Monday, June 13, 2011

At What Point Do YOU Tap Out?




Drug Use.

What is your "Tap Out" point in a RPG? As Padre stated in a comment to my earlier post, one can talk about rape and pillaging in a general sense without much response in most cases, but when it starts getting detailed - when it starts to become more "real" - many folks feel uncomfortable, and justifiably so.

With my old group, we hit that moment when they were torturing some humanoid to get the location of the rest of the clan. The PCs were trying to save a village, the orc (or whatnot) wouldn't talk, and they started cutting off his fingers one by one. It was all fine and dandy until the DM included the details of the torture, the blood, the screams - the shit became real, and we felt ill.

In RPGs, some details are best left behind the scenes. At least, that is my humble opinion.


  1. It truly depends on my playing group.

    Many a "helpless victim" has proven their ability to either defend themself or have appropriate backup to intervene when necessary. Yes, medieval guards will have their own "sting" operations to lure out the predators of society.

    I ran a similarly detailed torture scene, complete with gory details, etc. The group I played with at the time actually laughed at it, trying to find even more gruesome ways to torture. C'est la vie.

  2. Stuff that's okay in movies often seems like dick behaviour at the gaming table. I'm not watching it on the screen, I'm listening to one of my friends describe how his D&D guy is grabbing the NPCs boob (or whatever). Most of that stuff is much better off-screen -- it doesn't make the game better if people narrate it in detail at the table.

  3. Reveling in and accepting the nasty stuff is a step too far. When a gm enhances descriptions of the nasty crap it should be done as warning not titillation.

  4. Having this type of content in a game is tricky at best. But is this the enemy doing this or the party?

    I mean how many GMs run evil campaigns because that's what this entails.

    It's a powerful driving force if the PCs come home and find this happening. But even the revenge extracted by the good guys can go overboard.

    I remember a scene where our fighter went berserk and wiped out an entire human village right down to the children and it left everybody a little sick. It set up a redemption sequence that helped, but that day was never forgotten.

  5. In our Changeling chronicle, there was a fair amount of violence, sex and drug use. We detailed as much as we had too, probably getting as detailed as we did with the violent scenes. That's just part of the genre, though.

    What I do have no patience for - in any system - is rape, violence toward children or torture. We had a guy who said he was going to start breaking a guy's fingers and the whole table pretty much said, "No way. Calm down. If you're going to do that then your character is a psychopath and we want nothing to do with him."

    In the end - and somewhat related - I find myself in the camp that is confused by some people's willingness to describe how someone is being force fed their own guts, but balk at playing out the flirtation between a female NPC and male PC.

  6. In our WW game we have a character who after a harrowing encounter in the old mine headed for the Saloon and proceeded to get hammered (Drug Use) and spent the night with his favorite Saloon Girl (Sex). That gets handled with little more narration than you see in the last sentence. So the content is in the game... but it's not something we linger over and roleplay through moment to moment like an erotic phonecall. :D

    So some things are a matter of how much (or little) detail we give to them. Other stuff, like rape or violence towards children, I don't want to hear from the other people I'm sitting at the table with at all. The "It's not me it's my character" excuse wouldn't cut it.

  7. I like the use of tapping out, I am a fan of wrestling as well. It’s hard to beat soap opera for men. Rest in peace Macho Man!

    Every group seems to have their own setting for how much they are willing to permit, entertain or embrace in terms of the rougher side of an RPG. Generally I don’t want to sit at a table with someone who is role-playing a homicidal maniac or a serial rapist even if they are a St. Francis of Assisi clone in real life. Role-playing is like acting, but more of the individual seems to come through than the role they are assuming. So in the end if Frodo eats someone after torturing them in some extreme manner, we are still left thinking about what other weird crap goes on in J.R.R’s mind. Reading about it or seeing it on screen seems to provide a buffer of sorts that playing in person does not. The level of description raises questions about another’s imagination and operative psychology. Is this person really imaginative, creative and visceral? Or have I just discovered that he/she has some “issues” that are beginning to creep me out? I guess it depends on how much you know your fellow players, but even then it can lead to some real awkward moments. I tend to be a fan of mentioning horrid things that have happened, not describing them. I don’t mind players choosing to be evil, but they had best prepare themselves to be a 1950’s version of evil when it comes to narrating what they do, not a Quentin Tarantino telling of their escapades.

  8. I play role-playing games with my daughter (age 10) and nephew (age 9), and I'm very sensitive to their boundaries and comfort level, and I'm vigilant about the content when someone else is acting as GM. We participated in the D&D Encounters program at our local game shop, which entailed talking about these boundaries with adults and making sure we were on the same page.

    In principle, I don't think that anything is inherently off-limits to the role-playing medium that could be explored in a meaningful way in other story-telling media. The trouble is, many groups don't talk about the tone, themes, expectations, and boundaries— until someone has crossed the line. That's a mistake, and it invites disaster. What matters to me is that I'm playing with people in an environment of mutual trust and respect.

    If I can't trust the people that I'm playing with to respect my boundaries or the boundaries of others in the group, I don't want to play with them, even in a G-rated game of "Keep on the Sunny Side". If I'm playing with adults whom I trust to respect personal boundaries, I'm willing to talk about content that might be very inappropriate in another setting, but it's important to establish honest expectations about the content. If the game looks like it might take an unexpected turn, it's important to stop the game and make sure everyone is on board.

    This is basic stuff, but too many people assume that a role-playing game should have all-inclusive outcomes without regard to the comfort and boundaries of the people they are actually playing with.

  9. To be totally fair? I pass on any game that actually depicts the sex and rape, but if done in a tasteful manner (rape CAN be done in a tasteful manner but it can't be SHOWN, only implied IMO and it should never be a common thing.) Generally speaking roleplaying sex is tacky and roleplaying rape is fetish-fuel or just outright fucked up.
    However, torture and drugs are fine -- to a point. One of the things about torture in fiction is as a writer it's better to leave things to be read in between the lines, someone listening to the story has to have something left to their imagination to really hook them otherwise every famous book would read like an instructional text. Additionally drugs are one of those things where they can work really well in a setting designed for them with people who dig that, but you have to get the tone right.
    As always though, these elements can work fantastically with a group that is fine with them, but I'd never personally drop any of the topics onto players unaware in the vaguest sense (like letting everyone know that the game is going to be legitimately fucked up and listing off a bunch of different possible topics that could be involved.)

  10. Not meaning to split hairs, I don't see a strong distinction between rape and torture. Rape is a subset of torture. If anyone can explain to me the difference between including one and excluding the other on grounds of taste or morality, I'd be interested.

    But I agree with Pixel's parting comment: If the group agrees that their game is inspired by Baum's Wizard of Oz, including or even implying things like rape or torture is in very bad taste. If they agree that they want to play a game inspired by 24 or Law & Order SVU, mature and disturbing content go with the territory. The problem is when a GM or player decides to spring content on the group that wasn't part of the social contract.

  11. There always seems to be a much higher tolerance level for carnography in a game as oppossed to pornography. Part of it has to do with the comfort level of a bunch of male gamers role-playing sexual situations or the comfort level of a mix of male and female gamers.

    Violence is much more socially acceptable than sex, although that seems to be changing. You can see it in a series like Spartacus where the simulated sex is almost as graphic as the simulated violence.

    The gaming groups I've been part of have almost been entirely male and my tolerance for roleplaying sex in a game is just about non-existent.

  12. Those are pretty cogent points, JZ.

    A friend of mine who includes veiled sexual content in his games once told me that he wouldn't play a female character unless she was a lesbian because he didn't want to play a character having sex with men. I wondered how he accounts for all the female NPCs he plays when he's the GM?

    For me it depends on the characters, situation, and tone, as well as the maturity and interests of the group. Sex can be included in a matter-of-fact way or in a hot-and-heavy way. A hot-and-heavy expression of sex in the game would probably be very uncomfortable for people interested in killing monsters or overcoming challenges in an exotic environment. It would also be very unwelcome in a family-friendly game, whether it was subtly implied, matter-of-fact, or full-blown porn.


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