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Related to: My players went from 100% murderous cretins to 100% nonviolent diplomats; how can I achieve a middle ground?


Question

A player wants to role-play a psychopath. Are there any in-game mechanics or instructions for depicting such a psychiatric condition, whether it is RAW or 3rd Party?

By psychopathy I mean in general "a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits." It doesn't need to be "DSM accurate," being informed by popular conception is fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the scenario that a player is actually expressing a desire to roleplay a psychopath, or is it more that your players are playing like psychopaths (the murderhobo / murderous cretin problem) and you're interested in modelling their behaviour mechanically somehow? Whether they have active participation as a character design choice, or whether it's a GM thing, will make a difference to answers. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 18 '17 at 10:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener A player specifically stated they wanted to role-play a psychopath. When I followed-up a type of psychopathy, her response was serial killer. \$\endgroup\$ – Zangief Jan 24 '17 at 8:12
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Sanity

The Horror Adventures supplement includes optional rules for sanity and madness. Sanity is a stat, something similar to HP. When sanity is reduced below a threshold they gain a madness.

Psychopathy

The table provides a madness called "psychopathy". Be aware that the body of the text on that wiki renames it "Moral Insanity". I'm not sure if this is a discontinuity that existed in the print book also.

The effect of psychopathy says:

The afflicted character’s alignment shifts to evil, and he gains a +10 competence bonus on Bluff checks to hide this madness. Once per day, the afflicted character can attempt a Will saving throw to suppress this effect for 24 hours.

The description is slightly more interesting, but it really just illustrates how a character with this madness thinks:

This complex madness fills the afflicted character with hatred for the world and a detached feeling about others, as if they were nothing more than pawns for the afflicted character’s own uses. A character afflicted by moral insanity might plot the demise of friends and enemies alike, but always with the goal of avoiding blame or consequences and enabling him to continue to feed his dark desires.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that you can use psychopathy without using the sanity system, you should treat it as a mental disease then (see Gamemastery Guide for guidelines). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 18 '17 at 11:49
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Yes, you certainly have Sanity as suggested by indigochild. I recall the Book of Vile Darkness also touches the subject of psychopathy, even if it is more narrative versus hard mechanics (pg 10).

My suggestion is it might be better to work with the player for how this plays out in-game. Example: they want a bonus or immunity from fear and/or other mind affecting abilities? Sure. However, they don't get a wisdom check to know it is a BAD idea to stab someone (like, the king). Perhaps, a daily/weekly Will save to not NEED to kill someone in cold blood.

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Without getting bogged down in technical medical terms because I (and I guess you) are neither psychologists nor psychiatrists: you have a player who wants to play two traits:

  • lack of empathy with other creatures
  • lack of fear

Most of your issues go away if you understand that a person with no empathy or no fear is an unreal abstraction. That is, these are not binary, the exist on a continuum and that each person's position on the continuum varies with the creature/source of fear being considered and the person's current mental and emotional state.

To elaborate, a "normal" person has different levels of empathy with family and friends than they do with strangers, or, say, mosquitoes. Swatting a mosquito that is biting you without an empathetic reaction is not psychosis - its normal. Seeking to eradicate mosquitoes may be psychotic or it may be because you are a highly empathetic person who wants to eliminate the scourge of malaria.

A psychopath is no different - they feel empathy and fear: just less than other people. They can be highly successful in careers where selfishness and ruthlessness are rewarded. This includes criminal careers but it also includes business, law and politics: being able to see other people's emotions are advantages here, so is not caring about them - psychopath does not equal criminal.

Therefore spells with the [Emotion] descriptor or fear effect simply stimulate the psychopath's atrophied emotions to the point where they react as a "normal" person would. In addition, the player is (hopefully) not a psychopath - they know what empathy and fear are so just tell them what's going on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "lack of empathy with other creatures lack of fear" I will upvote because you describe our average rpg player. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 18 '17 at 11:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer would be improved with a bit more material on mechanical tools that the question asks about. It is rational and well laid out, but without more "how to" I am not sure how helpful it is. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 18 '17 at 13:35
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First, specify if they are merely a Psychopath or a true Sociopath

Psychopathy is a generic term that means prone to aggression. Sociopath is what is generally used to describe when a person does not have emotions as we know them.

Either condition should probably restrict your player to Chaotic alignment (if you use alignments seriously, I know many sideline it) and possibly Evil or Neutral with Evil tendencies.

You could work together to homebrew some Traits and/or a Drawback to bring the effect into play. Does being a Psycho make it easier to Bluff and Intimidate? It probably makes Diplomacy harder.

If they want to be a Sociopath,

make sure that you talk out how far they are willing to let their character go. Are they trying to overcome their situation (ala Dexter) or are they looking to be the insidious bad-guy that's within the party? If the Paladin (or such) finds out, are you both willing to go into PvP? Or else, when they 'turn to the dark side' would they hand the character over to you, the DM and they pull out a backup?

A sociopath would technically be immune to [Emotion] effects. They simply don't have the capacity to feel like that. A psychopath wouldn't necessarily need this boon. In play I may homerule a Feat and require them to take it first level. That's a pretty powerful effect.

It's unlikely to affect your character in combat outside of that because everyone is a little psycho in combat out of necessity.

As far as rules, there is the new Moral Insanity Madness and this 3.5 Trait that you would have to modify to work with Pathfinder anyway.

Finally, here are a couple discussion articles on it to peruse.
/r/Psychopaths in Roleplaying Games
Giant in the Playground: Roleplaying a sociopath

The general concensus is that it will be difficult because they will, in order to read as their character idea, need to be 'a big deal'. They will by necessity make many situations harder. This could be good or a drag, depending on your group. As one of the posts to the reddit I linked points out, characters like "Monk, Holmes, House..." are the main character of their little world because of this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I never claimed to be a doctor. I'll edit the misleading language out but I do feel like there is distinction to be made because it makes a difference in roleplay the extent to which the player is psychotic. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jan 18 '17 at 12:43
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Yes, there are such rules. (from the gamemaster's guide). As indigochild already mentioned it other rules exist in Horror Adventures.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We don't really like link only answers here, to get upvotes you should probably unpack a little more what those rules are. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jan 18 '17 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is a yes/no one. I could have answered to it with only the first word, the links are only here for the source aspect (and also because I think the OP would like to know where to find these very rules even if he didn't explicitely asked for it). I don't think expanding my answer only to get upvotes (and thus reducing its concision) is the right thing to do. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jan 18 '17 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Anne, simply answering 'yes' or "no' doesn't fit the criteria required for an up vote: 'this answer is useful.' This answer has the character of a comment on another answer. Do you want to make it a comment? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 18 '17 at 13:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, I honestly believe this is the best way to answer the OP's question: the OP has a direct answer ("yes"), and all the rules he asked for which at the same time validate the answer. You may not agree and downvote, I understand that and won't complain if you do, but I won't edit it: I think it would make it less useful. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jan 18 '17 at 16:00

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