It's exciting to put very tense or dangerous situations in roleplaying games. Part of the fun--for some, the largest part of the fun--is participating in thrilling danger without actually being in any danger. RPG authors create the atmosphere for that. Yet RPG authors need to keep in mind that some concepts of danger or trauma can be triggering for players who've had similar traumatic real-life experiences. 

This came into the news recently when a gamemaster at UK Games Expo ran a game purported to showcase sexual abuse of minors, and put players in the role of the abused. UK Games Expo dealt with this swiftly, condemning it in an appropriate way that any game convention should look to as a good example of a proper response. Part of the overwhelming reaction to this situation was that sexual abuse can be so triggering to people who've been through it.

It's therefore good to evaluate the situations you're creating in your games and evaluate how players who've been through a similar situation might feel. I'm not saying there's no room for trauma or danger in games; even after evaluating how triggering a situation might be for some players, you may choose to include it by taking steps to ensure players can experience it comfortably (such as some steps I suggest below). Just be sure to put yourself in the mind of your players for a minute and think what types of players might find your encounters personally disturbing rather than thrilling. (Right now, I'm developing an awesome series of encounters where the heroes investigate a creepy circus. I'm aware that this might be triggering to anyone who's been scared at a circus in real life--or, frankly, anyone who's watched the opening scene of the movie Us--and knowing that there might be people disturbed by the setting helps guide my development.)

Here are some things you might want to include in RPG scenes you think might be triggering like this:

* A Clear Escape. Most dungeons have a built-in ability for the heroes to retreat whenever they want, usually to rest up and regain spells and such. The ability to retreat safely from a triggering scene may be helpful to some players, so perhaps eliminate or extend any time constraints pressuring them to rush into these situations.

* A Feeling of Control. Some of the problem with triggering trauma is that it incorporates feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. If the heroes have some clear advantage or aid they can rely on, even at some cost, this might be helpful as well. Allied NPCs or powerful one-use magic items work well for this.

* Shade into Comedy. Consider how you might make a tense scene a little more goofy, to allow humor to soften the effect. A kidnapper keeping children chained in a closet with giant spiders is problematic. A kidnapper keeping children locked in a big room with a rust monster that they've befriended and named Big Cricket Paddle-Tail is less so.

* Provide a Warning to Gamemasters. It's useful to include a sidebar specifically aimed at the GM to discuss how you see the scene playing out, and the types of players it might bother. This type of sidebar should include advice that the GM get buy-in from the players before running such a scene.

I read a good example of how games can sometimes reflect life just a little too much in an article about prison inmates playing D&D (it's here, and well worth reading). I thought the most chilling quote from this article was:

"I never ran or played in a game where the PCs had to escape from jail or prison," Micah says. "Too on the nose. Come to think of it, we tended to avoid the trope of being in a dungeon filled with monsters as we were already in a dungeon filled with monsters.