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As a deaf person, I guess that I can't play RPGs but I am not sure, as I have never played one.

Generally speaking, I think there are two genres of RPG: Table RPG (such as D&D) and Performing RPG (games where players act like actors). Correct me if I am wrong.

Deaf people cannot easily understand everything that is being said, especially if it's being said behind their back, if too many people talk simultaneously, and generally if the speaker's mouth is covered.

So my question is: Can deaf people play RPGs? Are accommodations necessary, and how much does it change the game?

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migrated from boardgames.stackexchange.com Jan 18 '14 at 23:44

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    \$\begingroup\$ This has an answer which relates to deaf players. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/6532/… \$\endgroup\$ – user2617804 Jan 18 '14 at 23:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ The table RPGs are typically called tabletop RPGs, and the performing RPGs are typically called LARPs - Live Action Role Plays. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 19 '14 at 1:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @okeefe Right you are. Oof, I had some things to learn yet 5 years ago. Comment edited using those infinite comment editing privileges the diamond gives me. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 14 at 22:01
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Disclaimer: I'm mostly going to be talking about tabletop RPGs, since that is where most of my experience with Deaf participants is. Some of this advice may work fine for a performing RPG, but I have little to no experience with that. I'm also ignoring play by post- Suffice to say that you can play RPGs online in a written form, and therefore entirely sidestep any trouble with your deafnesss.


Four quick questions- How deaf are you, how well do you speak, do you sign, and if so how many other signing individuals are in your area?

One of my gaming groups has two deaf players. One is simply hard of hearing, and besides can lipread and speak so well it was a month before I actually knew he was HoH. We tend to treat him the same as other players, though we have gotten into the habit (after he asked us) of raising a hand when we're about to speak. (Offtopic, but I liked how this reduced background chatter so much I've done it in gaming groups of all hearing participants if they're being too rowdy.) We make sure to stay facing the center of the table, so he can see our mouths, and that's pretty much all he needs.

The other player has much worse hearing. He can't speak intelligibly to the rest of us, and cannot reliably understand us. He can lipread, but finds it difficult and unreliable. Fortunately, the DM (Dungeon master- the person "in charge" of a roleplaying game, and the one who does the most communication of the group) has a limited fluency with American Sign Language, and one of the other players minored in ASL. When the DM speaks, he signs along with what he's saying. When the players are speaking (remember, we go one at a time due to the lipreader) the signing player interprets, and translates what our deaf player says. The translations are often of the quick and dirty sort (Neither the DM nor the translating player are ASL translators- they have about a year's training in ASL) but it works. Some things can be pantomimed easily- "I hit the orc" is easier to understand if you point to a miniature and mime swinging a sword. Some gaming jargon doesn't have a sign, but everyone seems comfortable with making up homesign. (Natural twenty is the movement for born with a 2 in the primary hand and a 0 in the off hand, for example. Orc is the sign for Angry, with an O held near the face) In a pinch, we write down what's happening on a sticky note and pass it around.

Suggestions

The easiest thing to do if you sign is to find a group who also signs and is interested in role playing. Your deafness is only an problem to the extent that it impedes communication. If you can can find a group that can easily and quickly understand you, then you can play just like anyone else. Even if not everyone in the group can sign, if most of them can then they can translate back and forth. (Note: This is far easier with at least two or three such interpreters. It gets tiring faster than you think if you aren't used to it!)

If you don't sign or do not have a population of signers in your area, but can understand and verbally communicate easily with hearing people, then you can still roleplay easily. I strongly suggest playing a game that using miniatures and a board to show where people are even if the game does not recommend this- some groups do not use miniatures, and you will have an easier time seeing where everything is, and they will be able to easily see where you want to be. If you don't want to shell out for fancy minis, Legos work just fine.*

Ask the players to speak one at a time. This is good form anyway even for all hearing groups, and will make it far easier for you or a translating player to catch everything. Have them use a visual signal (such as raising one hand) when speaking, and if you have a signing translator raise a hand to get their attention.

If you have difficulty being understood or understanding, I highly recommend creating signs for common terms. Even if you're highly verbal, some things like "Maneuver" or "Fortitude Save" or "orc" might be easier if you have some kind of shorthand for them.

Bottom line is, you can play RPGs even if you're deaf- there really aren't any audio cues you need, just simple communication. While deafness is a disability, you can order a lunch at a restaurant, you can communicate with peers at work or school, and you can certainly play RPGs. Just find a group that's willing to go a little extra mile to communicate with you- and honestly, that's something even hearing people need to do sometimes.

*D&D fourth edition is actually really good for this-the high use of minis plus power cards means that you can basically just show the DM the card, point at the target, and if necessary shift the mini where you want it to go. While you may miss out on descriptions or dialogue without other communications, I imagine you could probably play the tactical part of 4th ed just fine with no other communication channel.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 also for the mention of online play: it’s there, it works without any modification; nothing more needs to be said and now let’s talk about in-person play. Exactly right, IMO. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 19 '14 at 4:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Impressive answer. To reply your questions: Personally, even if sometimes I can understand w/o watching mouths, I am very depended on lipreading. I am using sign language only when needed, i.e. w/ other deaf who can't communicate verbally. Many times people confuse me for a foreigner because of small flaws that my speech contains but what I say is understandable. Even I know many deaf, I think it's difficult to find one who is interested in RPG ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Yannis Dran Jan 19 '14 at 10:11
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Yes, entirely possible, although it might come in a format that you are not expecting. The very first suggestion and the easiest for you would be play by post.

Play-by-post

Although the traditional RPGs take place around a table with people talking about what their characters do, there are also online communities that do the same on forums: people post what their character is doing into a thread. The flow of the game is a bit different though, and it might not be for everyone, it is less of a traditional RPG and more of collaborative fiction in my experience. Other possibilities include playing over chat or such, but all have their complications. Overall though, playing by chat is the possiblity I'd vote for.

Relevant questions

LARP

Live action role play, the one you called performing RPG above, is entirely possible for deaf people -- but it heavily depends on the style of the game. There are LARPs which focus entirely on battles, and such would be no problem for you. Others are more focused on the intercharacter roleplay aspect, and those are a bit more problematic. Nevertheless, you can still participate well, playing a character with the same disability, that is, playing a deaf character, might be a way to go. Nevertheless, many flavours of LARP would be a problem. In a lot of them "calls" associated with hits and used in spell vocals need to be heard and responded to by the target. (credits to TimB). Therefore, it's crucial to know the style and type of play before trying to play in one.

Tabletop

This is the very traditional way of playing RPGs, with friends around a table. This one may be the most problematic of all, although I do not entirely know of your capabilities. If you are able to read lips, it should be entirely possible, as long as the rest of the players are careful not to speak one over another, but they will have to take some effort to accomodate you, in other words, they will need to be prepared to adapt the game to your needs. If you only understand sign language, I unfortunately must presume that the neccessary translation would lower the game fluidity and flow, and would probably lead to problems too great for playability, however, I have no direct experience in this regard. Overall though, this part will always depend on your friends willingness to play in a game fitted to suit you.

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Role-playing games are definitely accessible to the Deaf! When I was more proficient in ASL (back around 2006 to 2012) I GM'd games with Deaf & Hard of Hearing (HoH) players. Sometimes in mixed groups, sometimes in ASL-only groups. We participated in tabletop (TRPG) and live-action (LARP). Also electronic RPGs (ERPG) with text chat work the same as anyone else, so a lot in the Deaf community participate in ERPGs.

There is also an effort to develop signs specific to RPGing and D&D to speed up the game play.

And there are ASL GM positions available as volunteers.

And as paid positions.

Yes cultural and logistical adaptations definitely need to be taken into account, as elaborated here, but it's very much do-able, and to much benefit to the community.

Happy Gaming and Happy Signing!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you add more information to your answer than just the multiple links? Links have a tendency to change and go dead over time, which means that your answer would become useless once that happens. If you could include the gist of what is said in those links to your answer, it would keep it useful even when the link go dead. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Sava Jan 2 at 10:07
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Short answer

Yes, it is possible.

Detailed approach

You are correct that RPGs are split primarily into tabletop games (like D&D) and live games (in which people perform their characters). Live games have their own issues and vary greatly, so for simplicity I'll concentrate mostly on tabletop games in this answer. (If you're interested in live roleplay, please ask a similar question on that topic, as it's worthy of its own answer.)

It is perfectly possible for a deaf player to roleplay, but like any other complex social activity, it requires some awareness on the part of the other players. If you are capable of playing a board game in company, there's no reason why you can't also roleplay.

Some key points to consider are:

  • Above all, discuss these issues with your group in advance. You need to find a group that is willing to adjust to make your life easier. The details of what needs to be done will depend a great deal on your personal hearing limitations. Look for an experienced group to start with; players who know what they're doing with their game can better concentrate on helping the new player learn. (Your local gaming store may be able to help you out here.)

  • Establish what level of communication you have with your group. Your deafness is an issue only to the extent that it impedes your communication at the table. If you sign, and other players can (or someone can translate), then that's a viable solution. If you're not lucky enough to have a signing D&D group in your area, then you should fall back on general "dinner table conversation" strategies, with some modifications to suit the demands of the gaming group:

  • Focus on the GM (the 'referee' of the game). The most important communication at the table for a beginner is between the player and the GM; directing your attention that way will not be a mistake. Ask the other players not to "talk over" the GM.

  • Ask the GM to maintain a strict turn order. Many games have, built in to the rules, an order in which characters will act - having only one character act at a time makes it much easier for you to follow the play. (If you lip-read, ask the players in advance to look towards you when their character is acting or speaking, and then turn your focus back to the GM as soon as they finish.)

  • Select a game with comparatively simple rules. Trying to explain options and tactics is one area where everyone tends to speak at once; if the rules are simple and clear you won't need as much advice from other players.

  • For a first game, consider designing a character who can easily avoid things you have trouble with. If your character is a flashy socialite industrialist you may have to get involved in multi-way conversations, which will be more difficult. A grizzled veteran recon specialist, on the other hand, might only need talk to one person at a time - usually in order to make plans.

  • Try to find a group that uses miniatures, sketch maps, or similar visual aids to mark the position of characters and opponents in a fight. This gives you a visual reference, so it will matter less if you don't catch all of a description - you'll still be able to tell roughly what's going on by looking at the map.

Alternatives

There is also one alternative option where your disability is simply not an issue: there are many games run online using text chat forums or wiki-based approaches. While not the same as a real-time tabletop game, it satisfies many of the same gaming urges; if you prefer a "group storytelling" style of game this could be a good answer for you.

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Online games (play by email, play by messageboard, etc) would not even know you are deaf so that would be one way to try things. Online games are a very different experience to face-to-face though. Of course the best option for you may be to find a group that all speak the same sign language and play using that. There is no reason at all you couldn't run a game exactly the same as a normal game but using sign language instead of speech.

In fact it even opens up some possibilities that are not present in normal games as potentially (I don't know sign language so I'm not sure how small you can make it) you could sign to the GM behind a screen and pass messages directly between you and the GM more easily than with spoken language.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ha, you are right, "secret messages" can be passed easier if the sign be hidden from others. Deaf are famous for their visual perception. \$\endgroup\$ – Yannis Dran Jan 19 '14 at 9:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are some online games that do rely on voice chat, but that's by no means universal -- my 2e and 5e Roll20 games do lean on it heavily, but my 0e game doesn't use voice chat at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Dec 22 '14 at 3:53
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Of course. And with some campaign formats, the accessibility is already 'baked in'!

For the last few years, I play an overwhelming majority of my RPGs in text (over Discord, which has a lot of RPG-oriented text-communicating communities \$^1\$ despite the service's reputation of being voice-oriented), and I think in general text gaming automatically solves many of the issues with the language barriers between speaking and signing people as well as language barriers between people using two or more different sign languages, as the odds of finding a group who shares fluency in written English is much higher. This only doesn't work when the signer isn't fluent in a written language that is common to the community; but even in that case, if it's just a matter of having different syntax (e.g. sign-style word order etc.), it isn't necessarily an insurmountable barrier.

I would also say that, assuming I understand you correctly, what you refer to as Performing RPG does translate into text gaming - it takes a form more similar to what writing or reading a book is like, with detailed descriptions of an action, an emotion, a facial expression etc.

Action scenes are also handled somewhat differently in text gaming than in table-and-voice gaming, often but not always requiring employment of some software tools. With proper descriptions, things like positioning in action scenes can be conveyed by text alone, but whether that's satisfying is a matter of opinion (I think it's fine, but some people just want to have a map and move their pieces like on a chessboard).


\$^1\$ For example: the GURPS server tends to be eager to help people get started with RPG-playing and has ongoing text-based campaigns (with logs that you can check to see whether the format is as accessible as you like); the FATE server is less numerous, and doesn't have ongoing campaign at this point, but occasionally advertises short 'pickup games' that can serve as an introduction to roleplaying. There are more, but it's probably better to discuss those privately rather than spam an answer with long lists of text-friendly RPG community links (but I'm not sure how one is supposed to contact anyone privately on RPGSE).

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All the other answers were perfect (and I liked them all), but the real problem is that deaf people are not able to have the same exact experience as non-deaf people. So, I 'm going now to add a small detail for the future.

A few weeks ago (at the start of 2019), Google launched an app called 'Live Transcribe' that makes voices appear in textual form. It is still primitive, but I'm sure that in the future it will improve greatly. The perfect day will come when we will be able to play the game with glasses (or contact lenses) that show us real-live subtitles like in the movies. It is just a matter of time.

p.s. Of course it won't make the experience similar, but it will be close enough.

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