#RPG – M-Card, Roleplaying Outside Safe Spaces


X-Cards have been doing the rounds for some time. I’ve expressed my opinion on them before, so I’ll leave the commentary to the end. I want to introduce you to a different concept, a mirror concept, a counter concept.


You don’t need to credit me or anything, I’m not going to bother with licensing or anything. If you want to use it, just use it.


The M-Card is an optional tool (created by James ‘Grim’ Desborough) that allows you to assert control over your game and to ensure a certain level of maturity and buy-in in your games. There are few situations where this might be needed – convention games, shop games and pick up games or games with new players, but I hope you’ll find it useful.

To use them, at the start of your game, simply say:

“I’d like your help to keep this game fun. By playing at this table, with the M-Card on show, you are accepting that we’re all mature individuals who are capable of handling adult themes, fictional violence, sexuality and other difficult content. You are accepting that if you have an issue with anything in the game it’s on you to excuse yourself from the scene or game with minimal disruption to everyone else at the table.”

What is it?

The M-Card is a card with an ‘M’ drawn on it.

That’s it.

It is placed on the table to let people know that this is a mature table with a game that may involve mature themes (sex, violence, horror, drugs, torture and so on, anything that might get an R/18 rating if it were a film).

Why use it?

Most of the time you won’t have to. Most people who play RPGs do so with a regular group of friends who know each others’ boundaries, issues and so on. When you’re playing with new people, however, they’re an unknown quantity and there has been a rather disruptive culture of entitlement and ‘calling out’ within the hobby community. The M-Card is a way to reassert control of the game and the table and to warn away people who might disrupt your game and who wouldn’t enjoy it anyway.

How should you use it?

All you do it note down ‘M’ on a card and place it in the middle. You can add some more information if you like in just the same way movie ratings do, but these should be general. Things like ‘violence’, ‘gore’, ‘drug use’, ‘sex’ and so on. Specifics can give away the plot or story and that impinges on everyone’s fun. There’s no way you can account for anything and everything that might upset someone anyway, so it’s pointless to try. It’s just good to give people a general heads up.

The M-Card isn’t intended to create an atmosphere of hostility, nor of license to bully someone or subject them to harrowing scenes without them being able to withdraw or fade to black. All it is really intended to do is to put the onus of responsibility back onto the individual player, to mind their own mental health and to show consideration to everyone else at the table – should they find they have a problem.

The M-Card isn’t to display edginess, political affiliation, to excuse bullying or anything of the sort. It’s just a way to help you filter problem players before they sit at your table and to assert control over the game and remind people to take responsibility for themselves.

That’s all.



X-Cards are a thing, created by John Stavropoulos. They’re kind of a step-up from the more complex and obscure ‘lines and veils’. Those are ways of defining your hard line things you don’t want to play or moments you’d rather fade to black. I think they stem from LARP, but whatever the case they – and X-Cards have been turning up more and more.

Like most multi-lane highways to hell, X-Cards were created with good intentions. The idea was to create a way to have a ‘safe’ table where people had a mechanism by which they could show they were uncomfortable with something in the game and wanted to skip past it, without recrimination.

They were intended to be optional, but the attitude of entitlement that exists around them has been creeping ever further into the gaming space. At conventions and other public games, people now seem to expect to be coddled, from fiction. Some conventions now even make it policy that any game played under the auspices of that con must use X-Cards.

I believe this is a bad idea, not because I want to psychologically torture players (except when they split the party) but because this whole idea is wildly disruptive and impolite to the rest of the people around the table. If you sign up to a game called Temple of the Spider God and then X-Card every time the GM mentions spiders, you’re an arsehole, whether you’re phobic or not. Games have themes, which are usually obvious from the game description, or even just the game being played.

Let’s try and explain why I loathe these things, by way of analogy. Do you think any of these would be fun?

  • A rollercoaster where anyone can press a button to slow it down or stop it if they get scared.
  • A cinema where every person has access to a black-out and fast forward button and it only takes one person to black out a scene or skip it.
  • A magical button that removes food you don’t like from a meal, but everyone’s meal. Imagine how vegans would abuse that.

You get the point, I hope. This tool that is supposed to guarantee someone’s ‘safety’ (absurd notion, it’s all just words and mathematics around a table, you’re only at risk from dropped D4s) endangers everyone’s fun and empowers a single individual to screw up the game for all the other players.

This is also why I’m against anti-harassment policies at conventions. It’s not because I condone harassment, but because these things tend to be poorly written and to contain rhetorical trojans that could be abused to censor, attack and – ironically – harass people.

The M-Card which I introduce above, shouldn’t be necessary. People should be willing and able to take responsibility for their own conduct and their own mental health. Your gaming group aren’t your fucking therapists. That said, there’s no safer environment to encounter your fears and triggers – on an imaginary basis – and to exert power over them.

That’s how you process these things and move past them, not by being coddled like a low-level magic user.

I hope M-Cards take, and if not, at least it’ll further the discussion.


#RPG – X-Cards Revisited


“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.


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.