#RPG – X-Cards Revisited

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“Censorship is telling a man he can’t eat steak, because a baby can’t chew it.”
– Mark Twain

The X-Card is a tool that is supposed to make roleplaying more ‘safe’. I’m not quite sure how sitting around a table rolling dice and talking is supposed to be ‘unsafe’ unless you tread on a D4.  Leaving the base absurdity of the whole idea aside, I want to articulate my problems with them, long form, as it seems that the point is hard to get across on social media.

As with so many things these days, opposition to a concept that people have decided is progressive and inclusive is taken as automagically people hateful, nasty, uncaring or whatever else is the opposite of what people assume the thing they’re trying to impose is. As is also the case with many of these things, my opposition stems from the exact same values they claim they are trying to uphold.

The idea of the X-card is that if the game strays into uncomfortable territory for one of the players, they can play down the X-card and that scene or thread is stopped and the game skips on ahead. This is meant to protect vulnerable players from PTSD, offence, the triggering (used unironically for once) of phobia and so on.

Opposition to this idea is characterised as bullying, mean-spiritedness and so forth.

Alright, let’s engage in a thought experiment to try and demonstrate why this is a bad idea.

Imagine you’re riding a roller coaster, but everyone has access to a button that will immediately stop the roller coaster and bring it gently back to the start. A panic button, if you will. The coaster slowly climbs that first rise and is about to drop when… someone pushes the button. Ruining the experience for everyone on the roller coaster who was up for the ride from the get-go.

That doesn’t work for you? How about this then?

You buy a ticket for a horror movie and enter the theatre. Taking your seat you discover that every seat has been fitted with a button that will skip to the next scene if you find it harrowing. The film starts, the slasher appears behind the first teenage camper, raises his machete and… the film skips over the murder to the next scene, a pair of teenagers sharing a dooby behind the boat sheds. One, squeamish person has ruined the experience of the film for everyone else.

No analogy is perfect, but by transferring the X-card idea to other entertainment experiences, hopefully the absurdity and selfishness of the concept is made more obvious.

The X-card doesn’t prevent bullying, it empowers it. It gives one person at the table the power – albeit only by social convention – to interrupt and spoil the fun of everyone else at the table, and to greatly inconvenience the Games Master.

There are other issues with it too.

Firstly, it’s hard to see where an X-card would ever be used. If you have a regular group then you already know each other’s social, emotional and other boundaries and have negotiated them – probably – for years. In that context an X-card has no role whatsoever.

In convention or store games the use of such a card will be purely disruptive and, by and large, you should know what you’re signing up for when you sign up for a game. If you have arachnophobia then you probably shouldn’t have signed up for a game entitled: The Spawning Caves of the feral miscegenated Neo-Arachnid Variants.

Secondly, gaming is a safe environment, automatically. There’s nothing there that can actually hurt you. It’s all words and numbers, descriptions and choice. While gaming isn’t therapy, it can provide a cathartic environment to live out a variety of fantasies and to face up to and overcome things you find difficult. The avoidance of difficult subjects can entrench and strengthen your issues with them and therapists who do deal with this kind of thing tend to recommend facing it and gradual acclimatisation. If you let a player avoid anything that upsets them or sets off their issues, you’re not doing them any favours – quite the opposite.

Thirdly, the idea of X-cards is part of a general trend to try and homogenise and beat down gaming into some sort of family-friendly, pablumesque milieu where anything irreverent, dangerous, challenging, sexual or violent – anything that could even potentially upset or offend someone is done away with.

X-cards may be limited to certain groups and you might be able to choose to play or not play in a group that does or does not use them, but it’s part of a greater context and continuum of censorship, control and well-meaning interference that now extends all the way from publishing to the table itself.

The responsible thing to do, if you’re someone who has a hard time with certain plots, actions, monsters or whatever else at the table, is to remove yourself from the game at these points – or completely – rather than to selfishly screw it up for everyone else.

The only X-rated cards at the table should be Cthentacle.

Footnote:

Some additional, useful observations from @Haunted_backlog:

1. Give people a system for it and it’ll be more common.

2. Refusing to explain (the problem that made you use an x-card – G) compounds the problem, nobody else knows what to avoid or why.

3. In the absence of a pressing demand or notable benefit, adopting X-cards is a proxy for a group’s overall vulnerability to SJW fatwas, and who knows what it’ll require next. Vegan snacks only? Villains can only be certain races? Sky’s the limit.

#RPG – Sarkeesian at Gencon? Wat!?

#MayRPGQ2018 Where do you want to go, event wise, to play a game this year?

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I’ve left it far too late to get to any cons. I can only really afford to go to them as a stall-holder and prices for doing that have been going up for years. Then the mental health issues also tend to get in the way. We used to go to Indiecon, but that got scuppered by uncooperative site owners, so for the last couple of years, my regular gaming group has put together our own little mini-convention, ‘Awesomecon’, just for us. That’s a lot of fun but does miss out on the opportunities to buy or sell cool stuff and to make new friends…

To read the rest of this article, others, and to get discounts on games and apparel, please sub for $1 a month to my Patreon or 1 token a month on Minds.com.

Indiecon 2013

Lewts

Contents of my lewts sack after escaping Indiecon

Indiecon is about my favourite convention. It has a small, more intimate atmosphere than many cons and is all about the joy of playing games rather than tournaments and sales (not that there’s anything wrong with these). Indiecon is attendee organised with masses of games being played at the site and the opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, learn new games and learn about the existence of new games as well as supporting indie game designers and the companies that also support them.

This was my first Indiecon as part of Chronicle City rather than attending as ‘myself’, as Postmortem Studios. In some ways this was a lot easier than previous years (I didn’t have to drag all my own stuff down there) and in other ways it was harder. While there were several of us the stand was much bigger (we had as much stuff as Leisuregames did, to give you some idea).

We did pretty well for a small con (250 or so attendees), taking home a good bit of money and running some great demos, we picked up a lot of stuff too and had some good conversations about work and play. As usual it was a great con.

That said, a few things weren’t as good as usual and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them. In no way take this as criticism of the con, which continues to be more and more awesome with every year.

1. The state of the site: The lodges and chalets on site are surprisingly comfortable and warm considering that we’re there in November and often battered by wind and rain (things were pretty mild this year for once). This year the lodges were looking a bit worse for wear and felt more fragile. Interior doors wouldn’t close properly, one of the showers was a little leaky, the kitchen utensils were even more scarce and useless than usual and the deck/balcony out back was undermined and starting to collapse. In the main hall the heating was ferocious, to the point that it made me sick one of the days we were there and when the aircon was switched on it leaked, with water dripping from the ceiling. Stock – and people’s games – could have been damaged.

2. Attendance: Normally the con is oversubscribed or subscribed to capacity. This year it seemed to be down. This was in part due to more people playing in their lodges (this was a shame, but last year it was harder to get tables, so it makes sense). It was also, however, in part due to the absence of the fanatical Pathfinder players who usually attend. On the one hand it’s arguable whether Pathfinder qualifies as ‘indie’ any more and the PF players never seemed to play anything else in any slot, on the other their absence is bad news for the con’s long term attendance and viability – which would be a shame.

On the more positive side, I made the following observations on demography at the con:

1. There were a good number of ladies present. I took a head count once a day and the proportion of lady attendees in the main hall varied from approximately 1/4 to approximately 1/6. That’s pretty good and, perhaps, reflective of the type of games played, the family/child friendly nature of the site and the welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

2. There were a lot of younger players present, at least comparatively. Between some gamer-dads running Happy Birthday Robot and other games for the really young un’s and some teenagers it was a hopeful thing to see so many teens and kids around. I couldn’t get a proper headcount but it did seem that gaming has sort of ‘skipped’ a decade or two. There’s a lot of older players and then it seems to be their kids – and their friends – that are making up the new generation. This gives me a lot of hope for analogue games in the future.

My Loot

Numenara & Player’s Guide: Safe to buy now that MotSP is out, this is a science-fantasy game with some eminently thievable ideas – such as effort.
Broken Shield  Based on the SF noir books by Gunnar Roxen. The demos were incredibly popular so this had to be worth a look. It’s also a Chronicle City product, hint hint 🙂
Iron Kingdoms: Kings, Nations and Gods: The updated setting sourcebook for Iron Kingdoms. A must buy if you like IK and a suitable replacement for the 3.5 edition versions. Mine has some ballsed up pages, but I don’t know if this is a broader printing problem.
Beat to Quarters: An immensely popular (at Indiecon at least) game that’s been present for years. Napoleonic in setting, Beat to Quarters is about naval combat while its partner game, Duty and Honour, is about troops combat. It engages at both the heroic and unit level and as such is perfect for gaming things like Sharpe or Master & Commander. It’s also eminently hackable and I’ve seen it used for Sci-Fi space battles and all manner of other things in its time. Check it out.
Fiasco: I just supposed I had better get a copy at this point…
Reign, Enchiridion: ORE system, played at the scale of nation/country/community. I’m a bit obsessed with three game concepts at the moment – cooperation, legacy, community. This was bought for research/inspiration.
Eternal Contenders: A GMless game of adventure/duelling that I found fascinating and wanted to read in detail.
FATE Accelerated: I may like this better than full-fat-FATE. Great for pick-up-and-play.
MSG: I reviewed this way back when and I wanted a physical copy since I had the opportunity.
Noteboard: A portable whiteboard. I’m not much for using minis in my RPG gaming, but for tracking initiative, sketching the lay of the land etc. This thing is great.
Misc Stuff: Bob the Diceman carries every dice you could think of and all the things you might otherwise forget too. He carries pens, pencils, packs of cards, beads, counters, dry erase markers… he’s a bloody godsend at any con he’s at and also does sales online. Support him!

The cat is Nik (short for Nikola Tesla, whom he is named after). He was not loot, but also would not move.

Help?

I hate to have to do this but I am really, really fucking ill. My depression/exhaustion has had me floored for over two weeks now and I don’t have the energy left to really struggle through it.

The timing is massively inconvenient as we’re now into the thirty-day push to hit stretch goals for Machinations of the Space Princes and we’re into my ‘convention season’ with IndieCon and Dragonmeet coming up.

I have outlines of demo adventures for ImagiNation, Irrepressible!, PROJECT and Blood! intended to be run at Indiecon but I don’t think that between the depression and imminent drug changes I’ll be able to actually get the adventures written up. I’ve spent most of last week and all of this week staring blankly at an open Word document.

Hopefully I’ll be fit and well for the conventions themselves, but that also remains to be seen 😦

If anyone can help me out by taking my notes and turning them into written-up adventures for these games I will be eternally grateful. I’ll provide PDFs as necessary and if the adventures are subsequently polished up and published I’ll compensate you monetarily.

Please let me know if you can help out.

Email: grim AT postmort DOT demon DOT co DOT uk

I feel awful having to do this, ‘giving in’ to being sick, but it’s becoming clear I’m not going to be able to manage otherwise.

If you think you can help out with the MotSP drive in some way let me know too. I could probably manage email interviews, Q&A and that sort of thing.

Indiecon, Indiecon, Indiecon

Games Run:

Agents of SWING: Ran this three times, went jolly well. I think the prevalence of CSI thinking has impinged on the 60’s style though given everyone was FAR too interested in the stomach contents of the dead though once they got to the foreign locations and the evil base and so on it all got back on track. One group utterly failed to thwart the evil scheme. I think this one will work better as a published adventure outside of the confines of a con slot.

PROJECT: A simple playtest but it’s thrown up a few interesting issues and highlighted the need to get the world across more strongly. If everything goes well I reckon we can get this out next summer.

Blood!: I ran this twice, Steve ran it once for me. Very bloody, very messy and plenty of ideas for revising the rules when I get around, finally, to putting together Hell on Earth.

Invaderz: Ran Operation: Operation, where they were micronised and inserted into the body of the president. Hijinx ensued. Deadly hijinx.

Games Played:

Perfect: Interesting GMless game about a dystopian Victorianesque, Big Brother society. We only got through a few turns and I don’t think me or Carl quite got into the right spirit of the thing since it’s meant to be about people wanting to do ‘normal’ things, but being constricted by the society. I, however, decided to play an evil, criminal genius conspiring to undermine the whole of society while Carl played a ‘ripper’ murderer. Still, it was fun and I’d have bought it if the only copy hadn’t sold.

Forbidden Island: We own a copy, but playing with other people I think we were maybe doing something a little wrong, not that it really matters that much to gameplay.

Cthulhu Gloom: Fun game with see-through cards that leads to some very interesting card interactions and modes of play. Everyone’s doomed, you just have to make it interesting and the untimely demise of your characters scores you points.

Deathwatch: While not as memorable as ‘melta rape’, playing a space marine ‘ninja’ sneaking around in power armour was good fun. Especially when it completely boned the GM’s plans 🙂

I don’t get to play much at cons… alas… too much work.

Loot Accrued:

Skull faced soft-toy monkey (for the wife).

Purple dragon top (for the wife).

Resident Evil deck building game (for the wife).

Ant Attack card game (again, for the wide).

Airship Pirates: Yarrrr

Umlaut – which I had helped playtest at a previous Indiecon.

3:16 – Been meaning to pick it up for ages.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple – I like these GMless story games but don’t know when I’m going to play them. They do make good story exercises though.

Titan: Fighting Fantasy worldbook – I still have my original Out of the Pit and wanted this back in the day, so nostalgia time.

Assorted GM screens – useful reference.

MARS – Savage Worlds version. GMS can be a tool, but so can ERB inc. I’m a sucker for Barsoom and shake my fist at the legal shenanigans but perhaps I can do something cool with it. Also: nipples.

Report:

Indiecon is rad as ever and while I’ve never thought of it as a particularly commercial con – being more about playing, playtesting and networking, it made me almost as much cash as Gencon ever did. Which was nice.

Generally a good crowd, always a couple of dysfunctional people around by most of the con goers are mature and can handle such situations without making anyone feel bad. Child friendly – which was nice to see though it made me start feeling ‘broody’ 🙂

Compared to a lot of cons I feel Indiecon is also more welcoming to women and girls and despite expanding it still retains an atmosphere almost like going to your mate’s house for a weekend of gaming, just with added awesomeness.

I would still like to see some seminars or round-table talks between/with/to/at game designers and would-be games designers as I think this would add value to the con as one for Indie gamers and designers. It would be nice to brainstorm with each other more than how happens already by chance.

I think the ‘Muster’ tradition is one that’s going to have to go if the con gets any bigger. Gathering everyone together to dole out games is becoming too time consuming, loud and cramped which is a pity, but something I feel needs addressing.

Quote of the con was Mick Red talking about Agents of SWING:

It’s like Spycraft, only not shit.

If I ever did another edition and if I didn’t worry about people not having a sense of humour, that’d go on the damn cover.

Ooh, new banner, shiny.

This should help you find me at Indiecon and Dragonmeet, n’est pas?

Now all I need are some decent – portable – book stands.