Go Mad From The Revelation
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Basic Information

A staple of Cosmic Horror, this Horror Trope involves the all-too-common situation where some revelation, intuition, or encounter makes a character go totally insane.

We're not talking about mundane Shell Shock here, that'd be the trope called Heroic BSOD. Instead we're talking about a full-fledged Freak Out, or possibly even as bad as a Face Heel Turn. If you Go Mad From The Revelation, it'll be some sort of Homicidal Mania or at least Schizophrenia, and sometimes even Permanent Catatonia. A really lucky PC might get away with just an irrational Phobia, but the NPCs should almost always get much worse than that.

Worse yet, this sort of insanity generally isn't caused by "mundane" explanations like battlefield stress, extreme chemical imbalances, or demented upbringing. It comes at you because you saw, or maybe just contemplated, something Man Was Not Meant To Know. May have only been glimpsed for a moment, but you'll feel the effects for the rest of your life. Since the cause was otherworldly, modern Psychiatry is probably unable to help in any meaningful way.

This can also be a side effect of tripping a brain mine.



The proliferation of this trope can be largely attributed to the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Game and Story Use

  • Many RPGs have mechanics to cover exactly this sort of thing. Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu have extensive systems for it, but even some less Lovecraftian games, like Savage Worlds have just such a thing.
    • You might surprise your players by porting such a system over to your game of choice, and using it when your (thus far only mildly creepy) scenario builds to The Big Reveal.
  • Justifies (well, at least enough for fiction and gaming) the sick psychosis of any villain short of the Big Bad Evil Guy. Unless the campaign is low key and/or very realistic, the BBEG is probably be the type that drives others insane, not the type who is insane.
  • If you fancy reducing the incidence of magic in your campaign world, this can be a good way of doing it - the more you know about the fundamental forces underlying reality, the madder you become.
  • This can also appear as a side effect of "wishing for infinite knowledge" or getting a crossed line on a high powered divination spell … you may not exactly go mad, but the volume of information crashes your brain instead and leaves you far less than you were.
  • Ironically, this may be the hardest on the smartest characters - the meatshield, of limited understanding and imagination, may well escape more or less unscathed whereas those with some ability to comprehend what they have just perceived are likely to suffer a lot more.
    • So, for example, the professor of anthropology, meeting a Deep One is horrified by the implications of an ancient, sapient civilisation living alongside humanity, whilst the semi-moron that he hired to fetch and carry for him simply punches the ugly fish-man in the face and writes it off as one of the many things in this world that he doesn't understand.
  • May be contagious; even if the person can't explain what they saw, simply knowing that such things can happen can be dangerous. In mathematics, proving that a proof exists is the same as proving what it proves; and trying to find out what happened to this person risks exposure.
  • A modern subversion also requires that the victim believe what has been revealed to them - granted meeting Dread Cthulhu face to face is going to take so much bland rationalisation to paper over it would probably qualify as a mental illness in its own right, but it should be entirely possible to read Cult des ghoules … or even the Necronomicon itself and dismiss it as drug addled nonsense. GMs are best advised to write the SAN loss down and save it to be tacked on when the player finally shows some evidence of the character believing what he has read (like using knowledge from the books in game).
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