Thursday, February 2, 2012

Safe Words

Some people probably got to this post by looking for something totally different :) Anyway, Bill's interesting ideas from Tuesday got me thinking. What sorts of things to we need "safe words" for? Since the podcast doesn't appear to be up just yet, I thought I'd muse a bit on the subject.

Bill's post mentioned illness, and I think this is something that can be used for a number of situations, including being hurt, or just plain exhausted.

However, there are other times when I think a code word might be a good idea. One of the most obvious would be for when a player feels uncomfortable with a situation. In most games, I think that there is enough separation so that players feel comfortable removing themselves - and the Staff tends to be careful. But in games that are more adult and immersive, there's the risk that some content may bother people, and that they feel awkward about trying to leave the mod. But in any game there's a chance that a player has an issue we don't know about. I might go so far as to suggest incorporating this into every game, just so that players know that, if something happens, they have a way to indicate their discomfort without making a big deal.

The player can just quietly say it to the marshal, and Staff could have a few stock ways of dealing with it. For example, just having the character pass out, rifting them out, or otherwise removing them from the encounter; or just letting the player stay in the back.

Another situation might be to indicate role-play. The point is usually immersion, but there are times when it can cover up some awkward role-play moments. My character may know all about dwarven cuisine, but I do not. This can cover those situations where things aren't written down, but the character would know them (or have purchased the skills). You can just say the phrase and the interaction is understood, without the explanations or awkwardness.

I am even thinking about something to use for role-play between players. For example, I have a character who is on the hunt for a rich husband. We have other players who play wealthy characters, but I don't want them to get the wrong idea. Maybe having a mechanic that allows you to go semi-out-of-game to explain your role-play, without freaking the player out.

Of course, there are going to be some dramatics around the idea. And we don't want to start using these as shortcuts for when something really should be acted out, or when a player should have read up on something but didn't. But there are always those gaps between the character and the player, and putting a few of these safe words in can smooth those over.

Got any more ideas for "safe word" situations?


  1. A related article:

    I'm really in favor of an 'I need to leave this situation now' code word, and not just for super-intense games. Someone could have a phobia, a health issue, could feel unsafe or uncomfortable for any number of reasons that aren't apparent to staff. In those kinds of situations, it's necessary for them to be able to remove themselves quickly, without tracking down a staff member and going though the process of explaining. If immersion is important, then I think it's ideal to have them be able to signal with a phrase that that's what they're doing, without having to break game for those around them.

    The situations where your character would know something that you don't should be avoided if possible, I think (not by you knowing everything your character would know, so much as making the things you don't know not relevant IG). If staff wanted to run a dwarven banquet, it would make sense to have an NPC come out to 'remind' the PCs of the basics. But if that kind of situation arises frequently, I don't see any harm in having a "I seem to have forgotten that" kind of phrase.

    I haven't seen a larp that has explicit code phrases or rules in place to navigate romance, but I can see situations where that could be helpful.

    Endgame, a post-apocalyptic larp set in the near future, has a phrase for when conversations about real world religion become uncomfortable. A player can say "let us not speak of such things" and it is understood as an OOG request of a change in topic (or that the conversation be moved elsewhere). I'm told that they also use the words "may I speak frankly?" as a polite way to ask if it's ok to break game to discuss something (usually in small groups, I believe).

    A few random code words from Madrigal (I'm not sure if these are what you're looking for)

    Careful, you're about to hurt yourself (used in combat, this replaces NERO's 'mini holds')
    "Let Me Clarify"
    (used by staff members) What I am about to tell you as this NPC is OOG fact, usually about rules or mod mechanics.
    Can someone break game really quick and explain to me what just happened, rules-wise?

    I think the more immersion and staying in game is a big deal in a larp, the more important these kinds of code words become, even if they are used infrequently.

  2. It's important, when it comes to code words, that they be used as sparingly as possible. The more they are used the more they are abused, and since the point of them is to create something you can't argue about, abuse is entirely possible.

    Examples of abuse I have seen for some of the Madrigal ones:

    Using "Caution" to disrupt the flow of combat and kill the momentum of the side with an edge.

    Using "Let Me Clarify" for more than explaining game mechanics, but also to bolster an NPC's credibility.

    Using "Clarification" on situations that are not particularly important instead of just playing through and asking about something afterwards.

    Hypothetical ones to watch out for:

    Using "I am uncomfortable" to get out of a losing situation.

    Using "The Plague" to avoid something your character wants to avoid.

    Generally I'm a fan of code words and will incorporate them into Invictus, either formally or informally. Part of my job will be to decide if a given player is abusing them or not and it's something I am leery of since I have seen people do it. Overall, better to have them and be vigilant, the problem I most see is that many people are unwilling to accept the idea that they get abused.

  3. I want a way of expressing "Check your swings" without it sounding like (a) role playing that I just got hit with an axe, (b) I'm pissed off at the guy

  4. Dan: OMG yes!

    In relation to Mickey's comment, the text we came up with during the last conversation on this topic:

    #1- Immersion is valuable, and any code phrase can be disruptive to it. Therefore, don't use it unless you feel like you really need to. Injury, health risks, mental/emotional discomfort, and tiredness are all potential reasons, but often these things can be planned around, or IC solutions can be sought instead of using a code phrase. Question yourself seriously before you use one.

    #2- Once someone has concluded that an IC solution is not reachable, and used a code phrase, no one else should question it. It should be understood that the person went through #1 before they got to that point, and whatever their reason is, it's a good one and it's OOG, so they should not be given a hard time about it.

    If the game runner thinks people aren't taking enough care with respect to #1, I think it's fair to emphasize it, but I think it falls under the same honor system type thing as any other rule. Being in a losing situation IG doesn't mean someone's not really having a seizure (which happened, btw, and the person was accused of faking it), and not wanting to go IG doesn't mean they're not real-life exhausted. . . I'd rather err on the side of OOG health and safety.

  5. I tend to agree about where we should err as staff, but I think I want players to err the opposite way as abuse prevention.

    So, as a staff member, I will accept a code word and act on it as valid unless I have reason to believe otherwise. Player has benefit of the doubt and a presumption of honesty.

    However, I want my players to, when presented with an IG or OOG option to get out of a situation, take the IG one. If you don't want to do something *and* you're not feeling well, the latter shouldn't let you escape the consequences of the former. Say you don't want to do it and then bring up the Plague if, say, you're getting vampire charmed to go. If you want out of a mod IG *and* you have a snake phobia OOG, I want you to walk IG out of the available gate (when there is one).

    Which is basically what you said in the two step process, I want code words used sparingly but then be adamantly enforced. Part of which is on the player to go ahead and suck up IG consequences for IG decisions, even if those decisions coincide with OOG issues.

  6. @Jyn

    I once read about this crazy nordic LARP where the players are basically patients in an asylum where they were paired off to emotionally bond with another person. That game used a code for emotional comfort/love that was pretty interesting.

    Basically, as people communicated, comfort with the conversation was expressed in the way skin was revealed. A player who reveals skin (generally, rolling up sleeves or something like that) is essentially showing comfort or like for the things the other player is saying. On the other hand, hiding skin (such as pulling one's sleeves over their hands) was the way to express the opposite.

    It seemed like a really boss mechanic at the time.

    I definitely agree with everyone on the limited frequency in which code is used. The way I see it, it's a safety net that helps put players at ease. You may never need it, but knowing that it's there can remove all kinds of stress on its own.

  7. Bill, that's really interesting. It occurs to me that we have all sorts of code-words to express an OOG signal within the IG atmosphere (sort of like how, "I can bring six people" is code for "module"), but the type of code word you described is different. It's a way of communicating some element of the IG world to the PLAYER, not the CHARACTER you're communicating with. It's a carrier for "dramatic irony" - situations where the audience is aware of something that the characters are not.

    It makes me wonder if we could have words that facilitate different ways of socializing with each other or different types of dramatic situations.

  8. I don't know if it was an original idea, but Triumph's use of "kiwi" (as a scene-escape codeword) was helpful. Likewise, their "gentlemen's agreements" (a compact not to interact with other players) gave an option to persistently avoid situations with people who made a given other player uncomfortable.

    Does anyone know of an earlier source? If not, why speak in code instead of giving credit where it is due. ;)

  9. @A

    While I applaud Triumph's use of code words, I first heard about it from a group far East of here who have probably never heard of it. I believe that the two groups probably came up with it independently.

    I think the idea of safe words in roleplaying has been around much longer, but granted that's probably not the same kind of roleplaying that we're used to :)