In a game where terrible things lurk in the darkness and horrors crawl forth from nightmares to plague the living, the rules for fear are an important part of play. To help bring an appropriate atmosphere to the table, the following rules broaden the levels of fear and allow fear to have a greater impact on your character and the story.

Levels of Fear

The existing rules for fear offer three levels of fear, each one represented by a condition: shaken, frightened, and panicked. The following system expands the various states of fear into seven levels, divided into two groups (lesser fear and greater fear). The three levels of lesser fear—spooked, shaken, and scared—cause you to take penalties, but you are still ultimately in control. The four levels of greater fear—frightened, panicked, terrified, and horrified—cause you to progressively lose control of your character.

When you are subject to a fear effect whose level exceeds your current fear level, your fear level increases to that level. If you are subject to a fear effect of a level equal to or lower than your current fear level, your fear level usually increases by one.

However, multiple lesser fear effects can’t force you to progress from a lesser fear level to a greater one. If you are scared and are subject to an additional lesser fear effect, you are staggered for 1 round, rather than becoming frightened. You can, however, accept the frightened condition rather than be staggered while scared if you prefer (such as if you actually want to run away).

For example, a character is exploring a haunted graveyard.

Her GM declares she is spooked by her surroundings. She falls into a sinkhole filled with rotting corpses, which would also make her spooked. If she fails her Will save, her fear level increases to shaken. Later, after dealing with gruesome undead, she is scared and facing off against an evil cultist who casts doom, which causes the shaken condition, on her. If she fails her save against the spell, she is staggered for 1 round (rather than frightened), since shaken is a lesser fear effect.

Lesser Fear

Fear begins as a shiver down your spine, but soon grows.

1. Spooked: The nature of your surroundings or events that you have witnessed makes you uneasy. You take a –2 penalty on saving throws against fear effects and on Perception checks, as your mind conjures potential horrors in every shadow. However, you are ready to face danger, and gain a +1 circumstance bonus on initiative checks.

2. Shaken: Fear has taken hold of you and you are no longer thinking or acting clearly. You take a –2 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks.

3. Scared: You are noticeably afraid, jumping at shadows and easily panicked by odd sights and unexplained noises. You take all of the penalties of the shaken condition, except the penalty on saves against fear effects becomes –4. In addition, if being subject to a lesser fear effect would increase your fear level, you are staggered for 1 round instead.

Greater Fear

At these levels, your fear begins to overwhelm you.

4. Frightened: You are so afraid that you must flee from the source of your fear. On your turn, you must move away from any source of fear you perceive. Once you can no longer perceive any source of fear, you can act as normal, but you still take all the penalties of the shaken condition. You can use special abilities, such as spells and equipment, to flee and must resort to such abilities if they seem like the only way to escape. If you flee from the source of your fear and it later reappears while you are still frightened, you must immediately begin fleeing again. If unable to flee, you can fight.

5. Panicked: This functions as the frightened condition, but you drop anything held whenever you are forced to flee and you flee in a random direction. In addition, you treat all sources of danger as fear sources and must flee from them as well. If unable to flee, you cower in fear.

6. Terrified: This functions as panicked, but you do not treat any other character as an ally and thus must attempt saving throws against spells that allow them, even if the spells are beneficial. If unable to flee, you cower in fear. In addition, once you have fled from fear, you do not act as normal. Instead, each round you roll on the following table to determine your course of action.

Table: Barbarian
d% Result
1–25 Continue to flee, moving away from any known source of danger.
26–50 Find a place nearby to hide, using Stealth as normal. You do nothing until you are discovered (and forced to run again) or you are no longer terrified.
51–75 Lash out at the nearest creature, even an ally, attacking it with whatever weapon is available.
76–100 Do nothing. If you get this result in two consecutive rounds, you no longer need to roll on this chart starting on the third round and can act as normal unless you encounter a source of fear or danger, in which case you are still terrified and act accordingly.

7. Horrified: You are transfixed with fear and can take no actions. You take a –2 penalty to your AC, are flat-footed (even if you normally cannot be), and are considered helpless.

Fear Duration

Using this system can make the tracking of your overall fear level a bit more complicated. Track each fear effect separately, evaluating your current fear level whenever an effect is added or removed, starting with the most severe effect and adding levels on top of that for each new effect. Remember that lesser fear effects cannot add up to a greater fear effect, regardless of their number, and the staggered condition that can result from being scared and then suffering another lesser fear effect applies at the moment when the new fear effect begins (not when it expires).

For example, a character becomes subject to an effect that causes him to be shaken for 1 minute and another that causes him to be panicked for 1 round. On the 1st round, his fear increases to panicked. On the following 9 rounds, he is shaken. If, on the 3rd round, he becomes spooked for 1 minute, he becomes scared for 7 rounds (the overlap between the spooked condition and the remaining rounds of the shaken condition), then spooked for 3 rounds.

Sidebar: Fear Immunity

A number of creatures and characters are immune to fear.

While that is fine for most fantasy adventure campaigns, it can prove problematic for horror-themed campaigns. GMs running such games should consider changing fear immunity to a form of resistance. Creatures and characters with fear resistance track their fear levels as normal, but they take the penalties of the fear level two steps lower than their actual level (thus, they suffer no effect at all unless they are at least scared). Furthermore, effects that normally cause a character to become spooked or shaken don’t increase such a character’s fear to a higher level.

Adding Fear

This revised fear system is meant to work seamlessly with the existing rules for fear, so GMs should use this system as an opportunity to add new fear effects to their games, including those derived from the environment and various situations.

For example, entering an abandoned asylum during a moonless night might cause all the characters to gain the spooked condition, while discovering a cabinet filled with gnawed bones might cause a character to become scared for 1 minute after a failing a Will save. GMs not using this system should use the next-lower condition if one of the new conditions appears, so anything that would normally inflict the spooked condition has no effect, scared becomes shaken, and terrified or horrified become panicked.