D&D DM Guides

D&D Optional Rules #3: Honor and Sanity

Featured image by Brad, via Flickr and used under the Creative Commons Attribution License

One of the best things about D&D is that it is versatile enough to incorporate themes and styles of play that may not be of D&D origin. Things like Arthurian legends and Lovecraftian horror can easily be squeezed into a campaign and make sense regardless of the setting the campaign is in. Each set of themes do add unique challenges to the game and D&D’s rules offer a way to mechanically address those challenges in the forms of new ability scores, Honor and Sanity.

Honor and Sanity can be accounted for like any other ability score. The difference is that these scores are not affected by Ability Score Improvements (ASI). Instead, the DM deducts or adds points to these scores based on the character’s actions during the game or the effects an element of the game has had on the characters. NPCs may not have Honor and Sanity scores, so use Charisma and Wisdom respectively when making checks and saving throws.


When your adventuring party belongs to an order of knights, or serves a temple or monastery, or even belong to a thieves’ guild, there is a sense of honor that must be upheld. Your group are representatives of your order and therefore must adhere to and promote the strict code of conduct. This code earns your order respect and trust from the communities they serve.

The Honor ability score represents your tendency to act according to your code and your understanding of the code. The higher the score, the better your character knows the code and the less often they will waver from acting against it. As a DM, you can call upon your players to make checks and saving throws against this score as you would any other ability score.

A skill check would be required if the character is unsure as to how to act in a particular situation in accordance with their code. Questions about etiquette in touchy social situations can also call for an Honor skill check. Similar to a Charisma check, your player can use their character’s reputation as a member of their order to influence a social interaction or a political issue.

An Honor saving throw would be required if your player wanted their character to avoid an accidental breaking of their code or to resist the provocation of an enemy to break their code. A saving throw would also be required to determine if an NPC or an enemy is tricking the character into breaching their code.

If a character fails a particularly important Honor check or saving throw, the DM might elect to have that character’s Honor score drop by one. Lower Honor means that the character has lost the respect of their group, their order and the community they serve. Too much Honor lost might call for the character to leave the order altogether.


When your adventuring party experiences a supernatural event or is confronted with a horrific enemy, their fragile psyches might be shattered by the event. This could drive members of your party into madness, acting not in their right mind and becoming a danger to the rest of the party. A character’s strength of Sanity is in question.

Sanity works similarly to Honor in that the higher the score, the more level-headed the character is. Being level-headed will help them act within their personality and competency when faced with an eldritch horror. The lower the score, the more likely the character will snap and either freeze in terror or suddenly frenzy and endanger the safety of the party.

Sanity checks would be appropriate when a character is trying to comprehend a supernatural experience or decipher an occult language without going crazy in the process. Recovering from the effects of madness also requires a Sanity check.

Saving throws for Sanity are especially necessary when the party first experiences an alien creature or an eldritch horror. Even touching the creature would trigger a saving throw, as the character most likely has never felt anything like the creature before. Crossing into alien planes of existence, falling under the effects of a spell that directly affects the mind and trying to resist those effects all require a saving throw.

Failures to pass Sanity checks and saving throws can directly affect the character’s Sanity score. The magnitude of the effect or the accumulative effects of several saving throw failures can prompt the DM to lower the character’s Sanity score by one. If the Sanity score drops too low, the character might just punch a one-way ticket to an asylum.

Using Honor and Sanity in a D&D campaign can add another wrinkle into the combat, social interactions and role-playing for your players. Having to keep in mind that certain actions might break their code or send their mind reeling into madness will force players to make more calculated choices. Of course, they can still make questionable choices, but they will face the consequences.

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