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D&D General [+] Ravenloft, horror, & safety tools...

MGibster

Legend
I tend to run games with people I know and after more than seven years I've got a pretty good grasp of their comfort levels. I've got two women in the group who shocked us all with their characters' behavior in Night's Black Agents that was still talk about five years later. I don't do this for every game, but for horror games at session zero I ask my players to let me know if there's anything they absolutely do not want to see in the game and communicate the following points:
  1. I don't need to know why you don't want something in the game.
  2. Feel free to communicate privately if you don't want to speak in front of everyone.
  3. If during the course of the game something is too much please let me know.
  4. If they tell me something they don't want to see I ask if it's okay to allude to it so long as we're not playing it out.
And then I tell them what we're not going to have in the game because I don't want it in the game. The two things I typically won't have in a game is violence against children and sexual assault. Both subjects might appear in the game having happened "off screen" (the murder victim might be a child, a wanted criminal might be a sexual predator, etc., etc.) but we will never play out a scene with sexual assault or one where a child is subjected to violence. Unless that's something a player wants to excise completely from the game.

Thus far, this has worked just fine. I've only had two situations where players were uncomfortable with something in the game (one was directly related to game play and one was related to a peripheral used in the game) but neither of those were horror games. I don't know if I really consider Ravenloft to be a horror game beacuse of the high fantasy elements but that's not a hill I'm willing to die on. It's got vampires, ghosts, and werewolves so anyone who thinks of it as horror isn't being reasonable in my book. I bring it up because it didn't occur to me to ask the same questions before Curse of Strahd that I asked before my Vampire 5e game.
 

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MGibster

Legend
I, personally, am one of those people for whom cilantro tastes like soap. It does not harm me in any way, emotionally or physically. If I eat it, nothing bad happens to me. But, if it is in my burrito, I am probably not going to eat it, and no dinner for Umbran. Line on cilantro.
I will take your burrito.
 

Faolyn

Hero
I don't know if I really consider Ravenloft to be a horror game beacuse of the high fantasy elements but that's not a hill I'm willing to die on. It's got vampires, ghosts, and werewolves so anyone who thinks of it as horror isn't being reasonable in my book. I bring it up because it didn't occur to me to ask the same questions before Curse of Strahd that I asked before my Vampire 5e game.
With the right description (and I don't mean blood and guts), anything can be horror. So yes, Ravenloft can be very horrific indeed.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Sounds good. You've identified a fundamental incompatibility between that player's line and a "line" of your own.

The safety tool appears to have worked.
To use that poster's parlance, it's the difference between a need and a want. The player's line is a need, that poster's "line" is a want. Explicitly so.

It reads far more as the poster would misuse the safety tools to punish players for using them.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It reads far more as the poster would misuse the safety tools to punish players for using them.

With respect, this is kind of personal and accusative. How about you not do that, please?

I don't see a misuse here. Before play begins, no player is entitled to play. So, choosing not to play with them is not a punishment. It is entirely fair to use these tools to discover incompatibility between the player, and the game as intended, and keep everyone from having a bad time.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
I don't know if I really consider Ravenloft to be a horror game beacuse of the high fantasy elements but that's not a hill I'm willing to die on. It's got vampires, ghosts, and werewolves so anyone who thinks of it as horror isn't being reasonable in my book. I bring it up because it didn't occur to me to ask the same questions before Curse of Strahd that I asked before my Vampire 5e game.
It's simplistic and reductive, but a good place to start is: are the characters afraid of what's going on in the story and/or the people, places, or things involved in the story? Sometimes the difference between action-adventure and horror is the stance of the characters involved. It's a lot about power imbalance as well.
With the right description (and I don't mean blood and guts), anything can be horror. So yes, Ravenloft can be very horrific indeed.
Yeah. Absolutely. Withholding information, relying more on visceral description, and not simply plopping a mini in front of the group and naming it are a great start. The Dragon Talk video from yesterday touched on this. Introducing the monsters by showing the result of them winning (bodies, etc). Hint at the monsters by giving the players sight and sound and smell descriptions that are secondary to the monster itself, i.e. you smell them first, you hear them drag their claws across the door of their room, you see their shadow, etc. Then describing things in flashes and snippets. Flashing claws. Putrid breath. Glinting teeth. Not the whole description of the monsters. Light and shadow and sight and eyelines are great elements to play around with. You can have characters crap themselves over a solitary goblin or make them be blasé about an arch-demon just with the way you frame and describe the situation.
 

MGibster

Legend
So I'm transgender, but I'm also asexual. Explicit sexual content is something that makes me fairly uncomfortable, at least from a TTRPG perspective. When my friends want to break out Shadowhearts, for instance, I typically exclude myself (even though I love that game).
Now that you brought it up, I'm somewhat uncomfortable with explicit sexual content from a TTRPG perspective as well. But it's not something I ever think to bring up when talking to my players and what will be permitted in games. And I suspect part of the reason I never think to bring it up is because it's never really happened in any game I've participated in. Even as a teenager when it came to romance the DM would just fade to black.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to uncomfortable with issues of gender expression and sexuality at the TTRPG (inclusion, less so; but then I also know people for whom Inclusivity & Equity is their day job, and I could see one or two of them wanting to enjoy themselves outside of work without having to deal with it, if they can avoid it).
As a DM, I tend to take the attitude that it doesn't matter why someone's uncomfortable with some subjects in a game. It's not really my place to decide for someone else what is or isn't a legitimate reason to be uncomfortable with an issue. I'll just respect that they don't like that thing and avoid it.
But also, the "this game is probably not going to be a good fit for you" solution is often ignored and overlooked by all the folx wringing their hands over these things; nobody is forced to do anything regardless of how many or which tools they're using. You don't have to accommodate a player.
I think this is actually a good point.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But it's not something I ever think to bring up when talking to my players and what will be permitted in games. And I suspect part of the reason I never think to bring it up is because it's never really happened in any game I've participated in. Even as a teenager when it came to romance the DM would just fade to black.

Back in the day, I was the same. After contact with folks who don't have that assumption, I started adding, "This game is expected to be PG-13 in how it treats sex and romance," to my usual game-start spiel. That efficiently covers a whole lot of ground.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
So we have examples to work with, not only abstractions:

Could a few people who have played / DM'ed Curse of Stradh explain how they would apply a safety toolkit to the subject matter of that adventure, and introduce it to the players? As if you were holding a Session Zero.

It depends because there are (at least) two ways of using these kind of tools (or better developed better targeted ones).

  • The first type is the type they were built for that several people are strongly advocating for in a way that seems to suggest that sort of blacklist/whitelist checklist is the only valid way given the pushback and nobad directed at other approaches like the current discussion on sometimes needing more than just saying X is a limit.(at least it was current when I started writing this) This style of play has very little to do with most of this post & the post is not saying people interested in this style must accept tools & practices designed for the other style being used in this one. Lets call it a Type1 game
  • The second type is that everyone involved agrees they want to engage in a different kind of game that might be a lot darker & even though it can't be 100% safe we can responsibly consent to responsibly using tools that allow everyone involved to provide their consent to everyone else involved. It is just as valid as the first but needs to be dramatically more serious about how consent is handled & needs consent tools designed for that style of play. Most of this post is about this style of play. Lets call it a Type2 game
  • They need better names with good backronyms or acronyms that convey the serious difference, but these are good for now
Others have talked about how consent tools must not be allowed to exist as cheat code type things or just a wall with no information that can be thrown out like a middle finger while still expecting to participate. There are absolutely cases where someone doesn't get to say "you get nothing & will like it" with a simple no & expect the other people involved continue consenting to playing the type of campaign being played with the person calling something a hard limit. Even if someone does have a hard limit, people will need to ask questions so they can avoid crossing it or discretely work around it & there is a responsibility to provide enough detail for them to do so. If this responsibility is too much for someone to handle, the rest of the group may or may not care why but we can not consent to playing this kind of with them if it is.

Take this example from a very dark eberron game I ran that gives a good chance to talk about using those very serious tools & gives examples of why we as a community need to move past this disconnect over when it's ok to need more & why it's sometimes not ok to not give more. It's not specifically about using these kinds of tools in CoS but Dark fantasy is one of the ravenloft horror types & war is hell can absolutely be horror. I don't think the distinction significantly changes things for the purpose of how I would apply a toolkit to a type2 adventure or campaign.
I have gone in some very dark directions with a few eberron campaigns that were very much able to unsettle players whoenthusiastically consented to be there enthusiastically jut as I enthusiastically consented to GM that type of campaign for them. (both type1 & type2). A combination of color codes among other stuff like checkins. Players checking on & supporting each other proactively during the game is great irplayer support thatworks geven better in d&d since it kinda builds group cohesion.

The game deliberately went into the horrors of war and caused more than one consenting person involved caused a consenting player some difficulties even while he was enthusiastically involved. During the pitch I told the players it was going to be a mix of war is hell with eberron's magic as a science twisted deeply towards dark fantasy before giving a list with a few vague nonexhaustive examples of each that might happen to them or happen around them so we were all on the same page. Knowing the kinds of things they might be thrust into & need to solve there was enthusiastic buy in complete with lots of stuff written into the provided spaces that I could use to deliberately build a campaign targeting a good mix of wants & soft limits that were explained to me while avoiding hard limits.

When a player like Bob was unsettled he could say things like "that gnoll's fur is really yellow, do I see any of the zombies that might have killed her husband?" it communicated to me the gm and the rest of the group that this her " is a page to dark to read in depth (good, it was intended to be) so he wants to go find a way to avenge it. The gm can make bob do a perception check & hear the zombies nearby where there are people muffled screaming for help in a nearby building. If bob flubbed the check the GM could say something like "you don't see anything immediately but your walking down the steet and... [insert stuff]" or something. Everything was fine & we didn't need to know why Bob used yellow because he told us what was yellow & gave us a direction we could move to pull back that fit within the story & events of the moment. If bob just said "that gnoll is yellow".. "um ok?.. we need more bob"& I'll give an example of an unclear yellow

Nearly a year later when the group is investigating an illegal vadalis/jorasco joint supersoldier magebreeding program & Alice is deliberately sneaking in the gm can talk about how the research notes are in yellow folders describing humanoid magebreeding & a chair sized dragonmark focus device that allows "volunteers" to be programmed for the needs of a client using a process called mindrape thump, I dropped BoVD turned to page 99 on the table. While I was doing that I raised my hand to signify that I was talking as myself not the gm & made it clear that they are yellow because very bad things will happen if anyone of them goes blundering in stupid since I'm not willing to provide plot armor or force that on someone. That clarification was important because these were long missing pieces of a slowly assembled puzzle & the rest of the group needs to know how to proceed for an unclear yellow or we can't continue playing.

I didn't mind when alice reached out mid week to say that she has an awesome idea for the mindrape chair to let her switch into one of the new archetypes & go through a difficult discovery of learning that she's not who she thought she was as the process breaks down over a long period of gametime. It was yellow not red & Alice had an idea that would be sufficiently deep into the war is hell/dark fantasy themes of the campaign. That gave us a chance to work out some basic details of how things would go in a frank discussion so the next session ended with Alice getting separated from the group during their escape.

The players were nervous as hell because the researchers with the yellow hats cast web on alice & the gm said "and that's where we will leave off, me & alice talked"... Alice had a huge grin. The week after I set the tone of things by simply saying "you guys got out & are safe in your hotel pacing back & forth" before describing everything happening to Alice over weeks of game time letting her give the occasional reaction or input like "so I'm bound in this wheelchair with green restraints while they talk about X?">"yes the restraints are loose & the hall they are moving you down is yellow with only one door, they intend to push you through that yellow door ". Eventually they made it to a yellow chair made of rare materials in a yellow room covered in complicated glyphs & sigils... The players have spent the entire session silent. Then alice is knocking on he door to the hideout saying she lost her key & found a paying job. The players didn't know how to react but knowing what was going on & having seen it play out over the last few minutes everyone had a blast nervously doing the job while unsure how much of alice is still alice given the seemingly new personality & abilities playing out.

Consent is a two way street. When one person(lets call them the target) is consenting to have something that might be considered edgeplay done to them a second person is consenting to do it for them & a third or whatever is consenting to be thereat the table beside them. It doesn't matter who is enjoying what & how much they are enjoying it, the target needs to respect the consent all of those other people are giving them. The target needs to respect that consent all of those people are giving them because it was needed in order for the target to even have this chance at experiencing the thing they are enjoying. Often that requires being responsible by giving information needed for them to progress comfortably rather than just saying well.. I got no idea what to do, I kept saying yellow so I guess I'm done until the target saying yellow while diving into a tunnel I see no other ways out of fixes things for the rest of us"

Here is how we used those safewords at the table.
Someone mentioned a variant of these earlier
  • Green: Oh I think this is awesome! my character may or may not obviously hate it , but this is just what I want or need. I'm saying green because I want more of it, need more of it, or just feel like this is a good time to let everyone know that I'm ok because the situation might not look like it.
  • Yellow: This is ok I'm fine. I don't want to go further or would like to pull away & will provide more either immediately after or as soon as I finish this thing if I've not already made clear what is yellow in doing so. If someone really can't give any detail about the yellow so everyone else knows ow to proceed they need to call red, you can't use a yellow in place of a red to keep playing like that. If this responsibility is too much for someone to handle, the rest of the group may or may not care why but we can not consent to playing this kind of with them if it is.
  • Check ins: Anyone can check in on someone (player or gm) at any time and the person being checked on is required to provide some kind of signal ranging from throwing the word green in your reaction to a thumbs up & grin or most anything else as long as everyone is satisfied. If this responsibility is too much for someone to handle, the rest of the group may or may not care why but we can not consent to playing this kind of with them if it is.
  • Red: If there is any doubt was it a deliberate red or accidental like red haired kid or something? If accidental someone gets scolded & we move on. If deliberate that's it, session over.... We pack up & go get pizza or something someplace other than here, no alcohol is involved no exceptions. We don't get delivery or come back with pizza & today's session is over. While there we as a group discuss what happened. Work out how to avoid repeats. Talk about ways we as a group can do better going if & when we pick things up. Possibly if this is something we should pick back up or not. Given some of the stuff mentioned in the ravenloft book about types of horror this might include a need to go over consent sheets again or more often as well.
When the researchers were interacting with the captive alice there was about 15 minutes where three players never said a word, never looked at a screen, nobody tried to jump in. They were scared because from their PoV Alice was forcing me to do something I might be unwilling to do & it was only the regular injection of green/yellow that let them know this is still ok. If we weren't doing that enough for them or they didn't trust our consent mechanisms enough me & alice don't get to ignore that they are consenting to let us do this thing in their presence just as much as we are consenting to run/play the campaign with them.

I don't think I could in good conscience use most of these tools in the OP as is for horror without a lot of (re)building but can talk about some relevant stuff. One of the recent ravenloft videos mentions how the book goes into a bunch of different areas that will provide a good foundation towards fixing things by giving everyone involved a chance to provide consent from an informed position while deliberately providing the GM areas they should target & areas they can tread lightly in
There's a bit of guesswork involved because e only have descriptions rather than the actual text for some of the best ones I've seen. Here are some of the horror safety ravenloft tools I've seen & will talk what I can about using them
  1. ~7:10-*:30Ish d &d does horror , did you like strahd & want more? how do you do that how to you run it, what's world you can set it in. How you can create your own nghtmares & horror stories that are right for you & your players, monsters/settings/characters etc ... here are many different types of horror but also many different levels of horror so you don't have to have a campaign that's just 100% steeped in horror you can add a little here & there
  2. 9:47 Horror is all about tension & suspense so when your introducing those elements in any sort of form that is what starts the game on the track to becoming a horror game ... The way to do that is to ramp up that suspense the unknown & weird implications of things they don't understand in the slow reveal that ...
  3. 11:19 so much of horror is he 2 hours leading up to that event, is there stuff within the book about how to kinda create those tension moments using techniques that are usually cinematic but for a ttrpg not just the heroic fantasy tropes a lot of DMs lean on... what are some of those things people can do to take that tension & build it over the course of a session or campaign we got a whole section in the book that talks about pretty much that.... Wes talks about it & is right that those techniques work great in other types of games too & amanda picks up a bit more before it goes into good back & forth roundtable
  4. 24:19 bit of back & forth making clear that consent goes both ways & that the book talks about it
  5. 26:18 even if you asked me, I might not know. some people might not know what's triggering to them until it comes up in the game so there are tools or tips in here that explain how a player might feel comfortable expressing midgame on the fly. That jumps from Shelly to Wes talking about how there is discussion of parties that might only use one or two & others have them just cause they can't hurt & that you never really know exactly the way things are going to pan out. everybody has a voice in this. Everybody can take things in different directions for if something does zig when it should have zagged you can account for those sort of things
  6. 30:10 we're talking about this in a jokey way but your absolutely right. The whole concept of the elements of your body which is essentially you. but... The horror of the thing that is supposedly us? That's a whole genre that a lot of folks just sat ok no too real.. that's something we end up talking about in the book about body horror as a genre is a thing, if you want to play with it how do you do that, but also if you don't how do you make sure that that's a part of town we aren't going to how to just veer around
  7. 31:21 in the genre section specifically there are tables for generating villains settings plots for these genres where it's thinking critically about what makes these genres, what defines them & it's giving them specific options.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
  • The first type is the type they were built for that several people are strongly advocating for in a way that seems to suggest that sort of blacklist/whitelist checklist is the only valid way given the pushback and nobad directed at other approaches like the current discussion on sometimes needing more than just saying X is a limit.

Mod Note:
If you want to continue in this discussion, you will leave the snark behind.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
To use that poster's parlance, it's the difference between a need and a want. The player's line is a need, that poster's "line" is a want. Explicitly so.

It reads far more as the poster would misuse the safety tools to punish players for using them.
I don't think that's a fair assessment and that sort of disparaging comment towards a poster trying to talk about an important part of consent tools actively pushes people away from trying to use them in a responsible manner.
Consent tools like soft limits, hard limits safe words, x cards , lines, veils, consent forms and so on need to be treated with extreme respect for their purpose akin to a fire alarm or similar. Using the fire alarm analogy, there are many many valid reasons to pull a fire alarm that don't involve a fire & some of them even have legal backing. I found those in seconds of googling & from the looks of it could continue for quite some time.

Discussions about when it's ok or not to use a given safety tool or practice for reasons other than the intended one & how to responsibly handle disagreements over that believed or even known misuse are just as important if not more important as the tools themselves. People need to feel they can safely discuss those topics without getting shutdown by no bad or painted in a bad light for bringing it up. That's important because nobody can help someone that wants to be responsible but isn't sure how if they are scared to ask.
 

It is perhaps more accurate to say that they won't work... for telling you if a specific pre-written adventure will work out well.
You can also use them if you are proposing multiple campaigns to your players, so that they don’t choose for instance, an adventure that has multiple instances of body horror if that sort of thing squicks them out.
 

A mate recently introduced me to the terms "ask vs guess culture" which seems relevant
From what I understand, this is people who will ask and expect a "yes" or a "no" vs people who will infer and hope for a "yes" but leave things open so someone doesn't have to give a "no"

Like when you need a ride somewhere. And Asker will simply say "yo, can I get a ride downtown?" while a guesser will comment "I need to go downtown. Not looking forward to taking the bus" while hoping the person will offer a ride

Something to be aware of regarding lines 'n' veils
Some gamers might make it apparent that they don't want something in their games. Others might just infer and hope you take the hint
Which is a good argument for why you need to get it in writing
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
A mate recently introduced me to the terms "ask vs guess culture" which seems relevant
From what I understand, this is people who will ask and expect a "yes" or a "no" vs people who will infer and hope for a "yes" but leave things open so someone doesn't have to give a "no"

Like when you need a ride somewhere. And Asker will simply say "yo, can I get a ride downtown?" while a guesser will comment "I need to go downtown. Not looking forward to taking the bus" while hoping the person will offer a ride

Something to be aware of regarding lines 'n' veils
Some gamers might make it apparent that they don't want something in their games. Others might just infer and hope you take the hint
Which is a good argument for why you need to get it in writing
It seems like it would be asking for trouble if you tried to infer anything about lines and veils. How would the X-card work in that kind of setup?
 

It seems like it would be asking for trouble if you tried to infer anything about lines and veils. How would the X-card work in that kind of setup?
Good question

Speaking as an uber-introvert. I hate asking for things. I hate making people say "no" when I can leave things open and have them offer (or not) I hate putting people out
I'd be hesitant to tap the x-card and inconvenience anyone, even if I was uncomfortable. Even if I suspected everyone would stop for me. Because I'd rather be uncomfortable than force anyone else to stop having fun

For me, having lines and veils established in advance would work better than an X-card. Because I'm going to feel confrontational tapping the card. I'd prefer the DM not "going there" in advance
 

MGibster

Legend
For me, having lines and veils established in advance would work better than an X-card. Because I'm going to feel confrontational tapping the card. I'd prefer the DM not "going there" in advance
I much prefer establishing the boundaries ahead of time rather than relying on the X-Card system. As a player it means I'm not placed in a position where I feel as though I'm interrupting everyone's fun by tapping the card. As a DM, I don't have to worry whether or not today will be the day someone taps the card.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Good question

Speaking as an uber-introvert. I hate asking for things. I hate making people say "no" when I can leave things open and have them offer (or not) I hate putting people out
I'd be hesitant to tap the x-card and inconvenience anyone, even if I was uncomfortable. Even if I suspected everyone would stop for me. Because I'd rather be uncomfortable than force anyone else to stop having fun

For me, having lines and veils established in advance would work better than an X-card. Because I'm going to feel confrontational tapping the card. I'd prefer the DM not "going there" in advance
Your bringing up two topics here that blend together a bit but deserve their own discussion The tendency towards agreeableness shoving your own needs aside & the x-card pressure. That agreeableness is a perfect example of why your GM or your player needs to engage in discussion with you or any other player/gm to sketch out what you are asking for them to (not) do before they can give informed consent to (not) doing it. That discussion also allows you the chance to demonstrate that you acknowledge& understand the risks that you are agreeing to.

In medicine & other communities with a strong culture of consent that process is known as informed consent. Informed consent can't happen if the person consenting is not able to demonstrate that they understand the risks & responsibilities well enough for other involved parties to give their own consent to your wants & needs through discussion The tools need to accept that humans aren't always logical & design themselves towards proactively avoiding this kind of snag .



wrt your "I'm going to feel confrontational tapping the card"
, You might justifiably be hesitant to stand up, reach over the table, & feel the way you are certain everyone's eyes are drilling into you* while you touch the x card instead of just fixing that one mini not quite centered in the square beside it . You are going to have a much easier time jumping in & saying "I want to look out the window to see if I see anyone hears this carnage". You could fix that mini & it would be really easy to point all those eyes at the mini instead of you by fixing it so you can sit back down.

When things like status checks & safewords for communicating enjoyment & comfort levels are normalized it's a much lower bar than feeling all of those eyes for you to just say something like "I want to look out the window to see if I see anyone hears this yellow carnage" and let everyone know that you are asking them to either not dial this up a notch or change things up perhaps like this by mentioning people maybe hearing it.


*it doesn't matter what everyone else is doing for someone to feel confrontational taking the first step & it's a pretty well documented behavioral thing.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I much prefer establishing the boundaries ahead of time rather than relying on the X-Card system. As a player it means I'm not placed in a position where I feel as though I'm interrupting everyone's fun by tapping the card. As a DM, I don't have to worry whether or not today will be the day someone taps the card.
I agree. I'd rather it be handled pre-game as much as possible. But things will inevitably come up in game that need to be handled. I think using both is a good idea. Instead of the X-card there's another in-game safety tool, script change. It includes things like pause, rewind, fast forward, etc to facilitate discussion and to skip passed problematic things in game. Though I'm not sure it's any more useful for someone who's hyper-non-confrontational.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Shifting away from safety tools to horror gaming resources, here are two blog posts that offer a lot of good advice. There are several links therein to other, related, posts, though I’m not sure of their value as I haven’t read them.


 

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