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

epithet

Explorer
...
Frankly, for a lot of you, I find your lack of compassion and empathy to be highly unfortunate. Several of you seem to want to play your game, as you want, and to heck with how anyone else at the table is doing! They're having a bad time with some of the content? Too frelling bad! I don't wanna change for anyone else! Me! Me me ME!!! The amount of entitlement seen in this thread is quite astounding.

It seems that if you don't want to take real-world people into consideration, a cooperative game where you actually have to work with real-world people to have a good time may not be the best choice for you. The others at the table are not AIs providing you content. They are people. They matter. A tabletop RPG is a social gathering, and like any other social gathering, to reap the benefits of the company of your fellow humans, you must hold up some certain social responsibilities - like don't be a thoughtless jerk when someone has a problem.
...
The hell are you talking about, man?

The folks who are dismissive of this "X card" concept aren't suggesting some kind of insensitive tyranny at the gaming table, only that people should speak up if they have a problem. The only vigorous expression of "me me me" entitlement is the suggestion that all I should have to do is touch an X card to immediately shift responsibility for my feelings onto the gaming group, which is now compelled to figure out what upset me and act accordingly.

A tabletop RPG is not, in fact, a social gathering. It is an activity at a social gathering. The gathering and socializing is a necessary prerequisite for, and might be motivated by, the game. Ultimately, though, "the company of your fellow humans" and those certain social responsibilities that come with it do not arise from the game or at the table, they exist in the larger context of the social gathering at which the game occurs. Your mileage may vary, but when I have interacted with "real-world people" I've understood that along with courtesy and consideration came a responsibility not only to listen to the other people involved, but to clearly express anything I felt was important for them to know.

Many of us have been playing D&D and other TTRPGs now for decades, and have been successfully navigating social gatherings for longer than that. The assertion that being dismissive of this "x card" idea somehow makes us "thoughtless jerks" who are unfit to "reap the benefits" of human company has to be the most smugly sanctimonious thing I've heard in days. We are perfectly capable of having a good time with real people, because we take responsibility for our actions and we are considerate of each other, and some of us believe that includes sometimes reaching out to other people and sometimes withdrawing from an uncomfortable situation, but doesn't extend to this "x card" business.

I think maybe you need to have a moment of introspection before you accuse other people of not wanting to take other people into consideration, or being unwilling to change. You seem to have a rigid worldview that leads you to vilify anyone that doesn't share it.
 

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Henry

Autoexreginated
If people aren't taking notice of what people are saying at the table then you have bigger problems than the tapping of X cards.

To be clearer, If more people did pay attention to the words coming out of their own mouths at the table, and the appropriateness of said words, then there would be a much smaller desire for x-cards.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
The poster above thinks those who don't want to use X-cards are "pathetic snowflakes,"

The "pathetic snowflake" comment was not cool. You summarized it inaccurately, but it was uncool even in its original.

while others seem to think anyone who wants to tap an X-card during a game is a "pathetic snowflake."

Yes, well, not everyone has a good handle on psychological health.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I think an important consideration is whether an RPG has the chance to introduce topics that most social gatherings would avoid. I would expect that the answer would often be yes. Not always, and not for all games. But certainly some. Things like violence, thievery, rape, addiction, mental instability, questions of faith, dark magic....all manner of questionable topics may or may not come up when playing an RPG. Compare that to, let’s say bowling or poker....most of those topics would just be considered off limits by default.

Now, my personal game is with decades-old friends, so we all know each other, so we don’t have need of this kind of thing. And when it comes to organized play, I’d expect things to stay pretty PG for the most part. But there may be public games that are not officially organized play like dventurer’s League or Pathfinder Society...and in games like that, perhaps something like this could be useful.

Because it’s the uncertainty of those topics’ inclusion that creates the issue. A game of D&D can play out like an episode of the old cartoon, or it can be something more like Game of Thrones. Trying to establish everything ahead of time may not be possible. Certainly there are games that include questionable stuff by default....Blades in the Dark has the PCs engaging in some kind of vice in between jobs, so that’s baked in to the game itself. But many games are wide open to a variety of interpretations.

Ultimately, I can see occasions where this could be useful. I can understand some of the criticisms of it...and I’m glad it’s not needed in mg home game...but to think it could never be a positive thing is a bit extreme.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
The hell are you talking about, man?

The folks who are dismissive of this "X card" concept aren't suggesting some kind of insensitive tyranny at the gaming table, only that people should speak up if they have a problem.

Two things:

1) One thread of argument here is that using the X-card is "selfish" - one person should not override the desires of the group. Effectively that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Yes, that is kind of an insensitive tyranny.

2) As I have already said - use of the X-card is speaking up. It is communicating that there's an issue to everyone at the table.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Two things:

1) One thread of argument here is that using the X-card is "selfish" - one person should not override the desires of the group. Effectively that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Yes, that is kind of an insensitive tyranny.
What are the other options, though?

The X-card as presented just gives a tyranny going the other way: the needs/desires of the one outweigh the needs/desires of the many.

Democracy can't enter into it, because as presented there is no discussion and no vote.

So, you've got a choice between tyranny and...well, tyranny.

2) As I have already said - use of the X-card is speaking up. It is communicating that there's an issue to everyone at the table.
Only in part, which isn't really enough.

It's communicating that there is an issue of some sort.

It's not communicating what that issue is, making successful resolution more or less a matter of guesswork.

Never mind that I've had players in the past who I know for a deadshot certainty would have abused the face off of this system just to shut down discussion (in or out of game) that they didn't like or that they disagreed with, as in this less-than-serious example:

Player A: "I'm a Canucks fan for life!"
Player B: "I'm not, I can't stand those useless..."
Player A: >whack!< on the X-card

Lan-"never mind the input players C, D, E and the DM don't get to have to this discussion"-efan
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
What are the other options, though?

The X-card as presented just gives a tyranny going the other way: the needs/desires of the one outweigh the needs/desires of the many.

Democracy can't enter into it, because as presented there is no discussion and no vote.

So, you've got a choice between tyranny and...well, tyranny.

It's not mind control! It's an easy way to speak up. That's it. It doesn't magically pass binding international treaties, or pass sentences in a court of law or anything. Words like "democracy" and "tyranny" are absurd hyperbole in this context. It's social interaction, not law.
 

pemerton

Legend
Tapping the X-card is one player being 'entitled' to dictate the content consumption of the entire group, which is certainly less preferably than the alternative.
Huh? In my experience single-person veto is very common in social activities eg if one person doesn't like horror films, we don't go and see a horror movie; if one person is vegetarian, we don't go to the steakhouse; etc.

The X card is there for people to tap if things get extremely uncomfortable. These things can't always be predicted. Talking things over ahead of time is not necessarily going to cover specific triggers either, but only broad areas such as amount of more mature content. If something does come up, who would want to interrupt the game and let other players know why this particular scenario is distressing?
Right.

There seems to be a lot of criticism around the idea of one player dictating a game's direction, as if players are going to be continually tapping that card to just get what they want, or to what? Deliberately disrupt the game?
I find the idea which is being floated in this thread, of players "gaming" the X-card, quite bizarre. Are these the same people who "accidentally" knock the board when they're losing?
 
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pemerton

Legend
I also find it interesting that you completely side-stepped my earlier points about the X-card player's responsibilities. Is the GM supposed to never be intimidating again? Are they supposed to sideline that villain? Should they abandon attempts at tension? Tell me then, at what point is it that the X-card player is imposing to the extent that they should simply find a new group? Because if the answer is "never" then I suspect that this is the fundamental root of our disagreement.
You ask these questions like they are knock-down rhetorical points! As opposed to things that can be worked out through the ordinary techniques of social interaction once the situation has cooled down. (Which seems to be exactly what happened in the episode that [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] described.)
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Agreed mostly, and I would be fine if that non-sense were in the path/star-finder society rules docs. Thats the kind of place that language belongs for sanctioned public play to cover their corporate keisters from the professionally offended crowd, instead of wasting space in a core book. That could be 3 or 4 more feats that could be added onto the hundreds plus in the playtest! But we all know paizo is a committed member of that crowd and this is just pushing agenda driven propaganda. BC of it, my wife is extremely against buying any more paizo products, and I'm half inclined to agree.

Oops. Careless. You’ve been here long enough to know not to use derogatory phrases like “agenda driven propaganda” to dismiss opinions you don’t agree with. It’s like you read the rules and carefully selected the exact phrase we call out. Argue with positions, not insults.
 
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