⚠️CONTENT WARNING⚠️ This post discusses the importance of discussing potentially triggering content at “Session 0” to allow for more inclusive game play and prevent players from feeling unwelcome to the table. If you want to avoid potentially triggering content we recommend you skip this post. Thank you!
Though many Dungeon Masters and Game Masters are excellent at creating stories that will entertain their players, sometimes it’s easy for a DM/GM, or even another player, to overstep a boundary they were not aware of. Having experienced this in our own homebrewed campaign in a very accidental fashion, a certain story element affected a player in real life who hadn’t realized a trauma laid dormant beneath the surface and had to excuse themselves from the table for the remainder of the session. After further discussion with my player in private, we were able to come to an agreement on how to proceed, but as the DM it left me thinking. How can I prevent this from happening again?
Clearly, I was not made aware of this potential issue and had no way of knowing it would affect my player so deeply. I took it upon myself to take this moment and learn from the situation so I could become a better storyteller for my players as a whole. After a bit of research, I found an incredible tool that I have since implemented and will continue to use in future games because it gives me a better idea of how to present stories without touching a nerve or breaking the immersion for my players: An RPG Consent Sheet.
There are different forms of consent sheets available for free online, which I can include some links to at the bottom of this article, but we are going to discuss why we are firm believers in using RPG Consent Sheets as a “Session 0” tool to better prep your party for their upcoming adventures.
A primary reason for using a consent sheet is that despite how well you know your players in real life that doesn’t mean you know every little thing about them and what could make them feel unwelcome at your table. Hard topics such as abuse, enslavement, child endangerment, and more may be off the table for some players, but if you never talk about it ahead of time you will have no way of knowing and could be blindsided mid-game, leaving everyone confused and potentially frustrated at the sudden halt or unexpected departure from a player of game play.
*Note: In these moments it is a good idea as the DM/GM to put a hard stop on the game, at least momentarily, to discuss what is bothering a player or multiple players. Make sure you ask the player(s) if they are comfortable discussing this in front of the group or if they need time and would like to discuss this in private.
Topics to consider for your consent sheet are:
Horror (bugs, gore, blood, possession, cannibalism, mental games, etc)
Romance consent (flirting, seduction, discussions between other players, willingness to pursue relationships stronger than a friendship in game, etc)
Sexual content (PC pregnancy, indecent exposure, exchanges between players/NPC’s, discussion or suggestion of rape, “on” or “off” screen, fade to black, etc)
Social Issues: Police/Government brutality, domestic abuse, War, Terrorism, Racism, Sexism, Genocide, slavery, prostitution, classism, cultism, religion, etc)
Illness or Injury (disabilities, bioweapons, mental illness, sexual assault, pregnancy/childbirth, use, loss or abuse of memory, natural desasters, entrapment, torture, psychological abuse, childhood illness, cancer, disease, famine, etc)
Add additional topics. This will give your players a chance to share anything they either really want to have integrated into the game and a chance to share any other hard lines they have about playing in your game.
Content rating system: Y, G, PG, Pg-13, R, NC-17, etc
Game themes: High/Low Fantasy, Horror, Thriller, High/Low Magic, Realms/Realities, etc
You may feel overwhelmed by the content you should consider, but as we stated before, it can be imperative for you and your players to establish open communication about potentially hard subjects for players. This will also be a good litmus test to see if your party make-up will work out well.
Once you have established the content your players are comfortable with it’s equally important to share with your players what will be completely unacceptable at the table and to establish that boundary with all of your players. As the DM/GM your players are expecting you to act as a shield and a guide while playing. Help them to trust you and know they will be supported and welcome at your table. Your game will be richer for it and you can help everyone to enjoy their experience.
A final note before we share the examples: It is imperative you offer a consent sheet to all your players before each and every game. Even a repeat player can change their mind depending on the primary theme of the story. They may be more understanding in Curse of Strahd than they are in Mythic Odysseys of Theros.
We hope you found this useful and as promised, here are some RPG Consent Sheets that will allow you to create a more inclusive game at your table:
RPG Consent Sheet – by: Mirthful Brewist
RPG Consent Sheet – by: Reddit u/aofhoacv
RPG Consent Sheet – by: Malachite Idol