Some gaming groups actually do a formal social contract, wherein they explicitly set some of the expectations and rules for the gaming group. What items should a group considering doing a social contract of their own think about including?
[RPG] Specific items in a group social contract
Some questions to answer in your social contract:
Can my character die without my consent? In D&D (and most action-based games) the default answer is 'yes'. Subquestions to ask: Will I get a hint that I'm in serious danger? (In 4e you usually won't need one... it'll be obvious that you're low on surges and survivability.) How likely is this? (Players in my games know that I will kill characters, but it hasn't actually happened more than a couple of times in the last 10 years. The possibility is enough.)
Can my character die as a result of a single failure? Are there effects which kill or disable you at once if you fail a save, regardless of your state of health otherwise? In D&D 1 the answer was 'very much yes' and each edition since has been less so - a very good thing IMO. 3e in particular made a deliberate effort to reduce this, 4e more so - so in 4e you can say 'no' with no real change.
Can my character die as a result of another PCs actions? D&D mechanics assume a social contract in which the group are all on the same side, and in 4e this assumption is very strong. But good stuff can be done with characters that are mostly on the same side; conflicting goals -> character development -> entertainment. So: Might another PC abandon the group during a fight? In particular, especially in D&D, cover can other players kill my character? as an entirely different question from whether the game world might. D&D 4e assumes 'No' as a default here, and 3e assumes 'very unlikely'.
[Edit/added, thanks to Valadil:] Can my character die when I'm not present? If a player can't make it to the game, does their character vanish, or get played by other players, or by the GM? It's demoralizing to have a character killed or permanently damaged when you're not there. (Our group uses: GM tries not to kill the character when the player isn't there, but only if players refrain from using the PC as invulnerable point man... PC actions are by group consensus, but the PC does nothing especially heroic or dangerous. Basically, a no-score draw.)
Can my character be resurrected once dead? In D&D the default answer is 'yes, at a cost', if you're high enough level. In 4e the default answer is 'yes, at a not-high cost', especially in LFR. (Look at these rules; in a home campaign they have implications for the game world. We play LFR adventures... but the LFR resurrection rules seem too cheap to us; we multiply all costs by 10.)
Do the rest of the group have to try and resurrect me? In D&D, a regular party might even have in in-game contract for this one. Be sure it specifies who pays!
At what level does my replacement character join the group? (Our long-standing D&D and Star Wars answer has been 'at the bottom of the level below your previous character's level, plus some bonus xp based on how you roleplayed the death scene'. Another common answer is 'Same level as the lowest-level character in the group'.)
What non-base abilities/equipment can my new character have? In D&D in particular, magical items are the issue. 3e and 4e assume a certain level of magical item power for any given level of character; al cash value by level can be an acceptable guideline but not a dramatically brilliant one. In D&D for mage characters, you also need to consider 'How many spells does a new wizard know?' (in 3e) or 'How many rituals do I have?' (in 4e).
Adventurers being adventurers, and depending on your group's play style, you may also need to ask if my character dies, do the party loot the body for useful magic? (GMing note: Having an unknown relative show up and lay claim to the deceased PCs possessions is a fun way to cause trouble for item-oriented groups... especially if they had a mission-critical item at the time.)
The Living Forgotten Realms rules cover all of this well and are worth a look, but don't use them as a model for a regular group. They're designed to handle a situation in which you're playing drop-in convention games with random strangers and want the GM to recognise existing characters. They do a decent job of examining the kind of question that can come up.
Crossdressing For Success
I play a character of a different gender than myself about 25% of the time judging from a review of my recent past characters. I think it's a great roleplaying challenge and is a lot of fun. Of course when I GM I run female characters all the time as a routine part of any game session, too.
Though I've seen occasional forum trolls say that cross-gender RP is "weird," I have yet to meet anyone like that IRL and I've been gaming for 25 years. The majority of folks in the groups I've gamed with generally stick to characters of their own gender, but it's never been an issue for anyone when someone doesn't.
Since GMs have to play characters of another gender routinely, this tends to be an unsupportable premise anyway.
Let's look at the reasons that someone might be uncomfortable with someone else performing crossgender RP.
- Those who are so uncomfortable with gender and sexual identity in general that something so minor would cause them to flip out. I think it's fear that your character will make advances to theirs, and that if that happened it "would be really gay."
- Those who believe the other sex is weak/corrupt and shouldn't be a character in their group. Needless to say this is even more immature than #1.
- Those who complain that it's hard to keep it straight. "He's a guy, I can't think of a woman!" Of course most players don't resemble their characters in any way; they're all robots and bugbears and stuff. So that really makes no sense.
- I can't think of a single other reason.
All you can do is feel out your group. I'm not sure how to mitigate any of these concerns without being completely condescending. "Don't worry Joe, this isn't all a dodge to get into your pants?" Frankly I'd just tell them to take a drama class and/or grow up if they're "uncomfortable" with the general idea.
"You're doing it wrong"
What I see a lot more commonly is complaints that "you are playing a man/woman wrong." As in, playing to a stereotype or otherwise in a way the complainant doesn't like.
Of course, the kind of game in which people criticize someone else's character - "you're not playing a dwarf right!" "You're not playing Lawful right!" tend to be reasonably immature, having not moved past a very simplistic view of the world. In my current group, I don't think anyone would have the ill grace to tell someone they aren't "playing their character right."
But perhaps you are doing it so bad as to break their immersion. That's pretty unlikely, as the challenges of RPing authentically are unlikely to hinge on so fine a detail, but reading the As a man, how can I roleplay a woman better? and As a girl, how can I roleplay a male character better? should help you to avoid anything too egregious.
Often times, complaints about authentic portrayals are specious - I know I'd get them a lot, even when I was specifically modeling my character's behavior on a specific incident from one of my female friends' lives! "A woman would never do X!" "Well, my friend Laura did that exact thing, so zip it."
Related are claims about how "sexist" you are playing the character. Frankly, you can do anything and it be interpreted as sexist (including not doing cross-gender RP) so as long as you're not clearly trying to be a punk you may as well ignore this.
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The value of a formal contract is recording agreements among all participants to ensure everyone understands what is expected. Obviously, a long written contract will make most players' eyes glaze over and kill the fun. Maybe just have a discussion about some things. If you have a widely fluctuating set of players coming and going, a written contract can help new players assimilate quickly.
A formal social contract covers all details of play. Specifically, it is an agreement to play a certain game, at a certain time and place, with certain people, in a certain way. In other words: what, when, where, who, why, and how.
Also take a look at Chris Chinn's Same Page Tool.