Shadowrun Character Sanity

by Keith Ammann
of Rogue's Gallery

As charisma is always in low demand by player characters (cause which GM wants to spoil every adventure by continued "they wont talk to you" attitude..), sanity controles the mental boundary that characters have to follow.

How human is your character ?

A character's Sanity attribute is computed according to the following formula: SAN = CHA + (ESS + WIL) / 2. The minimum possible Sanity is 1.5. The maximum is dependent on racial maximums - e.g., since Elves have maximum Charisma 8, they can have Sanity of up to 14, whereas since Trolls have maximum Charisma 4 and maximum Willpower 5, their Sanity can only reach 9.5. (The score can, however, be raised above this "base maximum" by magical means or Karma spending.) For practical use, Sanity is always rounded down to the nearest whole number; the score itself, however, retains any fractions.

Sanity represents a character's mental well-being - or, more accurately, his capacity for mental well-being. Sanity represents the upper limit of a character's health. A character can behave below his Sanity level but not above. Each Sanity score represents a certain stage in mental development. How a character acts at each stage is largely dependent on his own basic anxieties or fears, but certain distinctive behavior patterns typify each stage.

Your Sanity

Sanity Behaviour
11+ LIBERATED. This character is free from basic fears and anxieties and has developed himself to his fullest potential.
10 SELF-AWARE. This character's basic fear feeds an inner desire, which he satisfies by developing a specific skill that gives him confidence and keeps him well-balanced.
9 CONSTRUCTIVE. This character, acting to overcome secondary fears, defines himself through a social role and holds close to a characteristic identity - quirky, perhaps, but still basically healthy.
8 IMBALANCED. This character has begun to succumb to a temptation that contradicts his best interest, taking a personality trait beyond its usefulness, but he still relates fairly well to the world at large.
7 DEFENSIVE. This character has reacted to his fears by trying to control himself or his environment.
6 OFFENSIVE. This character has overcompensated for his fears, resulting in selfish, extreme and usually objectionable behavior.
5 DISTURBED. This character has succumbed to his fears and has lapsed into defense mechanisms that create serious interpersonal conflict.
4 DELUDED. This character has opted to reconstruct reality rather than face up to it, often resulting in compulsive behavior. He can be considered fully neurotic.
3 PATHOLOGICAL. This character has become openly destructive to himself and/or others. He has only the barest, most tenuous connection with reality.
2 or less PSYCHOTIC. This character has cracked beyond hope of recovery. His psychological problems are compounded upon one another. Any defining traits are present to the most extreme extent possible.

Changing Sanity

Characters can increase their Sanity by spending Karma points (or, at GM's option, by roleplaying therapy sessions). One Karma point will raise a character's Sanity by 0.2 points. Five Karma points will raise a character's Sanity a full point. Scores above 11 are treated as 11 for roleplaying purposes - one cannot get more sane than perfectly sane. However, these points may be kept as a reserve against Essence loss.

Every time a character's Essence changes, his Sanity changes with it. Karma boosts to Sanity are permanent, and the Sanity is recomputed with those points added on. Since Sanity varies arithmetically with ESS/2, it is easiest simply to deduct half the points from a character's Sanity that one does from his Essence.

Optional rule: Enlightenment

At the GM's option, magically active players who initiate may add their Initiation Grade to their Sanity, representing the effects of being exposed to higher knowledge. Then again, like Cthulhu lore, it might drive them the other way. The choice is the GM's, although the sort of Initiation that the character undergoes should be taken into account.

Why That Formula Exactly?

In part, to make Charisma play a greater role for nonmagical characters. The Astral Space parallels (Body/Willpower, Quickness/Intelligence, Strength/Charisma) suggest that Charisma is not so much leadership talent, magnetism or personal attractiveness as strength of personality. The more composed and self-aware a character is, the more able he will be to influence others. Therefore, Charisma is the deciding factor. Willpower, of course, may be used to "pull oneself together" or to put the effort into self-improvement. Essence is figured in as a mechanical way of showing the shades of cyberpsychosis and the trauma of Essence loss: A zero-Essence character, at best, will display certain personality quirks and more commonly will display offensive or even violent behavior.

It does follow, incidentally, that a character under an Increase Charisma or Increase Willpower spell will find himself capable of acting more sanely than he otherwise might. As long as the spell is in effect, the character's Sanity will be artificially raised. (The corollary is that a Decrease Charisma or Decrease Willpower spell can make a character come apart at the seams.)

Note how loss of Essence can demolish one's Sanity in a hurry. Be judicious.


Icepick is a Decker with Charisma 3, Willpower 5 and Essence 5.7. His Sanity is 3 + (5 + 5.7) / 2 = 8.35. This score places him in the Imbalanced category. Deckers tending to be scientific types, Icepick's player decides to make him an analytical specialist with anxieties about being caught off guard.

Big Ethel is a Troll Street Samurai with Charisma 2, Willpower 2 and Essence 1.2. Her Sanity is 2 + (2 + 1.2) / 2 = 3.6. This places her in the Pathological category. Trolls are notoriously brutal types, so Big Ethel's player makes her a violently destructive megalomaniac. Good luck, world.

Charlie X is a Government Agent with Charisma 3, Willpower 4 and Essence 3.4. His Sanity is 3 + (4 + 3.4) / 2 = 6.7. This places him in the Offensive category. Of all the possible ways an agent could be offensive, Charlie's player decides that good, insufferable self-righteousness seems well suited to a G-man. Charlie X is a judgmental perfectionist, deathly afraid of being caught in an ethical lapse himself. Two Karma points would raise his Sanity to 7.1, making him merely Defensive - perhaps just a bit stiff and uptight.