“They were the black, forbidden things which most sane people have never even heard of, or have heard of only in furtive, timorous whispers; the banned and dreaded repositories of equivocal secrets and immemorial formulae which have trickled down the stream of time from the days of man’s youth, and the dim, fabulous days before man was.” —HPL
The word “mythos” refers to a myth or a pattern of beliefs expressing often symbolically the characteristic or prevalent attitudes in a group or culture. When we discuss the “The Mythos” we are referring to the “Great Old Ones”: a loose pantheon of ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the Earth and who have since fallen into a deathlike sleep. As long as they sleep and remain hidden from mankind, Humanity will be relatively safe.
However, there are always those among us who will threaten to awaken the Great Old Ones, sometimes unwittingly from their slumber. The curious research forbidden texts that rouse the sleeping demons of old, power hungry occultists seek to bind power forces to do their bidding, and madman seek to watch the world burn by summoning Old Gods into our fragile world. In the end, a truth of The Mythos remains consistent: Evil may slumber, but it cannot die.
The truth of this lies within the writings of the late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston. He wrote, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
And so as humans discover the thin veil of reality, and become aware of the true nature of their insignificance in the great scheme of things, the slowly peel away layers of the onion that it their sanity. As a researcher encounters monsters, witnesses horrible acts, masters forbidden knowledge, or even brings to cast spells, that person’s grip on reality slowly slips away. This gradual descent into madness is balanced in part by the powers that researchers gain each time they overcome a horrific foe or grow in skill and expertise, but even as those characters grow in power, they know or fear that an even greater peril lies ahead—the threat of becoming permanently insane.
What Is Sanity?
Sanity is the natural mental state of ordinary life. Normal mental balance is endangered when playing characters confront horrors, entities, or activities that are shocking, unnatural, and bewildering. Such encounters cause a character to lose points from his Sanity score, which in turn risks temporary, indefinite, or permanent insanity. Mental stability and lost Sanity points can be restored, up to a point, but psychological scars may remain.
Insanity occurs if too many Sanity points are lost in too short a time. Insanity does not necessarily occur if Sanity points are low, but a lower Sanity score makes some forms of insanity more likely to occur after a character experiences an emotional shock. The character’s Sanity may be regained after a few minutes, recovered after a few months, or lost forever.
A character may regain Sanity points, and even increase her Sanity point maximum. However, increasing a character’s ranks in the Knowledge (forbidden lore) skill always lowers her maximum Sanity by an equal amount.
Knowledge of The Mythos
The Sanity rules assume that some knowledge is so alien to human understanding that simply learning of its existence can shatter the psyche. While magic and nonhuman races form an everyday part of a character’s life, even a seasoned adventurer cannot conquer or understand some things. Knowledge of these secrets and creatures is represented by Lore of Forbidden, Magic, or Mythos subjects. This type of knowledge permanently erodes a character’s ability to maintain a stable and sane outlook. Therefore, as characters discover information and study The Mythos, they are in a sense “playing with fire.” The lore that teaches them to understand and combat the Evil is literally destroying them as effectively as the Evil itself.
Loss Of Sanity
Characters ordinarily lose Sanity in a few types of circumstances: when encountering something unimaginably horrific, when suffering a severe shock due to a paranormal event, after casting a spell or when learning a new spell, when being affected by a certain type of magic or a particular spell, or when reading a forbidden tome.
Reading a tome of Mythos Lore can cause loss of sanity for characters. Studying and comprehending these books causes all that we know to become like shadows. The burning power of a greater reality seizes the soul. Whether we try to retreat from the experience or hunger greedily for more, it destroys our confidence in what we once believed, opening us up to the all-encompassing truths of dark deities.
For each such book encountered, the Storyteller must determine the examination period, the Difficulty (5-35) to understand it, the number of spells contained in it, the Sanity loss that occurs upon beginning the examination, the Sanity loss that occurs upon completion of the examination, and the points of Mythos Lore gained from studying the book. While the Storyteller is free to set these parameters at any values that she feels are appropriate for the campaign or adventure,
Getting Used To Awfulness
Never underestimate the ability of the humsn mind to adapt, and overcome even to the most horrific experiences. Reading and rereading the same bit of disturbing text or seeing the same horrible image over and over eventually provokes no further loss of Sanity. Within a reasonable interval of play, usually a single session of the game, characters should not lose more Sanity points for seeing monsters of a particular sort than the maximum possible points a character could lose from seeing one such monster.
Learning or casting spells never becomes a normal occurrence. No matter how many times a character casts a spell, no matter what the time interval between castings may be, the Sanity loss is always the same. This point is also true for anything that a character does willingly.