Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some thoughts on veils and lines

Today I was listening to an episode of the podcast Saving the Game, and they were discussing the terms lines and veils. These come from the Sorcerer supplement Sex and Sorcerer.  The idea is that in your play group you might have themes that one of the players or the GM feel is uncomfortable to bring up at the gaming table, and veils are things that might crop up, with it wont be played out in detail. Naturally, in Ron Edwards book he talks mostly about sex.

When I listened at the podcast I started to wonder about the things the hosts listed as their personal lines and veils. Naturally they talked about sex, but also about other things. What made me think was when they brought up torture.

Personally I find torture really horrifying. It dehumanizes both the perpetrator and the victim, and it's useless for information gathering so it's basically just a power game. Still, it happens in games. But, more to the point, it happens in real life.

So, should you just ignore such icky stuff in your game? Should you maybe include it, and face it and through play explore what it does to people and include it as a motivator for stopping the bad guy/gal?

This reminds me of when I first started playing Dogs in the Vineyard. Our GM noticed that some of the things we as dogs encountered was making me shrink back and try to do ignore, maybe hoping to push it into the lap of some other player. Naturally he saw me squirm and pushed it harder towards me, forcing the issue and forcing me to make a stand. It was an awesome session. Someone might consider this a dick move, but I was playing God's emissary with power over life and death. There was a Situation going on, demanding me to act, and it made for a better game when I was forced out of my comfort zone.

So, how about that torture thing?

I can look at my visitor statistics and find that a large percentage of my visitors are living in a country that practice torture, and where people in the highest political levels have shown their support for the practice. Are you really cool with that? Would it be a good thing for you, if this applies to you, to be forced into that same situation I was in when I was playing Dogs? It did make me take a closer look at who I am and how I act.

I guess the answer is, it depends. I had signed up to play Dogs in the Vineyard. I knew what I was getting into, and wanted hard choices. Most people don't want to play that way.

The idea of having Lines and Veils, and talking them over before your game might be a good idea. To make sure you are on the same page, and so the GM can go all in after that, and not have to pull any punches. She knows you can take it. Sometimes, just sometimes, it might be worth thinking about those lines and where they are drawn in the sand.

I know for a fact that if I ever run Kult again, there will be no lines or veils. Then I will mess with my players, and if they squirm I will push harder to blow through beyond any lines. I know that something interesting will come out the other side.


  1. Your reference to torture in the modern, politically-fraught, context raises the issue of "gray areas" to the question of personal comfort zones. Even if one knows that players are uncomfortable with "torture" in general, there are many different degrees and varieties of behavior that might or might not be uncomfortable to specific players -- a wide gulf between Joe Friday "sweating" a prisoner in more-or-less gentlemanly fashion, and a serial killer drawing out a murder for his amusement. Where one has long-standing social ties to one's players, one might have a good sense of the nuances of their feelings, but it can be difficult to read otherwise, and even a source of controversy among players.

    Similarly, with sexual subjects, there's a wide range between flirtation and double entendre' and graphic descriptions of acts. I personally had a situation running a group with a wide player age range, where a flirtatious elf bandit NPC toyed with the affections of a 15 year old player. Some of my older players afterwards professed feeling uneasy about "going there" at all, but having engaged in much more "off color" interactions when I was 15 myself, having detected no emotions other than amusement on the part of the player involved, and having gone nowhere with the dialog that I think would have merited more than a PG rating, my conscience remains clear.

    A whole 'nother can of worms gets opened at the intersection of sex and fantasy -- Using illusions or charms or other magic in a sexual context may further complicate situations on which there is already controversy regarding the definitions of consent and rape. Illusions or charms or other magic might produce situations that would clearly be defined as rape in a real-world context, but might not horrify all players in the same way in a game context. And then there are things like ESP or body-switching or other magical contexts that tread wholly hypothetical ethical ground. I personally see all these things as making for good drama and interesting dialogs and interactions, but most of my players are close, old friends.

  2. Good feedback. Thanks!

    I think there are a lot of possibilities in these areas, but it has to be handled with care. If you know yourself enough, you will probably also know when it might be possible to challenge your players.

    Maybe you have something happen in a game, which was cool at the time, that you later realize walked close to a line. I think it can be an opportunity for reflection, even if nothing changes in your game.

    If you have close and old friends, it's sometimes good to have a conversation, maybe before a game, about lines and veils and what you can do with them.

    Thanks again!

  3. Really a good and thought provoking post. Thank you so much for putting it out there.

    I've added it to my Best Reads of the Week series I've been doing to help draw attention to some of the best stuff I've run across. You're welcome to check it out at the following link:


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