log in or register to remove this ad

 

A Question Of Agency?

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Except if that same forest encounter appears in any forest the players might go that is illusionism. They might choose to whether to go to Grim Woods, Ghastly Forest or the Nasty Grove but the same encounter will still be there. Reskinning that same forest encounter to different environs that the characters might decide to go to would also be illusionism.

No, it's not, unless the offerred choice is to go to one of those other places to avoid that encounter. You're still confusing prep with Illusionism because your focusing on using prep elements rather than what choice was offered.

So what does 'decided' mean in this context? If I write on my notes "this happens no matter what" that seems to be pretty firmly decided. What if I just thought about it? What if I instead though "I try to get this thing to happen"? What if I merely think "it would be cool if this thing would happen?"

You look at the choices you offer. If you offer a choice but it doesn't matter what they choose the outcome is the same, that's Illusionism. Especially if you conceal it.

The other things you mention may lead to Illusionism but are not it on their own. If having cool ideas is removing agency to you, I'm not sure there's near enough common ground to have this discussion.

And if you had not decided sneaking DCs, the number of checks required etc beforehand, can you guarantee that you spending a significant amount of time preparing that orc encounter wouldn't affect how hard you decide to make the sneaking? This is what I mean, the difference between illusionism and the GM gently tipping the scales towards the outcome they want is really flimsy.
Sure, there are other ways to use Force. If you're reaching to bad faith play to make a point, it's not very strong. This is because the problem is really the bad faith play and is usually cured by playing in good faith. When ypu're assuming that Force is in play (the tipping scales) then, sure, there's going to be similarities between the different flavors of Force. Illusionism is a specific example of GM Force, as is abusing mechanics to get a preferred outcome. That these look similar is no shock.

But, that wasn't your point, originally. You said that there's little difference between Illusionism and making things up. Again, there is, especially if "making things up" isn't assumed to be code for "GM Forces their preference."
 

log in or register to remove this ad

No, it's not, unless the offerred choice is to go to one of those other places to avoid that encounter. You're still confusing prep with Illusionism because your focusing on using prep elements rather than what choice was offered.
Then your definition is illusionism is far narrower than commonly understood. I have had many discussions where anti-illusionism people are livid about the sort of thing mentioned here (i.e. a blind decision leading to a predetermined outcome regardless of the choice being made.)

You look at the choices you offer. If you offer a choice but it doesn't matter what they choose the outcome is the same, that's Illusionism. Especially if you conceal it.

"Do you want to go to the Grim Woods or to the Ghastly Forest?" Regardless: orcs!

The other things you mention may lead to Illusionism but are not it on their own. If having cool ideas is removing agency to you, I'm not sure there's near enough common ground to have this discussion.


Sure, there are other ways to use Force. If you're reaching to bad faith play to make a point, it's not very strong. This is because the problem is really the bad faith play and is usually cured by playing in good faith. When ypu're assuming that Force is in play (the tipping scales) then, sure, there's going to be similarities between the different flavors of Force. Illusionism is a specific example of GM Force, as is abusing mechanics to get a preferred outcome. That these look similar is no shock.

But, that wasn't your point, originally. You said that there's little difference between Illusionism and making things up. Again, there is, especially if "making things up" isn't assumed to be code for "GM Forces their preference."
The thing is, whether one recognises or not, everyone has preferences. Illusionism and improvisation are similar in the sense that in both the reality outside what has already been established remains fluid. It is not really there until the GM tells to the players that it is. When the GM is 'making things up' what they make up is guided by their preferences. Illusionism is merely somewhat more methodical form of the same thing.
 

That's fine, I'm not claiming to have any answers here. However, just because things are not exactly equivalent, does not mean one can't compare them and discuss them. One can, for example, discuss the pros and cons of travelling by train versus by plane.

I don't agree with this. An equivalent statement would be that if players don't catch a lie, they have sufficient truth.

You're comparing different events here -- one in which the NPC is invented (prior to play, presumably) to one where the NPC is not invented at all. In your first instance, the GM has invented the NPC prior to play and imagined how that NPC will act. Then you have the same NPC invented in play and concede that this is largely equivalent. But, then you imagine that the NPC was not created prior to play and then not created in play, and wonder how this works against a case where the NPC is invented. If you lay it out this way, the resolution becomes apparent -- there's no issue because that NPC wasn't created. It's the same as asking what happens if you, as GM, don't create this NPC prior to play -- does nothing happen then? Yes, nothing happens with that NPC, because it wasn't created. Instead, presumably, something else was created (a game was played), so that's what happens -- and it doesn't really matter, for this argument, whether the something is created before or during play. Compare like to like.
 

I think that what matters most is that the players’ choice has an impact. So if the GM has presented a forking path in their road and says that one goes into the Dark Forest and the other heads to the Grim Chasm, then the results of that choice should be different in some way that matters.

So, if the GM has prepped an encounter with giant spiders in the forest and one with Tuscan Raider type sandpeople in the Grim Chasm, that’s not illusionism despite the fact that these encounters are preset. Nor would it be illusionism if the GM took the choice into consideration, and then crafted an encounter based on that choice.

Where it could be illusionism is if the GM has an encounter with some ogres planned and it happens in the Forest or the Chasm. Likewise, if the GM is crafting details on the fly and uses the same enemy stats, but simply labels the enemies by a different name. So his 2HD humanoids that have a +2 to hit are Orcs in the Forest or Sandpeople in the Chasm....that’s illusionism as well, I’d say.

There needs to be meaningful difference. At the very least the terrain of the encounters and therefore the difficulty should vary.

There can be lots of other factors that can be brought to bear on this...travel time, treasure gained, information learned or known ahead of time....many others. These things can enhance or diminish player agency.

But at it’s very core, it boils down to their decision mattering to the fiction and the game. Can things go differently if they take Option A instead of Option B?
 

I think that what matters most is that the players’ choice has an impact. So if the GM has presented a forking path in their road and says that one goes into the Dark Forest and the other heads to the Grim Chasm, then the results of that choice should be different in some way that matters.

So, if the GM has prepped an encounter with giant spiders in the forest and one with Tuscan Raider type sandpeople in the Grim Chasm, that’s not illusionism despite the fact that these encounters are preset. Nor would it be illusionism if the GM took the choice into consideration, and then crafted an encounter based on that choice.

Where it could be illusionism is if the GM has an encounter with some ogres planned and it happens in the Forest or the Chasm. Likewise, if the GM is crafting details on the fly and uses the same enemy stats, but simply labels the enemies by a different name. So his 2HD humanoids that have a +2 to hit are Orcs in the Forest or Sandpeople in the Chasm....that’s illusionism as well, I’d say.

There needs to be meaningful difference. At the very least the terrain of the encounters and therefore the difficulty should vary.

There can be lots of other factors that can be brought to bear on this...travel time, treasure gained, information learned or known ahead of time....many others. These things can enhance or diminish player agency.

But at it’s very core, it boils down to their decision mattering to the fiction and the game. Can things go differently if they take Option A instead of Option B?
But if the characters really didn't know anything about the Grim Chasm or the Dark Forest before deciding which to go, why does it matter? As long as the encounter doesn't seem weirdly out of place to the players it's all fine.

The actual meaningful choices are not the sort of things like to which direction to go or which door to randomly open, those exist just for the verisimilitude and flavour. The real meaningful choices need to be informed.
 

But if the characters really didn't know anything about the Grim Chasm or the Dark Forest before deciding which to go, why does it matter? As long as the encounter doesn't seem weirdly out of place to the players it's all fine.

The actual meaningful choices are not the sort of things like to which direction to go or which door to randomly open, those exist just for the verisimilitude and flavour. The real meaningful choices need to be informed.

I wouldn’t disagree with you about most of that. My example was intentionally simple and I assumed some amount of information being available to players to make a decision. I should have made that clearer.

I think it was @Ovinomancer who mentioned it being situational, and i think that’s accurate. Something like a choice of which passage to take, the east or the west, in a dungeon doesn’t need to rely heavily on player agency. The context of the moment and how important it may be to the unfolding narrative should likely matter quite a bit.

I want to clarify, too, that whether a game allows for a high degree of player agency or not doesn’t make it a good game or not. That’s all about the amount of agency that is present and how desired agency is by the players.

So that’s why I disagreed with the sentiment that as long as players are satisfied, there was the right amount of agency.
 

macd21

Adventurer
Then your definition is illusionism is far narrower than commonly understood. I have had many discussions where anti-illusionism people are livid about the sort of thing mentioned here (i.e. a blind decision leading to a predetermined outcome regardless of the choice being made.)



"Do you want to go to the Grim Woods or to the Ghastly Forest?" Regardless: orcs!
His definition of illusionism is the same as mine, and one I've certainly seen used elsewhere.

Illusionism only takes place where the players appear to have a meaningful choice, but don't. Whether the Grim Woods or the Ghastly Forest is chosen is only meaningful if the players have reason to believe choosing one over the other has the potential to lead to a different outcome. The fact that they'll meet orcs either way is only illusionism if they were trying to avoid (or engage) the orcs.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
But if the characters really didn't know anything about the Grim Chasm or the Dark Forest before deciding which to go, why does it matter? As long as the encounter doesn't seem weirdly out of place to the players it's all fine.

The actual meaningful choices are not the sort of things like to which direction to go or which door to randomly open, those exist just for the verisimilitude and flavour. The real meaningful choices need to be informed.
You're substituting in a different way to remove agency, here. Illusionism is the appearance of a choice that matter than then doesn't because the GM Forces the same outcome no matter the choice. A blind choice is a different thing from a choice that matters -- there's little agency here because the players have no way to determine which choice is better. This is a coin flip, which isn't something that enables agency. Blind choices are a way to reduce agency, just like Illusionism, and they're similar in that there's not actually a choice (in the former, the outcome is just random, in the latter, it's whatever the GM wanted anyway). You can join these together -- offer a blind choice that has the same outcome, but that's stacking issues and not part of Illusionism.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
With respect, Ovinomancer, it isn't your call. "Enough" is subjective, and a matter of personal preference. You don't get to say whether someone else has enough agency in a game - only they get to have an opinion on the matter.
With respect, I didn't say it was my call or that I had the right answer on enough. I've been very careful to make that point a few times, if not explicitly in the part you've quoted. I find the argument that not being aware of a lack of agency means that you have enough agency to be flawed, without once saying exactly how much agency is enough. That is, as you so respectfully put it, a subjective opinion. I'm not required to insist on a necessary amount to disagree with an argument on how to determine the necessary amount, am I? Or, in other words, is not your argument sauce for the statement I responded to, as well?
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Down a rabbit hole we go...

So, if my players go off in some random direction without asking me about it then that choice was not informed and thus they lack agency because I could just make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better. Sounds fair.

However, if they ask me to provide details about where they might go and I give them info about it, then they have agency because they are informed about the possible consequences of going there. Sounds fair, as long as the info I gave them is correct.

What if the info I give them comes from an in game source, such as an NPC, then later I decide that the NPC was lying and the info they got was wrong. Then I could make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better, but then does that mean they lack agency because of the fact that they made an informed choice based on an in game lie?
 

macd21

Adventurer
Down a rabbit hole we go...

So, if my players go off in some random direction without asking me about it then that choice was not informed and thus they lack agency because I could just make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better. Sounds fair.

However, if they ask me to provide details about where they might go and I give them info about it, then they have agency because they are informed about the possible consequences of going there. Sounds fair, as long as the info I gave them is correct.

What if the info I give them comes from an in game source, such as an NPC, then later I decide that the NPC was lying and the info they got was wrong. Then I could make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better, but then does that mean they lack agency because of the fact that they made an informed choice based on an in game lie?

That's complicated, but yeah, you're probably denying them agency, especially if you decided that the NPC was lying after the fact. If, when the PCs were talking to the NPC, there was the possibility that they could detect that he was lying (and therefore infer that anything he told them was false, and make their decisions with that in mind), then they still have agency.

It all comes down to the players' ability to make meaningful choices that impact the game world. WIll their choice of direction actually make any difference? If it does, then they have agency. If it doesn't, then they don't.
 

Down a rabbit hole we go...

So, if my players go off in some random direction without asking me about it then that choice was not informed and thus they lack agency because I could just make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better. Sounds fair.

However, if they ask me to provide details about where they might go and I give them info about it, then they have agency because they are informed about the possible consequences of going there. Sounds fair, as long as the info I gave them is correct.

What if the info I give them comes from an in game source, such as an NPC, then later I decide that the NPC was lying and the info they got was wrong. Then I could make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better, but then does that mean they lack agency because of the fact that they made an informed choice based on an in game lie?
Yeah, maybe, but who cares? 🤷‍♀️

This is the sort of murky area between improvisation and illusionism I was trying to allude to. These sort of situations arise commonly unless you have everything preplanner and set in stone (and who has time for that?) I just think it is not worth worrying about. Yeah, sometimes some choices the characters make that the players think mattered end up not mattering. It's not a big deal, it is a part of how this works. And it is not like this happens to every choice they make. Some choices actually matter, some seem to matter but don't, some don't seem to matter but do and some choices matter in a different way than they seem to. It's all fine.
 
Last edited:

Down a rabbit hole we go...

So, if my players go off in some random direction without asking me about it then that choice was not informed and thus they lack agency because I could just make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better. Sounds fair.

However, if they ask me to provide details about where they might go and I give them info about it, then they have agency because they are informed about the possible consequences of going there. Sounds fair, as long as the info I gave them is correct.

What if the info I give them comes from an in game source, such as an NPC, then later I decide that the NPC was lying and the info they got was wrong. Then I could make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better, but then does that mean they lack agency because of the fact that they made an informed choice based on an in game lie?
I think that in situations like this, it’s up to the GM to know the players and their preferences and then shape the situation accordingly.

It would seem to me that if Agency or lack thereof is important to the players, then retroactively deciding that the info a NPC gave them is actually false seems a bit questionable. Typically, I think there would be some potential roll to detect the lie, or at least the opportunity to do so.

I think the GM has to give some thought as to why he’s proceeding this why. What is the point of having the NPC turn out to be a liar? Is it to maintain some control over the narrative? To force a desired outcome of the GM’s? If so, why? And while I’d never say you can’t have NPCs who lie to or otherwise betray the characters, I think you have to be careful of how often you do this and in what ways. The players may feel that nothing they’re told can be trusted, and then you’re veering into adversarial territory.

I think that ultimately, it’s situational. The GM has to decide if this is how he wants to run the game and how the players want it run. It’ll vary from group to group for sure. But I do think it’s good to examine these instances and learn from them.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Down a rabbit hole we go...

So, if my players go off in some random direction without asking me about it then that choice was not informed and thus they lack agency because I could just make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better. Sounds fair.

However, if they ask me to provide details about where they might go and I give them info about it, then they have agency because they are informed about the possible consequences of going there. Sounds fair, as long as the info I gave them is correct.
So, there's a pretty big pea being hidden under this mattress, and that's the assumption that the player choice is uniformed. This almost never happens -- players are making a choice to go in a "random" direction not because they are actually random but usually because there's some other motive at play. Perhaps they don't like what's otherwise available, so the choice is on to not choose any of what's already up. Or, they're engaged in some level of metaplay where they think their thwarting a GM plan they don't want, or, maybe they are random. In each of these cases, though, the players are exerting their agency.

The kind of uninformed choice that's problematic isn't one where players make a choice without perfect information, but rather when the GM offers the players a choice without sufficient information. A T-intersection in a dungeon passage, for instance, is an uninformed choice if the GM hasn't provided any information about what on either path. Provided the GM has prepped the dungeon, the choice can matter, but it's a coin flip at the time of the choice. This doesn't engage agency because they players aren't actually making a choice, they're selecting a random outcome. If the GM does provide information, though, perhaps in foreshadowing or prior fiction (like a map), then this choice is fully engaged in agency.

Illusionism happens when the GM offers such a choice but both passages lead to the same thing -- and becomes worse if there's additional information that appears to make the choice an informed one.

Uniformed choices are about what information is available before or during the choice. Illusionism is about a forced outcome making the choice irrelevant.
What if the info I give them comes from an in game source, such as an NPC, then later I decide that the NPC was lying and the info they got was wrong. Then I could make up whatever and they wouldn't know any better, but then does that mean they lack agency because of the fact that they made an informed choice based on an in game lie?
This is engaging in Illusionism, and is denying agency. It's an interesting subvariant of Illusionism, because the decision to create the illusion of choice is after the fact. By deciding after the fact that the NPC is lying, you've negated any choices made during the encounter with the NPC and forced a specific outcome. The most important thing to do in either prepped or improved play is to honor established fiction. Do not introduce a change to established fiction unless it makes sense as a direct outcome of current play. In other words, you deciding as the GM that the NPC was lying is removing agency. The players discovering that the NPC had lied because they've suffered a failure on an important task that relied on the NPC's statement can work, though. Here, the NPC's truthfulness is a trusted fact, but the PCs have failed their task due to a bad roll or poor approach, then discovering that the reason their attempt failed was bad info can be a reasonable play. I'd be careful about using this, though, unless you're table is strongly rooted in play that directly challenges PC beliefs. It can result in bad feelings. I usually find it better to not engage in such things, as I'd rather my players not develop paranoid tendencies -- they're not fun for me.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yeah, maybe, but who cares? 🤷‍♀️

This is the sort of murky area between improvisation and illusionism I was trying to allude to. These sort of situations arise commonly unless you have everything preplanner and set in stone (and who has time for that?) I just think it is not worth worrying about. Yeah, sometimes some choices the characters make that the players think mattered end up not mattering. It's not a big deal, it is a part of how this works. And it is not like this happens to every choice they make. Some choices actually matter, some seem to matter but don't, some don't seem to matter but do and some choices matter in a different way than they seem to. It's all fine.
You still seem to be using Illusionism to describe uninformed choices, which are a different thing and can occur in any style of play. The continued comparing of Illusionism to improvisational play is unwarranted -- Illusionism is a type of GM Force, not of playstyle.
 

You still seem to be using Illusionism to describe uninformed choices, which are a different thing and can occur in any style of play. The continued comparing of Illusionism to improvisational play is unwarranted -- Illusionism is a type of GM Force, not of playstyle.
I was referring to the same situation which you literally described in your previous post thusly:

This is engaging in Illusionism, and is denying agency. It's an interesting subvariant of Illusionism, because the decision to create the illusion of choice is after the fact.

This sort of illusionism arises easily in improvised playstyle, where many things are left undefined until they're needed. It was not exactly defined that the NPC was originally trustworthy, it was merely defined that they said a thing. Their motivations for doing so were in quantum superposition, which only later collapsed to 'he was deceitful.'
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I was referring to the same situation which you literally described in your previous post thusly:
Ah, my bad, then. In my defense, this isn't entirely clear.

This sort of illusionism arises easily in improvised playstyle, where many things are left undefined until they're needed. It was not exactly defined that the NPC was originally trustworthy, it was merely defined that they said a thing. Their motivations for doing so were in quantum superposition, which only later collapsed to 'he was deceitful.'
I strongly disagree it has anything to do with style of play. Prep GMs can easily do the same thing. It isn't a function of improv but rather a function of a GM wanting to force an outcome. Assigning it as a common thing in improv is more a function of prejudice rather than a analysis. And , to be clear, it's 100% fine to not like improv games, especially if you had a bad experience with a GM abusing Force (I maintain some use of Force to be okay, depending on the game in question). Just don't generalized those experiences such that you start telling people their playstyle is so close to Illusionism that it makes no difference.
 

I strongly disagree it has anything to do with style of play. Prep GMs can easily do the same thing. It isn't a function of improv but rather a function of a GM wanting to force an outcome. Assigning it as a common thing in improv is more a function of prejudice rather than a analysis. And , to be clear, it's 100% fine to not like improv games, especially if you had a bad experience with a GM abusing Force (I maintain some use of Force to be okay, depending on the game in question). Just don't generalized those experiences such that you start telling people their playstyle is so close to Illusionism that it makes no difference.
It is not a judgement. I'm 100% fine with improvisation and illusionism. But as I said, the reason why such 'incidental illusionism' arises more easily in a game that relies heavily on improv is because less things are predefined. In a prep-heavy game the GM has planned the NPC's motivations before the PC even meet them, in an improv game they may remain undefined until there is some specific reason to examine them.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It is not a judgement. I'm 100% fine with improvisation and illusionism. But as I said, the reason why such 'incidental illusionism' arises more easily in a game that relies heavily on improv is because less things are predefined. In a prep-heavy game the GM has planned the NPC's motivations before the PC even meet them, in an improv game they may remain undefined until there is some specific reason to examine them.
This rests on the conceit that a prep GM will be faithful to the established fiction while an improvisational GM will not be. That's the issue -- you're assigning virtue to one and denying it to the other.
 

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top