Three Simple Ways to Play It Safe
By Jeff Chaffee
The masks and costumes may be packed away, but there’s never a dull moment at your roleplaying table, oh humble DM. Your players are always ready to flex their bad-assery and it may seem like you have to escalate like a boss just to keep up. But memes and jokes aside, it’s absolutely possible to go too far. So let’s talk a bit how to keep things in your table-top RPGs tense and scary, but safe.
I want to borrow a lot from an article outlining the Luxton Technique, which you can find here: http://bit.ly/LuxTechDice. We’re going to hit the main sections here, and encourage you to delve deeper as needed.
While designing in the space of the Luxton technique, GM and Players take a moment before the dice hit the table to cover the important points that may be triggering. Importantly, though, both the GM and the players will also accept that there is NO expectation where EVERYTHING potentially upsetting can be outlined. This gives the GM both the tools to set appropriate stakes not just for the players, but to outline what’s in and out of bounds.
Next, as games begin and play continues, Luxton allows players to immediately take control of the narrative when things get uncomfortable. This doesn’t necessarily FORCE them to own up to a trigger or out themselves, but it does create a place where that material can be resolved to the player need. They use their control of the game spotlight to state their need for the story: “I want this secret to come out” or “I need this character to have a positive outcome.” I want to take just a second here and introduce two other more overt tools the table can use:the X-Card and the Veil technique. These will be discussed in greater detail in just a moment, but these are FAR more overt, and their use in and of themselves can be difficult.
So what are the “veil” technique and the X-Card? These are ways to have the players dictate their limits in a judgment-free way, but doing so may force them to disclose more than they are immediately comfortable with. As with anything else that is close to a hard limit, use both of these with caution. It should be noted that neither X nor Veils are considered part of Luxton, but are included here as alternatives.
To show these in action, I’ll disclose a hard limit of mine: overt body horror and cannibalism. Both aren’t deep psychological issues of mine, but they both make me VERY uncomfortable. Let’s see how Veils and X work with those.
Veils are a way of speeding-up and glossing over the big-time gory details, in effect “drawing a veil over” the action. Using my example, a “veil” would be the DM saying “there was an experiment and the result was this monster” as opposed to a d20 Medicine or Investigation check giving me the actual technical specs on transforming a runaway kid into a poison-spitting subhuman.
The X-Card, however, is more drastic. It IMMEDIATELY ends a scene, no questions asked. Once X’ed, the game itself is put on pause: set the polyhedrals down, and break character. In practice, the X break allows the player who invoked the X Card to say “my limit was __” or similar, and may include things such as a water break, etc. After the X, play will be in an entirely new scene, and the X content is not brought back in.
In my example regarding the body horror items, I’d be inclined to X the scene where we walk in to see Dr. Badguy with the scalpel in his hand and the GM is ramping up to tell us just what is to happen. Now, this scary creation may still be our Big Bad Enemy, but how he created it will not be appearing in the main story.
The last main point from the Luxton technique is the most important: look after each other, keeping an eye out for players or tablemates who are behaving off their norm. Is Vorthnius the Night Elf’s player visibly uncomfortable? Has Pasigath not said anything in a bit? Is the DM flushed and sweating after that last scene? Checking in and gaining a player’s-- or even better, the party’s-- consent to continue ensure you’re not pushing too hard or smashing into areas they are uncomfortable with or triggered by.
Ultimately, all these tools allow for games to tackle heavier content in a way where safety and fun are also addressed. It allows everyone to know going in that despite rough journeys ahead, no matter what the guy to their left has a sword out and the girl to their right has a shield.
You know, just in case.