One of our core prinicpals is encouraging safer play, which in turn allows us to go farther with our roleplay.
Lots of games carry a certain amount of risk. We don’t question the risk of injury when playing a sport; often, we wear protective gear to minimize the chances of being seriously hurt. Roleplaying is no exception: intense action sequences, deep emotional content, and creeping horror all carry the risk of discomfort or distress. Safety tools help keep everyone safe even as they test their boundaries—protective gear for your mental and emotional well-being.
There are lots of safety tools available for roleplaying games. You can find many in the TTRPG Safety Toolkit. What’s important is that you find the tools that work best with your group: mix and match to suit!
At RPGClinic, we use a combination of safety tools in our games.
We go over our Lines and Veils before each campaign:
- Lines are elements we never want to see in the game—they’re lines we will not cross. Each of us lays out the things that should never come up.
- Veils that we’re comfortable with as long as they remain only vaguely described—for example, they could happen “off-screen” with specifics left out.
Before each session, we go over our in-game safety tools. We also decompress after every session with a form of aftercare during which we talk about the game and calmly bring ourselves back to reality.
We’ve developed our own version of safety cards for use during game: Play, Pause, and Stop.
The Play, Pause, and Stop Cards help everyone communicate unambiguously during roleplaying sessions. By showing the green Play card, the yellow Pause card, or the red Stop card, you send a clear message to everyone about your emotional state and needs.
This card system is suitable for all kinds of roleplaying—tabletop, online, live action, etc.
You can show the Play card without interrupting the game to let everyone know that, no matter what’s happening in-game, you’re okay to keep going.
You don’t need to interrupt your roleplaying to let people know that you’re having a great time: just flash the Play card! Some examples of when you may want use it:
- After a particularly nasty argument with another character, you want to make sure everyone knows that there’s no hard feelings out-of-character.
- The emotions are hitting pretty hard and you may look upset, but it’s in-character. You’re having fun and enthusiastic about continuing.
- The game’s going in a new direction—maybe a light-hearted adventure is taking a serious turn. You’re excited by this shift and want to see what’s next.
By showing the Play card, everyone knows that you’re safe and secure. This takes guesswork out of the equation: no confusion about in-character versus out-of-character, no worries about whether someone’s only consenting reluctantly, and no wondering if something’s wrong.
When you need to warn everyone about something important, especially if you’re approaching a personal limit, use the Pause card. Once you put it down, the game can continue.
Some things you want to share are serious enough that you need everyone’s undivided attention. The Pause card temporarily puts the game on hold so that you can let everyone know some crucial out-of-character information, such as:
- During a horror scene, you want to warn people that you’re approaching your comfort limit and would prefer fewer specific descriptions of violence.
- You’ve had a really tough week, so you want to make it clear before the session starts that you may need some extra support.
- You’re about to bring up intense subject matter in-game for the first time and want to make sure everyone’s all right to proceed.
Use the Pause card when you don’t need the game to come to a halt—you’re still okay, but you want to make sure you stay that way. The game can continue when you put the Pause card down.You never need to justify your use of the Pause card.
Use the Stop card if you’re not okay to keep playing. This halts the game immediately. Once a resolution is found and everyone feels ready to keep going, the game can continue.
Anyone showing the Stop card is no longer okay to keep playing—therefore, the entire game stops so that steps can be taken to correct the issue. Use the Stop card when you need help. For example:
- A scene has you feeling overwhelmed, and you need some time to process.
- Someone is pressuring you into taking their tactical advice to the point of bullying.
- You’re upset because someone brought up a subject that makes you uncomfortable.
Maybe everyone needs to take a short break. Perhaps people need to air their grievances and come to a compromise. Events in the game could be retroactively changed to avoid a particular pain point. No matter what, the game will not resume until everyone says they’re ready to keep playing—however long that takes.
You never need to justify your use of the Stop card.
How To Use The Cards
Hold the card up so that everyone can see it. Call out Pause or Stop if you’re using one of those cards. (You don’t need to say anything when using the Play card.)
If someone uses the Pause or Stop card, immediately stop playing and give that person your full attention.
It’s possible that someone using the Pause or Stop card may be in distress; even if someone isn’t holding up the card or calling out, err on the side of caution and check in.
These cards aren’t about assigning guilt
A card being used does not usually mean that someone has done something wrong. You shouldn’t avoid using a card because you’re worried others may feel guilty, just as you shouldn’t take offense if someone else uses a card. Roleplaying carries a certain level of emotional risk: the cards are there so that people can feel safe, not judged.
Everyone should have a set of cards
Having your own set of cards makes them easier to use: they’ll always be within reach and they’ll be as familiar to you as your other gaming supplies. (Oh, and we mean everyone—safety is crucial whether you’re running or playing.)
Cards are always out-of-character
Use the cards to reflect how you feel—not your character. Often, the point of roleplaying games is to put characters in danger, but you deserve to be safe at all times.
Avoid False Alarms
We’re not here to spoil your fun, but it’s really important to treat the cards with respect. They only work when everyone trusts they’re being used properly. Avoid situations like the following:
- 🚫 Because you want to fit in with the group, you show the Play card when the group brings up sexual content, even though you’d rather it not be a part of the game.
- 🚫 Bored, you begin fidgeting with the Pause card in your hands, despite feeling perfectly safe and having nothing crucial to communicate out-of-character.
- 🚫 Your character gets injured during a session; you jokingly hold up the Stop card in mock protest, even though you’re quite happy with how the game is going.
Every time you see a card used, treat it like the real deal.
Err on the Side of Caution
When it comes to safety, it’s far better to be proactive. Someone clearly in distress but not using a card may still need your help.
Go Over the Cards Every Session
If the cards feel unfamiliar, they’ll be difficult to use, especially in a moment of crisis. Have everyone hold all three cards and go over their use as part of your pre-game ritual. It only takes fifteen seconds each time you play to create a safe space that lets everyone play to their maximum.
No Justification Necessary
No one must ever be pressured to justify their use of a card. Using these cards is an indication of how you feel—and your emotions aren’t up for debate.
Our Cards Are Available For Free
We believe in promoting safer games, and so we offer these cards as a free print-at-home PDF in a few configurations:
Letter Paper – 5 sets + 3 rules cards [COMING SOON]
A4 paper – 5 sets + 3 rules cards [COMING SOON]
When cut out, these are standard playing card size – we suggest using cardstock, photo paper, and/or using card sleeves so as to keep the cards intact.
Don’t have access to a colour printer? Please feel free to hand-craft your own versions, and access this webpage at any time for rules reference!
Print-On-Demand Options At Cost
Want really nice cards? We have set up print-on-demand options being sold at cost through two storefronts:
Shipping to the US: DriveThruCards – US $x.xx plus shipping for 5 sets + 3 rules cards printed as premium playing cards. (COMING SOON)
Shipping Internationally: MakePlayingCards – US $x.xx plus shipping for 5 sets + 3 rules cards printed as premium playing cards. (COMING SOON)
Play, Pause, and Stop Cards are based upon the work of John Stavropoulos, Kira Magrann, Mysty Vander, Adam Cleaver, and Taylor Stokes, and others dedicated to making the RPG space safer for all.