Icky stuff and mature themes in your games


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How much is too much?
I have noticed that I have toned down with the gore and graphic descriptions of violence lately, either I am getting tired of it, or I am getting more mature and don't need cheap thrills.
That said, a well placed graphic description is good. Especially if it is something dark.

Also there are the subjects of racism(species-ism?), sexism and other mature themes. Do you use them? I do, and I mention beforehand that I will be using them to the players, especially new ones, because people are so easily offended these days. Or touchy on a subject because it happened to them.

What about you? How are you with blood, gore, horror, mature themes?


Just to warn, this topic is probably going to get locked.

Pretty much, my group is okay with a lot. But, on sexual themes, we tend to tone it back a lot. There's too much that can go wrong in that area, and many of the group are not comfortable with a lot of sexual themes. Certain activities are not allowed.

Now, beating someone to death with their baby? Some of my group members do that regularly. I tend to be the most squeamish.

Sovereign Court

Our Call of Cthulhu games are filled with gore and horror. Our games are also set in 1920's so there is a bit of racial elements occasionally.

Fantasy games we dial it back a lot. We tend to focus more on the heroism and political intrique. Half-orcs get a bit of a hard time but nothing too serious. We do tend to play PF elves as very pomiscuous. Sex however,is stricktly fade to black.

Traveller is our Sci-fi game of choice and there is lots of politics and a bit of racism. Occasionally horror elements find their way in.

One element that we focus on alot in our games is mystery. Whether it is investigating crime scenes, uncovering ancient secrets, or stopping game changing plots we are all about the mystery.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

My group doesn't have a problem with it, so it is in the game. My group has two women in it and it doesn't phase them at all.

From a recent game session:

Female player whose character with scimitar just scored a critical hit against a human cultist...

Me: "Your scimitar catches your foe across the mid riff, opening a wide channel of blood and entrails. With a scream of agony, he grabs at his intestines trying to spill from the enlarging wound and falls to his knees."

Female Player "I wonder how that hit would be like with a groin hit? Anyhow, I step forward and try to decapitate him with my next attack"

From another game session:

Me: "The three goons make disparaging remarks to about 'whether you got any hair "down there" and how they would like to find out. One of them states what he would like to do to your ears while he 'enjoyed' you and the others laugh in response. The other party members are still not in sight yet. What do you do?"

Female player playing a female elf magus character "I attack the nearest goon with my blade and then burning hands the three of them, while saying "You should be less concerned with whether I got hair "down there" and more concerned with the blade in my hand and the fire from my finger tips"

Typical game discussion stuff from my two female players... and both of them are mothers with small children. Go figure.

Bottom line - it comes down to knowing your players and their temperaments. It works for our group because everyone realizes it just a game and mature themes is part of the game. But it is entertaining to listen to the two ladies talk smack when they really getting into roleplaying.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

I regularly use horror elements. The PCs have witnessed torture chambers, found monsters flaying innocent people alive, seen children die before their eyes and immediately animate as zombies, poked through an abandoned orphanage haunted by the spirits of abused children and the wraith of the abuser, explored a toystore of terror with creepy animated dolls and clockwork horrors, and surprised a monster committing a brutal act of sexual violence against a naked prisoner.

I try to present it in a manner that's horrific and shocking, but not lurid or prurient. I aim to disturb, not titilate.

And I'm kind of proud of my creepy voices.

My two cardinal rules of horror:
1) Always check in with players out-of-game before introducing potentially triggering events. Especially if the horror has a sexual component (especialy true of body-horror).
2) Never, ever, let a PC be a victim of sexual violence in your game.

Sovereign Court

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Haladir wrote:


2) Never, ever, let a PC be a victim of sexual violence in your game.

I couldn't specify how important this is. This is how my former GM turned SEVERAL girls off gaming. Because he is an idiot.


Sex is glossed over. We've all had it. It's not such a big deal that it has to described in detail.

Violence is as graphic as necessary to convey the image of the actions.

Gore is rare, but sometimes necessary in setting a scene.


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I LOVE horror and creepy but won't go for physical and sexual abuse themes or allow players to get into them. Other "adult themes" depend on the group.

I've played a long time and nothing brings out the awkward like sex at the game table. Just don't go there unless that is really what you all like o.O. It's one thing to say the the guard captain is having a loud amorous encounter in another room, but it really doesn't need to get more graphic than that in your basic rpg session does it? All gaming groups are different but until you really know your group, keep that kind of thing light. At least that's my thought on it. I get pretty dark with the horror and some adult theme stuff but I know my players really well.

Sometimes I have some under age kids sit in with family members and I ALWAYS tone everything down.


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Had a long time player (and one with very little experience with women, to be honest) really try to get me to describe the scene between his character and a prostitute in a game just a couple of years ago. I had to threaten him with the ban hammer over it.


I almost never do icky stuff other than as stage setting (they find icky stuff that was done by the bad guys.) About the closest I'll come is do things like saying the sword split the guy in two (say, 40hp damage to something that had 10hp to begin with.)

Adult themes, sure (I've never GMed with a minor in the group) but that's not the same as being crude. Under normal conditions sex is always fade to black.


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The answer to this question is always, "Depends on the group."


Our GM has admitted that he would rather run a "PG-13" game than an "R" game. Everyone at the table is happy with that.


Apparently, I play with a bunch of deviants. Sex is certainly not shied away from. In fact, as a joke, my Gm made it so my one shot character's drunken stupor led to some intimacy with an orc couple. So, I made my character a son of a sex wizard that wanted to sleep with one of every type of humanoid.

So, clearly, my experience has been somewhat different from the norm.


No one in my group has a faint heart for blood and gore, but most of our dms hold back on it if only to preserve its impact. Gore loses it's value if it shows up all the time, and our DMs realize that, so the bloody spectacles are saved for when they want to show JUST how horrible the situation is, to set a tone, or for an important death.

As far as sex, our group doesn't care much either. The only time it bothers them is if a player feels the need to hog screen time from everyone else because the player wants their character getting some to be a big deal. I've even had pretty taboo intimacies come up with little judgement so long as the matter is handled tactfully. In one game, there's a pair of sisters who are in love with each other, and it's not really a big secret they are attracted to another, but because their physical intimacy is never shoved in anyone's faces, no one gets offended, even when the table already makes certain assumptions about what they do when they go off somewhere together.

Ultimately, it comes down to knowing your group. Most people in my group is courteous and won't do something if it's outside of their comfort zone. If incest is something one of our tablemates was uncomfortable with, that example relationship I posted never would have happened.


I tend to include a fair bit of gore, though nothing particularly graphic. I might say "Your blow opens up the man's stomach, and he desperately clutches it, trying to hold his innards inside", or severed limbs/heads (I particularly like decapitations because whenever I describe the thud of a head hitting the ground I imagine a quite pleasant sound...yes that's a bit odd I guess), things like that, but I won't lovingly describe how in exact detail how the entrails look or whatever.

Don't see a need for it, really. What description I do give is enough for the players' imaginations to fill in the blanks.

As far as the other things, in order:

Racism: Used, but only really in the "fantastic racism" sense. I'm of the opinion that "Black and white gang up to beat on purple" would hold true in a fantasy universe, so you'll find humans s%!% talking elves and dwarves, half-orcs looking down on the scrawny humans, and everyone teaming up to shun the tiefling, but not so much racism that skirts too close to real world issues.

Sexism: Doesn't show up in my games often, but it will sometimes. Misogynists exist, and they'll show up occasionally. They'll usually be the bad guy, or a neutral party you're not supposed to be very sympathetic towards. I guess if I had the opportunity some of the good guys might as well, if only so the female character could prove herself, but that seems like it has so much potential to go poorly that I've never bothered to try it.

Rape: Implied at most. Pirates rape, pillage, and plunder. You will not hear me describe in detail GRRM style a woman being raped by her captors, though it may be implied after the fact.

Sex in general: Mostly euphemistic. I'm not writing erotica here, though I did have fun teasing one of my players with Lady Smythee in my Skull and Shackles game (his low Cha sociopath Wizard ended up being the one she latched onto, by virtue of him being the one speaking to her the most. Hilarity ensues...for everyone but him).


Hama wrote:

How much is too much?

I have noticed that I have toned down with the gore and graphic descriptions of violence lately, either I am getting tired of it, or I am getting more mature and don't need cheap thrills.
That said, a well placed graphic description is good. Especially if it is something dark.

Also there are the subjects of racism(species-ism?), sexism and other mature themes. Do you use them? I do, and I mention beforehand that I will be using them to the players, especially new ones, because people are so easily offended these days. Or touchy on a subject because it happened to them.

What about you? How are you with blood, gore, horror, mature themes?

I was going to say before I accidentally posted while in a hurry. My last group and I could talk about anything and discuss if we were comfortable with a subject or situation. We were fairly wild, experimental and knew each others comfort level, even though there were forbidden topics. The current now in flux group is awkward and uncomfortable with a wide level of comfort zones that make it difficult to find a balance. These is little worse than trying to game with people that have an awkward relationship with each other. Gauge your group carefully and you'll come up with a comfort zone.


I recently started DMing for a bunch of early 20 somethings. Sadly, and this includes my own son, they are a pretty misogynistic bunch. I had to put the hammer down on the use of the "b" word when referring to women, both in and out of games. Next will come the hammer on the "n" word they use when talking to each other.


I just find it amusing that a bunch of "methods" to make a game more mature usually just make it come off as either immature, insensitive or both. I mostly vary on what I put into my games depending on the players as well as the setting.


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I love it, but tend to only use it sparingly, to augment the sensation when I finally do use it.

If you describe in every fight how your NPC barbarian decapitated the head of his adversdary, it just becomes another chopped-off head. But use it only once, and it becomes spectacular.

Ultradan


Sex, very sparingly and basically only in passing. "You're characters are treated as beloved heroes in the town you've saved from the marauders. If you want some scoopus, you get some."

Violence, I try to give death blows a nice descriptive.

And if I'm trying to describe a scene of horror, or let folks know that the evil they're dealing with is High-Grade, Unfiltered Rottenness, I'll go all out. Thus the creation of the Gnom-O-Phone to introduce the Lords of Xuluwelph.


Hehhehehheheh..You said "scoopus".

Scarab Sages

The main attraction of RPGs for most of my regular group is to play their imagined character in the presented setting (be it Golarion, a Galaxy far, far away or the Buffyverse). To present the setting and the story as immersive as possible, aspects their characters (or relevant NPCs) explore become part of the presented setting. Sex is (sometimes less, sometimes more, as it is in RL) a part of every characters life - from near abstinent (by choice or not) to almost lecherous - without expicitly talking the x-rated stuff - we have all been there and leave that to imagination and a few remarks.

Violence and gore are part of the setting, too, but we use them sparingly for better effect - sometimes to set the tone in the story, sometimes to help presenting the impact on the characters (a hardened veteran won't react that much to the blood dripping from her blade, so there is little use in repeatedly describing every gory detail, a young wizard who just lived through his first life or death fight will react stronger, so the stench of the flesh burned by his spell becomes part of the description, as do the screams and other gory details).

Other dark themes may be part of the story or the world, but I never (in the never absolute sense of the word) do unchangable stuff to PCs while they are unable to act or react (no, a coup de grace or an abduction does not fall under this rule, but an abducted PC will most likely be able to react to the situation ASAP), so no PC-rape, little in the way of PC-torture and similar stuff.

I will add that I know my players pretty well in and out of the game and most of us play more or less always their RL gender (I don't know if that has impact but considering the topic it deserves mention) apart from me (would make Gamemastering a living world pretty hard...)


It depends on the game. Fantasy racism is part of the game and sometimes it comes up. Sometimes we play racist a!~%*@$$s because it's fun (for some reason it seems so much more acceptable when it's elves going on about how they are so much better than brutish humans than humans going on about how they are better than poncy elves). Sometimes we play misogynistic bastards. Some times NPCs or PCs will be raped. Some times people are tortured and apart from our brief "I'm not evil, I'm Chaotic Neutral" phase back when we started playing, we don't get too graphic or dwell on the issues. When it comes to combat the most graphic we get is along the lines of 'his head splits like a melon' but mostly we'll just note "he looks badly injured" or "she hardly seems to notice the cuts you give her".
Sex, it can happen often enough but getting any more detailed than "you get it on" is actually pretty boring. We're here to play heroes/villains/whatever, not porn stars. I did run a foulmouthed porn-star droid NPC in SW once. It was an astromech like R2 with some novelty attachments and was a blast to play. I'm not sure I would have been quite so graphic if my gf wasn't the only player, though.

In short, yes we have allowed most any form of nastiness or taboo or 'adult' subjects in our games at one point but it's never the main focus.


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DungeonmasterCal wrote:
I recently started DMing for a bunch of early 20 somethings. Sadly, and this includes my own son, they are a pretty misogynistic bunch. I had to put the hammer down on the use of the "b" word when referring to women, both in and out of games. Next will come the hammer on the "n" word they use when talking to each other.

B-word: "I'm sorry, you must be mistaken. She's the <b-word>", indicating a nearby female human/canine crossbreed.


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I only do graphic gore if it's a horror themed game, and even then only sparingly. I find it loses the impact if every room looks like spread in Abattoir Monthly. I find better horror in atmosphere, and the dread of the unknown.

Violence, I tend to use to describe critical hits, or overkill damage death blows. I find it makes it feel more special (maybe badass is the better word) if instead of "you killed the wolf" I say "you chopped that wolf into two pieces!" or "you cleaved cleanly through the wolf's head".

Sex, I don't go into detail, but if the players want to pursue relations or relationships, sex is usually handled "off-screen". I did have one player who was insistent about their character constantly doing the deed though. He ended the game with over a dozen children.

Social justice issues rarely come up, unless it's the focus of a story, or the cheap and easy "bad guy card".


As my "group" consists of me and my wife, sex in game can get rather graphic. And frequently so.

But we do not go into much detail when describing violence or gore.


DungeonmasterCal wrote:
I recently started DMing for a bunch of early 20 somethings. Sadly, and this includes my own son, they are a pretty misogynistic bunch. I had to put the hammer down on the use of the "b" word when referring to women, both in and out of games. Next will come the hammer on the "n" word they use when talking to each other.

[fake shocked voice]

There are black people that play RPGs?

[/fake shocked voice]


None of them are black people. They're white suburban kids who desperately want to sound street.. lol.

Scarab Sages

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Just get them to use 'digga' - it sounds similar, it was created by the (Hamburg) hip-hop scene and it is completely non-offensive ;-)


I'm just gonna make a list of banned words to frustrate them and for my own twisted glee... lol


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My games are always PG-13.

But then I joined the Skull and Shackles adventure path playgroup. With the way we run that campaign it ends up offensive on levels I didn't even know existed. It's also tons of fun :D


I run stuff according to player's comfort levels. The current setting does have slavery and racism (not the black & white team up on purple kind either), but if someone isn't comfortable with dealing with either, I don't bother dwelling on it. Same with violence, both gore and sexual. I'd rather my players have fun than be gritty and realistic.

I remember running a HERO system game where the players were an international group of super heroes. The plot was going to take them to the Gaza Strip and deal with that, but one of the players is from Israel and had to deal with that. So when he expressed his concern about it, I easily scrapped that plot and did something that everyone can enjoy. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone has different comfort levels and there are some things that even the most hardened, offensive person would find uncomfortable.


Hardwool wrote:
As my "group" consists of me and my wife, sex in game can get rather graphic. And frequently so.

TMI! TMI!

Grand Lodge

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DungeonmasterCal wrote:
I recently started DMing for a bunch of early 20 somethings. Sadly, and this includes my own son, they are a pretty misogynistic bunch. I had to put the hammer down on the use of the "b" word when referring to women, both in and out of games. Next will come the hammer on the "n" word they use when talking to each other.

If it is any consolation, I was like that in my late teens and early twenties as well. That mentality is sadly fostered by an Internet generation that is trained to see others not as individuals with real feelings but objects for amusement - women get this treatment particularly hard.

I am ashamed how long it took me to mature beyond it, but I know that my mother's influence was what won the battle for my mind in the end. Take heart that for most it's mercifully just a phase.


Hardwool wrote:
As my "group" consists of me and my wife, sex in game can get rather graphic. And frequently so.

LARPing?


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DungeonmasterCal wrote:
LARPing?

Well, it happened, but normally we just sit in front of each other, talking dirty :D


Hardwool wrote:
DungeonmasterCal wrote:
LARPing?
Well, it happened, but normally we just sit in front of each other, talking dirty :D

So long as it's still game related, all is well :P


Hardwool wrote:
DungeonmasterCal wrote:
LARPing?
Well, it happened, but normally we just sit in front of each other, talking dirty :D

My BF and I have been having this kind of fun for ages =D


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Talk about a ten minute adventuring day...


We have a very simple rule. Anything is on the table if it fits the story. However, If anyone in the group holds up their hand and says stop, the subject us dropped off screen immediately and never brought on screen again. No questions are asked,

It's happened twice in the 20 some years that the various versions of the group has been together.

That said, adult themes are almost always brought in in shades of grey, and the full scope of consequences dealt with.

Heck the three primary themes of our current game deal with:
1) what does it really mean to be religious in a world where angels and demons are seen periodically?
2) how does one deal with rampant sexism against females in society at large?
3) what are the implications of socal expectations and mental state of an in the closet homosexual, who was previously raped, and who was partially"fixed" by an enemy to match society's norms, via mind magic.


Both the games I play in tend to echo Black Lagoon with regard to how graphic they get. Blood, gore, dismemberment, torture, and so forth tend to be described out with marginal discomfort. Sex is touched on, but tends to fade to black before long. Rape is a part of the world, and was twice threatened (much to the discomfort of the would be rapists), but isn't graphic or glorified in any way. This is a group that has played together for years, and we're all pretty comfortable with each other's comfort zones.

In the main Savage Tide game we've had characters lose unborn children to sword thrusts, characters lose eyes, a character lose an arm, broken up rings of murderers, perverts, rapists, and torturers, and seen the worst of demons and other vile beings. The GM makes no bones about how horrific many of the villains are. Racism, sexism, discrimination, and so forth are a part of the world, but not harped upon. The party, nominally goodly to one degree or another, has had members torture prisoners for information, murder prisoners, and accidentally murdered innocents on one occasion after a cultural misunderstanding. They've been forced to cut deals with serpent people and dark gods, they've negotiated with demons, and they've lost friend and allies in various horrible ways. All and all, very much a gray world where being good is hard to do, and completely happy endings are rare.

My secondary Way of the Wicked game has seen the party slip into depravity that has shocked its GM (a player from the main game), and included torture, forced conversion to devil worship, more torture, animal cruelty, arson, murder, blood sacrifice, and so forth. No rape though, which probably says something about how everyone in the group views rapists.


ScrubKai wrote:

Heck the three primary themes of our current game deal with:

1) what does it really mean to be religious in a world where angels and demons are seen periodically?
2) how does one deal with rampant sexism against females in society at large?
3) what are the implications of socal expectations and mental state of an in the closet homosexual, who was previously raped, and who was partially"fixed" by an enemy to match society's norms, via mind magic.

Sounds like Reality Roleplaying and not Fantasy Roleplaying. Just say'n...


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
Hardwool wrote:
DungeonmasterCal wrote:
LARPing?
Well, it happened, but normally we just sit in front of each other, talking dirty :D

There's role-playing, and then there's, um... role-playing...


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
WitchyTangles wrote:
Hardwool wrote:
DungeonmasterCal wrote:
LARPing?
Well, it happened, but normally we just sit in front of each other, talking dirty :D
My BF and I have been having this kind of fun for ages =D

And of course, this made me think of this song.


My friends don't mind bringing up sexual themes too much, mostly for joke effects. I think the home rule is that the... masculinity of a character is equal to half his CHA score in inches, but that's never brought up outside poking fun at the sorcerers/bards/paladins/etc. First time I ever encountered it firsthand in a game, the GM said something along the lines of "Roll me a diplomacy check... Oh wow, that's a big number. Okay, you leave the next day, yadda yadda yadda."

As for violence, we bring up some bone cracks or cleaving through someone, but that's rarely reveled upon.

But there always seems to be that one player who takes things a biiiiiit too far...

Grand Lodge

aceDiamond wrote:
My friends don't mind bringing up sexual themes too much, mostly for joke effects. I think the home rule is that the... masculinity of a character is equal to half his CHA score in inches, but that's never brought up outside poking fun at the sorcerers/bards/paladins/etc.

That seems kind of unfortunate for female Oracles. (Also it opens up a hilarious new interpretation to the "Lame" curse.)

Actually, I could envision a city based around that. Their entire economy would depend on black market CHA-boosting headbands and belts that are at best, worthless, and at worst, cursed. They would spread word of their wares through terribly misspelled scrolls and testimonies from a famous, unscrupulous NE bard who was naturally ... er, 'charismatic'.


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My group was always cool with all sorts of "mature" stuff, but honestly nothing of that sort has come up in our games for a very long time. I dunno, we've just been in "go here, kill stuff, get loot" mode for the past year.

Sovereign Court

Josh M. wrote:
My group was always cool with all sorts of "mature" stuff, but honestly nothing of that sort has come up in our games for a very long time. I dunno, we've just been in "go here, kill stuff, get loot" mode for the past year.

Well, after a while it just stops being cool and edgy :D


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Black Moria wrote:

My group doesn't have a problem with it, so it is in the game. My group has two women in it and it doesn't phase them at all.

From a recent game session:

Female player whose character with scimitar just scored a critical hit against a human cultist...

Me: "Your scimitar catches your foe across the mid riff, opening a wide channel of blood and entrails. With a scream of agony, he grabs at his intestines trying to spill from the enlarging wound and falls to his knees."

Female Player "I wonder how that hit would be like with a groin hit? Anyhow, I step forward and try to decapitate him with my next attack"

From another game session:

Me: "The three goons make disparaging remarks to about 'whether you got any hair "down there" and how they would like to find out. One of them states what he would like to do to your ears while he 'enjoyed' you and the others laugh in response. The other party members are still not in sight yet. What do you do?"

Female player playing a female elf magus character "I attack the nearest goon with my blade and then burning hands the three of them, while saying "You should be less concerned with whether I got hair "down there" and more concerned with the blade in my hand and the fire from my finger tips"

Typical game discussion stuff from my two female players... and both of them are mothers with small children. Go figure.

Bottom line - it comes down to knowing your players and their temperaments. It works for our group because everyone realizes it just a game and mature themes is part of the game. But it is entertaining to listen to the two ladies talk smack when they really getting into roleplaying.

With the utmost respect to you, I believe that how you're handling this is both important and illustrative. I imagine many gamers are okay with more mature elements--with the following caveat:

It's about who has the power. For example, sexual assault and harassment is about power. If in your games you allow the players/NPCs victory against the abuser instead of further harming the victims, then more gamers will be accepting of these elements within the game.

This is a fine point that's often difficult to explain. Someone more literally-minded I think, is likely to go: but they involve the same topic! How can this be objectionable in one case and not the other!

The answer is that it's nuanced. If the topic is enabling the victims, is a story of triumph, etc. then it's more likely to be accepted. If it's about exploiting the victims further, then less so.

...another part of nuance: it also happens to correlate with the "creepy vibes" given off by the other players at the table. If one player is a known misogynist, or say, a supporter of the KKK, then yes, any time they get near certain topic, other players at the table will be understandably wary.

In other words, involving these elements in a game involves basic social awareness.

The Exchange

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Hama wrote:
...How are you with blood, gore, horror, mature themes?

Because of the nature of hit points (1 hp = fighting at full strength), my descriptions of battle wounds tend toward either "it's a minor boo-boo" or "closed-casket funeral." But that's in the heat of combat.

I tend to be artfully vague when the characters instead happen upon corpses, providing just enough detail for their imaginations to kick in.I read somewhere once that the mind, when presented with something terrible, tends to grapple desperately with some relatively small innocuous detail: this is of great use when I describe a shocking or dreadful scene. ("Flies are crawling across some long red stains on the walls" was once the only description I gave for a horrible double-murder.)

I'm not much for romantic or erotic subplots in my story, and my players are rarely roaming the land in search of hook-ups (they know that doppelgangers, mimics and werewolves are among my favorite monsters, and they're likely to require a blood test before they do so much as shake hands with a shapely lady.) On the rare occasions when it comes up, I use a rather Victorian "a gentleman never tells... and neither does the GM" approach. Describing one's intimacy with an imaginary partner to a bunch of guys who are trying not to snicker has all the romance of a restroom-wall limerick.

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