Ugh! Please just no.

For various reasons, some people have difficulty handling specific themes, situations, or individual details which arise during role-playing games. I can easily accept how this sort of occurrence might come up either with advance warning or unexpectedly during the course of play, suddenly turning someone's experience from light and enjoyable to awkward or anxiety-inducing.

The issue has been discussed for years within various RPG communities, with different solutions proposed. But in recent months a few specific posts (by Cass Kat, Emmy Allen & Scrap Princess) have helped me sort out a few thoughts on the subject.

There are three main "tools" I'm aware of that have been used in the past to help people avoid or deal with these situations are:

The X Card - Literally a card with an X which is displayed when an uncomfortable or problem situation arises.  This is a cue to stop play and discuss or and work through or bypass the elements causing a problem.  The primary purpose of the X card seems to be that, by introducing the concept of it before hand, it formalizes, and in theory destigmatizes the process of speaking up about something that is causing trouble.

I have never been in a game that uses the X Card, but my concern about it is that, as someone who in my youth just wanted to fit in and not go against the flow of the group, I was incredibly uncomfortable speaking up about things in a game (or life). Doubly so if everyone except me seemed to be having a good time.

So the idea of young me lifting up a card to further draw attention to myself as I interrupt play and (in my mind) ruin the group ambiance or flow, seems like it would be doubly awkward.  It is difficult to imagine young me ever having the courage to use it, no matter what happened.

Lines & Veils - The idea here is that, before play starts, you establish certain topics and situations in game that are:

  • Lines - Things not to be crossed. The game will always avoid these topics completely. They simply aren't part of the setting. 
  • Veils - Things which might be part of the setting but are only dealt with off-screen, or in vague detail.

These have a couple advantages over the X Card:  The introduce limitations prior to the start of play, ideally during a pre-game discussion phase, which could help alleviate the anxiety of interrupting an exciting game under way.  The GM might introduce specific Lines and Veils for tone and genre reasons, while players should be able to introduce them for personal reasons.

But there is at least one drawback as well:  Some issues might come up during the middle of play, and Lines & Veils aren't primarily geared to deal with this scenario.

Script Change Tool - This is a series of commands available to everyone like "pause", "rewind" or "fast forward" intended to give players a wider range of options in dealing with difficult situations. Other aspects are intended to review good and bad and give construcive feedback at the end of the session.

All seems fine. And I especially like the later review portions. But again, to me at least, saying "Pause" or something similar feels like it could be as intimidating or awkward as playing an X card.

So, what instead?

I can definitely get behind Lines and Veils, at least to set up basic ground assumptions of a game, even if it's not necessarily that dynamic a tool.

But in the case of situations which arise while play is ongoing, I was thinking what I at a more socially hesitant age would have been comfortable with. Maybe something closer to typical conversational interjections, something that seemed natural with only slight formality of convention. What sounds "natural" and comfortable is likely to change a bit as turn of phrase evolves over the years. But as kind of a general guide, these might be a start:

  • Wait, hold on... - Halts the action to discuss something. 
  • Back up a sec... - To bring up something previous which was a problem.
  • Can we not... - To exclude or avoid something.
  • Can we just... - To substitute or include something.
While there may be some formality to standardizing the speech prompts like this, having them fit more natural conversation patterns, rather than stylized commands, might help people be more comfortable using them.


  1. So I've never formally used 'lines and veils' while saying that's what I'm doing, but that tends to be how I handle things mostly, I think? Some stuff is just not on the table (I have no interest in, say, exploring 18th-19th century racism even if I run a regency era game, so that stuff just won't come up). I think the issue with Veils is that if something is meaningful enough to be worth featuring in the game at all, it's probably meaningful enough that there could be some value to doing it in detail.
    But then, I never really formally used this stuff, so Iunno.

    I do really like the idea of having key phrases given a certain extra weight. So you're using natural language in a casual way but it conveys a very specific meaning. It'd need implementing carefully, but I've seen it used in other contexts (for example, larps where certain phrasing means you're invoking a game mechanic or referring to OOC concerns), so it's got potential.

    1. I think of veils being like: it is assumed characters are having sex, but we are not giving a blow by blow account. Or, sure there will be swashbuckling fights going on, but the anguish of dying men as their life spills upon the sand is being glossed over.

    2. Yeah. I'm not sure that approach works with everything: for example, I'm not sure I'd be able to enjoy a game that glosses over injuries being horrible as that sanitizes violence in ways I'm not 100% down with.
      But again, that's a matter of taste and finding out what your group is comfortable with.


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