Roleplaying Resources

Safety and Consent in Roleplaying Games

By the DM, 2019-09-18

Roleplaying games can be intense, and they can visit topics outside of your comfort zone. This is often a good thing. Many of us want to use roleplaying as a way to address difficult issues or act out situations that would make us uncomfortable in real life. The purpose of this article is not to discourage the creative self-expression that comes from roleplaying. It's to help GMs and players gage when they've gone too far.

Are your Players Having Fun?

The #1 rule is this: Roleplaying games should be fun. If a topic comes up which is uncomfortable enough to a player, your game is no longer fun, and you may lose that player. Many people won't tell you what you did wrong. They'll just become flakey or stop showing up with no explanation.

If you introduce, say, sexual assault into your game when a player has experienced it, you may have just lost (or at least hurt) a player. Make an entire adventure about spiders when a player is arachnophobic, and you've lost another. Or maybe a player just really dislikes a topic, but hasn't experienced any direct trauma.

Being sensitive to your players' emotional needs is no different from being sensitive to their gaming preferences. If you run a long series of murder mysteries for a group that prefers high fantasy heroic adventure, you can also lose players.

Problematic Content

There are many types of content which can be objectionable for various reasons. Not all gaming groups will have a problem with all of these, but you should be aware of topics that do come up. Here are some of the more common:

Sexual Abuse

Many people have experienced abuse in real life, making it a risky topic to address in a roleplaying game. I urge you not to include it in your games unless every player is okay with it, and if you do include it, that you treat it in a mature way. Many GMs use sexual abuse as a crutch. They want a villain to be evil, so their first thought is, “Rape is evil. The villain must be a rapist.” That's not just objectionable to players; it's lazy GMing. There have been many real-world villains in our planet's history. Very few were rapists. There are so many more compelling ways to describe evil.

Sexual Content

Many people are uncomfortable with roleplaying sex, or even romance. This is one of those things that will make the game much less fun for the players who aren't into it. If you want this in your game, discuss boundaries with the players. Do you allow explicit sexual content? Role-played romance then fade-to-black?

Once everyone agrees on the boundaries, there are some gotchas to watch out for: * Peer pressure works. Just because everyone agreed, doesn't mean they wanted to. Remain aware of your players' comfort level. * Everyone has to understand the difference between players and characters. My character being in a romantic relationship with your character does not mean you have any interest in romance with me in real life. If you're the GM, know that this can and does happen. You don't want friendships ending because someone was playing out their real-life fantasies using your game as an excuse. * Sex being allowed doesn't mean “anything goes.” Again, watch your players and gage how they're reacting to the situations you're putting them in. I reiterate that for many people, sexual assault is going too far. * Some players may be comfortable with some types of sexuality but not others. If, for example, a player cringes at the thought of gay sex, you're probably better off keeping sex out of your game altogether.


Players like to control their own characters, so taking over a PC as the GM should be used sparingly under any circumstances. But this can also make players uncomfortable and unhappy, so if it's going to last longer than a few minutes, make sure your players are okay with it.

I ran into this one myself once. I created a story I thought the players would enjoy, which put a PC through hallucinations and temporary insanity. The affected player participated less and less, and eventually disappeared. It was only much later that the player admitted to me how uncomfortable and unhappy my story had made him. Does this mean he had some deep emotional scar from being mind-controlled in real life? No, but it does mean that, if I had asked beforehand whether he was okay with the story I was telling, I might not have lost a player.


Some people are afraid of spiders, clowns or any number of other things, and these game elements might affect some players more than others. If players seem uncomfortable, have a conversation and make sure you haven't gone too far. This is especially true in a game in the horror genre. Players who want to be scared may still have limits.

Similar topics that might go too far for some players are excessive gore, and harm to animals or children.

Racism, Sexism and Slavery

“But Elves just hate Dwarves in my world. It's not real-world racism. Why would you have a problem with that?”

Here's why: The game should be fun. People play roleplaying games as an escape from reality. If they experience racism in their day-to-day lives, maybe they don't want to also experience it when they're supposed to be having fun. If your players don't have a problem with it, fine, but be aware that it's a real issue for some people.

Same goes for sexism, religious persecution, homophobia, etc. These can all be important drivers of a story, but if one or more of your players isn't having fun with that story, then you're not succeeding as a GM.

If you introduce these topics as part of a desire for realism, be careful. First, what you think is realistic for a genre may not be. The relationships between sexes and races you're used to are modern phenomena. When creating any kind of historically-based fantasy, study your historical period before you make assumptions. Second, excessive realism isn't always fun, nor is it always appropriate. Are you going to tell me that my character can fight a spell-casting, fire-breathing dragon with the Blessed Sword of Dragon Slaying forged by dwarves in the heart of Mount Everdeath, but can't go back to town and run a bar because she's a woman?


You're not going to play a game of D&D without violence. No player should expect that. But there are other RPGs where this might be a topic worthy of discussion.


Polytheistic religions are at the core of many RPGs. Anyone joining a game like D&D should expect that. However, there might be specific elements that religious players would rather do without – devil-worship, pagan witchcraft, Human sacrifice etc. While these elements are unlikely to trigger PTSD or cause emotional damage, you should be sensitive if you have a particularly religious player. This is especially true when playing with children; you could easily lose all your players at once if you're DMing for your church youth group and the parents get wind of the demonic cult you've made all the PCs members of.

But Watch Out

Like with anything else, some people will take advantage. They'll see you as a weak GM for asking these kinds of questions, and try to manipulate your game by bringing up various trauma. Maybe they really did have traumatic experiences, but use them as an excuse to manipulate people. Be sensitive, but don't let it ruin your game. If you have a problem player, talk to that player. If nothing changes, it's completely within your right to kick the player out of the game. Trauma and mental illness are not excuses for being a jerk.

Acquiring Consent

Despite the length of this article, you don't have to go over every single topic in detail with your players. That's tedious and not fun. Instead, you can have a simple conversation during your session zero, to establish boundaries. An anonymous survey can help with your shy or confrontation-averse players.

Pre-Game Survey

I like this approach, because it gets things out of the way early, and it can be anonymous. There are two basic ways to do it: Either tell the players what kind of potentially objectionable content might be in the game and see what they think, or ask the players what content will be objectionable before planning out your game.

Monty Cook Games publishes a free PDF that I think does a reasonable job with this. Others have created variations on it. I think this one is particularly good.

Lines and Veils

This is another good way to start off a campaign. All players, in a discussion or anonymously, create lines and veils. Lines are topics which are not allowed in the game. Veils are things which can exist in the world, but should not be explicitly discussed or made into major parts of the story. If there are so many lines that you feel the fun will be taken out of your story, talk about it, but for the most part, they're easy enough to accommodate.

The X Card

This mechanic has appeared in many indy games. You put a card on the table with an X on it. When material comes up that makes a player uncomfortable, that player holds up the X card, and whatever just happened is struck from the game, as if it never happened. I think this can be an effective tool. On the other hand, if you've already agreed to include it in your game, there's a good chance the GM and players are already sensitive to each other's feelings. I can't say, since I've never personally had it come up in a game.

Continuous Feedback

Some newer games, particularly those designed to address topics like physical intimacy or mental illness, suggest an ongoing conversation about comfort levels – after every scene (for a one-shot) or session (for a longer game), discuss how everyone is doing. This can be useful for particularly intense games, but I think it would be overkill for ordinary D&D. I also think it should only be used with mature players. When all you need to negate a topic or scene is a thumbs down from one player, it's easy to abuse the system.


Your game belongs to you and your players. If rape and torture roleplay is your thing, and everyone wants to participate, I won't stand in your way. Just remember that the game is only successful if it's fun for everyone. A simple conversation or survey establishing consent may be all you need to ensure that.