If you’re reading this, then you are interested in having more robust safety conversations at your tables! Congratulations on making it this far. 

The present landscape of tabletop role-playing game safety is something that is wide and varied. Many Facilitators have a wide variety of tools to choose from, be it Lines and Veils,  X/N/O Cards, or even something as innocuous as a Session Zero! 

There is a great deal of space that Facilitators have to play with in the realm of safety. There isn’t a “wrong” safety tool to use, the only incorrect way is to not use safety tools whatsoever! I could speak endlessly about how important safety tools are, but that is not the point of this article.

I am here to say that safety tools are not nearly as exciting or engaging as they could be!

This is not to say that I believe safety tools need to be exciting to be effective, but I believe that safety tools need to be expanded upon and developed so that players can be excited about safety! 

Let’s use one of my personal favorite safety tools as an example; the RPG Consent Checklist by Monte Cook Games, found readily accessible in the TTRPG Safety Toolkit!

In case you aren't aware, the RPG Consent Checklist is a tool the Facilitator can use when planning a game. The idea of the Consent Checklist is that everyone fills out their own form and returns it to the Facilitator. The checklist has a wide variety of topics that could come up during gameplay. Examples include things like spiders, harm to animals, various categories of sex (explicit sex, fade to black, sex between PCs and NPCs). 

These topics are then marked with three categories:

  • Green = Enthusiastic consent; bring it on!
  • Yellow = Okay if veiled or offstage; might be okay onstage but requires discussion ahead of time; uncertain.
  • Red = Hard line; do not include.

The great thing about the RPG Consent Checklist is that it is really good at beginning conversations at the table about what things people have explicit boundaries against. For that reason, I love the Consent Checklist. I would never start a game without having gotten one from every single person at my table. However, as someone that takes safety so seriously and earnestly I am finding that there is a lack of nuance and explicitness. With these things, we could allow the tool to evolve into something that is so much more than what we currently have. 

I think that, as a community, we can cultivate more robust practices and enthusiasm around safety!

One of the important things within the checklist is the difference between Green, Yellow and Red. Our Red category is pretty explicit. There isn’t much that we need to do for our players with Red other than respecting those boundaries! What I am coming to find is that the bounds between Yellow and Green are too rigid to actually explain what content people might be excited for or want to see in games.

Presently, Greens only goes as far as to give the Facilitator the green light to cover topics that are often deeply complex and varied. It does not provide opportunity to actually dictate comfort levels or fluctuating boundaries. Most importantly, it does not set Facilitators up to have nuanced or engaging content. 

I hold the firm belief that Facilitators are there to guide stories in directions that will keep everyone safe at the table while also weaving in narratives that they believe are fun and engaging for the players. When you think of facilitation as the act of guiding instead of a narrative opposition, then you begin to get a picture of a more harmonious role of facilitation.

If everyone at the table has an understanding of what content is exciting or cool then it means that the act of collaborative storytelling within TTRPGs becomes that much more robust and exciting.

So, what about the Yellows? The Yellow category serves an important purpose in making sure that Facilitators know where to slow down narratives and check in. I believe that this portion of the Checklist could be improved upon if we get more explicit in terms of how people want to engage with potentially triggering content!

Without having affected parties disclose the specifics of their boundaries, fears, and triggers, we still have a lot of questions that we can ask to more effectively clarify what people's comfort levels are.

Some things that either don't get explained or are easy to skip over with the current form:

  • Is this content acceptable for others at the table? Or does it need to be completely taken off the table?
  • How much preparation do you need before potentially triggering content comes up?
  • Are you neutral towards this content or do you explicitly want to see this content in the game?
  • Are you okay with this content coming up within the context of fellow players backstories and/or off screen?
  • How should players go about requesting having their narrative wishes granted?
  • How should the table go about changes in triggering content? What if something fluctuates from a Green to a Yellow? Or Yellow to Green?
  • Does the table have systems in place for players to feel safe coming to their facilitator or even others at the table?

There are a lot of considerations that can go unaddressed with our present safety tools. The reality is that our safety tools were always meant to grow and change! I believe that it is time for tools like the RPG Consent Checklist to become something more robust at each individual table. We can make it so that safety is something that's not only necessary but something that facilitates excitement at our tables. People should be just as excited for session zeros and safety conversations as they are about the first session.

When we allow our conversations of safety to be rooted in collaboration and enthusiasm, then we can understand how to make meaningful stories for everyone!

CJ McCullough is an Educator, Game Designer, Podcaster, Performer, Professional GM and Writer who can be found @ScholasticDragn.

Feb 21, 2023

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