A guide to using Safety Tools at your game table.
Role-playing and story games offer a unique opportunity for creativity and collaboration. However, the improvisational nature of these games exposes players to the risk of discomfort and emotional distress. Everyone has different boundaries and it’s impossible to know what will be upsetting to a fellow gamer. Best practices and safety tools are an important part of tabletop role-playing because they allow clear communication about what is, and what is not okay for everyone at the table.
Remember, the most important part of safety tools is using them to make yourself heard. In other words, if there are safety tools being used at the table it is your responsibility to use them to communicate with your fellow players. They are there for a reason. It is your responsibility to utilize them to ensure your own well-being. Safety tools cannot work if players do not implement them.
Every game. Every session.
Pregame understanding means clearly communicating the tone of the game and which safety tools will be used. A good way of defining tone is to describe it using movie ratings (G, PG-13, R) and to cite examples of popular media to make sure everyone has a clear shared understanding. Safety tools should be chosen based on the game and group. If your game setting is especially emotional, violent or “close-to-home” for anyone at the table it may be a good idea to use multiple tools. Make sure everyone at the table is clear on how all of your safety tools work before each session.
An open door policy is exactly what it sounds like, players can leave the table or leave the game in a mature manner for any reason without being judged. Obviously, this policy doesn’t apply to players who leave the table in a combative or unreasonable way. This can apply to things as simple as restroom breaks, taking phone calls, or going to another room for an emotional cool-down. Everyone at the table is an adult and deserves the respect to take care of their own needs.
After you have finished a session of your game, it is important to check in with everyone to see how they are feeling. This can be done by the GM in private with each person for highly sensitive games, or just be a casual conversation with everyone after the game over some beers. It’s especially important that players touch base with one another after intense scenes or conflicts that happened during the game. This avoids the buildup of negative emotions between sessions and player misunderstandings.
The x-card is the simplest safety tool and also the easiest to implement. A card with a large X is placed on the table where everyone can reach it. If anyone feels uncomfortable, they simply touch the x-card. The GM and other players will change the scene immediately by skipping it or changing what is happening. The person who activated the x-card is not expected to explain their reasons. You can read more about the x-card at http://tinyurl.com/x-card-rpg. John Stavropoulos developed the x-card.
Lines and veils are established boundaries for the story and are defined by each player individually. Generally they are shared with the GM, either as a group or in private, before the start of a game or campaign. Lines are hard boundaries that exclude specified content from the game, no questions asked. This could include anything, but common lines are children being harmed, rape or sexual violence, or racial discrimination. Veils are softer limits where the player is ok with it being included in the game but it isn’t explicitly described. Things that are specified as veils will be hand-waved without going into detail or happen off-screen, like the fade-to-black sex scenes in a PG movie. You can learn more about them at: https://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/30906/what-do-the-terms-lines-and-veils-mean
If at any time a player is no longer comfortable participating in a scene that is happening, but they do not object to the scene’s content remaining in the game, they say, “I exit the scene.” Their character leaves the scene and the scene or story continues without interruption. Other characters do not get to object or impair the character’s exit. There is no roleplaying penalty or consequence for leaving. The character leaves because of a very good reason that may or may not be specified. Exit the scene was created by Kimi Hughes.
The Consent Flower, also called the Support Flower, lets players communicate how they are feeling about a scene in a subtle, non-verbal way. There are three cards on the table, one of each color: green, yellow and red. Sometimes they can be the shape of petals or have flower pictures on them, but the three colors are what is most important. The person activating the card will make direct eye contact with the person they are trying to communicate with and tap one of the cards. Green – this card is a request to push the current scene even harder. This is a way of giving and asking for consent without words. Yellow – this card indicates that the person is comfortable with the scene and it should continue at the current intensity Red – this card requests that the current scene be pulled back immediately and the intensity be lowered It is highly recommended that the Consent Flower be used in conjunction with another safety tool, such as the x-card and Lines & Veils. Tayler Stokes created the Consent Flower and more information about it can be found at: http://www.gamestogather.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/SupportFlower-A5-PrintJ.pdf
Script Change is a more complex tool than some of the others, but it is highly effective at giving everyone at the table more direct control of a scene when they feel uncomfortable. Three cards are placed in the middle of the table labeled “rewind”, “pause’, and “fast forward” that anyone at the table can tap to activate. “Rewind” – this card takes the game back to before the uncomfortable content so things can be retconned “Pause” – this card puts the scene on pause but doesn’t make any changes. Take a breath! “Fast Forward” – this card skips play forward past the uncomfortable content so that it isn’t described Script Change was designed by Beau Jager Sheldon and more information about it can be found at http://tinyurl.com/nphed7m