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I am working on drafting the table culture guidelines for an upcoming game, and I plan to use the lines and veils methodology to lay out content boundaries. Lines and veils are a subtractive element: they remove potentially-problematic content from the game. In my written-up social contract, I would like to have a similar section which lists content explicitly included in the game. Specifically, I have historically run deathless games, and I want my players to be entirely clear that unexpected, luck-of-the-dice character death is a frequent possibility in this game.

As a clarification, I am only starting off these lists with the content I am not comfortable running, etc. I of course plan to involve the players in composing the social contract.

Is there an existing term that describes the part of the tabletop social contract which lists controversial content which is explicitly included in the game, as opposed to explicitly off-limits as in the lines and veils?

I am more-or-less looking for a subheading in my nicely-formatted social contract wiki page.

I don't need:

  • An explanation of the general purpose and/or method of crafting a tabletop social contract.
  • Advice that such topics are best addressed during the course of play. While this may be a valid concern, my purpose is to prevent mismatched expectations and avoid future retconning.
  • A list of potential rules in this category for the social contract—just the name for it.
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If I understand correctly, you want to encourage content in your game that is controversial. And you are looking for precedent or terminology on this subject. Is that right? (If so, maybe you should edit/reword your question to reflect this, it is quite hard to understand at the moment) –  Inbar Rose May 19 at 15:09
    
Is this clearer? I noticed that the answers thus far have not been addressing my question. Thanks for prodding me to make it better. –  Grubermensch May 19 at 15:30
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So you want something like "explicit content" or "adult content" except it should also include anything that strikes your fancy, like character death or showing up late? I think that is "the whole group agreement/social contract," man. –  mxyzplk May 20 at 3:15
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@JonathanHobbs I'm not sure if that Title edit is correct. The asker is not looking for the name of a section about Lines and Veils, that "remove" things from the game. He is looking for the "official" terms for "anti-veil" and "anti-lines", things that are heavy but the players want on the table (Like a table explicity asking for games that include terror, torture and such). –  Thales Sarczuk May 20 at 12:07
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@ThalesSarczuk Yes, that is what I am asking for. The title edit is way off base. –  Grubermensch May 20 at 12:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

While Lines are about themes that are completely off limits and Veils about "censored" content, when you are putting something in normally you are dealing with a binary situation: that content wasn't limited by veils and lines, so anything about it goes.

I, however, use a more "poetic" way to deal with that:

Vices and Sins

  • A Sin is something like a anti-Veil. It is a explicitly permitted content, but with "security measures" that censor extra-strong content. It is about content that would make you feel uneasy, but you want in your game anyway.
  • A Vice is a heavy content that has no bounds on the detail level, and the game can get as graphic as the players and the GM want.

Examples:

  • Torture as a Sin: Players know that they can get tortured. When torture happens, you give some brief detail, and if the players ask for more information then you present the extra bits of gore.
  • Torture as a Vice: Players will receive the graphic gore right away, without protective measures.
  • Sex as a Sin: Sex will be included in the game, but with fades. If the players want more detail, they can say so to receive the extra bits of detail.
  • Sex as a Vice: Sex will be included on the game with a good amount of depiction, including what was done during the act.
  • Murder as a Sin: Death will be depicted in brief detail, but extra information can be given—including extra gore—as the players ask for it.
  • Murder as a Vice: Death will have the "default gore level" set to high from the start: intestines will spill, blood will splash everywhere, eyeballs will be burst from within...

Wait, wait. Hold on. How are Veils and Sins different? How can I use Veils, Lines, Sins and Vices together?

Well. Both Veils and Sins present content in a "Safe Mode" way. However, while Veils are carefully drawn across content to not shock sensitive people, Sins work in a way that permit you to expand your content on demand. If something is a Veil, it establishes a maximum level of detail. If something is a Sin, it establishes a minimum level.

Compare these examples:

  • Torture as a Sin: Players know that they can get tortured. When torture happens, you give some brief detail, and if the players ask for more information then you present the extra bits of gore.
  • Torture as Veil: Players know that maybe they will be tortured. If torture happens, you give some brief detail, and if the player asks to skip, then you skip.

So, you can use all four together:

  • Veils to list censored content that won't show up in detail even if it's asked for.
  • Sins to list censored content that won't show up in detail at first, but can be more detailed if players ask for it.
  • Lines to define content which won't show up by any means.
  • Vices to define content which will show up in graphic detail or at least in a non-brief manner.
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I really like this answer, except that it ultimately gives me the inverse of my original problem. I started with (lines, veils, ???) and now you've given me (???, sins, vices). I find it interesting that we don't have a unified trinity of terms. Still, this definitely addresses my question, so +1. –  Grubermensch May 20 at 12:53
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@Grubermensch Oh, but you can use all four! Vices, Sins, Veils and Lines are all complementar. I will clarify. –  Thales Sarczuk May 20 at 12:55
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@KRyan Yep. I agree that they are a bit off on the first sight. My rationale: a Sin is something you know is wrong and feel "guilty" from doing it. A Vice is something you know is wrong, and you do it anyway with a "clear mind". I know they are not "the best" terms, but I couldn't figure better words. Also, In portuguese they work a little better. –  Thales Sarczuk May 20 at 14:36
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I actually like the terms. Sins are bad things (because they name them "sins") that people commit despite their desire to avoid doing them. Vices are something actively indulged despite being bad. That matches what I see described here: sins are things that are bad but could happen in the game, vices are bad things that are actively explored in detail. Senseless character death that can happen but not described in gory detail would be a "sin" of the game. –  SevenSidedDie May 20 at 17:48
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I also like that these are terms you have already been using and found useful, not something that someone just made up on the spot to answer this question. –  SevenSidedDie May 20 at 17:52

Not an Explicit One

Generally though, there is a process. Securing agreement or cooperation before the game begins that a specific game is going to involve 'X', and allowing people who don't like that idea to negotiate or ultimately not participate is the common usage of that process.

Sometimes it can be called a 'game contract' or 'game agreement', although those are typically broader terms or documents with a greater purpose than just including previously excluded content.

Typically the process involves the DM informing the prospective players about the nature of the game he's going to run. It can stem from a player putting forward the suggestion of altering the social contract of the game, or of including a specific/additional element in the game - usually this is phrased as a discussion point or a request, rather than a rule.

There is an explicit assumption in most games/roleplayers that the DM/GM is the ultimate arbiter of the tone and type of the game, to the extent that the 'Lines and Veils' term was popularized (on this site at least, synonyms exist in other communities) to draw attention to the fact that GM should try not to include things in her game that the players are uncomfortable with.

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I think there's not one general large meaningful category, but it might be good to have a list of subcategories, even if not writing out your social contract, to have a reminder list of the categories that might be profitably discussed.

Group Agreement

Social Norms

Sample topics: Don't be a jerk, geek social fallacies, don't leer at the wimmen, prudent drinking allowed, don't bring drugs or weapons, don't scream curses or Mom will throw a canister of tear gas into the basement with us, new players accepted by group consensus but the GM is limiting the game to 6 players, spectators welcome within reason unless they're distracting you...

Logistics

Sample topics: Game at X's house every other Sunday at noon, there's cats, bring your own food, be on time, GM will keep character sheets, if you miss the game your PC is ritually sacrificed by the present PCs and his loot distributed, we use a yahoo group for email coordination, $5 monthly dues to the GM...

Table Rules

Sample Topics: GM is always right, RAW is our god/the devil, dice rolled visibly, if one falls off the table reroll the lot, don't touch other people's dice without permission, no cheating, IC/OC rules, we're using Pathfinder core + APG no Ultimates ask GM permission for stuff outside that, no encumbrance, painted minis required...

Explicit Content

Sample topics: Lines/veils, x/o cards, sex, violence, language, other stuff you'd see listed in a MPAA rating, no violence against animals because that sets George off, there will be themes exploring moral decay and racism...

Game Tone

Sample topics: grittiness, character death, "run for it" expectations, level of IC roleplay/immersion, fumbled mischaracterizations of GNS, anything else...

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In this post from the Gaming As Women blog, Brie Sheldon makes an allusion to a variation of the "X Card" with an "O" on the back. Where the X card is meant to indicate something that should be dropped or avoided, the "O" is meant to indicate "more of this, please." In this way, it can be used as the opposite of a line or veil, bringing a desired element further into the light.

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I'd thought about answering with just this- but the problem to me in regards to what the OP is requesting is that with the 'O' card, it comes into effect when something is brought into play. The OP is looking for something that outlines what touchy subjects people want brought into play ahead of time. –  wraith808 May 20 at 17:46

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