Discussion of X-card issues

Hi everyone.

I’ve seen various discussions all over the internet about problems with the X-card. I’m aware of most of them such as it being a blunt tool, people being dismissive of it at the table and reducing its value. I definitely agree that it is useful only as part of a wider conversation and safety culture - not as a substitute.

However I’ve also heard people talking about how it is abused and that having it at a table can make things worse. I’ve never seen this in practice - I’m British, I play with mostly British people and I’ve never seen someone use the X-card to push limits in games. I’m wondering if this is a cultural thing and there is some problem with the X-card I’m not seeing because I’m not at the gaming tables where it happens.

For clarity this is not about people ignoring the x-card or arguing back when it is invoked or demeaning it with jokes. This is about people who push limits too far when the card is on the table that otherwise they probably wouldn’t have done.

Would you be comfortable sharing examples of how having the X-card at a table has actually made it less safe rather than more safe. I’m trying to get a sense of what that would look like as I think about safely more widely.

[Edited to add: can I have first hand knowledge and examples - for the reasons stated below].

Thank you


Becky it would probably be useful to ask specifically for first-hand knowledge, because this is an area rich in anecdotes and thin on personal experience. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been challenged about the X-Card in theory, based on someone’s assumptions and reductio ad absurdum use cases.

In keeping with this, I’ve used the X-Card as part of my safety tool set many times, a hundred or more, mostly in the United States, and I’ve never seen it negatively gamed or abused. I’ve seen people joke about it out of discomfort, a behavior that stops when called out, and I’ve seen people be visibly skeptical of it and never use it.


Thank you! I’ll do just that. I’ve heard of those anecdotes (although never been told one) which is why I’m asking the question.

I think its normal to worry about the potential for abuse. A lot of us have experienced trollish behavior on the internet. some of us have been snot nosed children (adult or otherwise) on the internet or in games. my brother and I argue about the abusive possibilities of the x card all the time and i think the main difrence is that he only plays with me or the internet. I have no expectation of my friends abusing the x card. even if the use seemed odd or arbitrary my commitment to some random detail is not going to matter in the face of a friend saying “please change this” or “i really dont like that” let alone one saying “that makes me uncomfortable/unhappy”. in comparison to the health of my gaming comunity which is in part reliant on the authority of the x card and the willingness of the group to acomidate and protect its members, my wanting to see any specific detail is meaningless.

short answer
In a good group of reasonable adult friends it shouldnt be an issue and you shouldnt neuter the tool in expectation of some predicted bad actor. you should juat get rid of the bad actor. if they manage to ruin one game night, no big loss.


Sorry - the examples I’m after are people who bring in increasing levels of hard material ‘daring someone’ to x-card them. Rather than actually invoking the card itself.

But I am wondering if (as @Jmstar says) that actually doesn’t really happen a lot - as compared to people speculating it might.


I was in a convention game once where a player was using it to deny other people’s creative contributions based on his preferences rather than as a safety issue (and we knew this because he said as much) including the contributions of marginalized players at the table, but nobody at the table including me really knew how to address it so he just used it as a master veto over everything. Because according to the rules of the X-card you’re not allowed to actually discuss the use of the X-card, I think we all felt kind of powerless.

But that was one time out of the dozens I’ve seen it used at the table and it was the only time this happened.


Let me know if this isn’t really relevant but for me personally the only time I will go harder/darker/etc. is if the game we are playing is very explicitly about that stuff. I run a lot of horror stuff. It can get dark but whether the x card or some other tool is there I generally will hold back some. I know that people have very different calibration levels, etc.

But… If I am running say Bluebeard’s Bride - then I will go a lot harder than in other games. With that game there is (in my opinion) a much higher degree of buy in and implied (and of course explicit) consent. If you are sitting down for a game of Bluebeard’s Bride there is a high likelihood you know what you are in for and you are buying into that in a way few other games create.

I certainly ask all the questions about lines and veils, use safety tools, etc. but I think with BB I trust people’s implied/explicit consent more than in other games…


To be honest, I don’t think this is good, especially if it’s apparent someone is abusing the tool. If it’s being used as a way to harass or reduce the fun of other people, the problem isn’t the tool- it’s the person.

The X-Card is supposed to be an extremely powerful tool on purpose because it assumes good intent from all players involved. If bad intent is introduced, it becomes a bad tool. This isn’t a problem with the X-Card itself IMHO.


I second this experience: While a lot of players raised concerns about potential misuse in theory, this has never been the case in reality.
Whenever the X-card comes up, it is visible to everyone that the affected person is truly struggling. People are usually happy not having to discuss any details in that situation.


This is the safety card I’ve designed & distributed for the recent German Free RPG Day.

Here is the mostly German link:

I wanted to have a distinction between a Pause button to interrupt the game to discuss issues and an X-Card.
Personally, I like to keep the X-Card focused on a very specific function: remove something from game play without the need for an explanation/justification.
As an all-purpose tool, I find a pause button more versatile. I personally don’t like it so much when the specific use of the X-card gets blurred.


I think we’re getting a bit away from what @BeckyA was looking for. (And I am certain my previous reply didn’t help a ton.) She was asking for actual incedents where the xcard being on the table lead to things becoming less safe.

If we want to have a general X-Card discussion that is cool but we should do so in a new thread (and I will happily spawn a new one with all the non-specifically-relevant posts from here).


Sorry @BeckyA! My reply was also unhelpful. I’m a dummy and should have read more carefully.

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I’ve found the conversation very useful - but if you want to swoosh it into another thread to keep it all nice and tidy then that is cool too!

I’ve never had this issue (with people pushing harder because of the X Card) but I would say that it has been super rare to see people use it, in my experience. I do wonder if it provides a false sense of security. These days I’m trying to bookend my X Card explanation with some more general stuff about how important it is to be sensitive and look out for each other, and how the X Card isn’t a substitute for that, more of a safety net for when that fails.

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I have actually had the experience where it was suggested that the X card allowed us to push a little harder into emotional experiences because it was there as a safety net which allowed people to back off if they felt it was getting too harsh. Everyone around the table felt comfortable with that in the context of a game which had the potential for some unpleasant stuff because of the themes which were involved in the game.

In other words, it was presented as a mechanism to allow people to safely push things darker. For us, in that context, it worked OK.

(I’m a Brit and I was playing in America).


I’ve had a couple of occasions where I’ve touched the X-Card myself. One was in a superhero game where someone started going on about Semen and I just didn’t want that (I think they were just getting carried away with an idea and took it too far, nothing bad about the person).

The other one was in a story game and a baby was born and I pre-emptively used the X-card at that point to request that nobody had the baby killed. Everyone was OK with that. It wouldn’t have come up in a ‘lines and veils’ discussion up front, but when the potential for the situation arose it seemed to be the best way to put a new line on the table. Not strictly the use it was intended for, but it worked OK there.


I don’t have anything egregious but I will admit that early on I saw the x-card as allowing folks to feel more comfortable exploring darker material, which I think now is not it’s purpose but it may be a useful mechanism for some in that regard, in the right context.

I have had to remove people from a public gaming group for disrespecting the X, but never in game, always before play had started.


In nearly a decade of using it in literally hundreds of games, I have never seen this happen in a way that I noticed.

That line feels like reactionary ‘courtesy is the real hate speech’ bullshit.


I have a question about this. The way that I’ve used the X-card (and had it explained to me) is: the GM (or other player) can ask for clarification. ALSO, the player can chose to say why they X’ed it if they chose, or have a little discussion, but it’s not necessary. Am I doing it wrong?

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Yeah, the quote is incorrect about that. You may absolutely clarify what is being x-carded.

I’ve seen this misunderstanding before, too.

It is just super important that no justification required is respected and upheld. With social dynamics being as they are people quickly feel they have to.