Illusionism: Where Do You Stand?

In 1e as written, equal xp were gained for defeating or avoiding* an encounter, meaning the choice on how to approach it was a) completely in the hands of the players/PCs and b) many more options were available as the reward system didn't incent one over another.
Even with rules, it does not matter. Many gamers will still pick the way that is more fun for them. And a lot of players think of encounters as fun.
Further, if your options come down to fighting an encounter and possibly-maybe-probably dying or sneaking past the encounter and not dying, the wise choice seems pretty clear.
True.
Thankfully, RPGs are not TV shows; and thus we don't need them to be all action all the time. We're not trying to attract viewers so as to sell ad space.
The basic principle is the same though. The vast majority of players want to have fun and be entertained.

The difference is, if I've put the ogre on the left side of the fork in advance, I've also put ways for the PCs to find out there's an ogre there, or at least there are ogres in the area. If there's a choice the players have to make, that choice is meaningful. Otherwise, it's the illusion of choice.
I don't really like this anti-pre planning stance.

Should a DM pre plan something like an encounter on the left roadway, the players get all bent out of shape if they can't "avoid it" somehow.

But the casual DM has nothing pre made. So there is nothing anywhere. But when the characters go down the left roadway the DM just improvs an encounter out of thin air. The players can never avoid it, as it did not exist before the characters went down the left roadway. They can't avoid what does not exist.

Of course, it does allow the pre planning DM to just say "oh, I just improved this encounter out of thin air" and then the players can't complain....
 

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The important thing, ironically, is the illusion that the world exists when the players aren't looking at it, that the world exists outside of their interactions with it; the "illusionism" we're discussing here is bad because it spoils that illusion.

I really don't see why this is important at all. I see no benefit in sustaining this illusion of a permanent realistic world when it's not permanent, not realistic, and not even a world.

Furthermore, where does it stop? When I set up the first dungeon of my campaign, do I need to have finished the last dungeon the players will interact with? Do I need to have finished every dungeon they might choose to interact with? I agree that that would be totally impractical, but I don't see why that isn't also just as much of a problem for not having a "realistic" world (for lack of a better term). Where is the line and why?

Let's take a video game like NetHack or Hades or Diablo II or X-COM or Spelunky. They feature procedurally generated dungeons with multiple levels. There are some fixed elements, but even within those fixed elements the game randomly determines layouts for some or all of the game.

When should the game determine the layout of a level? Should the game generate a seed once when the run of the game begins for the whole dungeon? Or should the game instead generate a seed for each level of the game? Now, I know that nearly all games of this type choose to do the former, but a big part of that is so they can make debugging level generation errors easier as well as to support things like shared daily runs. Setting aside that kind of developer consideration, however, does it matter to the player if the final level of the dungeon has been determined when they start the game?
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I think there are a couple of divergent things to address here, so bear with me.

I really don't see why this is important at all. I see no benefit in sustaining this illusion of a permanent realistic world when it's not permanent, not realistic, and not even a world.
There's a substantial benefit to maintaining the illusion of a permanent, (at least semi-)realistic world even though it's a game. Lacking the illusion of a world around the PCs robs it and what the PCs do of a lot of meaning. Why interact with the townsfolk and rescue their children from the goblin piper who leads them away to his lair to cook them in a stew if none of it is going to have a sustained, believable consequence? Why do anything of consequence in the game setting if it won't have implications farther down the line? What kind of meaning do our actions have in that game setting if they don't fit into a semblance of persistent reasonability?

Furthermore, where does it stop? When I set up the first dungeon of my campaign, do I need to have finished the last dungeon the players will interact with? Do I need to have finished every dungeon they might choose to interact with? I agree that that would be totally impractical, but I don't see why that isn't also just as much of a problem for not having a "realistic" world (for lack of a better term). Where is the line and why?
All that said above, none of it really depends on the dungeon being completed independently of my interaction with the players as a DM. Nor does it have anything to do with there being no quantum ogres... as long as what happens at run time is reasonable and believable within the bounds of the setting and its assumptions. Would it make sense for an ogre encounter to be up either fork of the road? In most cases, if it's reasonable for one fork, it's probably reasonable for the other since it's possible to walk from one to the other as the PCs are doing now (one presumes that one fork isn't into a perilous forest and the other to a beach populated by bikini/speedo-clad elves and halflings with an admission fee the ogre can't afford).

Granted, there are players who don't care much about the meaning of their PCs' actions as long as they can kick in doors, kill monsters, and level up. That may be all the meaning they care about. But I think a lot of players, particularly these days, are looking for more. So the sense that the world is independent of them, persistent, and realistic to the point that they understand its basics within the genre they're playing is important. It's just not based on there being some inviolable written bible, some pre-defined random tables, some mechanistic procedure for building it, or even completion before the PCs are turned loose on it. All of those can be useful tools but they can all come off the cuff as well (just keep good notes in case the PCs come back to it later) and still give the illusion of an independent, persistent, genre-realistic world that gives or enhances the meaningful significance of what the PCs do.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Welcome to my "enemies of DM empowerment" list.
I take no issue with the label and will wear it proudly. "Enemy of DM empowerment" is certainly one way to describe what has elsewhere been called "disciplined, principled, and fruitful constraint on GM authority."
This is such a strange stance to take. Don't you play D&D with your friends?

You make it sound like a competitive sport, or a debate.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Probably more detrimentally to the lack of understanding the rules to players was GMs in 3E. I ran across a good number of GMs that "never had to have magic items ever in the past, so you gotta earn em!" completely lacked the understanding of the ruleset. Also, its a complete drag to keep getting bracers of armor and daggers nobody uses that sell at half value to get the items you do need.

As long as the items are not assumed by game rules do whatever you want. Otherwise, you are screwing the players for feel and not understanding the ruleset.

No thank you to either of these.
These comments collectively add up to a significant difference in philosophy from mine, I think, with the dichotomy being this:

Should the game state (in this case, the available items) be expected to adapt to the characters in play, or should the characters be expected to adapt to the game state as presented?

I'm very much in the latter camp: the characters are what they are and the setting is what it is, and if something doesn't match it's the characters, as run by their players, who should find a way to adapt.

If I've brought in a character with the player-side concept that this character is all about flying, say, and by bad luck or whatever over time I simply can't get my mitts on any means of flight, then maybe I-as-player eventually need to have the character give up on that idea and try something else (a trivially easy thing to roleplay in character). I as player have no right to expect (or worse, demand) the game give my character access to a flight device just because that's what I-as-player and she-in-character wants.

Or if a group of players all decide to play mages and most of the items they find early on are weapons and armour, it's on the mages (and their players) to find a way to make use of them, even if said use consists only of selling them for money and then converting that money into new spells or whatever.

Which means yes, the whole idea of wish lists is right out: I mean sure, make one if you like; but if I'm DMing you're pretty much wasting your time unless you're also willing to have your character do something about it in the fiction, possibly at great risk and-or cost (the stereotypical example here is a Paladin questing for a Holy Avenger).
 


CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
These two things are by no means mutually exclusive.
But you can understand my confusion, right? From the word choices and tone of some of these comments, it's easy to get the impression that the DM and the players are opponents...that one is trying to win against, or defeat, the other. The DM and the players should all be on the same team, but it definitely didn't sound like that was the case.
 

Jack Daniel

dice-universe.blogspot.com
This is such a strange stance to take. Don't you play D&D with your friends?

I play with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It's not at all clear to me how that's relevant to whether or not a game is fair.

You make it sound like a competitive sport, or a debate.

You're going to have to clarify what you mean by that. In the past, I've only ever heard anyone liken D&D to a competition when they're trying (whether for rhetorical effect or because they genuinely don't know that they're equivocating) to conflate impartial refereeing with adversarial, "Viking hat" DMing (which is, incidentally, precisely the sort of thing I implicitly ruled out-of-bounds when I mentioned assuming good faith DMing in my original post).
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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?

Thanks.
Illusionism is railroading only worse, since with non-illusionary railroading at least the players can see what is happening and act to get out of it.
 

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