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As a role-play game-master, it is said that, as a group, you create the story.
Though that is not the limit of a gamemaster’s job. You must make sure everyone is comfortable and feels safe. Here are some tips to help, especially in regards to neurodiverse or traumatised players – because tabletop is supposed to unite people in having fun.
Everyone has a burden, some more than others. The term neurodiverse means deviating from the norm. Keep in mind that people are not at fault for their mental health and they may need help, assistance, or warnings.
As an umbrella term, neurodivergence can include any kind of mental health issue, disorder, or untypical traits. It doesn’t mean you have to be a champion of understanding every detail, but awareness, some preparations beforehand, and keeping their comfort in mind can really help. Most players will work together with you so make sure they feel trusted and have a place to talk about it.
It is always a good idea to do a ‘session zero’ to discuss those things. I like to start by asking my players what topics they want to exclude. This could be anything triggering or traumatising. A trigger is something that brings up past trauma and, of course, we don’t want that. It is important to know those words, events, topics as well as possible. It doesn’t mean you should feel terrible for slipping up once but try to memorise it before every session.
Soft limits are less problematic but important nonetheless. These are things that make you or your players uncomfortable – this could include themes like child abuse or certain crimes. If someone asks for children to not be victims or monsters, that is valid. You are a team and want the best story for each of you while staying on healthy grounds. Never break those promises or they won’t trust you as GM.
The next tip would be to give them the option to pause or leave the game at any time, even without explanation. It might be because they feel triggered, unwell/uncomfortable, or overloaded (this might often be the case with autistic players.) It is crucial to check on them and see if they need any kind of help or to be left alone.
These are some possible issues to be aware of for neurodiverse players can include:
- Sound – make sure you have no heavy background noises. Ask before using any music/sounds for effect.
- View – if you have material to show, digital or physical, make sure everyone understands and can read it. Create maps that point attention to the most important things: doors, NPCs, route, etc. Ask before using any pictures that could incite disgust or fear.
- Names – make sure to use their preferred name and their correct pronouns.
Make it a routine to check-in and, of course, explain the difference between in and out of character; that they can use it any time by saying it. Ask for feedback after a session: the more you know the better you can make it for them.