There are lots of ways to approach trust in RPGs. I’m hoping to read a few people’s thoughts. I’ve learned a lot about how to approach different social situations by having seen them happen in RPG groups, and the big take-away I have is that people shouldn’t have to trust you blind. Rather, you should make it obvious that you are trustworthy, first by being trustworthy, and then by acting like it.
But that’s really hard to put succinctly.
There are tools that will help. A session 0 where you work out what people’s limits are is good, but I’ve found that sometimes I find it hard to listen when people have a trigger that’s one I find hard to imagine. I have a player who is much more concerned about NPC animal deaths than PC deaths. She can imagine one far too clearly.
To me, ‘oh yeah, then your horse gets hit’ is a good way of starting with a relatively low tension level. An ambush where people are aiming for killing animals then talking is a better choice than starting off at the deadly level… except when this player is around. It took me a while to learn that it wasn’t good for her, and that learning included asking explicitly, making the effort to believe something that was completely opposite to what I knew, and then moulding it into my thinking so it became PART of what I knew.
I have a trans player, so the use of gender in the world has come up my list a lot. I didn’t want to get it wrong for her, because her understanding of how gender works in Glorantha’s going to be coloured in a different way to mine. If I assume that the gender freedom within Glorantha is automatically good, then I’m not doing my job as a GM. In her case, I mostly just listened to her cues, because she’s very good at making herself understood. I had to draw a path there between telling people how gender works in Glorantha, and telling people that it was the way it SHOULD work and they had to play it.
I’ve found a scarily comprehensive Session 0 list on reddit. It uses D&D jargon, but much of it is applicable all over the board. (CW: it does talk about things you should and should not do. You may find triggers on the list.) In itself, it’s highly tick-boxy, and FAR too long for a single conversation. I wouldn’t use it as written, but it gives a good indication of what you CAN do, and there’s a chunk on discomfort and topics to agree on. I prefer to check in a few sessions before a topic is likely to come up, and ask if people are comfortable and what their limits are.
I personally don’t front-load the discussion beyond a few basic rules on discomfort1Because some of those are literally about how to be a human and twinkiness2You know who you are, Dom…, but I try not to bring in topics that will make people uncomfortable until I’ve checked with them. A very good general question is to ask, “Is there anything that you don’t like, that I should avoid?” That can be repeated a bit later, as we work into the campaign and find out what we do and don’t get along with. Having a campaign is an ongoing commitment, and having trust within that campaign should not be a one-off matter that happens only at the start.
RP isn’t a time to take people on a wild ride against their will, it’s a time to take them on a wild ride that leaves them squeaking happily and bounding back to the queue to try again. Learning to trust the people who want to trust you is a key skill. Learn that their judgement about themselves is better than yours, and write it into your future roleplay. Trust isn’t a thing that people should give you – it’s a thing that you should be worthy of. Be that person. Work towards it. Check in from time to time.