"Illusionism" and "GM force" in RPGing

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think in this you are... rather exceedingly incorrect here. This is like saying that a screwdriver is the act of prying open a can of paint!

Rule Zero, and the Golden Rule are tools for the GM. One possible use of that tool is GM Force as you define it above. But, there are a bunch of other uses for the tool which are NOT GM Force. .

Say one of my players comes up with a character build that is abusive. As GM, I may nerf a feat used in the build to keep the PC power balance appropriate. This is a use of Rule Zero that is not aimed at any particular pre-ordained goal, and so is not GM Force.
This is Force. This GM is changing/ignoring the rules of the game to force an outcome the GM desires. Clearly, the player here has engaged the rules but the outcome is not to the GM's liking, so the GM's unilaterally changes the game to get the outcome the GM wants. Force.

Meanwhile, there are techniques a GM can use to force a given storyline or sequence of events in game that do not require adjustments of the rules, such that Rule Zero or the Golden Rule do not apply.
Not really. The fundamental play loop of 5e, for instance (as a game with a Rule Zero), is that the GM describes the scene, the players declare actions, and the GM determines the success of those actions, either through fiat or mechanics (forgive the bluntness, I love 5e, but it's full of GM fiat). If the GM is forcing outcomes on the players it's almost always not following this play loop, hence the GM is ignoring the core play rules of the game.
Thus, I think GM Force and Rule Zero are orthogonal.
GM Force is strongly encouraged by Rule Zero. Rule Zero is a force multiplier for Force (heh). They aren't orthogonal at all, but rather strongly correlated. Games that have Rule Zero also often are very friendly to GM Force techniques.

Again, I love 5e, and, when I play it, GM Force is a tool in my box. It's not inherently bad -- many players enjoy a bit of Force, especially Illusionism, because it provides a fun play experience where there are fewer demands on the players (the GM is using Force to create a fun game instead of leaning on the players to help). Being aware of it will improve your play in that you're now making more informed and critical choices in what tools you bring to bear on a situation. You don't have to make sure that what it is you like to do isn't Force, because it being Force doesn't make it bad (unless you hate Force, of course). It's helpful to be open to understanding that the default mode of play for modern D&D is GM Force, what that is, how it works, and how you use it. It's just a tool.
 

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I defined it as I use it.
On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would use either 3.x for OSR or ... Torchbearer?

Torchbearer is, IMO, about 590 miles away from OSR.

On a tangent:
The two games generally thought of as the games that kicked the OSR off, Castles & Crusades, and OSRIC were both put together very carefully under Wizards' of the Coast's Open Gaming License to be extremely close retroclones which were legally unimpeachable thanks to the license WotC put the 3.0 System Reference Doccument out in. You might have no idea why someone would have done that, but some of us remember and some remember how litigious TSR used to get.

Torchbearer on the other hand was designed to give the style of play presented in old school D&D products like Keep on the Borderlands - but uses something extremely different from the classic D&D engine. Which means it tests one of the implicit assumptions that OSR advocates often make - whether a lot of it is about engine familiarity and policing boundaries.

Edit for @pemerton pointing out I'd got the wrong module
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
@Ovinomancer - my understanding of the Golden Rule is that it is not just [i[if you don't like a rule, change it[/i] but rather ignore the rules, if necessary, in the interest of the story. It is an instruction/permission directed to the GM (ie the players are't being conferred permission to ignore the rules in the interests of the story).
I still disagree the Golden Rule Zero (GRZ) is solely about enabling Force and not also a reaction to strictly codified rules play where nothing happens except if the rule say so, another current of the time that turn of the decade (70s/80s) was a reaction to.

I agree with you that prep and force are independent. Lewis Pulsipher is (was? I'm talking about stuff he weote 40 years ago) the best advocate I know of the wargaming/"skilled play" style of D&D (Gygax is the second best I know) - in his articles in early White Dwarf Pulsipher emphasises the importance of prep, in part to avoid force (eg if you prep, you have an impartial answer to the action declaration I cast Detect Magic - what glows?).

From his wargaming perspective, Pulsipher is pretty unrestrained in his criticism of the "choregographed novel" approach to D&D. It's interesting to revisit his criticisms today in light of the emergence of that as a dominant mode of RPGing, and then a new and prominent wave of criticism from a different (Forge/non-wargaming) perspective.
I, honestly, have a hard time taking Pulsipher as a good source, given his inability to see any other kinds of gaming, sometimes even to recognize it. Pulsipher's more recent writing have indicated that even games like Burning Wheel do not meet his definitions of RPGs. I see him more as someone that had a strong opinion that happened to be a good one rather than a deep thinker that improved the discussion around RPGs through theory. My take, and a bit off topic.

That said, yes, there's a break in how you can approach gaming. Pulsipher was strongly for prep and no Force, but it's hard to say that the original material was so far in that corner.

I wouldn't characterise choosing a module as GM force, because it's not really guidance or manipulation - it doesn't interact with action declaration or resolution at all. On the other hand, a response to an action declaration We go west of Please don't go west, I haven't mapped that out yet probably counts as force - I guess it's a type of adjudication of the declaration - but certainly not illusionism!
Sure.
Roger Musson, who was another very thoughtful contributor to early White Dwarf who engaged with some of these issues, advocated a type of "illusionism light" for such situations - don't negat the action declaration per se, but place something there (his example is a dozen ogres holding a union meeting) that will make the players revise their decision. That sort of tactic is probably going to be obvious enough in many cases that it's not really serving an illusionist purpose but rather providing a rudimentary peg on which all the participants can hang their immersion in the shared fiction.
This is as much Force as denying the request, though. If, in the moment, the GM is placing blockers to corral the players in the direction the GM wants, that's Force. If the GM placed the blocker in prep, then it may be Force, depending on if it's intent is to corral to desired ends or a legitimate encounter/obstacle that can be circumvented or used by clever players. If the GM placed the blocker due to a failed roll involving exploration of that fork, then it's not Force, it's the GM responding to the failure to thwart the intent of the players, not insert his own intent.

I don't see how ignoring an application of Force if it's according to some principle or only occasionally used or if the players like it is helpful at all -- it dilutes the definition of Force from a useful description of a technique to an arbitrary derogative in situations we don't like. Force is a tool -- one that's easily abused -- and how/when it's used shouldn't change it's nature.
Here is the Gygas quote from The Strategic Reviw (2.2, Apr 1976) that @lowke13 mentioned:

[A]bsolute disinterest must be exercised by the Dungeonmaster, and if a favorite player stupidly puts himself into a situation where he is about to be killed, let the dice tell the story and KILL him. 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 circumstance should the referee intervene.​

To me this seems very similar to the following from p 110 of his DMG:

You do have every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to have occur. In making such a decision you should never seriously harm the party or a non-player character with your actions. "ALWAYS GIVE A MONSTER AN EVEN BREAK!" , . .​
Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonably severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done. It is very demoralizing to the players to lose a cared-for-player character when they have played well. When they have done something stupid or have not taken precautions, then let the dice fall where they may! Again, if you have available ample means of raising characters from the dead, even death is not too severe; remember, however, the constitution-based limit to resurrections. Yet one die roll that you should NEVER tamper with is the SYSTEM SHOCK ROLL to be raised from the dead. If a character fails that roll, which he or she should make him or herself, he or she is FOREVER DEAD. There MUST be some final death or immortality will take over and again the game will become boring because the player characters will have 9+ lives each!​

I don't see either passage as advocating for GM force, and nor for illusionism. The focus is on preserving the correlation between skilled play and PC survival, and even in respect of that there is an evident degree of hesitation - both expressly in the advice, and also in the surrounding admonitions to disinterest and to giving monsters and NPCs an even break.

Where Gygax in his DMG seems most comfortable endorsing GM interference with rolls is on this same page, in relation to "finding a particular clue, e.g. a secret door that leads to a complex of monsters and treasures that will be especially entertaining" and on p 9, where he suggests that if a party is "doing everything possible to travel quickly and quietly to their planned destination" but the GM keeps getting wandering monsters on the die check, then rather than "spoil such an otherwise enjoyable time" the GM might "omit the wandering monsters indicated by the die." He contrasts this setting aside of the wandering monster result with "allow[ing] the party to kill them [ie rolled monsters] easily or escape unnaturally" which would be "contrary to the major precepts of the game". And he also says that "If a party deserves to have these beasties inflicted upon them, that is another matter" ie the GM should not set aside the wandering monster result.

This approach to wanderming monsters can be seen as another instance of preserving the correlation between skilled play and PC success, but it is connected to introduction of content by the GM. The secret door example is also about introduction of content. One can see how the use of GM decision-making around introduction of content can drift into the "choreographed novel" approach, especially because wandering mosters are both content introduction but also a mode of consequence for action declaration (epsecially poor and time-wasting declared actions); but I don't think it's the same thing. In the choreographed novel, the GM is doing more than just opening up an opportunity for hijinks (as with the secret door example), and there is no longer any sort of guiding principle of trying to ensure that skilled players are not unduly penalised by poor dice rolls on their or the GM's part.

The 1977 version of Traveller contemplates the referee setting up special worlds, or running special encounters, that will be especially interesting for the players. These are flagged as express departures from the basic principles of random generation of content. But, again, I think these suggestions around content introduction have to be drifted quite a bit to get to the "choreographed novel" of the 1982 version.
Nope, Gygax is advocating for Force. It doesn't become not Force if it's in pursuit of certain play aesthetics. Again, either Force is a defined tool or it's just an arbitrary label for play we don't like. I'm perfectly OK with Gygax advocating for Force, here. Force is, indeed, a useful tool in a lot of D&D or D&D-like play because the mechanics are generally pass/fail with fail being often related to character death. Smudging the corners a bit is a good tool, as Gygax notes here. Doesn't mean that it becomes not Force because you have a good reason. Rather, it's still Force, just employed for a good reason.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
This is Force. This GM is changing/ignoring the rules of the game to force an outcome the GM desires. Clearly, the player here has engaged the rules but the outcome is not to the GM's liking, so the GM's unilaterally changes the game to get the outcome the GM wants. Force.

With respect, this is deviating from the OP's definition of force. The OP defines force clearly in the context of forcing a particular narrative goal, as in a "choreographed novel". To be honest, we already have a term for what's being discussed in the OP - "Railroading".

I will not engage with your expanded definition. As I have noted elsewhere - arguments over the definition of terms are generally proxy arguments for some more basic issue. If you want to discuss that more basic issue, we can do that.

Not really. The fundamental play loop of 5e, for instance (as a game with a Rule Zero), is that the GM describes the scene, the players declare actions, and the GM determines the success of those actions, either through fiat or mechanics (forgive the bluntness, I love 5e, but it's full of GM fiat). If the GM is forcing outcomes on the players it's almost always not following this play loop, hence the GM is ignoring the core play rules of the game.

And, I think here we may see the more fundamental issue that's stuck in your craw.

You are talking about determining the success of individual actions and changing results during play. I was not. I was generally talking about editing the rules - I specifically noted making a change for sake of overall game balance, not for a particular result of the moment. You have gone off to dealing with specific outcomes. I am sorry to say, you have stood up a strawman.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
This is not the Golden Rule of WW/Storyteller as I understand it. You are talking about curation in list-based PC building. This is an unhappy aspect of that sort of system, though it doesn't have to be done by the GM - when we play list-based PC-build games, my players can be quite good at doing their own curation based on their own sense of what is fair and what's an exploit.

I give an example in one, but the point is not limited to "list based" games (And geeze, the stack of jargon you people have built up - do you realize that you make your discussion impenetrable to anyone who hasn't been following it for years?)

I'm talking about the proposition that the GM can alter/set aside the mechanics in the interests of the story.

I understand that. This is exactly why I am noting that the notions of Rule Zero and the Golden Rule are not limited to what you are talking about - these notions are more broad than the case you are making. This runs the danger of coming down to a criticism of Rule Zero that really isn't about Rule Zero at all.

And also, as I think I noted, laying these at the food of Rule Zero is missing the fact that many instances of GM Force, as you put it, has nothing at all to do with setting aside game rules!

Thus, I still maintain, GM Force is worth discussing, but framing it with respect to rules changes is missing a great deal of the issue.[/QUOTE]
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
With respect, this is deviating from the OP's definition of force. The OP defines force clearly in the context of forcing a particular narrative goal, as in a "choreographed novel". To be honest, we already have a term for what's being discussed in the OP - "Railroading".
The OP provides an example of Force in the context of the choreographed novel. That's not the full definition of Force, and I happen to know that the OP is fully aware and has previously discussed other applications, so it's a bit presumptuous of you to limit the definition of a term to that which supports your argument and claim the OP did it.

I will not engage with your expanded definition. As I have noted elsewhere - arguments over the definition of terms are generally proxy arguments for some more basic issue. If you want to discuss that more basic issue, we can do that.
It's not expanded, it's the definition of Force, regardless of the OP's choice of example. And, if you don't wish to discuss it, why are you continuing, here?

And, I think here we may see the more fundamental issue that's stuck in your craw.
Seriously, "stuck in my craw?" Could you have chosen a less antagonistic phrasing to describe what you perceive as a critical element of my disagreement with you and @pemerton?

You are talking about determining the success of individual actions and changing results during play. I was not. I was generally talking about editing the rules - I specifically noted making a change for sake of overall game balance, not for a particular result of the moment. You have gone off to dealing with specific outcomes. I am sorry to say, you have stood up a strawman.
No, the bit you quote was in response to your claim that:

Umbran's claim said:
Meanwhile, there are techniques a GM can use to force a given storyline or sequence of events in game that do not require adjustments of the rules, such that Rule Zero or the Golden Rule do not apply.

As such, it's clearly not a strawman because it doesn't apply to the bit your applying it to. If any strawman exists, it's yours, but I'd rather call this a misattribution or brief confusion of arguments.

And, absolutely I stand by my statement. If the GM is forcing a "given storyline or sequence of events in game" the only way to do this is to violate the core gameplay loop of 'describe, act, adjudicate'. One of those is being altered or ignored for the GM to be able to Force an outcome. It's unavoidable. You cannot have a macro change without changes at the micro level.





Force is NOT BAD in an of itself. I wish I could make it more clear that Force isn't an automatic negative, nor does it lead to bad play, or bad results. Like any tool, it can be abused, but that's up to the specific application. Naming something Force doesn't put a stink on it, it acknowledges what's occurring in the play. I use Force when I run 5e, unabashedly, even. I absolutely do NOT use Force in Blades in the Dark. But, these are different games, and I play them for different reasons, so it makes sense that I change the tools I use when I run them. Force isn't Teh Badness, it's a tool. Please stop having feeling you have to defend from the definition because you think it's a slight on your methods of play. It's not, it's a codification of a technique.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
@Ovinomancer
I might be mistaken, but are you essentially classifying GM Force as any change to the base rules of a game? i.e. The addition, removal or ammendment of a rule.
Absolutely not! @Manbearcat has a good definition in another thread that sums it up succinctly:

Manipulation of the gamestate (typically covert) by a GM which nullifies (or in slightly more benign cases; modifies) player input in order to form or maintain a narrative that conforms to the GM's vision.

This almost always impacts rules, but impacting rules is not the definition. If the GM annunciates rule changes prior to play, then this isn't a rule change that impacts Force because the players will interact with it fairly and it won't affect outcomes by subverting player input. Or, the rule change can be through consensus, which clearly can't be Force as the players' input is paramount to consensus.

Long and short, if the GM is changing something to get their preferred outcome, that's Force. Changing rules before play doesn't cause the GM's preferred outcome, as it's prior to the outcome. That said, I can see some very abusive rules implementations to be akin to Force and possibly even Force, but we're pretty far into abusive play at that point and no theory of games survives abusive play. The assumption of non-abusive play should be the base for all of these discussions. If we're talking about abusive play, we're already off the rails for useful discussion.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
These excerpts are from James Bond 007 (1983) pgs 97-99 and 119 published by Victory Games. They're much more extensive than the 1982 Traveller quotation, I think because the James Bond rpg has the replication of fiction, and very specific fiction at that, as its principle aim.

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