RPG Safety Tools

Roleplay is, first and foremost, about freedom.

It lets you explore areas of the world, of your brains, of our imagination with a carefree abandonment. As a result, it can be easy to stray into territory that others – or you yourself – find uncomfortable.

The take home message; talking about safety makes thing safer

Below are three simple tools that can help make things safer.

Tool 1. Talk before you play

People talking in a groupStart your session off with an intentional chat. This would often fall as a responsibility to a GM, but there’s no reason why any player or participant can’t initiate it.

Make it clear that this should be a safe space, that the aim of the game is to have fun, not to hurt anyone, and make a group agreement to respect and look after one another.

It sounds simple, but it sets a foundation for the rest of the session that everything else is built upon.

In a group of close friends, where people feel safe to share topics they wish to avoid or be careful with, this may be all the safety provision you need.

However, not every person and every session will find this enough. I would never recommend playing RPG with people you are not comfortable with, but it can happen, especially at conventions and situations you have less control over. In these situations, the next two tools are invaluable.

Tool 2. The X-Card

The x-card - a card with "x" drawn on itDeveloped by John Stavropoulos, the X-Card provides a clear, safe and simple safety-net.

To use it, at the start of your game, simple say:

“I’d like your help. Your help to make this game fun for everyone.

If anything makes anyone uncomfortable in any way… [ draw X on an index card ] …just lift this card up, or simply tap it [ place card at the center of the table ].

You don’t have to explain why. It doesn’t matter why. When we lift or tap this card, we simply edit out anything X-Carded. And if there is ever an issue, anyone can call for a break and we can talk privately.

I know it sounds funny but it will help us play amazing games together and usually I’m the one who uses the X-card to help take care of myself. Please help make this game fun for everyone. Thank you!”

It provides a simple exit strategy for someone to say “no”, without having to explain it or themselves.

The act of explaining and setting it up also explains that this is a safe space for people to play, without having to push through difficult topics that they don’t want to.

The strength of the X-Card is that no one has to explain themselves or mention areas they are uncomfortable with, unless it comes up. Sitting in a group and saying “I don’t want to talk about x“, involves mentioning x, which may be traumatic in itself.

The main limitation of the X-Card is it only triggers when a line is already being crossed, rather than preventing it getting broached at all. This is where Lines and Veils comes in…

Tool 3. Lines and Veils

"lines" and "veils" drawn on a cardLines and Veils is a tool that introduces two concepts: lines that should not be crossed – Lines – or areas that should be covered with a veil – Veils.

They can be written anonymously before the encounter, or discussed in the group.

Lines are clear, “We don’t have murder in our game, the NPCs don’t do it, it is a topic we are not covering“.

Veils are more subtle, they can be hinted upon, but not explicitly explored, “Whilst murder may happen in our game world, we do not role-play it or depict it verbally. Our players may react to it without having to have it fully described“.

As with all things, these are moving targets. During a harrowing play session, people may wish to add a veil, move a veil to a line, or the opposite, if they feel more comfortable with the group and ready to explore a topic they were not previously able to.

Safe is better

In medicine, we talk about known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. I might know I’m weaker at Neurology (a known unknown), so refer more readily, or ask for advice, but if I don’t know I’m bad at it (an unknown unknown), I might make mistakes without realising it. Talking about safety allows our unknown safety issues to become known safety issues.

The take home message; talking about safety makes thing safer. Making sure your group takes a few moments to cover it can prevent pain further down the road.

Play safe, and have fun people!


Any comments? Let me know. Any tools you find helpful, or skills you’ve picked up to make roleplaying easier and safer? I’d love to hear about them below…