In Praise of Safety Tools


Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
(This thread is for sharing your experiences with Safety Tools.)

I remember there being a lot of pushback against Safety Tools a while ago. Folks weren't just upset at the specific tools available; some were opposed to the very concept itself. You don't have to go back very far to find threads and comments about them being unnecessary ("I'm not playing with strangers, I play with my friends! I already know my friends!"), or about them being detrimental to the game ("The Dungeon Master shouldn't need permission to use giant spiders!"), or just embarrassingly wrong ("it's just a game! a game can't hurt you!")

Well, I use them (SlyFlourish's Safety Tools). And last night's gaming session was an excellent example of why.

The artificer has been having disturbing dreams ever since he came in contact with an ancient artifact. They're getting worse, and recently, he has started sleepwalking. It's becoming a safety issue: twice now, he's almost walked off the deck of the ship. Well, without prompting from the DM (me), our druid took the artificer aside at night and asked him what was going on. The artificer was evasive, as usual, so the druid cast Charm Person on him (!!!) to hopefully get him to open up.

So, something y'all need to understand: we went over all of the safety tools at our Session Zero, and this player had listed both mind-control and PvP as 'yellow card' topics (we're soccer fans, yellow card means "ask me first.") So I broke the fourth wall to talk about it, and the players gave consent. "I've got some good ideas on how to handle this, thanks for asking. Let's get to know each other a little better!" the artificer said. We continued, and the artificer failed his save throw.

Something y'all also need to understand: the artificer has a secret. From the moment the character had been created at Session Zero, and across the last 24 gaming sessions since, everyone at the table has been under the impression that he is a human. It's been a closely and carefully guarded secret between me and him alone that he is a Changeling. We discussed it over email, and he really wanted it to be this big "reveal" when the party finally found out. Why, you ask?

Something else y'all need to know: about 20 years ago, there was a plague of lycanthropy in this kingdom, and thousands of people died before the Temple of Dawn could quell it. In the aftermath, there was a terrible wave of violence and war crimes called The Purge, where people were dragged away in the night and murdered by frightened and angry mobs. Like the Salem Witch Trials here in the real world, friends and family turned against each other out of fear, or greed: if you wanted your neighbor's field, for example, all you had to do was start a rumor about how you saw them turn into a wolf or something, and an angry mob would do the rest. Countless innocent people died in The Purge, but the hardest-hit were people who could change their shape: druids, shifters, and changelings. (There's a single paragraph about The Purge in the campaign sourcebook, but that's it. Remember this; it becomes important later. Just one paragraph.)

Okay. So.

I gave the artificer a prompt. "You're seeing the druid in a whole new light--this isn't just someone you've been traveling with for a few months, this is your best friend, your ride-or-die companion who has always been there for you in every situation. You love this man, you trust him completely. He's closer than a brother to you."

The player friggin' ran with it. He described his character changing his shape, to look almost identical to the firbolg druid. He began to cry, talking about how glad he was to finally have someone that he can trust, someone he can confide in, because he's absolutely terrified that he's losing his mind. He's seeing visions of the end of the world, his head is filled with someone else's memories, and he's so scared that someone is going to learn his secret and drag him away in the night like they did his mother and father. (This player is not an actor, nor a performer of any kind. He's a building contractor. But you wouldn't have known it from watching him.)

Other members of the party were in the scene too, asking questions and talking honestly about these problems. The druid could relate to the horrors of The Purge; he fled his home to escape persecution. The monk had some insight into the ancient technology that seems to have imprinted on his mind. The fighter has navigation experience (both in-character, and out-of-character--he's a surveyor), and he was able to deduce the meaning of those visions as a set of coordinates (a bit of a puzzle I planted in the game for him to catch.)

This went on for an hour, and everyone at the table was hanging on to every word. They were bouncing ideas off of each other and making so much use of the "Yes, And... " improv storytelling device that I took four pages of notes. They invented details of The Purge that I didn't think of, and worked their own backstories into it so that they all had been at least touched by it in some way. They embellished on those visions that the artificer was having, too: I had originally given him only a single picture and a paragraph of text; he added layers of detail--things happening in the background, smells and sounds--and the other players started adding in stuff like "oh yeah, that sounds like the mountain range on my home island" or "that kind of flower only grows in the tropical areas." Four pages of notes, y'all. I've got so much homework to do...

Then the spell ended.

According to the spell description, the target knows that he's been charmed. I didn't know how the artificer might react to it, and I didn't want to prompt the player one way or another so I described it in neutral terms. "A strange feeling comes over you. As a student of magic yourself, you recognize the sensation of an enchantment lifting from your mind. You realize the druid had used magic to charm you."

There was a pause at the table. Would he be angry at the intrusion of his deepest personal thoughts? or would he be relieved to have this burden lifted?

'Angry' was an understatement; the artificer EXPLODED. "How dare you!" was thrown around a few times, also a good deal of "We are on the deck of a ship, in public, and you've exposed me!" and quite a lot of "I can't trust you anymore!" Crackling energy from cantrips, readied actions, it got tense, y'all. The druid stayed in character too, lots of "I'm not your enemy, I'm trying to help, everyone's worried, you're destroying yourself," emphatic and heartfelt apologies, and so on. The druid quickly understood that he messed up, and shifted to damage control. It was made very clear to him that apologies weren't going to cut it: the druid has a long, long way to go before the artificer will trust him again. It's canon now.

Mind you, the players were chatting and laughing and riffing off of each other, having a good time. It was only their characters that were having this huge fight. Out of character, they were talking about the upcoming Women's World Cup France-Brazil soccer game and our rafting trip next month.
Thanks to the Safety Tools, and the environment of informed consent that they create, this scene didn't decompose into a real, actual fight between my real, actual friends. Everyone knew ahead of time that they would be skating on thin ice, and everyone consented to the scene. Everyone knew the objective ("let's get to know our characters better") so they could all work toward that goal together instead of trampling over each other. It was emotionally tense but we there were no hard feelings, and any unpleasant "surprises" that came up stayed in the story where they belong.

No initiative was rolled, and not a single attack roll was made. There was just one save throw. Nevertheless, I gave everyone (level x 100) XP for exceptional roleplaying and plot advancement. That was far more entertaining than fighting 1d8 Whatevers on a grid.
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I think they should be discussed even if not ultimately used. There's no point in launching something traumatising at someone when they're at your table for a good time.

For my games, I discuss lines and veils with every group in my session 0. One player was afraid of snakes to the point not being able to hear their name, and knowing that allowed me to modify the game as needed. Another game had the players asking to have instances of overt sexism as a veil, since nobody wanted the game to be about the grueling reality of the patriarchy.

And I think they're a must for conventions and other public tables. I mandated the use of the X-card for one-shot game nights in our university when I was the president of the TTRPG society, and I think our games are better for it, even if they've never actually been used. Just telling potential players that their needs and security is the concern of the organises, it allows people to feel much more welcome.


Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
Of course, playing with friends you know and trust is a safety tool. One which many people avail themselves of automatically.
Yep, absolutely. Good Fellowship (playing with people you know and trust) is a good safety tool, maybe even the best one. Apart from walk-up games at conventions or gaming stores, it's being used in just about every game. I don't think good fellowship makes safety tools unnecessary, though, and unfortunately that's usually where that line of discussion goes.

Like I said, I've been playing D&D with these guys for more than a decade, and I was still very glad to have discussed this stuff ahead of time. That 'yellow card' tool is pretty nifty.
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Prior to the beginning of any horror campaign, I ask my players to tell me if there's any subject they don't want to see in the game. And then I ask if it's a hard no, meaning they don't want to see it in the campaign in any way, shape, or form. Or if it's just something they don't want to see roleplayed out. Typically I'll start out by giving them one of my no-nos and then I'll encourage them to tell me theirs either right then or privately if they'd prefer. And I stress that I require no explanation for why they don't want something included I just need to know not to include it.

Of course, playing with friends you know and trust is a safety tool. One which many people avail themselves of automatically.
I have a feeling safety tools are most effective in groups where there's familiarity and trust among the players.


CR 1/8
Cool to see an example where this respect for safety led to a kickass session! I especially appreciate how neatly this illustrates that safety in a game isn't about shutting down a narrative or "coddling" or whatever. It lays to rest some people's fears that these sorts of considerations for fellow players make it impossible to have fun.

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