StartPlaying Safety Tools FAQ
What Are Safety Tools?
Safety Tools are a way for GMs and players to check in with each other before, during, and after a game to ensure everyone is on the same page and feeling safe and supported, especially when things get tense, dark, or scary in-game. At StartPlaying we require you to run games with safety tools to ensure that everyone at the table is having a good time and that everyone consents to what is happening at all times. Another way to think about them is Player Retention Tools. If your players feel safe, secure, supported, and like there is true collaborative storytelling, they are more likely to be repeat players.
If you are unfamiliar with safety tools or haven’t used any in your games before, we ask that you read the following primer to familiarize yourself with them. There is a TTRPG Safety Toolkit, which is a resource co-curated by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk. It's a compilation of safety tools that have been designed by members of the tabletop roleplaying games community for use by players and GMs at the table.
DiceBreaker made a wonderfully detailed video of why these types of tools are helpful to have a great game for everyone.
What Safety Tools Should I Use?
There are many kinds of Safety Tools that fit different games and different playstyles, but the three most common and easy-to-use tools are The X Card, Lines and Veils, and Stars and Wishes.
The X Card
The X Card can be used at any point in the game to remove content that someone at the table finds uncomfortable, triggering, or deals with subject matter they don’t want to get into.
There are several ways you can choose to have the group communicate this:
- Say “X Card” out loud
- Type “X” in the chat
- Tap an X Card on the Virtual Tabletop if it's present
- Hold up a paper with X on it if you're on video
- Hold up their arms in an X shape if on video
If an X card is played, be sure to clarify what content they are playing the X Card for, and the group will change, retcon, or delete the content as needed. The X Card player does not have to explain why they played it, and no one at the table can argue against the X Card being played. The X Card was designed by John Stavropoulos, who has extensive documentation if you'd like to read it.
Lines and Veils
Lines and Veils is a tool used before the campaign starts to set content boundaries going forward.
Lines are hard limits: Topics and subject matter that is behind a Line cannot appear or be discussed in-game. Think of the phrase "Don't cross the line."
Veils are soft limits: if something is behind a Veil, it can appear in the game as long as it is not discussed or described in detail and doesn’t otherwise appear “on screen.”
Before or at the start of the first session, players and GMs place their Lines and Veils into a shared document that everybody can access and edit. It is best if this can be done anonymously. Like the X Card, no one can argue against having something included as a Line or a Veil, but if someone has put a topic behind a Veil that someone else would rather have behind a Line, then it should be moved to Line. This Lines and Veils document that you create together is a living document that can be added to at any point in the game and should be reviewed at the start of every session. Lines and Veils was developed by Ron Edwards.
Stars and Wishes
Stars and Wishes are used once the session has ended to reflect on the session and communicate feedback in a positive and forward-facing way. At the end of the game, go around and get everyone to state a Star and Wish.
A Star is something that you enjoyed about the game. This can be something that happened, an interesting decision or encounter, or a moment of roleplay that really stuck with you- anything that made the session awesome or fun.
A Wish is something you are looking forward to for the next session or something that you think would improve the next session. This can be narrative-based; an interaction you want to have, a place you want to go, a narrative direction you want to avoid, or something else about the game; you’d like to take more breaks next session, shorter combat encounters, or you’d like to spend less time focusing on gory descriptions.
Don’t be afraid to use the Wishes to talk about something that you didn’t enjoy this session and would like to change for future sessions.
This tool is very helpful in prepping for the next session, as you already know what each player is hoping to happen!
Other Safety Tools
If you want to use different Safety Tools or want to add more tools to your game, you can look at the TTRPG Safety Toolkit. There are 9 additional tools you could use in your game! Being familiar with many different kinds of Safety Tools allows you to be more flexible and use the tools that best work for everyone at your table. After all, every table is different.
Safety Tool FAQs
Why Use Safety Tools When I Could Just Have a Conversation?
Safety Tools don’t replace the conversation, they help facilitate the conversation. Using them helps put everyone on more equal footing, because the formalized structure these tools makes it easier for new or more introverted players to make sure their voice is heard. You can’t use safety tools correctly without having a conversation.
Aren’t These Tools Censorship?
Not at all!
The point of Safety Tools is not to suppress or sanitize your ideas, but to make sure that everyone consents to the subject matter, events, and actions of the game at all times. While players who sign up for your game are aware of some of the themes and events that might happen, they won’t know everything and you can’t predict exactly what will happen or what everyone will do, and these tools ensure ongoing consent to everything that happens in a game at all times.
What if I’m Running a Horror Game?
Sometimes we don’t want to be comfortable when we play games. Sometimes we want to feel frightened or unsettled, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel safe. Safety Tools let us go to uncomfortable places while knowing we won’t come up against something we can’t handle. Knowing what content is off-limits at a table lets, you run with everything that is. Maybe zombies aren’t ok for a table, but that could mean you can use all the giant spider monsters you want. The goal is to put characters in dangerous situations, not players.
What do I do when someone uses a safety tool?
Different tools require different responses, but the most important thing is to thank the players for telling you their needs. It’s important not to ask anyone why they are using a tool or argue against it, but if you need to ask questions for clarification, please do so. It may be necessary to call for a break if a tool is used at a particularly intense moment.
If a tool is used mid-play or you need to talk about how to approach something brought up at the end of a session, you should check in with the player who used the tool and make sure they are ok with everything that happened.