"Illusionism" and "GM force" in RPGing

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Musson's idea of a union meeting of ogres can be seen as Force. I don't think it's very illusionistic, for the reasons I gave (ie it's pretty transparent at the moment of play).

Gygax's suggestion to turn the death of the skilled player's character into (say) maiming or unconscious instead is barely force as I characterised it upthread ie is barely an instance of "guiding" or "manipulating". It's also not illusionistic, insofar as the player will know it was a GM decision, there being no purely mechanical process in classic D&D to produce such outcomes.

Gygax's suggesion about wandering monsters is not force in the relevant sense - it's not guiding or manipulating anything.

Gygax's suggestion about a secret door is a type of guiding or manipulating, I think, but again barely. It's always open to the players to just ignore the door they discover, and - under his precepts - the GM has no device for getting them there. Notice that he doesn't suggest, say, using wandering monsters to chase the PCs through the door they've discovered.

This is why I say there needs to be some drifting to get from Gygax's remarks to the "choreographed novel". You can see this drifting in the passages from the 2nd ed AD&D DMG that @Doug McCrae posted.
If Force is the manipulation of the game state to negate or alter player input (a la @Manbearcat), then all of these are Force, as the outcomes of the player input are defined by the game mechanics as A, but the GM changes them to B for purposes of the GM's intent of a better story. I'm not saying these are bad uses of Force -- they're not -- and even appear that they may be principled uses of Force (for a given set of principles), but that doesn't change the fact that the GM has put his thumb on the scales of the system to redirect the outcome from what the player input and resolution mechanics say it should be, and does so because the GM believes the outcome to be better suited to his desires.
 

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prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
If Force is the manipulation of the game state to negate or alter player input (a la @Manbearcat), then all of these are Force, as the outcomes of the player input are defined by the game mechanics as A, but the GM changes them to B for purposes of the GM's intent of a better story. I'm not saying these are bad uses of Force -- they're not -- and even appear that they may be principled uses of Force (for a given set of principles), but that doesn't change the fact that the GM has put his thumb on the scales of the system to redirect the outcome from what the player input and resolution mechanics say it should be, and does so because the GM believes the outcome to be better suited to his desires.

I wonder how often GMs exert Force because they think the outcome will better match the players' desires. I know it happens (I know I've done it). I don't know if the difference in intent matters (much).
 

Couple quick thoughts:

1) Pre-game scenario design or picking a game/dungeon's premise is never a case of Force. Now imposing prepped material from that scenario/dungeon/premise upon play in a way that nullifies player input is Force.

2) If you're (a) running a challenge-based game (Step on Up) where (b) overcoming obstacles via your general and system-relevant guile is the apex (or even exclusive) priority of play and (c) the GM subverts the product of that guile + rules interactions for the sake of their own agenda (ensuring content x is introduced, to alter the overall pacing of the delve, to create conflict that is outside the scope of your responsibility as neutral referee), then that has to be Force.

I would even call altering the product of the content introduction machinery (wandering monsters) because you're dissatisfied with this particular instantiation of the dice probability to be Force. That is because players are making decisions to continue exploring (and how - which may including spending resources) vs rest vs withdraw and are dealing with multiple clocks depending upon the game (overall strategic resources, perhaps a condition clock, perhaps a wandering monster clock. It doesn't just interfere with the authenticity of this particular moment of play, but it also alters the overall delve.

In my opinion, if the designer or the GM doesn't like the overall probability curve of one (or more) of the clocks, the answer is to iterate and redesign the curve, not curate out particular content produced by the content introduction machinery (which the players are interfacing with to make their general and system-relevant guile based decisions).

Now...

In games that are not apex or exclusively challenge-based and have different approaches to content introduction, this will be different (which is why I'm isolating this to strictly challenge-based games).

I think this is also illuminating as to why things could get so wobbly when (a) things move from the dungeon to the wilderness (where the clocks become more wobbly and player decision-points become less constrained) and (b) when spellcaster's power would achieve capacity to completely reframe or just outright circumvent challenges (and therefore the machinery of content introduction, the "clocks", that is meant to test player's general and system-relevant guile becomes rendered moot in large chunks or in whole).
 

prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
A couple of questions, from my own games, all serious questions, not expecting value/moral judgments. I'll be snipping (trying not to destroy context).

Couple quick thoughts:

1) Pre-game scenario design or picking a game/dungeon's premise is never a case of Force. Now imposing prepped material from that scenario/dungeon/premise upon play in a way that nullifies player input is Force.

So, while the players/characters are choosing which goal/s to pursue, I'm choosing which ones are available, and when/where the party finds out about them. Is this Force (this is a serious question, for clarity not moral judgment (which I think is where we are anyway)).?

In my opinion, if the designer or the GM doesn't like the overall probability curve of one (or more) of the clocks, the answer is to iterate and redesign the curve, not curate out particular content produced by the content introduction machinery (which the players are interfacing with to make their general and system-relevant guile based decisions).

So, what about if a GM removes some character options from the game, because they don't match his preferences in ways that aren't about any sort of power curve?
 

@prabe

Force, as a concept, isn't about pre-game curation of setting/situation. Its about at-the-table, in-the-moment, handling of content introduction.

The only time out-of-game curation of setting/situation would be considered Force is when you (the GM) are manipulating the setting/situation by altering the gamestate/introducing alternative content that is preferred by you, such that it nullifies/subordinates a player's prior, during-play input (and the authentic outcome they earned with that declared action and/or binding action resolution result).
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I wonder how often GMs exert Force because they think the outcome will better match the players' desires. I know it happens (I know I've done it). I don't know if the difference in intent matters (much).
I'd actually hazard to say more often than not. This is why I don't characterize Force as inherently bad. It's a tool, and one that's easy to reach for. I've stopped (mostly, D&D makes Force almost necessary at times) using it this way in my 5e games by better negotiating the action declarations and being clear about stakes, tools I learned in other games but that are very applicable to 5e. I find I have less need of Force if I do these things. That might not be everyone's cuppa (and, indeed, I've received strong negative feedback to the idea on occasion), and that's fine. My journey is my own. I'm not going to stop advocating for it, because someone else my find value in it, but I don't think it's the only way, and probably often not the best way for a given group. It's pretty good for me, though, and I'm cool with that.
 

As far as Gygax goes, though he eschewed simulationism on the whole, he had randomly idiosyncratic views on hewing to it when he felt that the game's content introduction mechanics created weird results that wouldn't play nice with his players using their guile to draw dungeon-ecology-based-inference. The priority was challenge-based gaming...the simulationism "interference" was a means to an end to help stabilize his player's dungeon-ecology-based-inference.

But to me...that is a big problem. And, like I said above, its a problem with the probability curve that his content introduction machinery creates...so he should have continued iterating.

In my opinion, this is why both Moldvay Basic and Torchbearer are both just fundamentally better game's than Gygax's D&D (when it comes to challenge-based gaming).
 

prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
@prabe

Force, as a concept, isn't about pre-game curation of setting/situation. Its about at-the-table, in-the-moment, handling of content introduction.

The only time out-of-game curation of setting/situation would be considered Force is when you (the GM) are manipulating the setting/situation by altering the gamestate/introducing alternative content that is preferred by you, such that it nullifies/subordinates a player's prior, during-play input (and the authentic outcome they earned with that declared action and/or binding action resolution result).

That's about what I thought I understood. Thanks for the clarification. I may be about to make some minor changes in a character's backstory (as written by the player) because there are some things about the setting that he didn't entirely grok, and there are things in his backstory that got lost because he wrote more than I was expecting and couldn't hold it all in my head. I'm hoping we can come to some sort of terms, here.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
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.)

I don't know that I agree with the definition of forcing on this thread. That said i'm not here to argue definitions and I step into this knowing full well that i'm at a disadvantage due to the terms being yours. That said,

It seems to me that the only way for a DM to not use forcing as described above is to create a fully procedural world where the dice dictate every thing. How is anything else not forcing?
 


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