I recently heard an Old School Renaissance YouTuber speaking ill of 5E safety tools and how players can abuse the X Cards for Metagaming advantages.
I’m continuing my policy of not naming and shaming, but this comment blew my mind on multiple levels. First, Safety Tools and Session Zero are NOT unique to D&D 5E. That notion is preposterous. Second, I seriously doubt anyone would metagame an X Card strictly to squash a specific monster encounter. Last, if you as a DM or your group are so dead set against the “wokie liberal gamer politics being inflicted on you?” Uh. Maybe you should stick to Moldvay B/X in your basement with the same old group you’ve had for 40+ years and not broadcast it on YouTube…ever?
Part of me hates being on this rant, and part of me feels the need to tap the sign again for the umpteenth time. Have we learned anything from the Wizards of the Coast Open Game License 1.1 debacle? Is there cause to think that just maybe our TTRPG community and specifically the D&D space might be under particular scrutiny in regards to things like ethics and morals right now? Maybe? Let’s also reiterate that the alleged DM shortage for 5E does not exist (because of issues revolving around Safety Tools.)
Safety Tools are NOT unique to D&D.
This person’s group recently ended their D&D 5E game citing a good number of “woke liberal factors” drove them out of the game. One of the specific “rules” they took issue with was the “5E need for Safety Tools.” I was pretty stunned when I heard that. There’s three things wrong with that statement.
First, Session Zero and Safety Tools are NOT unique to D&D 5E. I’m pretty sure making players comfortable at the table has always been around even before we called it “Safety Tools.” It used to be a common understanding with the group. Most DMs were smart enough to know if a player was claustrophobic not to trap their character in a dark coffin 20′ underground with no way to escape. (*Real example, btw.) It was just a matter of showing compassion and empathy for your fellow human instead of making a complete ass of oneself while hiding behind the DM screen and the rules.
Second, please let me reiterate there are no TTRPG thought police who are going to come to your game table and confiscate your DMG for playing the game all “wrong” in a private space. Actual Play podcasts and games in a public space are also not really subject to scrutiny unless someone is making an absolute ass of themselves. You do whatever you want with your group. Pretty sure that’s been an unofficial D&D rule from Day 1 of Gygax’s first game.
Third, if your private group hasn’t had a Session Zero or Safety Tools prior to playing 5E? Hey, if you and your group are comfortable that way? Great. Personally, if someone told me that walking into their game for the first time, I might turn around and walk right back out, but that’s okay.
The second preposterous notion is hiding behind an X Card to gain a metagame advantage over the DM.
I’m still trying to digest this concept. Session Zero is not perfect. Sometimes things slip through the cracks. We miss something on a questionnaire or a player forgets to bring it up. We’re human. Stuff is going to happen. That’s why we have Safety Tools.
Here’s how it should go:
The DM throws down an encounter with a giant venomous Anaconda. A player with a serious, deadly fear of snakes and trauma from a snake bite as a young child puts up her X Card immediately. We forgot to cover it during Session Zero. “Oh crap. I’m so sorry,” says the DM as he quickly gets the miniature for the snake out of sight..
Play is halted. We might even take a 10 minute break to help the traumatized player calm down and come back to the table. The DM needs a minute to pop out a new encounter without a snake. Maybe some nice Kobolds or something? As the DM quickly looks over the Session Zero notes for anything else he might have forgotten or even missed. An apology after the game might be nice, too. Definitely no more talk about snakes. That’s how it should go.
Then there’s the example from the video:
DM throws down an encounter with a spider. Player claims arachnophobia and throws up an X Card. Encounter is immediately cancelled. Free Experience Points for everyone, and the DM’s plan for the encounter is screwed. Players get a free pass any time they see something they don’t like. It’s like getting experience for free without having to do anything.
Apparently we just treated people like crap back in the Old School Era. Oh, wait. That’s right. I’m so Old School I fart chalk dust. And, no. We don’t treat people like dirt. I’m also old enough to know better.
If someone is found to be abusing their X Card? That’s not okay. It undermines the entire reason we have Safety Tools. They’re in place so people aren’t afraid to speak up if something is really traumatic. In short- DM’s, don’t be a d🦆ck. On the other hand, if you have a player willing to abuse an X Card to gain metagame advantage? You probably either need to have a long chat about Safety Tools, or decide your group doesn’t need them.
No one is going to cry if said YouTuber and his group abandon 5E.
No lie, I’m still irritated with the Kyle Brink comment about how “old white guys can’t leave soon enough.” People keep trying to say the quote is taken out of context. Then some old, white, (presumably cishet) guys come along and run their mouths about how the OSR is so much better than the new “woke” 5E way of doing things with our Safety Tools and X Cards. I won’t even get into all the talk about how 5E is supposedly too easy on the players and how combat encounters are broken. The game is allegedly lopsided in favor of the players with all the power creep, etc. Probably stuff that should have been covered in their Session Zero… oops?
If you ever wonder why there’s a DM shortage for 5E, look no further than the OSR community on YouTube and Twitter. It’s almost as if these crotchety old farts in the OSR want people to abandon 5E and move over to older editions of the game. Ironic, given they also act as gatekeepers to the hobby. Sounds indecisive as well as incredibly divisive to me.
But hey, if an OSR YouTuber wants to abandon 5E and his whole group goes with him back to Castles & Crusades or some other retroclone- Great! Go right ahead. Please be a good example. Don’t buy any more 5E and do the D&D community a solid and STFU about it!
Something a lot of the more vocal proponents of the OSR don’t seem to understand is that we don’t need them in the hobby if they don’t want to be there. If they were never going to spend money on 5E official or 3rd party, then they can just as easily do their own thing and shut up about 5E and everything that comes after.
Hey, old dudes- you have your OGL and CC-BY-4.0 SRD. Buh-bye. Go back in your basement and play Moldvay B/X until the end of time and let the rest of us enjoy the hobby. Thank you.
This is where I stop for now.
The WotC OGL debacle left a bad taste in my mouth. People want to complain about morality clauses in future game licenses. If people are so worried about morality clauses, maybe the problem isn’t with the game license or its holder. Maybe the problem is the ethics of the person complaining about the clause.
For cryin out loud, people. We’re talking about tabletop roleplaying games here. If you’re not here to have fun and get along with everyone at the table, please- Nintendo wants your money. If you want to be toxic, there are plenty of other hobbies out there. Meanwhile, can we please just get back to gaming with Safety Tools, including Session Zero unless the group decides together that they don’t want to go that route? It’s not rocket science.
If you made it this far, thank you. I appreciate it. Please be kind to one another.