X & O For More Fun

The main purpose of RPGs is to have fun but ensuring that everyone enjoys themselves is tricky. First you have to agree on a game, then a play style. A dozen or more things after that can make or ruin a game. John Stavropoulos created an elegant solution to a common fun killer by creating the X-Card.


Whether a GM is running a store-bought adventure or their own campaign, no GM is a mind reader. It's also impossible for other players to guess what will turn an exciting time into a major turn-off for their group. Instead of forcing a GM (or the other players) to guess what may or may not work as fun, a simple card with a big X on it is placed in the center of the game table. If something goes too far for someone's comfort threshold, they simply tap the card and the game moves on from that thing. If you're not clear what caused the X-Card to be tapped, a short break is called while the GM confers with the player. Because the player doesn't have to defend or justify the card being invoked, it avoids hurt feelings and increases fun and safety.

While people assume using the X-Card stifles creativity, the opposite is true. A GM running a Delta Green or World of Darkness adventure is liberated to plan whatever scenario or evocative description they like, knowing that their players easily maintain their enjoyment. No mind reading is needed.

While the X-Card is often associated with story games or indie RPGs, I've had them invoked the most in D&D games. While running Tales of the Yawning Portal last year a player of mine tapped the X-Card when the players hit a bug-infested area. Later he explained that while fixing some wiring earlier that day (he's an electrician) he had to go into a crawlspace that was infested with bugs, and it had skeeved him out. This was a guy I've GM'd for years. He had never indicated an issue with bugs before so I couldn't have guessed that on that particular day he'd be bothered. A month later, it wasn't an issue.

The X-Card also makes convention games better. It's impossible for a GM or players to guess what strangers will like.

During a game a few years ago, two players were arguing in character. One guy said, “That plan is suicide. You might want to die, but I don't.” Sounds like a typical argument, right? What none of us knew was that the other guy had had a family member commit suicide recently. By tapping the card and saying “no suicide comments” (so we'd understand the issue) the game and in-character argument continued with a pause of only a few seconds. He didn't have to feel embarrassed or awkward or explain more, though after the game I overheard him mentioning it to a casual friend in the same game.

On the flip side, Kira Scott created its counterpart, the O-Card. It works the same way as the X-Card except it signals “more of this, please.”

As a GM, have you ever wondered if players were enjoying a specific sequence or aspect of a game? By using the O-Card, you don't have to guess. If it's invoked, you know the banquet scene that is all role-playing doesn't have to be rushed or next time, add more word puzzles for the players to solve.

Safety tools provide an easy way to ensure everyone enjoys the game, and the GM doesn't to guess about what is and isn't working.

This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of ENWorld's User-Generated Content (UGC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

ajchafe

First Post
I have seen this a while back and loved the idea. I am (hopefully) starting a D&D club at my local library soon and plan to use it there.
 

archmage_variel

First Post
The x-card is definitely something I consider an important part of my table in the time I've begun to use it, and I'm definitely interested in expanding it using the o-card too.
 

I have a dynamic in my group where they simply state whether they are okay with something or not. But a topic that they are uncomfortable with has never come up during any campaign I've run, because of the way we do our session 0:

During our session 0, we discuss what themes will be in the campaign, and how controversial topics will be handled. If for example a player states upfront that they don't like sexual content, then I make sure it doesn't come up during the campaign.
 

Baumi

Adventurer
What is the big advantage of an "X" Card versus just saying "this makes me unconfortable, lets skip this"?

I understand than in a Convention or a group with total strangers it might be easier to just tap a Card instead of speaking up (might be shy), but in such a Constellation I would never use problematic Elements anyway (torture, sex,..). And in my home group I would like to talk about that so I understand the problem for future Adventures.
 


rknop

Adventurer
I will walk away from any table that insists on using some sort of system like this.

This is feeding into forces in our society right now that encourages everybody to do everything they can to figure out why they should feel traumatized or victimized.

Do some people legitimately feel traumatized or victimized? Yes, absolutely. Should people at an RPG table have respect? Yes, absolutely.

This system, however, <i>encourages</i> you to <i>find ways</i> to decide that you're traumatized or victimized. (It suggests that the GM use the system early to "model the behavior" and normalize it.) Nobody will ever get over the things that traumatize them -- or, let's face it, just irritate them -- if we systematize ways to make it so that anybody can at all times avoid thinking or talking about something they don't want to think or talk about. And, yes, I know RPGs are for fun and escapism, not for therapy, so it's not the place to confront serious issues. This, however, is a mechanism to take issues that probably aren't serious, and make them de facto serious. It feeds into the unfortunate tendency in our society to insist that whenever anybody say something that makes you a little uncomfortable, it is an attack, and you have a right to silence that person.

I recommend reading this op ed by Arthur C. Brooks from 2015 in the New York Times about "victimhood culture", and whom it really endangers.

Easy tools of silencing and censorship in general tend to harm the marginalized more than the powerful. The only topics that are OK for the discussion become the ones that maintain the consensus and the status quo, and speaking, or even thinking, blasphemy, becomes a powerful social taboo. The long history of humankind shows that blasphemy laws, or social mores that dictate a wide range of things blasphemy that should not be discussed, not only do not end well, but also end up being much more in favor of those in power than anybody else.

Use this system if you like it. But also feel free to say that you don't like it, and don't think that there's something morally wrong with you if this system makes you roll your eyes, or if it makes you feel like you hobby where you're just trying to have fun is being turned into a force for political and social normalization.
 
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So... In relative private, I have absolutely zero filter. For a game at home, or with those that I consider my friends, I would definitely not use this. Those who are sensitive to any subject at all are safer and will be better off if they simply avoid my company.

For a game in public (on the internet, in a game store, or at a convention), however, this sort of thing is super useful. Many people find some subject to be sensitive, and they should absolutely be able to go out and engage in their hobby of choice without being subjected to topics that they find objectionable.
 

Warpiglet

Adventurer
I will walk away from any table that insists on using some sort of system like this.

This is feeding into forces in our society right now that encourages everybody to do everything they can to figure out why they should feel traumatized or victimized.

Do some people legitimately feel traumatized or victimized? Yes, absolutely. Should people at an RPG table have respect? Yes, absolutely.

This system, however, <i>encourages</i> you to <i>find ways</i> to decide that you're traumatized or victimized. (It suggests that the GM use the system early to "model the behavior" and normalize it.) Nobody will ever get over the things that traumatize them -- or, let's face it, just irritate them -- if we systematize ways to make it so that anybody can at all times avoid thinking or talking about something they don't want to think or talk about. And, yes, I know RPGs are for fun and escapism, not for therapy, so it's not the place to confront serious issues. This, however, is a mechanism to take issues that probably aren't serious, and make them de facto serious. It feeds into the unfortunate tendency in our society to insist that whenever anybody say something that makes you a little uncomfortable, it is an attack, and you have a right to silence that person.

I recommend reading this op ed by Arthur C. Brooks from 2015 in the New York Times about "victimhood culture", and whom it really endangers.

Easy tools of silencing and censorship in general tend to harm the marginalized more than the powerful. The only topics that are OK for the discussion become the ones that maintain the consensus and the status quo, and speaking, or even thinking, blasphemy, becomes a powerful social taboo. The long history of humankind shows that blasphemy laws, or social mores that dictate a wide range of things blasphemy that should not be discussed, not only do not end well, but also end up being much more in favor of those in power than anybody else.

Use this system if you like it. But also feel free to say that you don't like it, and don't think that there's something morally wrong with you if this system makes you roll your eyes, or if it makes you feel like you hobby where you're just trying to have fun is being turned into a force for political and social normalization.


I would have a hard time using this with adults in that if we anticipate these sorts of issues, perhaps they should be dealt with prior to gaming on the part of the person with the issue. If we are all hanging out and watching a film does the "triggered" person get to shut the projector or TV off?

I trust my emotional intelligence too. If kids are playing, we are going to avoid profanity or overly dark themes. Mashing skeletons with a mace? Sure. People being impaled by invading orcs? Nah, we can skip that.

But generally speaking if I am gaming with adults I would trust that they have the necessary coping skills to survive a PG-13 movie. If not, perhaps they can form a group that avoids upsetting elements. I don't however see value in making a game tame for the rest of the group. They have rights too.
 

What is the big advantage of an "X" Card versus just saying "this makes me unconfortable, lets skip this"?

I understand than in a Convention or a group with total strangers it might be easier to just tap a Card instead of speaking up (might be shy), but in such a Constellation I would never use problematic Elements anyway (torture, sex,..). And in my home group I would like to talk about that so I understand the problem for future Adventures.
1) They might not feel comfortable at the moment talking.
2) Talking up derails the adventure. This is a simple, understood gesture. You move on.
 

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