ShadowHaven:The X-Card: A Guide for ShadowHaven GMs

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The X-Card: A Guide for ShadowHaven GMs

What is it?

It’s a key phrase ("X-Card") that participants in a ShadowHaven game can use to edit out anything that makes them uncomfortable with no explanations needed.

It was originally developed by John Stavropoulos to make gaming with strangers fun, inclusive, and safe.

Why use it?


It gives everyone an easy out. An exit strategy. An easy way to say no without (or with less) peer pressure. It means no one will question you for saying no. With no uncomfortable explanations needed.

The X-card creates a specific mood at the table. It says “We’re here together. If you need to stop, we’ll stop. The people playing are more important than the game we are playing.”

Maybe specific content makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you just want to say no and are tired of explaining yourself all the time. Maybe you aren't a persuasive or extroverted person. Maybe you don't want to be reminded of a previous painful experience. Maybe you feel dwelling on a specific topic is wasting valuable gaming time. Maybe certain topics trigger past trauma which would make it so that you can no longer play.

And just having the X-Card present increases the group's heightened awareness of everyone's risks and responsibilities. Even if the X-Card is never used, it still is a potent tool for getting everyone to think about each other first, and the game second. It puts the focus on the fact that this is a social group activity.

How, as GMs, can we introduce an X-Card into our games?

At the start of a game, say the following,

“I’d like your help. Your help to make this game fun for everyone. If anything makes anyone uncomfortable in any way, just communicate to me that you are drawing an X-Card.  You don’t have to explain why. It doesn't matter why. When we draw this card, we simply edit out anything X-Carded. And if there is ever an issue, anyone can call for a break and we can talk privately. I know it sounds funny but it will help us play amazing games together and usually I’m the one who uses the X card to protect myself from all of you! Please help make this game fun for everyone. Thank you!"

Does the X-Card limit creativity?

Some people hate the idea of playing with an X-Card because they fear it could crush their creativity. People who run games can especially feel threatened, especially if they have specific stories in mind.

But gaming is about interaction. It's about choices. And it's about the people playing together. No one person's feelings are more important than anyone elses.

And often the opposite happens.

By knowing people can easily flag and edit any potentially problematic content, you can be even braver with your choices. You can spend less time trying to read people (we aren't mind readers) and more time being creative.

What if you don't know what was X-Carded?

Call for a break and have the person running the game or a close friend speak privately with the person who used the X-Card. In general, we tell people that no explanations are needed, but if they want to share, they are welcome to. It's their choice.


People commonly believe that by using the X-Card to edit both content that may trigger someone and simply content that makes people uncomfortable or simply doesn't fit with the game... that it might diminish the power of using the X-Card when there is an emergency rather than a small misstep.

We've found the opposite to be true.

By using the X-Card frequently, you demystify it. You normalize it. It becomes second nature. Thus increasing the chances it will actually be used when it is needed.

The more you use it, the better.