See also: Fear, Madness, and Saving Throws

In most AD&D games, there comes a time when the heroes are forced to confront something so terrible that they can scarcely believe it to be real. Perhaps they must watch as a loved one undergoes a terrible transformation at the hands of a vile beast, or endure the loathsome kiss of some bloodsucking creature as it feeds upon the nectar in their veins. Whatever the cause, horrified characters will be slow in recovering from the terror in their hearts.

When to Make a Horror Check

Exactly what causes someone to become horrified varies greatly from person to person. The mere sight of an undead creature will require normal men and women to make a horror check and may well have the same effect on a low-level adventurer. Indeed, a dead body, especially one that clearly died a terrible death, might also overwhelm such characters.

As a rule, horror is a much more emotional state than fear. The latter is a basic survival instinct which, to some degree, every person experiences. Horror, on the other hand, occurs in moments of great anguish, grief, or repugnance. Horror, it can be said, forms the boundary between common fear and the collapse into madness. While it is impossible to say for certain how any individual will react when exposed to a potentially horrific situation, the following guidelines can help determine how members of various character classes might react in certain situations.

Warriors: Warriors, especially those who have been adventuring for some time, are generally used to sights of death, battle, and violence. They have probably seen friends die in battle before and are not going to be shaken by even the most gruesome scene of carnage. On the other hand, a warrior is not accustomed to magic and the supernatural. While the sight of a wizard casting a spell is not going to shock them, the effects of that spell might. A warrior’s world is built around arms and battle; magic that defies the rules he has come to live by will certainly rattle him. Macabre and supernatural things which a wizard might accept without blinking are more than the average warrior is used to dealing with. Witnessing the effects of a medusa’s gaze, watching the vile feeding of an illithid, or feeling the chilling touch of an ethereal, invisible creature might horrify even the most stoic of warriors.

Wizards: Wizards are, in many ways, mirror images of the warriors they travel with. Their lives revolve around strange and mysterious pursuits, making them more resistant to sights like transformations and spectral beings. Interdimensional creatures and scintillating portals leading to blasphemous regions of eternal suffering are the sorts of things that wizards expect to find around every corner. On the other hand, a wizard does not have the warrior’s taste for battle, death, or blood. Sights of carnage and gore generally revolt them. Also, because of their keen intellects, wizards can sometimes sense the true terrors of a situation long before their allies really understand what is happening.

Priests: As servants of the many gods of the multiverse, priests are gifted with a sense of well-being and confidence that many other characters lack. Their belief that their only purpose in life is to serve their patron deity provides them with resistance to things that others might find horrific. Like warriors, they normally do not fear battle and combat. In their roles as protectors of the faith, they have seen wars and death. As healers, they have moved among the wounded and dying. The perils of the physical world usually do not seem horrific to these valiant souls.
Similarly, priests are familiar with magic and the supernatural. While not as steeped in the macabre as wizards, they are not likely to find themselves mentally overwhelmed by even the most sinister of magics. It is the very strength of the priest that also proves his weakness, however. A priest is always especially sensitive to those things that challenge his religious beliefs or the teachings of his god. Acts of terrible blasphemy can traumatize even the most pious cleric. This is especially true if the horrific scene causes the priest to believe that his god’s power is limited or even nullified in a given area.

Rogues: No class is more diverse than that of rogues, making it difficult to provide sweeping guidelines about what will and will not horrify these heroes. Some are vile characters who trade in death, murder, and assassination. These brigands are as used to carnage or gore as any warrior and perhaps just as vulnerable to sights of magic and the macabre. Others, jewel thieves and the like, may be less accustomed to death or battle and still fear the supernatural or diabolical Whatever their chosen profession, however, all rogues depend upon secrecy and stealth. Nothing is more frightening to a rogue than the sense that he is exposed and vulnerable. A carefully hidden rogue who has watched a nosferatu drain the blood of a young woman might be able to bear the sight with only minor revulsion. Should the dread creature then turn and look directly at him, making it clear that he will be the next victim, the true horror of what he has just seen comes crashing down upon the hero.

How to Make a Horror Check

Making a horror check is conducted in exactly the same fashion as a Fear check or saving throw. When a player is called upon to make a horror check, he rolls 1d20, applies any relevant modifiers, and compares the total to a target number determined by his character’s class and level.

Modifier Condition
+/- Magic Defence Adjustment (based on Wisdom Score)
+4 Character or party possesses a spell, magical item, weapon, or bit of knowledge which has already proven effective against this particular threat.
+2 Character or party possesses a spell, magical item, weapon, or bit of knowledge which is believed to be effective against this threat.
+4 A relative or fellow player character is endangered.
+2 A friend or ally is clearly endangered.
+1 An innocent is endangered.
-1 An innocent willingly participates in the horrific scene.
-2 A friend or ally willingly participates in the horrific scene.
-4 A relative or fellow player character willingly participates in the horrific scene.
-1 Character is of good alignment.
-1 Character is of lawful alignment.
+1 Character is of chaotic alignment.
+1 Character is of evil alignment.
-1 Character is in close quarters (no place to run).
+1 Character is in an open area (room to run away).
+2 Hero has overcome or endured a similar scene within the past twenty-four hours.
+1 Hero has overcome or endured a similar scene in the past (but not within the last twenty-four hours).
-2 Hero has been horrified by a similar scene within the past twenty-four hours.
-1 Hero has been horrified by a similar scene in the past (but not within the last twenty-four hours).

If the modified roll equals or exceeds the target number, the character shrugs off the effects of the scene and may continue normally. This is not to say that he remains utterly calm or unmoved by the things he has seen, only that he is able to cope with his horror and suffers no measurable penalty. If the modified roll is less than the target number, the character has been overwhelmed by the horrors around him. A roll of 20 always succeeds, and a roll of 1 always fails. The many and varied results of failure are described below.

Effects of Failure

A horrified character will find the effects of this highly emotional state both lasting and debilitating. When a character fails a horror check, the Dungeon Master should roll 1d6 and consult the following table. Modifiers to the die roll and a description of each condition appear below.

1d6 (modified) Horror Check Result
1 Fear
2 Aversion
3 Nightmares
4 Revulsion
5 Obsession
6 Rage
7 Mental Shock
8 Fascination
9 Madness
10 System Shock
Modifier Condition
+1 Character is alone (or can’t be quickly reached by allies).
+1 Character is a spellcaster with fewer than half of his spells remaining.
+1 Character has lost more than half of his maximum hit points.
+1 Character has failed a fear, horror, or madness check within the last twenty-four hours.
  • Fear: A fearstruck character has managed to avoid the horror of the scene before him, though he still succumbs to fear. In such cases, the effect of the failed check is resolved using the Failed Fear Check Results. No die modifiers apply to this roll.
  • Aversion: The horror of the scene proves too much for the character to bear. He whirls and flees, moving at his maximum rate for one full turn (ten minutes). At the end of that time, he comes to his senses. For the next month or so, however, he cannot bear to go within fifty feet of the place where the failed check occurred or any identical places. If the character is forced to violate these restrictions (or if he accidentally does so) he must attempt another Horror check. A successful check allows the character to remain in the presence of the horrific scene, but he suffers a -4 penalty on all attack rolls; saving throws; and fear, horror, and madness checks while in the area. Should the character fail this second horror check, the normal effects of such misfortunes apply.
  • Nightmares: At first it appears that a character who rolled this result is simply fearstruck. His immediate actions are determined by rerolling and consulting the table for a failed Fear check. The next time the character tries to sleep, however, it becomes clear that he is badly traumatized. As soon as the character falls asleep, he begins to have terrible nightmares in which the horrific events play themselves out repeatedly. Within half an hour after retiring (5d6 minutes, to be precise), the hero suddenly awakens with a terrible scream. Every attempt at sleep will have the same result, leaving the character an exhausted wreck. For every twenty-four hours that the character goes without a full night’s rest, he suffers a cumulative -1 penalty to all attack rolls, saving throws, and ability/proficiency checks, up to a maximum penalty of -4. A sleepless night also denies the character a chance to heal. Thus, the only way that someone burdened with nightmares can recover from injuries is through magic. Characters with the ability to regenerate can still do so. If the character is a spellcaster, his inability to sleep makes it impossible to rest and memorize new spells. As the nightmares also disrupt attempts by psionicists to rest and meditate, those characters are unable to regain expended PSPs while suffering from nightmares. In short order, sleepless nights will begin to take a toll on even the most hardy individual. For every week that a character suffers from nightmares, his Constitution score temporarily falls one point. Any associated benefits, like bonus hit points or saving throw adjustments are affected as well. If the character’s Constitution score falls to zero, he dies. A sleep spell can ward off the nightmares for a time. A character under the effects of such magic will be able to get enough rest to memorize new spells or regain PSPs. In addition, someone aided with a sleep spell will not receive penalties to his attack rolls, saving throws, and the like. However, this supernatural slumber is not sufficient to allow normal healing or prevent the loss of Constitution points.
  • Revulsion: Revulsion is a more powerful form of aversion. In addition to the effects described earlier, the character is unable to stand the presence of things even vaguely reminiscent of whatever horrified him. Someone forced to watch as a nosferatu drained the life from his younger sister might find that the sight of red wine, a cut of rare meat, or even the trickle that follows the nick of a shaving razor will fill him with revulsion.
  • Obsession: An obsessed character suffers the same negative effects associated with nightmares. His nights are so filled with visions of the terrible things he has endured that his health gradually deteriorates from loss of sleep. The use of a sleep spell provides the same relief to obsessed characters as it does to those suffering from nightmares. During the day, however, the character’s mind remains clouded. He will speak about the horrifying event constantly, describe everything in terms relating to it, and mumble to himself about it when he is alone. Such single-minded devotion has negative effects even beyond those suffered by the victims of nightmares. Because of the haze that dulls the perceptions of an obsessed character, he suffers a -1 penalty to his initiative and surprise rolls, beginning immediately after the failed horror check. Each week that passes increases this modifier by one point, to a maximum penalty of -4.
  • Rage: An enraged character becomes instantly overwhelmed by the desire to destroy the thing that offends him. If he is powerful enough to succeed, then this is not a terrible result. If he is not, then rage can be fatal. The enraged character must move toward the cause of his horror at his maximum movement rate and engage it in melee combat. It is impossible for an enraged character to use spells, psionic powers, or ranged weapons. His mind reverts to a state of primitive fury that only brutal violence can mollify. So feral has his mind become at this point that he casts aside anything in his hands that is not a weapon. Each of these items must make a successful saving throw vs. fall to avoid damage. If the character does not have a weapon available, he will either attack with his bare hands or grab up some manner of bludgeon. A character with a shield or other object in hand might avoid discarding it (as required above) if the player states an intention to use it as bludgeon. Of course, fragile objects wielded as weapons may well be damaged or destroyed. In such cases, the Dungeon Master might require the player to make a successful saving throw vs. crushing blow for the item to avoid such a fate. Each attack or damage roll made by the enraged character receives a +2 bonus because of the fury surging through his muscles. However, the bestial nature of this rage leaves the character exposed to attack, for he thinks little about self defense. This causes him to lose any benefits due to a shield or high Dexterity score. In addition, all strikes directed at him receive a +2 attack bonus. So powerful a rage is not easily thrown off. Even after the character slays the object of his rage, he will continue to strike at it. If such a character is left to himself, he is entitled to a make a new horror check every third round. Success indicates that he has come to his senses. Failure results in another three rounds of rage. Anyone who attempts to restrain the enraged character will become his new target. Magical spells, like sleep or emotion can end the character’s fury without drawing his attention. Another player character can attempt to talk the character out of his rage. Such an attempt requires one round and a successful [[Charisma } Leadership]] check. If the check succeeds, the enraged character comes to his senses. If it fails, he continues to batter away at his target. An unmodified roll of 20 indicates that the enraged character feels betrayed and will transfer his rage to his friend. For the next month or so (see “Recovering from Horror” below) the character may be thrown into a rage whenever he encounters a scene or creature similar to the object of his horror. At such times, a new horror check is made, with an additional -2 penalty. If the check fails, the character becomes enraged again.
  • Mental Shock: Sometimes, the only response one is capable of when confronted with something horrible is simple inaction. In such cases of mental shock, the character’s mind seems to simply shut down, causing him to stand and stare at the offensive sight. A character suffering from mental shock will take no action to defend himself, even if attacked repeatedly. Thus, he gains no benefit to Armor Class for a shield or high Dexterity score. Obviously, such a character cannot attack, cast spells, use psionics, or take any other action. A shocked character will follow a companion only if dragged along. Such movement is involuntary, however, and is limited to half the normal rate of the stunned character. Future encounters with the horrific scene or one similar to it may also overwhelm the character. Such an experience entitles the character to another horror check (albeit with a -2 penalty). Failure indicates that he again finds himself gripped by this terrible affliction.
  • Fascination: Fascination in many ways resembles obsession, save that the victim appears to openly embrace the sight that horrified him. He spends every waking and sleeping moment thinking about whatever he has seen, and he even begins to incorporate it into his personality, resulting in a degradation of his own character. A classic example of such behavior can be seen in Renfield’s attempts to emulate the horrific life-draining actions of his master in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. These changes in a character’s personality cause him to become more and more offensive to those around him. On the day after the character is horrified, his Charisma and Wisdom each fall one point. At the end of every week, an additional point is subtracted from each ability score. When either (or both) of these scores reaches zero, the character is assumed to have been driven mad. At that time, the Dungeon Master should roll on Failed Madness Check Results to see what form his lunacy takes. Should the character come into the presence of the thing that horrified him (or something similar to it) while still in the grip of his fascination, his condition will manifest itself in one of two ways. It at all possible, the fascinated character will join the scene. He will not join it if doing so would clearly be suicidal, but he may well give away the location of the party or other secrets without concern. Should it prove impossible for him to undertake that course, he will set aside all other concerns to observe and study the scene. During this encounter, he will take no action to harm or disrupt the horrid scene and its participants, although he may allow his companions to do so. Only if they directly challenge his actions will the fascinated character act against his companions.
  • Madness: The strain of recent events proves too much for the character. Somehow, this horrifying scene causes his mind to collapse into madness. The Dungeon Master should skip to Failed Madness Check Results to determine what happens to the horrified character. All normal modifiers apply to this second roll.
  • System Shock: Just as the icy grip of fear can crush the life from a man’s heart, so too can the effects of horror drive him to an early grave. A player who rolls this result must make an instant system shock survival roll with a -10% penalty. A failed roll causes the character to simply fall dead. Attempts to revive him will fail, although magical means might be employed to this end. If the roll is successful, the character has a chance to survive. His Constitution falls one point to reflect the strain on his health, and he is instantly reduced to 0 hit points. In either case, the character drops any items he was carrying. A saving throw vs. fall should be made for each item to determine whether or not it sustains damage.

Recovering From Horror

Some effects of a failed horror check may be set aside more easily than others. In most cases, however, a horrified character will feel its effects for several weeks.

Minor Effects
Characters who suffer from an aversion are the least affected by what they have seen. By mentally bracing themselves and trying to understand what lies at the heart of their trauma, they can generally restore themselves to normal in a few weeks. At the end of every fortnight following their perilous encounter, these characters should make another horror check. Success indicates that the character has won his battle against horror and returns to normal, although he will probably always be somewhat affected by the things he was exposed to. If the horror check fails, the character continues to suffer for another fortnight, when he can again attempt to throw it off.

Moderate Effects
Other effects last longer than aversion. Once per month, a character who suffers from nightmares, revulsion, obsession, or rage can attempt to escape his mental bonds by making another horror check. A failed attempt at recovery indicates that he must endure his burden for another month before attempting again.

Major Effects
Those shocked or fascinated by what they have seen will have a much harder time slipping the bond of horror. Like the sufferers described above, they are entitled to additional horror checks each month. Success indicates that they leave their fears behind. In the case of these major effects, however, the checks each bear a -2 penalty.

Magical Spells and Psionic Powers
A character’s recovery from a failed horror check can be greatly speeded with the aid of magic or psionics. A forget spell could erase the memory of the horrific event, for example, eliminating the trauma associated with it. Other possible cures might include psychic surgery or the judicious use of hypnosis. Also, both a wish and limited wish spell should prove efficacious.

Of course, the human mind (especially when it has been traumatized) is not something to be tampered with by the unwise. Dungeon Masters should carefully watch the actions of those treating the horrified, for the result of failure might well be Madness.

Role-Playing the Horror Check

Just as a player can avoid the negative effects of a fear check by having his character act in an appropriate manner, so too can he negate the game effects of horror. If the Dungeon Master feels that a player character is responding to horrific scenes with the proper revulsion and disgust, he need not require that character to make a horror check. In some cases, the Dungeon Master may wish to roll for the effects of a failed horror check, asking that his player incorporate only its role-playing effects rather than impose the game mechanics indicated. If the player is up to such a demanding bit of role-playing, he can greatly enhance the macabre realism of the game.


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