On "Illusionism" (+)

S'mon

Legend
I view the numbers behind the game as the race track the cars are using. It provides the general path and definition of the area that the adventure is taking place in, but there are times where it makes sense to go outside the lines a little bit when it gains one an advantage.

So if a critical smite attack leaves a dragon alive with 1HP, then maybe it works a little better if that gets the kill instead of random NPC #3 punching it.

When this happens I always smile evilly and say "1 hp left! Bad luck!" and they groan. :LOL: Of course if it had 27 hp left and they do exactly 27 hp damage, I tell them that too, and they smile. :cool:
 

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S'mon

Legend
I would never run an adventure where the PCs will get captured whatever they do. (I have run a campaign which started with all the PCs in prison, but this was explained in advance and all the players agreed to it.) If I was a player in such a game, I would probably quit.

Depending on genre, I'm ok with a 'cut scene' of the "you all wake up in jail" type, normally at the start of the scenario/adventure. It's only Illusionism (& Railroading) if the GM plays through the capture, nominally using the game mechanics, but with a pre-determined outcome.

I like this kind of cut scene to go along with some kind of metagame award, eg when I did it in OGL/d20 Conan I handed out Fate Points, as the PCs had been 'screwed over by Fate'. Drama Points, Hero Points, Inspiration et al can also be used for this.
 

S'mon

Legend
OK, thanks for clarifying.

My perception is certainly that over the last 15 years illusionism has declined in the hobby, from being largely the default of mist GMing advice to being actively discouraged or even prevented by newer storygame influenced RPGs. I don't know about YouTubers or the OSR community, but in terms of the new published game systems, which ones are advocating illusionism?
That's my impression - Railroading techniques became prevalent in the mid to late 1980s, peaked in the 1990s, and have generally been in decline since then. OSR is generally hostile to railroading and does not seek to replicate the Saga of the Slave Lords and similar tournament modules. Paizo APs seem quite railroady nowadays, but when Paizo APs first came out I remember thinking they were notably less railroady than their predecessors from the 1990s. WoTC 5e hardbacks seem pretty railroady compared to the OSR sandbox megadungeons I prefer, but they are typically less railroady than Paizo APs and far far less railroady than TSR stuff from the 1990s (Vecna Lives, Dead Gods, et al).
 

S'mon

Legend
A - For me railroading would be the players were given/accepted the task to protect the duke, and decide to walk the other way when they hear there is an attack ongoing. Then you say the path out of town is suddenly blocked. The technique later in the paragraph is a perfect way to cut through the boring parts of a session.

Yes, I agree. My understanding of "railroading" is that it is the GM forcefully intervening to keep the players on the story rails, when the players are attempting to go 'off script', knowingly or unknowingly. A linear campaign with player buy in may not involve any "railroading", although some people call these linear campaigns "railroads". I think that's unfortunate because "railroading" is bad, but a linear campaign is not necessarily bad, at least not for everyone.

A couple non-RPG dictionary definitions of railroading" which IMO are very close to the normal RPG usage:


 

S'mon

Legend
Let me ask; what can players do to help reduce the DM's need to engage in illusionism?

They can not demand illusionism. I recruited some random people off Roll20 to run Lost Mine of Phandelver. They played poorly, certainly in Gamist terms, and PCs died a lot. Some complained that the game was not about PCs dying, it was about character & story, ie I shouldn't be killing their PCs. AFAICS they wanted the illusion of threat, but not the actuality.

In hindsight it was a refreshing reminder of how great my regular players are! :LOL:
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't see any benefit to doing this - appear to offer a choice, but then negate that. Why have apparent branching paths with the ogre down whichever one is taken? Why not a single linear path with the ogre on it?

Illusion of choice. The idea behind illusionism is appear to offer the players agency without actually doing it.

I had known about the technique for a long time, but I first really started thinking about it three or four years ago when I was wanting to run a CoC adventure path ("Masks" is it happens) and I went to an oldbie CoC forum to get advice from long time CoC GMs about how to run such a campaign. And basically, all the advice I got about the system and the adventure was "just slather everything in Illusionism and it will be good".

That was not the advice I was in any way expecting about running CoC, which in my play with it and in my head was not a game with the aesthetic of Illusionism railroading the players through scenarios so that they win (or lose).

I'm against deceiving the players.

In general, I am too.

I think this is different though from standard tropes like "the PCs just in time to stop the evil ritual" - these aren't necessarily deceiving the players.

Well, maybe. I agree it isn't necessarily about deceiving the players, but it is the exact same technique. Remember, I'm all about techniques. If you are using a technique to fudge when the ritual happens so that whenever the PCs arrive, it's just in time to witness and stop the ritual, then that is Illusionism. You are playing with the fact that the players have limited ability to view what is happening outside of their character's knowledge to arrange events in such a way that you think they will be most dramatic. The exact time the ritual occurs is "Sometime in a two week period, when the PC's arrive", which is very much not realistic and not driven by carefully planning and imagining what the NPCs are doing off stage.

So while you may feel more comfortable using Illusionism to achieve these effects because "the heroes are always just in time" is a widely used narrative trope, it's still illusionism. For me, if I apply a definition of Illusionism consistently, what I find is that at some level even the most rigorous campaign is using a lot of illusionism. That's because it's impossible for a GM to actually run the full imagined world in all its details as a true simulation. You are always fudging the reality of the setting to a large extent.* So the question is not so much "use illusionism or not", but when to use illusionism, to what degree, and for what purpose.

*The one argument in this thread I don't want to entertain and get into is, "Since everyone is using illusionism, then there is no such thing as Illusion" or its cousin "Since everyone is using illusionism, there is no difference in degree between what I'm doing and what you are doing." I 'm simply tired of trying to explain that there is a difference between a little and a lot of illusionism in terms of the agency provided to the players and what you as a GM are trying to achieve.

And of course it's fine for NPCs to seek to deceive the PCs. I think a deceitful GM is breaking the table contract, but deceitful NPCs are just doing their thing.

NPCs being deceitful is just part of that realistic animation of the setting. The NPCs are (hopefully) behaving in the way that is reasonable for the circumstances they are in and the personality and goals that they have.
 
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hawkeyefan

Legend
Let me ask; what can players do to help reduce the DM's need to engage in illusionism?

Buy the DM a dozen adventure books?
Go to improv classes with them?
Hold regular planning sessions on where the campaign is heading?
Help build the world?

Be proactive?
Make a character that is part of the world?

These things won’t stop a DM from using illusionism, but they’ll certainly reduce the need for them to do it.

But some DMs are just gonna DM.
 

S'mon

Legend
Illusion of choice. The idea behind illusionism is appear to offer the players agency without actually doing it.

So while you may feel more comfortable using Illusionism to achieve these effects because "the heroes are always just in time" is a widely used narrative trope, it's still illusionism.

I don't agree, but clearly you're stricter than me. I could see it becoming illusionism if the GM gives the players the impression they must struggle to reach the ritual chamber in time, but really it will always be 5 rounds from completion when they arrive. If the player characters short-circuit the adventure and arrive much earlier than expected, or dawdle and arrive much later, yes the GM should uphold player agency and alter the situation accordingly.

IME players love the feeling they've 'outsmarted the adventure', and much prefer an easy win achieved through smart play to a close fought battle created & resolved via Illusionist techniques.
 

I don't agree, but clearly you're stricter than me. I could see it becoming illusionism if the GM gives the players the impression they must struggle to reach the ritual chamber in time, but really it will always be 5 rounds from completion when they arrive. If the player characters short-circuit the adventure and arrive much earlier than expected, or dawdle and arrive much later, yes the GM should uphold player agency and alter the situation accordingly.

IME players love the feeling they've 'outsmarted the adventure', and much prefer an easy win achieved through smart play to a close fought battle created & resolved via Illusionist techniques.
The big problem here is the players that love to ruin adventures and wear it like a big bright badge are only a small part of gamers. Maybe only 25% get into a game with the goal of ruining the adventure. Though often they won't admit it and will hide behind the classics: "It's what my character would do" or "it happened by accident".

Often enough you will have 3-4 players that want to have fun immersed playing the game, and only one player waiting for their chance to pounce and ruin the game for all. This is where the GM really needs to toss around some Power and stop the one player("sorry, rocks fell on your character, you can't ruin the adventure"). Many games get into trouble as the GM is unwilling to do that.

A game, more so an Adventure, Is an Artificial Fiction. It's not "real", it does not make "sense" and it does not fit into a "real world situation simulation".

The GM is aware of this and set up the game for it. Things 'just happen", amazingly, to be the most exciting/fun/dramatic/etc. Just look at nearly any fiction. Everything happens at the last moments, on the edge, with a chance for huge failure. The players should be aware of this too....but most are not. Most players get lost in their game character and "can't see the forest through the trees". Not to mention so many players only play the game for the betterment of their own personal character, ego and fun.

In the best games...the Heroes show up right before the big bad is summoned at midnight and face the ticking clock of can they stop the summoning AND most likely can they stop the Evil that is summoned when they fail. This is an epic fight and a tale of tales that gamers will be talking about forever.

OR

You could follow the more bland approach. The players figure out the evil plan will be done on Friday night. So on Monday they sneak in and destroy the macguffin...and save the day. Then the characters go to a tavern to drink. Not a very exciting game. And sure, some players from that small group will be as happy as a clam that they avoided the big endgame fight. Most gamers though....want that big finish.
 

S'mon

Legend
Most gamers though....want that big finish.

IME, I never see as much happiness on the faces of my players as when they pull off some amazing, unforeseen by scenario author, way to win, and I tell them "That wasn't even supposed to be possible!" One small example - running Barrowmaze, there's a lot of "This door can only be opened by X" stuff. So I tell them "You don't have X, so opening that lock is Nearly Impossible - DC 30!" - then they go to town finding all the ways to lower the DC and raise their roll until they can open it - they love that stuff. That it short circuits the plot seems to be a bonus.
 

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