You know I mentioned a little while back that I was planning to run The Wars mini-campaign from The Yellow King RPG. Well, you didn't miss anything because it never happened. Why? I got my first x-card.
What dat, you ask? Here's what the Yellow King RPG has to say:
"Each player receives an index card with an X on it. When someone introduces subject matter that a player finds truly, personally fun-ruining, the player holds up the card. The player can either suggest that the troubling element be dialed back, or dropped entirely. You and the other players, as the fine and considerate people you are, accede to the request without pushback, adjusting the narration as desired."In preparing for the first session I'd been assigning nicknames to the player-characters, who were all members of an infantry platoon in a sort of not-quite WW2 with bits of steampunky WW1. One of the players complained that one of the other characters' nickname was in poor taste. Don't worry, it wasn't some awful racist David Starkey offence; I'm not that insensitive to modern etiquette. It was pretty much in the same line as the name of the corporal pictured left, actually. But I don't do "no pushback" so I pointed out that squaddies in a brutal mid-20th century world war would not share the sensibilities of civilians in 21st century London. Taste would be very low on their agenda when inflicting a nickname on a new recruit.
The takeaway is to think about the kind of game the players want. If we must see roleplaying campaigns as TV shows, the referee/GM is the showrunner and the players are the cast, sure, but they're also the audience. Ask yourself if this is going to be a show they'll stick with over seven seasons, or one they'll want to switch off after half an episode. Don't wait until they start to fling x-cards at you. An x-card means "I don't trust you to run this game" and the signs should be there long before you reach that point. You'll save yourself a lot of work if you're alert to reading the room, not blinded (as I was) by my enthusiasm for the campaign inside my head.
But here's one of those opportunities that playing over the internet has opened up. I don't have to find a campaign that appeals to the whole gaming group. Before, when we all arranged to meet up every other Thursday, whatever we played had to appeal to all of us. That was the equivalent of the network TV drama. But over Zoom, Skype, Discord, whatever, my campaign can be a cable show. There's a good reason you don't get stuff like Breaking Bad or Succession on ad-supported networks -- smaller audiences equals more quirkiness and more daring. So maybe I should be pitching the campaign concept and players can decide if they're up for it -- and for those who aren't there's always the other channel.
Judging by this review of The Yellow King by Mike Cule and Roger Bell-West, I have that x-card to thank for dodging a bullet. Roger mentions "the frankly intimidating amount of work it would take to run it well" and Mike alludes to the near-impossibility of improvising anything that could inflict shock or injury, which are the two metrics of damage to characters. I had already put in a full week just prepping the first session of The Wars, only to realize that what I really needed was another game system, a different war setting, and to invite only those players who were intrigued by the pitch. If you're worried about missing all the unsettling Ligottian stuff I had planned, though, I'll hopefully still find a home for it somewhere. Maybe in a scenario on this blog for Armistice Day -- if that wouldn't seem in poor taste.