Safety Tools, the X-card, and the Spot Check analogy

Given the recent discussion about safety tools, I thought I'd share some highlights from a G+ conversation I had a while back.

Granted, the "Spot check" language is quickly becoming outdated, but hopefully no one here is such a youngster that they don't understand what it means, or, at least, clever enough to figure it out.

Here's what I wrote:
Some people in the RPG world struggle with the concept of "safety tools" at the table. I'm referring to things like the "X-card" - things we can have on the table to remind us to be aware of each other's limits and to remind people that it's OK to have a conversation about them (or, often, NOT to have a conversation about them, by just cutting them out).

Well, in a discussion on this topic I came across a brilliant analogy by Jesse Cox:

The safety tool (like the X-card) is a successful Spot check.

Using something like the X-card allows you, as a group to make a successful Spot check for problems in your group.

I really like this formulation. It simultaneously scores (at least) two nice points:

1. It's accessible and in "gamer-speak", which may make it more palatable for people (especially old-school gamers) who find the whole idea of "safety tools" weird and New Age-y.

2. More importantly, it really underlines how the tool doesn't, by itself, do anything.

It's still up to us to be aware of issues, communicate clearly with each other, and fix them. The Spot check doesn't help us avoid danger: it's just the first step to avoiding a trap or fighting a foe. It's still the party's responsibility to avoid danger and escape the dungeon, after all - but without a successful Spot check, we have no chance at all.

I'll have to think it over some more, but, at first glance, I love it.


  • And some of the comments that followed:

    "In fact, I wonder if that might be a good alternative "safety" tool. Call it a "Spot Check", and it can encourage everyone or anyone to reach out and tap it - "Hey, let's check in: is anyone uncomfortable with this?"

    I'm not sure, though. There may be downsides to that, too, like encouraging people to wait for others to speak up if they feel uncomfortable with something.

    Ideally, it would be framed in a way which makes it clear that both behaviours are welcome and acceptable (calling for it yourself vs. asking if anyone else needs it right now)."

    "Well, there is a certain movement within those supportive of the X-card to have someone, maybe the GM or a particularly confident player, use the card with something that may not actually bother them all that much purely for the purpose of normalizing and de-stigmatizing its use.

    This idea kind of side-steps the potential issues of that technique, specifically that it might start to trivializing its use or denote that its use is trivial, by making it a check in.

    On the other hand, it also puts an onus on someone who may be uncomfortable to "speak up", often when others, perhaps everyone else, is indicating that they've got no problem with the content; Whereas an X-card use is just an agreed upon convention that if someone invokes it, the content is changed with no discussion necessary."

  • "In fact, I wonder if that might be a good alternative "safety" tool. Call it a "Spot Check", and it can encourage everyone or anyone to reach out and tap it - "Hey, let's check in: is anyone uncomfortable with this?"
    I knew this technique as Ok Check-In, and it's one of my favorite at the table. It just encourages people to be proactive about other players soft spots by providing the right language, but it's very effective.

    I quite often host open RRG night and I usually use the X-Card by default unless the game suggests otherwise. The most powerful effect I saw is the "safety net" one: if players know that they can "hand brake" if they're feeling uncomfortable, they are generally willing to play a little bit unsafe - even with complete strangers.

  • That's a good observation. I've heard some people say that the availability of "safety tools" allows them to feel comfortable engaging with more "risky" material.
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