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  • Writer's picturedecayintodust


Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Though not forbidden, these scenes must be tread with caution. They can be a catalyst for amazing stories, or a wedge that drives your group apart.

This post started as a small aside in my story about the Gnome Bachelor Party because – let's be honest – a story about any sort of bachelor party can get pretty awkward pretty quick if you let it. In that game, my friend did a very good job of not letting things get out of hand when it so quickly could have. That aside grew and grew until I knew it should be a post of its own that got into the etiquette of whether or not you should have those scenes in your game.

Without further ado, I present my Actual Gaming Etiquette post on:

Risque, Horror, and Other Uncomfortable Scenes in Your Game

{Previous AGE Article: Gaming with Your SO}

“As a GM, it is your responsibility to remind your players that they have the ultimate power in determining what is acted out and what is skipped over. ”

I don’t know if any of you have seen the Big Bang episode where everyone was playing, and they made the situation awkward for two of the players because everyone else was trying to force those two players’ characters to have sex in the game. Everyone at the game peer pressured those players so much that one of them just got up and walked away.

That sort of behavior leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many players and discourages new people from getting into the game. Now if everyone is okay with graphic detail, whether sexual or otherwise, that’s another matter. But communication is key. The GM and the players need to be on the same page about those things. For a GM it is imperative that you watch the body language of your players if these situations come up. Because sometimes, the players don’t think to ask everyone to stop, they just sit there, getting more and more uncomfortable and then just don’t come back the next time they are asked to play.

I have played in games where the GM has made me, and other players roll for attraction. Unless you as a player are comfortable with situations like that, it can make the game totally not fun. Also, if there is anyone at the table who feels awkward, even if it’s not their character in that situation, then it’s NOT OKAY to force those interactions. In that group we were all in for a little improv, no matter what the dice threw at us. We had some hilariously awesome albeit totally awkward scenes as a result that we still laugh about to this day. But if the players whose characters were in those scenes hadn’t been all in, it is the GM’s responsibility to stop those shenanigans.

Now, I have also played in a game where my character did a stupid thing and it ended badly for her. Very badly. Don’t think too hard about it, because as bad as you think it is, it was worse. I understand that if you do something stupid there are consequences and they aren’t always pleasant, but what I did not appreciate was the graphic detail to which the bad thing was described. I felt embarrassed and humiliated that I was dumb enough to get my character in that situation and I felt even worse that I didn’t have enough backbone to tell the GM and other players to stop describing things. I literally went home and cried afterwards.

It was the GM’s responsibility to recognize my distress as a player and change the course of the game, but he didn’t. In fact, he was the chief perpetrator. To make things worse, it was the same game as the one I mentioned before where we were all cool with rolling for attraction and playing through whatever followed the role. What that meant is that everyone assumed that I was okay with this new situation that went way further than any others with the graphic details.

When those situations arise you as a GM have the responsibility to get everyone on the same page as to how much detail is described. It is also your responsibility to let your players know that if at any point they are uncomfortable with any part of the game, it is more than okay for them to speak up and ask for a change. It is also your job to watch your players, because even when told that it’s okay to stop things, players are afraid of being made fun of by their friends for feeling awkward about situations that maybe their friends are okay with.

Peer pressure is also a thing. I’ve seen it where everyone but one person is okay with the situation and we’ve all said (yes, even I am guilty of this) “just grow up, it’s a game and we’re all having fun”. But if one person is uncomfortable, then that means everyone is having fun at the expense of that one player and they know it. Which is NOT okay. I have definitely grown myself and encouraged those at my table to grow and be kinder and more considerate of everyone else at the table so we can all have a laugh and a good time together.

I later spoke with that GM who embarrassed me. He apologized and promised to be more careful about things like that in the future. Later, in one of his games there was a brothel scene. He described the workers as “very pleasing to the eyes and with one glance you know they can fulfill all your desires”. When one of the players took advantage of the services offered there the GM “lowered the curtain”. We knew what had happened next but there were no details given, we just skipped forward to the next morning where the character paid his bill and left. As a result, no one felt uncomfortable and we all had a good time. To this day I still play in his campaign.

But what if you want your players to feel uncomfortable?

Wait – what was that question again?

What if you want to make your players uncomfortable?

This is not only a serious question, but also a valid one. There are actually times that you as a GM want you scare your players, or make them feel squeamish, or hit their comfortability buttons. As a GM you want to do this for the sake of your story, for the sake of immersion, not because you sadistically enjoy torturing your players. There is a way to do this well and there is a way to not. To be honest with you, it all boils down to something I’ve already said so many times you’re going to think I’m a one-trick pony: communication.

There was one campaign I played in where the entire thing was designed to keep you on the edge of squeamishness. Fear, gore, and terrible people doing terrible things were the main point of this campaign. That’s what you get when you sign up for a horror campaign. Yep, I went in knowing that the DM was going to intentionally push those buttons because it was literally entire the framework of the world and story that he had created. The GM was very clear from the beginning that it was a horror game (oh yes, there will be a story about the Ailing Town of Loren soon, stay tuned) and he intended to push boundaries on comfort. Everyone who agreed to the campaign knew what it was before we even began character creation. We knew and we walked in willingly. And you know what? He still announced that if something was approaching a point of going too far for us, we were encouraged to speak up before he passed any of our personal boundaries. As a result, that game was creepy and disquieting and we all loved every minute of it because we were warned and signed up for it.

Sometimes it’s not an entire campaign, but just a moment in a campaign that the GM wants to use to have that effect on the players. In the Swarm of Scarabs campaign, we met the queen of fertility. She was very very very promiscuous and tried very very hard to seduce one of the members of our party. As the flirting began, we all began to laugh and blush because she happened to be flirting with the most naïve member of the party. Yep, the GM knew that (he is the GM after all) and in particular went after that character because he wanted to give the chance for the character to make a choice to stay true to his virtuous beliefs or to succumb to the queen’s charms. Whichever choice he made would have vastly different outcomes that would affect his character and the party. 

It also happens that our most innocent character is played by a very innocent player. Which means that as our GM was laying on the flirtatious charm in character, our player was beginning to blush and have those movements which denote a feeling of awkwardness.

Here is where I really applaud our GM, he noticed the discomfort of the player and stopped the action. The GM then reminded all of the players at the table that as the GM he was presenting the choice as it would be presented if these were real people (and magical creatures of the feywild) in this situation, which actually meant he was aiming to make us uncomfortable as anyone would be if approached by the lusty queen of fertility. He also told us that should the character choose to succumb and sleep with the queen of fertility, there was a point where he would drop the curtain and skip ahead not getting into details. Lastly, he gave us the option to stop the action right there and skip ahead with just a brief statement on whether the character took the queen up on her offer or not. He also reinforced that even if we as players chose to continue out this scene, any one of us could stop it at any time, the player would state the decision of his character, and we would skip ahead in time.

Let me tell you, it is a bit awkward and uncomfortable to see your GM’s character flirting hard with one (or more...) of the other players’ characters. Role-playing through that lends itself to a lot of blushing and giggles from everyone at the table. But you know what, after we had been reassured that we were all fully in control of the scene and we could stop it at any time, we all agreed to keep going. Why? Because we made these characters to act them out. Sometimes people get themselves into awkward circumstances and sometimes characters do as well, and we wanted to role play it out to give our characters the life we created them to have and see how they got out of the situation organically. Let’s be honest, a large chunk of the show I Love Lucy was about Lucy getting into the most awkward of situations and how she got out of them. To this day, none of us regret the decision to keep playing that scene out. We had some fantastic moments in it and all of us look back on that session and bring it up for laughs. And if you must know, our virtuous character remained true to his morals and managed to still be in the good graces of the queen (he rolled a natural 20 for diplomacy). No one expected that outcome, but we are all really really happy that decision didn’t hurt the party down the road.

So, what does all this mean for players and GMs? What is the takeaway here? After all, I just wrote about how you shouldn’t make your players feel awkward followed up by when making your players feel awkward is a good thing.

At the risk of sounding like a song on repeat, the takeaway is communication. There’s also some observation in there too. Both players and GMs should be observant to how their friends are reacting. If someone looks like they are in distress or feeling uncomfortable, it’s time to stop whatever action you have going on and take a minute to talk about what’s going on and how everyone wants to move forward. 

As a player, it is your responsibility to stand up for yourself when you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. You can do it. You are amazing! Your friends will understand. And if they don’t, well that is a more serious discussion you need to have with them. It is also your responsibility to stand up for any of the other players at the table who for one reason or another show that they are uncomfortable with a scene but haven’t the courage to stop the play and bring it up.

As a GM, it is your responsibility to remind your players that they have the ultimate power in determining what is acted out and what is skipped over. It is your responsibility to inform your players of where your boundaries are. And it is especially important if your campaign is primarily designed to be creepy, overly sexual, gross, etc. to let your players know ahead of time, before they sign on to play in said campaign. Let’s be honest, there are some GMs out there who have no boundaries and refuse to skip ahead of any scene. I won’t play with anyone like that, but if you are someone like that, for the sake of everyone's enjoyment at that table, let them know BEFORE you get them to make a character.

Thanks for reading this AGE article. Now go read something more fun on this site, like a story about a Dwarf living in the tundra or an elf that developed an electric bolt blasting gun.

TL;DR: If you feel uncomfortable, it is OKAY to stop the action and talk about how to resolve that. If you don’t feel uncomfortable but you see that someone else at the table is, it is OKAY to stop the action and ask how to help them enjoy the game.

{Next AGE Article} - Coming Soon


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