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by Mike on 19 September 2022
Sometimes we need a way to quickly break character and check in with the players. This might be part of a set of safety tools to make sure everyone's ok with the content of our game at any given point or it might be a way to arbitrate the results of a decision by speaking to the players instead of the characters.
The X-Card by John Stavropoulos is one of the more popular safety tools often used to indicate one's discomfort with a given situation in a non-confrontational way. It's popular enough that Roll20 integrated it directly into their game platform.
The X-card is an excellent tool but it's not the easiest thing to incorporate in an online game. Instead, we can look to one of the elements of Beau Sheldon's script change. In particular the element of "pause". I call this "Pause for a Minute" and here's how it works:
Players or DMs can call for a pause for any of the following reasons:
During a session zero DMs can discuss how to use "pause for a minute" and what it means for the DM and the players.
For more on this topic, see the following:
The most important use of "pause for a minute" is to make sure players and the DM are ok with the content or situations going on in a game. It gives everyone a way to say "hang on, I'm not digging this" and stop it before it cascades into something worse.
But another use for "pause for a minute" is to ensure everyone's having a good time and on the same page. This is a great way to break out of the dreaded "it's what my character would do" situations. Pausing for a minute doesn't have to be matter of emotional safety; it can just be a way for the players to break away from the drives of their characters and make sure those drives align with the other characters and the game itself.
"Pause for a minute" helps us deal with in-character conflicts like rogues stealing from the group or wizards fireballing their allies.
"Pause for a minute. Rex, are you ok if Elfuel fireballs you to kill all the skeletons around you? Yes? Cool! Game on."
Because "pause for a minute" can be used for a wide range of situations, DMs should regularly use it to get players comfortable with using it themselves and to make sure players are good with the game.
"Pause for a minute. Is everyone ok with Gor using animate dead on the dead drow warriors? Oh yeah, I forget you all had a zombie ogre carting around your loot for the last eleven months. Game on!"
The more comfortable everyone is using "pause for a minute", the easier it becomes for someone to use it when it is a matter of emotional safety. As long as it's always respected — everyone breaks character and stops conversations to hear what the pausing player has to say — using it frequently only makes games better.
Some DMs find the whole concept of safety tools strange or somehow insulting. I urge you to keep an open mind. I didn't often use or integrate safety tools into my games and I regret it. It doesn't have to be a group of players you don't know. Someone you've known and gamed with for 20 years could be affected by something happening in-game and be upset by it. Do you really not want to offer an opportunity for someone to avoid feeling bad?
Beyond that, a tool like "pause for a minute" just helps a game run smoother. It's a great way to step away from the characters and talk to your players. It's a great way to re-baseline and move forward with the awesome adventures to come.
Add "pause for a minute" to your session zero or even talk about it with your players in the middle of the campaign. Tell them how to use it. Tell them what it's for. Use it to help steer your game in the right direction, and enjoy the tales you all share around the table.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
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