Sometimes I wonder if we're going to spend October 31st playing Halloween. I honestly hope for you so. I hope you can spend it with friends or family and that it is a peaceful evening. Or even at a Halloween party set up during Lucca Comics. I still remember with joy the one organized by a couple of years ago the Salotto di Giano. It seems a lifetime ago, and instead ...
If you are a fan of this page, you know how important it is for us, now more than ever, to try to create an environment that is safe and as inclusive as possible. This article will explain my point considering that, soon, Halloween is approaching.
Before starting, do you know the genesis of this party? In one of our precedents article we tried to collect stories, rumors and advice on how to design a game session.
This time I want to talk about a more specific topic: playing Halloween safely.
Let's start from the premises. In these two years we have been subjected to layers of great stress due to the social situation we have experienced. The global pandemic, which we are trying to live with, has also made it much more important, again in my opinion, to use every precaution to make both the game and the surrounding environment as delicate and welcoming as possible.
How to create a safe approach to playing Halloween
Whenever I find myself writing an article about it, or setting guidelines for myself before attempting to start a new campaign, I try to take some time to understand the context of the story that I and the people at the table next to me we will go to narrate.
Once I was asked why I had so many manuals at home and played so little. Years later, I realized that from every manual I had taken something to improve the atmosphere, both inside and outside the game. I still remember when, for the first time, I opened the manual What are you afraid of (Fear Itself). This game, translated by Janus in 2011, was the first game in which I got to know security systems.
Initially I wondered why, but later, understanding the themes of this game based on the GUMSHOE system, I grasped the real need. So years later, I realized I was looking for a way to protect myself and the other people at the table.
The first thing we need to do, therefore, is to change our attitude towards games and the way we want to "play them".
Remember our previous article on security systems? You can find some of our thoughts and advice Thu.
I know my players. We don't need these things!
How many times have I heard this sentence? Dozens of times now.
I am not here to question that the people you have been playing with for years are not strangers to you but, perhaps, there is the possibility that some issues, not yet covered in your shared game path, are actually difficult subjects to digest.
Playing Halloween, above all, could bring to light fears, born in infancy or childhood, that people around the table don't feel ready to admit.
The monster under the bed, the reflection of the mirror that moves, the light that turns on by itself in the room during the night. Who knows how many of these terrors we know nothing about. It is not an everyday thing to ask a friend: "Listen, but what were you afraid of when you were very young?". It seems a bit uncomfortable question to me, don't you think?
Thinking about this, perhaps, it is better to ask two more questions, even to your friends, if there is actually something that could annoy them in a horror or fear themed game.
If you may find it difficult to talk to a friend about childhood trauma, imagine what could happen with a complete stranger who is about to sit down at the table. Are you really sure it's time to relive potential trauma to someone you don't know?
Unless that is your ultimate goal, I believe the answer is universal for everyone: NO!
You are not in Hellraiser so remember that there are always limits
This is a topic that is often considered to a certain extent. When we play, even after making a bombproof declaration of intent, placing the X-Card on the table (if you don't know how to make one go to this address), or having printed and made available a safety form to optionally skip a session that talks about certain topics, it is possible that some people do not actually know their limits until they are faced with them.
I would like to give you a somewhat "funny" example just to break the seriousness of the subject. You got to see Guy Ritchie's movie Snatch - The Snatch? One of the characters is a merciless killer, but when he is asked to "open a dog" to search his stomach for a 96-carat diamond, he recoils in shock and does not want to go beyond that limit. Well, maybe your player could experience exactly the same thing and not know it until he comes across it… that is, when it is actually too late!
What to do in these situations? The possibilities are many, but basically you have to be ready to talk to the person who feels uncomfortable and suspend the game until you find a useful solution for him that those present at the table can put into practice.
Playing Halloween: fear yes, horror yes, trauma NO!
Halloween lends itself to playing games based on fear, horror, madmen armed with chainsaws who run around the neighborhoods to tear people to pieces or nightmares that come to life in dreams to end the existence of the boys of Elm street. This, as mentioned above, arises from the desire to be scared. But always remember that, to get scared, there are hundreds of ways and leveraging trauma or traumatic situations is absolutely not the right way to do it.
To quote a friend:
Any creative endeavor has limits and rules. Creating something extraordinary within these guidelines is what separates the good artists from the great ones. Just as roller coasters aren't a better experience without safety systems, so is play. Playing offers a spectacular variety of stories, from the dark and brutal vampire game to the sweet pony adventure of Equestria, and yet I have set more horror stories in the second than in the first ...Andy the Fool (obviously the Tarot one)
Using some past trauma or evoking it through images is not a valid expedient, rather it only classifies you as a shapeless piece of amphibious organic matter.
Conclusions and thoughts
I will never tire of repeating it. I'm a broken record now. Communication is essential.
The first thing you need to do is talk. Asking your players what they want to do, what they want the horror story in question to talk about is the first and perhaps best security system you can have. But this is not enough, you will have to start developing a kind of empathy and understand the unspoken.
Not all people feel comfortable expressing their concerns even when they represent a real problem. Accepting a silent assent is not the same as accepting yes for an answer. Maybe in a moment we feel weaker or we don't want to appear as such in front of friends or people as soon as we meet. If you are willing to use security systems, try asking two more questions to be absolutely sure that the horror (and otherwise) you are putting into play, is actually good for everyone.
The boundaries that you will reach when you go to play Halloween will touch, perhaps, impassable limits and sometimes it will be your Master who will be uncomfortable. Remember that you are all players around the table and that even the figure responsible for facilitating the game may have limits. Perhaps a too gore and truculent scene, described by the characters, could put your GM in difficulty, for example I always get a tear when Hocus Pocus's cat dies after the curse ends. What I am trying to say is that everyone has limits and the game, like anything else in life, must be done with consent.
Be careful at the table, have fun, get scared, but do it with the respect of all.
And now, before I leave you, I would like to ask you: what are your tricks to secure a table in front of Halloween-themed games? Is there anything you do more than play during the rest of the weeks? Do you use any more tricks? I am here to seek and learn in turn, so I really ask you to teach me something new!