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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on November 11, 2002, 02:05:21 PM



Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 11, 2002, 02:05:21 PM
Hello,

I decided to write a piece on Illusionist play from the ground up. Any material preceding this one may be considered a past influence, and I'm putting this up as a new starting point for discussion and dissection.

Three variables to understand
The way I see it now, we are talking about three independent variables, one of which is fixed.

Variable #1 (GM-oomph, the fixed one)
= how much influence the GM has influence over story-impacting decisions made by the player-characters. The techniques involved vary all over the place, but ultimately, we're talking about a group in which this happens. I shall call this influence "GM-oomph." In many groups, the Social Contract permits this activity, and Illusionist play falls into the category or mode which permits it to be exercised to some degree. Therefore, for most of this discussion, we're talking about play in which this activity is not necessarily dysfunctional.

Note to terminology junkies: obviously, "GM-oomph" is a joke term. I'm open to suggestions for it that aren't judgmental (i.e. "GM assholery" would display a certain bias, I think).

#2 (Overt/Covert)
= how overt the GM-oomph is. Does he say, "You follow that guy," or does he say, "You feel that guy may be an important part of the puzzle," or does he say, "That guy keeps looking at you" and follow it up in the next scene with, "That same guy is sitting on the park bench," or does he say, "There are four guys, which one do you want to talk to?" and leave it at that?

I like to call this the Black Curtain. If the Curtain is drawn, then the players aren't immediately clued in either (a) to what role this NPC or observation plays in the development of the storyline, if any; or (b) to what the appropriate action might be, relative to the developing story. If the Curtain is "up," then there's very little doubt about these things.

The Curtain can be raised or lowered at various points during play; it's interesting to consider the difference between play in which it begins "up" and is later "drawn," and play which proceeds exactly opposite.

#3 (Flexibility)
= how flexible the outcome is permitted to be. The GM in question might be the kind who'll do anything up to actually picking up your dice for you in order for you to talk to "that guy," or he might be the kind who's happy to let the characters miss the clue, either 'porting it to another character or letting its absence go ahead and affect the outcome.

Illusionism
OK, here we go.

Illusionism is a term for a mode of play in which the #1 variable is fixed as "GM impact on character decision-making is permitted," and the #2 variable is at the covert end of the spectrum;

Within Illusionist play, the #3 variable may fluctuate freely. A pre-planned version of Illusionism is the more fixed version (they *will* fight Dr. Bad in the underground complex and they *will* win, and he *will* get away), and Paul Elliott's original Illusionism is the more flexible version ("Wow!" say the players, "You're a genius to have made up that story and we never figured it out at the time!").

Given that the "GM-oomph" over character decision-making is present, and given that it's covert, then that's the illusion. The flexibility of the outcome may be low or high, but as long as the GM has that power to make things "go" in a certain way, and if it's covert, then Illusionism is under way. It may be a little funny to imagine that a GM can have that power and still have flexible outcomes, but in my experience, some GMs like to make those "how it turns out" decisions right there during play, as opposed to a more Roads-to-Rome preparation mode.

Illusionism is sometimes read as malicious deception, but that negative reading is misplaced. I think that a shared agreement "to be deceived" is typically involved, i.e., what I described before as the players not wanting to look behind the black curtain, and everyone being happy that the curtain is there. When that happens, Illusionism is functional, primarily because no element of the Social Contract is being threatened or violated.

When, however, the social contract (which may well never have been expressed and everyone just "knows" or more accurately hopes that it's intact) is broken regarding this issue, then we're into railroading. This can occur because *no* degree of GM-takeover of character decision-making is acceptable to one or more players (i.e. there's a disgruntled Narrativist or Gamist in the group), and then it shows up, or because the *degree* of doing so is being stretched past a tolerance level (i.e. they're all Illusionists except with different degrees of "how to do it").

I suggest that people who like Illusionist play are very good at establishing and abiding by just what degree of GM-oomph is allowable.

One person suggested to me that Illusionism includes the practice of the GM altering the world in such a way as to keep a story (or other desired outcome) on track. Examples: changing the toughness of opponents during a fight, contradicting already determined - but not established to the players - backstory for dramatic effect ("ret-conning history"), spontaneous creation of obstacles to prevent actions the GM feels will hurt the plot, etc. I identify this as a technique that may be useful in Illusionism, rather than the thing itself. Some Illusionist GMs rely only on nonverbal cues at the social level, for instance. Also, these techniques may be employed in ways that are not Illusionist at all.

Note that play-prep which does set up very fixed starting conditions ("You are FBI agents, and you are sent to investigate a murder"), but specifically does not include GM-impact on character decision-making, is not Illusionism by my terms.

Participation
If I'm not mistaken, Participation might be a good term for the other end of the second variable (overtness), in which the GM's oomph is on the table, or the Curtain is "up," and the players are good with it. I wouldn't be surprised if the #3 variable, in this case, would tend more toward the flexible end of its spectrum.

In my experience, and others' experience may well differ, this form of play is notoriously unstable over time, for two reasons. (1) Now that one person is acknowledged to be Mr. Metagame, some of the others may want to have some too (i.e. go Narrativist) which may lead to control issues. (2) Conversely, some players (particularly those who favor Sim-System) may be offended and upset at the presence of the metagame at all ("Why don't you just write a novel?").

However, a certain amount of untapped potential lies in this approach to play, and I'm very interested in seeing what some high-Director-Stance Simulationist designs out there might yield in the near future.

Remaining questions and issues
1) What game design elements facilitate successful Illusionist play? Conversely, what game design elements can clarify whether Illusionist play is not consistent with the other design goals?

2) What plain-language terms can facilitate hashing out these issues for real prior to play? (i.e., to bypass meaningless discussion of "the story's the thing" or similar)

3) Illusionism is historically suited to Simulationist/Situation play. As I currently see it, I can't imagine it doing too well in most Narrativist play (even the most Vanilla) nor in Gamist play (ditto), as long as we're talking about character-decisions of import. If anyone disagrees with me about this, can he or she shed light on the issue for me?

All comments and questions are welcome.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Many thanks to Marco and to Mike Holmes for useful discussions about it all; snippets of their input have found their way into the above material.


Title: Re: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: jburneko on November 11, 2002, 02:39:11 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

1) What game design elements facilitate successful Illusionist play?


I can name one concrete example of a mechanic that definitely facilitates illusionist play: Drama Dice in 7th Sea.  My weekend group is currently playing 7th Sea which after the first session I realized, at it's core, is an illusionist game.

Here's how it works.

1) The GM is encouraged in the game text to slighlty unbalance situations so as to almost require players to use Drama Dice to succeed in their actions.

2) Players earn drama dice by doing lots of cool dramatic stuff.  This can even be interpreted to mean the same thing it means in Sorcerer and still produce the illusionist effect.

This is the key:

3) When the player spends a Drama Die to increase chances of success that drama die goes into the GM's Drama Die pool.

Since the player's out number the GM the GM's pool will ALWAYS be larger than any single player's pool.  The net result is that at any given time the GM is guaranteed, without violating any rules, the power to make a certain situation go a specific way.  Even better, it maintains the "illusion" of player empowerment by disguising the GM's empowerment as player empowerment.

Think about it.  The player wants to succeed so they work hard to earn Drama Dice.  But when they spend the Drama Die it goes to the GM.  Granted the GM can not use that Drama Die within the same scene but it doesn't matter because if the GM is doing things "correctly" he will wrack up enough Drama Dice from the pervious scene to be able to maintain control over the current scene.  So you see, the players are working hard.  The harder they work, the more Drama Dice they earn.  To encourage them to work hard the game is kept unbalanced meaning they must spend the Drama Dice to guarantee success.  Those spent Drama Dice then go directly to empowering the GM to control any scene he/she chooses.

Interesting, no?

Jesse


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Bob McNamee on November 11, 2002, 02:43:19 PM
Perhaps "GM-oomph" could be "Engineering"
how much "designing", "driving", and "creative control" they are exerting in a positive sense... it becomes "Railroading" when in violation of Social Contract...


Title: Re: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Paganini on November 11, 2002, 05:50:29 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

When, however, the social contract (which may well never have been expressed and everyone just "knows" or more accurately hopes that it's intact) is broken regarding this issue, then we're into railroading. This can occur because *no* degree of GM-takeover of character decision-making is acceptable to one or more players (i.e. there's a disgruntled Narrativist or Gamist in the group), and then it shows up, or because the *degree* of doing so is being stretched past a tolerance level (i.e. they're all Illusionists except with different degrees of "how to do it").


A-HEM! I don't think that comment is accurate. Illusionism, as I see it, isn't specificaly about what one prioritizes during play, and therefore can't be compared to one of the three GNS stances. I claim that a lot of Gamist play is functional illusionism. Furthermore, there are many Simulationist gamers who *hate* GM control of their players. They call it "railroading." IOW, whether or not you accept Illusionism doesn't have anything to do with your play priorities (except in the case of Narrativism, where one excludes the other). It's a question of whether or not you accept the GM moving your character around.

I think a lot of functional Gamist play is Illusionist. I know it's not definitive, but the fact is a lot of Gamist play deals with effectiveness on a meta-game level. (I.e., D&D experience points.) IME, a lot of Gamist players don't care how much the GM pushes them around, as long as he doesn't interfere with the elements requiring their own personal skill. IOW, they don't care how contrived the path to the fight is, as long as they get to exercise tactical control when the fight gets going. I see this as functional Gamist Illusionism. GM-Oomph is clearly defined as "do whatever you want, as long as you don't keep the players from exercising skill."

At the same time, these Gamists will claim total dedication to story (hehe) saying that a "good story" is what makes role-playing cool. And they happily look to their GM to retrofit one for them.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Bob McNamee on November 11, 2002, 05:50:49 PM
Regarding #3
I could see Gamist play in Illusionism, with the primary 'competition' being between the players (as opposed to GM).


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 11, 2002, 08:06:05 PM
Hi Nathan,

Perhaps you missed my #3 "further discussion" point in your hurry to nail a phrase that caught your eye. As you can see, I acknowledge that this issue is debatable.

The trouble is that you're sticking with the older approach to Illusionism which was fixated on where "the story" comes from. That's what was gumming up a lot of dialogue among me, Mike H, and Marco, until we realized that it was a red herring. In my new breakdown, "story" is absent. I do not specify what the GM is making player-character-decisions about. All I care about is whether it's important to play.

Given my current thinking about your Gamist proposal, I would maintain that the GM-decisions about "story" are basically scene framing from a Gamist standpoint, relative to the "money shot" scenes of Gamist "test" or competition*, and not Illusionist at all. "Yeah, get us there," would be the player response.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Note to Gareth Martin: I haven't forgotten you regarding this point.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Paganini on November 11, 2002, 08:39:14 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

Perhaps you missed my #3 "further discussion" point in your hurry to nail a phrase that caught your eye. As you can see, I acknowledge that this issue is debatable.


I saw, and made haste to debate. ;)

Quote

Given my current thinking about your Gamist proposal, I would maintain that the GM-decisions about "story" are basically scene framing from a Gamist standpoint, relative to the "money shot" scenes of Gamist "test" or competition*, and not Illusionist at all. "Yeah, get us there," would be the player response.


Hmm. Interesting idea. This sort of sequence does not match what I think of as typical scene framing.

Scene framing is "You're gathered together at the in when a hooded stranger comes up to you and asks you to kill all the kobolds in the mountains."

Illusionism is when the characters leave the bar, and end up in the mountains killing kobolds, regardless.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: M. J. Young on November 11, 2002, 09:47:44 PM
Not too long ago I penned a piece entitled Ephemeral Illusion in my Game Ideas Unlimited series. (Note: the series is part of the Gaming Outpost subscriber section; this link will reach the entry page for the article, but if you have not recently paid your dollar you won't be able to access the article, or others in the series.) The issue I raised there is one worth raising here: is it possible to design a game which is overtly illusionist? I am of the tentative opinion that this is not possible in today's game world; or rather, that any game so designed would not find an audience.

The problem, as I see it, lies in what I perceive as a fundamental requirement of illusionism: the players do not realize that they are not in control. I've played in illusionist games; as soon as players started to see the through the illusion, it started to develop serious cracks. One player quit outright because he overheard the referee talking to another player about what was "going to happen" in a situation he was playing. Gradually we all realized that nothing we chose made any difference to play. He was telling a story, probably making it up as he went along, and using the trappings of a role playing game to keep his audience involved and give us the feeling that we were contributing to the story.

Perhaps that's harsh. We probably gave him ideas, forced him to find ways to incorporate our actions into his story. But he was masterful at manipulating players into doing what he wanted and making us feel as if we'd chosen, so it was very difficult to determine when, if ever, we were creating the story.

I'm not opposed to illusionism as a referee technique. Other articles in the series elucidate ways to run games which are very much in that realm:
  • Invisible Coins suggested how to use die rolls as a way to determine what outcome you want, not how it comes out.
  • Who? talked about bringing information about player characters into the game at critical moments which the players did not know.
  • Left or Right? was about taking away from the players the decisions that shouldn't matter, such as by making whatever road they choose be the one that leads where you wanted them to go.
  • Possibilities considered the use of open-ended scenarios, in which the truth is decided in response to player choices and desires rather than as part of the materials.[/list:u]
    All these are related to illusionism to some degree, and I use them and encourage others to do so. But my problem arises when I come to the level of designing a game which is avowedly illusionist. And herein lies the problem. Every game that is written and published, no matter how obscurely, becomes known and discussed on the Internet. So let us suppose I write Illusion, a game which uses such illusionist techniques, and I publish it. As soon as someone gets players interested, those players are going to start investigating the game. At least one of them is going to encounter someone who says, "Isn't that the game that is entirely illusionism, where the referee runs the whole thing but the game makes the players feel like they're involved?" Bang! The entire game collapses at that instant, because illusionism requires as part of its premise that the players are unaware it is happening. In every situation in which I advocate illusionism, I emphasize that you can't do it all the time; you can only do it sparingly, judiciously. If it is discovered that your games are entirely a matter of you creating the story and making the players feel as if they contributed when they really had no control of events whatsoever, the game ends, often with bad feelings on the part of the players.

    Note that we're not discussing participationism, in which the players are conscious that their decisions have little or no impact on outcomes. This problem applies strictly to games in which the referee is actively keeping the players "in the dark". If the rules exist, someone will read them. If it is explicit in the rules that that is what is happening, from then on they will be able to clearly see the man behind the curtain, and the puppets are no longer impressive.

    Please don't take this as a rant; I'm much more interested in whether there is a way around this than in proving it can't be done. The observation above concerning drama dice in 7th Sea is intriguing because it may well be that the mechanic supports and encourages illusionism implicitly, but neither the referee nor the players are explicitly aware of it. Such a game might work for an extended period (depending on how latent the features are, that is, how long will it take for the players to realize just how stacked the deck really is); if it's abused, eventually the players will realize it, and then you have the problem that they think the game broken for giving too much power to the referee, not that they perceive it as illusionism.

    Ideas? I seem to recall that Pale Fire (?) was working on an illusionist system; has he got solutions to this?


    --M. J. Young


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: contracycle on November 12, 2002, 02:16:22 AM
[bangs head on desk]

And no, this is not about the competition issue.

MJ says:

Quote

As soon as someone gets players interested, those players are going to start investigating the game. At least one of them is going to encounter someone who says, "Isn't that the game that is entirely illusionism, where the referee runs the whole thing but the game makes the players feel like they're involved?" Bang! The entire game collapses at that instant, because illusionism requires as part of its premise that the players are unaware it is happening


Imagine you went to see a stage magician.  Are you, at any moment UNWAWARE that the "magic" you are seeing is an illusion?  No.  Does this compromise your enjoyment  of the performance?  No (well not for most, self selecting and all).  But, at no point is the audience aware of WHICH BIT or HOW the illusion was executed; thus, the Illusion remains mysterious, and intriguing even though everyone knows it was a trick.  The fact that it was a trick does not undermine its value, because the very fact a trick could produce that result is itself interesting.

"railroading" in Illusionism is, IMO, like a card force.  Yes absolutely, I have pre-arranged which card you are going to pick.  I'm going to distract your attention from the execution of the trick.  I'm going to give you a line of patter that thoroughly obfuscates what it is I am doing and thinking and paying attention to.  But, at no point do I aver assert that I have real magick POWAH!  Therefore, the fact that the audience is aware that it is a trick is not damaging to the practice of the illusion; I have not told a porky pie.  Even if they know I forced a card on them, they can have fun speculating on how that happened (which is exactly what the misdirection is for).

Paganini wrote:
Quote

Illusionism is when the characters leave the bar, and end up in the mountains killing kobolds, regardless.


Yes but: done properly, you should not be able to detect that fracture line; the kobolds should appear to be a natural feature of the setting, and the decision to fight them your own and natural.  In exactly the same way that you "freely" chose the Queen of Spades from my perfectly normal deck (which you yourself examined).

Quote

In every situation in which I advocate illusionism, I emphasize that you can't do it all the time; you can only do it sparingly, judiciously. If it is discovered that your games are entirely a matter of you creating the story and making the players feel as if they contributed when they really had no control of events whatsoever, the game ends, often with bad feelings on the part of the players.


Why?  Does this not presuppose that the players value the creation of story - which may well not be the case if, as is common for illusionist games, the player proclivities are Gamist and Sim.  And furthermore, I really hate this expression of "feel as if they contributed"; quite clearly, they DID contribute in a real and tangible manner.  Even if it were my desire to "write a story" - which I deny - I cannot write dialogue; the "story" is only potential until ACTUALLY executed there at the gaming table.  


Lastly, Ron asks:
Quote

2) What plain-language terms can facilitate hashing out these issues for real prior to play? (i.e., to bypass meaningless discussion of "the story's the thing" or similar)


I would suggest raiding the lexicons of stage magicians and con-artists.  Really.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Bob McNamee on November 12, 2002, 07:42:43 AM
This magician description would match up well with when Illusionism breaks down...

When you can see how the effects are done (at the moment they are done poorly) it falls apart ... its not a good show.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Bob McNamee on November 12, 2002, 07:45:10 AM
This magician description would match up well with when Illusionism breaks down...

When you can see how the effects are done (at the moment they are done poorly) it falls apart ... its not a good show.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Paganini on November 12, 2002, 08:06:31 AM
Hey, watch where you're pointing that thing, Bob!

I second the motion for using stage magician terminology for Illusionism. Fits very well.

Gareth: I don't disagree with you about the Kobolds. The point I was making is that functional Gamist Illusionism exists.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 08:14:39 AM
Hi Gareth,

I'm pretty sure that M.J.'s point is well-addressed by your post - no need, I think, for head-banging, perhaps. He's a reasonable guy.

It all comes down to exactly the "willingness not to look" regarding the Black Curtain - after all, the chance to see past it (perhaps as it swirls open briefly, due to a mis-timed GM moment) is diminished if you're not looking in the first place.

The real point is whether an explicit Social Contract not to look is itself "destroying the Illusion." In my opinion, it does not have to, and I'd appreciate it if people would consider this possiblity carefully before going on about "of course it would." Gareth's right - we have a whole culture of terms and points that would seem entirely appropriate.

People who attend and enjoy a David Copperfield performance have entered into a Social Contract not to look. People who get conned by a street Three Card Monte expert have entered into a Social Contract ("this is a fair game"); any con artist will tell you that the whole point is to get that Contract established first, and the pigeon is 90% bagged.

How can Illusionist role-playing be more like the above-board Copperfield situation and not like the wholly deceptive/manipulative Three Card Monte situation? If that question can be answered satisfactorily, then we have something to work with regarding game design.

Best,
Ron


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Marco on November 12, 2002, 08:34:47 AM
A few thoughts:

1. If the "curtain is up" then I don't think Illusionism is a good term for what's going on (the GM interfering with characters).

2. "(i.e. there's a disgruntled Narrativist or Gamist in the group)" I see no reason a standard Simulationist player wouldn't object to Illusionism. I see no reason a Gamist would, especially if the GM-control wasn't surrounding decidedly gamist activities.

3. This type of play is notoriously rewarding in my experience and others (I still don't like the warning--I suggest that similar disclaimers could be made for anything, why not just say "hey, I tried this--for years I liked it and I don't like it any more--when I play I want more control" or whatever).

4. For me, Illusionism is about the GM meddling with reality behind the scenes. Any time a player opens a door and the GM says what's there, if the GM is internally making the choice based on what he wants to be there rather than what he had a) decided was there or b) what logically might be there--and that is done with intent to keep a story on track, it is, IMO Illusionism.

In the last good Narrativist game you (any reader) played in, did the GM describe what was behind a door? If he/she did then it could have been illusionist play--and it would've worked just fine.

The requirement for the GM impacting player decisions is, IMO, a moot point. Any word out of the GM's mouth can impact a player decision. Any time a character encounters an obstacle that another person has any domain over, it's effecting the story.

The GM mandating that the villain get away is somethign of a straw-man. If the GM can't find an organic (meaning naturally occurring to the known story-line), logical method of ensuring escape--and the GM forces it anyway, then whatever else it may be, it's obvious (and, IMO, probably lazy).

It's like a stage magician fumbling. The players might be cool with it. The GM might be cool with it--but it's not an illusion of any sort.

-Marco


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 12, 2002, 08:46:18 AM
I think number two are already well labeled. The Overt/Covert thing really is a question of whether or not you are using Illusion. If not, then magician's terms would not apply. That said, some magician's tricks are good because of their flexibility. The result varies on the input but is mystifying because it responds so well to the variables. OTOH, GM-Oomph could be referred to as Force, as in the magician's term that refers to being able to control the outcome. So I advocate leaving the other terms, and using Force for term one.

Interestingly, one could be forceful, yet flexible. They are not anti-thetical.

As to how you get to the Illusionist Show, and away from the Three Card Monty, I suggest that the obvious method is via social contract. You just say before the show that you are going to be performing Illusions and ask if that's OK. This can probably be done informally (and almost certainly is in most cases of actual use), though this is obviously more likely to be problematic.

Other methods would include my theoretical Illusionist system where the plaers were aware that the GM was allowed to fudge certain otherwise deterministic things. By agreeing to play by these open rules one forms the same social contract as above.

I'm sure there are other potential ways.

Mike


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 08:48:36 AM
Hi there Marco,

Couple of quick points ... (my numbers don't necessarily match yours)

1) I agree with you about the warning, which is why I couch it in terms of my own experience. I also agree with you wholeheartedly that this can be a rewarding form of play; I'm an enthusiastic, although infrequent, Call of Cthulhu player, for example.

2) I fully agree with you that once the Curtain is up, Illusionism vanishes. Therefore neither Participation and Illusionism is a subset of the other, but rather they are alternatives regarding the range of variable #2. I'd also like to suggest that different groups have very difference tolerance levels or standards for the acceptable part of that range.

3) I think that "GM impact" is too generic a way to look at my #1; in the later parts of my post, when I say "GM impact," I'm referring to the specific kind of impact listed in my description of variable #1 - which is to say, the actual GM-influence (control) over the player-character's important decisions.

Best,
Ron


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Walt Freitag on November 12, 2002, 11:36:45 AM
I second "force" as a possible term for "oomph." I was considering the same suggestion for the exact same reason, its use in stage magic. However I did have some reservations due to the many other meanings of the word, especially physical force and other forms of overt coercion.

Ron, what about scenarios in which Variable #1 is at the low end of its spectrum (no GM force with regard to player-character decisions) but Variable #3 is also at the low end of its spectrum (no flexibility in outcomes of player-character decisions; that is, the GM manipulates the outcomes). This combination appears to describe certain typical illusionist practices such as fudging a resolution die roll, and possibly also some of the typical "magician’s force" style sleights such as placing the clue behind whichever door the player-characters choose to open.

If this condition (no oomph/force but low outcome flexibility) is not plausible – perhaps the player-character decision cannot in principle be considered free of oomph/force if the outcome is artificially constrained or subverted -- then it suggests that Variable #3 is not really independent of #1. If it is plausible, and done covertly, then it appears to describe a style of illusionism, but by your current definition focusing entirely on #1 and #2, it is not.

- Walt


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 11:45:38 AM
Hi Walt,

Actually, all of your examples are #1 techniques, in my view.

If I'm the GM and a player rolls such that my critical-ten-minutes-from-now NPC is waxed if the NPC fails the defensive roll, and if I fudge that roll behind my handy screen, I have used "oomph" (or Force). I consider this the high end of the #1 spectrum, not the low end. I have taken the player-character's decision to whack that NPC and rewritten it to my own tastes.

The facts that I did it behind my screen and, perhaps, that I describe the effect of the attack and the dodge dramatically (enthralling the players), bumps this act to Illusionist status because that's what moves to the high end of variable #2. I've practiced Oomph and I've practiced Illusion.

In other words, read the "oomph" variable as GM-control of PC-impact using any means whatsoever; #2 is about the means themselves (how curtained they are), and #3 is about timing when the intended GM outcomes are fixed in place.

Best,
Ron


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 12, 2002, 12:58:31 PM
I've thought of a fourth criteria that may relate to the whole Three Card Monty example.

4. Consensual/Nonconsensual - see, this is not the same as Overt/Covert. That is, a GM can do something Covertly and yet consensually. This is our Illusionist show. Three Card Monty is Covert, and Non-consensual. Which I would argue is actually functional until discovered, and possibly even then (I believe that one can benefit another by lying to them). That is, at that point it either becomes consensual, the activity ceases, or we have a problem next time it's discovered. This can also be used to describe the common dysfunctional situation of Overt and Non-consensual.

So let's see what we've identified.

First, all Non-Forceful versions fall into "Open" play (what I call "Pinball", occasionally, but needs a better name). That is you can't be Covertly uncontrolling, I don't think. Though I suppose we can discuss the possiblity. So, what about the "forcefull" combinations?


Overt, Flexible, Consensual - Participationist endloading
Covert, Flexible, Consensual - This sounds like IntCon to me or Illusionist (backloading). IntCon might just be the most extreme version of this.
Covert, Inflexible, Consensual - Illusionist (frontloading).
Overt, Inflexible, Consensual - Participationist frontloading
Overt, Flexible, Non-Consensual - Artiste play. I use the French to indicate that this is dysfunctional. ;-)
Overt, Inflexible, Non-Consensual - Someone proposed Dictator play. Railroading. Also, obviously dysfunctiuonal
Covert, Inflexible, Non-Consensual - Three Card Monty. Railroading. Potentially dysfunctional if/when detected.
Covert, Flexible, Non-Consensual - The Long Con. Potentially dysfunctional if/when discovered, but discovery is less likely, and tends to rankle less.

Howzat?

Mike


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 01:32:23 PM
Hi Mike,

That flies pretty well for me. Helluva list, though, isn't it? I can definitely see how letting this issue float makes it really hard for people to discuss GNS. In other words, emotional attachments, anger, and defensiveness about these issues make it difficult to talk about Plain Old Goals.

Best,
Ron


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on November 12, 2002, 07:22:13 PM
Mike: I'm assuming that "IntCon" is "intuitive continuity," a term of which I've never seen a good definition or example? Also, I think it's neat that a candidate for a rigorous definition of "railroading" has evolved out of this discussion (i.e., Inflexible, Non-Consensually Forceful play).  However, we should review it carefully to make sure that it solves the various problems that have arisen in previous attempts to define "railroading".


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: MK Snyder on November 12, 2002, 10:54:23 PM
Anybody remember the days when players weren't supposed to read the Monster Manual or the DungeonMaster Guide?

There's a social contract of players agreeing to not look behind the curtain.

 Paranoia used Ultraviolet Level to signify "For GM Eyes Only".

Players may well agree to "being railroaded" but desire the experience of being subtly and artfully railroaded and resent clumsy railroading.

The comic book, Knights of the Dinner Table, posits GMs and Players in constant conflict--much Gamist play on both sides of the table. This is for humorous effect. It is assumed that the GM will attempt Illusionist techniques and that the players must be vigilant and resist them with metagame argument or clever in-game play that defeats the setups.

In real life, it's probably more likely that a GM with Narrativist priorities would make use of Illusionism. It's more difficult for me to imagine it being used for Simulationist play that is attempting to be "lifelike" (as the outcome of the events of life are unknowable), but, virtually a necessity at times for Simulationist play that is attempting to be faithful to genre or literary models (Call of Cthulu). In such case, the players may well welcome it as "fixing" their mistakes in adhering to the canon.

In fact, I have an exchange of emails with a player and GM right now that has a "limited illusionism" contract going in his game. (He doesn't put it that way, but that's what it looks like to me.) He is running a Star Wars game. He is a Star Wars fan, so making it consistent with the Star Wars universe as expressed in the films is important to him (genre fidelity). He wants to sustain an epic tone; and to do that requires granting the protaganists "script immunity" from death by Red Shirt (or banana peels, STD's, land speedster crashes, etc.).

They do not have "script immunity" from sufficiently noble adversaries that can provide properly dignified deaths. This provides the challenge of facing menace that the players desire.

He has been explicit with his players about this--he himself is not motivated to play in a game with total script immunity for PC's, because then "All the victories are meaningless and taste like wet cardboard."

He also has conflicts with a more Gamist oriented player who argues that Darth Vader can be killed by grenades and who min/maxes character creation. They have discussed this amicably and the player has been making an effort to change his play.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mytholder on November 13, 2002, 02:30:51 AM
Quote from: MK Snyder

In real life, it's probably more likely that a GM with Narrativist priorities would make use of Illusionism. It's more difficult for me to imagine it being used for Simulationist play that is attempting to be "lifelike" (as the outcome of the events of life are unknowable)


I'd disagree with that. I think Illusionism is used extensively by Sim GMs who haven't detailed all the setting beforehand. He adds plausible detail to the world as the players explore.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Christoffer Lernö on November 13, 2002, 03:52:43 AM
Potentially controversial statment: I think that any illusionism where flexibility isn't high (#3) is ultimately dysfunctional.

However, that is said, I'd also like to say that the example of a pre-planned illusionism "they *will* fight Dr. Bad in the underground complex and they *will* win, and he *will* get away" might be a confusing as an example of low flexibility illusionism since any illusionism (regardless of flexibility) I've played all contained some fixed references in thing "that were supposed to happen". What is presented is three fixed points, pretty close clustered. If this is how the whole adventure (situation after situation) is presented like this then it's indeed low flexibility - however I think I think I could easily see this as a setup for a highly flexible illusionist game as well.

Back to the failure of low flexibility: I suspect what MJ might have had experiences of is low flexibility illusionism.
- Unless you have a very experienced illusionist, such a game will probably come collapsing faster than a house of cards in a cyclone (ok, slightly extaggerating there). What quickly happens is that such illusionism stops being illusionism and outright railroading.
I feel this type of illusionism isn't functional and I'd go as far as to suggest it probably never really has been.

I see illusionism as a natural extension of Explorationist (=Simulationist) play - if and only if, we recognize that low flexibility illusionism is dysfunctional and not really a viable option.

The "natural extension" is then flexible illusionism (IntCon?).

Standard simulationist play would have a script (the adventure) which is a detailed description of the events the GM has predicted ought to occur.

With a bought adventures the prediction is put in the hands of the designers of the adventure - yet another step removed from the source so to speak.

Since the players might potentially choose other paths than the primary ones potential problems might arise (in most cases it's not acceptable that the characters miss out on an entire adventure because they missed a subtle hint).
In an attempt to fix that, the script might have several paths to the end (or different ends). It might also encourage use of illusionist methods to create a "All Roads Lead To Rome" effect in what is easily identifiable as "low flexibility illusionism".

Basically we have two different times where the events are decided: By scenario designers, or by GM prior to gaming. Obviously there is not much of a difference in how "realistic" a game would be depending on when it's created. So enter the third time when events can be created: during the game.

Instead of having the GM trying to predict the players actions, he creates the events as the players make their decisions. The GM still creates the story, but on the fly.

Now what's the big deal you ask - like, who hasn't done that?

Well I'm not saying it's new, and yes - most of us have GMed that way. My point is that we shouldn't mix this with inflexible illusionism, which is working on trying to render player-choices meaningless.

First you have to see how this is miles away from low-flexibility play. The amount of player input varies, but in extreme situations the players are actually the writers of the story, and the GM is only a mediator and obfuscator (hiding the original author of the story) behind the curtain.

To achieve this illusion, the GM uses the same tools as in "inflexible illusionism". However it is a fundamentally flawed assuption that they are similar in any way other way than in what tools they use.

I feel that it's therefore not very useful to talk about illusionism as a type of play since there are two opposite styles of play under the same roof here, only sharing illusionist methods.

I suggest that "illusionism" is dropped altogether as a way to identify play. There is only illusionist methods in common between the styles that has been lumped together.

The whole "where is the story created" is a red herring for illusionism just because it separates the subgroups of illusionism rather than finds their common ground (illusionist methods).

As for me personally, I wish there could be some interest in flexible illusionism which in itself has subgroupings of play. There are interesting methods for promoting such play, some which are really intuitive and yet mostly unexplored what facilitates use of them.

Therefore my suggestions are:

1. There is no "illusionist mode of play". There are only illusionist methods being employed.

2. What I have been referring to as "low-flexibility illusionism" always runs the risk of collapsing and is only held alive by the skill of the GM. It seems like a basically Explorationist (=Similationist) play where the GM has worked out the events and the players are simply observers. The task of the illusionist methods is to hide that fact from the players.

3. "High-flexibility" illusionism have a few subtypes depending on how things influence the outcome of the game. The common theme however is that the game is adjusted on the fly to ensure that the game wraps naturally around the player's decisions. Often the GM has priorities like "trying to create a good narrative or an engaging story" "trying to let every player have a chance to be in the spotlight" and so on. The illustionist methods are used to hide the full extent that the players are co-creators of the narrative (which goes beyond the actions of their characters).

4. There are special ways to facilitate "High-flexibility" illusionism. In my opinion these have not been discussed in depth yet, at least not on the Forge.


P.S. I have deliberately excluded any talk about participationism because I don't feel I have much experience of it. - Unlike the years of playing and GMing functional "high-flexibility" illusionist games. Together, of course, with painful memories of playing low-flexibility ones (although fortunately much fewer than the functional ones). So... I leave any analysis on participationism to those more familiar with it.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Valamir on November 13, 2002, 06:25:00 AM
Quote
In real life, it's probably more likely that a GM with Narrativist priorities would make use of Illusionism.


I think you are continueing to confound Narrativism with three fold Dramatism.  They are completely different concepts.  I don't think its even possible to use Illusionism in a Narrativist environment.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Christoffer Lernö on November 13, 2002, 06:45:32 AM
Quote from: Valamir
Quote from: MK
In real life, it's probably more likely that a GM with Narrativist priorities would make use of Illusionism.

I think you are continueing to confound Narrativism with three fold Dramatism.  They are completely different concepts.  I don't think its even possible to use Illusionism in a Narrativist environment.

I agree with you Ralph. The way I understand things Themeism (=Narrativism) is rendering the illusionist techniques unnecessary. The low flexibility "illusionism" is obviously not about exploring any narrativist theme since everything about the situation is preloaded.

The high flexibility "illusionism" is in my opinion a way to play (vanilla) Themeist (=Narrativist) without any overt Themeist decisions being made (the Themeism is behind the curtain). Real Themeist play would naturally have no need for the artificiality of the black curtain.


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Paganini on November 13, 2002, 07:11:04 AM
Actually, I'm not sure I agree with you, Christoffer. Illusionism involves the GM exerting control over the PCs. This is pretty much mutually exclusive with the player Author / Director stance required for Narrativism.

Edit: Hah, just realized I missed your point. Oops. :)


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 13, 2002, 08:32:24 AM
First, it should be obvious that all we've been describing here is GM technique, and the extent to which players assent to it, and can note it. As such I see it having no realtinship, particularly, to any GNS mode. Players, can, while playing across from any of the above GMs, make any sort of decision.

Do some of these methods support some player modes better? Sure. We'llleave that to speculation. But I can assure you, having been using some of these techniqes in play which has been heavily Narrativist lately, they can be used in a game in which Narrativism is sought (essentially it's useful in creating naturalistic, as opposed to radically framed, Bangs). All that's required is that not all of the play be Illusionist. And they are certainly used in Sim and Gam as well.

Christoffer, what you've given us seems to me to be nothing less than your own personal preference. I've played in lots of games that were inflexible. Every Call of Cthulhu adventure ever written assumes inflexible play. Lot's of other people have stated how they like inflexible play. You know what? I don't particularly like Inflexible play. But just because we don't like it, that doesn't mean it's not a valid form of play.

IntCon is indeed Intuitive Continuity. The best example of this style of play would be to read Underworld by GMS. This is, I believe, where he comes up with the term, and if I'm not mistaken makes it pretty clear just what it is. There are also threads here (perhaps this one? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1575)) that discuss it in some detail.

Mike


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 13, 2002, 08:44:37 AM
Hello,

I'd like the Illusionism/GNS relationship to begin as its own thread, if people want to discuss it.

Further posts about the basic breakdown I presented, and about the related points that people have raised, are welcome on this one.

Best,
Ron


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Christoffer Lernö on November 13, 2002, 09:26:23 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
First, it should be obvious that all we've been describing here is GM technique, and the extent to which players assent to it, and can note it. As such I see it having no realtinship, particularly, to any GNS mode.

??? I don't know if you're saying that illusionist techinques are GNS-less or that they are applicable across the whole spectrum of GNS play?

Quote from: Mike Holmes
But I can assure you, having been using some of these techniqes in play which has been heavily Narrativist lately, they can be used in a game in which Narrativism is sought (essentially it's useful in creating naturalistic, as opposed to radically framed, Bangs). All that's required is that not all of the play be Illusionist.

Isn't this the same as saying "Illusionist methods in Narrativist gaming is usable if not all of play is narrativist"? Just to disagree and get you to lay out a good example :)

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Christoffer, what you've given us seems to me to be nothing less than your own personal preference. I've played in lots of games that were inflexible. Every Call of Cthulhu adventure ever written assumes inflexible play. Lot's of other people have stated how they like inflexible play.

Then I fear that maybe I have failed to make myself clear. I'm talking about inflexible illusionism, not inflexible sim play. I too have enjoyed many games of inflexible sim, including as much CoC I've been able to participate in (I love horror).

What I'm discussing, since it might not be clear, is low flexibility illusionist gaming as a way to make GM created adventures work.

Obviously if you're running a bought adventure you have little option but to run what's written. If the players seem to be wandering out of the book an illusionist push in the right direction might be needed. This is not the same as playing a consistent low flexibility illusionist game. (But maybe we're tripping over semantics here. I see an "illusionist game" as a game that heavily relies on illusionist methods - and as such the occasional use mentioned above wouldn't be enough to call it illusionist. If one is employing a wider use of illusionist games which contains any game in which illusionist methods are ever employed, then the meaning of my words will be out of context)

Usually I see the dysfunctional illusionism appear when a GM created scenario which has the story whole story preloaded (where it could have been customized during play). What has happened here is that the GM voluntarily has chosen to ignore player input.

It is a difference between the GM and the players exploring a written scenario together (and the GM using the illusionism to keep the game "on topic") as opposed to the players exploring the GM's scenario (where the illusionism is kept "on" to avoid the players from messing up the GM's preloaded story).


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Walt Freitag on November 13, 2002, 10:25:09 AM
Way too much attention is being given to the extremes of variable #2, which I believe are both relatively uncommon. There is a middle range on the "illusionism/participationism" (covert/overt GM control) axis and a middle position in that range is very common.

A likely social contract at the covert extreme: the players supposedly have unfettered freedom in player-character decisions. This contract is broken by the covert illusionist practices.

[Analogy, case 1: A town government rules that since cell phone towers are ugly, none may be erected in the town. The cell phone company builds one anyway, disguising it as a tree.]

A likely social contract at the overt extreme (participationism): the players agree to follow the storyline and not resist the overt indications of what path to follow.

[Analogy, case 2: A town government agrees that even though cell phone towers are ugly, they're necessary, and allows one to be built in the town.]

A likey social contract at the middle: the players are aware that there is limited storyline flexibility that the GM can permit, in the style of GMing he's chosen to (or able to) use. The GM agrees to make the necessary steering as unobtrusive as possible, by providing in-game-world justifications for necessary constraints and by using illusionist techniques to hide the hand of GM fiat. The players agree not to push too hard against the constraints and not to try to peek through the curtain.

This is railroading, it's illusionism, and it's functional.

[Analogy, case 3: A town government rules that cell phone towers are necessary, but because they're ugly, all such towers in the town must be disguised as trees to help them blend in and be less noticeable.]

In "the middle," a GM who says "you've done enough damage to kill the enemy, but he escapes anyway because he has plot immunity" is violating that social contract. So is a player who, when the GM says, "The enemy, badly wounded, escapes into the night," points out that according to his understanding of the rules the damage should have been enough to kill him.

In "the middle," a GM who says, "You can't go searching off to the east because the adventure is in the other direction" is violating that social contract. So is a player who, when the GM says, "the way to the east is blocked by a river flooded by late spring mountain meltwater that's washed out all the bridges," begins making elaborate engineering plans to cross the river anyway, or questions what mountains the meltwater is coming from or why the're not on the map.

In the analogy, Case 1 is dysfunctional because cell phone towers disguised as trees don't look much like trees. The illusion will quickly be discovered and a dispute will occur. Case 2 is not dysfunctional in that way, but it leaves an ugly reminder of the concession in plain sight. Case 3 is actually the most functional all around. (Having no cell phone tower at all might be more functional still -- unless the locals want to use cell phones. Similarly, not using GM-oomph in play might be more functional -- unless the participants want to use modules or prepared adventures with directed story lines.)

The point is, when I'm driving through a town and I see a cell tower disguised as a tree, I don't assume I'm looking at an instance of Case 1. ("Boy, as soon as the locals figure out that that big green thing isn't really a tree, they're going to be pissed. And they must be pretty dense not to have noticed it so far.") Similarly, when I see illusionist techniques in use, I don't assume that a breaking of a social contract against the use of such techniques is going on. ("This will only work until the illusion is discovered, and then player dissatisfaction will set in.") I'm surprised that so many others do.

Being railroaded with some subtlety and finesse would be a big step up from much of the play I've experienced outside my own gaming groups. Dysfunctional, shmyshfunctional.

- Walt


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on November 13, 2002, 10:59:56 AM
Quote from: Walt
This is railroading, it's illusionism, and it's functional.

Actually, Walt, there has historically been much acrimony over whether "railroading" and "functional" are mutually exclusive. Many people consider "railroading" to mean something like "dysfunctional use of GM Force".


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 13, 2002, 11:07:10 AM
Quote from: Pale Fire

??? I don't know if you're saying that illusionist techinques are GNS-less or that they are applicable across the whole spectrum of GNS play?
I'm saying that the above priciples relate to GM technique. GNS refers to player decisions. None of the techniqes neccessarily force the certain decision making processes. Though it's hard to imagine giving up control completely to a GM and making Narrativist decisions. But these are spectrums, and as such it all works together.

As Walt points out, just as no player makes 100% Gamist decisions, no player plays 100% in any of these forms of play.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Isn't this the same as saying "Illusionist methods in Narrativist gaming is usable if not all of play is narrativist"? Just to disagree and get you to lay out a good example :)
As an example, in a game the other day, I flexibly and covertly organized the world in a forcefull manner (non-consensually, in fact), insuch a way as to present a Bang to the players (to be precise I created a backstory about a character to make them capable of taking an extreme action). At that point, I stopped using Illusionism, and let their Narrativism take control of the plot.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Then I fear that maybe I have failed to make myself clear. I'm talking about inflexible illusionism, not inflexible sim play. I too have enjoyed many games of inflexible sim, including as much CoC I've been able to participate in (I love horror).

What I'm discussing, since it might not be clear, is low flexibility illusionist gaming as a way to make GM created adventures work.

Obviously if you're running a bought adventure you have little option but to run what's written. If the players seem to be wandering out of the book an illusionist push in the right direction might be needed. This is not the same as playing a consistent low flexibility illusionist game. (But maybe we're tripping over semantics here. I see an "illusionist game" as a game that heavily relies on illusionist methods - and as such the occasional use mentioned above wouldn't be enough to call it illusionist. If one is employing a wider use of illusionist games which contains any game in which illusionist methods are ever employed, then the meaning of my words will be out of context)

Usually I see the dysfunctional illusionism appear when a GM created scenario which has the story whole story preloaded (where it could have been customized during play). What has happened here is that the GM voluntarily has chosen to ignore player input.

It is a difference between the GM and the players exploring a written scenario together (and the GM using the illusionism to keep the game "on topic") as opposed to the players exploring the GM's scenario (where the illusionism is kept "on" to avoid the players from messing up the GM's preloaded story).


And this is what I'm disagreeing with. The adventure/campaign "At the Mountains of Madness" (a favorite example of mine), is four hundred pages of absolutely prescripted plot. The text says, explicitly, 'then the characters do this; then the characters do that'. If the characters are allowed to deviate even slightly, you lose the ability to run perhaps 300 pages of adventure. There is no place where it gives you any idea what to do if the players take the characters "off the plot". It assumes that the GM will use whatever technique he needs to to ensure that the players stay straight on the track to the final climactic scene with it's pre-scripted ending.

And some people prefer this style of play. In other words, it's consensual. The players have said, well, the GM is "railroading" but I don't care. I'm just here to be the window dressing, and deliver my lines on the way to the pre-determined end.

Now, the GM can do this Overtly, or Covertly. If Overtly, it's Participationism, if it's Covertly, it's Illusionist with the plot frontloaded.

Your assumption is that the players will resent their input being ignored. But for the Consensual form, we assume that is not the case. We assume that the player will not resent it, but expect it, and enjoy it. Or rather that he'll do everything in his power to follow the GMs lead. By definition of Consensual the player has agreed to this.

Again, just because you can't persopnally see it being functional or can't see any player intentionally ceding their "right" to input, doesn't mean it can't happen. For, in fact, I've seen it work, and I've heard other accounts that detail this as a successful style of play.

Mike


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 13, 2002, 11:15:59 AM
Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg

Actually, Walt, there has historically been much acrimony over whether "railroading" and "functional" are mutually exclusive. Many people consider "railroading" to mean something like "dysfunctional use of GM Force".


I agree with Seth, here, terminologically. That is, "railroading" is this sort of activity that occurs outside of the social contract to allow it. This keeps "Railroading" in it's historical context. I'd suggest Consensual Railroading as an opposite term, but I think it's just as easy to refer to Participationism and Illusionism.

That said, your points are all exactly on as usual, Walt. And I too agree that GM control is just a choice.

I also agree that failed Illusionism is very ugly, but then so is any continuity error, or anything else that disturbs internal consistency. As such Illusionist techniques might create more risk, but aren't inherently problematic.

Mike


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Walt Freitag on November 13, 2002, 11:32:13 AM
Okay, semantic point taken. What I meant was, it's illusionism, the storyline is front-loaded and inflexible, and its functional.

It falls midway between the following two items in Mike's breakdown:

Covert, Inflexible, Non-Consensual - Three Card Monty. Railroading. Potentially dysfunctional if/when detected.
Overt, Inflexible, Consensual - Participationist frontloading.

It's closest to this one in the breakdown:

Covert, Inflexible, Consensual - Illusionist (frontloading).

But it's less than completely consensual, at least not on the basis of consent being given for individual instances of covert manipulation; also because the social contract is usually unspoken. And it's not completely covert, because in order to fulfill their side of the contract, the players must be able to distinguish the (disguised) walls from the obstacles along the path.

- Walt


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 13, 2002, 12:50:02 PM
I see exactly what your saying Walt.

And I'm ecstatic that this seems to be, so far in it's short lifespan an effective means to discussing these sorts of play.

I'm tempted to create a dimensional model whereby you'd rate the average use of the spectra on a scale of 0 to 9.

So, what you describe might be:

Forceful 8
Covert 7
Inflexible 8
Consensual 6

-across an average of all play.

Would that be useful? Or just be too refined to serviceable?

Mike


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on November 13, 2002, 01:38:23 PM
I'd say not "too refined," but "too subjective." Though "too refined" also plays a role--does it say anything useful about an instance of play that its Flexibility is only 6, as opposed to 7?


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 13, 2002, 01:43:16 PM
Hi Mike,

I'm with Seth in his judgment of your scoring idea. Perhaps just "high" and "low" would work well, especially since all three things can be achieved by applying a variety of very different techniques.

Best,
Ron


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Mike Holmes on November 13, 2002, 02:12:32 PM
Good points. I'd add Medium, however, to describe what seems to be an intuitive position as Walt puts it. That also means that there is a theoretical, but probably never accurate None and Complete.

I can hang with it. So Illusionist play could be said to be Highly Covert. Wheras Participationist play is Highly Overt (sounds better than Lowly Overt). And Walt's described style is Midland to Highly Consensual. I can deal with that.

Mike


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Walt Freitag on November 13, 2002, 03:09:39 PM
Yeah, I agree with keeping the precision low. What happens with more detailed analysis is that you don't get a more precise estimate of where on the continuum the example lies; instead, each continuum breaks into a multidimensional space of its own.

Forceful: what kinds of force, how strongly and how frequently applied?
- influencing player decisions before the fact
- tampering with resolution
- Author stance used in NPC play
- Necessary fiat decisions (the weather; whether a mug to throw is within reach or not) made with forceful purpose in mind, rather than objectively or randomly
- (maybe?) shifting reality around the event to change its meaning

Covert:
- overall awareness of force being used
- awareness of the specific ways force is being used
- awareness of the specific occasions in which force is being used

Inflexible:
- flexibility about the range of desired actions entertained as possible
- flexibility about the range of resolution outcomes permitted to stand
- (maybe?) flexibility about meanings or repercussions of events conforming to the player's expectations of same, or not (for example, a low value for this form of flexibility might mean the Paladin character is likely to discover that anyone or anything he kills turns out, in retrospect, to have good qualities, because the GM is determined to present that player with moral crises)

Consensual:
- overall consent to force being used
- consent for the specific techniques used to apply force
- consent for the specific occasions in which force is being used

- Walt


Title: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach
Post by: Christoffer Lernö on November 13, 2002, 09:58:35 PM
Maybe it's just me, but I still think we need to remove subjects that obfuscate the subject here.

First we have illusionist methods (or techniques). These are quite independent of GNS. Mike Holmes pointed that out earlier:

Quote from: Mike Holmes
First, it should be obvious that all we've been describing here is GM technique, and the extent to which players assent to it, and can note it. As such I see it having no realtinship, particularly, to any GNS mode.


On the other hand, we're also partly tracking the strategy of employing these methods. As been previously discussed the usage of these techniques can be consual/nonconsensual, non-flexible/flexible and so on.

Now there are a few thing here I feel that we're discussing in parallel.

* "When is using an illusionist strategy in accordance with social contract? And what are the problems when the social contract is broken?"

The discussion about concensual/non-consensual, railroading and so on seems to be debating this point.

* "When are illusionist strategies constuctive (aiding play) and when is it obstructive?"

This was what (seemingly only) I was discussing in my postings. My idea here is that using illusionist strategy to enforce a GM constructed story will ultimately lead to dysfunctional play.

I say so because the GM will have a big challenge keeping the players in line, and the low-flexibility of the story will have them bumping into the invisible walls time and again. This is assuming that breaking the illusion is a violation of social contract.

On the other hand, playing a scenario (such as the CoC mentioned), both the GM and the players are agreeing on playing the scenario so even if the curtain goes up by mistake, the GM is only fulfilling the social contract they agreed on. In this case there is no real risk involved.

Beyond that I see two more points of discussion:

* "What are the possible stategies for employing illusionist methods?"

As an example, consider high and low flexibility illusionism.

I feel these two have very different strategies.

Low flexibility illusionism is relying on a frontloaded story and the illusionist techniques are used to keep things "on track".

In high flexibility illusionism there is no track at all. What the GM is doing is using his illusionist techniques is for creating an illusion that there was a front-loaded story to begin with.

These are inverses of each other. In the middle point I'm seeing games that flip between either of these types during one and the same game.

Beyond that, we also have to look at the question of "what are the motivations for using these different strategies - what type of play are they trying to promote?" - but that is a question better discussed in that other GNS thread.

Anyway, my point is that it is probably a good idea to keep these matters apart and analyze them separately instead of discussing them as a whole.