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Inside Out's five emotions as a game mechanic for psychic combat

If you recall the Pixar movie Inside Out, there are five basic emotions.

Joy
Sadness
Disgust
Fear
Anger

Obviously this is a bit of pop psychology, but let's run with it.

I've been trying for the longest time to come up with a game system for psychic combat (and various soft magic systems that are influenced by will) that models how it actually works in literature and film. As a quick example, consider X-Men: First Class, where Erik Lensherr (Magneto) starts off able to basically never run out of stamina for his mutant powers because he's fueled by a deep well of bitterness and rage, but he is limited in how much he can do at once. It's only when Charles Xavier helps him tap into an memory of mixed joy and sorrow that Erik is able to move something truly massive.

Or how in Frozen, Elsa's ice powers go out of control when she's afraid, but when she decides to "let it go" she can do amazing things. (Although to be sure, she benefits from the power that musical numbers provide.)

Meanwhile in Star Wars, anger or fear let you tap into the dark side for more power, while serenity lets you control the force. Or maybe the dark side lets you get power faster, while the light side gives you more power? It's sort of unclear.

And that's what I'm trying to handle: to create a comprehensive concept for how emotion influences powers. If I can come up with something that works for psychic combat, ideally it would also work for non-magic-users. A bard's "inspire courage" could have some benefit for both casters and warriors. An evil sorcerer who fills you with fear would make life hard for both adventurers who do stabbing and those who do chanting. And getting the cleric angry could be useful just like it is for the barbarian, maybe.

Moreover, it can create a bit more drama and counterplay to mental combat. Rather than simply having an enchanter cast suggestion and you hoping you roll well for your saving throw, we can start having some of the "save or die" spells require a bit of set-up. To use suggestion, for instance, maybe it has to tap into some emotion the person is feeling. The enchanter might use some psychic cantrip to do some mild damage and implant an emotion on you, and then on the next turn they give you a suggestion, but if you or an ally has a way to change your emotional state, you can break out of the suggestion.

Ideally, the effects of any two emotions won't ever be mirrors of each other, so that we can even have complex emotional states made up of two emotions at once.

1599978463272.png


I'm not sure this works in the existing ruleset of D&D or Pathfinder. I'm envisioning something closer to the Elements of Magic - Revised magic system from 3.5 D&D. In those rules, magic had, like, four parameters.

First, you knew a limited number of spell elements (like 'fire attack' or 'create shadow'). You had some flexibility to combine effects from all the elements you knew. You learned more as you leveled.

Second, you had a pool of Magic Points (MP), which replenished with a long rest. You got more as you leveled.

Third, you had an MP limit, which was the maximum MP you could spend on a given spell. You got more as you leveled (and certain character choices might increase that limit for a type of spell that you were focused in).

Fourth, you had a small number of 'signature spells.' You built those spells in advance and could cast them more easily. Any spell you made on the fly took two turns to cast; signature spells just took one.

So I'm wondering if maybe

Fear gives you access to a new spell elements (matching the classic trope that trauma triggers your powers; but you can only do this every so often, and once you do, you have to choose that element the next time you gain a level)
Sadness might give you free MP each round (encouraging you to wallow)
Anger increases your MP Limit (making you willing to fight things you shouldn't)
Joy lets you cast a spell any spell as if it were a signature spell (because you are open to new experiences and ideas)
Disgust is the odd one out. Maybe it gives you better defenses?

That's some positive benefits of these emotions, but I wonder if there would be negative ones too. Maybe the first step of each emotion is good, but if you end up 'double angry' you lose control of yourself and must fight? (Rage is auto-attack, Terror is auto-flee, Despair stuns you, Prejudice makes you willing to attack allies, Ecstasy makes you willing to do whatever someone tells you?)

And this is just the very baseline; how do you actually turn on these emotions in a game? Can you just decide to be happy? Do you need a feat for that? Do depressed people become OP because they can wallow in despair and cast spells constantly?

Thoughts?
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
My first thought? I‘d imagine that the people who have these kinds of powers would, over time, develop mantras and other mental exercises so that they can either power up quickly or they always have their pilot light on, metaphorically speaking.


And my second thought is that such emotional adepts would probably specialize in tapping into only 1-2 wellsprings with any efficiency. Someone who is wallowing in Fear won’t be able to summon Joy easily, for instance. And a Joy adept might find Disgust alien. As such, they’d be 1) barred from using such powers entirely, 2) only be able to manifest minor abilities linked to the other emotions, or 3) be injured/driven insane by manifesting major emotional powers not their norm, and may even be temporarily cut off from their normal abilities until they get therapy.
 

So if I understand this correctly, these emotions are basically like schools of magic, but for psychic combat. They can evoke effects in your enemies, but opposing emotions can also be used to counter psychic attacks from others?
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
First and most important issue is that there is only one positive emotion and four negative ones. Any sort of system that is relying on emotions should have a much more balanced approach. Just by checking out wikipedia they have the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions which expands it out to 8-- joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation... along with the different strength levels of each as well as the emotions that connect ones that are next to each other on the wheel. This might be a better starting point to build off of.

1024px-Plutchik-wheel.svg.png
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
I'm not sure this works in the existing ruleset of D&D or Pathfinder. I'm envisioning something closer to the Elements of Magic - Revised magic system from 3.5 D&D. In those rules, magic had, like, four parameters. . .
Why not? D&D has Flaws (bad emotions), alignment (whatever that is), and Traits (good emotions). Use those. If you apply bonuses universally (wizards can get critical hits, fighters can get bonus spells), then you're not going to break the game.

And this is just the very baseline; how do you actually turn on these emotions in a game? Can you just decide to be happy? Do you need a feat for that? Do depressed people become OP because they can wallow in despair and cast spells constantly?
Yes someone can just decide to be happy. In D&D, a mental check (Int, Wis, Cha) would be reasonable. I think a short rest is more reasonable, or would grant a bigger bonus on the check. Don't make the emotional rules too mechanical though, or you might defeat the purpose/potential benefit of them.
 

So if I understand this correctly, these emotions are basically like schools of magic, but for psychic combat. They can evoke effects in your enemies, but opposing emotions can also be used to counter psychic attacks from others?
No, I must not have explained it right. Magic would still have its own schools or whatever. But emotions would be conditions like immobilized or stunned - and we already have frightened. But emotion conditions would be a strong influence in how magic works. I want to capture the feeling of movies where someone helps a friend calm her emotions so she can focus her power, or where someone makes an enemy angry so they have less control over their attacks.

Yes someone can just decide to be happy. In D&D, a mental check (Int, Wis, Cha) would be reasonable. I think a short rest is more reasonable, or would grant a bigger bonus on the check. Don't make the emotional rules too mechanical though, or you might defeat the purpose/potential benefit of them.
I have an idea in mind for a PF2 hack where everyone gets two actions per turn (plus movement), but only one action can be spent attacking. The other can be used for maneuvers or to do stuff that modulates the circumstances of the battle. And maybe 'control your emotions' could be an action. Like you say, making it too mechanical ruins the flavor, though. It's something I think I'd have to build from the ground up.
 

Just by checking out wikipedia they have the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions which expands it out to 8-- joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation... along with the different strength levels of each as well as the emotions that connect ones that are next to each other on the wheel. This might be a better starting point to build off of.
I'll look into it, but a) 8 conditions are harder to keep straight in your head than 5, and b) I particularly want you to be able to have two different emotions at once.

I'm not sure anticipation, surprise, or trust are as visceral for a narrative, since people who are vigilant, admiring, or amazed seldom are out of control of their behavior.
 

angille

Explorer
well. you could build an entire Cortex game around this concept, if you want all interactions to be influenced by the emotional flavor. the main trait set would just be the emotions, and you could do the Dragon Brigade thing of pulling from the same trait set twice (so you could blend emotions), and you could set the stress tracks to be the emotions (can't draw on them as easily once they've been affected).

I played a character for a Masks game that was based on this idea (literally, an older Riley, lol) named Passion — they were a Reformed with emotion control. Masks is pretty loosey-goosey though, and doesn't nearly have the crunch you seem to be reaching for.

erm, I have no clue though how to integrate it into a d20-style game. sorry if that's the intention.
 


I think the main thing I'm looking for is just a way to provide flavorful game mechanics for mental combat.

Even in a fairly rules light action RPG like D&D 5e, in combat you have movement, actions, bonus actions, reactions, cover, concealment, damage, healing, gear, and various tricks.

But if you involve anything like mind control, it always boils down to, "Make a Wisdom save. Hope you roll well."

There's no counterplay. There's no sense of progress where an enchanter wears down your mental defenses, or where you can lay a mental trap, or where you can try to 'disarm' them of some attack ability they have. I was thinking of 'emotion conditions' as a parameter that could matter in psychic combat, while having the bonus effect of playing into some heroic tropes of having characters get an emotional 'power up' at intense moments.
 

angille

Explorer
It could be the game you want is Masks. (Ah, sorry, didn't see the post above - but yes. Masks is all about emotions.)
There's no counterplay. There's no sense of progress where an enchanter wears down your mental defenses, or where you can lay a mental trap, or where you can try to 'disarm' them of some attack ability they have. I was thinking of 'emotion conditions' as a parameter that could matter in psychic combat, while having the bonus effect of playing into some heroic tropes of having characters get an emotional 'power up' at intense moments.
...please look at Masks (and possibly The Veil).

tbh, it probably swings all the way in the other direction, in that there are no hit points (or rigidly defined cover/concealment/gear/etc), but combat is literally abstracted to the point where your (and the villains' for that matter) "hit points" are emotional conditions. once you're carrying all of afraid/angry/guilty/hopeless/insecure, you give up. some of the playbooks capitalize on these (like the Bull which uses Angry to get more powerful), giving you that "emotional 'power up' at intense moments" bit.

like I said before, not sure there's an easy way to "snap on" this kind of thing into a skirmish simulator like 5e. though I think there's still a capacity for certain trad-leaning games (like Genesys) to have emotional/mental "combat" worked in.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
I agree with @angille . I kinda have Torchbearer on the brain right now, but to me this seems like it should be a game entirely centered around the emotions. Not a d20 chucker where an emotions-powered system is stacked on top.

What I see emerging is a sort of broad spectrum rock/paper/scissors balancing game, where you want to keep your emotional state in whatever sweet spot works best for that particular character, tapping in to strong emotional states for raw power, while running the risk of being consumed by them.
 

First and most important issue is that there is only one positive emotion and four negative ones. Any sort of system that is relying on emotions should have a much more balanced approach.
1. No reason to call all of those other emotions "negative". Wasn't a huge point of the movie to learn to embrace different emotions and accept their value?

2. As RW mentioned in his original post, I strongly prefer a psychic system like this that intentionally has a prime number of powers. I don't subscribe to the idea that emotions are "paired" or "balanced" in some way. In your example, I cannot agree that disgust and trust are opposing. I trust the fact that a truck stop bathroom will be disgusting, for example.
 
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Nytmare

David Jose
I don't subscribe to the idea that emotions are "paired" or "balanced" in some way. In your example, I cannot agree that disgust and trust are opposing. I trust the fact that a truck stop bathroom will be disgusting, for example.
I think that the definition of trust in that example is that you don't trust the bathroom because you're disgusted by it.
 

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