Day 23: Tell your most scandalous story about getting X-carded.

I have a good one!

I first read about the X-Card when John Stavropoulos​​ started really talking it up. I want to say 2010ish? I’m not going to bother fact-checking that; it was, I think, at some point after he’d gotten the main idea of it down and it was starting to take off, particularly in indieland.

Me: super skeptical. Super. It felt like it violated a lot of social contract stuff and creative agency at the table, but I mostly kept that to myself. Snarked about it in gchat with friends, mostly.

BurningCon EDIT 2013, the one where luke crane​​ expanded the event to a larger circle of Notables: John Harper, Jason Morningstar​​, Vincent Baker​​. And with what felt like the monolithic presence of Jason and Vincent’s fans, the X-Card came along as well. Well alrighty then, let’s give this thing a shot, see how it actually feels at the table.

The first time I sat at a table with an actual X-Card was a game of Fiasco, facilitated by Krin Irvine​​. Uh let’s see… James Stuart​​ and Anthony Hersey​​ and one more person whose name escapes me was at the table; Krin was fighting a stomach thing so they were there to facilitate. I had never played Fiasco and didn’t really understand how it worked or what its best practices were. I was there to learn! I think it was shortly after Fiasco had shown up on Tabletop and it was yuuuuge.

The playset is some summer slasher setup. We go through all the character stuff; I end up with this obnoxious dudebro half of a pair of twins. I’m already thinking ahead that twins weirdness and slasher stories surely must fit together! I kind of am gunning to be the slasher. Again, I don’t really understand Fiasco yet so I have no idea if that’s cool or not.

So we play a while, spooling out scenes. I really have my hooks into the dudebro, really fun. No idea how the tilt works or the dice economy either, which is distracting and I can’t get a straight answer out of the folks who actually know the game. Which kind of sets up what I think felt like a waaaay-more confrontational vibe than I was intending.

At some point, in a scene with my character’s hapless, innocent twin, I decide to really ratchet up my character’s abusiveness. So, in character, I say something like “Oh come on you reeetard.”

Krin jumped on that instantly, despite obvious physical discomfort. They’re all “NOPE, nuh-uh, we’re not going there.” Taps the card.

Oh I was steamed.

I remained steamed for months. How dare they censor my creative input!

I debriefed with John about my X-Card experience a few weeks after the convention. The dude is endlessly patient with me, god bless him. I lay out my case, he listens a lot, and indicates that I’ve said nothing new and that the X-Card is an extremely practical tool in his and others’ experience.

A year goes by. It’s still on my mind.

At BigBadCon 2014, Jason Morningstar​​ invites me to a private table of Night Witches. After talking through setup and playbooks and the super-high-gloss overview, he puts an X-Card in the middle of the table. Inside I’m instantly oh here we go again.

I gotta say: it’s Jason’s speech that moved me. I became a 100% convert the moment he concluded his explanation, which included a bit of editorializing around the actual recommended text as presented at .

We never actually used the card, but now I finally had a firm grasp of how it worked. Like a lot of other folks have said, the talk is probably more important than the card.

Armed with his explanation and context, I explained it to my local crew. It shows up at their request when I ran an Urban Shadows game as a couples’ date night thing.

The last time I saw it used was at my Sagas of the Icelanders table at Dreamation this year. Someone suggested something another player didn’t like, we tapped out, rewound a bit, it was all good. It was low-key, blameless, smooth.

The big shift for me was realizing that my creative input does not matter. It’s not special or unique. It literally doesn’t matter what reasons there may be behind someone X-Carding. That’s why you don’t talk about it. I may not like when it’s used to redirect an idea I had. And yet I’m 100% okay when Try Another Way gets used in Archipelago. It’s not like I have a limited reservoir of ideas. And thinking that any given idea is so valuable and precious as to deflect disagreement?

I think gaming could stand a lot more humility.

I’m a fan of the X-Card.

53 thoughts on “Day 23: Tell your most scandalous story about getting X-carded.”

  1. I think a person’s opinion of the X-card as a tool often correlates to how they chose to balance the value of the shared imaginary experience and the value of the actual people at the table. For it to make sense you have to approach play from the point of view that people are always more important, no matter what. That’s why my spiel begins with “here at table eleven, we all love and trust each other” – this might not technically be true*, but by setting that expectation I move the goalposts immediately into people are more important than the game territory.

    *It actually is true for me.

  2. It’s not a bag of magic beans; I think it is mostly John’s stock speech with a preface about how we all trust and love each other and are there to give each other as much fun as possible, which segues into the safety tools – for tabletop I use “The Door is Always Open” (you can get up and leave whenever you want, no questions asked, please take care of yourself) and the X-card, which I try hard to model early in the session to normalize its use.

    During and after my speech I check in with everybody and make eye contact to make sure we are all on board.

  3. Gut reaction to the X-card: I will never use it, or join a group which does. Never. Either the group is dysfunctional, and people would really knowingly hurt others’ feelings for real in which case they’re assholes, and then what the hell are you doing here OR the group is functional and doesn’t need it because nobody would hurt anyone else.

    If the X-card isn’t about hurting feelings, but shared agenda, and course of play then it’s obviously wrong because taking the fiction where the special snowflakes, did not expect and intend it to is the effing point of roleplaying with others.

    We don’t need safe spaces to comfort our ego, we need unsafe spaces, that’s what communication and acknowledging others is about.

  4. +Kabuki Kaiser – You’re right, but only to a point. You said:

    “[…] knowingly hurt others’ feelings for real…”

    It’s the “knowingly” in there which is key.

    Sure, you would be a jerk if you made fun of your friend’s mom passing away. But how would you know if you shared the table with a rape victim? Someone with an invisible mental illness? Someone who was struggling with suicidal thoughts? If they haven’t told you, you have no way of knowing. The X-card protects you against accidentally stepping on someone’s feelings in a way they wouldn’t want to experience in a pleasant, fun, safe pastime like gaming.

  5. Since I’m already here:

    – this was the 2013 Burning Con (aka The Pentaclagon), not 2012 (aka The Triadumvirate)

    – For some reason I want to say Jason Morningstar may have been the 4th player?

  6. During the game, the fiction is much more important than people, Jason Morningstar​​, because people play the game, and evolve, and have fun, and do everything through the fiction, so that putting the people above, and encouraging them to have demands where they would have none other than having fun and sharing it trumps the whole purpose of the game and so, proves detrimental to the people while they’re playing it and blurs the lines between the fiction and them, which is bad for both.

    Basically, it’s like taking the fiction out from under their feet at the moment it plays out.

  7. I’m gonna ask everyone in this thread to be polite going forward, please. I’m all for the debate but I’m not gonna tolerate abusive bullshit.

    This is a forewarning! Everyone’s cool for now.

  8. Yes, Paul Taliesin​, that’s why I left the “knowingly” in that sentence. Since most/all games I play have a Game Master, it’s his/her job in my experience, to notice and care. I have no solution for bad, insensitive Game Masters, they shouldn’t be Game Masters.

    In games without a GM, I can understand the need, but my experience of these is limited.

  9. Can I tap you if I feel unsafe, Paul Beakley​?

    Do you see what you just did here? Someone pops up who seems to disagree, that would be me, but still writes down, thus showing a willingness to engage, and discuss. And your reaction is “I’m not gonna tolerate abusive bullshit”?

    Tell you what, this is spot-on passive-agressive abusive bullshit.

  10. No, I expressly said it was a forewarning and that everyone was cool (up to that post). I have a lot of experience with this topic and it can run hot. Hence the preemption.

    But interesting that you took it personally.

  11. Interesting that you did not mention this preemption before isn’t it? Oh but I guess I would be the bad boy for calling your passive aggression out. The sheer hypocrisy, and the irony of it, all in a love-care-X-card pink wrapping.

  12. Thanks for sharing your strong feelings on the use of the X-card! I completely disagree with you, based on my experience using it during hundreds of tabletop sessions with complete strangers. I’ll note that I don’t use it with my home group, which is composed of dear friends who know each other well enough to communicate comfortably and know (and be sensitive to) one another’s particular areas of discomfort, and to work it out compassionately when we get it wrong, which we do all the time. At a convention I don’t have that luxury, and the X-card is genuinely useful.

  13. Kabuki Kaiser dude I seriously don’t know why you’re coming out swinging so hard. What’s your horse in this race? You don’t use it and don’t intend to use it, you don’t have any experience with it. I … don’t get the investment.

    For the record, I read Paul Taliesin’s reply when I wrote my note. Like I said, I’ve been down this road before.

    Yes, please do disagree. And you can be civil about it in my thread.

  14. Well it is, Jason Morningstar​, because if you run a game at a Con in a game where you are supposed to be the authority, then it’s up to you to avoid areas which might hit the wrong buttons with strangers. They were called referees for a reason.

  15. Kabuki Kaiser go ahead and list all the things I need to watch out for as GM, I’m curious. I’ll compare your list to the things I’ve seen people X-card and we’ll see how well they match up. Part of the strength of the tool is that it says, overtly, that you have control over the game’s content and direction and can call out stuff that disturbs you. This is a universal truth anyway, but the tool systematizes it. You don’t have to suck it up and be miserable and you don’t have to make a big scene or walk out. If you have a panic reaction to spiders, you can X-card the fucking spiders. If somebody wants to name an NPC after your ex-wife, you can X-card the name. Tap the card, done, no questions, no interruption, no discussion, no misery. The spdiers become roaches, Betty becomes Veronica. It just baffles me that this would be controversial. I cannot for the life of me see how this diminishes the experience, compared to maybe playing with someone who is distressed and miserable over something so easily fixed.

  16. Jason Morningstar​​ right, we see the world very differently.

    I guess I would not watch all the “triggers” people have X-carded in your experience. Fiction is the place you can whack spiders even if you’re phobic about them IRL, that’s one of the things fiction does. Hell, that’s possibly the purpose of fiction. If you remove that, if you remove the zones-of-slight-discomfort even in the fiction, you doom people inside of their triggers, you don’t help them, you make them fragile and brittle.

    On the other hand, a RPG is not a therapy -it goes both ways and is not meant to deal with trauma so deep that people can’t possibly game about it. This is obviously the case with rape, and other really distressing events. This, I watch for them when running a game with strangers. Let’s not go all abstract here, spiderphobia and rape isn’t the same.

    So yes, the X-card is easy but it’s not a fix, it’s a jammer. Because people can use it at the slightest discomfort (how on Earth can there be a dramatic tension without discomfort?) or to push the story any way they want – which I think, with my limited experience, might be okay in games where the authority is shared, hence my question.

  17. If someone at my table doesn’t want spiders in the game, I’m probably just going to go with what they ask without demanding they show me their “very real was-trapped-in-dark-space-with-spiders-as-a-child trauma” membership card. Like… I’m just here to roll dice and pretend to be a space monkey, I have no horse in the social Darwinism “you’ll take your trauma, be stronger for it, and you’ll LIKE IT” race.

  18. I have no horse in social Darwinism, but I have no horse in the safe-space trend either, and all that it entails. The real problems here are:

    1. I want to use the X-card because it’s there so I will use any excuse (like your character calling mine a “reeeetard”).

    2. I don’t like where this is going because my space monkey must be awseome, and also ostriches, there must be ostriches. Which means to me “I don’t want to engage with the other players”.

    3. I feel entitled to call everything off at the slightest sign of discomfort, which means to me “I don’t want to engage with the fiction”.

    If you don’t want to engage with the others, or the fiction, there’s an even more powerful X-card: don’t play.

  19. UK! Oho, okay, yeah. Abstract Machine and Paul Mitchener talk about the big cultural divide re the X-card in their posts. It’s a thing! Abstract’s post is super interesting.

  20. Kabuki Kaiser, I find it pretty interesting that you think we should all just expect and assume that people will be reasonable and sensitive to each other (hence why we don’t need the X-card), but, the moment we discuss the presence of an X-card, you imagine all kinds of ways people can use it to deliberately sabotage the game.

    Can you explain how this works? Why would the very same people who are cool and sensitive and paying attention to each other use something like the X-card in such un-fun ways?

  21. To add to my comment, in a convention I run, a player was triggered in one of the games. I’m talking about something apparently minor in the fiction. It was dealt with at the table by taking a break and changing direction. I wasn’t alerted as organiser, and didn’t find out until afterwards; everyone was happy with the outcome.

    I’m not sure what my point is, except to say this sort of thing does happen.

    On the X-card, the time when I’d want it is if we were potentially pushing for dark and uncomfortable content (beyond the “typical” RPG action adventure fare), and we need an option to quickly veto something personally awful. As such, it would be an enabler to explore dark themes; I wouldn’t want to go into that without an X-card or something similar, and lines and veils wouldn’t really work.

    Paul Beakley​’s example of an X-card against a particular word choice (even for much worse word choices) probably wouldn’t come up in the UK.

  22. Hey Paul.

    1) I respect you and consider us to be on friendly terms, regardless of the amount that we talk.

    2) I’m very glad to hear you’ve come around on the X-Card. Very glad. That was one of my first times facilitating and bringing and X-Card to the table as well, so I think my spiel has improved since then a bit too.

    3) I approve of using the X-Card to not just filter out content that makes you emotionally uncomfortable, but things like thematically inappropriate content. I usually now use examples of things like “something that is triggering, or just makes you uncomfortable, or is the exact same as the game you just played, or doesn’t seem to fit the story we’re all telling together” so that it doesn’t have to seem like as BIG of a deal of it happens. Then I tell the story about how one time in a game set in the 50s or something when talking about two dudes who were friends and without thinking mentioned video games and somebody said “video games?” and I was like, “oh yeah” and X-Carded myself.

    4) I think my best use of it was at a table when one male player introduced some kind of element that was very gendered, and a female player asked if it could be un-gendered to be more flexible, and they went back and forth a bit without any movement, and I decided to X-Card the original word because it seemed clear it was important, and that was an easier way to resolve the issue.

    5) I am now going to mute this G+ thread, because I don’t want to get trapped in the middle of an argument about overall appropriateness of the X-Card, especially in case my particular examples inspire any hostility to be thrown my way. This is not a reflection of you, Paul. Thank you for the kind words.

  23. Seems to me that the use (and possible necessity) of the x-card is playing with strangers, as Jason Morningstar mentions above. I do think it would be an awkward thing to introduce to your own group of friends.

Leave a Reply