RPG-a-Day 2021: Trust

I have to admit, when the various consent and safety tools started coming out for role-playing games, I was a little skeptical. After all, my group’s been together for 25 years; the issues these tools are meant to address rarely if ever, came up in our games.

Playing together for 25 years means my group knows each other pretty well. We’ve got a sense of where folks’ comfort levels are … at least when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars. We’ve accumulated a ton of trust and familiarity over the years, and no one’s going to purposefully damage that.

But there are time times when we venture outside our comfort zone when I can see these tools becoming helpful … and when I venture outside my own circle of close friends, I can see their increasing utility.

A good example is the Tales from the Loop role-playing game. It’s a kids-on-bikes style game, in which pre-teens investigate mysteries in between dealing with their home life. It’s that personal and social life where I can see challenges arising. Topics like abusive parents, divorce, and bullying have far greater potential to hit people close to home than your average Sunday night spent exploring ancient ruins or battling the forces of Hell. They have the potential to move people outside of their comfort zone and into areas they might not want to venture into.

Another example is the Delta Green role-playing game. While at its core it resembles Call of Cthulhuit introduces relationships as a way of mitigating the mental strain and damage that comes from confronting the horrifying unknown. Burning those relationships is one way to soak that damage (counterintuitive in some ways, but I get what they’re going for). That might not be something everyone would be comfortable with.

And heck, it’s not just new games. We all grow and change over time, and there are things that wouldn’t have bothered me 25 years ago that would upset me today. For example, as a dad, anything that puts kids in peril (or worse, hurts/kills them) is likely out of bounds or needs to be handled delicately. That’s why the cinematic version of The Mist upset me so much; 24-four-year old me wouldn’t have liked it but would have rolled with the punches. Geek dad me … well, I recoiled from the horrific ending of that movie specifically because I had kids.

The intent here isn’t to censor the game; it’s about building trust at the table and giving people tools to easily say “hey, I’m not ok with that”.

The most frequently discussed tabletop RPG safety tool is John Stavropoulos’s X-Card. The Google Doc outlines the system and how it can be used with any RPG. This is the game safety toolkit I’ve heard folks talk about most frequently and its implementation is pretty straightforward: draw an X on a card, and if there’s something that makes someone uncomfortable for any reason, they just tap or hold up the card. The scene’s edited to remove the thing that got X-Carded.

Geek Dad’s “D&D For Young DMs and Players: The X-Card” talks about how to apply the concept when gaming with kids.

Consent in Gaming is Monte Cook Game’s take on the subject. It’s written by Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain and is available as a free PDF. From the intro blurb:

Mature or controversial elements can and should be a part of many RPGs. But how do you know what topics to include or leave out of your games? How do you include potentially difficult elements while ensuring that nobody’s game night is ruined? Consent in Gaming gives you the strategies you need to make sure everyone at the table has a great experience, even when the game goes in a challenging direction.

Looking for more options? Check out Screenrant’s “Three Tabletop RPG Safety Tools (& Why They’re Important)”.

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Cover art for Delta Green and Tales from the Loop. Photo Credit Ken Newquist.

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