This is part 2 of 3 in a series about safety tools in TTRPG's and why I chose to make Brie Beau Sheldon's Script Change Tool a core mechanic in Karma in the Dark.
Part 2: Why Karma in the Dark Needed Safety Tools
I was playing a D&D game at a con, and the GM told me I woke up in my inn room to the realization that a stranger, a man, was sneaking across the pitch-black room towards my bed. A beat later, the GM explained that he belonged to the same secret guild as my pre-made character.
In the space of that beat? I was a female player, with a female character, in a group of all men, with the image of being woken up to a dark room with a strange man moving close.
I honestly don't think the GM meant to push the "fear of sexual assault" button. It just didn't occur to him.
I was GMing a Torchbearer game, and decided to build up tension of an approaching threat. I described a skittering, clicks, shadow of a giant spider. The encounter took maybe 15, 20 minutes? It wasn't until it finished that I was reminded one of the players had significant arachnaphobia. We had discussed phobias at the beginning of the campaign months before, but with the time lapse and rotating group of players, I honestly forgot. That memory lapse caused someone genuine fear.
When we started a game, one player had a vice connected to inflicting violence. We never described much detail, but the tension between the desire to hurt others and the desire to save others was interesting to play. Then my day job became consumed with working with people with intense self-loathing and depression related to the people they had hurt and killed. Day in and day out, I sat in that real life tension. I couldn't stand to think about it during a roleplaying game too.
These are just a few snapshots. Maybe they seem extreme. There are other examples: when describing a gun shot, how much or how little detail do you include? When someone gets poisoned in a game, how long or little does the group make a joke about vomit? When someone wants to bring a sense of threat to the game atmosphere, what fears do or don't we tap into? Most humor is based on mocking someone or something. What humor is funny versus uncomfortable or abusive, and how often does that depend upon the day and everyone's mood? What about player vs. player conflict? Where does roleplay drama start impacting real feelings? And when it that "too far" or "too much?"
I've wrestled with these questions as a GM and a player since I resumed roleplaying games some five years ago. Play testing Karma in the Dark threw these questions into focus: group after group, we designed a dystopian, oppressive world. Each world had different points of oppression offset by fantasy and silliness. From world creation to missions to NPCs to entanglements, the question of tone remained in the forefront of my mind.
At first, I raised this question in the Best Practices section, as I told players everyone is responsible for managing tone. I wove the concept of consent into the World Creation process. But the more I tested the game, the more it seemed like I was expecting players to be masters at negotiating tone and consent, skilled at engaging in assertive conversation about vulnerable topics. And as I played, it became clear that for a myriad of reasons, that expectation was unfair. If I wanted to create a game about oppression, I also needed to include tools for managing those challenges of consent and tone. Otherwise, I was creating a game with more danger than some for uncomfortable and unsafe dynamics.
After all, just reading the "relevance factors" example chart in World Creation can stir up some uneasy feelings.
I needed a tool to help groups manage tone effectively. I found that tool with Script Change.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.