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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 designed provide a social foundation that will make it easier for us to create an open and inclusive environment for all participants. They are constantly evolving and changing. In addition, it is expected that these rules will be adjusted and modified to meet the needs of each gaming group.

You can listen to a podcast version of these ground rules with some additional discussion in Unfamiliar Heroes Episode Zero. Please note that this version of the rules does not contain Rule #8 or any discussion of limits.

 

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.)

To help with this process, I have created a list of Words and Phrases to Avoid that includes harmful words and phrases that not everyone is aware of. Please take a moment to look it over. Also, if you have things to add to this list, please let me know.

 

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.

This system can be adjusted to meed the needs of game participants.

 

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) Create characters that are eighteen or older for games with sexual content

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) Respect the limits of all participants

Limits are places we don’t want to go in a game. They can be triggers, phobias, things that bring up unpleasant memories, or just content that makes it harder for us to enjoy the game. Each person has their own limits. In each Unfamiliar Heroes game we will start by combining our limits so that we can create a space where all participants are able to fully enjoy and participate in the game.

Limits for Unfamiliar Heroes Games discusses what limits are and goes over a list of limits that I have for the Writing Alchemy podcast, combined with a list of my personal limits as a participant. This list is intended to serve as a starting point for discussion. It is expected that the actual list of limits used for each game will be different.

 

9) 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.

Other emotional safety tools, like the X-card, Script Change RPG Tool, and the Luxton Technique can also be used based on the needs of the participants.

X-Card: This article by John Stavropoulos details an accessibility tool that allows game participants to pause action to quickly edit out content that they are uncomfortable with.

Script Change RPG Tool: This article by Brie Sheldon outlines an accessibility toolbox that provides ways for dealing with intense, upsetting, or triggering topics in role-playing games by doing things like pausing, rewinding, fast forwarding, and going slow through sensitive topics (frame-by-frame). Script Change provides multiple options for addressing things and incorporates some of the ideas from The Luxton Technique.

The Luxton Technique: Most emotional safety tools focus on removing triggering and upsetting content, however this process can be harmful for some people. This article explains why and presents an alternative technique that makes space for traumatic experience and centers the trauma of players in storytelling (for example, giving them power over the way the story situation resolves).

 

4 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!

  2. bwgustaf says:

    So i just realized you never put the word “mad” on the substitution list. I considered using the substitutions for kooky since that is considered a temporary state as well, but i’m still wondering if any other terms would be more appropriate.

    • FayOnyx says:

      This list was meant to be more of a starting place for thought and conversation, rather than a list with absolutely everything on it. However I do want all of the most of the common problem words and phrases on the list, and you are right that “mad” should be on the list. Thanks! I just added it.

      “Kooky” is an interesting one because historically I comes from “coocko,” but it has diverged a bit more in meaning toward being something more like extremely eccentric. However, because of the history and lingering associations, I’m still working on avoiding it.

      Since you are interested, I added a few more substitution options for “kooky.” The list now reads, “odd, offbeat, weird, strange, zany, eccentric, irrational, peculiar, unconventional, quirky, uncommon, unusual.” You may also wish to spend some time exploring a thesaurus. I hope you find a word that works for you. If you find one, I’d love to hear what that perfect replacement word is for you. 🙂

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