Fear and Madness

What follows is an expansion of the rules for fear, horror, sanity, and madness presented by the Dungeon Master’s Guide (258, 265, 266). These rules take a more central role in this campaign, which warrants some added details.

Various states of rage and fury, like the barbarian’s Rage class feature, provide advantage on saving throws to resist fear and horror if already activated at the time the save is called for.

Magic, such as the Aura of Courage paladin class feature and the calm emotions spell, cannot provide absolute protection against fear and horror checks. At the DM’s discretion, they will grant advantage on the relevant checks and saving throws instead.

Passive Ratings

Fear, horror, or madness saving throws cannot roll lower than the character’s passive Wisdom or Charisma scores (10 + ability score modifier), unless the check applies disadvantage. This lets characters avoid frequent rolling for these rules; any save difficulty that is not higher than a character’s passive ability score does not normally need to be rolled. Mental stability and force of personality can save characters from a lot of grief in the Domain of Dread.


Fear checks are made at the intersection of mystery and danger. Fear does not come only in confrontations that are “unwinnable.” But the danger must be significant. Any encounter rated at the “deadly” XP Threshold would qualify for a fear check. Moreover, an encounter that is merely “hard” might also invoke fear checks if sufficiently infused with uncertainty. For example, the true number or nature of the foes is concealed in shadow, or the party can’t tell if their attacks are harming the enemy.

When prompted by a menacing creature, the fear DC is 1/2 the creature’s HD + Charisma modifier + 8, modified slightly up or down based on the DM’s discretion. Other circumstances have DCs set purely at the DM’s discretion.


The more gruesome, abnormal, or insane the scene, the higher the DC for a horror check.

Very Easy (DC 5): Signs of violence (a drying pool of blood, a splintered door, etc.).

Easy (DC 10): A scene of pain or suffering (a beggar ravaged by disease; a doctor sewing wounds shut).

Medium (DC 15): A freshly slain corpse or a terribly decaying one.

Hard (DC 20): A scene of terrible agony (torture, involuntary transformation).

Very Hard (DC 25): A scene of evil, cruelty, and madness (finding dismembered bodies that have been turned into marionettes).

Nearly Impossible (DC 30): A malign paradigm shift; discovering that something is drastically wrong and that it has always been that way. For example, realizing you are the only people in the crowded inn that are not evil shapeshifters, or discovering that the plague victims you are tending to are actually victims of vampiric feedings and are still under the vampire’s control.

Typically, the degree (duration) of the resulting madness is relative to the DC of the check. Failing a very easy, easy, or medium difficulty horror check results in short-term madness. Horror at hard and very hard difficulties inflicts long-term madness. Only nearly impossible difficulty horror checks result in indefinite madness.


Because this campaign does not use Sanity as an ability score, characters and monsters alike substitute Wisdom for sanity-related saving throws.

Very Easy (DC 5): During a rest, recovering spells slots from an arcane spellcasting class. A character can elect not to recover such slots, even if they would normally refresh automatically.

Easy (DC 10): copying a previously-unknown arcane spell into a spellbook, using an arcane scroll

Medium (DC 15): Encountering inexplicable features or alien physics in another plane, resisting an effect conferred by an attack or spell that deals psychic damage

Hard (DC 20): Being subject to spells that affect mental stability, such as the insanity option of the symbol spell

Very Hard (DC 25): Seeing a creature from the Far Realms for the first time.

Nearly Impossible (DC 30): Making direct contact with the mind of an alien creature

The degree (duration) of the madness imposed by a failed Sanity saving throw is not dependent on the difficulty of the roll. Madness resulting from preparing arcane spells or copying them into a spellbook is long-term. Madness resulting from using an arcane scroll is short-term. Everything else is down to the discretion of the DM.

Fear and Madness

Mists of Shadow Moor Randy Randy