"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Monday, November 9, 2009

B/X S&S: Fear of the Supernatural

I am still turning this one over in my head.

A large part of sword & sorcery literature is the instinctive fear of unnatural things— magic and creatures that defy explanation. Such things are unwholesome and evil; therefore, they should be feared.

I am always leery about taking the actions of a character out of the hands of the player but I think a large part of the genre is heroes overcoming this fear and defeating supernatural horrors. To reflect this I am considering the following rules regarding Fear Checks. This would also have the side effect of giving Sorcerers and Priests a bit of a bump in power.

Some monsters, spellcasters, and unusual magical items or situations may force a Fear Check. If the monster is ordinary (wolf, lion), no check is necessary. A check is made the first time the monster is encountered at close range, the first time a spellcaster does something involving magic (casting a spell or using a magical item), and whenever the DM calls for a check.

To make a Fear Check, the character should roll a saving throw vs. Spells (to which the Wisdom modifier applies).

A Character who fails the saving throw loses his action for that round (he stops in horror or awe at the sight of the thing). They cannot move or act until they are either attacked, distracted by another person, or successfully roll in a subsequent roll. Only one attempt can be made each round. If a natural 1 is rolled, additional effects are possible, depending on the DM’s judgment such as insanity or even dying of fright (for Normal Men).


  1. That's a groovy mechanic and matches S&S vibe perfectly. "Frozen" by fear.

  2. Thanks. I actually stole some of it from a document over at
    It is a great site.

  3. I'm not sure i agree with this. Although I agree that pcs are not destined heroes, they are still well above average for the most part.
    I would model fear of the supernatural by
    1. Making it mechanically scary/ not to be messed with
    2. By having npcs and hirelings either flee or make morale checks when confronted with the supernatural.
    The Pcs, without their hired help and being often outmatched would be well advised to flee, but I do not agree that they should be told that they flee or freeze- perhaps an initiative penalty to account for hesitation at most. Once you gtellm the layers that they either must or can't, they will try desperatly to disobey (in my experience).

  4. Cool idea! I may add it to my own 'S&S flavoured' games.

  5. I say go for it. D&D folks have always had a deep distrust of any mechanic that messes non-magically with the actions of the PCs, but a lot of other systems (especially systems attuned to the horror genre) don't have this problem. Since I feel "Swords & Sorcery" and the horror genre blur together a lot, such a "fear of the supernatural" mechanic makes perfect sense in my mind.

  6. Sounds good to me. Consider that Dragons have the ability to Cause Fear. Easy enough to generalize from there.