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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 171 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Confessional: I was an Illusionist Wanker!  (Read 11882 times)
Georgios Panagiotidis

Posts: 83

« Reply #15 on: October 01, 2006, 05:52:02 AM »

And I know that my Star Wars games started to get boring only when I refused to pull off that one man show any more.

So that wasn’t really fair, to hold yourself responsible in such a way for the game’s success or failure.

Emphasis mine.

I think this lies at the core of all illusionism. And the fact that it's well-intentioned doesn't matter. Illusionism happens when you turn the group activity "roleplaying" into the cult of (GM-)personality "roleplaying". It's what happens when the GM becomes more important than the other players at the table, and thus more important than the game.

To an illusionist, system doesn't matter. It's all just a tool to fuel his one man show. He puts all this work and effort into entertaining the players instead of just being a part of a group that plays a game together. This is where tension, frustration and anger arises. The players either don't appreciate the work and effort the GM is putting in to keep everybody entertained enough; or the players try to make their own fun; which usually comes across as working against the GM, i.e. not playing along.

The main reason for this (other than some people simply being self-centered) is that too many games leave the GM hanging, when it comes to getting something out of the game (the GM's reward cycle if you will). The GM is aimlessly working his way through the rule book wondering what makes being the GM fun. They're given platitudes like "everybody having fun at your game is the greatest reward a GM can get". Imagine you're the banker at Monopoly and the rules tell you that not only can you not buy streets, build hotels and charge money from guests - the only thing you can enjoy about Monopoly as the banker is watching the other players have fun. Of course entertaining the players (so "they" can have fun) will become much more important to you than simply playing the same game the other people at the table play.

This is the reason why I disgustingly rejected illusionism once I realised what was happening at my table. Others might react differently.

Five tons of flax!
I started a theory blog in German. Whatever will I think of next?

Posts: 359

« Reply #16 on: October 01, 2006, 07:00:10 AM »

Hi Joel

You mentioned seeking a cure for illusionism and I think the problem is that still sounds condescending.  Illusionism isnt a disease for those who enjoy it, Jay's game ran fine with it, Frank seems to have no problem with it, many people who write gming advice sections in mainstream RPG's dont have problems with it.  The problem is you dont enjoy it, my problem was I didnt understand it and was a shit gm because I couldnt figure out how to do it and still make the players feel like they were involved in the game.

For us the solution is simple move to different games that dont require illusionism. Luckily you are at the right place to find those games;)
For those who like illusionism and want to learn how to do it well there is all kinds of support in mainstream gaming gm advice sections.


Posts: 462

« Reply #17 on: October 01, 2006, 07:19:33 AM »

Wow, Georgios pretty muched nailed the issue for me.

One thing that was mentioned is the lack of GM reward cycle, which is something that I find interesting on its own a probably deserves another thread. Effectively, it creates a situation where the GM needs to create their own award system. I wonder if that is where things get wonky?

I'm not sure that mainstream games do give good, usable advice on Illusionist GMing, though, at least not for the long term. I went through GM burnout beig a pretty heavily illusionist GM. I also regularly see threads at RPGnet where others are hitting that same kind of GM burnout as well, I suspect from the same thing.

Hmm. I have more to say, but I'll leave off for now and order those ponderings a bit.

Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Call Me Curly

Posts: 63

« Reply #18 on: October 01, 2006, 07:44:44 AM »


What the heck is a 'mainstream' rpg?

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #19 on: October 01, 2006, 03:26:09 PM »


This is Joel's thread. The one thing I will not permit in this discussion is any question of his judgment about whether the way he played is good, bad, or what he wants. He decided he didn't want to play a certain way. He can call it (his experience of it) whatever he wants.

I permitted years of defensive counter-posting in response to threads of this kind, in the old GNS forum. That was a bad idea. This is not about your game, illusionist or otherwise. If Joel wants to call his illusionist-GMing wanking, or any other derogatory term he wants to, that is his privilege.

Do not post to this thread in defense of some kind of principle of role-playing that you feel you own, or that needs to be protected. And bear in mind - whether you're doing that, is my judgment, and I'll act on it.

Best, Ron

Posts: 2807

« Reply #20 on: October 02, 2006, 01:14:11 AM »

So now that we've reached this point, what now? I've demonstrated the "perfectly-reasonable the slide into Illusionism," so the next step would be, as you say, building a cure from the diagnosis? Any thoughts on how we might go about that?

Well I hope not to defend per se, although I do find the diagnosis of the "GM personality cult" harmful and misleading.  This is blame-creation instead of analysis.  I propose that the solution is enabling techniques for Illusionist GM's, and I do NOT think that the advice existing in "mainstream" RPG's is very good at all.

I think the problem is essentially procedural; the conflict arises between the amount of work the GM invests andf the rewards they can get out of it.  Preperation rerquires selection from an infinite amount of possibilities; in order for the GM to get satisfaction, they must be able to select, prepare, and have their selections realised at the table.  What is needed then is a system that in some way mandates or determines future content.  This then separates the managerial/pastoral function of the Illusionist GM from the frustrations of frustrated creativity and hostility to the players.

Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Frank T
« Reply #21 on: October 02, 2006, 05:03:02 AM »

Okay, let’s move on to the “what now?” I have been there, have tried to switch to a different, more reactive, more open GM style, and frustrated my players from my old group with it, because I had not prepared them and they did not know how to respond. You can read the detail about that sorry story here.

To me, it has proved tremendously helpful to play other games and styles with different players. Now, as I plan to finally bring some player-authorship stuff back to the group, I already know this stuff very well. If you don’t have people around to do it face to face, try chat or teamspeak. If you play with people who are more experienced with the applied techniques, you will learn from them.

- Frank
Joel P. Shempert

Posts: 451

« Reply #22 on: October 02, 2006, 11:39:06 AM »

Thanks, Ron. It was getting pretty mentally draining trying to defend my right to call myself a jerk.

Georgios and Bob, right on. It was a "one man show" phenomenon at work, and it was frustrating because I wasn't pulling it off/players weren't buying into it. "Create your own reward system" rings very true to me. In this case my supposed reward would be to have the Al Amarja setting fully realized in all its shining and resplendent (OK, subversive and murky) glory, which meant "playing it all right," and of course players appreciating it the way I appreciated it. Y'know, the right way.

So, moving forward. . .

Reviewing the thread in my mind, I think I'm finding that I already have solved the illusionism problem to some degree: I stopped doing it. I started making myself be consistent in the raw mechanics at least, not fudging rolls or hitpoints, and playing with the Difficulty Table right in front of me, so I can set the target for a roll before the dice hit the table (I used to tell myself that I was setting it mentally AS the dice were rolled, when really I was, when I "needed" to, letting myself set it after I'd seen the result). As for changing the larger issues of GM methodology, I would've been lost without the Forge and concepts like Bangs and Flags. Implementation is a bit slow and occasionally awkward, but results are on the whole, positive.


I have been there, have tried to switch to a different, more reactive, more open GM style, and frustrated my players from my old group with it, because I had not prepared them and they did not know how to respond.

I hear you there. My first "new-style" OtE game, I tried to get players involved in scene framing, asking what scenes for their characters they'd like next. One player I asked, she had a huge laundry list, mostly NPCs she wanted to meet with (she accumulates relationships like a butterfly collection, which has definite value, but can also be overwhelming). I said, "OK, which one would you most like to do?" She got completely confused; she replied, "I don't know, I'm not the GM, I don't know if you have NPCs doing other things or anything." I apologized later for putting her on the spot, I realized that I had kind of hung her out to dry by thrusting on her a responsibility that our collective ideas about "the way we're supposed to play," had wholly not prepared her for. Incidentally, she does GM herself, so it wasn't a matter of "I don't have that skill," or "I don't know what to do;" it was a matter of lines of responsibility and privilege. "That's not what Players do!" Kind of like asking a linebacker to make a refereeing call, in a game he's playing in.

I read your thread; it was very interesting. I'd be keen to know how that Dogs session actually went. In a way, I think you may have had your work in breaking out of your playstyle made easier than mine, because the group in question learned everything about the Old Way from you, whereas I'm only one little voice in a group that (with the old guard anyway) already had many play assumptions before I even joined them.

Point taken about playing in other groups. This ain't easy of course; what with limited time and the regular gaming time each week already. And there's the issue of finding players. I tried Findplay.com, but didn't find many entries for my area that seemed to match interests. There are a couple of prospects, though, and I might try them out sometime if I can work carve anything out of my schedule for it. Perhaps when I get Sorceror and Dogs, both of which I just ordered. In the meantime, I am playing PtA with a couple of friends who have never gamed before (which PtA is of course well-suited for), and I'm playing in Fred (Vaxalon)'s IRC Heroquest game on Tuesday nights, which has been fun.

So, I'm doing what I can to bring my own play around to what's fun for me. The big question, then, is, will this even work with my group? Is it what they're looking for, and will they enjoy it? Hard to say. Are we dealing with a whole pack of dyed-in-the-wool Illusionists (Participationists?)? I don't think so. I think it's a spectrum. the guy I've been referencing in the thread is on one extreme, and I think also his close friend, who runs a D&D game that shows these signs. Our other GM, who I just mentioned in the scene framing incident, is somewhere in the middle, I think. Also her boyfriend, my brother. There are a couple of guys who are hard to place or may just not have strong preferences, and I think a couple of guys who I think are definitely on board for a more participatory, GM-reactive game.

I just realized in typing that paragraph, though, that I may not be taliing about just illusionism, but a whole set of play-assumptions of which illusionism is just a part. illusionism is based on making it look like you have a choice when you don't, but there are also issues of narrative authority in general, immersive my-guy practices, and what play is "about" in the first place, that may feed into the illusionism but are distinct from it.

I think a lot of those issues may be best handled in another thread. So I'm not sure where I'm going with the current thread at this point. I guess I'll just look for commentary on this post, and any advice on illusionism-breaking in general, either for my iimmediate edification, or as something to go "on record" to be useful for others regarding the issue.


Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
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