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Invoking The Tasteful Veil

Or “How much is too much?”

By Skimble

I suspect we’ve all been there. The oversexed, chainmail-bikini-wearing battle maiden uses her wiles to seduce the enemy spy in order to extract from him the relevant secrets even as she uses said wiles in more… physical… pursuits. The GM pauses for a brief moment, looks around the players, takes a deep breath, and has to decide whether or not to invoke The Tasteful Veil.

“Aaaand we’ll draw a tasteful veil there,” he might say, before proceeding to summarise the results of the maiden’s strategy (with perhaps a dice roll or two for more simulationist gamers).

A lady from 1914 demonstrates the Tasteful Veil
I think you’re doing it wrong, love.

Alternatively he might allow the scene to be played out in greater or lesser detail, which might involve the sort of roleplaying that could, in theory, be described as “erotic” but which in many cases may be closer to “pornographic”.

That might sound quite appealing until you realise that the maiden is just as likely being played by a bearded bloke as by an attractive woman.

So what are the factors that a Game Master should consider when deciding whether or not to invoke the Tasteful Veil? And when should he even consider doing so?

Subjects come up in roleplaying games that can often be quite disturbing to some people.

From miscarriage to murder, rape to pederasty, slavery to kidnapping. Roleplaying is a holistic activity that can allow exploration of all the things that humans do to one another. Whether or not the exploration of some of those things makes a fit game is a subject outside the scope of this article (but is something certainly worth discussing).

Knowing your group well is the ideal key to avoiding upset by drawing the Tasteful Veil at appropriate times or, if necessary, by steering play away from certain topics altogether or strategically choosing to play through certain scenes when the sensitive player is not in attendance.

If one knows that Bob dislikes scenes of romance or sex, then it is probably prudent to draw the tasteful veil as soon as it becomes apparent that a scene is heading in that direction. How early it needs to be drawn can be fine-tuned in play when one has gained a good idea of how much Bob can take before wanting to withdraw from the game.

On the other hand if one knows that Sally was once sexually assaulted, it is almost certainly inappropriate to include even an abstract scene featuring a rape while she is present.

So what if you don’t know them well?

The position is much more difficult if the players are strangers (say at a convention game) or if a player or players haven’t yet let you know what topics are difficult for them.

The first and easiest way to ensure that the eventuality of severely disturbing a player never arises is to ensure that the players know what they are letting themselves in for when they sign up to your game.

In the fashion of parental advisory notices (but hopefully more useful), you might declare at the game’s beginning that it is intended to be a horror game, and that it will therefore strongly feature horror elements including threat/peril, torture, helplessness, gore, etc. You might even choose to rate these categories on a “star” (or skull, or blood-drop, or … you get the idea) basis so that the player can make an informed decision.

(You could rate the sexual elements of the game, likewise, although I shall leave the symbol utilised to measure such elements to your imagination.)

Regardless of how much warning you offer to players as to the contents of your game, this does not absolve you of the need to pay attention. If a player or players begin to show signs of distress at the content which is being featured in your game then you need to take action. Ideally, such action should be taken before the player’s discomfort becomes strong enough that he or she is significantly distressed.

Look for players who are distracting themselves in a way that looks disturbed rather than bored, or for players who are generally affecting a demeanour of discomfort. If you notice this, stop what you’re doing and ask the player if they are okay with the scenario being described. If they aren’t, it’s tasteful veil time.

Finally, try to foster an atmosphere of open communication with your players. You want them to have fun, even if that fun means being scared or squicked out in an enjoyable way by the content of the game. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a level of being disturbed that is fun, and one that is unfun. The only way to resolve this is to be receptive to your players.

Remember, if everybody’s having fun and they’re all comfortable with what’s happening in the game: Go nuts!

3 Comments

  1. avatar

    Andy says:

    I think there was something you didn’t cover in this article that might be worth a mention – when not to draw the Tasteful Veil.

    This could crop up in a few of instances that occur to me off hand, and I’d be interested your take on them:

    1: If a group of players join a game or session, and it has a clear indication that there will be content of a certain type in it (violent, sexual, whatever) and they seem keen and happy with it, but when play develops you notice that one player is finding it difficult and is being negatively affected. They might even say that they don’t feel comfortable with the content. At this point, drawing the Veil may actually cause the game – which relied on that content, hence the disclaimer – from being spoiled. But would you want to ask the player to leave, especially if they are playing a pre-genned character that’s integral to the plot?

    2: How about if a player appears to be uncomfortable, or even states they have issue, with something that you (and perhaps other players) thought was relatively mundane and wouldn’t ordinarily consider drawing the Veil for and probably wouldn’t even be alert for the warning signs of an uncomfortable player. To take a moderately extreme example, let’s say Bob is playing a character that you decide to surprise with the sudden appearance of a long lost family member. You play out a number of scenes covering their reunion, the discovery of some plot-relevant information the family member has, and some general social scenes with them… and then Bob asks you to stop due to them having recently lost an equivalent family member in life. The NPC is now integrated into the plot and other players require them for the story to continue, but Bob is uncomfortable with it continuing.

    2.5: An alternative way of looking at point 2 would be to consider phobias. We all know they come up in games, and often with respect to things that are mundane content for every other player. If Sally had a morbid fear of spiders that you were unaware of, and you introduced a Giant Spider Monster to the game as the main antagonist for a combat heavy session, what would you do as you suddenly made the discovery that Sally was very uncomfortable with everything you had planned for the session?

    There are probably other instances where the Veil might not be an obvious tool to use, and there are definitely other tools that can be used to resolve these situations, but I’m curious on your thoughts.

  2. avatar

    Skimble says:

    You make some excellent points which definitely complicate the use of the Veil.

    Case 1:
    This isn’t too much of an issue if the session is a one-off, as the solution of drawing a Demi-Veil and being a bit less explicit with descriptions of the content which is causing discomfort will usually be effective. This might somewhat reduce the level of enjoyment experienced by other players, but it won’t stop them having fun altogether while being fully detailed with the content might well do that to the disturbed player.

    In the case of this being a long-term game that the player has joined, I think it does become necessary to talk to the player and tell them that the game is not a good fit for them.

    Case 2: This is one of those unfortunate coincidences that sometimes arise and which requires a degree of tact to deal with. Perhaps the problem can be solved with a minor adjustment to your plot; the character turns out to be an imposter who is not actually a family member of Bob’s? This allows the element that is causing upset to fade away while retaining the ties to other PCs and the story that allows the story to continue. Alternatively perhaps less emphasis can be placed on that relationship so that the player is not constantly reminded of his loss.

    Class 2.5: Three options spring to mind, really. You can ask Sally to leave the room while the scene with the giant spider monster is playing out. You can bowdlerise your descriptions of the spider in order to minimise distress (thus kind of spoiling it for everyone else) or you can make some cosmetic tweaks to your monster so that it is less reminiscent of a spider and therefore less likely to tap into Sally’s primal fear.

  3. avatar

    Ian Warner says:

    In a few games there is a simple solution.

    “Okay make your Nookie roll”

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