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

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
I was responding to [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] , and my statements simply follow on from his use of "tyranny".

And while we're on about terms, tapping a card (at least the way it's presented in the OP) is not really "speaking up"; as speaking is in fact neither involved nor - as presented - allowed to be.

I couldd get behind this at least to some extent if actual speaking - as in debate, discussion, consensus, give-and-take, allowable disagreement, etc. - was an inherent part of the system. But it's not, thus making this idea both a) poorly conceived* and b) horribly open to abuse.

* - as are, IME, a great many things involving non-negotiability. As soon as someone says something - be it a method of operation, a rule, a system, whatever - is non-negotiable or non-debateable my immediate response is "why?". Sometimes the reasons are obvious (e.g. workplace safety, or a sensible school essay deadline) and that's fair enough; other times they aren't (usually involving an authority that doesn't like to be questioned and-or knows it can't provide a reasonable answer - this is far too common in corporate workplace culture) which dlesn't fly with me. This X-card system is among the latter, in my view.

Lanefan
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
If one person doesn't like horror films we don't invite that person on those occasions when we're going to see one. (in my own case, reverse that: I don't like horror films thus my friends don't bother inviting me to go and see any)

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?
In my own experience they're the people who simply can't tolerate and-or refuse to either hear or acknowledge the existence of a viewpoint different than their own, be it a serious debate e.g. gun control in one's country or a frivolous debate e.g. Star Trek vs. Star Wars fandom.

I don't find the idea of gaming or otherwise abusing the X-card system bizarre at all; in fact over the mid-to-long run I'd be far more surprised if it didn't happen than if it did.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
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.

Are you thinking that someone's tagging the thing like, every five minutes or something? Because, no, that's not what generally happens. This sounds like pretty typical internet catastrophizing - OMG, someone may dictate we need to back off something! The horror! The HORROR!!!!

Imagine, for a moment, that you aren't always surrounded by total douchebags that make the worst out of everything. Imagine, instead, that you are primarily surrounded by good people, some of whom might have an occasional issue that's kind of personal and difficult to talk about. I mean, unless you are always surrounded by total douchebags - but then you have bigger problems than this. If that's the case, I don't see why you are in this conversation.

'Cuz really, it isn't tyranny to say, "Whoops, I guess this encounter won't be spiders," on occasion. It isn't so heavy a cross to bear.

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

The "no discussion" part is a defense for the victim. They should not be required to talk about it, because it may be a deeply personal thing. If they want to, that's fine. But the rest of the people should not expect them to talk, or attempt to compel them to do so.

Ultimately, if you step on someone's toes, there's no onus on them to put flags and lasers on their shoes so you can't possibly miss them. You're supposed to back the heck off of where you were just standing, far enough so that you can't possibly do that again. That's not generally difficult or a mystery. The thing that's problematic is the thing that's happening right when the card is invoked.
 

Dualazi

First Post
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 @Umbran described.)

...because they are! As people keep bringing up and keep being given non-answers to, the X-card user does not have to explain its use. This means in umbran's example, once play resumes, the DM just has to guess what the issue is, and just has to guess about how to avoid it in the future. A key criticism of the practice is that by design it side-steps the assumed default method of social interaction that is talking and compromising.

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.

Lanefan beat me to the punch here, but as people seem to keep getting off track with analogies and metaphors, it's really much closer to the group having a horror movie night and someone else trying to change the genre. The fact that it's still a movie night is immaterial to the fact that now one person is dictating what's being watched.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
...because they are! As people keep bringing up and keep being given non-answers to, the X-card user does not have to explain its use. This means in umbran's example, once play resumes, the DM just has to guess what the issue is, and just has to guess about how to avoid it in the future. A key criticism of the practice is that by design it side-steps the assumed default method of social interaction that is talking and compromising.

Lanefan beat me to the punch here, but as people seem to keep getting off track with analogies and metaphors, it's really much closer to the group having a horror movie night and someone else trying to change the genre. The fact that it's still a movie night is immaterial to the fact that now one person is dictating what's being watched.

Nah, it's more like everyone is down with horror night, but one member watching starts getting more freaked out than expected because something in the movie feels way too personal --an early victim looks too much like their dead sister/the aggressor acts too much like their father/whatever. Nothing in the synopsis or trailers suggested it would feel this way but it suddenly does and they need to do something about it.

Not having to explain yourself doesn't mean not talking about it. It means the tapper gets to control how much detail and depth goes into the conversation and that conversation can take place at a speed they can tolerate. People cannot demand justification as to why the card was tapped and try to determine if its use was "appropriate"; they simply accept it was. The tapper will almost certainly be falling over themselves telling you what caused the tap so you don't get close to doing it again.
 

pemerton

Legend
If one person doesn't like horror films we don't invite that person on those occasions when we're going to see one.
it's really much closer to the group having a horror movie night and someone else trying to change the genre.
I don't have much to add to [MENTION=23935]Nagol[/MENTION]'s reply. Turning up to play a RPG isn't, per se, turning up to be reminded of some unpleasant or traumatic personal incident that you're rather not (re)engage with as part of your leisure time.

To use the spiders/bugs example that has been brought up a few times in the thread: is turning up to play a RPG ipso facto agreeing to be freaked out by bug narratives? I don't see how it is, and I don't see how it's any sort of "tyranny" or "entitlement" to ask the group to step back from that.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I don't have much to add to @Nagol's reply. Turning up to play an RPG isn't, per se, turning up to be reminded of some unpleasant or traumatic personal incident that you're rather not (re)engage with as part of your leisure time.

To use the spiders/bugs example that has been brought up a few times in the thread: is turning up to play an RPG ipso facto agreeing to be freaked out by bug narratives? I don't see how it is, and I don't see how it's any sort of "tyranny" or "entitlement" to ask the group to step back from that.

It isn't tyranny or entitlement, but it can still tank the session. Let's say I plan an entire 6-hour session involving a party getting caught up in a dispute between a Spirit Naga and Guardian Naga. The Guardian naga is served by a group of Yuan-ti. Various serpents of mundane and giant variety also figure strongly in the session.

One of the players who show up to the game turns out to have a crippling fear of snakes.

If this is my home game, I scrap the game and we play something else that evening. But what do I do at a convention? I think I would have to explain to the player that this isn't the right adventure for them. Normally, good descriptions should avoid this, but sometimes the nature of the antagonists is not given because it would be a spoiler. Or maybe the player didn't know what a "naga" or Yuanti is.
 

pemerton

Legend
It isn't tyranny or entitlement, but it can still tank the session.
Do your (or anyone else) have any actual examples of this from real life? This is one domain where I'm rather sceptical of "what ifs".

Let's say I plan an entire 6-hour session involving a party getting caught up in a dispute between a Spirit Naga and Guardian Naga. The Guardian naga is served by a group of Yuan-ti. Various serpents of mundane and giant variety also figure strongly in the session.

One of the players who show up to the game turns out to have a crippling fear of snakes.

If this is my home game, I scrap the game and we play something else that evening. But what do I do at a convention? I think I would have to explain to the player that this isn't the right adventure for them. Normally, good descriptions should avoid this, but sometimes the nature of the antagonists is not given because it would be a spoiler.
I find it fairly hard to imagine this game being promoted at a convention without the term "scale(s)" or "serpent(s)" or something similar being in the title. I mean, if the whole session involves yuan ti and nagas, where is the spoiler in such a title?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
and b) horribly open to abuse.

If the folks you game with cheat or abuse the rules or systems, I think the problem probably lies elsewhere. It's not the card. I think it's reasonable to assume people will act in good faith, and if not then you'd have to deal with that issue some other way.

I've never used the card, and probably never will. But I don't have a problem with it.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
It isn't tyranny or entitlement, but it can still tank the session. Let's say I plan an entire 6-hour session involving a party getting caught up in a dispute between a Spirit Naga and Guardian Naga. The Guardian naga is served by a group of Yuan-ti. Various serpents of mundane and giant variety also figure strongly in the session.

One of the players who show up to the game turns out to have a crippling fear of snakes.

If this is my home game, I scrap the game and we play something else that evening. But what do I do at a convention? I think I would have to explain to the player that this isn't the right adventure for them. Normally, good descriptions should avoid this, but sometimes the nature of the antagonists is not given because it would be a spoiler. Or maybe the player didn't know what a "naga" or Yuanti is.

Finding an unexpected sore spot could tank a session, sure. It's likely to tank a session regardless of using the X card though as the player suddenly leaves or acts out.

If a player knows the appearance of snakes are crippling weakness in their play then they should learn what a naga and other iconic triggers are. If they are still caught in a adventure dominated by that form at a convention then it pretty much sucks to be them and they should bow out.

The X-card is a single tool not a panacea. It doesn't obviate the players from knowing their limits and discussing well-defined types upfront. It acts a safety valve for unexpected situations.
 

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