USR Wednesdays: Willpower

Psychic defenses are almost as commonplace in fantasy and science fiction as swords and fireballs. Heroes are always gritting their teeth and powering through blasts of supernatural force, struggling mightily to resist a villain’s mental domination (often with their friends urging them to, “Remember who you are!”), or gathering their thoughts after being confronted by a horror from beyond the stars.

In brightest day...
Some heroes are nothing but willpower. (image: DC Comics)

That’s willpower, the mental stamina to resist what can’t be blocked by shield or armor. There’s no formal rule to represent willpower in the USR rules, though of course Strong Willpower can be a Specialism. As I mentioned last week, the “horror save,” which is willpower used defensively, either uses a Wits die roll, for characters trying to use logic to explain the illogical, or an Ego die roll, for characters who have a forceful personality — in this situation, they’re “keeping their cool.”

Which stat should characters use in your game? It depends on the tone: the higher of the two works for most games, where heroes are supposed to be capable of things most people can’t do. But for a “grittier” game, use the lower of the two stats whenever a character needs to make a willpower roll/horror save. The target number of the danger is determined like any other die roll: 4 for a medium-grade threat, 7 for hard, 10 for very hard.

Sanity

And for a traditional “Call of Cthulhu” feel, where characters are eventually going to have their sanity shattered no matter what, there’s “Beyond Fear,” Scott Malthouse’s rules for USR Cthulhu. It offers the Madness Roll, a simple roll of the character’s Wits stat die, not against a target number. Instead, a result of 1 or 2 on the die means the character has lost his or her marbles and gets a token, or simply a mark on the character sheet. Three tokens means the character is irretrievably insane. I inadvertently borrowed the idea of the Madness Roll last week in the zombies post, where a die result of 1 means zombie infection.

Most often, willpower is used on the defensive, resisting attacks or scary things. But it can also be used as an attack, where your hero uses his “force of will” to make someone else do something. That’s similar to spellcasting — a Wits or Ego die roll instead of an Action die roll against the opponent’s Wits or Ego die roll.

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