Safety Tools for RPGs

🕹️ hobby

A Safety Tool is a feedback mechanism for tabletop RPGs that provides a framework for players to communicate with their GM and with each other about what kind of story they want to be co-creating together.

Safety tools are a form of risk management. And a form of consent.

I just want to jot down a few tools and techniques that are commonly used for RPG safety. I am certainly not the first to do this. Rather than providing new insight on the tools themselves, I hope to note for myself the way in which these themes (safety tools and risk management) can be applicable to different domains besides RPGS.

There are many discussions about whether these are necessary in RPGs. A group should be able to decide that for themselves. Regardless, access to frameworks for safety makes the conversation about safety easier to have.

Lines & Veils

This originated in a piece called Sex and Sorcery by Ron Edwards. It’s a way to handle boundaries in roleplaying. They are meant to be discussed up-front, and amended or added to at any time.

Lines are off-limits. These are topics, situations, scenes, or experiences that do not happen in the game. The players don’t do it, the NPCs don’t do it, it is not alluded to, it’s not in people’s backstories, it does not come up.

Veils are a “fade-to-back” or “curtain draw” concern. These topics might get alluded to, but they happen offscreen and are not explicitly roleplayed. When the topic comes up in-game, it might be a moment for the GM to “pan the camera away”.

Lines & Veils are not compromises between players, and always default to the deepest level. That is, if one player lists “sex & romance” as a Line, and another player lists it as a Veil, that means it is a Line.

Here’s a good piece on the value of Lines & Veils.

The X-Card

This is a well-documented technique for navigating realtime play.

The idea is that players are unlikely to know all of their Lines and/or Veils up-front, and may find themselves in the middle of a roleplaying session, playing out something that they are deeply uncomfortable with. The X-Card is a move for this situation.

Quite simply, it’s an up-front rule that at any time, any player can “play the X-Card” to end the scene amd push the GM to take the play somewhere else. This can be a physical card flipped onto the table, or putting an X in the Discord chat, or an X-shaped arm gesture.

What’s important is that the GM acknowledge this up-front: that the X-Card is a tool that we will be using, and that players are empowered to invoke it at any time.

When invoked, no questions asked, no compromises made, the story pivots away from the current scenario. It’s a quick out for when players are blindsided by “I did not see this coming. I am not okay with it.”

Stars and Wishes

This one is veering from safety tools into feedback tools.1 Stars and Wishes are an RPG-rebranding of corporate-world feedback mechanisms like plus/deltas.

This is an end-of-session move wherein the GM asks players to share stars about the session that just happened, and wishes for the next session.

Stars are good things. These are callouts to a really cool move made by a player or the GM, or an experience that was particularly enjoyable.

Wishes are explicit requests for “more of this” or “less of that” or hoping that “our characters get to do x”.

Together, these can be invaluable feedback for a GM about what resonates with players. The same is true for players getting feedback and stars from one another. The GM is welcome to share stars and wishes about player actions as well.2

Other tools

I’ve used these less frequently but want to preserve them as links, to possibly expand upon:

  1. Two subjects that are closely related.  

  2. Because the game is to create a good experience for all the people at the table, including the GM.  

Notes mentioning this note