What are the most useful safety tools you use when gaming? I tend to go with the X card and an open door policy, though I have heard fair criticism of the X card that it’s kind of too late by the time it’s been used; the triggering content is already out there.
I use a few. What’s given me the most bang-for-buck has been just checking in (basically the Green light from the stoplight safety tool) and reminding everyone that safety tools exist (the pointing to fireexits and fire extinguishers part of the activity).
It’s not really a tool, but also reminding everyone that the facilitator or DM of the game isnt the only one responsibile for group safety and a healthy level of vigilance for each other is super important.
My faves are:
- A session zero with a Same Page Tool customized and used as directed
- Lines and Veils
A couple quick things:
- We had fascinating discussion about safety failures recently that included some safety tools discussion.
- Since not everyone knows all the safety tools might I ask people to either give a solid explanation for named tools or link to them or to the best descriptions? (Feel free to edit your posts with this info!)
At minor peril I’m going to share something I do that is bewilderingly effective. I don’t know why but it is. Something about expectation-setting, but it feels like mind magic.
At convention games I always start with a little spiel that goes "This is the best table and we’re so lucky to be here together! Here at table 19 we love and trust each other. We’re here to make sure everyone has an experience they will love, and we trust that everyone else is doing the same for us."
And then I go on to talk about safety tools and meta-techniques and whatever needs to be discussed. But just clearly articulating those expectations of love and trust seems to cause people to recalibrate a little, and the result is usually very good. I also model the behavior I want, of course, so that’s in the mix.
This is the most useful safety tool I use, in that it obviates the use of other, more serious safety tools a lot of the time. I will reiterate that this definitely works for me but I don’t know why, and it may not be a magic bullet for everybody.
I use Lines & Veils1 and have been using the X Card2 as an additional safeguard, but I think for new games I’m going to swap that out for the Pause, from Dream Askew / Dream Apart:
Both dreams explore emotionally-fraught terrain. It’s important to create a trusting atmosphere for play, and to introduce safety tools that people can use to express their boundaries.
This text offers a humble tool: pause. To use it during play, all someone needs to do is say the word “pause.” The game will freeze, and the player will be given a chance to state their boundaries or needs. Play will proceed in a way that feels okay for everyone involved.
There’s more explanation in the book but that’s the gist. This is functionally similar to the X Card, at least how I’ve been using it, but I’ve had more than one player seem put off by the term “X Card” (it sounds a little harsh if you’re not familiar with it) in a way I hope that “Pause” doesn’t.
1Lines & Veils is an ongoing conversation that generally starts up-front at the beginning of play where a group agrees to a set of “Lines” (subject matter that won’t enter the fiction of play) and “Veils” (subject matter that may enter the fiction of play, but when it does the camera pans away and the scene likely ends).
2The X Card is a convention where a card with an X on it is placed in the play area and when subject matter arises through play that anyone present is uncomfortable with, that person may raise or otherwise gesture toward the X Card to signal that the scene needs to end or the fiction needs to be revised to remove the source of discomfort.
The full documentation and explanation (with regular updates and learnings) for the X-Card can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/x-card-rpg
I think I’m going to have to fall back on my usual “RPG advice” stalwart of “talk with your players” I think having the X-card or something like it in play is important (and as I’ve said before, especially online where it’s a lot more difficult to guage an individual’s level of comfort and have a quick check-in). But having the up-front discussion about what you all want from the game - CATS, lines and veils, and just an expression of the fact you’re all there to have a good time - is the most important bit for me. And also, accepting that having the X-Card in play doesn’t mean the game is “safe”, you’ve still got to work for that.
(I tend to refer to the X-Card as an emergency brake or safety valve - just because it’s there doesn’t mean you don’t use your regular brakes)
The CATS method is a structure for the conversation used to set expectations at the gaming table. CATS stands for Concept, Aim, Tone, and Subject matter.
- Original detailed article: proleary.com/2016/04/25/the-cats-method-a-story-telling-game-opening-ritual/
- The 200 Word RPG Entry: 200wordrpg.github.io/2016/supplement/2016/04/12/CATS.html
- The cheat sheet version: http://bit.ly/RPG-CATS-cs-3x5
This is my opinion of the X-Card:
By putting it on the table and discussing the use, you’ve eliminated more than 80% of the problems it is intended to address.
Sit down at a table with no discussion of safety, no expectation (or culture, if it’s a persistent group) of respect, and basically anything goes. Sit down at a table where you are discussing the topic, pointing to a concrete tool that privileges the affected party (as opposed to the instigating party) and you’ve set a tone for the table and created an expectation that you’ll be looking out for each other. You’ve said, “the culture at this table cares about how everyone is doing.”
I think it’s the same phenomenon behind the success of @Jmstar’s con game speech.
To add something different from all the great stuff above, I actually think that the “wishes and stars” method used at the end of sessions by the Gauntlet is a great safety tool. (Participants go around the table and describe something they really loved about the game, which usually includes something from everybody, and then they go around the table and describe something they’d like to see more of in the future.)
It doesn’t do anything to resolve triggering crises in the moment, but I think it does a lot to promote positive and nurturing gameplay.
Well said, Morgan. Tools that decompress us after a good game session are useful!
This. Doing proper CATSP* if I’m the one offering/facilitating the game!
It actually takes some effort to put down into words what the concept, aim, tone and subject matter of the particular game you want to run are!
(And then to discuss and adapt to the table’s needs.)
This means not using shortcuts like ‘genre’ but going into what you actually need to say about what we collectively aim for in this game, etc. It’s surprisingly hard at times but worth it!
Also, I love what @Jmstar has shared; I think coming up with a personal (in your own voice) baseline expectation setting is something I will sit down and spend some conscious effort on.
(Side note: I find having an opening spiel super helpful as a routine to get me over the start of session hump, too.)
Also agree that active check-ins (via multiple methods, using the O-Card, for example) is a real good thing to practice. And I think that’s an important part of these tools to be aware of: they need practice!
Which is another argument for always considering having them.
*I’ve come to add a ‘P’ to CATS, at times, not just for my inner 13-year old, it stands for ‘Play’: set expectations what a game will ask of a player! People might not be used to being expected to frame their own scenes or that the game demands them to switch stances (both often a stumbling block for players new to Blades in the Dark, for example, but those gm-less gm-full games can also benefit a lot).
It’s somewhere between a Jedi mind trick and a Disneyland welcome. I bet it works amazingly well.
I’ve made extensive use of Brie Beau Sheldon’s “Script Change” tool, which is detailed here: http://briebeau.com/thoughty/script-change/ - my group of younger Masks players have responded to it particularly well.
Yeah, I know I can be verbose, but so far I don’t think any of my CATS documents had been much less than a side of A4. And taking that effort to think through what you want and expect is a good exercise as a facilitator. I also try and provide this to my players at least a few days in advance of the game, so if they really think it won’t be for them, they have the opportunity to just not play in the first instance. And I try and be as comprehensive as possible on content that night come up. I do like the idea of adding the “P” as well, though I think I often cover this between the “C&A”
I like to mention the Open Door and ensure that people are happy knowing that. On the one occasion I’ve had when someone found a game too intense and had to duck out, part of the process was me letting them know that it wasn’t a problem for the rest of the table and ensuring that they left happy and not feeling guilty about it.
I talk about and set up the X-card, but haven’t seen it come up in play. Lines and Veils are pretty useful just to keep some things off the table, especially if someone has a non-obvious line which might otherwise accidentally come up.
One thing I want to note regarding safety tools: if you are GM-ing a game please do not say “but no one has ever used it in any of my games” after you explain the tool(s). If you do, you have just lowered the probability that someone will use it when they need it. And that is bad.
Similarly when doing Lines & Veils: don’t ask for any kind of confirmation or wiggle-room about something - if someone wants something Lined or Veiled off note it and move on. Doing otherwise is going to make the person feel awkward and possibly not safe at the table.
Good point: you should build the expectation that the tools are to be used. Giving examples of when you’ve seen them in use or examples of mundane and less mundane is quite valuable.
I also try to make Line and veils as anonymous as is feasible. Typed into chat for videos, written on index cards and handed over at tabletop, with everyone writing an affirmative ‘OK’ if they don’t want to add anything.