Feed on

Game Ground Rules

This is an image of a pile of multicolored dice. These are the types of dice used to play tabletop role-playing games. The pile include 20-sided, 12-sided, 10-sided, 8-side, 6-side, and 4-sided dice. Many of the dice are metallic and have different colors artistically swirled together.

This is an image of a pile of multicolored dice. These are the types of dice used to play tabletop role-playing games. The pile include 20-sided, 12-sided, 10-sided, 8-side, 6-side, and 4-sided dice. Many of the dice are metallic and have different colors artistically swirled together.


These rules are open to input and change through discussion with the players and game masters participating in this project. I expect them to grow and change over the course of the series.

You can listen to a podcast version of these ground rules with some additional discussion in Unfamiliar Heroes Episode Zero.


1) Use respectful and inclusive language

Naturally this means referring to people how they want to be referred to and using their desired pronouns. Keep in mind that people are welcome to use whatever identity terms they want to for themselves, even if those words are slurs.

Being respectful also means avoiding harmful language, including words and phrases that promote harmful stereotypes and ideas. The English language has many of these words and phrases in it that are harmful and learning to avoid them is an ongoing process for many people. What this means is that there will be mistakes.

When mistakes occur, my goal is to kindly inform the person who made the mistake that the word they just used is harmful and suggest a possible alternative. If (or when) I make this kind of mistake, I request that others do the same for me. (There is an in-progress system for replacing harmful language down below.)

Below is a list of some words and phases to avoid that are less commonly known to be harmful. Because the thing that has helped me the most in my own process of learning to avoid these words and phrases is finding good substitutions, I have also listed some possible replacements.

  • Pioneer/pioneering when used to mean being the first to do something (this is a problem as many of the historical pioneers engaged in genocide): trailblazer
  • Being low on the totem pole (this is based on a misunderstanding and trivialization of the deep cultural meaning of totem poles): bottom of the heap, low in rank
  • Walkabout (this is considered to be a disrespectful term for a tradition in Indigenous Australian communities): excursion, trip, spiritual journey
  • Crusader (this references a violent history that involves cultural and religious intolerance): champion, reformer
  • Using fit or healthy to mean thin (this implies that fat people aren’t fit or healthy): thin, skinny
  • Lame: frustrating, silly, ridiculous
  • Dumb: frustrating, silly, ridiculous
  • Crazy/nuts/insane: wild, extreme
  • Coocko/kooky: odd, offbeat, strange, zany, eccentric, irrational
  • Drive me crazy/nuts/insane: drive me up the wall
  • Stupid/fool/idiot/daft/moron (these words refer to people with intellectual disabilities): silly, ridiculous, nonsense, illogical
  • Being deaf or blind as a metaphor for being unable or unwilling to perceive something: intentionally ignorant, irrational
  • Handicapped or crippled as a metaphor for things and systems that aren’t functioning well: broken, damaged, struggling
  • Prostitute or whore as a metaphor for degradation: compromised, corrupt, sell out, degraded


2) Replace oppressive language as it comes up

When someone accidentally uses a harmful word like “stupid” whoever notices it first will respond with something like, “Let’s replace stupid,” or “Let’s reword that. What about silly or ridiculous?” Suggesting a few quick alternatives if you can think of them is helpful.

Then the person who was originally talking will restate what they said in a way that replaces or removes the harmful word or phrase and play will resume from there.

If you catch yourself, please just jump in and reword it.


3) Respect the access needs of the other participants

Many of the participants of this project have specific access needs that are important for the group to meet so that they are able to fully participate. Examples of access needs include a scent free environment for in-person gaming, comfortable seating, wheelchair access, avoiding specific kinds of of game content, more time to take in what is happening during the game, a rules-light gaming system, social reassurances, and back up gaming days so that if someone has a symptom flare they know it is okay to cancel at the last minute.

For each game there will be conversations about access needs prior to the game and at the start of the gaming session itself. These may be brief, or as lengthy as necessary. As we work to meet each other’s access needs, know that mistakes will happen. This doesn’t mean that it is okay to only put in a token effort, but that we need to make room for the reality that humans make mistakes and that certain brains will have a harder time doing specific types of things. When mistakes happen we will apologize and all work together address that mistake and its consequences.


4) Avoid stereotypical characters

Part of the goal of this project is to create positive representations for the audience. In addition, ironic depictions of oppression frequently just reinforce the existing stereotypes. For these reasons, I’d like to avoid stereotypical characters in this game.

That said, if someone has a great idea for really digging into oppression by playing with a stereotype that they are personally affected by, then they are encouraged to bring that idea to the group. If the other group members are comfortable with the idea then we will work together to make sure that the oppression is highlighted and commented on so that the social commentary is clear to listeners.

In addition, players are reminded that the farther outside their personal experience they go with their character’s marginalized identities, the more research they will need to do in order to give a truthful representation of that experience. Players are encouraged, but not required, to play characters with disabilities and marginalized identities that they have a personal connection to.


5) Don’t recreate oppressive patterns

In addition to avoiding stereotypes, I want to avoid other story patterns that recreate oppression. Particularly for player characters who are the heroes of the story, I want to avoid having them engage in oppressive behaviors (unless we have a conversation about it and everyone agrees to it). Examples of oppression to avoid include treating women as sexual objects, forced kisses, sexual harassment, demeaning feminine men, homophobic comments, turning marginalized groups into jokes (including sex workers, furries, cross-dressers, and sexual minorities), slut shaming, fat shaming, cultural appropriation, exotification, trivializing pronoun preferences and chosen names, and treating privileged characters (white, straight, cisgender men) as the norm.

Game masters will need to think about this deeply and broadly. There is a list of common oppressive story patterns to avoid on the Guidelines for Game Masters page, including harmful ways that disability often gets represented. Do note, that some settings will include oppression (if everyone consents to that). If that is the case, the characters will likely witness or experience oppression and that oppression will be taken seriously.

Again, we live in a culture that is full of oppression and have been raised to recreate it. Mistakes will happen and we will address those as they come up without judgment (while also centering the needs of the person impacted by the oppression).


6) For games with sexual content, characters will be eighteen or older

All player characters and non-player characters that might engage in sexual activity should be 18 or older. For games with really freeform and open sexual rules like Monsterhearts, that is the majority of the allosexual (not asexual) characters.

The reason for this is the way USA obscenity laws work, the complex legal space that under 18 sexuality exists in, and the deep discomfort that USA culture has with teenage sexuality.


7) Focus on positive representation

Players are encouraged to create complicated, real-feeling characters. Part of that complexity can be flaws, questionable goals, or underhanded methods. Because one of the goals of this project is to create representation that listeners can feel good about, I would like to avoid having player characters that are deeply morally compromised (for example, being cruel for fun, or a complete lack of compassion toward others).

Game masters may create disabled or chronically ill villains, but because there is a history of disability being associated with villains (and even being treated as a trait by which villains are identified, for example, Darth Vader), there should be some discussion with the players about what kinds of portrayals everyone is comfortable with.


8) Use the timeout system if you need it

This system is here in case a player gets overwhelmed, someone gets triggered, the story runs into subject material that is upsetting, a social dynamic is happening that is causing problems, or if for any reason a person is feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in a bad way (I do want to recognize that discomfort can happen in good ways when we are stretching ourselves and growing).

If this happens please say, “Timeout,” and we will take a break to assess the situation. Sometimes a person will just need to take short break, while other times we will need adjust social dynamics, or to make some alterations to plot and story elements so that everyone can continue to enjoy the story together. You do not need to provide an explanation about why you need these changes to happen.

I know interrupting the story can be hard to do so I want to remind people that this is about us having fun as a group, so if there is a something that is reducing your ability to fully engage and enjoy the game with the group, then we all want to hear about it.

2 Responses to “Game Ground Rules”

  1. G says:

    Hi! This sounds like an amazing project but I’d like to know how you plan to incorporate deaf players, since podcasts tend to exclude people with hearing problems. Thanks!

    • FayOnyx says:

      Thank you so much for asking this!

      I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate deaf players and deaf audience members into Unfamiliar Heroes (and my work overall) for a while. One of my long-term goals is to get transcripts made of all of the podcasts, as well to hire ASL interpreters so that deaf players can participate in any game they want. These are goals on my patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/WritingAlchemy), however, as both of those things cost money they are not currently affordable for me (I am already putting a lot of time and money into making this project happen).

      The thing that I am currently doing to help people who are hard of hearing access my podcast is to edit the audio so that the whole podcast has an even volume that only increases or decreases slightly (and which is pretty loud overall).

      None of this solves the question of how to fully include deaf participants right now, however I I’ve just gotten an idea that should allow me to do that in some capacities. I am thinking of having some games that are text only that are done using some sort of instant messenger service. The transcripts of these would then be released on this website in an episodic format. This week I’m going to start asking around about this and hopefully I’ll get some input from others on the best way to implement this.

      I’d love to hear you thoughts or ideas on this!

Leave a Reply