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What kind of measures should one take when running a game which includes a [dis]abled player (or players) such as a blind of deaf player? Are there any technologies or styles which are particularly fitting or useful under these circumstances? Are there any technologies or styles which are particularly ill-fitting or not useful under these circumstances?

(I don't mean to be rude in grouping all disabilities together, and recognize that the answer varies based on the disability. Nonetheless, I am curious to hear some general answers.)

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I don't think it's rude to group all disabilities, but I think it's more effective to go case by case. Here is a thread that treats another specific problems rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/27710/… . –  Flamma Aug 6 '13 at 15:50
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up vote 43 down vote accepted

My girlfriend and I have played 4E D&D and she is completely blind. Here are some of the things I did to help her out:

  • I obtained a PDF copy of the rules and copy/pasted enough of it so she could print enough of the core rules out in Braille. I also made a plain character sheet for her as well that was also printable in Braille.
  • I bought her a set of oversized dice, including a huge, two inch d20. We were able to put Braille labels on all the dice that her character needed.
  • At the gaming table, we used my cork board for positioning. Elements of the map were made tactile with simple cardboard cutouts, textured tape, and placing thumbtacks, pins, etc. with different meanings. It also helped hold all the items in position as she used her hands to figure out where everything was.
  • As a DM, I made sure that I gave accurate descriptions of position, and kept up the descriptions as the characters moved around on the cork board.
  • Above all, we spent a lot of time going over the rules ahead of time to make sure that things would flow smoothly at the game table.

Our gaming sessions have been very fun and successful, and never did any player at the table feel like the game was slowed down in any way.

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Glad to see someone with some experience here instead of general advice. Thanks for chiming in and welcome. –  wax eagle Mar 8 '11 at 18:08
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very good answer. Just being curious: have you ever tried abstracting 4e's need of accurate positioning with something like SARN-FU or some other relative/descriptive mechanic in your games? –  user660 Mar 9 '11 at 2:22
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I am a legally blind 4E D&D player and DM. I have been playing for many, many a decade now. I have utilized several different approaches over the years.

• For dice: If the blind person has access to speech synthesizer software on a laptop, mobile device or other electronic medium, there are all kinds of compatible applications available. Mach Dice on iPhone for one. If all else fails, it is very easy to create an Excel spreadsheet using the RAND() function to roll any number of dice and pressing F9 to refresh. I believe the whole formula is =INT(RAND()*x)+1 where x is the number of sides of dice you need. The screen reader can read the results aloud. If the roll is to be secret, just use headphones.

• If you do have an accessible computer, logging in to accessible chat rooms with your DM allows for secret messaging back and forth for extra dramatic role-playing effects.

• The cork board idea previously mentioned is BRILLIANT! For low vision users like me, using high contrast dry-erase grids is good. Laser light pointers can be useful, too. For temporary zones, pipe cleaners can be cut and bent into whatever shape the wall or zone takes. Wires also work. Having a major distinction between good guy tokens and bad guy tokens really helps the blind person keep the entire board in mind at once. Realize that even by touch, the blind person has to hold a lot of pieces of information in their brains all at once, so the more distinctively tactile the map features are, the easier it is for them to understand what’s going on, and to better strategize.

• Putting character sheets in an accessible electronic format is also nice since Braille copies are not as easily updated during game play. Gold, hit points, treasure and (in 4E) powers are much easier and faster to keep track of when you have the Copy/Paste, and Find commands at your disposal. The biggest stumbling block for me as a player (not DMing) is keeping up with battles when it isn’t my turn. Thus, I feel less engaged than I normally would if I could keep up. I am stoked about trying the cork board idea soon. Other tools I’ve thought about using are puff paint grids, Braille labeled monster tokens, metal-backed dry erase board with magnetic tokens, etc. As a DM, having a rules lawyer in the group is always useful when you quickly need to reference something technical! Braille labeling status effects or using large print status cards has proved handy when learning the game.

Hope this helps!

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I feel like with most things in life communication is key here. Talking to all of your players, in a group setting and individually will help you get a feel for what is working in your group.

I think this is probably even more important in a setting where one of the players is disabled. You need to find out what kind of accommodations you need to make. If its a blind player you may have to decrease the tactical map/miniature dependencies in your game, if the person is deaf you may have to prepare cards with your narration on them, or employ another group member to translate.

But you won't know what you have to do until you talk to your players. It may be that one of your other players has an idea to make the game more fun, or to more effectively make the game play smoother. Heck, you may end up over accommodating to the point where you make your disabled player uncomfortable when they just want to be included in the group like everyone else, without any special rules, or changes.

Again, as with just about everything in life, communication is king.

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Note that role playing games are an opportunity to be someone you aren't in real life, so I wouldn't even suggest this to someone unless your are confident they would have fun.

Physical game mechanics aside - depending on how comfortable the player is with his or her disability, you could try having them play a character that has the same disability. It would open up a lot of interesting mechanics and RP situations since the player is so familiar with the impacts of the disability. Having a disabled PC in the party also forces you, the GM, to describe things from their character's perspective. Thus the information is presented to the player in a method that is compatible with their perspective as well.

Here are a few examples of things to do as a GM for a blind or deaf PC

  • Give their character a large inherent bonus to perception (or your rpg's equivalent skill) that only applies when listening or sight is involved.
  • Give them an animal companion with darkvision or exceptional hearing that marks targets with sound or light to avoid any combat penalties (a la RA Salvatore's Montolio Debrouchee and his owl companion). For a blind PC, it would also provide an advantage in lightless combats.
  • Engineer a background that allows the character psionic vision or vibration detection of the surrounding terrain.
  • Give them a power/ability beyond the normal set that blinds or deafens all enemies for a short duration, leveling the playing field.

Again, I want to stress that people hold many different attitudes about their disabilities. Some are lighthearted and just play the hand life dealt them, some are ashamed or embarrassed. Do NOT suggest this to a person who leans toward the latter.

Edit: While not directly related, this question has some great ideas that would help a blind player.

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This is a great answer. As you mention, it might not be for everyone, but for those who are interested in trying it, it could provide some very interesting and outside-the-box scenarios and challenges. –  Beska Mar 8 '11 at 15:11
    
I think it would be even more interesting and educative that the disabled character is played by another player. This way, he learns and feel what is to be blind (at least on the surface), and the blind player feels a little what is to have sight. The blind player can teach the others which limitations would they have, and how to conquer them. –  Flamma Aug 6 '13 at 15:57
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Apart from everything else, make it easy and comfortable for them to get to the place where you play.

  • Check if there are any foods they can't eat: a celiac can't eat gluten, so no bread, cookies, pizza, etc. I suppose a lactose intolerant guy can't eat cheese, so that would mean no pizza either.
  • If the disability is blindness, taking a narrative approach to the game would help a lot. Charsheet-based games could be out of the question there, or maybe there's a way to have braille charsheets. Dice throwing would imply some trust: a blind person can certainly recognize the different dice, and the face they fall on if they're embossed, but the game could be quicker with the help of someone else reading the results and handing dice.
  • Conversely, if the disability is deafness, people could feel more comfortable with a system that has everything spelled out on paper. Your narration goes out the window, though, if you don't have a translator. This could mean most RPGs are out of the question. This also assumes total deafness, though. Many deaf people are only slightly impaired.
  • I suppose the trick is not making them feel as if you're doing them a favor, just making them feel included. The sweet spot should be when a person doesn't feel there's a problem, and doesn't notice that you're pampering them.
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Deaf people can roleplay just fine via chat rooms. –  J. Strange Mar 8 '11 at 13:28
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Well yes. I kind of assumed people meeting at a table. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Mar 8 '11 at 13:32
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