraftian gaming to not really match up well with how things were often presented in the stories. A lot of lovecraft's characters who crack are people with a particular bloodline with some 'taint' rather than unrelated people going mad from mere exposure (although some stuff does do that). And other characters are under pressure from alien shit that is both sufficiently weird that "I'm going mad and seeing stuff" starts to seem like a more plausible explanation than that it is real. And those characters are generally not in a position where they can get help or even discuss what they've experienced without other people thinking that they are crazy.

So I can absolutely sympathize with people not feeling that Sanity as traditionally presented makes a lot of sense or is a great mechanic. Especially in DG context where worrying about whether or not you're dealing with inexplicable creatures or just going nuts doesn't make that much sense because PCs are part of a secret organization for dealing with weird stuff. Sanity damage is a mechanic from an early 80s RPG, but is regarded as a fundamental part of its genre, rather than a tool for trying to get at a particular effect like class and levels, increasing HP, giant critical hit tables that people will like or not.

"Seriously guys, why are we playing in this genre if you're not going to play with the tropes?"
People might to want to play a game about secret agents battling XD monsters and their cults BECAUSE they don't like the horror tropes associated with them.
 
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