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I am aware that this question may come across as ignorant or as an attempt at trolling. While I cannot prove it, I hope enough people believe that this question was asked in good faith and with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding in how to make the game more accessible for players.

I would like to emphasize again that this question is not an underhanded attempt at invalidating how players play a game, or what measures they take to ensure that they feel comfortable while playing.


I have recently come across the TTRPG Safety Tools Toolkit. The idea is that players have either physical cards, or a standardized form of communication to signal that they are not feeling comfortable with something that is happening or about to happen.

A quick summary of the three cards are:

  • The X card can be used at any point if a participant is uncomfortable with the content happening in-game. When the X card is used by tapping the card or typing an "X" in the chat, the group can change, rewind, or skip the content.
  • The N card can be used at any point if a participant feels like they are headed towards an X. When the N card is used by tapping the card or typing an "N" in the chat, the group can change the content or have the scene "fade to black."
  • The O card can be used at any point if a participant wants to continue with the content. When the O card is used by tapping the card or typing an "O" in the chat, the group is OK to continue with the content. They can also regularly be prompted by an "O?" asked out loud or in the chat to check-in if everyone is still OK.

The toolkit offers more than those three cards, but I am most curious about the cards. I want to know what benefits this somewhat rigid system offers, in comparison to more informal out-of-character conversations with the GM?


As this question is somewhat subjective in nature, please adhere to the community guidelines for answering subjective questions. In short, please back your answer with personal experience, not speculation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For those answering, the expectation is that you support your answer. This being a subjective question does not absolve you of that responsibility. Unsupported answers should be downvoted and may be removed. Do not simply answer with your unsupported opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 21 at 13:24
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X Card and other toolkit resources come with rules, whereas when groups which I've played with in the past left things to "plain communication" what happened when game content triggered people was that the conversation at times completely failed to improve safety and at times made the situation worse.

Just to cite the rule, according to John Stavropoulos's X Card documentation, when you

"lift this card up, or simply tap it, you don’t have to explain why. It doesn't matter why."

That set an expectation in two of my game groups: By agreeing to use the X Card, this concept was introduced to and enforced by a conscientious, cooperative, and sensitive group.

On the other hand, only relying on "plain communication" encouraged people to... wait for it... communicate. As in, being free to bring whatever they want to to the conversation. This has included questioning the triggered person, and unedited reactions, which just created additional triggers and the unkindness of uninformed judgements. Not too safe. By doing nothing proactive to actively promote a safe space, some people were totally unprepared to be present with their empathy and thoughtfulness when a triggered person did ask for accommodation, resulting in not giving them what they needed and were asking for, because of not understanding or not agreeing.

Now, I imagine (just saying rhetorically. I have not tried this.) that it's certainly possible to have a conversation before game time that the way you're going to provide safety is to do something very similar to what the X Card protocol describes, but, now you're no longer in "plain communication" territory.

Given my personal experience with the two options presented in the question, X Card or nothing special, the clear benefit is the X Card comes with training, plus it ensures that everyone is on the same page before play begins, as far as willingness to participate in a safe space at all goes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not entirely sure whether that's what you meant by " it's certainly possible to have a conversation before game time", but it might be worth mentioning the "lines and veils" technique, which goes really well with the use of an X-card. gnomestew.com/why-safety-tools-are-important-to-me \$\endgroup\$ – Boulash Jun 23 at 13:14
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In my experience, the X-Card provides more benefit in the explanation than in the use of the card.

It is incredibly powerful to start a session with an explicit reminder that everyone at the table is supposed to be sensitive to the needs of everyone else, that everyone is equally valuable and that everyone's individual foibles and lines will be respected.

By placing the tool on the table and explaining how it is to be used, it seems that an expectation of civility and deference to one another is created.

I find that by putting it on the table and discussing its use, you’ve eliminated more than 80% of the problems it is intended to address.

Sit down at a table with no discussion of safety, no expectation (or culture, if it’s a persistent group) of respect, and basically anything goes. Sit down at a table where the topic of safety is foregrounded, with a concrete tool that privileges the affected party (as opposed to the instigating party) and you’ve set a tone for the table and created an expectation that you’ll be looking out for each other. You’ve said, “the culture at this table cares about how everyone is doing.”

In short - the card itself is not, in my experience, the important part. It's the setting of expectations.

Also - I have seen X-Card introductions that undermined or mocked it and while I think those GMs were trying to lighten the mood around a serious topic, they didn't get the same kind of benefit I usually see.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It was really hard to pick and choose an "accepted" answer, as both are honestly a great insight into the X Card system. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas F. Jul 2 at 8:18

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