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How do you do pre-game talks, if at all? Ons, offs, don't-fucking-go-there, etc...

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  • How do you do pre-game talks, if at all? Ons, offs, don't-fucking-go-there, etc...

    How do you do pre-game talks before a game? Especially with a new potential group?

    A big part of the reason behind this thread is to find ways to make it a bit more efficient, as groups tend to fizzle out if it takes too long before the actual gaming starts. Well, I'm considering trying to do more "one shots" to get to know new players, but frankly my head seems to be to full of crap so any idea sprouts to a potential big campaign because of all the fertilizer. Still, that is my current best idea, as actually gaming a bit and getting to know each other tend to make most more comfortable to actually talking.

    I tend to want to talk about gaming style, and what to include or not include, before even talking about setting and mechanics. A lot of people tend to roleplay because of escapism, while I'm more interested in RP from the point of exploratism. So I need to make sure my want to explore something won't stomp right into what the others want to get away from, but then it is the same problem between two different escapist players.

    Different games tend to require a different level of pre-talk. A setting like Star Trek, unless wanting to explore the dark underbelly outside the Federation, is quite safe for most as it is a setting where people actually have to be reminded that there have been such thing as sexism, racism and homophobia on earth; they are that far past that. On the other end of the scale do we have the Swedish game Noir, where for example sexism, racism and homophobia all are quite noticeable part of the setting. Noir is a game I really want to make sure I fairly well know where peoples don'ts are. Settings like WoD/CofD and Exalted are somewhere in the middle.

    But it isn't just the "how to deal with difficult and sensitive topics" but also the gamestyle at large; level of creative influence of the players, cultural gaming or adventuring, action or horror or drama, etc? How to mix them.

    Quite a bit tend to be fairly narrowed down just during the general talks from before everyone meeting for the first time, as just the "looking for group" message tend to lead to an initial selection and follow up questions and talk help to narrow it down further. But it tend to be quite a bit more I want to straighten out before an actual game begin.

    I can't say I'm structured when doing the talking. Mainly it is kind of a continuation from earlier talk, as it generally has been quite a bit of individual talks and group talk, just doing it with the group actually gathered. But, as I mentioned above, I get a feeling most aren't comfortable talking about what they like and don't like, and also I guess quite a few don't really know in a "but I know when I see it" sense.

    So, how do you do it? And do you have any suggestions?

  • #2
    I think the key to a good game is to have a "session zero," where everyone does character creation together and discusses their expectations for things going forward. This not only helps keep things cohesive - you don't want player characters who have no reason to be acquainted or not kill each other on sight, or one player expects a roleplay-light dungeon crawl and another has fifteen pages of dramatic backstory - but also allows any such things to come up at the table. "What is everyone uncomfortable with?" is a great question, and can cover everything from "I don't want to handle issues of racial inequality and discrimination because roleplaying is my escapism" to "I don't really like combat and think mysteries and social stuff are the best part of the game."

    A session zero is a super useful tool that should get everyone excited for the game, especially if you steal some collaborative mechanics from other games like the group city creation in Dresden Files or the web of social relationships between party members in Monsterhearts.


    Remi. she/her. game designer.

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    • #3
      I would definitely be sure to ask the players what they want/expect from the game. As well as giving a simple overview of the idea of the story, so they can get it in their minds. Also, asking questions about their characters is always fun, lets them get into the mindset and gives me ideas on where to take a character's arc.

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      • #4
        I do pretalks in my games. I explain the game and the theme and tone I am trying to strive for. Maybe give a range of what dark stuff they may run into and see if they are comfortable with it.

        As an agnostic, I like to explore religion from a cultural point of view and am really rough on religious beliefs, so I usually talk to my practicing religious players to see how far I can do. Some are okay with their religion not being showcases. I have a Mormon player who I know I can't run Dogs in the Vineyard and the Utah of Deadlands with. Other players, I just don't bring up religion at all unless it is D&D like religion. I try to respect my players beliefs and frankly, there is plenty of other things to play without trampling on someone's religious views.

        However, my pretalks aren't perfect. In my first Pathfinder game, I fumbled the in game romance topic. We were playing Kingmaker and I said it would be okay if the players wanted to use downtime to found businesses, start families, etc. I was assuming the romance would happen off screen or be more situation comedy romance. Something to add color to the game but not detract from the main plot. One player ended up doing this weird Lifetime abusive romance (so she could make him a better man) that made everyone at the table uncomfortable. So new pre-game talk about romance at the table for future games.


        I write things.

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        • #5
          I have had a pre-meeting at a pub or café where just talking in general about gaming, before even having a session zero. So far, each of those times, the group have fizzled out before any gaming actually started. So I can't tell if it actually is a good strategy or not. Those groups perhaps would have fizzled out after a few sessions anyway, and if so I would say it was a win. But I'm not sure about that.

          I tend do run fish-tank driven sandboxes. Sometimes I have a more specific idea in mind but at other times I might just want to explore a setting and I build up the details at the same time as we talk about ideas. So it can be everything from "your characters will be working for organization A in setting B" to "I'm currently interested in one of these settings, but currently don't have anything specific in mind. I want your characters to be connected in some way, so it isn't ending up a bunch of non related stories."

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          • #6
            I've often done these sort of pre-game talks via email while doing the recruiting. I also often set asside the first hr of the first session for ging over them again, character creation and any house rules..

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            • #7
              Originally posted by wonderandawe View Post
              I do pretalks in my games. I explain the game and the theme and tone I am trying to strive for. Maybe give a range of what dark stuff they may run into and see if they are comfortable with it.
              Definitely recommend this. Even if you are very familiar with your players. My group has been the same for six years. I'm a CSA survivor, and there are some others in the group too, so while we sometimes find it cathartic to examine even subjects like sexual violence in game, we always always sit down at the start of a game to make sure everyone is all right with what I have planned (I am the ST). I've seen some STs who are worried doing so will spoil aspects of the game. It won't. Just list things out as a laundry list, no context.

              What should you list?

              In my opinion, ONLY triggers, which is to say, the medical definition of a trigger, a stimulus that triggers (this is where the word comes from) a panic attack in someone with PTSD. NOT "sometimes that makes me uncomfortable."

              What are some examples of these?
              • Sexual violence (specify if against children)
              • Mass murder and genocide
              • Suicide or suicidal ideation
              • Self Injury
              • ED (disordered eating)
              • Torture (specify against adults, children, or animals)
              • Stillbirth or death of children
              That's it. Those are it. (However, if you know a player enough to know of a very specific one I may have left out, and you plan on including that subject, than talk to that player about the specific one).

              Triggers. Not content warnings. Not "does this make you UNCOMFORTABLE". Horror is supposed to do that. We're not talking about discomfort. We're not talking about offense. We're talking about psychological HARM. So nothing about comfort. Rather, "do you feel SAFE with my examining x, y, z topic in my game."

              Hope that makes sense. I have worked in mental health treatment, and will answer any questions asked in good faith that you (or anyone) might have on this topic.
              Last edited by hm8453a; 08-29-2016, 06:16 PM.


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              • #8
                Originally posted by hm8453a View Post
                Hope that makes sense.
                It made very good sense. At least to me. Never roleplayed with someone suffering from panic attacks, so that was very good information to get.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Lundgren View Post
                  It made very good sense. At least to me. Never roleplayed with someone suffering from panic attacks, so that was very good information to get.
                  I'm glad! Again, let me know if I can answer any more questions. You never know when a member of your group has survived something like what I described, so it's always better to be safe and check in.

                  Some people bring up trigger warnings as a bad thing, and use the existence of exposure therapy as a defense for that, but exposure therapy is a very specific type of therapy. It typically goes something like this:

                  The patient makes a list of stimuli of varying degrees of difficulty for them, and in a very controlled environment, with a psychologist, they are exposed to the absolute lowest level of that list for a very, very short period, and then it's removed. There is then talk therapy to place what the patient went through, and to see if the psychologist thinks it's safe to go up a level, if they have to stay at level one for a longer period, or if the list needs to change. Exposure therapy is NOT "just get over it anyway, expose yourself and you'll be numb and get over it, that's for the best". Exposure therapy requires an extended period of treatment with a professional in a safe space, not triggering yourself with friends during a game where you're supposed to be having fun. Just wanted to address that before anyone came here and made the argument.

                  Trigger warnings (actual trigger warnings, content warnings are a different thing) allow people to make mature, realistic decisions about what they can handle and what they can't. They are essential to provide. Honestly, when I hear people argue against them, I assume they also take wheelchairs from people who can't walk and yell at them to run faster, or take an epipen from someone having an allergic reaction and yell at them for getting welts. It's the same thing.


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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Lundgren View Post
                    It made very good sense. At least to me. Never roleplayed with someone suffering from panic attacks, so that was very good information to get.
                    I have heard of it before.. Over on one of my ADND sites, he was gaming with someone who unbeknownst to him was a major Arachnophobe.. And during one of the encounters, there were lots of webs and several giant spiders.. Set him off like crazy... Had to canx the rest of the game for that night while the dude calmed down... or so i heard.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by garhkal View Post
                      I have heard of it before.. Over on one of my ADND sites, he was gaming with someone who unbeknownst to him was a major Arachnophobe.. And during one of the encounters, there were lots of webs and several giant spiders.. Set him off like crazy... Had to canx the rest of the game for that night while the dude calmed down... or so i heard.
                      I have a friend that has a phobia against pictures of fishes (seeing a live one in an aquarium isn't much of a problem). When she tried to take a short cut through a room filled with pictures, she got tunnel vision and almost passed out. So I find it very plausible that a good verbal description, while being into a game, could set of a phobia.

                      I guess a panic attack from a phobia, and a panic attack from PTSD has quite a bit in common. But that a PTSD is also connected to a lot of memories and emotional wounds that a phobia usually isn't. Still, I wouldn't want to set either off.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by hm8453a View Post
                        I'm glad! Again, let me know if I can answer any more questions. You never know when a member of your group has survived something like what I described, so it's always better to be safe and check in.
                        The more common problem of lousy gaming experiences due to incompatible interests and whatsnot are bad enough; and if a little of my time can reduce the risk of someone having a panic attack, or helping someone not having to skip a game they might have been interested in because they're not sure people care enough, it is well spent time.

                        Hm... the talk about phobias above made me think of something. If someone suffers from panic attacks, and someone else has a character with panic attacks, wouldn't there be a risk that a detailed in-game description/narration of a panic attack in itself could be a trigger?

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Lundgren View Post
                          I have a friend that has a phobia against pictures of fishes (seeing a live one in an aquarium isn't much of a problem). When she tried to take a short cut through a room filled with pictures, she got tunnel vision and almost passed out. So I find it very plausible that a good verbal description, while being into a game, could set of a phobia.

                          I guess a panic attack from a phobia, and a panic attack from PTSD has quite a bit in common. But that a PTSD is also connected to a lot of memories and emotional wounds that a phobia usually isn't. Still, I wouldn't want to set either off.
                          Yup, all still relevant--someone with an anxiety disorder (like phobias) will still have anxiety attacks, in many cases. That's where it comes in handy, knowing of other triggers held by your players and including specific ones may help. But in cases where we can't know, including any relevant standard ones is the way I usually go.

                          I'm not quoting your second post, but just to respond here--it's possible someone could be triggered by hearing a panic attack described in-game, but it's also possible they'll have no reaction at all or that it will be cathartic. This is where communication comes in handy. First session, you give any necessary trigger warnings, but you should also have everyone talk about the character they have in mind, I agree with the poster above who suggested group character creation, and encourage players to speak up if they're worried about anything another player is putting into their character.


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                          • #14
                            Depending on the group, and how much of "open secrets" and "secret secrets" there are to be within the group, I tend to range between everyone creates their characters while we are together; to make the high concepts together as the whole group and why they are connected to each other, but we take the details separately. The later is still ST and player, and not just the player on their own.

                            "Secret secrets," that is, things about the characters that is a secret to the other players, will carry an added risk for incompatibilities; so it is possible an unknown trigger slips through. However, the topic of open or secret secrets, and playstyle has always been held long before any character creation. The discussion of potential triggers would probably be held even before talking about how to handle character secrets.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Lundgren View Post
                              Depending on the group, and how much of "open secrets" and "secret secrets" there are to be within the group, I tend to range between everyone creates their characters while we are together; to make the high concepts together as the whole group and why they are connected to each other, but we take the details separately. The later is still ST and player, and not just the player on their own.

                              "Secret secrets," that is, things about the characters that is a secret to the other players, will carry an added risk for incompatibilities; so it is possible an unknown trigger slips through. However, the topic of open or secret secrets, and playstyle has always been held long before any character creation. The discussion of potential triggers would probably be held even before talking about how to handle character secrets.
                              Even in that case, you can bring them up to players after another player has told you a "secret secret", and you can use the laundry list tactic I suggested. For example, if a player tells you their character was sexually abused as a child, you could go to the rest of your players and say, "do you feel safe with a character having sexual abuse in their background, if it's never discussed graphically, doesn't happen on screen, and more shaped who they've become today?" That way, for all they know, you're asking about a Storyteller character. No spoilers, and no secrets revealed.


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