The Gassy Gnoll: Where do you draw the line in-game?

This Gassy Gnoll has a pretty open mind. At least he’d like to think he does!

I try not to get offended easily by greed or lechery or evil deeds while playing in a RPG campaign. Occasionally I get annoyed, but it’s tough to offend me unless you work at it. Like everybody else, I have limits.

That said, I still must have a pretty puritanical view of the world in some respects.

My characters don’t often seek out houses of ill repute and if such a place should come up in-game and I’m GMing, I don’t go as far as describing the deeds that go on behind closed doors. A little seduction, sure. But beyond that, things get weird even among a group of friends.

Gambling and tobacco use are ok, but beyond the occasional hallucination or magically-induced psychotic break, I tend to stay away from drug use in games. I tried introducing a magical drug in a campaign many years ago and the whole game spun wildly out of control as two of the PCs became drug dealers. So I try to avoid that when possible.

And violence for violence’s sake doesn’t sit well with me either. Though I’m not religious, I was raised by Catholics and as such seem to have enough guilt for a small family all by myself. Even reading about extreme violence in the real world tends to turn my stomach.

But I have no trouble with lying and cheating if it’s in character and furthers the story through roleplaying. Go figure.

You may be wondering what this has to do with drawing lines in what you allow in gaming?

Today I saw an announcement for a new horror movie that is just starting filming. Called Old 37, it seems to be more in the vein of The Strangers than a gore fest like Friday the 13th. But what really struck me was the fact that it’s about people posing in trusted roles to take advantage of people in their weakest moments. Apparently two brothers pose as paramedics, intercept 911 calls in a retired ambulance, and then do horrible things to their victims. The tag line is – “The words ‘don’t worry, I’m a paramedic’ will make you think twice before dialing 9-1-1.” (If you like this sort of psychological horror, check out the article about the film at Fangoria.)

As a movie and television news addict, I keep an eye on several sources for press releases, announcements, and the like. And I always have an eye towards how to use ideas from popular media in RPGs. But sometimes… like with this film… I just can’t even bring myself to contemplate using in a game. I have nothing against horror films. I just seem to be drawn towards the more entertaining ones rather than the realistic ones.

So here’s my question…

Where do *YOU* draw the line in gaming?

I don’t care if you’re a player or a gamemaster – there’s a line there somewhere. You may be lucky enough to not have hit it yet. If so, I hope you never do. If however you have hit it, what was it? How did you react? And is it possible for a campaign to recover from going too far over that line?

The campaign I ran where the PCs went all Breaking Bad on me (without the good acting), it never recovered. We ended up parting ways more than a decade ago… If it’s possible to recover from such a GMing misstep, I’d like to know.


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8 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Where do you draw the line in-game?

  • forged

    So oddly, the title of this post made me think about a different type of line than the one you talk about. Namely, the line of how much realism do you put into the game? (While this fits the topic as well for shades of mature topics that you may or may not address, that wasn’t exactly where it came from.)

    For instance, the players in a fantasy setting perhaps have a lot of armor and/or weapons. Does the city or nation have laws prohibiting how much they can wear in public? (Peace-binding weapons, can’t wear heavier than certain armor.) Or do you just ignore all that and let anything go?

    As far as mature topics, they happen in my game, but tend to be off-camera/behind the scenes.

    • Fitz

      @forged – It’s a good point about realism vs. entertainment/playability. And I honestly think it reduces the violence by adding extra steps for weapons – not that truly evil characters would care about such laws or limitations. It’s a fine line to walk however, as we saw with some folks who wanted more of a CRPG experience than any kind of actual laws and repercussions.

  • ExperimentingGM

    Personally, I know mine and my players’ limits and I’m glad to say that they are rather loose.
    We’ve had plenty violence, various substances and even sexual roleplay in our games.
    However, they know these things don’t come without consequences.

    Sensless violence will alienate certain allies and communities, eventually put a price on their head.
    Usage of enhancing substances comes with legal troubles and the risk of addiction and devastating drawbacks should they abstain.
    And lastly, sexual encounters will leave them vulnerable, maybe lead to some drama or even (in one case of knocking up an entire slave camp) plenty of veneral diseases.

    • Fitz

      @ExperimentingGM – Knowing the limits is definitely a big part of solving this issue if it exists. And yes, consequences are key. I think in my “drug dealer PCs” example, there really were no big consequences, so it made it entirely too easy for them to do it. I’m older and wiser now (hopefully) so the consequences angle is one I’ll have to constantly evaluate the next time I GM. Thanks for stopping by!

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