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.
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.
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.
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.
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!