In Trail of Cthulhu, the rules for seeing a Great Old One or Outer God work as follows. Make a Stability roll, then take additional Stability and Sanity loss, using the table on p.86.
This is particularly harsh for particularly horrific monsters. For example, if you see Shub Niggurath, you first make the normal 5-point Stability roll, for seeing a supernatural creature up close. If you succeed, you nevertheless lose 5 Stability and 3 Sanity. If you fail, you lose a total of 11 Stability and 4 Sanity.
In play, I find this rather dull. For example, in one game, my Investigator saw Shub Niggurath with two Stability.
I had two options. I could spend four Stability to automatically succeed my Stability roll and then lose 5 Stability anyway, losing 9 in total. Or I could roll, with the potential of losing 11 Stability. Either way, I would fall below -6 Stability and go mad.
For two reasons, this was dull. Firstly, there wasn't an interesting tactical choice I could make: either I lost 9 Stability or rolled to risk losing 11 Stability. I went mad either way. Of course, I took the roll.
Secondly, the dice themselves weren't interesting. A single die roll told me whether I lost 9 or 11 Stability. There was no tension in it.
Can you suggest a more interesting mechanic, for Stability/Sanity loss when you see Great Old Ones and their ilk, that fixes these problems?
Two points. Firstly, I'm not looking for an indie game mechanic, which involves, I don't know, sacrificing the memory of your mother or something. None of this "it's only interesting if it's narratively interesting", please. I want a die roll mechanic.
Secondly, I'd like something that fits closely to the GUMSHOE rules. The less tweaking, the better. So no playing card mechanics, for example.
Edited to add: To be clear, the problem is this. The two main options, in the situation above, are:
- Spend 4 points. Without rolling, lose a total of 9 Stability and get a mental illness.
- Spend 0 points. If you fail your roll, lose 11 Stability and get a mental illness.
There are, of course, options to spend 1, 2 or 3 points, but they are similar to/worse than those two.
Given those choices, both of which involve losing huge amounts of Stability and getting a mental illness, you obviously choose the one which gives you a roll to avoid it.
Hence, in my opinion, there is no interesting choice to make. So I'm looking for mechanics that make it more interesting.