Dear DovahQueen – Tabletop Consent

Today we discuss consent and romance around the table–when it matters, why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Dear DovahQueen: I have a question for you that I hope won’t be too deep for you to talk about. Twice now I’ve run into this situation where I’ve had a high-Charisma character (both men) that my GM has forced romantic subplots onto. (In both instances, sex was also implied.) In both cases, I was left feeling caught off-guard and a little offended that my GM would make this decision for me and hand-wave it like it wasn’t a big deal. My first GM even went so far as to have the “romance” happen because I failed a Will save to an enchantment (compulsion) effect! This isn’t even the same person doing this to my characters—these are two different GMs who’ve never even met each other. One’s male and the other’s female, and both times I got comments from other players that basically boiled down to, “Well, you have a high Charisma. You probably wanted it anyway.” Both GMs are two of my closest friends, but I’m not sure how to approach the issue or even deal with it if it happens again at the game table. I end up feeling sheepish and snapped out of the table’s immersion. Do you have any advice for me, DovahQueen?” — Sick of Love

Dear Lovesick: Let me start off by saying that I’m sorry this has been happening to you; there’s no better way to ruin fun than to force a player into situations they aren’t comfortable with. In your particular situation, I can see two sins, and one is certainly more heinous than the other. Both sins are unfortunately common from what I’ve seen in the gaming culture.

Let’s start with the big one: consent. In a lot of ways, the GM often must draw a very fine line when talking about things that they need to inflict upon a character, and that line can become blurred very fast. For an easy example: it doesn’t really matter if the player gives consent to being an adventurer or not; when the town is being attacked it’s not really relevant. Also, they *did* sign up to play, so they literally were asking for it in that situation. The line becomes a little blurrier when you’re talking about things like lycanthropy. When introducing a character to the threat of becoming a were-beast, the GM is potentially subjecting a player’s character to a visceral shift in concept without their consent. This can be unpleasant, but it’s generally acceptable. If a player cannot accept the forced character development, a GM has options for allowing the player to remove the curse or mitigate it in some way. The situation you describe crosses the line in a clear and deliberate manner. We can play games where we have to deal with getting eaten by dragons because that’s not a sensitive issue that real people in the real world must deal with every day. We play fantasy and sci-fi games to escape our mundane or painful reality and enjoy a struggle that isn’t our own. When we force a character into romantic type situations without consent, we’re forcing that player to deal with very real world problems of rape and sexual harassment. Yes, a story could benefit from darker elements that force a player to explore a more morally ambiguous direction than they’re used to. Issues like poverty, corruption, murder, love, loss, and betrayal might make for an interesting and engaging plot, but if the player cannot excuse themselves from a situation they are not ok with, then that player is going to have a bad time. It doesn’t matter how deep and engaging the story is if it isn’t being enjoyed by all the players, and moving forward with sensitive themes that a player doesn’t consent to is one of the fastest ways to ensure that fun will not be had.

Smaller sin: Charisma =/= uncontrollable sexiness. I see this constantly in so many groups. My first gaming group used to describe Charisma as the size of a woman’s breasts. I don’t want to go down *that* rabbit hole right now, but this is a major problem in the gaming community. Charisma is not simply how good you look. While it does encompass personal grooming, Charisma is probably best represented by a person’s social skills, force of personality, and ability to use the right words at the right time. Famous speakers from history had major points in Charisma. Famous models who made everyone hate them when they opened their mouths likewise probably didn’t have so many Charisma points despite being famous for their good looks. Just because your character is Charismatic, doesn’t mean he’s automatically so uncontrollably attractive that people must force themselves onto him without consent. He might be a master in the wooful arts, but that’s not a switch that permanently stuck in the on-mode unless he’s histrionic for some reason.

But your question wasn’t “why is this wrong?”; it was “what can I do about it?”

I find that in situations like these, it’s easiest to just approach the situation with an open and direct mind. Yes, they shouldn’t be putting you in these positions, but they did so for reasons. Acknowledge and understand those reasons, but still go to these friends and politely ask them *not* to put you in these situations. Consider: “Hey, I really like the way you’re running your story. I had a lot of fun with _blank_. I did wanna ask you not to put my character in these romantic situations though. I’m really not comfortable with it, and it makes me uneasy.” As close friends, they should listen, and if they don’t, then you might need to consider getting better friends.




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Loren Sieg

Loren has been writing and playing in tabletop RPGs for over 15 years. As both a GM and player, she pours heart and soul into producing new content and helping shape the way tabletops are experienced. She's worked with companies including Paizo Inc., Legendary Games, Swords for Hire, and Encounter Table Publishing to publish material for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Dear DovahQueen began early in 2016, and Loren has been helping GMs and players fully realize their stories and game concepts ever since. When she's not knee-deep in characters sheets and critical hits, she can likely be found studying Biology at Indiana University and/or doing research on different types of marine life.

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