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Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft: An In-Depth Review

The last few D&D books had a lot for DMs. Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft tops them all. Players will get a lot out of it, too, but VRGtR is a feast of useful, imagination-sparking material—and that's not entirely limited to those who like horror.
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The Demiplane of Dread known as Ravenloft is the star, of course, but VRGtR is more than just a setting book. While it highlights and refreshes domains from other editions and adds new ones, it takes a similar approach to Acquisitions Inc., Eberron: Rising from the Last War, and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount in that it includes a short adventure but otherwise explains how to make adventures and characters for the settings.

VRGtR has domains from older editions of Ravenloft, brand-new ones, and information on how to make your own. That's in addition to an abundance of material on creating horror adventures, different styles of horror, ensuring everyone has fun, pacing, and much more. The book also repeatedly reminds DMs to create adventures the players consider spooky fun, not miserable or disturbing.

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Return to Ravenloft​

If you're new to Ravenloft or only know what's in Curse of Strahd, Ravenloft began as a module of the same title in 1983 for first edition D&D. The Gothic adventure featured the villain and “first vampire” Strahd von Zarovich. It was an instant hit and has appeared in some fashion in every edition of D&D since. In 1990 Ravenloft became a full campaign setting in a boxed set for 2nd Edition. Ravenloft is part of the Demiplane of Dread and was first listed as part of the Ethereal Plane. Now that demiplane is associated with the Shadowfell.

While Strahd rules Barovia, his domain, which resembles a Hollywood horror version of Transylvania, over time additional Dread Domains were added with darklords ruling them that resembled classic monsters like Doctor Frankenstein, the Mummy, and more. Separating the domains from each other and other D&D settings are the Mists.

Keeping in mind that D&D has gained a lot of new players through 5th Edition, VRGtR opens with an overview of the Land of Mists in case it's your first trip to the setting, as well as the seven secrets of Ravenloft. The essential rules for the domains and darklords follow with an explanation how the Dark Powers trap unrepentantly evil darklords in the domains, because that's what they are—prisons for the most evil of beings. Notes from NPCs like Doctor Van Richten add insights.

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New, Creepy Character Options​

The Character Creation chapter starts with advice for players, including what they can do to help maintain the tone and tension that's part of the horror genre. VRGtR provides a lot of advice for DMs and players throughout the book and while the advice is geared toward the horror genre, much of it is just good advice in general.

The Gothic lineages previewed recently in Unearthed Arcana material appear here with a few changes. Lineages function similar to races and taking one will alter your character's core traits even though they'll still look(or mostly look) like a dwarf, human, dragonborn, orc., etc. The lineages are Dhampir (someone with aspects of a vampire without being a full vampire), Hexblood (those who have a fey or witchcraft lineage or who have made a deal with a hag), and Reborn (those who have died but still live through unnatural means).

The biggest change was geared toward keeping things simple—maintaining a single creature type per character as opposed to the dual creature type in the UA material. It's a smart decision because the dual creature type could lead to a level of complexity that 5th Edition has tried to avoid or minimize. So now Dhampir, Hexblood, and Reborn are all creature type humanoid instead of also being undead or fey.

As a nod to the concept of dual creature types, the Dhampir gained “deathless nature,” though it's a different version than the one the Reborn already had. For the Dhampir, it just means that they don't have to breathe, which opens up some interesting possibilities (hiding in a bag of holding? Creeping people out by visibly not breathing? Being sent to explore underwater?). A few other things have been tweaked or clarified, like specifying “piercing damage” in the description of a bite attack that allows a dhampir to regain hit points after using their bite to attack. Hexbloods lose fey resilience.

If your DM agrees, the Gothic lineages can transform an existing character. That's a juicy story option for a character who survives a vampire attack, dies, or is willing to bargain to get something they fiercely desire—inside Ravenloft or elsewhere. Objectively, the Gothic lineages look like they'll be fun to play. Subjectively, I like the Dhampir and Reborn better than Hexblood even though mechanically and in story terms all three are well done. The lineages are the just the start of material that could be used in non-Ravenloft games, DM permitting, of course.

Dark Gifts are the next character option, and they represent a benefit that comes with an insidious effect from the Dark Powers. The Dark Gift options are Soul Echoes (influence from a past life), Whispering Spirits (souls talk to you), Living Shadow (animated shadow), Mist Walker (you can navigate the mists—if luck is with you), Second Skin (you have an alternate form—good or evil), Symbiotic Being (your body isn't your own), Touch of Death, and Watchers (ethereal creatures follow you). The Second Skin is the most intriguing to me. It would allow a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hide option or perhaps your character was touched by celestial energy to be a beacon of hope in the dark.

While they're “intended for starting characters” a DM and player could agree to add one later based on events that happened in the game. I really like this latter option, especially if used in non-Ravenloft adventures. Whether added later or part of initial character creation, players are recommended to work out the details with the DM. I also like the Dark Gifts because if they're handled properly, they can lead to some very character-driven scenarios.

VRGtR also provides two new subclass options, both of which previously appeared in Unearthed Arcana. Bards get the College of Spirits. These bards seek stories that contain power—legends, histories, etc.—and then use their power to tap into these capricious spirits. The book version pretty much matches the Unearthed Arcana version except for modifications to the table for Spirit Tales.

If you like creepy bards and play College of Whisper bards, the College of Spirit subclass will appeal to you. With items such as skulls as a spell focus option, you can have fun role-playing this one. The College of Spirits Bard is interesting and definitely adds a flavor appropriate for Ravenloft.

Personally, I find the other subclass, Warlock: Undead Pact, more engaging. In this case power comes through a bargain with a powerful undead creature like a demilich, dragolich, etc. Depending upon the level and ability you get temp hit points, the ability to resist damage, and even cause necrotic damage when you would normally hit zero hit points (in addition to going back up to 1 HP). Other than changing the name of the Mortal Husk ability to Necrotic Husk, this Warlock basically matches the UA version.

Backgrounds get some attention with options for Inheritor, Mist Wanderer, Spirit Medium, Trauma Survivor, plus Haunted One and Investigator. You also get tables for generating flaws, ideals, bonds and personality traits for horror adventures. The Gothic trinkets chart from CoS is reprinted and expanded. The original version had a d100 roll but each item had a span of two numbers for 50 items. The new version has a full 100 items.

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Creating a Darklord​

While VRGtR has classic, refreshed, and new Domains of Dread, before you get to that material, the book gives you a full chapter on how to create your own domains. Because each domain is a reflection of its master and prisoner, it starts with creating the darklord.

Darklords are different than other villains in that they are unrepentantly evil. Normal villains could be redeemed or misunderstood. While evil, normal villains could hesitate or even change. Darklords have undertaken their evil acts consciously and full intent. They may regret their current situation but not what they did to make it happen.

Additionally, if you decide to create a haunted house adventure, the questions for creating the part of the domain that replays the darklord's crime as punishment can be used to flesh out for any setting. Suggestions for ways to torment the darklord—remember, their domain is their prison so it can't be enjoyable—could also be repurposed, especially for hellish settings.

Then, to further distinguish the domains more, VRGtR provides a list of cultural questions to answer while creating the domain. Obviously, if you already have idea, you can go with that but these questions can still help you flesh out the setting. Further idea prompts about the mists and how they work in your domain, what can lead to the darklord's downfall. Charts to steer the darklord's connections to adventurers and their interactions fill out.

None of the darklords mentioned get stat blocks. Since Strahd had one in CoS it's a little odd, but it also shifts the focus away from head-to-head contact and more role-play. No stat blocks also means that a DM can scale a darklord as appropriate for a scenario. It prevents players who read VRGtR from thinking, oh, this one is just that CR. Not knowing contributes to character caution and fear.

One of the other things I love about VRGtR is that it's a great toolkit for horror adventures. While horror is addressed more thoroughly later, it starts in this chapter with an exploration of different types of horror. Body horror, cosmic horror, dark fantasy, folk horror, ghost stories and Gothic horror all get two full pages that explain what that type of horror is, plot and setting ideas, a list of monsters appropriate for this type of horror (from either the Monster Manual or VRGtR), torments, and ideas for villains. Four other types of horror—disaster horror, occult detective horror, psychological horror, and slasher horror, only get a half a page so they don't get the charts the other categories do, but they do get an excellent set of questions for creating adventures.

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Domains Old and New​

Then you get a hefty chapter on existing and new domains of dread, 17 of which range from two to eight pages and then another 22 just get a paragraph but the limited space is still packed with great ideas. For example, the domain Cyre 1313: The Mourning Rail is a haunted train. This traveling domain is fleeing an environmental catastrophe in Eberron, and its engine functions on necrotic energy as it carries passengers that don't realize they're dead.

Barovia, of course, gets one of the more robust descriptions to supplement and expand what was presented in CoS. Falkovnia is never-ending zombie horror—only Ravenloft zombies can still attack even when dismembered, making them especially terrifying.

The Carnival is another revived version from the past. Like the Cyre 1313 domain, the Carnival is a traveling domain that can often cross the borders of other domains. Unlike the other darklords, who are some form of humanoid, the darklord of Carnival is Nepenthe, the holy avenger sword, created by the shadar-kai, that burns with hate for the guilty. Wielded by Isolde, who runs the Carnival, she protects the carnival folk as long as they follow the rules. Inevitably, though, the locals turn on them, forcing the Carnival to move again.

I really like the revised version of Har'Akir. Ruled by a mummy lord, the original version of Ankhtepot was inspired by the Boris Karloff classic mummy movie. The thing is that movie had a lot of style but not much of story. In this revised version, Ankhtepot is an arrogant, power hungry high priest who betrays his pharaoh and, ultimately, his gods.

The domain of Kalakeri is a blend of Gothic horror and dark fantasy inspired by folklore from India. Ramya Vasavadan is the darklord and tyrant, locked in an eternal battle of betrayal and war with her siblings. While Ramya has been reborn in the domain as a death knight, her brother Arijani, reborn as a rakshasa and her sister Reeva, reborn as an arcanolich. The three fight for the Sapphire Throne with the people of Kalakeri torn between Ramya's loyalists, Arijani and Reeva's fanatical rebels, and common folk just trying to get by.

Both old and new domains in VRGtR are imaginative and packed with ideas. Whether you use the plot seeds provided or use the descriptions of the domain to create your own, VRGtR gives you a lot to work with.

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Classic NPCs and Groups​

Along with the revived domains, other groups and NPCs are revisited and, in some cases, advanced beyond their last appearances. Keepers of the Feather began in Barovia as wereravens working against Strahd; as some heard calls for help and hope beyond the mists, some members moved to other domains. Depending upon where you encounter the term “Keepers of the Feather” they could be true to their Barovian roots or misunderstood thanks to flawed information. As with so much in VRGtR the DM has tools to spin whatever kind of story that would entertain their players.

In my review for Candlekeep Mysteries I mentioned that the adventure, Book of the Raven, provided a glimpse of the new direction WotC was taking with the Vistani. In VRGtR the Vistani are significantly revamped and yet recognizable from both earlier versions of Ravenloft and Gothic horror tropes. According to reports, WotC worked with Romani consultant to address and change stereotypes that persist in fiction and the original version of the Vistani.

Here, the Vistani are still travelers who can cross the mists that act as boundaries for the domains, though they take precautions when they do so. Instead of being “servants of Strahd” who trick people into crossing the mists to enter Barovia or being thieves and murderers, they make their living through trade, craftwork, and performance. Vistani wagons are the only access to outside supplies and news in the more remote parts of the domains.

In this version of the Vistani, while most are human, over time some Vistani bands have adopted people from other ancestries such as halflings, dwarves, orcs, etc., making them full members of the Vistani community. References to them being drunkards are gone. Instead they're magical travelers who know evil is real, fate is powerful and fickle, and time moves differently between domains. Individual Vistani can still be unsavory—Madame Eva is a frequent ally of Strahd. However, the Vistani can vary in personality and motivation as any other group. The changes are nicely done, maintaining a certain flavor without the racist stereotypes. The backstory of Ezmerelda d'Avenir, who now goes by “Ez”, also changes slightly. Instead of being Vistani, her manipulative family only pretended to be Vistani to prey upon travelers.

Other NPCs from earlier editions of Ravenloft also return and like the darklords, they don't get stat blocks so you can make them what you want. One of my rare disappointments in VRGtR is that among the many pages of DM advice they don't include guidance on how to balance well-known NPCs that the players might be eager to interact with while keeping the focus firmly on the player characters.

In addition to Ez, Rudolph Van Richten, whose name graces this book, and his ghost son Eramus are included along with Jandar Sunstar, the Weathermay-Foxglove twins, and others. The famous occult detective Alanik Ray and adventuring physician Arthur Sedgwick are an example of how they're updated. While pursuing a serial killer Alanik fell from a roof, paralyzing his legs. Since his intellect has always been his greatest weapon, he still solves mysteries from a custom wheelchair, aided by Sedgwick, who he married.

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Building Horror That's Fun​

Chapter 4 is a master class in creating horror adventures, setting the tone, and ensuring that your players enjoy themselves. It starts with an explanation of what makes an adventure horror and setting expectations. A list of questions enables the DM to determine the type of horror their players are interested in, what they don't want, and limits agreed upon in advance.

More than once the DM and players are reminded that the goal is creepy, spooky, thrilling fun. Including things that might mind someone of a phobia or a description that turns their stomach isn't fun. Some in the game industry will scoff at setting boundaries, but I've seen more than one group at my FLGS fall apart when a DM thought it would be “cool” to “shock” players with excessively grisly descriptions of physical torture or even alluding to bestiality with lycanthropes. If they like extreme scenarios, that's fine. The advice is solid: talking to your players, learning what interests them, and creating surprises within those themes and tones will keep your players happy and engaged.

VRGtR recommends the information on doing a Session Zero from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. At the same time, VRGtR adds additional information and topics to discuss in the Session Zero for a horror game, including how to customize the sort of horror that will thrill your players and keep them coming back.

In addition to talking to your players before and while planning your game, touching base during play can also ensure that everyone has fun. This chapter also includes instructions on what the X-Card is and how to use it, written by its designer, John Stavropoulos. It's a very simple mechanic that can be added to any game.

The advice on running an adventure and keeping focus on the game is useful for almost any RPG and genre. It gives good advice on limiting distractions, using props and music without creating hazards, location and accessibility concerns and more. Limiting distractions when you're trying to build tension makes sense but some players concentrate better when they're hands are busy. Dim lights can set a mood but players need enough light to read their character sheets—and you want to avoid fire hazards. Those last points may seem obvious but more than one “atmospheric” game had practical problems.

DMs are also coached on how to pace horror, building trust, giving characters just enough hope to offset the fear and keep them going, and how to make the characters question what they're experiencing in a way that creates a nightmare reality that's fun. How much to explain and when to let the players' imaginations fill in the gaps is also explored.

VRGtR also gives good advice on how to describe monsters so they sound scary. Just saying, “you see a werewolf” isn't scary. Describing the sound of a low growl as an over-sized wolf stares at you with blood from a recent kill dripping from its sharp teeth” sets a mood and captures your players' imaginations in a way that will have them bragging about your game.

This chapter even addresses topics like how to subvert cliches, planning breaks, and checking in with your players. Whether you like horror or not, every DM should read this chapter. Regardless of your game or genre, the advice is that useful, if not downright essential.

The character creation chapter mentioned talking to your DM about including certain options, agreeing on backgrounds, etc. This chapter handles that topic from the DM's perspective, reminding them that players want agency over their character. You might think it's cool that your story involves your players taking on a Dark Gift or even being infected with full-fledged vampirism or lycanthropy but your players might not agree. Talking to your player about such an idea is always a better idea.

The rest of the chapter is a horror toolkit that spends a couple of pages on curses, how to rethink them, and make them more challenging. Haunted traps are another cool option. Neither mechanical nor magical, these traps are supernatural threats to trespassers.

There is also advice on how to create a mix of fear and tension. A Seeds of Fear table offers suggestions for things that could apply to characters or be incited during the game. The fear within the game creates a Stress Score that will adversely affect characters as it builds—unless they do something to relieve that stress. I like these mechanics much better than the madness mechanics in CoS, which were often awkward for players to act out or absurdly extreme in a way that negatively affected the tone of the game.

This Horror Toolkit chapter is packed with excellent material, and one of my favorites is at the end—survivors. Much like sidekicks in the D&D Essentials Kit, survivors are pre-made characters that are perfect for people who want to try D&D, are just dropping in for a single session in a longer campaign, etc. They get talents up through 3rd level and come in four varieties—apprentice, disciple, sneak, and squire. Anything that makes it easy for a curious newcomer to try an RPG is a good thing in my book.

The adventure “House of Lament” rounds out the chapter. This short adventure takes players up through 3rd level. I don't want to give too much away about the adventure but if you've ever read Poe's The Cask of Amontillado you'll have a clue as to the haunted history of Castle Laventz.

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Monsters of Ravenloft​

Before getting to stat blocks, Chapter 5 gives advice on how to make any monster more compelling and scary. It advises DMs to treat monsters as unique individuals and to consider the monsters' origin. Monster tactics, traits, and minions are all addressed. So is how to create unique nightmares.

This final chapter contains 32 stat blocks ranging in their CR from 1/8 to 21. Some, like the vampiric mind flayer, have appeared in prior incarnations of Ravenloft, some, like wereravens, had already made their 5th Edition debut in CoS, and others are new to the setting like Jiangshi, a type of undead inspired by Chinese folklore.

If you've been disappointed by the werewolves and other lycanthropes in the Monster Manual, you'll like the loup garou. With a CR of 13, it's definitely a challenge. No simple Remove Curse spell will fix it either. Instead you have to kill the one that turned you and then maybe Remove Curse will work—if you make the save.

If you like the movie The Thing, the Lesser and Greater Star Spawn Emissaries will interest you. At CR 19 and 21, respectively, they're definitely creatures you could wrap not just a boss fight around but an entire campaign. The lesser form is designed for infiltration, has telepathy so they understand any language, and can take any shape. Both forms have legendary actions and legendary resistance. The greater form has a bile attack that can even produce Gibbering Mouthers.

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Is This Book for Me?​

When possible, I like to give readers a list of things that will help them decide if the book or product is right for them. In the case of VRGtR the only reason why it wouldn't be for you would be if you absolutely hate the horror genre and horror adventures. And yet...

VRGtR does such a good job with the DM's advice on making sure your players are enjoying themselves, designing games, making your game more engaging, and so much more that you still might want to consider it. While the advice is geared toward horror, the vast majority of it applies to any genre and setting tone, having the right pace, and creating appropriate tension in the characters is universal. The only difference is that if you really dislike horror, you might want to borrow your friend's copy or wait till the book is on sale.

If you're a horror fan, VRGtR is a no-brainer. Whatever your taste in horror, VRGtR has good advice on how to run it and create adventures for it. Even comedy gets a brief mention as a method to adjust pacing and lighten mood as a way to creating more impact in the heavier scenes that might follow it.

I also love books that spark my imagination. Even when I run a printed adventure, I like to change things up, mix in my own ideas, etc. VRGtR is so jam-packed with creativity, interesting ideas, and evocative settings that while reading it I periodically stopped to jot down an idea for the future.

My main complaint is an incredibly small one—an appendix that gave examples of the various types of horror cited in the media would have been a great touch for those not familiar the various types or wanting additional inspiration. Everything else are equally small quibbles, and they're extremely few in number.

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft is easily the best book for 5th Edition produced yet. Imaginative settings, terrifying monsters, a good adventure, character options that are fun to role-play, and outstanding advice for DMs—it's a winner hands down. My rating: A+
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Except a disruptive Player without the X-Card can get a talking to by the DM.

With the X-Card, reading its rules as written, a DM cannot use any evidence of disruption, because as written the X-Card prevents the questioning of why it was triggered. So a disruptive Player can stop another Player's character mid-sentence, and nobody is allowed to question why, even the DM cannot question why.

So once again, ironically, the X-Card that is a safety tool, itself has no safety rules to protect it from abuse and ruin the entertainment for everyone else at the table.
Apart from the social contract. If someone sets out to use the X-card in a disruptive manner (which by the way I’ve literally never heard of anyone doing), they might get away with it a couple of times, but it will become pretty obvious very quickly, if not immediately, that they are doing so. Just because there isn’t a built-in rules function covering how to address such a situation doesn’t mean the group can’t address it. You’re just engaging in needless handwringing here.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yes. Fencing is one of those activities that carries with it an elevated risk of causing harm to the participants so it makes sense to wear safety equipment to mitigate said risks. Nobody's saying that using proper safety procedures is an insult to manly-men who know no weakness. Or at least I'm not saying it. What I am saying is that D&D is not an inherently dangerous activity that requires the use of a safe word.
D&D horror can be inherently dangerous for people with traumas and phobias, so a safe word is absolutely required.
The vast majority of those internet gaming horror stories don't involve people who don't understand boundaries or social cues. Almost all of them involve jerks deliberately behaving like jerks.
And some of them do involve people intentionally avoiding safety tools and poking their players in their traumas, phobias, and fears. Safety tools are meant to minimize that. You will always have jerk DMs like you will always have jerk players. Safety tools will be derided and scoffed at. Sure, fine. Safety tools are meant for the people who can handle them. Who're mature enough to recognize that not everyone has the same feelings, fears, phobias, traumas, and boundaries as they have.
And once again, a factory is a hazardous environment which warrants special equipment and rules of behavior to mitigate the risks of physical harm. I categorically reject the idea that D&D is a dangerous social environment that warrants safety tools.
Then you're wrong. Period. In D&D literally anything can happen. Dismissing mental and emotional harm because it's not physical is dismissing a lot of people and their experiences in life.
Should we carry X-Cards in other areas of our life and flag people every time they say something that might trigger us?
Oh, gods. Is this going to turn into yet another "life doesn't come with trigger warnings, snowflake" style rant?
 

Kurotowa

Legend
What I am saying is that D&D is not an inherently dangerous activity that requires the use of a safe word.
That is an opinion that not everyone shares, obviously. Including the writers at WotC. Having a safe word cost little and can prevent much harm, especially in the context of a horror campaign that's trying to push boundaries a little without actually breaching them.

I mean, maybe your play group are thick skinned, have a past blessedly free of trauma, and have been playing together for long enough that you all know each other's red lines by heart. Good for you! That safe word can sit unused and unneeded, having eaten 30 seconds to explain at the start of the campaign and never brought up again. Not everyone's circumstances are like that. Sometimes you have people with trauma they haven't shared, or are playing with people they know less well, or have a DM that doesn't know how to read the table for when they're pushing too far. For those groups, a safe word is a good thing to have.
 
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When I was an active fencer, you didn't cross swords without a mask and padded jacket on. Not because you were trying to genuinely hurt each other, but for safety, because accidents happen. These tools are the same. Saying that using proper safety procedures is an insult to manly-men who know no weakness is how someone loses an eye (or a friendship).

Are they needed? I mean, the Internet has no shortage of gaming horror stories from when things went wrong. Not always because someone was being malicious, but just because people don't always understands boundaries and triggers well. Especially us geeks with our sometimes spotty social skills.

The summer I worked at a roofing tile factory, I was required to wear a helmet and steel toed boots and ear plugs. Not because accidents were expected, but because accidents are by their nature unpredictable and the cost of using a few basic safety measures so outweighed the potential harm of NOT being protected when you needed to be. It's the same risk calculation here. Overblown handwringing about people abusing the X-Card aside, the cost of using these tools is low and the potential harm they can mitigate is high.
You wre a helmet, probably one like this, as opposed to this this or this. You have that no true scottsman analogy pointed the wrong way. Doing that might make it easy to dismiss the problem @imagineGod is bringing up, but it actively discourages people from attempting to use these tools or find the way of dong so that best fits their table through anything short of tiral & error. One of the many problems with the tool as written when trying to move it from therapy/care use to a tabletop rpg where there may be deliberate efforts made to target the individual characters with horror elements is the one he raised. That problem is directly created by omissions or bad design elsewhere.

It's great that you & others want to take safety tools seriously, but part of doing so is accepting that Maslow's Hammer can also apply the scope of what a given tool can or should be applied to is not unlimited. Doing that involves listening to problems & use cases where the tool is not up to snuff & engaging in rational discussion towards solutions other than trying to shame the person bringing it up. Instead this is literally a discussion where somebody brought up a problem with the tool and has been under fire as the problem component by multiple posters rather than anyone working towards a solution that fits his needs.

For those posting about problems they see with the x-card I've posted about my use of safewords before and think these might be better suited to some of the problems & concerns you are worried about
  • 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.
It's not a one size fits all & I talk about informed consent along with different types of game styles that could change up the reasons for why they might be needed in the linked post. If you still have concerns or uncertainties about how something could be handled, you shouldn't worry about bringing them up somewhere.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Probably everyone should read the X-Card rules as written before posting replies.

It works just like a Magic the Gathering card. You tap it to control the whole table for a moment, even the DM. Once tapped everything anyone else is doing stops. No restrictions on what actions are affected. The whole table stops like a time freeze. After the freeze no explanation is given. It is a very powerful artifact level item.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
That is how the X-Card rules are written. Clueless to real world social responsibility.
What responsibility does someone with arachnophobia have to the group playing D&D? Or the DM who wants to include spiders? Is it the player's responsibility to detail the exact particulars of their fears to the group before the group gets to pass judgement on those fears and determine if they are valid?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Imagine if the emergency brake on the train is free from questions, and any teenager or adult can trigger it for any reason whatever, stopping the journey of all other passengers on that train.

Imagine if a law protects anyone stopping a train for any reason even a joke since no questions can be asked Who is being protected then?

That is how the X-Card rules are written. Clueless to real world social responsibility.
Another flawed analogy. If the X-card required an explanation to use, it would be like having to prove to the conductor that there’s an emergency before the emergency break would function. In an emergency, there’s no time for that. Safety tools need to work immediately to serve their purpose. If someone abuses their function, there is no reason the abuse can’t be investigated and corrective action taken. Likewise, if someone uses the X-card to disrupt the game, you can investigate and take corrective action.
 

Over the course of hundreds of games with dozens and dozens of people, I have never once seen someone "abuse" the X-card to try to "win" D&D. It's simply the RPG Jerk Fallacy reskinned. A jerk DM or player is going to ruin a game regardless of X-cards or house rules or session zero. It's a nonsense argument set up to derail a real discussion.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Another flawed analogy. If the X-card required an explanation to use, it would be like having to prove to the conductor that there’s an emergency before the emergency break would function. In an emergency, there’s no time for that. Safety tools need to work immediately to serve their purpose. If someone abuses their function, there is no reason the abuse can’t be investigated and corrective action taken. Likewise, if someone uses the X-card to disrupt the game, you can investigate and take corrective action.
You do not seem to understand how emergency laws work.

If a train is stopped an investigation is carried out and the person who triggered it must explain why.

The X-Card as written deliberately gives cover for abuse. It is like allowing anyone to stop a train at any time for any reason without telling anyone why. Even the DM. That is not a workable law. It was written by someone who has probably never witnessed abuse that affects other people. Because if the world was run in such laws, rather than safety, we would face chaos.
 

Another flawed analogy. If the X-card required an explanation to use, it would be like having to prove to the conductor that there’s an emergency before the emergency break would function. In an emergency, there’s no time for that. Safety tools need to work immediately to serve their purpose. If someone abuses their function, there is no reason the abuse can’t be investigated and corrective action taken. Likewise, if someone uses the X-card to disrupt the game, you can investigate and take corrective action.
you sure about that?

What is it?​


It’s a card with an X on it that participants in a Simulation or Role-Playing Game can use to edit out anything that makes them uncomfortable with no explanations needed.

It was originally developed to make gaming with strangers fun, inclusive, and safe.
5. “You don’t have to explain why.
Explaining is bad because it’s extra effort, a higher barrier to accomplish your goal, and it can feel like being put on trial. Plus explanations means more time not playing.

6. “It doesn't matter why.”
No judgement. No questioning.
link
I'm pretty sure most people are talking about... or at least intend to be talking about the one I linked to & quoted from the the spoiler... What X-card are you talking about?
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Probably everyone should read the X-Card rules as written before posting replies.

It works just like a Magic the Gathering card. You tap it to control the whole table for a moment, even the DM. Once tapped everything anyone else is doing stops. No restrictions on what actions are affected. The whole table stops like a time freeze. After the freeze no explanation is given. It is a very powerful artifact level item.
I have read them, and while the function is like you describe - “tap” the card to indicate you need the action to stop, and it stops with no questions asked - the analogy to a magic card fails because magic cards are game pieces. Their functions are gameplay functions. The X-card is a safety tool. It’s function is entirely meta-game. The emergency break on a train was a much, much better analogy, as both are safety tools which cause something (either the forward movement of a train or the narrative action of a D&D game) to come to an immediate stop before it can blunder into danger.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
You do not seem to understand how emergency laws work.

If a train is stopped an investigation is carried out and the person who triggered it must explain why.

The X-Card as written deliberately gives cover for abuse. It is like allowing anyone to stop a train at any time for any reason without telling anyone why. Even the DM. That is not a workable law. It was written by someone who has probably never witnessed abuse that affects other people. Because if the world was run in such laws, rather than safety, we would face chaos.
Good thing we're not talking about how laws are written in the real world, we're talking about safety tools at the gaming table.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Over the course of hundreds of games with dozens and dozens of people, I have never once seen someone "abuse" the X-card to try to "win" D&D. It's simply the RPG Jerk Fallacy reskinned. A jerk DM or player is going to ruin a game regardless of X-cards or house rules or session zero. It's a nonsense argument set up to derail a real discussion.
If the X-Card cannot guarantee safety or stop abuse, then you just made the argument that its existence is worthless.

Without the X-Card, the DM has power to callout a jerk Player. With the X-Card, any DM who targets a Player that tapped the X-Card can be accused of breaking the social contract the X-Card creates, so instead of the cheek Player under fire, it is the DM calling out.

The X-Card needs a revision to work properly. But all its defenders refuse to fix it
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
You do not seem to understand how emergency laws work.

If a train is stopped an investigation is carried out and the person who triggered it must explain why.
Yes, after the train has come to a stop. For the X-card to work like that, it has to bring an immediate stop to the gameplay, no questions asked. Once that happens, sure, go ahead and check-in with the player, ask if they’re ok, if they need to take a break, maybe clarify what was happening in the game that they needed it to stop if it isn’t clear. What you don’t do is demand that they justify their use of the card or explain the nature of their trauma.
The X-Card as written deliberately gives cover for abuse.
Are you actually suggesting that John Stavropoulos invented the X-card with the specific intent of allowing people to freely disrupt games? I’d call that an extraordinary claim.
It is like allowing anyone to stop a train at any time for any reason without telling anyone why.
You literally can stop a train at any time for any reason. That doesn’t absolve you of consequences if you do so when there isn’t an actual emergency.
 

What responsibility does someone with arachnophobia have to the group playing D&D? Or the DM who wants to include spiders? Is it the player's responsibility to detail the exact particulars of their fears to the group before the group gets to pass judgement on those fears and determine if they are valid?
Phobias are the jump scare equivalent of horror. & in the context of consent tools are little better than a think of the children type argument that makes anyone in disagreement look like some kind of monster without having to address their point as it applies to the lwhole scope of things being discused
If the X-Card cannot guarantee safety or stop abuse, then you just made the argument that its existence is worthless.

Without the X-Card, the DM has power to callout a jerk Player. With the X-Card, any DM who targets a Player that tapped the X-Card can be accused of breaking the social contract the X-Card creates, so instead of the cheek Player under fire, it is the DM calling out.

The X-Card needs a revision to work properly. But all its defenders refuse to fix it
the "lines & veils" suffers from a similar problem where they are literally a discretion shot trying to fill the much bigger & very different shoes of a soft limit & a poorly defined hard limit worded in a way that encourages misunderstandings between individuals with different assumptions
 

Kurotowa

Legend
Why would you expect the skin color of orcs to be consistent throughout various world or even continents?
I'd be fine with that if they actually went and did that. Better than fine, it's be really cool of orcs came in a spectrum from pale grey to dark green and maybe even a bit yellowish in some cases. Right now, though, D&D orcs are textually grey and it's bleed over from Warhammer and Warcraft that makes people assume they're green. Which isn't something that really matters, in any important sense, but it bugs me.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
If the X-Card cannot guarantee safety or stop abuse, then you just made the argument that its existence is worthless.
That’s absurd. Just because a safety tool isn’t 100% effective doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Condoms aren’t 100% effective at preventing pregnancy or STIs, but they aren’t worthless. The point of a safety tool is to reduce the risk of harm. If it does that with a reasonable degree of reliability it’s useful. Can it be improved on? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth using as-is.
Without the X-Card, the DM has power to callout a jerk Player. With the X-Card, any DM who targets a Player that tapped the X-Card can be accused of breaking the social contract the X-Card creates, so instead of the cheek Player under fire, it is the DM calling out.
Only if the entire group is made up of robots who are incapable of recognizing context or making judgment calls. But in real life, it’s pretty easy to recognize when someone is using the X-card in bad faith.
The X-Card needs a revision to work properly. But all its defenders refuse to fix it
As I said before, I don’t think the X-card is perfect. If you want to discuss ways to improve it or alternative safety tools, that’s fine. I rather liked @tetrasodium ’s adaptation with different colors for different levels of comfort. That’s a very different conversation than rejecting the X-card as worthless because it doesn’t force players to rehash trauma to justify their use of it.
 

If the X-Card cannot guarantee safety or stop abuse, then you just made the argument that its existence is worthless.
Um, no. I mean, is there any way to guarantee safety or stop abuse 100% with a rule? Are you saying that since rules can't stop people from doing bad things, then there should be no rules? You do see the ridiculousness here, I hope.

Without the X-Card, the DM has power to callout a jerk Player. With the X-Card, any DM who targets a Player that tapped the X-Card can be accused of breaking the social contract the X-Card creates, so instead of the cheek Player under fire, it is the DM calling out.
The DM always has the power to call out a jerk player - and should do so with care whether or not the X-card is part of the gaming group. Sometimes what appears as jerk activity is a miscommunication.

If someone is tapping the X-card repeatedly, the DM and that player should have a conversation after the session away from the other players. Clearly some expectations about the type of game were not set properly if that situation is happening in good faith. Or, we have a case of a jerk player. The thing is, though, a jerk player won't be able to help themselves. They won't rely solely on tapping the X-Card as their tactic du jour to "win".

The X-Card needs a revision to work properly. But all its defenders refuse to fix it
I don't see anyone here refusing to improve upon the X-Card.
 


cmad1977

Hero
I noticed nobody here has offered a solution to the X-Card abuse. It is like wearing a helmet that pops open upon impact not protecting the wearer and potentially injuring onlookers with shrapnel.

I cannot understand why any single Player should have the power to ruin the experience for every other Player and even override the DM. The X-Card rules as written, and if not revised with a logically consistent update, grant excessive power to the first tapper at the table.

That’s because it doesn’t happen and your afraid of ghosts.
 

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