In roleplaying games we make stuff happen in the game just by saying it. You say what your character does, and it happens. The GM, or maybe someone else, says something about the world and suddenly it’s true. This is all part of what makes RPGs fun, but there’s always the risk that what you think will be fun isn’t fun for someone else at the table. This article discusses ways to maximise everyone’s fun by being clear and what you do and don’t enjoy, steering towards the good stuff and away from the bad stuff.
This is a box of tools that you can draw on when they’re needed. There’s a lot here, and you almost definitely won’t want to use it all. Choose them according to the group you’re with, the game you’re playing and the type of subject matter you expect to cover. Be ready to pick them up if the game takes a turn you weren’t expecting. And if you can’t find something that works for you, perhaps these tools will provide inspiration to create your own.
You can dive into the different approaches straight away, using the links below:
- Tools to use before play
- Tools to use during play
- Tools to use after play
- Full list of the tools mentioned in this series
Before we get into detail, you might be asking “why should I?” The whole point of roleplaying, after all, is to dive into your shared imagination. Surely that’s worth a little risk. And the answer of course is yes, it is worth a little risk. None of what we’ll say here eliminates the risk that something goes wrong and you don’t have fun. But if you care about your friends enjoyment (and you should), then a little effort to make that happen is well worth it.
Of course, many games include mechanics that will push the story into areas of discomfort as a core part of the game. Horror games are an obvious example, but even in lighter games such as pulp action there’s the possibility of failing, losing or even dying. So before you can get into using these tools you need to understand what’s non-negotiable for the game you’re playing.For instance, if someone dislikes character death they may not want to play certain games at all. Likewise, having agreed to play (for example) Dungeons and Dragons, it would be strange to object to including fighting, or magic. Our advice is to talk about these things early, before anyone has spent hours preparing and learning the game. That way you can find a game you’re all going to enjoy.
The key thing here is this: my fun doesn’t trump your enjoyment and comfort. We’re all here to share a good time. Nobody wants to have a terrible experience, and ideally everyone should have fun. Hopefully you want that for your friends too.
Not all discomfort is inflicted on players by the game or by other people in the group; sometimes it’s the player themselves who is pushing themselves into uncomfortable territory. Sometimes our own out-of-game feelings consciously or unconsciously drive us into difficult in-game territory, or we have trouble stepping away from our in-game character when we leave the game (this is called bleed). Even so there’s still a role for the group in helping each other to navigate that discomfort.
One last thing before we get into detail. You might worry that someone in your group will abuse the tools here to get what they want at your expense. Our advice is to assume that when your friends ask you to keep something out of the game, they’re doing so in good faith. Try to assume good intentions. If you realise someone is abusing your trust then you have bigger problems, and it’s time to stop playing and resolve those.
If you’ve read about these tools before, you might be wondering “what happened to the “s” word?” The tools we’ll talk about here can help avoid subject matter that negatively affects the mental health of someone around the table, whether because of a phobia or a PTSD trigger or something else. So yes, they can be safety tools. But they go much, much wider than that, and in many ways framing them as only related to safety limits their usefulness and may discourage people from using them. After all, a lack of safety is just one way a game might not be fun. So by all means, think of this as an article about safety tools – but we prefer to think in terms of making it fun for everyone.
Talk about it
The number one tool to keep your game fun is to talk to each other about what you enjoy. Talk about it when you’re deciding what game to play. Talk about it when you’re creating your characters. Talk about it during play, and at the end of each session. No clever trick or mechanic can substitute for using your own imagination and intelligence to give your friends (and you) material that you just know they’re going to love.
Talking openly to each other about what you do and don’t enjoy is an indispensable tool. But it’s also not always available. You might be playing with people you don’t know very well. You might be uncomfortable expressing your preferences or talking about some specific thing you like (or don’t like). Also, it takes time and nuanced understanding, and there are some times when you need something a bit clearer, quicker and simpler. So we’ll talk here about tools you can use to make it just that: clear, quick and simple. Just remember, whichever tools you decide to use, to keep talking as well.
Let’s now move on to Tools to use before play.