Today, we talk about the legitimacy of player’s phobias in game, why they should be respected, and how to do it.
Dear DovahQueen: I would love to play more fantasy games, but I am arachnophobic. I don’t know if it’s because of the John Goodman movie, but when I tell people about my phobia they usually laugh or find the nearest spider to show me. Is it asking too much for my phobia to be taken seriously, and for my GM to swap out any spiders in the campaign? —Please No Spiders
Dear Spider-Man: Asking for respect is never really out of the line, especially for something outside of your control like a phobia. I once had a night terror last into a full blown hypnopompic hallucination of my arm being stuffed with teriyaki vegetables. It sounds really silly to hear about, but when you know for a fact that that’s a real thing and is currently happening in the moment, you tend to miss the humor in it. From that, I have a strong aversion to body mutilation and forced transformation stuff which I tend to ask that GMs respect as well.
If you’re like me and almost everyone else with a phobia of some kind, I’m sure that a part of you is bothered by the fact that it bothers you at all. You might even be upset with yourself that you can’t just let it slide so you’re not ruining everyone else’s experience. Please don’t fall into that line of thinking. The human brain is an amazing machine, and just like any other machine, it’s bound by rules and guidelines. Your Jetta isn’t going to suddenly run on diesel just because you want it to hard enough. Therefore, we don’t tend to get mad at our car when we put unleaded in it. For that reason, I want you to try not to get upset with yourself. This is a pretty important step because if you don’t see your phobia as something that is a weakness, you’ll have an easier time confidently asking others to be mindful and respect it as well.
Any GM that’s worth their salt should be able to adapt effortlessly. In game, what do arachnids do anyway? Often, they slash, bite, jump, shoot web, and/or poison. There’s no reason that a GM couldn’t run the exact same stat block under another concept. They could run it as a giant, spiky toad that spits a sticky poison. Maybe it’s a different insect like a huge bombardier beetle that shoots a viscous mucus from its eyes. In either case, they could use the same stat block and not tarnish the immersion at all. For nearly any phobia that you can come up with, there’s likely another option in concept that doesn’t hinder the storytelling.
The part of the problem you could run into is a GM that doesn’t understand or care. If you articulate your desire to not have to have spiders put in your mind’s eye when you’re trying to have fun, some GMs will get it and be willing to figure something out, and others won’t. You’re not asking too much to say, “Hey, I’m really not comfortable with spiders. Is there any way you could just say it’s a different monster? I’d really appreciate it.” But a lot of people have a lot of notions about the nature of their story and the nature/validity of phobias in general. That’s their problem, but unfortunately, you’re the one who has to deal with it. All you can do here is be as polite and confident as possible, and hope that you’ve picked out friends to play with that respect and listen to you.
The fun of both you and your group is paramount, and if your GM refuses to respect your phobia, then you might have a problem that is a bit larger than just your role-playing game anyway. It’s not always easy to deal with a gaming group that’s full of aHoles (I promise that I know); only you can figure out if it’s worth it to walk away from a group that doesn’t respect you or not. In either case though: speak your peace, stand your ground, be confident, and good luck!
You can request RPG advice or send your questions by email to email@example.com or on Facebook.