RPGaDay 2021 #10: Trust

Today’s RPGaDay prompt is “Trust” which I consider to be a crucial component in a group to make an RPG game work.

As I wrote about yesterday, RPGs are by their nature quite intimate types of games. All the people around the table are exploring characters in interesting conflicts and while sometimes that may be combat, it can also involve emotional, political, or social conflicts. Like all acting and as in all readings of narratives, empathy is a crucial skill when dealing with characters. The host of the game will put antagonists in the path of players, whom by their very nature will oppose the players. Sometimes that may be through alternative solutions to the same problem players are dealing with, though sometimes the antagonists can also just be terrible people. To actively portray someone unlikeable to the players is a difficult tightrope to walk, and it takes trust on both sides to make that happen.

Two concepts that help with this are “lines” and “veils”, which I believe were introduced to the RPG world in Ron Edwards’s Sorcerer RPG or potentially one of its supplements, Sex and Sorcery (though may have originated in improv theatre). Edwards knew that the subject matter of his RPG would become potentially trigger, so suggested the two meta-concepts to help structure play. “Lines” are hard limits to the game—topics that somebody has indicated they just do not want to have come up or discussed. It’s good to set those limits and to know what to avoid. Particularly in the case of individual trauma it’s good to have set a strong line to not cross. “Veils” are things that people are uncomfortable with but don’t necessarily mind the concept of. It’s a method to fade to black, skip over, and assume some vague things happened. I like it to skip over an evil person’s acts of cruelty or to skip over the romantic interludes of a character.

The use of these types of tools requires a lot of trust between the group of people. You need trust while playing to know that you’re exploring topics safely. You also need trust to set these boundaries in the first place, by assuming that people will understand and respect that you have limits and may not want to talk about them. Lastly, you need to trust the host of the game not to push these matters when it comes down to it.

The beautiful thing about trust, though, is that it’s a practised skill. The more often you trust a group, and the better those things go, the more trust you create.

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