When Dungeons and Dragons was first created in 1974, the world was an entirely different place. Nobody could have predicted the popularity or longevity of the game. But here we are 45 years later, and D&D is having a surge of popularity with the mainstream world thanks to shows like Critical Role and the general acceptance of nerd culture.
With this newfound popularity and normalization, D&D now has more players than ever before. This means that, along with the old school players which trended typically male, there is a much wider variety of players now. In the online D&D communities like on Twitter or Reddit, you can find a huge range of players and DM’s that come from all walks of life.
Because we now have people coming together from such different backgrounds and histories, and strangers playing together online and at conventions, safety is now becoming an important part of the conversation around D&D and other RPGs. So how can we ensure that we are creating safe spaces for our fellow players? Read on to find out.
What Does “Safety” Entail?
First things first, we should discuss what we mean by safety and safe spaces. The most important thing about D&D to remember is that it is a game, and that people should have fun playing it. Think of your DM like a tour guide, bringing you to adventures and places for you to explore and enjoy.
Now imagine if you signed up for a scuba diving tour thinking that you were going to see some coral, but instead you ended up sightseeing a hoard of great white sharks. You would probably be frightened, and upset, and not have a good time on your tour.
The same thing can happen in D&D, especially if the DM doesn’t know the players that well. Something that could seem harmless to the DM might be triggering or upsetting for a player. This is why communication around safety is essential to a smooth-running game. Not only does it inform the DM of what they should and shouldn’t explore, but it also gives the players confidence in their DM to protect their fun game and well-being.
D&D is a game after all so make sure everyone is having fun! | Image from Stranger Things – Netflix
Before we dive into the more “official” Safety Tools for D&D, let’s start off with discussing empathy. There’s a lot of controversy online regarding Safety Tools and whether they are necessary or effective. Whether or not you use them in your game, at the very least DMs should come to the table with a level of empathy.
Empathy, by definition, is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” When players come to the table of a DM, they are (at minimum) dedicating hours of their life to play a game and have a good time together. A good DM will always seek to propel the enjoyment of their players, not hinder it.
However, it is not always easy to spot if a player is having fun. Nor is it always easy to tell if someone is bothered or troubled by something. As human beings, we all have bias based on our personal experiences and memories. The more that a DM can get out of their own head and try to empathize with the different perspectives and bias of their players, the better of an experience it will be for everyone overall.
So how can a D&D group develop more Empathy? By communicating their needs and wants with each other, and trusting that their communications will be heard, respected, and not abused.
Love really can conquer all | Image from imgur
Session 0 (Zero)
The best way to kick off this habit of communication and player-DM trust is with a Session 0. A Session 0 is essentially a prequel to your campaign or game. A Session 0 can be done in a number of ways but the end goal is always along the same lines: get to know each other before you’re in the thick of a dungeon. Here we discuss Session 0s from a safety perspective but we’ve also written a full guide to running a thorough Session 0.
Some DMs do Session 0s like a mini game session, where they’ll introduce characters and role-play and start to develop the backstories and settings. This can be useful to help show off the world and style of the DM, so that if players have questions or concerns about either, then they can bring it up before the actual game starts.
Other DMs will do a Session 0 like a group interview. Here they might still present backstories and settings, but it’ll be discussed rather than role-played. They might ask further questions such as how players feel about certain rulings, or how they want to handle different player interactions. Having these questions laid out ahead of the game is extremely useful in ensuring a fun experience for everyone at the table. Even if you don’t do a formal Session 0 to go over these things, you can pass around a document or questionnaire to get buy-in from players.
Lines and Veils
Another question that the DM might ask the players is what their Lines and Veils are. Lines and Veils are a system to determine what players might be comfortable with, and what they absolutely would not be ok with.
When a Line is expressed, that is something that a player is completely not comfortable having during a game. For example, racism is a common Line. If a player indicates that racism is a Line for them, that means that the game will not involve racism, allude to racism, or have it be a part of the world in any way, shape, or form.
When a Veil is expressed, that is something that the player is ok with having, but doesn’t want to delve into too deeply. Sexual content is often something that will be veiled, especially in streams. Picture Veiled topics like they’re behind a curtain. The DM can allude to it, or hint at it, but it won’t be something that’s fully explored in the game.
Communication between players and DM is key to avoiding crossing any boundaries
Safety Signals and Cards
In recent years, more and more public gaming spaces like conventions and game shops have been introducing the X Card. The X Card can be a physical card or a hand signal, but what it indicates is “I am not comfortable with what’s happening.” Either a player will tap the card, or do the hand signal, and then the DM and other players will move away from whatever was being described at that moment.
Another card that’s not as commonly used, but is gaining popularity, is the O card. The O card (or hand signal) functions the same way as the X card but has a different purpose. When a player taps the O card (or does the hand signal), they are indicating that they are OK but that they are edging towards being uncomfortable.
Because of their efficiency and simplicity, X/O cards are most effective for public games where you might not get a chance to know the DM or other players, and maybe wouldn’t want those people to know your deepest phobias or triggers. Some argue that regular use of X/O cards can slow down a game, or allow players to be ultra-sensitive or dictate the game narrative. Like any tool though, it is the onus of the DM to educate their players about how and when to use the cards to ensure that the system isn’t abused or misused.
And like anything else in D&D, there is no catchall solution for every table and player and DM. Now that you understand the premise of why safety tools exist, think about what you can do at your table to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable and enjoying themselves. If none of these tools work for you, talk to the other players at your table to come up with a solution that suits your style. After all, if your characters can conspire together to steal a priceless gem from a dungeon, you can probably figure out a way to facilitate effective communication and teamwork outside of game too.
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