Often, in tabletop RPGs, the issue of problematic content comes up. As GMs and players, we often deal with bad players but also with sensitive content. In some games, content can cause discomfort and anxiety, yet be difficult to bring up as a problem due to social pressure. This is most often the case in horror genre games, but this can occur in nearly any type of game or scenario. It can even occur in player social relations. Any kind of objectionable content can cause issues yet remain hidden, because participants have a desire not to rock the boat.

However, John Stavropoulos has invented a great tool – the X-Card. The X-Card is a safety tool that allows participants to safely edit out any content that is questionable, without explanation, comment or judgment.

The X-card is a 3 by 5 index card that is placed in the middle of the table. When used, a player lifts the card up or taps the card, or can even say, “I’m X-carding.” The content is then skipped, faded to black, or discussed, as the group agrees. The person invoking the card never has to explain why they invoked the card. This gives the user iron clad protection against content that causes stress, anxiety or concern.

What the X-Card Is

The X-Card is a safety tool that enables gamers to more safely have fun. My “Trail of Cthulhu” GM uses it regularly, and it enables me, as a player, to go safely into dangerous content, knowing that I have an extra level of protection. Stavropoulous, in his X-Card document, states that “the X-card talk is more important than the X-card itself.”

The presence of the X-card option creates more trust that enables more creativity and fun to flow. In the recent “Eternal Lies” campaign I played in, I felt that my GM had my best interests at heart, and so we were able to have a more fun, awesome experience. That campaign goes into some dark territory, and the X-card enabled us to tackle that material and fully enjoy it.

What the X-Card Is Not

The X-card is not a panacea nor a problem solver, in the sense you can implement it and say, “Well, now that we have X-card, no one can have any cause to complain.”

You may well still have issues with misogynist or racist talk, microagressions, not being on the same page, over-optimization (i.e., “powergaming”), transphobia or other heavy issues. It’s not a substitute for talking and working things out. But it does help short circuit some of the cycles that prevent response against these issues at gaming tables – for example, if someone engages in thoughtlessly racist talk, a tap on the X-card can bring up the issue right then and there, and a dialogue can start.

The X-card in Action

In “Eternal Lies,” we were able to use the X-Card to quickly move past some really violent content that triggered me. It involved death on a mass scale that I will not disclose further – due to the graphic nature of what occurred in the story and due to not wanting to spoil “Eternal Lies.” The X-Card worked beautifully, enabling me to move past the disturbing content and continue to enjoy the game.

…But won’t that enable players to avoid the consequences of difficult game content?

No. That’s not what the X-Card is for. All that it means is that the content is skipped past. The content still has its full effect in the narrative, if that is what the group decides. A good example of this is depictions of sex – the player group may not want graphic depictions of intimacy but may be fine with and in fact want to follow up with the consequences of decisions made in character.

…won’t some players constantly “cry wolf” and X-Card everything?

I haven’t seen it happen. Usually, group consensus and good sense keeps a lid on this kind of thing. If a player uses the X-Card heavily, then some heavy discussion is usually needed, no matter what.

Remember, no one ever has to explain why they need to use the card – there are no judgments.

…but people know what behavior is good and bad!

No, they don’t. Really. Everyone is different. People can find spaces, smoking, mention of dogs, even colors problematic.

The most awesome thing about X-Card is that once you start using it, it fades into the background, and it makes gaming more awesome for everyone. It’s an essential safety tool that I use at all of my tables.

Have you used the X-Card in your tabletop RPGs? Would you? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Chris Bell, the Enthusiastic Grog, can be contacted enthusiastic.grog@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @enthusedgrog.

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