Please Make Your Table a Safe Space.

Please believe me- no one in their right mind wants to show up to game night, ANY game night from Dungeons & Dragons all the way down to UNO, and sit down to an environment where they will feel uncomfortable. It’s no different than a friendly work environment. No one wants to be around negativity, toxicity and trauma. Role Playing Games are supposed to be a fun, shared experience for the entire group. (TLDR: If ya ain’t havin fun, something needs to change and it ain’t the person who’s hurtin inside.)

It’s just a good periodic reminder, especially for new Players and Game Masters.

Content Warning: 
This article may include a lot of potentially trauma-related subjects. The image of the RPG Consent Checklist contains concepts that could be triggering for some. Please proceed with caution.
I pulled this down from Power Rangers RPG Discord. It is widely available.

Most Game Masters and Groups already do this.

Obviously, if you have a group of older adults they’re probably doing this from the start of the campaign subconsciously if nothing else. If I know my wife really hates spiders, we’re not going to run into a dungeon that has tons of spiders. I know one of my players is trans. Obviously, I check with them as a GM out of game to make sure I’m not regularly upsetting the proverbial apple cart.

However, for new players and previously unknown groups (Pugs) it’s really important to get together before any longer campaign starts to discuss definite red flags in a Session Zero. Basically, for those who may not have heard of it, is a gathering of the group before a campaign starts to break the ice; get to know one another; discuss character creation and house rules; and go over potential red flags as well as potentially sensitive topics that might come up in game.

Please believe me- no one in their right mind wants to show up to game night, ANY game night from Dungeons & Dragons all the way down to UNO, and sit down to an environment where they will feel uncomfortable. It’s no different than a friendly work environment. No one wants to be around negativity, toxicity and trauma. Role Playing Games are supposed to be a fun, shared experience for the entire group. (TLDR: If ya ain’t havin fun, something needs to change and it ain’t the person who’s hurtin inside.)

Please remember one of my other favorite sayings: NEVER EVER BLAME THE VICTIM! Submitted lovingly. Let’s please take care of one another, okay?

I know there is blowback every time the subject of Session Zero and Safety Tools comes up.

Sorry, not sorry on this one. I know a lot of older Dungeon Masters (or other GMs) and players balked at this concept when it was first introduced. A quick glance at #TTRPG Twitter confirms that some still do. Here’s the thing- it’s not going to hurt to hold a Session Zero regardless. We were doing it before it became a thing just to get characters made as a cohesive group.

Back in the day (*My kids just ran for cover.) if we didn’t know everyone at the table, we’d usually order a pizza and just hang out before the first game session to get to know each other and maybe make characters. We’d talk house rules and everyone’s take on combats, etc. It wasn’t formal. It was fun.

Fun. You know? That thing RPGs are supposed to be all about? Yeah.

I used to say things like this.

But, of course there are naysayers in pretty much every crowd on Earth. There are the bitter, crotchety, Old Grognards who will grouse and grumble. They say things such as:

“Nobody can tell me how to run my game.”
“I’m not here to hold hands and kiss your butts.”
“Bunch of mamby pamby kids don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“My game was fine before. No need to change it now.”
“We didn’t have this crap back in the 80s when D&D was new. We didn’t need it back then. Grow a spine.”
“If you don’t like it, go play another game.”
And so on…

Full disclosure: I used to sound just like that.

Lil Debbie Star Crunch. MMmmm.

I’m an OG (Old Gamer) from way back. Like 1982, to be precise. Atari 2600, Star Crunch, and cassette tapes were good times along with D&D. Basic, Red Box D&D to be exact. We didn’t have Session Zero. Safety Tools? Maybe out in the garage. We were ten and twelve year olds with funky dice. We didn’t know.

But the hobby has evolved. WE have evolved as players. No matter how old one gets, being sensitive to others’ feelings never goes out of style. Did I recognize it? Heck, I was still sounding like a crotchety old codger earlier this year.

I’ve learned. I’m trying to be more understanding. Mistakes were made. I’ll own it. That’s really the key to all of this for the Old Grognards- it’s okay to change.

My therapist likes to remind me that we ALL have baggage.

True story. Every last human being on this planet has had or will have trauma in their life at some point. Everyone has feelings and opinions formed by their experiences. Experiences shape who we are as people.

That baggage, whether we like it or not, carries over into our relationships. Yes, a gaming group is a type of relationship. Hopefully friendship. We’re there to have a fun, shared experience at the gaming table. But some of that negative junk we all have can creep into the gaming space.

We have Safety Tools, such as the consent form above, to help avoid or prevent that trauma, baggage, etc from ruining a good time. If we’re having fun, let’s keep it that way! There’s no reason to have someone going away from the table in tears because the GM was ignorant and kept going on about brutal torture.

No one deserves to show up to a game and have it add-to or compound their personal trauma. I get it. I’ve screwed up as a GM more times than I’d like to confess. I’ve accidentally stepped on toes and possibly chased one player off of gaming because I said something really stupid. I didn’t know it was a sensitive subject at the time. No flags went up because we didn’t have them at the time.

My point is, it never has to happen again. Things can come up that weren’t covered in Session Zero. That’s what X Cards and similar safety tools are for. Heck, I’d rather have a player stop me mid-combat and pull me aside than keep going with something sensitive/traumatic.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Hey, it’s your table.

Note to the old curmudgeons: It’s your table. I’m never going to say you absolutely have to follow my advice. If you don’t want to hold Session Zero or use Safety tools at your table? Trust me, there’s no right or wrong way to play/GM a game. Please, do things however you like.

I think a lot of us on #TTRPG social media tend to get tunnel vision. There is no #OSR governing body. There is no mighty #TTRPG council of leaders. No one is going to come after a GM or a player for “breaking the rules.” Please, run your game and your group in whatever way you like.

I’m just saying, you might save yourself a lot of grief, especially with new players, if you take the time out to be considerate. I know we didn’t do that sort of thing back in the 80s. It’s 2022. It’s okay to change.

Let’s have fun.

Let’s go back to the table knowing full well that it’s a safe space. Please treat one another with kindness and consideration in game and out. RPGs are supposed to be FUN. Let’s roll dice, smash monsters, and grab huge loot. Lots of pizza and yelling “Huzzah!” when someone rolls a Nat 20.

Thank you for stopping by. I’m listening. I care. I’d like to think I’m getting better at this. Have a great day!

Making Characters by the Binder Full?

Am I the only GM that insists on making a ton of characters for myself just to get a feel for the system?

Am I the only GM that likes to make characters, too?

When I’m trying out a new system to see if I want to run it, I make characters. I make enough to have an entire party. I know how people tend to have a distaste of pregenerated characters, so most of my good characters become really overly crunchy NPCs.

This has its upside, though. It gives me readily available party members to fill in for positions in the group that no one likes to play (cough-healer-cough.) In a pinch, it might also give me a foil for one of the characters, a competing dungeon party, or even a bad guy.

Hidden benefit to making tons of characters.

First, it gives me an idea of how to make/explain characters for a new system. Second, I can read a system and know pretty fast how it runs. Making characters helps me catch some of the nuances I might have missed. It also helps me learn the design process for the game itself so I can build new character classes, spells, items, etc. Last, it does give me a building block to help the players if I get in a pinch.

If I have new players, or if my players are new to the system, having generated a ton of characters helps me teach them the best way of going about it. Most of us know D&D, but not every game runs character generation the same way. I even build cheat sheets on blank character sheets for some games. Anything involving point buys for attributes probably has a heavily annotated character sheet in a folder around here somewhere.

Second, I’ve read a TON of game systems. I can read a few lines in the first few chapters and have a pretty good read on how the game is going to work. But actually creating a character helps dig into the nuances of the system. I learned a lot about ICRPG making characters.

Third, it truly does help build better balanced and fun new classes, items, spells, equipment, etc. I’ve had three or four games where I started building classes right after I made a couple of characters. For example, in Bare Bones Fantasy, I built a warrior and a cleric. Right after that, I designed five or so flavors of samurai, ninja, Wu-Jen, Kensai, Monk, Wuxia and a bunch of other stuff. I had the same experience with ICRPG. Good games. So flexible.

Last, having a pile of characters lying around helps me if a player gets in a pinch designing their character. Not all character creation systems are created equal. Some are super easy to pick up. Others… there’s a lot of help needed. (I’m looking at you, Role Master, Mythras, and Traveler.) Having a couple of characters to just hand out so that people can just jump in and roll dice is a huge advantage, especially if it’s a pickup game. It’s also a good tool for players to see what a completed character sheet looks like to copy skill lists, equipment, spells, etc.

The more interesting the system, the more characters I tend to make. It’s fun exploring enough options to crew a starship or raid a dungeon. Sometimes I even have a party of characters handy for designing dungeons, not as pregens, but as a group of guinea pigs, err… “test subjects” to see if an encounter is balanced to my liking. I can’t predict everything, but it’s good to know if my Roper/Rust Monster/Goblin sharpshooter room is going to be deadly enough.

Hope you’re having a good week. Please, stay safe. Remind your loved ones that they’re loved. Thank you for being here. See you soon.

Collateral Damage in Superhero RPGs

Another gruesome point to be made, while we’re on the subject. You’re a giant transforming robot from another planet here to save the day. You are walking down the street. You hear a kinda crunchy squishing sound. Do you dare lift up and inspect the bottom of your foot? (Cringe.)

Sometimes it’s worth reminding the heroes they’re supposed to protect someone.

Superman punches Doomsday through five or six large Metropolis buildings. The Avengers thwart an invasion from space while wrecking entire sections of New York City. The Power Rangers regularly blow up mega sized baddies in the middle of the city in massive explosions. Ever notice there never seems to be anyone squished in these battles.

Moreover, you never see that many new buildings going up in Power Rangers and only rarely do we ever see fire crews and ambulances picking people up. Police? Fictionally speaking, you never see anyone beyond the occasional parking cop or comedy relief.

*Disclaimer: we are purely talking fiction. Real police, fire, and medical personnel are amazing. Lots of love for them.

Just another day in downtown Angel Grove.

Too much realism is sort of a bad thing in superhero games.

Nobody wants innocent bystander injuries or worse on their conscience in a game. It’s pure escapist fantasy. Most superheroes would hang up their capes and tights if hundreds of people were getting injured as a result of their actions.

Not to mention the hours upon imaginary hours that would be spent in front of a judge. In Avengers terms, Tony Stark would spend more time in court defending just the Hulk’s actions after every battle than running his own company. Yeesh.

Senseless fictional property damage is fun and all, but can you imagine the amount of insurance payouts that must occur in some of these superhero cities? No one in their right mind would stay in Metropolis. The property values of Angel Grove must be insanely cheap after every Megazord battle.

Which is okay, because the insurance rates are through the roof. $10K+ per month house insurance? $5K+ per month car insurance? C’mon down to Angel Grove Insurance for shockingly low payouts and insane premiums today. Because Megazord battles make us wish the entire city was just a bunch of Styrofoam and cardboard models.

Another gruesome point to be made, while we’re on the subject. You’re a giant transforming robot from another planet here to save the day. You are walking down the street. You hear a kinda crunchy squishing sound. Do you dare lift up and inspect the bottom of your foot? (Cringe.)

Needless to say, it’s probably easier to just say everyone escaped with only minor injuries. Buildings have fire, tornado, earthquake, and kaiju evacuation plans. Your character’s family bakery is flat, but somehow your family and all of the midday customers made it out alive.

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

Real collateral damage can be a red flag for some players.

I think honest, open discussions are becoming more important than ever during Session Zero of superhero games. There are so many of us out here in the real world who have been in horrendous traumatic events that it’s important that we all agree to some boundaries so everyone has fun.

In superhero game terms, it might be most effective to use the Comics Code Authority standards or even create something more tame. I tell my players we keep it somewhere between four color supers violence and cartoon violence. I grew up during the Iron Age of comics, and we really just don’t need that level of blood, guts, and gore in a game.

I’m also going to remind my Power Rangers players regularly that they might want to lead the baddies out of town or into some abandoned area of the city. That way the massive propane explosion of the megabaddie doesn’t wipe out an entire residential district. I may also do a couple of comedy relief insurance investigators snooping around to try to bill the Rangers for all the damage. I’m also constructing a subplot around one of the Rangers parent’s business getting squished. At least let the players think about some of their actions.

Out in the real world, stay healthy. Stay safe. Thank you for being here.

Deeper Dialogue

I have even ignored game stats in favor of writing down motivations and personality traits for NPCs. Unless it’s vital to the game in progress, I could care less what the crunchy statistics look like as long as I know why an NPC is there and enough about them to make it seem plausible. My notes from any given session might be a hot mess sometimes, but as long as I get the NPC name, a vocal tick, physical quirk, personality note, or something else to vibe on next session, I could really care less what the NPC’s Agility score looked like.

A little GM advice for making character conversations slightly more meaningful, or maybe having more of them.

My advice to the Game Master looking for that added bit of depth to their game is to know your NPCs as if you had made the character and you were going to play him or her yourself. One of my favorite moments as a GM is when my players start dialogues in character with an NPC outside of a game session.

One of my players would ask me random questions like, “What would Selena do if I threw all of her tofu out of the fridge along with all of her salad fixings?”

She would whimper and look innocently at the party and ask what she was supposed to eat. Selena was an NPC vegetarian werewolf in my Werewolf the Apocalypse game in college. She had wandered in from the cold and taken up residence with a bunch of Fianna that lived together. It just got crazier from there. So many great roleplaying moments came from that one NPC, including several that happened out of session.

Personality traits are like building blocks for NPCs.

This is probably not a new concept for some GMs. I write down one outstanding personality trait or quirk for a minor, throwaway NPC like a stable hand the group might only meet once briefly. I write down three if it’s someone the group will interact with in a meaningful way or if they will see the NPC again. I write down six traits like I was designing the character as a player for regularly occurring characters. The bonus perk to this system is you can turn a minor NPC into a full fledged party retainer by adding more descriptors each time they meet him or her.

I have even ignored game stats in favor of writing down motivations and personality traits for NPCs. Unless it’s vital to the game in progress, I could care less what the crunchy statistics look like as long as I know why an NPC is there and enough about them to make it seem plausible. My notes from any given session might be a hot mess sometimes, but as long as I get the NPC name, a vocal tick, physical quirk, personality note, or something else to vibe on next session, I could really care less what the NPC’s Agility score looked like. My notes will have names underlined, personality quirk circled, something about the NPC’s background a bit further down, maybe their appearance… you get the idea.

I can always patch in combat scores as I go or in between sessions. Combat turns in most games go in terms of seconds. There’s not a lot of meaningful dialogue when swords, fists, arrows, and so forth are flying. However, the dialogue before and after the combat? I’m going to want to remember what the character was like if it’s someone the group is going to be dealing with again.

More to come. Have a great week. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Have fun!

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