... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Safe Word is 'Jackass'

If you GM, and someone asks you a specific question about how to GM this or that, chances are you can give some reasonable, specific advice, like “don’t change details in the middle of an adventure just to make it harder for the players.” If no one agrees, they can say “screw you” and do the opposite, or whatever. But general advice, especially advice about social aspects of gaming, tends to be pure crap.

That’s my explanation for something several other bloggers have been ranting about for a couple days now. Some nameless writer, whom I can only assume writes a column about GMing, offered some advice to handling players. One bit of advice: the group should have a “safe word” to let everyone know that they aren’t comfortable with what’s happening in the game.

Tim became violent. Erik was livid. Charles was scornful. The Pundit blamed it on social justice warriors.

But here’s something I haven’t seen anyone mention: It’s my understanding that the BDSM community created the idea of “safe words” because the submissive in a BDSM relationship begs the dom to stop, but doesn't mean it. Begging and pleading and screaming “it hurts!” is part of the kinky game they are playing. So, the sub needs an extra word to say “Time out, we really need to stop.”

In an RPG, this is equivalent to the difference between “in character” and “out of character”. But the majority of gamers switch between these two modes all the time and don’t have a problem telling which is which; the only people who need a “safe word”, then, would be hardcore immersive players who want to do everything in-character and hate the more fluid play of every other gamer because it “breaks immersion”.

But we already have a safe word – many safe words – for RPGs: the real names of the players, plus any system-level terminology, like “roll a d20”. If someone does something at the table that we don’t feel comfortable with, we can say, “No, Bob, we aren’t going to sit around and watch you pretend-rape all the prisoners. Knock it off, jackass.

I object to the whole “safe word” idea mainly for the same reason I think strict rules about in-character and out-of-character speech and action is idiotic. I remember reading, about twenty years ago, someone suggesting that you should make an “O” with your thumb and index finger and hold your hand near your forehead when speaking out-of-character. Or maybe it was a “C”; who knows? Both are stupid ideas. Perhaps I’m biased, because I play/run games 75% to 80% out-of-character, anyways. But to me, these extremely anal attempts to separate one from the other seem a waste of time, unless you have a brain-damaged player who might mix up reality with role-playing unless you keep them strictly separated.
Written with StackEdit.


  1. I thought the aforementioned "hardcore immersive players" were the brain-damaged ones :p

  2. I had a comment that the whole reason for having a safe word was because women are unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves because they're afraid of abuse.

    I have no words for that as I've never met a woman who didn't speak up for herself and tell people who were being jerks to cut it out - and I've never met a man who would let another man belittle and attack a woman because he made her uncomfortable. Perhaps it's because I'm from the south but if you're being a dick down here you normally get your ass handed to you.

    Maybe it's just my area?

    1. That argument doesn't even make sense. If women won't say "Stop", why would they say "orangejulius", or any other safe word that means "Stop"?

      Tell that commenter to grow a brain.

    2. I pretty much did. I tried to be nice about it because I think that she was working herself up into a furor about the situation imagining arguments that I wasn't presenting.

      See, sometimes I have tact in spite of myself.

  3. Now I didn't get violent. I thought violent things. hehe, but I'm feeling much better now.

    As Charles mentioned above (this will be focused on women, but the article was just for gaming groups in general) the women I know have no problem voicing their opinions. And if someone is getting out of hand all the others would get on them about being rude, crude, or jackass.

  4. It was moose antlers for OOC speech, at least when I was a kid.