Regardless of the game you’re playing, from Dungeons and Dragons to Downfall (more to say about that one in a few days), safety tools in role-playing games matter. In most cases, we don’t play to work out our traumas. If you do, that should definitely be in consultation with an appropriate professional – and you’ll still want safety tools.
“Safety tools” in this context refer to methods of making sure everyone in an activity feels psychologically secure. In some settings, it might even refer to physical safety. For example, someone who has PTSD may have specific triggers related to the traumatic event. Other people may simply not want to deal with certain subjects that could potentially arise. In my experience, merely having the tools available helps people feel comfortable with the activity even if they never use them! In much the same way, if I visit a Twitch channel and there aren’t any rules listed banning bigotry and the like, that gives me a strong sense that it’s not the place where I want to spend my time, because the streamer hasn’t put forth even minimal effort to make it a nice place in that regard.
Even if the tool ends up messing with the game somehow (e.g. timeline continuity or interrupting some mechanically important bit), it should still be respected. As Carlos Luna has noted, nothing in any game is worth harming the people who play it.
I’ve previously written about Lines and Veils, but this post focuses on a different method called the X card. Any time somebody feels uncomfortable with the subject matter in a game, they literally tap the card or otherwise draw attention to it. Everyone else knows to move on from whatever was happening, immediately and without any particular discussion. If the GM or someone else legitimately doesn’t know what topic led to the X card, of course a break is in order for a friendly but private conversation! Some variants use an O card as well, to indicate content players want more of. I haven’t used this last one, but it sounds interesting.
You can make this straightforward in Roll20. Of course, a player could do something as simple as type an upper-case X in the chat, and that works! If you want to do a little more, you can create a card deck for it. Not only does this make the card much more visible, putting in the effort (and letting your players know) makes it extra clear that you take these matters seriously and care about the people at your table, even if it’s virtual.
First, in the upper right, go to the “Collections” tab indicated by a list icon:
Within that tab, scroll down to the “Decks” section and hit the Add button, then click on “New Deck” and name it “X card”. (The default deck of Playing Cards can be ignored.) Within that new deck, make sure to change the “Played Facing” selection to “Face Down” so we get the back of the card, where our image will be. The rest of the settings can remain as the default, and should look like this.
Scroll further down to add a card backing. You can use anything that looks like an X. I used an image created for this purpose from Keep on the Heathlands.
When you’re done, a player need only hit the “Show” button and the card will show up on the game screen down in the lower right! We don’t even have to add any specific cards and leave the count at 0.
Again, none of the above is required to use the “X card” in your game. But in my view, spending some extra time on something as critical as this should be part and parcel of the energy we already invest to polish our Roll20 games. Neatness and attention to detail count for a lot.