"Illusionism" and "GM force" in RPGing

pemerton

Legend
These things - illusionism, GM force - are recurrent topics of conversation.

Here is a passage from The Traveller Book (1982, p 123); it is found in a description of types of scenario/adventure:

The choreographed novel [my emphasis] involves a setting already thought out by the referee and presented to the players; it may be any of the above settings [ship, location or world], but contains predetermined elements. As such, the referee has already developed characters and setting which bear on the group's activities, and they are guided gently to the proper locations. Properly done, the players never know that the referee has manipulated them to a fore-ordained goal​

The "gentle guidance" and "manipulation" referred to here are exactly instances of what gets labelled GM force. The aspiration that the players not know about it, if it is "properly done", is exactly what gets labelled illusionism. (It is consistent with illusionism that the players know, in general terms, that it is going on - eg it won't be spoiled by a player having read this passage in The Traveller Book. The aspiration for player ignorance is not in respect of the general phenomenon, but rather at the point of application of GM force.)

This passage has no equivalent in the 1977 version of Classic Traveller. The fact that it appears in this early-80s version of the rules is one instance of a more general trend: the 80s saw the beginning of the idea that this sort of approach is what it means to play a RPG (especially to roleplay rather than "rollplay"); this idea was largely consolidated in the 90s. White Wolf/Storyteller system's "Golden Rule" is the most famous statement of it.

Some people like it as an approach to RPGing. Some don't. The point of this post is to try and show, by reference to a rather canonical piece of RPG text, that it is a real thing that emerges at a particular period in the history of RPGing.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It may be useful to some to know that the "Golden Rule" is also called "Rule Zero." Simply put, it says that if the players (usually the GM) do not like a rule, change it.

I disagree with @pemerton that the Golden Rule is the most famous statement giving permission to use Force. I say this because a Rule Zero application can be discussed at the table, consensus on the rule change found, and the rule then be formally changed as a house rule. This is not an application of Force.

On the other hand, if the rule is used during play, and without consensus seeking, or without annunciation, especially to cause an outcome the GM prefers, then it is Force.

In short, Rule Zero (or the Golden Rule) can be use in a non-Force way and in a Forceful way. I will leave alone the design argument about even having it, as I don't think that's a productive argument for this thread.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Setting up a dichotomy between OSR and the 80s editions seems like weird, false dichotomy to me that is ahistorical.

While it was much less common to have E&E (examples and explanations) in gaming manuals for OSR, it is also equally clear that both by custom and in the scant materials we do see, that "gentle guidance" was used in OSR.

See, e.g., article by Gygax in the Strategic Review Apr. 1976 "This is not to say that you should never temper chance with a bit of “Divine Intervention,” but helping players should be a rare act on the referee’s part, and the action should only be taken when fate seems to have unjustly condemned an otherwise good player, and then not in every cir- cumstance should the referee intervene." (explaining what we would call homeostatic control on the campaign)

Divides between procedural and narrative resolution were already a divisive topic by 1977.

See, e.g., response by Tim Kask to a letter in Dragon Magazine, March 1977.
The purpose of THE DRAGON is to provide a forum for communication pertaining to fantasy gaming. (By fantasy, I include S&S, SF and role- playing as well as boardgaming.) I certainly don’t recommend that every DM adopt every item that I publish. I just publish them so that discriminating DM’s can pick and choose as they see fit, within the confines and limitations of their campaigns.
The D&D field is sharply polarized between those who feel that every single contingency should be anticipated (and rules already laid out) and those that prefer to pick and choose the elements of their campaigns, and wing it whenever new alternatives present themselves. I try to satisfy both of these dis- similar camps, as well as those in between the two poles.


Rule 0 (referred to as the golden rule) was a common feature of all OSR games I am familiar with.

1974, Men & Magic (Gygax and Arneson)-

That way your campaign will build naturally, at the pace best suited to the referee and players, smoothing the way for all concerned. New details can be added and old “laws” altered so as to provide continually new and different situations. In addition, the players themselves will interact in such a way as to make the campaign variable and unique, and this is quite desirable.

Swords and Spells has the same-

In any case fantasy is a growing and flexible form of gaming, and referees must feel at home modifying and expanding upon rules as the situation dictates.

In short, I don't understand the OP and find it to be ahistorical based on my understanding of both the norms and the source material.
Thanks, I see your point about the potential ahistorical presentation. What did you think about the main theme of the post, though?
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
I once gamed with a GM who had a PhD in psychology. He had this annoying capability to present us with options which appeared to be free will, but in reality he was leading us down a very specific path. Once my friend and I figured out we were being railroaded, we tried everything in our power to derail his train, but to no avail. It was very annoying.

Like, one scene I remember, in particular, was this long hallway in a castle, and we were there to basically meet a bunch of our enemies. He described a doorway to the side which led to a kitchen area - it was the only defensible location, and of course, when the shoe dropped, we all headed to the kitchen area - the doorway of which was a portal to some other place he wanted us to go to.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I once gamed with a GM who had a PhD in psychology. He had this annoying capability to present us with options which appeared to be free will, but in reality he was leading us down a very specific path. Once my friend and I figured out we were being railroaded, we tried everything in our power to derail his train, but to no avail. It was very annoying.

Like, one scene I remember, in particular, was this long hallway in a castle, and we were there to basically meet a bunch of our enemies. He described a doorway to the side which led to a kitchen area - it was the only defensible location, and of course, when the shoe dropped, we all headed to the kitchen area - the doorway of which was a portal to some other place he wanted us to go to.
Um, your example has nothing to do with a clever manipulation by an educated mind-doctor -- it's garden variety bait-and-switch. Not my cuppa, goes in my personal 'bad gaming' bin.
 


hawkeyefan

Legend
@lowkey13 I’m curious about your use of “OSR” in your post. My understanding of the term is that it’s a modern movement, Old School Revival or Revolution or Renaissance.

It seems you’re using it to refer to the original or early works in RPGs, especially D&D; is that right?

I mean, it seems obvious from the context as I read on, but my initial reaction on seeing “OSR” and “ahistorical” was confusion, so I just want to make sure I’m following.
 

prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
Is there a meaningful difference "Um, do you guys really want to leave the town? I don't have anything else prepared tonight ..." as opposed to skillfully finding reasons for the players to want to stay in the town?

The only meaningful difference I can see is that if you admit you're past where you feel comfortable improvising, you can call the session. I've done it.
 


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