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Author Topic: Illusionism: a new look and a new approach  (Read 31195 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 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
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #16 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
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 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
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #18 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
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #19 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
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Seth L. Blumberg
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« Reply #20 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".
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MK Snyder
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« Reply #21 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.
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Mytholder
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« Reply #22 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.
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #23 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.
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Valamir
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« Reply #24 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.
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #25 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.
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Paganini
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« Reply #26 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. :)
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #27 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?) that discuss it in some detail.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #28 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
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #29 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).
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