The tabletop RPG industry is growing. As a result, people from all walks of life have come together at the table. While this is certainly a great thing, especially if a Game Master is intentionally inclusive, but this can also result in miscommunication and awkward storytelling. Personally, I find that there's nothing worse as a Game Master than unwittingly making a player uncomfortable at the table and not knowing until much later.
Enter the X-Card, a concept developed by John Stavropoulos. Plain and simple, the X-Card is an index card with a large X on it. If a player is ever uncomfortable, they can tap the card or hold it up. The Game Master will then continue on, or back up a bit and re-write what just happened in the story. No one is to ask for an explanation as to why the player was made uncomfortable by this particular story development. Everyone just accepts it, and moves on. Afterwards, the Game Master and player can talk it over, so that the Game Master can better understand how to guide the games for everyone's benefit in the future.
You may have a group of gamers already established, and naturally know where the line is for them. If that's the case, the X-Card may not be for you. But if you have had issues in the past, with players being hurt or upset over the content in your game, then here are five good reasons you should take a look at this handy tool.
1) It Says “I Care”
Utilizing the X-Card at your table lets the players know immediately that you care about their feelings. This is more important in an environment where you don't know the individuals very well. If you have a new player or two that are friends of your current players but who you don't know personally, the X-Card can help set up a safe environment quickly. It can help players see that you are attentive to their personal needs.
2) It Makes Players More Comfortable
I have heard other players state how much more comfortable they were at the game table when they discovered that the X-Card was being used. They realized that if they had an issue, they could say so quickly and without trouble. Having relaxed players will help keep everyone having a good time.
3) It Puts The GM In A Good Mindset
With the X-Card in play, the Game Master can feel free to tell their story and trust the players to utilize it when they need to. I am certainly not suggesting that the Game Master should just say and do whatever they want, waiting for players to tell them otherwise. Instead, the Game Master can rest easy knowing that there is a device in place should the situation arise.
4) It’s In The Creative Commons
If you're like me, and you prefer to do things the legal way when it comes to purchasing and exchanging RPG material, fear not. The X-Card document is in the Creative Commons and may be shared freely. As a matter of fact, you can even incorporate it into an RPG of your own design as a mechanic if you so desire. You simply have to attribute the original author and share the work under the same license. This flexibility makes the X-Card easy to modify and use as you see fit, and you can also exchange the document with your gaming group with ease.
5) It's Great For Convention Games
If you're running a game at a convention, you're likely to run into all sorts of people. You'll be gaming with total strangers, which can make for some potentially uncomfortable encounters. While I would recommend staying away from touchy subjects at a convention table, it's still wise to utilize the this tool. This will avoid any miscommunication that could easily happen at a table with a group of gamers you've hardly met.
For many of us, gaming is about escapism; taking a moment to explore a world that never was and slay the proverbial dragon. Making sure that these moments together are safe and even empowering can be difficult to achieve. No tool works for every situation, but the X-Card certainly is helpful.
Nathan Carmen is the founder and head writer of the Indie RPG company, Tricky Troll Games. Nathan loves building worlds and improving his craft when he’s not busy parenting. Reach Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the TTG website at https://nathanccarmen.wixsite.com/trickytrollgames
Picture Reference: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SB0jsx34bWHZWbnNIVVuMjhDkrdFGo1_hSC2BWPlI3A/edit#
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.