What are you willing to accept at your table?
This is a post about players at your table. Interesting that I just read this while thinking of this topic. Not because I agree with everything he puts forth, but because it is about the “Contract” you have between you and your players. Some of the points he raised are worth consideration, but I am not going to debate the points in this post. Although I recommend you read through it I am more interested in what sort of players and what sort of characters you are willing to game with. I am going to start with these assumptions:
1. Both you and your players are at the table for fun.
2. You have some option as to who plays, even if that is to go without game.
3. You and your players can have a discussion without someone actually getting dead!
We have touched on some of the parts of this Gaming Contract, but here I am talking about the hard edges of that contract. As a ref, you need to know what you are comfortable dealing with in your game, and you need a good understanding of what your players will and will not stand for. One of the first stumbling blocks, in my experience is cross sexing. What is that? Allowing players to play characters that are opposite to their sex.My Lady Wife is fairly adamant against this, so when she is playing, it is easy to “Just say no.” As a Ref, however, I have no problem with this. I let players play sexless robots, or demons, or infinitely long-lived elves. I may not think they play them very well, because my belief and/or understanding of these various races is different from theirs. What about female Dwarves? Most “sources” that I know do not even address that dwarves have females. (What, are they asexual? Hermaphroditic? are they literally born from stone?) Most games however, will allow a female to play a dwarf and a female one at that. Her biggest argument against it, aside from the fact that she doesn’t believe men can play very convincing females, is that it is a significant hurdle to the suspension of her disbelief…It’s hard enough to remember that the 6’4″ 280# gamer guy is playing an 18″ tall fairy type character, not alone that he now has tits. (And, strongly in her favor, most guys end up playing lesbian females…partly out of fantasy fulfillment, but also because most of them have a hard time thinking of another male as tap-able!) Aside from all of this, it is something you need to decide. If a player is paying an Ice golem, and decides that he wants to learn fire magics, because its cool, will you allow it? Do you step in and say “Nope, you can’t play your lifelong dream of playing a fire breathing Ice Golem, because that just doesn’t happen in my word!” Ignore it, and just let it happen? Maybe let him do it with significant penalties..Maybe an extreme example, but if a 4’6″ petite female wants to play a male Ogre enforcer,because the Ogres of the Pit do not allow females, do you let her, even if she has no idea of how to play a male, or a not overly bright ogre or how to go about “Enforcing.”
OK…talked about cross sexing, and playing racial characteristics. What about how dark your campaign will/can become? Will you accept characters who become drug dealers or pimps? Many people seem willing to let a character torture, flay or kill NPC enemies, but often tend to shy away from letting them pimp out an NPC. What about rape? Very touchy subjects, and they should be clearly understood what will be tolerated in your game group. What if one of your players is a victim of rape? Not something they might want to talk about, but if you don’t understand that it is beyond the scope of that players contract, are you willing to accept the possible harm you have brought to your table? I tend to keep my table about R rated. Sex happens, but discreetly off-screen, or lightly brushed in a soft-core soft focus way. Usually rape is acceptable subject matter, but whether players are involved or not, that goes Off-screen. Torture…another very dark subject that you may or may not want to allow. In general, I don’t encourage player to come up with inventive new tortures, and set the results basically as a die roll, keeping in the rule structure. By the same token a player is a captive, the methods used for information gathering or punishment, or whatever, are broad stroked…”You are tortured for several hours a day…roll me 3 will/fortitude/resistance/fatigue checks” On the same area, but not as dark…what about sex? Between characters?
And to the complete other side of the spectrum, how much fucking off will you tolerate? During a Hell Game (A game that is more social than story telling, little to no attachment to the characters), we can go a whole session, and never even pull out characters. But, during serious game, I am much more restrictive, and have been known to continue narrating even though other players are chatting off topic, throwing pepperoni slices at each other, or throwing up in the corner. (Well, I suppose that depends on why they are throwing up…) Then when I have them roll initiative they are more than a bit surprised, or if I tell them they just took a serious hit and they are only standing on their feet out of sheer surprise…wow! Gets their attention! And usually significantly pissed off players!
The gaming contract can be as explicit or implicit as everyone is comfortable with. Remember the voice of game. Sometimes, the contract may specify how to handle these things. Sometimes, it can be very simple: “The game table is Rated R.” But, when it looks like a sensitive issue is coming up, it may be time to better define part of it. Yes, sometimes it may be a bit of a spoiler, but most of the time, these issues are fairly obvious, so talk to the players before you go gallumphing over the Rose, ignoring her thorns!