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    Default Roleplaying mental illness

    Ok so this is something I've always wanted to try - roleplaying a mentally ill character. Not axe-crazy psychotic, actually plausibly mentally ill. I'm thinking your standard D&D medieval world (with all attendant complications), but a modern campaign is also an option. Has anyone played or gamed with a character like this? How did it go? Or how would you play a character like this?

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    "He's possessed by a demon! Burn him!"
    Do you know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go get and beat you with until you understand who's in rotten command here!

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by DarthCyberWolf View Post
    "He's possessed by a demon! Burn him!"
    Most manifestations of mental illness are not extreme enough to warrant that imo. Something like a severely depressed or claustrophobic character would likely not be regarded as possessed, but as lazy or cowardly.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Be careful - one in three people will really suffer from a mental illness of some sort in their lives, and if one of them is at the gaming table with you, they might be upset to see you do that.

    As for how to do it, that really depends on the mental illness you want to portray. There's a big difference between a histrionic avoidant borderline personality and a bipolar.
    Often, though, you'll be looking at pure roleplaying, rather than rules. Do some research (wikipedia, Mind) and talk with your DM.
    Last edited by Altair_the_Vexed; 2010-08-08 at 01:54 PM.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by Altair_the_Vexed View Post
    Be careful - one in three people will really suffer from a mental illness of some sort in their lives, and if one of them is at the gaming table with you, they might be upset to see you do that.

    As for how to do it, that really depends on the mental illness you want to portray. There's a big difference between a histrionic avoidant borderline personality and a bipolar.
    Often, though, you'll be looking at pure roleplaying, rather than rules. Do some research, and talk with your DM.
    That's actually part of why I wanted to try it. I have a mental illness personally, as does about half of our gaming group. I want to be sensitive about it, but the nature of our group means they're generally mature about handling different characters. It would be an interesting exploration of how a character like that would function in an adventuring society.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I'm guessing you don't just want to play a character who has the same disorder that you have yourself? That's not exactly role-playing, see...

    I think it's important to start with one type of disorder in mind - then work out how that would work as a functional character within an adventuring party.

    I'm guessing you want to go with something obvious and interesting, rather than low key. It's probably best to think about how you want to behave, how this illness will manifest. Look through the literature on disorders to see what effects they have. Once you've got an idea of what outward symptoms you'll have, then you can deepen your research to find an illness fitting that.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I suggest this guide. It's at least an interesting read.
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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by Altair_the_Vexed View Post
    I'm guessing you don't just want to play a character who has the same disorder that you have yourself? That's not exactly role-playing, see...

    I think it's important to start with one type of disorder in mind - then work out how that would work as a functional character within an adventuring party.

    I'm guessing you want to go with something obvious and interesting, rather than low key. It's probably best to think about how you want to behave, how this illness will manifest. Look through the literature on disorders to see what effects they have. Once you've got an idea of what outward symptoms you'll have, then you can deepen your research to find an illness fitting that.
    Not particularly, no. I was thinking maybe Asperger's to low-level autism as a starting point, although bipolar might also be available. I'd actually prefer something somewhat low-key where maybe the character seems relatively normal most of the time but has unaccountable problems with certain situations. The "hears voices" has been done to death already, so that's right out.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Considering most adventurers are nomadic murder-hobo's, how crazy do you want to get?

    High Charisma characters like Bards or Sorcerers could be megalomaniacal or narccisitic to an extreme.

    Highly organised characters like Monks or Wizards could be borderline OCD.

    Religious characters might have a Cassandra or Messiah complex.

    The violent mood swings of a barbarian could lead to or be a result of something akin to bipolar disorder or PTSD.

    I personally would not overdo the mental illness. Make it a defining characteristic, but not the only characteristic. There is more to disturbed people than their illness.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I linked this in my last post in the evil GM thread.

    http://gm.sagotsky.com/?p=75

    I GMed a schizo character once and managed to keep the players from figuring out what was wrong with him. The subtlety with insane people is not that they see things that aren't there, but that they can't distinguish those things from what's real.
    If you like what I have to say, please check out my GMing Blog where I discuss writing and roleplaying in greater depth.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I just played through a 2nd edition adventure that was converted to 3.5 and there was a trap that afflicted my character with a random metal disease among some of the possibilities were Bipolar, Necrophilia, suicidal tendencies, Kleptomaniac, Megalomaniac, and may other worse ones. My character got Megalomaniac and I feel lucky for getting that and not a worse one. So basically now I play my character almost like a paladin I have a code of conduct and if I don’t role play my character up to that code then there will be repercussions.
    My Motto: Nunquam Iterum

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I can see this going really really horribly... Seriously besides split personality and crazy axe-murdering is about the limit that you want to do since most people will get very very very mad if they think you are making fun of someone with a mental disability. ADD and ADHD would be ok, but autism could get ugly

    Best possibly thing to do would be to stay away from hot buttons
    I have to give Paizo credit...

    They took an established work and said they fixed it but didn't actually fix it and yet still made money off from it.

    How can you beat that?

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Some games (Call of Cthulhu in particular) pretty much require the character to gain mental illnesses as they become more exposed to monsters and occult info.

    So it can work if the players and DMs handle it carefully.
    Last edited by hamishspence; 2010-08-08 at 02:31 PM.
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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I actually did this in a game, to incredibly interesting results. It was a D20 Modern game, so some elements won't work as well. The character I played was a bit cliche, but basically he was your war veteran suffering from PTSD. I actually took the time to research the disorder, figured out his trigger(s), and in my opinion played it rather well.

    The character ended up hindering the party at times, going through episodes during high stress situations... but the players at the table loved it still.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    D20 Modern could be used to play a D&D-type world. Might actually minimise the usual issue of magic rapidly overshadowing everything else.
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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by Evard View Post
    I can see this going really really horribly... Seriously besides split personality and crazy axe-murdering is about the limit that you want to do since most people will get very very very mad if they think you are making fun of someone with a mental disability. ADD and ADHD would be ok, but autism could get ugly

    Best possibly thing to do would be to stay away from hot buttons
    Judging from these boards I seem to have a fairly mature gaming group. I'm trying to not play it as a "make fun of this" character, but a character that has a mental illness as part of their personality. I don't think it'll be a problem with the group as long as people are aware of what's going on. (And personally, I'd find a serious RP attempt a *lot* less offensive than your standard axe-murdering psychopath. I hate those things, talk about all kinds of offensive stereotypes.)

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Even a sane person's personality is largely a collection of what neuroses they have, it might not be clinical, but it's pretty true. So in that way every character I've seriously role-played has been a little mentally ill or unstable.

    The fact that you're looking for advice shows that you're respectful. I think it would still be good to bring it up with the DM and party to make sure that it doesn't hit a sore-spot with anyone concerning themselves, their family members, or loved ones.

    Otherwise, be subtle and realistic. If you've had experience playing unique characters it could be as much as dialing up one tendency a little further. The difference between a quirk and an illness is usually intensity.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Hey, nice subject. And actually I've been trying to do that with some of the NPCs in my running campaign, but I found it really hard to make it seem realistic.

    Also, I agree with WinWin. A lot of PCs just act like a bunch of psychotic kleptomaniac loonies. And it's not always the players' fault, anyway. It's a bit hard not to become megalomaniac and overconfident when you can see by statistics that you can probably beat a hundred soldiers while unarmed, and some DMs even help it by playing their NPCs as enemy bots with no life outside the battle with the PCs.

    Anyway, some of my NPCs have disorders, but in a world of magic, it's hard to know if the old ragged man is just schizophrenic or if he's a high cleric who communed with the Greater Gods and really knows the secrets of The Planes. The possible misunderstandings can be fun and interesting, anyway.
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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    CoC does do insanity, but its more in the gibbering wreck from cosmic horror style.

    I recommend Changeling the Lost. Whilst its not mechanically necessary to have a derangement, it's thematically very appropriate. The subheading is a game of beautiful madness after all

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    OCD is relatively simple to RP. Character freaks out whenever something gross happens, is constantly washing himself and his equipment, etc.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by unimaginable View Post
    OCD is relatively simple to RP. Character freaks out whenever something gross happens, is constantly washing himself and his equipment, etc.
    Surprisingly not as much as you think. I've known 2 different people with OCD, one of whom was in my list of people with the messiest dorm rooms EVER. Germ-phobia is one of the possible manifestations of OCD but not the only one. Although I'm not sure how it would translate into a medieval environment (the standards of gross were I'm sure much different).

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Still easy. You pick a couple things the PC is completely obsessed with and will do repeatedly -- pick things that'll actually come up in a gaming session -- and then do that.

    Fighter who's obsessed with the idea of weapons being inhabited by the souls of those they kill, so he always has to get a new sword after each kill? Less crippling than it sounds because he doesn't need to be the one to actually finish off most enemies.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by unimaginable View Post
    Still easy. You pick a couple things the PC is completely obsessed with and will do repeatedly -- pick things that'll actually come up in a gaming session -- and then do that.

    Fighter who's obsessed with the idea of weapons being inhabited by the souls of those they kill, so he always has to get a new sword after each kill? Less crippling than it sounds because he doesn't need to be the one to actually finish off most enemies.
    Yeah that would be easy, although I'd be concerned that it would descend into stereotypical farce entirely too quickly.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I played a character with Synesthesia and it worked marvelously.

    (DISCLAIMER: I'm very worried that the following is going to be taken offensively because the topic is a sensitive one. Please understand that we all have different experiences with mental disorder, and this is only an opinion.)

    It's hard to tell anyone how to roleplay this since 'mental illness' is so vast and varied. In my experience, one big factor that minds many of them together is also a suffering from self confidence issues if they are aware of the fact. From a Schizophreniac to a Megalomaniac, knowing that one is different always causes changes in ones approach to other aspects of their life. Some will defer the decision-making to other members of the party, concerned that the will lack the capacity to make decisions that will positively affect the group. Others will fight to be recognized, appreciated and valued, battling a constant social stigma.
    Shame is a common reaction in the standard medieval fantasy setting, and that alone will prevent people from admitting they have a problem to others. They are likely to be withdrawn at best.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by Dust View Post
    I played a character with Synesthesia and it worked marvelously.

    (DISCLAIMER: I'm very worried that the following is going to be taken offensively because the topic is a sensitive one. Please understand that we all have different experiences with mental disorder, and this is only an opinion.)

    It's hard to tell anyone how to roleplay this since 'mental illness' is so vast and varied. In my experience, one big factor that minds many of them together is also a suffering from self confidence issues if they are aware of the fact. From a Schizophreniac to a Megalomaniac, knowing that one is different always causes changes in ones approach to other aspects of their life. Some will defer the decision-making to other members of the party, concerned that the will lack the capacity to make decisions that will positively affect the group. Others will fight to be recognized, appreciated and valued, battling a constant social stigma.
    Shame is a common reaction in the standard medieval fantasy setting, and that alone will prevent people from admitting they have a problem to others. They are likely to be withdrawn at best.
    Very well-written reply. I was thinking the mental illness would probably not be revealed to the other players, at least not at first. Possibly the character would know he was different somehow but not really understand what was going on. The DM would of course be aware of the real reason.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    I just have to say, in 5 years of RPing in many systems, and 10 years of hanging out with RPGers and LARPers, I've seen over 20, (actually nearly 30 now that I count them) characters who were mentally ill.

    Almost every one of the players gave a disclaimer similar to yours, no don't worry, they won't be psychotic, they will be under control in some way, they will be able to help the group and it will just be fun and interesting.

    With exactly one single exception (props to BloodyAngel!) those players were WRONG. Every one of the characters - except that one lone counterexample - either disrupted play, derailed the party's/other characters' goals, OR annoyed the other players to the point that they no longer enjoyed the game. Or all three.

    I suggest that if you want to have an unusual character, choose a simple minor quirk. Maybe your character compulsively sniffs at some smelling salts every time they see blood, or is deathly afraid of owls. I dunno. Choose one small, manageable thing. You'll stand out and get a lot of roleplay mileage out of it.

    But don't play mentally ill. Realistically you're just a danger or liability to the party no matter what you say. So everyone has to play unrealistically (ie not true to their characters) to accommodate you and keep you in the group. Immediately that makes you a problem player no matter how interesting your PC is, no matter how well you do it.

    The Mad Hatter, Sylar, River Tam, Gaius Baltar.... they are all awesome characters on the screen. They all suck at the table.

    TLDR: I recommend against.
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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by Another_Poet View Post
    I just have to say, in 5 years of RPing in many systems, and 10 years of hanging out with RPGers and LARPers, I've seen over 20, (actually nearly 30 now that I count them) characters who were mentally ill.

    Almost every one of the players gave a disclaimer similar to yours, no don't worry, they won't be psychotic, they will be under control in some way, they will be able to help the group and it will just be fun and interesting.

    With exactly one single exception (props to BloodyAngel!) those players were WRONG. Every one of the characters - except that one lone counterexample - either disrupted play, derailed the party's/other characters' goals, OR annoyed the other players to the point that they no longer enjoyed the game. Or all three.

    I suggest that if you want to have an unusual character, choose a simple minor quirk. Maybe your character compulsively sniffs at some smelling salts every time they see blood, or is deathly afraid of owls. I dunno. Choose one small, manageable thing. You'll stand out and get a lot of roleplay mileage out of it.

    But don't play mentally ill. Realistically you're just a danger or liability to the party no matter what you say. So everyone has to play unrealistically (ie not true to their characters) to accommodate you and keep you in the group. Immediately that makes you a problem player no matter how interesting your PC is, no matter how well you do it.

    The Mad Hatter, Sylar, River Tam, Gaius Baltar.... they are all awesome characters on the screen. They all suck at the table.

    TLDR: I recommend against.
    I'm curious how they were so disruptive? I think I've got the "not axe-crazy" part down, but is there another way the characters ended up being disruptive?

    I was thinking possibly some sort of sensory processing disorder - say the character has difficulty concentrating in high sensory input environments, may seek to avoid crowded bars or stay out of cities.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    It's nice to see people taking mental illness seriously.

    I question how easily it could be roleplayed, though. One point along those lines: If the condition is serious, it could require a great bit of screen time to flush out, and may very well intrude on other people's roleplay time.

    I do understand, however, that it could be cathartic for a player with mental illness, to be able to express frustration, or even laughter, by way of a character's actions, where this player, is in essence, experiencing their own feelings, vicariously.

    Yet, I can't help but feel uncomfortable with the whole idea. It could take a great bit of energy to stay consistently sensitive to other player's feelings about the character, and that's hard to do, in such informal circumstances.


    Quote Originally Posted by democritic View Post
    Even a sane person's personality is largely a collection of what neuroses they have, it might not be clinical, but it's pretty true...
    Collection of neuroses? ... That claim is very psychoanalytic, and thus worthy of comment, if only to disagree.

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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by WarKitty View Post
    I'm curious how they were so disruptive? I think I've got the "not axe-crazy" part down, but is there another way the characters ended up being disruptive?

    I was thinking possibly some sort of sensory processing disorder - say the character has difficulty concentrating in high sensory input environments, may seek to avoid crowded bars or stay out of cities.
    Yeah, looking at some of the examples above (synesthesia) and mention of real-life low-grade mental illnesses (severe depression) you have many options that shouldn't be a problem.

    I was thinking more of being crazy. Here's how it disrupted play (any one or more of these):

    1. The person was doing it to get attention, and it took a lot of spotlight.
    2. The person wasn't trying to do it just to get attention, but it still took all the spotlight.
    3. The person had no idea what actual mental illness is like, and just used it as carte blanche to do whatever (like some use CN or CE).
    4. The person would speak nonsense, thus derailing many planning sessions or RP conversations.
    5. The person would put off NPCs or make diplomacy and social situations nigh impossible (which has the side effect of making social-oriented PCs nearly useless and unable to show off their skills).
    6. The person would actively endanger the party, such as by making ridiculous decisions in combat or using their combat turn to RP the person's zany antics instead of contributing to the fight (has side effect of making the DM feel like they should give combat uses to these antics, like distracting foes, etc, to avoid killing party members, which is a little unfair to the DM).
    7. The person would do things IC that made people at the table uncomfortable out of character ("I pee all over myself!").

    8. (This is the one that's hard to avoid) - The person would give every sign of being mentally ill, but would actually pull it together in combat or other high-stakes situations, because OOC they want to help the party and be a useful party member. Great! But the PCs have no reason to believe that or trust him, since the PCs only see the person being crazy all the time, and aren't supposed to think of OOC reasons to trust them ("Well, he's a fellow PC, and we know he wants to be a helpful party member" is metagaming). So the whole group has to choose between "we throw him out/kill him/leave him at the nearest temple" or "we metagame and trust him for no conceivable reason."

    I think that's most of 'em.
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    Default Re: Roleplaying mental illness

    Quote Originally Posted by WarKitty View Post
    I'm curious how they were so disruptive? I think I've got the "not axe-crazy" part down, but is there another way the characters ended up being disruptive?
    There are usually two ways insane characters go. The first is that they get ignored. The GM takes the player aside and works on their delusions. The other players know what happened and ignore what the character says for 15-45 minutes.

    The other way is that the insane character takes over. He acts on his insanity and the other players have no choice but to follow. They have to go do damage control and play babysitter, to the derailment of the plot.

    Worst of all, players who do this have a tendency to play insane as wacky. "Oooh, I see pink elephants! I'm gonna go pet the pink elephants and make them my friend!" It just doesn't help a game much. I'm not insinuating that this is where you'll go with it, but this is my explanation for why other posters have had a bad experience with insane PCs.

    I played one once that I thought was successful. The trick with him was that he started out quirky and progressed to insane. When he got to the point where he was too disruptive, we had him removed from the party and I played another character. Descent into madness was a perfectly fine thing to play. Madness was not.
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