Illusionism or no?

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Suppose a GM has created an encounter based on what's in his notes. It quickly becomes apparent that the GM misjudged the encounter difficulty. The GM then modifies the encounter (buffing enemies/bringing in reinforcements/etc) to compensate for his misjudgment of the difficulty. After making that single modification he treats the updated encounter just as if he had prepped it in any other instance. Ultimately the players emerge victorious but it was a tough and challenging encounter.

The question essentially boils down to whether the GM should be free to correct planning mistakes mid-play and whether that's force, illusionism or something else. I think it's also important to consider playstyle expectations in relation to this question (compare sandbox play where players have alot of say over whether they engage a particular encounter vs a more linear playstyle where players mostly engage with what's in front of them)?

Also, is there a difference in using this technique as described and using this technique repeatedly, multiple times in the same encounter and in every encounter within the campaign.

My take. It matters why the GM is deploying this mechanic. It matters if using it is an outlier or typical. It matters whether the players are choosing to engage in encounters partially on their apparent difficulty or whether there's an expectation for balanced encounters where players fight what's in front of them. My take is that the example listed above is going to change from force/illusionism to not force/not illusionism depending on many of the specifics mentioned here. It's interesting to me that force/illusionism may not be universally applicable in the same ways to all games.

Thoughts?
 

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Yora

Legend
I have become a big fan of the approach that the GM places NPCs and creatures into the game environment and it us up entirely to the players if and how they want to engage with them. Without a scripted story for the campaign, even encounters the party stumble into by accident can be run away from, and there is no requirement coming from the GM that the players engage with any specific encounters.

In this context, you can't really make an encounter too hard. Too hard for what? Victory in a fight is not a requirement for the game to continue. Nor is getting an NPC to cooperate with whatever the players might hope to gain from the encounter. The only case I can think of where the GM can make an actual mistake is by setting up creatures that look significantly weaker in a fight than they actually are, based on what the players encountered before. But that's easy to avoid. Don't have a cave that is entirely populated by 1 HD goblins, except for one group of eight 6 HD goblins that don't look significantly different.

If the players engage in a fight and it turns out that they are loosing because they have bitten off more than they can chew, you could of course make on the fly adjustments to make the opponents fall much earlier than it would actually have taken the players. But once you start with that, when do you stop? When you start making it your choice that the players should not lose a fight because it wouldn't be satisfying in that moment, then under what conditions will you decide that it is satisfying for them to be defeated?

If the campaign does not hand the players automatic success without a chance to fail, you can't really start pulling them out of the fire. Because when you start, you can never stop. And then the whole exercise of playing the game becomes pointless.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Force is the GM causing an outcome that the GM prefers regardless of player input, action declarations, or the system outcome.

Illusionism is when you obscure or hide the use of Force from the players.

The OP example is Force. The GM is enforcing an outcome. I see no problem with this, though -- Force is a tool in the box and there's no inherent bad associated with it for everyone. People have different tolerances for Force. However, here the GM is changing an outcome because the GM wants to, and not considering player input, action declarations, or the system's say. To me, though, this is why I say you can't really run 5e without Force, because this kind of thing happens due to the way the combat engine is tuned -- sometimes you realize that what you've put into play is not good for play and need to use Force to change it.

If it's intentionally hidden from the players such that they never realize the encounter was overbalanced and was altered to be easier for them, it's Illusionism as well.
 

TheSword

Legend
Who is to know? I won’t lie, I’ve started an encounter with hill
Giants and then realized I meant to use elite hill giant fighters. I’ve amended the roll20 sheets in seconds on the fly and bumped the hp by 40, the AC by 2, upped the damage dice by an increment and added 2 to the static damage. Nobody knew, nobody died, it’s all fair game as far as I’m concerned.
 

Yora

Legend
But you know. It will affect how you will react to other things in your games that turn out different from what you had expected.
 


Yora

Legend
But for what purpose? That's the question here. What do you want to accomplish with that approach and what kind of experience do you believe it creates for the players?
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
But for what purpose? That's the question here. What do you want to accomplish with that approach and what kind of experience do you believe it creates for the players?
Are you replying to me?

The purpose for me is to create a well-paced session. I find if all the encounters are the same, it's boring. So I'll adjust the encounters to make each one unique.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
An interesting topic. For those of us not following the other thread (I assume it's spinning off from there?), would it be possible to give a quick definition of "force" and "illusionism"?
I don’t know any definition that isn’t either to narrow such that things we would normally speak of as force aren’t or too broad such that nearly everything including Scene framing could be called force.

if I was to give it an attempt I’d say force is an attempt to coral players toward a specific fictional scene that the playstyle expects to be able to be driven via player input. Maybe that last part is the key for ending the arguments about force and what it is or isn’t. Probably not but it’s at least something to consider.

illusionism is just applying force in such a way that the players aren’t aware
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
As a GM you can and should do whatever makes the adventure INTERESTING to the players. If they enjoy what you're presenting it doesn't really matter HOW you do it. Just make it fun because if the group is having fun everything is good.
This is a common platitude, but provides no real input on how that can be achieved. There are many approaches and even games out there that do different things and it's useful to talk about how they work and potential issues each may have. Using Force and Illusionism may result in a good game, no doubt, but talking about them, how they work, and things that have gone wrong for people is valuable and not at all captured in the platitude of 'whatever's fun.'

Like, if pacing is important to your table, and the players are really wanting to have an exciting game with a strong story, then Illusionism is a very strong tool for this. If players was a game like what @Yora offers, then Force is something that you should avoid. The reasons for this is that Force lets the GM control the pacing and plot of a story, keeping it on track and moving smoothly by quickly eliding bits that don't matter and reinforcing the game at appropriate points to make them exciting. On the other hand, if you really want a game were you as a player are marshalling your resources and using careful planning to overcome challenges and expect the GM to be neutral in adjudication (well, as neutral as possible), then the idea that the GM is moving things around to make them more exciting is absolutely something you're not going to want. And I've kept this entirely within D&D as a game. If you step outside D&D, the landscape gets bigger. There are games where it's impossible for a GM to use Illusionism, and Force is verboten entirely. Others where the system turns all uses Force (except the most flagrant) into Illusionism by hiding all resolution methods from the players so they just could not tell (usually "trust the GM" gets deployed here). The discussion of how games play, and how things work, and where and how you might use tools is valuable, and not at all covered under 'whatever's fun.'

Sorry for picking you out for the rant.
 


Smackpixi

Adventurer
I generally prefer more baddies showing up as a way to fix encounter mid encounter, but it doesn’t matter if you’re running a leveled game where all encounters are supposed to be challenging, but winnable. Sorta like schrodingers box ogre, is there an ogre behind the door or not, doesn’t matter until door is opened, you can make it up then. That’s more new school, if you’re running old school where maybe it’s a lich they must run from, or owlbear they can defeat, have to stick with whatever you have.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Suppose a GM has created an encounter based on what's in his notes. It quickly becomes apparent that the GM misjudged the encounter difficulty. The GM then modifies the encounter (buffing enemies/bringing in reinforcements/etc) to compensate for his misjudgment of the difficulty. After making that single modification he treats the updated encounter just as if he had prepped it in any other instance. Ultimately the players emerge victorious but it was a tough and challenging encounter.

The question essentially boils down to whether the GM should be free to correct planning mistakes mid-play and whether that's force, illusionism or something else. I think it's also important to consider playstyle expectations in relation to this question (compare sandbox play where players have alot of say over whether they engage a particular encounter vs a more linear playstyle where players mostly engage with what's in front of them)?

Also, is there a difference in using this technique as described and using this technique repeatedly, multiple times in the same encounter and in every encounter within the campaign.

My take. It matters why the GM is deploying this mechanic. It matters if using it is an outlier or typical. It matters whether the players are choosing to engage in encounters partially on their apparent difficulty or whether there's an expectation for balanced encounters where players fight what's in front of them. My take is that the example listed above is going to change from force/illusionism to not force/not illusionism depending on many of the specifics mentioned here. It's interesting to me that force/illusionism may not be universally applicable in the same ways to all games.

Thoughts?
I'll modify down, but not up. If I overestimate an encounter, well it makes the players feel good to face stomp things sometimes. However, if I underestimate it and I see that it's going to kill a PC or TPK the party, I'm not going to allow my mistake to do that to a player. That wouldn't be right.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I have become a big fan of the approach that the GM places NPCs and creatures into the game environment and it us up entirely to the players if and how they want to engage with them. Without a scripted story for the campaign, even encounters the party stumble into by accident can be run away from, and there is no requirement coming from the GM that the players engage with any specific encounters.

In this context, you can't really make an encounter too hard. Too hard for what? Victory in a fight is not a requirement for the game to continue. Nor is getting an NPC to cooperate with whatever the players might hope to gain from the encounter. The only case I can think of where the GM can make an actual mistake is by setting up creatures that look significantly weaker in a fight than they actually are, based on what the players encountered before. But that's easy to avoid. Don't have a cave that is entirely populated by 1 HD goblins, except for one group of eight 6 HD goblins that don't look significantly different.

If the players engage in a fight and it turns out that they are loosing because they have bitten off more than they can chew, you could of course make on the fly adjustments to make the opponents fall much earlier than it would actually have taken the players. But once you start with that, when do you stop? When you start making it your choice that the players should not lose a fight because it wouldn't be satisfying in that moment, then under what conditions will you decide that it is satisfying for them to be defeated?

If the campaign does not hand the players automatic success without a chance to fail, you can't really start pulling them out of the fire. Because when you start, you can never stop. And then the whole exercise of playing the game becomes pointless.
Who is to know? I won’t lie, I’ve started an encounter with hill
Giants and then realized I meant to use elite hill giant fighters. I’ve amended the roll20 sheets in seconds on the fly and bumped the hp by 40, the AC by 2, upped the damage dice by an increment and added 2 to the static damage. Nobody knew, nobody died, it’s all fair game as far as I’m concerned.
Whatever you call it, it's definitely what I do!

I will adjust encounters to be more difficult, less difficult, social, or exploratory based on the pacing of that session and what I'm reading from the players.
As a GM you can and should do whatever makes the adventure INTERESTING to the players. If they enjoy what you're presenting it doesn't really matter HOW you do it. Just make it fun because if the group is having fun everything is good.
I generally prefer more baddies showing up as a way to fix encounter mid encounter, but it doesn’t matter if you’re running a leveled game where all encounters are supposed to be challenging, but winnable. Sorta like schrodingers box ogre, is there an ogre behind the door or not, doesn’t matter until door is opened, you can make it up then. That’s more new school, if you’re running old school where maybe it’s a lich they must run from, or owlbear they can defeat, have to stick with whatever you have.
I'll modify down, but not up. If I overestimate an encounter, well it makes the players feel good to face stomp things sometimes. However, if I underestimate it and I see that it's going to kill a PC or TPK the party, I'm not going to allow my mistake to do that to a player. That wouldn't be right.
Some of you are very open to modifying encounters on the fly. Some less so. Part of my theory is that this difference of opinion is driven by whether the players are free to engage in whatever encounters they want or whether they are expected to engage in the encounter before them. I'd be interested to get that detail for each of your responses.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Some of you are very open to modifying encounters on the fly. Some less so. Part of my theory is that this difference of opinion is driven by whether the players are free to engage in whatever encounters they want or whether they are expected to engage in the encounter before them. I'd be interested to get that detail for each of your responses.
My response was purely about DM error, not a statement that encounters cannot be beyond the PCs. For example, in my current campaign the party which is now level 8, knows about the location of a dracolich with multiple black dragon servants and the location of a city with not one, but two liches living in it somewhere. They have wisely opted not to go looking. Had they made an unwise decision and headed to either location, a new campaign would likely be in the near future.

So for me it...

1) the players are free to engage whatever encounters they want and they need to be careful as they are not the biggest fish in the pond, and...
2) if I as the DM make an error and an encounter that they are supposed to be able to handle and isn't clearly beyond them is going to threaten to kill PCs, I will correct my mistake.
 

payn

Legend
I usually only change up important penultimate fights if they seem like they are heading for a dive. I want to keep it interesting for everyone involved and some fights should just be more than others. The typical random encounter or unimportant challenge goes how it goes. I will say I have my preferred system dialed in to the point I never have to dive for the players sake, and usually when I need to force, its just giving my NPCs HP so they live an extra round or two.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Suppose a GM has created an encounter based on what's in his notes. It quickly becomes apparent that the GM misjudged the encounter difficulty. The GM then modifies the encounter (buffing enemies/bringing in reinforcements/etc) to compensate for his misjudgment of the difficulty. After making that single modification he treats the updated encounter just as if he had prepped it in any other instance. Ultimately the players emerge victorious but it was a tough and challenging encounter.

The question essentially boils down to whether the GM should be free to correct planning mistakes mid-play and whether that's force, illusionism or something else. I think it's also important to consider playstyle expectations in relation to this question (compare sandbox play where players have alot of say over whether they engage a particular encounter vs a more linear playstyle where players mostly engage with what's in front of them)?

Also, is there a difference in using this technique as described and using this technique repeatedly, multiple times in the same encounter and in every encounter within the campaign.

My take. It matters why the GM is deploying this mechanic. It matters if using it is an outlier or typical. It matters whether the players are choosing to engage in encounters partially on their apparent difficulty or whether there's an expectation for balanced encounters where players fight what's in front of them. My take is that the example listed above is going to change from force/illusionism to not force/not illusionism depending on many of the specifics mentioned here. It's interesting to me that force/illusionism may not be universally applicable in the same ways to all games.

Thoughts?
As long as it works for them, that they all had fun, cool, they should keep doing it. It is sort of like someone asked me about them having a TPK straight out the gate in a game and would I have nerfed it? Yes I would, because it seems to me a waste of time otherwise, however I get that some would do it for the sake of authenticity, and I can't criticize them for that, if it means that much to them. Be true to yourself and you will never fall ...
 

Yora

Legend
I think making the players play out a story that consists of scenes created by the GM is a fundamental misunderstanding of roleplaying games as a medium. Of course it can be done. People have been doing it for almost forty years. But using RPGs as a storytelling medium like books or TV shows, or even videogames leaves all the unique possibilities that are exclusive to RPGs untouched. It's a medium in which the players can direct where the story is going and what happens in the story through their own choices and ability to come up with solutions within the game rules.

A GM should face the players with a problem, and the players should come with a solution. The GM should not create a problem and a solution and have the players guess what he wants them do to to hear the next chapter of his story.

Dragonlance was the biggest mistake in the whole history of RPGs and GMs keep getting hobbled by it to this day, and probably forever.
 

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