Suppose you don’t want, for whatever reason, a particular topic or activity to be included in a game you’re about to play. You’ve been asked if you have any such requests. But suppose you also don’t want to have to talk about it?
What are lines and veils?
The concept of flagging up material that players would like to be avoided or elided in games is well established, and although there are all sorts of different names, it’s probably best known as ‘lines and veils’. To summarize:
There is a risk, particularly with largely improvised games that people will unwittingly introduce material that another player finds distressing or otherwise squickening. If you feel it’s important that the game be a ‘safe space’ where players know they can trust the GMs and the other players to care about their emotional welfare, you can use this way to declare certain topics or actions as ‘off limits’ from the start.
- A Line is a topic that you don’t want to be included in the game at all. Perhaps because it’s painfully triggering for you, perhaps because you think it’s generally inappropriate for a game such as this, or for any other reason: you don’t have to explain or defend it. So, for example, you may not want to deal with the idea of suicide in any way at all: this would be declared as a ‘line’ and so will not appear in the game. You might not want the game to involve cruelty to animals. You might not want violent racism to play a part.
- A Veil is a topic that you’re OK to have included in the game, but you’d like a veil to be drawn over its actual enaction, ie. play shouldn’t go into blow-by-blow detail. Again this can be for any reason. A common one is in-game sex – if two characters want to have sex in the game, it can just be declared that they have done so, without them having to play it out. Or in a game which involves injury and/or death, you might prefer to not have the nature of injuries described in detail. Or if someone finds a spider, you don’t want it described or brandished about. And so on.
When I was preparing to run When the Dark is Gone back last year (which I wrote about here) it struck me that if playing a game that deals with quite deep psychological material, I might feel really uncomfortable saying in front of the other players that I wanted to ‘line’ a particular topic. Not because of fear of judgement or of not wanting to explain it, but because even naming it out loud would be to some extent triggering for me.
[This bit below has been edited slightly as I was reminded of what was actually in the game :-)]
The WtDiG instructions suggested to, at the start of the session while you’re introducing things, give each player a piece of paper to write down their topics to exclude: and then you can transcribe those into a general anonymized list that you display before the start of play proper. I think this is really good, but it still has the problem of putting the player on the spot and forcing them to think quickly about troubling subjects.
So I contacted each of the players individually in advance and got them to write privately to me with anything they wanted to line (we didn’t have veils, as I hadn’t come across that idea then). I then put all those requests together, added a couple of other topics that I thought were sensible, and shuffled them: to produce an anonymized list which everyone could see in advance without knowing which other player had suggested which item.
I have since come to think that this technique will work well for any game – tabletop or larp – which is going to be dealing with intense material. If it’s a run where you don’t have time beforehand to contact players, you can just do the writing and transcribing thing: it’s a lot better than asking people to name their issues out loud.
I’m not sure if the designer has incorporated the emailing suggestion into the official guidance for When the Dark is Gone, but I got to experience as a player the writing-at-the-start version in the session that I was recently at, and this aspect was mentioned on the recent The Twitching Curtain podcast (which is excellent, by the way, do give it a listen) – which will hopefully help spread awareness a bit further.
To sum up: if you’re going to be using lines and veils, or anything similar, then you can make them anonymous with little extra effort – and that might make a big difference to a player. So go on!