Wednesday, November 23, 2016

DM Lessons: Mea Culpa

I play a fairly house-ruled version of D&D 5e with lots of more old-school elements to it. One of the most noticeable elements is my Modified XP and Levelling Rules. Different classes have different ways of turning treasure into XP, and carousing is a pretty common one for all the martial-style classes. When you carouse, you spend money, it turns directly in XP, you lose time and you roll on the d100 carousing table which I grabbed from... Reddit.

As somebody who is very interested in keeping RPG gaming a safe space for everybody involved, let this be a cautionary tale.  I screwed up, and hopefully, this will help somebody not screw up.

First off, my group is a bunch of white males. I'm a white male, and these are primarily my friends from university or high school. Most of us have been playing rpg's together for a looong time. We have broadly the same sense of humor and (I think) similar expectations for our games.

We did have a new player in the group last night, though, and that's where the my mistakes started. Actually, my mistakes started earlier when I didn't REALLY read the carousing table I grabbed. I mean, I read it, but I didn't pay a ton of attention to it. That table contains some pretty rape-y elements. It's all implied - nothing like "you were sexually assaulted", but a lot of "you wake up in bed with" and "you wake up naked with" entries.

It's at this point that I keep wanting to say things like "taken the right way, it's mostly funny", but that's a cop-out. It's trying to avoid responsibility for paying attention to the elements and material that I'm bringing into my game. Material that, frankly, doesn't really make my game a safe place or a fun place.

So that was my first mistake - I didn't review and think about my material. My second mistake was that I didn't make the context of the material clear and I didn't talk about it with the new player. We've used the carousing table before, had a fun time with the results and treated it mostly like the throw-away stuff it's intended to be. But I didn't make that clear or understood. I also didn't clarify that the results of the carousing table are in no way binding.

If a player wants to run with them, that's fine. If they want to use them as an opportunity to role-play or start a character arc, that's fine. If they want to treat them like a Simpson's throw-away gag, that's fine too. Although truth be told, that table has more Family Guy style material than Simpsons.

But I didn't make that clear. I just told him to roll on the carousing table. He ended up rolling a 67 on that table, which is "You wake up in a nobleman’s barn. You are wearing a saddle and there are whip marks on your buttocks. You are 1d10 sp richer."  Which could be a funny situation to be in, but could also be a very traumatic and horrible situation to be in.

The player interpreted this as me telling him that his (female) character had been drugged and sexually assaulted.  Which is not a thing I'm interested in having happen in my games.  Plus, the rest of us, who had used that table before as a light-hearted interlude, were laughing.  So at that point, my game is not a safe place AT ALL.

This is also the point where I keep wanting to say something like "it was made worse by the fact that he was playing a female character" but that's also a cop-out.  It wouldn't have been better for that to happen to a male character.  It's poor taste material that I presented badly either way.

It took some work to sort the situation out.  Work I should have done beforehand, but didn't because I made assumptions about everybody being on the same page with the material and the tone of the game.  I fucked up.  It's the kind of session that could easily cause somebody to quit a campaign, and the kind of miscommunication and assumption that would definitely make a table at a Con or game shop an unsafe place for players.

This is also the kind of mistake of communication and tone that I see lots of gamers pooh-pooh as "overreacting" if somebody points out that gaming isn't a safe place.  It isn't overreacting, it's the kind of feedback and critical thought that we as a community of gamers have got to listen to, to think about, and to do better on.  I hope to do better in the future.