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Author Topic: Illusionism and GNS  (Read 29347 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #15 on: November 15, 2002, 03:33:23 PM »

You've used that phrase that I've never been able to understand. "Assemble them post-play". What does that mean? Do you mean flexible influence? Or something else?

In any case, I would propose that Seth may be saying (I may misread him here) that front or end loading is Narrativist GMing. Because it is the GM addressing the premise. Do I read you incorrectly, Seth? He did say that Illusionism is what he's talking about (perhaps he meant Illusionist technique?). And Illusionism is one of the two, no? I thought that was the entire point of his original post above.

If we look at the style of play that you describe above, why do you think it's unstable. Is it only when the force being used is non-consensual? Or can there be a consensual form of this sort of play? And if so can it be stable?

I would ammend, now, that the style of play that sounds most interesting to me is that in which the GM plays in a Narrativist fashion using Illusion to obtain congruence such that players are encouraged to play equally in Sim or Nar mode, and where the participants are often unaware of which is being employed.

This is so close to El Dorado (AKA The Impossible Thing) that we might as well say that we were looking for the wrong El Dorado and make camp at this one.

As such I sure hope it can be made stable. Because I think that's how I'm playing my game with Josh.


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Christoffer Lernö

Posts: 822

« Reply #16 on: November 15, 2002, 11:40:10 PM »

Mike, I totally agree with your division into illusionist techniques and illusionist games. I was keeping these "together" in my head which made it really hard to be able to express what I was talking about.

Ok further on...

At this point we seem to be discussing illusionist games where illusionist techniques are used to "glue together" participants of various types of GNS preferences (correct me if I'm wrong).

If I may chime in with an example, I played in a long campaign (Robotech) where the GM used this method.
As far as I can make out we had a singularily gamist player, one who was playing sim character. another into sim situation among others.
However, the way it was handled, everyone could game after game feel that their particular need were indeed fulfilled.

The GM, let's call him Robert, constantly found playing in others' games were disappointing. For him, GMing was the only time he could be sure he had fun. I seems obvious he was able to address a mode of play while GMing that he didn't get otherwise.

However, this play wasn't spontaneously effective and enjoyable for all.

Because Robert was rear-loading most of the story, the game worked best when it was "reacting" to player actions. If the players all sat down and waited "to be served" it started to tax the GM which had no direction on where the players "wanted to go" (and thus no clues from the players to insure that congruence was maintained).

I think there is a need for a certain basic congruence already present for it to really fly. It might simply be a technique to cement a congruence that is already present. If there is none present to begin with "it doesn't work".

In that sense it might be termed "unstable" since changing players might break down a successful play. Any player deciding to radically change mode of play might also destabilize things, especially in a small group.

Does that sound plausible?

formerly Pale Fire
[Yggdrasil (in progress) | The Evil (v1.2)]
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Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #17 on: November 16, 2002, 09:21:16 AM »

Hi Mike,

There are a lot of interesting issues in this post.

Front-loading the story is not Narrativist play because GNS addresses actual play. Prep operates to reinforce different GNS modes and subsets, but it is not, itself, role-playing. If the GM front-loads the address-Premise decisions (which pre-fixes "the story" by any interpretation of the term), then by definition, play itself cannot address the Premise in a Narrativist fashion. The players will experience the GM's interpretation of the Premise, which prioritizes Exploration of Situation.

[I will debate with you about character generation and Director stance later. Wait for my Simulationism essay, please.]

By "assemble post-play," I am referring back to the original definition of Illusionism as described by Paul Elliott. A session occurs, and the GM sits down with everything that happened, and rearranges some of the details of the back-story, retroactively makes up some stuff that was happening behind the scenes during the session, and generally manages to make character decisions matter "after all." This is usually combined with in-play flexibility, but over time, I've observed that the post-play creativity tends to take over, such that whatever the characters do is pretty much going to "make sense" in story terms.

The usual reactions from players is to become very proud of the amazing story that they're generating, and for the GM to become quite proud of his Perfect Group. The only fly in the ointment is when someone who wants to play Narrativist shows up, and all of a sudden, you have (speaking in the local terms of this group) two GMs.

One point about Narrativist play that I think many people don't grasp easily (and to some extent applies to all GNS stuff) is that an "instance of play" can be a very long time. Corralling or moving or establishing stuff early in play can be pretty Sim or Illusionist looking, but if it's all setup among players and GM for the payoff Premise-addressing, then it's "timed Narrativism." It's a lot like what people have said about Stance - some of them are full Director and Author stance most of the time during play, and then they hit Actor full-barrel halfway through the confrontation scenes.

I think that your thoughts on your current Illusionism should take that larger-scale interpretation into account.

Walt Freitag

Posts: 1039

« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2002, 10:00:37 AM »

Mike, I've never been able to understand the concept of "assemble plot events post-play" either.

I can guess at a meaning by process of elimination, though.

As I said in this post on the parallel thread, the only thing that a GM can change about play that's already taken place(1) is the meaning of events. This is done by revealing new information relevant to the events. Which can only be done in play.

So what might a GM do post-play that's relevant to plot that's already happened? Perhaps, front-load a plan for what new information to reveal about past events in upcoming sessions.

[Pre-posting edit: I was about to cross-post this over Ron's last post but I serendipitously used Preview instead. It looks like I got it roughly correct. But Paul Elliott's original Illusionist thread on GO is unavailable, so I can't confirm whether or not this really sounds like exactly what Paul was describing.]


Christoffer, I agree that Ron's new definition of Illusionism covers a very wide range of play (as did previous definitions). But I don't understand the difference between "illusionist techniques" and "illusionist games." That is to say, I don't know if "illusionist games" is a useful concept at all. Exactly how much illusionism may one use without it being an illusionist game? Exactly how much illusionism must one use to make it an illusionist game? (The concept of an illusionist system -- that is, a game system designed to facilitate illusionism of some sort or another -- is another matter.)

Most games involve a hieararchy of narrative scales. Different techniques can be and often are used to create the story at different scales. For example:

Overall course of a campaign-scale quest is front-loaded, participationist
Large-scale subplots are intConned illusionist
Small-scale subplots are front-loaded illusionist
Individual scenes are pinball sim

or just as likely:

Overall course of a campaign is pinball sim
Large-scale subplots are retConned illusionist
Small-scale subplots are pinball sim
Individual scenes are front-loaded illusionist

There's one really important consequence of the breadth of illusionism, which comes about when you project illusionism back into the question of how the story is created. What all the forms of illusionism have in common is that they facilitate GM-controlled authorship at the expense of either player authorship or random (non) authorship.

When you say that different illusionist techniques are so different that "illusionism" becomes too general a concept to be useful, I think what you're really getting at is this: Assuming play with GM-controlled authorship, it still matters a great deal how the GM authors the story. (Clarification: it doesn't matter to those who will only be happy with player-controlled authorship. It does matter to everyone else.) Front-loading makes the players' decisions irrelevant. Reality-in-flux techniques (intCon or retCon or possibly others) requires the author to incorporate the player's decisions, which is why the effort required (as Ron describes) is so much greater.

Too much effort to sustain? Then what's needed are better tools.


Now, about the congruence thing. I don't regard the main purpose of illusionism as a reconciliation of different players' different goals (e.g. a Narrativist GM and Simulationist players) via congruence. I see it as the main purpose of the congruence as reconciling the conflicting wishes of individual players.

What most of my players(2) want is no more and no less than what the box copy promised them. They want free will in making their decisions (usually constrained by a social contract between them to make those decisions in-character), and they want the outcome to be a good story (defined as "like the novels in that genre that they read").

Only the first of those two desires concerns how they want to make their decisions in play (generally, Simulationist) and therefore only the first relates to GNS. The second concerns the outcome, and is therefore not within GNS's radar. But that doesn't mean it's not important. [Pre-post edit: the players Ron speaks of as being very proud of the amazing story they're generating in retCon illusionist play would have no reason to feel this way if outcome weren't important to them.]

G: See you next week?

P: I don't think so. Thanks anyway.

G: But it looked like you were having fun.

P: Sure, it was a blast.

G: Then what's wrong?

P: Well, I really liked the character I made up. And he got killed, before he could even save the girl.

G: Would you rather I reroll when something like that's about to happen?

P: Are you nuts? Why would I want that? What fun is a game if you cheat?

Maintaining congruence means players (especially inexperienced players(2)) never have to regard exploration and narrative-outcome as incompatible separate priorities in the first place. Very likely the problem of the player in the dialog above would be just as well addressed by a more Narrativist game system that gave him the power to control his character's fate as by illusionistic GM control over the outcome. But if I chose such a system on his behalf, the player to his left would probably dislike it because something about it would conflict with his idea of in-character free will in a objective-appearing world (or, far more likely, he simply wants to play in the particular system already in use). I've opted instead to keep 'em all happy with a little Sim, a little intCon, a little retCon, a fudged GM die roll every now and then, a little soft shoe, and a bag of oreos. It always worked for me.

Better tools sure would be nice, though.

- Walt

(1) Short of making overt revisions, that is. Such as "when you searched that crime scene last week, you also found this." Which is so inelegant that it's almost universally avoided, and in any case cannot be done covertly.

(2) Historically, by happenstance (not, I believe, due to deliberate choices or preferences on my part), most of my players have been inexperienced role players coming in. This could certainly have had a strong impact on my experiences. The uncharitable interpretation would be that they liked my games because they didn't know any better. My belief is that few of them would have been happy with conventional rigid-consequences sim or hack-and-slash games. Many would probably be amenable to explicit Narratist play. Most of them have been exactly the kind of non-hobbyist mainstream individuals (albeit with some connection to gaming sufficient to pique their interest) who are the subject of such intense interest down in the Publishing threads.

Wandering in the diasporosphere
Christoffer Lernö

Posts: 822

« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2002, 08:25:08 AM »

The "Illusionist Game"... well, ok maybe you have me there Walt. I'm not sure where the breakpoint lies.

What all the forms of illusionism have in common is that they facilitate GM-controlled authorship at the expense of either player authorship or random (non) authorship.

Where do we put the Call of Cthulhu adventures Mike brought up?

Wouldn't it be more proper to say "GM-mediated" or "GM-directed" authorship since the GM can use illusionist techniques to "stay on track" in a scenario? Or use player input to address a theme which the players want to explore without letting them in on the fact that they are really generating the story? Just a minor note.

Maybe we should take the "better tools for the trade" to a separate thread and start comparing methods?

formerly Pale Fire
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Walt Freitag

Posts: 1039

« Reply #20 on: November 17, 2002, 10:04:14 AM »

Hi Christoffer,

"GM-controlled" vs. "GM-mediated/directed authorship" -- hmm, I don't think that distinction is very useful. I was talking about the authorship of significant events in play. When front-loading is involved, the GM control is used to author an outcome that conforms to the front-loaded plan. Who wrote the plan is irrelevant.

I agree that "better tools" discussion of actual tools should be a different thread. But I'm not sure how much I'd be able to say about specific methods, except to repeat some of the unfortunately-still-vague notions I've already mentioned in other threads including some of the Ygg threads. My mention of tools here is in response to Ron's observations regarding some forms of play as rarely being stably sustainable.

- Walt

Wandering in the diasporosphere
Seth L. Blumberg

Posts: 303

« Reply #21 on: November 19, 2002, 12:21:03 PM »

Since when does playing in Mode X mean that every decision has to be made with X priorities in mind? I claim that I am playing (more specifically, GMing) in the Narrativist mode because the majority of my decisions are made with Premise in mind. 90% of the time I'm improvising like a mad bastard to bring in the issues raised by the other players. If I occasionally front-load some Situation or come to a key realization after everyone else has gone home, so what? I'm actually doing it less and less, not more and more, as the campaign goes on.

Anyway, if we allow "time-release Narrativism," then it becomes impossible to define the boundaries of an Instance of Play by observation.

the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue

Posts: 2807

« Reply #22 on: November 19, 2002, 01:49:52 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
I've opted instead to keep 'em all happy with a little Sim, a little intCon, a little retCon, a fudged GM die roll every now and then, a little soft shoe, and a bag of oreos. It always worked for me.

Damnit I choked on my apple juice.


Better tools sure would be nice, though.

Right.  I have an idea bubbling about that I can;t quite get a grip on.  It seems we've built a lot of mechnaics to do specific things; can we build a game out of multiple sets of interelated mechanics such that there is, I dunno, the game governing family life and the game governing economic life and that sort of thing.  Or perhaps, mechanics addressing those aspects that are only built to produce consistent outputs into a central mechanic.  Like a procedure in a program - it doesn;t matter what you do with the numbers inside the procedure, you just have to feed them out in the right ranges and the right places.    But yes this is other-thread fodder.

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
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