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House Rules Evolved: Attrition and Insanity

My House Rule Document*

See the previous House Rules Evolved posts here.

The Old Rule:

I had attempted to model inventory as something a little realistically. My motivations were to reduce the comical nature of D&D inventories into something I could reliably call on when a player’s inventory got blasted or stolen from. I don’t want to pressure my players into adversarial positions when they have to suddenly recall where they were storing something. Players were put in the position where being dishonest netted them a benefit while being honest about their junk was detrimental. In some cases we simply had different assumptions about how they was using or storing an item. Misunderstandings would force me to ‘retcon’ and have to resolve inventory inconsistencies on the fly. A solution to these problems was a ‘slotted’ inventory sheet that would track everything they were carrying along with where it was being kept.

I had no method of inflicting insanities on my players outside of direct magic effects or curses.

The Problems:

This inventory management turned out to be tedious in practice. Although it did once result hilariously in a lost key due to some seriously unlucky rolls, it has otherwise come up very little in practice. I am too much of a softy. While simple conceptually, this requires players to track the location of their every item, instead of just capturing it on a written list. In both systems, weight was mostly hand-waved anyway so this was not a difference in the two systems.

For an insanity tracking system, I wanted something to model the weight that the constant stress of adventuring puts on the characters. I didn’t need a way to punish players but to give their actions some meaning beyond just influencing story. I wanted a way to give some real numbers and consequences to things like reading mysterious evil books beyond vague threats of curses or repercussions. 

The Changes:

Instead, I’d like to try something different. I found a useful hack for insanity that would build based on player actions and figured I could also copy that system for wear and tear to the players stuff (thanks to luckily reading this blog post around the same time). How this system works is that players gain Attrition or Insanity when they take certain actions like getting lit on fire, wading through acidic goo, chanting along with the cultists, or translating a forbidden tome. Each time they gain one of these points, they make a relevant save. If they roll under their current Attrition or Insanity, then they are struck with a temporary but severe penalty. Given time to calm down or snap out of it, they are cleared of all the relevant points and then save again with a failure resulting in a permanent penalty.

This method will work better for me because it doesn’t require tedious and separate inventory lists by location. A Attrition & Insanity system allows me to clearly state to the players a possible result of their actions. “You want to read that? It might result in you taking an Insanity point” or “Sure you can roll around trying to crush the rat swarm with your platemail but you will be earning a Attrition.”, which I think is easier and less binary than jumping right away to, “You want to do that? You might get some delusion or lose one of your items”. It is harder to be a softie to my players when they knowingly and consistently took risks that built up to those problems. Now the trick will be remembering to toss these at my players and being fair in my awarding of these points, but with a lower threshold of damage for each one I may have an easier time. Time will tell as my players begin to delve into the deep.

Evolving Evolutions:

Thinking on the use of this system a bit more, I decided to lay out situations where may accumulate Attrition or Insanity from. While I’m still a softie, having this list should reduce my dependence on spontaneous creativity to generate Attrition and Insanity points. Whenever they drop below 1 HP, they must choose to take a point of one or the other, to symbolize how hard near-death experiences are on their gear and their psyche. This is also to add some stiffer penalties to going below 1 hp, even when injury is avoided. This shouldn’t be too much for a well managed party, especially as it gives credence to drinking like crazy or obsessing over your junk every night in camp to counteract those near-death experiences. The others are broken down to physical and mental stresses, incurring points for their respective groups.


  • Failing a save against area of effect damage or a trap.
  • Adding or subtracting a ‘1d10’ to any physical roll.
  • Staying in a harsh environment. Extreme temps, extreme humidity, etc.
  • Abusing your equipment or using it well outside its intended purpose.


  • Failing a save against mind affecting spells
  • Adding or subtracting a ‘1d10’ to any magical roll.
  • Witnessing a horrific situation or the death of a party member/close NPC.
  • Committing an act opposed to your alignment.

I also mulling changed Attrition to just Attrition, shortening the system to Attrition & Insanity.


*Updated with the changes discussed here for Attrition and Insanity as well as fixing having put in the wrong XP/SP table.

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