Factoring Fear Designer’s Notes

Steve Jackson Games is putting admirable effort into supporting The Fanatasy Trip, and central to that is the old-school style fanzine Hexagram. Fortune has smiled upon me, in that I’ve had articles in four of the eight issues, and my most recent contribution (for Hexagram 8) lays out some simple rules for adding a TFT equivalent of the kind of Fright Checks or Sanity rolls you might encounter in GURPS, Call of Cthulhu or other games. I’m not going to give away any of the mechanics of the Fear Factor—for that you’ll have to pick it up through Warehouse 23, but I will muse a bit on ways ‘Trippers can expand the use of Fear Factors for more situations.

Probably the most obvious of these is when you are solo-playing and want a mechanical way to deal with morale. Let’s say the PCs are up against some brigands who thought they would be easy prey—it would be desirable to have a consistent way to deal with how the outlaws react when their opponents start putting up a spirited defense. Similarly, both the GM and players running characters can use the Fear Factor to inform how their PCs are affected when things start to go pear-shaped.

Book of Unlife illustration by Rick Hershey

Other situations for which a GM or solo player could consider using a Fear Factor roll in include:

  • Encountering an obviously superior opponent
  • Being badly outnumbered
  • Seeing a comrade seriously wounded, killed, or captured
  • Encountering extreme weather
  • Phobia stimuli
  • Almost anything supernatural
In the Labyrinth illustration by Rick Hershey

The main point of infusing your game with fear is not to hose the players, but to create additional tension, so use it sparingly and appropriately. And think about how you can employ Fear Factors to create role-playing spotlight opportunities. Perhaps you give the Woodsman a huge bonus—or let them skip the Fear Factor roll entirely—when the colossal sandstorm hits, so that the character is the most competent during the storm. You could do something similar for the Animal Handler when the party is ambushed by hyenas. Or, maybe the Strategist gets to give everyone in the party a Fear Factor roll bonus equal to his measure of success on his roll (assuming he succeeds!) when their defended position is completely surrounded by dozens of enemies. These opportunities don’t have to be reserved for the brave or competent; timorous characters need spotlight, too! If a player makes a character who is not particularly courageous, use Fear Factors to create opportunities for them to bring that personality trait into the unfolding narrative, or to memorably overcome their normal cowardliness to heroic effect.

Book of Unlife illustration by Rick Hershey

Fear Factor critical successes, too, create opportunity to spotlight the PCs. The GM could allow a natural 3 or 4 result on the roll to give a bonus to a character’s rolls for a short time. This models how a stressful situation sometimes causes the body and brain to react to a jolt of adrenaline such that their mind becomes laser-focused on problem solving, their muscles somehow a bit stronger, and their reflexes boosted beyond their normal limits. In this situation, perhaps a result of 4 gives a +1 to all rolls, and a 3 gives +2, and either critical result could also give a boost to MA. This bonus should probably be short in duration, but almost certainly at least a few turns—perhaps d2’s worth. And, like berserking, it could incur a fatigue cost when the situation is over.

Book of Unlife illustration by Rick Hershey

With thoughtful application of Fear Factors, you have an easy way to create higher tension, richer story, and more fun. To learn all about the mechanics of them, be sure to pick up your copy of Hexagram 8! And, of course, I’d be delighted if you shared some memorable moments created by Fear Factors in your games; drop me a note!

The material presented here is my original creation intended for use with the The Fantasy Trip system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games. It may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without permission. The Fantasy Trip is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.

Published by antoshos

I'm just a guy who likes uilleann pipes, games, hard science fiction, Lovecraftian horror, the outdoors, astronomy, and cats. I studied painting and drawing, which, miraculously, somehow provided me with the skills from which to eek out a living as a museum curator.

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