Welcome back, dice fondlers! This week, we’re veering off into a slightly different direction from our standard wacky RPG coverage. Never fear! It is still relevant to a new release and to role-playing games, and I’m not going to be SO random as to dive entirely off the rails. This week, instead, I’m talking about the idea of safety tools in RPGs.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone…Take these:
Monte Cook Games (who we’ve talked about before in regards to Numenera, The Strange, and the Cypher System in general) just released a 13-page document on consent in gaming, available through their website or through DriveThruRPG.
I’m also going to be referring to a set of tools compiled by RPG community members Kienna Shaw (@KiennaS) and Lauren Bryant-Monk (@jl_nicegirl), referred to as the TTRPG Safety Toolkit (Available Here: http://bit.ly/ttrpgsafetytoolkit).
Why You Need Consent in Tabletop RPGs
For as long as RPGs have existed, there have been players and GMs wanting to run games covering every different genre, mood, and theme of game, including all manner of content. This has included, in many cases, some incredibly dark content. There was a recent situation at the UK Game Expo where a GM subjected players to an extended, in-game intro where their player characters were sexually assaulted. The players, who had paid to play that day, were caught completely off guard and were appalled. The GM was expelled.
The idea of safety tools and consent in gaming is to make sure everyone is on the same page and to prevent situations like this.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. In the best of groups, with the most communicative and intuitive of DMs, and especially with groups that have known each other for many years, these kinds of situations are rare (at least anecdotally). However, you can spend a short amount of time in any TTRPG forum online and find *THAT ONE* thread, where everyone shares their worst gaming experiences, even the ones that almost made them quit the hobby. These kinds of experiences clog those threads by the dozens.
Getting Started with Safety & Consent
The two documents I linked up above offer advice on how to avoid these pitfalls. This begins with the idea of a Session 0, a session purely based around the gamers deciding what kind of game they would like to play and where they would like the game to potentially go, and which themes to explore. In the MCG document Consent In Gaming, they even offer a prototype Consent Sheet to cover what elements are off-limits.
Another tool referenced in both documents is the idea of an X Card. This simple tool is a card any player can push forward or tap, signaling their discomfort at the current content. There are also Lines and Veils, where players set which content is a hard no, and which content is allowed, but softened by an assumed to fade to black. For example, a group of players may agree that neither players nor NPCs should engage in scenes of sexual violence whatsoever and that consensual relations between characters or NPCs should fade to black, as the group isn’t comfortable with that being played out in front of them.
GMs: Utilize the Boundaries
However, when the idea of discussing boundaries and content that may be off-limit versus what content players want in their game, many GMs find themselves trying to understand how they can effectively surprise or horrify players that they feel know what’s coming. While this seems counter-intuitive, a Session 0 and setting boundaries lets GMs wring MORE horror and drama from a session rather than less. By knowing exactly where boundaries lie, the GM can push all the way to that line and wring the maximum emotion out of a scene.
GMs that worry that consent makes their game paint by numbers should instead realize that they’re only half right— it gives them a coloring book to go wild with, markers, puffy paints and all. Ask any writer— writing prompts and guidelines flex creative muscles you didn’t otherwise know you had.
Rules for After the Gameplay
Finally, both the TTRPG safety kit and Consent in Gaming talk about the idea of after care. This gives the group time to wind down from the game, as many players into highly emotional states can experience Bleed, where the emotions they’ve been portraying in their character leak into out of character feelings. This is also a good time to talk about stars and wishes, i.e. the things you liked about the game, and the things you’d like to see in future sessions.
Again, GMs concerned that these sorts of tools would weaken the long term effects of their game should instead embrace them as ways to refine their craft. Feedback is as critical to improving as raw experience, if not more so.
Now, I’m not going to be able to condense either a 4-page toolkit or a 13-page document into under 1000 words, so I really recommend you download and read both of them. Neither costs you a penny, and even if you aren’t in a situation where these concerns have ever been voiced, it doesn’t hurt to add them to your toolbox. Who knows, you might just find a way to take your game to new heights. With that said, I’m going to leave you for this week. Keep watch, I’ll be back next week with a different game for you, but until then…