Illusionism: Where Do You Stand?

Thomas Shey

Legend
I would not make the stack visible but I play on a VTT, so I need a map and tokens to run an encounter, hence my use of a stack.

There's some ways around that, but I also do entirely VTT these days, so I get the general issue.

Now, are you saying that in the second case (the players choose a path in the forest) was a railroad? And that it was a railroad because the DM dropped an encounter and forced its resolution in spite of the players efforts to avoid that encounter. If so, I would agree with you.

Pretty much. And illusionism because he acted like their decision mattered.

However, if an encounter was indicated (because the DM runs a wilderness encounter on a 1 on a d10 per day of travel and the party failed to notice the signs, noticed but failed to evade the encounter happens. Then I would not regard this as illusionism even if the encounter came from a stack of prepared encounters as distinct from a map location key or a random table.

Well, honestly, if the stack is not ordered when you know when its coming, its indistinguishable from a random encounter. You're effectively just randomizing in a different fashion and from a relatively limited selection (but the latter has often been true with random encounter tables anyway).
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Can you cite the text?

Here's what I find:

PHB (p 106):
[T]the Dungeon Master will aword experience points to the character for treasure gained and opponents captured or slain and for solving or overcoming problems through professional means. . . .​
Gaining experience points through the acquisition of gold pieces and by slaying monsters might be questioned by some individuals . . .​
Monsters captured or slain always bring a full experience point award. Captured monsters ransomed or sold bring a gold piece: experience point ratio award. Monsters slain gain a set point award.​
DMG (p 84):
The judgment factor is inescapable with respect to weighting experience for the points gained from slaying monsters and/or gaining treasure. . . .​
Tricking or outwitting monsters or overcoming tricks and/or traps placed to guard treasure must be determined subjectively, with level of experience balanced against the degree of difficulty you assign to the gaining of the treasure.​

Tricking monsters out of their treasure seems to me to earn treasure XP, not killing XP.
Huh. Now you've got me wondering where I/we got that from - the idea that an avoided threat provided the same xp as a confronted threat - as it's not something we'd have made up ourselves.

A Dragon article, maybe?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think this particular example highlights a problem that can easily occur in RPGing that - like a lot of D&D play - adopts a relatively unstructured approach to pacing, free roleplay etc.

The problem is this: the players are playing their PCs as trying to avoid trouble (scouting, listening etc) but there are no real stakes associated with this. And so, if they do avoid trouble, what is going to happen? Not much - which makes for a boring evening's play!
Perhaps, but if it's what the characters would do, doesn't (or shouldn't) that take priority?
Hence the temptation to use Force to place the encounter regardless of the declared actions - and the temptation to use Illusionism to conceal the Force (eg pretending to roll Perception checks for the encountered monsters).
A temptation which IMO a DM should stubbornly resist. If the players in-character find a way to successfully avoid encounters I don't think they should be punished for that by having to face the encounters anyway.
The problem won't arise in (say) Apocalypse World or Burning Wheel, or in a 4e skill challenge, and probably not in Champions either. Because the PCs will be going from A to B through the woods for a reason, and so the stakes of their attempts to avoid trouble are do they get to B ready to achieve their reason, or rather does the encounter in the forest force some compromise or undermining of their reason when they get to B?
Which would, it seems, obviate any attempt to avoid the encounter altogether (intentionally or otherwise!) by, say, going from A to B via another route or other means and leaving the woods right out of it.

It seems like a mild form of choke-point design in what would otherwise be an open-options situation.
Either way, the play isn't boring, but the success or failure of the avoidance efforts actually matters, and in ways that are not hidden from the players. (So no Force and no Illusionism.)
The success or failure of the avoidance efforts matters regardless: if they succeed there's no encounter and if they fail there is. Tacking further stakes on to this might make sense sometimes, but not every time.
 


DammitVictor

Trust the Fungus
Supporter
- Example 1: The player decides to use a glaive as a weapon - an unusual weapon in that campaign world.
This isn't illusionism. When the player decides their character uses a glaive and the umpire doesn't "sure check" them, they're both deciding that glaive-wielders and magical glaives are going to be a little more common in the campaign world.

If I put a magical glaive in the hands of a minor villain for the player to covet and plunder, that's just encounter design. If the player decides to avoid fighting that villain, they don't get that magical glaive, until they run into that villain again or another minor villain that I've armed with a different magical glaive.

Admittedly, I run a heavy improv style where I don't establish a lot of facts until the PCs request evidence that confirms them. But illusionism isn't designing encounters and adventure scenarios around player interests and character goals; illusionism is changing the established facts of the game world in order to have the players' choices inevitably end up where the umpire wants them.

If I'm running a prepackaged adventure with a villain who uses a three-handed karelian chickentickler, I might very well switch it out for a songhealer's double chainsaw. The difference is, that's a decision I'm going to make before we sit down at the table to play.

- Example 2: The DM has a pre published module they intend to run. That module will include various encounters but it starts with a tavern brawl. This encounter doesn’t need to be keyed to any particular tavern but without it the PCs won’t be part of that module. The DM has that brawl take place in whichever next tavern the PCs visit. Should the GM skip this section because the party don’t elect to stop at a specific tavern?

Look, pre-published modules are full of things I consider poor form on the part of an umpire and I think that might be simply a creative limitation of the nature of the product. But if it's hinged on a tavern brawl breaking out in any one of the taverns available to the characters... it breaks out in the one the PCs are in. Maybe a very similar tavern brawl broke out in all of them near-simultaneously, which isn't that unlikely. Maybe it breaks out in the ones the PCs are drinking specifically because the instigator followed them, specifically, and started the fight with them.

But if the PCs decide to break up the fight without participating in it, or they decide it'll be cheaper to share an unused stall at the stables... then yeah, the umpire should either look the players in the eye and say choo choo or they should improvise another way to get the PCs involved in the rest of the adventure. Asking the players to buy in, explicitly and OOC, is a small spend of the umpire's authority that for its explicitness comes across as an exception to the rule that only makes the players' free choices feel more authentic to them.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Huh. Now you've got me wondering where I/we got that from - the idea that an avoided threat provided the same xp as a confronted threat - as it's not something we'd have made up ourselves.

A Dragon article, maybe?

I thought some later incarnations of D&D did that, but the idea probably didn't spring up full-blown from them. I certainly saw it discussed decades ago.
 

pemerton

Legend
the umpire should either look the players in the eye and say choo choo or they should improvise another way to get the PCs involved in the rest of the adventure. Asking the players to buy in, explicitly and OOC, is a small spend of the umpire's authority that for its explicitness comes across as an exception to the rule that only makes the players' free choices feel more authentic to them.
When I have designed a starting scene or instigating event, I don't pretend to the players that I'm organically evolving the gameworld and presenting that "living world" to them. I tell the players "Here's how it starts!"
 

DammitVictor

Trust the Fungus
Supporter
When I have designed a starting scene or instigating event, I don't pretend to the players that I'm organically evolving the gameworld and presenting that "living world" to them.
That's exactly what I'm aiming for. We work together before the game to establish why the characters are adventurers and why they're adventuring together, and I present them-- diegetically, organically-- a list of opportunities for them to explore, and they can go explore them or make their own fun. By a dozen sessions in, I should be at a point where I'm not even introducing new problems for them, just playing out the consequences of their reactions to the responses to their actions in the first few sessions.
 

TheSword

Legend
That's exactly what I'm aiming for. We work together before the game to establish why the characters are adventurers and why they're adventuring together, and I present them-- diegetically, organically-- a list of opportunities for them to explore, and they can go explore them or make their own fun. By a dozen sessions in, I should be at a point where I'm not even introducing new problems for them, just playing out the consequences of their reactions to the responses to their actions in the first few sessions.
I think that is a totally valid style of play.

My players - and me - demand a little more content than that. In the same way people think AI trained off AI work could collapse, adventuring based entirely off players actions independent of a strong idea of what is going on independently of the PCs can (in some cases) feel like make-work, time wasting or stalling. We feel there is a space for it, but it isn’t the basis of a campaign.

The kinds of story’s told can move towards the domestic or the routine. If that floats your boat then great. For me it isn’t enough.

I see that there are many benefits to improvised campaigns - the PCs are the center of attention, players have more freedom to go where they choose etc. A substantial problem with this is that they can feel more ephemeral and less real than campaigns with more pre-planned structure. If there is a sense that things aren’t fixed in some cases Agency feels diminished. It’s a bit like the machine in Rick & Morty that only generates the 100 feet ahead and 100 feet behind the PCs. The more fixed points of certainty in the campaign the more I tend to enjoy it.

It’s probably because I have this completionist streak in me, that wants to finish something rather than just pass the time in the happy company of my friends. (I do that as well but the first bit is an important part for me). probably also the reason I really loath procedurally generated quests in computer games like Assassins Creed Odyssey, they are like nails on a chalk board to me.
 
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