Illusionism: Where Do You Stand?


I stumbled across this blog post and thought it might be fun to talk to ENWorld about Quantum Ogres and the Illusion of Choice.

If you don't want to click through, the tl;dr is that Illusionism Is Bad. The author is responding to a different blog -- one that advocated for what is being referred to as the Quantum Ogre. That is, the GM prepares an encounter with Ogres and when it comes time for the PCs to choose to go left or right on the Forest Road, the Ogre encounter is going to be placed in front of them regardless of their choice. This is to save effort, the thinking goes, and since the PCs did not know there was even supposed to be an Ogre encounter, they lose nothing and gain a fun fight.

There's all sorts of things to unpack in there, but rather than me rambling on about what I think or how I would do it, I thought we should just sort of talk about the general idea of illusionism and how we feel about it in play. This is related to a whole litany of other ideas, such as Railroads (I prefer Rollercoasters, but you know what I mean), linear adventures, non-linear adventures, "story" in games, and on an on.

So to start: how do you feel about illusionism in your games? Do you feel differently about it as a player versus a GM? Does it vary with the game? With the group? With the session?


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Don't like it as a player, don't use it as a GM.

I try to run games in different modes - sometimes more of a sandbox style affair, sometimes more of a story now focus - but I try quite hard to never use illusionism in either one. I roll everything in the open with explicit stakes and modifiers, even getting players to roll sometimes 'OK Bob, on a 12 the troll hits Ben'.

I also quite like using props, by which I mean words written down on pieces of paper that the players see. I did a recent WFRP game where the PCs were trying to loot a trapped treasure room before the ceiling came down - I had a bunch of items on scraps of paper that looting players drew out of a hat. I've also had the answer to a mystery sealed in an envelope that I showed to the players for weeks until they figured them out (in this case it was a bunch of runes that turned out to be the magical functions of a flying pyramid they found). Note that I don't do these props to 'keep me honest', nor to satisfy the players that I'm not deceiving them (although I think there is some merit to that) - it's really just for the theatrics of the big reveal.


I prefer to give my players a chance to interact with the world. I do generally have an encounter prepared to throw at them, but I just use it to stall them if they go off the rails to somewhere I have nothing prepared. That lets me get to the end of the session and then prep out in front of them. I don't know if that counts as a Quantum Ogre or not.


Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I think the issue gets blown out of proportion. Part of the social contract in playing an RPG is that some players cede authority to another player (sometimes regularly, sometimes in turn) to devise some material to interact with. They should have some flexibility about how they deploy it.
If there's no indications of "Ogres --> This Way" prior to the players taking the left or right fork, then it's not like their choice was meaningful for evading ogres. The interesting choices will come when they come closer to actually encountering them. Scouting ahead? Have a ranger in the right terrain to read the signs of ogre habitation? Stealthily sneaking into the ogre area or avoiding them completely, rushing in and attacking, or approaching boldly to parley? Those are the interesting choices. Having ogres near the left road or the right road depending on which way the PCs go - that's not a big deal.

Now, if the PCs had said "I don't want to encounter ogres so let's bypass Ogrewood by 10 miles, even if that means a longer journey", then I think it's fair to be a bit cheesed off if they still encounter the DM's ogres. That wouldn't mean they're safe from some other prepped encounter, though. After all, if the PCs hear there are bandits on the east road past the Gorge of Peril and so take the west road past it, maybe they'll encounter the reason there aren't bandits on that side...


It’s a useful method for having plenty for players to do but can be misused. (As is the case with most elements of DM technique)

I totally disagree with the article’s argument that because there is lots of free stuff on the internet if you write a good piece that gets missed - tough shiz you need to drop it or destroy your players fun. It’s not ‘the DMs precious encounter’ it’s a good piece of work that deserves to see the light of day.

Being efficient with your encounters is totally harmless when used to provide opportunities to adventure. A DM has to fill the world with interesting stuff. let’s not get too picky about where it is. Putting interesting stuff in front of the players does not destroy agency… unless the PCs deliberately were taking otherwise successful efforts to avoid the thing the DM has confronted them with. Heck books like Candlekeep, Radiant Citadel and Golden Vault are choc full of adventures that can be put in the PCs path to fill up a session. How is putting a scenario in their way different to putting a single encounter in their way?

Now if illusionism is being used to actively thwart the PCs because the DM knows OOG what the players intend… the magic sword will get stolen from them no matter what the PCs do but they are tricked by illusionism into thinking they can prevent that… then I see that as a bad thing.


B/X Known World
Illusionism is a form of railroading. Railroading is always bad.

Important note: linear adventures are not always railroads.

Here’s another blog post on the topic.


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