"Illusionism" and "GM force" in RPGing


log in or register to remove this ad

@Lanefan

That is a good point. That is actually a part of Force in GMing that we haven't touched on.

A significant aspect of the skill of GMing a dungeon crawl or a heist is playing an extremely well-finessed game of "Blind-Man's Bluff Meets Pictionary".

  • Everyone has a card (the same card), except instead of it being on their forehead and facing the group, its face-down.
  • You know what is on the card.
  • You have to draw a picture that provokes questions and foreshadows what is on that card without bluntly or clumsily revealing the answers doing so.

There is a very fine line between too much and too little provocation and foreshadowing...and you have to deftly straddle it. You go beyond that line...its Force (because you're, even if only accidentally or clumsily, subordinating the integrity of a player's strategic and tactical decision-making).
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@Lanefan

That is a good point. That is actually a part of Force in GMing that we haven't touched on.

A significant aspect of the skill of GMing a dungeon crawl or a heist is playing an extremely well-finessed game of "Blind-Man's Bluff Meets Pictionary".

  • Everyone has a card (the same card), except instead of it being on their forehead and facing the group, its face-down.
  • You know what is on the card.
  • You have to draw a picture that provokes questions and foreshadows what is on that card without bluntly or clumsily revealing the answers doing so.

There is a very fine line between too much and too little provocation and foreshadowing...and you have to deftly straddle it. You go beyond that line...its Force (because you're, even if only accidentally or clumsily, subordinating the integrity of a player's strategic and tactical decision-making).
For me it comes back to the GM being as neutral as possible in his/her descriptions and narrations, while still getting in all the required information to convey what the PCs see/hear/smell/etc.

Doing this halfway well first requires recognizing those times when one isn't being perhaps as neutral as one thinks. (and also then not overcorrecting, which is a trap I fell into for a while in the past)

A GM often needs a good poker face. :)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
For me it comes back to the GM being as neutral as possible in his/her descriptions and narrations, while still getting in all the required information to convey what the PCs see/hear/smell/etc.

Doing this halfway well first requires recognizing those times when one isn't being perhaps as neutral as one thinks. (and also then not overcorrecting, which is a trap I fell into for a while in the past)

A GM often needs a good poker face. :)
Meh, players quite often miss the stuff you yell, so I don't bother at all with a poker face. I make sure information it out there because, if I'm running 5e for instance, I do not want to sit there while the players dither and discussion and question, I want to play D&D. So, I don't bother. I make sure that missing the canvas results in a head slap moment because it's been yelled at the top of my lungs (metaphorically) throughout and if it still bites the players on the arse, they immediately realize that's on them, not me for playing peek-a-boo with information.

And, they slap themselves on the head all. the. time. I swear, I could hand them my notes and it wouldn't really change how many shenanigans they end up in. It's way more fun having nothing up my sleeve, or, if I do, telling them it's dove, it's a dove, it's a dove, hey, idiots, it's a dove because they'll still guess rabbit and be surprised when it is, in fact, a dove.

All of the 'surprise' of my games comes from putting out easy to find canvases and then following what they players paint. I have no idea where something's going to go, most of the time, so the next canvas I set out is based entirely on how they painted the last one. Or didn't paint it, but flung poo.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Meh, players quite often miss the stuff you yell, so I don't bother at all with a poker face.
What I find fascinating sometimes is how they'll miss what you yell but pick up what you whisper and run away with it. :)

I make sure information it out there because, if I'm running 5e for instance, I do not want to sit there while the players dither and discussion and question, I want to play D&D.
To each their own; for me that "dither and discussion and question" phase is part of playing, and if it goes on too long I know at least one of 'em will get bored and send the balloon up somehow.

And, they slap themselves on the head all. the. time. I swear, I could hand them my notes and it wouldn't really change how many shenanigans they end up in. It's way more fun having nothing up my sleeve, or, if I do, telling them it's dove, it's a dove, it's a dove, hey, idiots, it's a dove because they'll still guess rabbit and be surprised when it is, in fact, a dove.
Mine would catch on that it's a dove, no problem there.

Then they'd ask me how much they could sell it for when they get back to town. :)
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Role-Playing Mastery (1987) Gary Gygax.

Page 49:

There are times when the GM will bend or break the rules of the game system in order to allow his players to maintain their characters. Just as he sometimes metes out punishment for infractions, the GM at other times intervenes benevolently, spreading his aegis over the PCs to save them from probabilities gone awry. To put it bluntly, when play is at a low ebb, or it is quite likely that the players’ characters are about to suffer undue loss or extinction, the GM cheats and decrees otherwise. Opponents miss their blows, PCs manage to strike their foes, and various sorts of miracles occur. This is wrong only when it is done too liberally or when it is unwarranted. If the PC party is in danger of extermination through no direct fault of its own and because a string of unlikely occurrences have all somehow come to pass, then this is the time for the GM to step in and set things back on the right track, or at least keep them from getting any worse.​
Page 55:
In specific cases in which the PCs are in jeopardy because the rules of the game have worked against them through a rare succession of unlikely and adverse occurrences, the GM is within his rights to override the provisions of the rules for the sake of guaranteeing (for the moment, at least) the continued survival and viability of the player characters.​

Gygax goes further here than he does in the 1e DMG. He's now prepared to overrule the dice, not just for wandering monsters and secret door detection, but also in combat. The use of the phrase "set things back on the right track" might make his play style seem story-oriented, but I think the following excerpts show it's still challenge-oriented, as it is in 1e AD&D.

Page 48:

The dedicated GM is not only an impartial judge of events, but at the same time he is an active force championing the cause of both the preservation of PCs not bent on self-destruction and the continued satisfaction of players who do not seek to see the campaign ruined. Conversely, he has no ethical or moral obligation to keep a PC alive and viable if that character’s player insists on leaping into the jaws of adversity - and he owes it to himself and the others in the group to discipline or dismiss a player who has a selfish and treacherous attitude toward the campaign.​
Page 50-51:
You respond to the players’ needs by revising and expanding the campaign milieu. First they may demand more intense and detailed combat frequently. Then they might find more esoteric approaches to unusual problems more interesting. You address these preferences as soon as you become aware of the trend… difficulty arises when players try to revise the game system, violate the spirit, or make the campaign into a playground - as opposed to a testing ground - for their game personas.​
 
Last edited:

Role-Playing Mastery (1987) Gary Gygax.

Page 49:

There are times when the GM will bend or break the rules of the game system in order to allow his players to maintain their characters. Just as he sometimes metes out punishment for infractions, the GM at other times intervenes benevolently, spreading his aegis over the PCs to save them from probabilities gone awry. To put it bluntly, when play is at a low ebb, or it is quite likely that the players’ characters are about to suffer undue loss or extinction, the GM cheats and decrees otherwise. Opponents miss their blows, PCs manage to strike their foes, and various sorts of miracles occur. This is wrong only when it is done too liberally or when it is unwarranted. If the PC party is in danger of extermination through no direct fault of its own and because a string of unlikely occurrences have all somehow come to pass, then this is the time for the GM to step in and set things back on the right track, or at least keep them from getting any worse.​
Page 55:
In specific cases in which the PCs are in jeopardy because the rules of the game have worked against them through a rare succession of unlikely and adverse occurrences, the GM is within his rights to override the provisions of the rules for the sake of guaranteeing (for the moment, at least) the continued survival and viability of the player characters.​

Gygax goes further here than he does in the 1e DMG. He's now prepared to overrule the dice, not just for wandering monsters and secret door detection, but also in combat. The use of the phrase "set things back on the right track" might make his play style seem story-oriented, but I think the following excerpts show it's still challenge-oriented, as it is in 1e AD&D.

Page 48:

The dedicated GM is not only an impartial judge of events, but at the same time he is an active force championing the cause of both the preservation of PCs not bent on self-destruction and the continued satisfaction of players who do not seek to see the campaign ruined. Conversely, he has no ethical or moral obligation to keep a PC alive and viable if that character’s player insists on leaping into the jaws of adversity - and he owes it to himself and the others in the group to discipline or dismiss a player who has a selfish and treacherous attitude toward the campaign.​
Page 50-51:
You respond to the players’ needs by revising and expanding the campaign milieu. First they may demand more intense and detailed combat frequently. Then they might find more esoteric approaches to unusual problems more interesting. You address these preferences as soon as you become aware of the trend… difficulty arises when players try to revise the game system, violate the spirit, or make the campaign into a playground - as opposed to a testing ground - for their game personas.​

Thanks for finding this and posting it Doug.

My thoughts:

1) People naturally change over the course of their lives. As long as your somewhat intellectually honest and humble, the corrective process of life should at least have you reflecting upon, if not revising, ideas you stood by in the past.

2) It seems to me what we're seeing here is a bit of a moving along a continuum from 1e onward. And honestly, I think its a product of (a) Gygax realizing the problem with the resolution mechanics of AD&D and (b) not seeing a path forward toward revisions or an outright new iteration that would yield a more functional, challenge-based-gaming-friendly ruleset.

This progressive move (in the span of 10 years?) toward "use bubble-gum and paper clips during play (meaning Force) to patch over the suspect parts (action resolution mechanics interactions) of the ruleset which lead to outcomes that are antithetical to authentic challenge-based-gaming priorities (eg "earned" results aren't en emergent property of merely playing the game)" is (IMO) completely incompatible with both (a) challenge-based gaming priorities in the first place and (b) design curiosity and rigor.

It seems so weird for Gygax (the godfather of challenge-based TTRPGing) to put out an ethos that is incompatible with (a) and (b).

The answer is simple:

1) Go back to the design drawing board and revise/iterate upon the problems of the ruleset that are leading to the 1st order or 2nd order undesirable effects.

2) Have an adult conversation with your players when these moments of play strike and decide, collectively, how you want to revise the gamestate to a prior state (before the wonky ruleset screwed up the emergence of "earned" outcomes from challenge-based-priorities.

I wonder how Gygax would feel about a game like Blades (and its Forged in the Dark derivatives) and Torchbearer. They're both so profoundly beyond his AD&D in terms of "earned" outcomes and interesting, challenging decision-points from a challenge-based-priority perspective. Given my contention of (2b) above, I'm left wondering if he would gawk or if he would be incredulous.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Honestly, i think Gygax would have liked it. It might not be his baby, and he might have done some old man kvetching, but theres no denying the success of an alternate approach. Torch Bearer and maybe DW rather than Blades are tapping the heartroot of D&D even if they use different mechanics.
 

Honestly, i think Gygax would have liked it. It might not be his baby, and he might have done some old man kvetching, but theres no denying the success of an alternate approach. Torch Bearer and maybe DW rather than Blades are tapping the heartroot of D&D even if they use different mechanics.

I'd hope he would. All of those games are homage to him.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I think he’d be happy with the variety of games and gaming methods of today. The fact that there’s still D&D of all kinds would help....if PbtA and FitD games had supplanted D&D rather than just being an alternative to it, then he might have felt differently!
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top