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Author Topic: Confessional: I was an Illusionist Wanker!  (Read 10028 times)
Joel P. Shempert
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« on: September 28, 2006, 05:07:34 PM »

I've been mulling this over for while, and finally decided to post about it. I think I just need to get it off my chest. Apologizes if it takes awhile to explain. Some time back, in this thread, Jay (Silmenume) was describing the Middle Earth campaign he plays in, using a homebrewed system. His description of this pseudo-"mechanic" drew some curiosity:

In the past the few first times I had actually struck a troll I had rolled “20’s” so I was informed that the blade seems to have a “purpose” against trolls.  This disambiguation, growth of knowledge, about the sword and its abilities is pure Sim in action.  There were no rules or mechanics or existing system elements that codified this process but was a decision created on the fly given the circumstances at hand and the nature of the established world.

Precious Villain made this suggestion:

Is it possible that what is really going on in these sessions is a form of mild illusionism - that is upon the rolling of a 1 or a 20 the DM looks at the scene and then uses the tremendous authorial leeway provided by this statistically unlikely event to narrate (i.e. insert into the SIS) whatever event may push "the story" forward. 

These are big groups - with enough people all shouting and yelling and rolling dice you'll get lots of 1s and 20s (the odds of getting either one are 1 in 10, after all).  If the rule is:  "Upon the rolling of a 1 or 20, the GM determines some exceptionally good or bad result for the character in question" then the GM has a lot of authority.

Jay denied that there was any Illusionism going on, insisting that players' choices were all meaningful. He described the mechanics involved here:

The best theory or idea I have at the moment is that all rolling of twenty sided dice in our game serve as guide to positiveness or negativeness (on a continuum) of what will be narrated – whatever that might be.  “1’s” and “20’s” are a sort of “quantum” jump outside that continuum.  Something “fate” altering or changing happens as a result of such roll.

and here:

Even in combat itself we rarely use exact numbers.  If a rolled number plus the player’s to hit bonus is pretty high we rarely bother calculating the exact value.  Overwhelming is overwhelming and that’s good enough to keep things moving at a pretty fast clip.  A middling number might get a second roll with the player having to roll higher than the first roll.

Eventually, Ron had this to say:

I am fascinated by your apparent denial of reality, Jay. The reality is apparent to anyone who's followed your threads over the last year.

A ton of guys are in a room. They are all rolling dice constantly, 1d20 at a time. Cary cherry-picks the 1's and 20's as his "story control" moments and improvises his way toward further conflicts and toward outcomes that he prefers, or deems will generate the most fervent response. You guys essentially act as his creative unconscious, and he acts as its manager and editor. With that many people rolling that many d20s per unit time, 1's and 20's are going to pop up all over the place. Ralph's point about sequential 20s is a good one (and leads me to be highly suspicious of many of them), but that's not relevant to the basic point, which is that Cary has dozens of opportunities to say "he snaps his bonds!" provoking cries of response, with you guys all laboring under this weird illusion that this has anything to do with dice-based task resolution. It's not. You guys play via a Drama mechanic, specifically Cary's, as cued by you all rolling like little madmen.

He is obviously a master of building suspense, whipping all of you into a frenzy, and recognizing when to change his mind. You do realize that, right? Cary was not prompted into not killing off that guy because the four 20s told him to. He changed his mind because the sequence of 20s got you all hot and bothered, and he knew when to satisfy the urge that had built up. It's clear to me that his notes are his springboard for improvising during play. It's also interesting, I think, to point out that if the guy had rolled a 3 or something for his first roll, Cary would have had his character executed, and the bunch of you would have wept and wailed just as intensely as you did for the character's survival.

[snip]

And finally, all this fascination with the Tolkien canon is a tremendous mental dodge on your and probably everyone else's parts. Everything in play is Cary's bitch, including the source material, and including anything you guys make up to go with it. It's totally malleable clay, or better, a totally transparent lens through which all of you pretend to be generating some kind of fiction, when the raw release of emotion is really the priority at the table.

Jay didn't respond, so I have no idea if these claims made any impression him.

I, meanwhile, was looking in a fucking mirror.

I've been running an Over the Edge game for about 7 years now. And while my game has been a lot more ragged than Jay's tight-knit group, the Illusionist principle at work is the same. Ron's shot hit me right between the eyes.

Since I came to the Forge, I've been expanding my understanding of roleplaying, and trying to refine my play. It's been rough going, but I've been making some headway in GMing to support player choice and player fun. Previously, though, I was an illusionist little bastard, and until the aforementioned thread, I never realized just how much.

See, I came to Over the Edge from a fairly frustrating background of systems like Palladium and MERP which seemed to hamstring me as GM or player. I felt helpless in the face of min-maxed characters who would overcome all my challenges, kill off all my important characters, and derail my rudimentary plot with ease. And as a player, I was often ineffective and helpless before the whims of fate and GM alike. I learned that mechanics will only get in the way of having my effect on the game.

So with OtE, I was enamored of the lighter rules from the start. Sure, there was still dicerolling, and some things were cut-and-dried, like "if you exceed the opponent's defense roll by X, you deal X damage." But there was a LOT of leeway for things to go my way if I really wanted. This was the case even working strictly within the rules. Check out these statements by Jonathan Tweet in the GM Section:

Quote
In Chapter 1, I said that sometimes that GM rolls two dice to determine events that the rules don't cover. You should know, however, that more often I roll those dice for the sound they make, then rule exactly as I want to rule. Even if I dink a player around, he thinks that I am doing so because "that's what the dice said," so he's not likely to argue or complain.

and

Quote
After all, you are the GM, and the rules are flexible enough that you are their only true arbiter, so overpowering the PCs is like fishing in a bucket.

Granted, the second quote is talking about how unsportsmanlike it is to "punish" PCs given your unlimited power. But the counter-suggestion is simply to be sneakier about it. I read these sentences now and I am appalled. But back then, I drank them up like sacred nectar. Finally, I thought, I have the power to make the story go in all the cool directions I always wanted. Finally, I can protect myself from all those people who play "wrong" ("Powergaming," or whatever you want to call it), and maybe even teach them a lesson.

That said, I did NOT run a tightly-controlled, well-orchestrated excercise in GM puppetry. I simoly didn't have the skill. I certainly didn't have the enthusiastic buy-in that Jay's group appears to. Instead, I fought with my players tooth-and-nail, increasing rather than allieving my frustration and ganged-up feeling. I didn't even have a specific plot I was trying to railroad them through, I was just fighting (it felt) to have a  any sort of control at all, and occasionally for specific results that I wanted in specific scenes, mostly related to having my NPCs look cool.

And I didn't even relegate myself to the already-loose and interpretively broad rules. I tried, but I found I was STILL being walked on,. Plus, I was often stuck for what happens next, what info the NPC has, etc, so I was stalling for time and fishing for ideas. Hence, I fudged rolls, played loose with difficulty ratings, and adopted a sort of "what I feel like" system of NPC hitpoints.

Once a player called me on it; He rolled, and I mulled over the result out loud: "Hmm, a 17 on four dice. Let's see. . ." The guy spoke up: "Wait, why does my number of dice matter? Shouldn't the roll just be matching whatever your target number is?" I dissembled lightning-fast, something about how, sure, he was rolling against a solid difficulty, but I was ALSO taking into account the total range of his trait, so I could describe the result appropriately, and blah blah blah. This was the only time I really consciously realized what I was doing and how bad--I was in denial the whole time. If I thought about it at all, well, really I was just defending myself. These little munchkins were trying to get away with murder.

Now, I never intended to bully or control anyone. I was just trying to defend my own input into the game, which was beset on all sides by certain players, from portrayal of the setting (I want an NPC to be cool and badass, the players won't stop joking IC and OOC about how wussy and gay he is) to adjudication of conflict (Me: "He rolls to try and break free." Player: "No, see, the thing is, this hold I'm describing is impossible to break out of. . ."). I was tired and beleagured and resorted to desperate, dirty measures, which still didn't do any good. I'm not proud of it. But it happened.

Ineffective as I was, my tactics were identical to those of Cary, Jay's GM. Make or call for a lot of ambiguous rolls, interpret them how you like, give in when it's obvious the players are bought into a certain outcome (like an obscenely high attack roll). I'm just not "a master of building suspense" and "whipping [players] into a frenzy," and lack the player loyalty and handy mechanical crutch (roll a ton of dice, any 1s and 20s, something dramatic happens--wow, what power!) of Jay's game. That's the only difference.

Somewhere along the line I started turning over a new leaf. I'd say it was about 4 years ago when our group fractured a bit and we lost some players and gained new ones. Not only did I not have the really bad "powergamers" to contend with anymore, but I had new folks without the history that I could enter into play with a bit more trustingly. I didn't wake up and go "Oh God what have I done" and rend my garments and repent, but I just gradually drifted toward more honest play.

So, all that to say, first, Jay, if you're reading this, just know that this thing exists, and some possible reasons it can arise, from someone on the other side of the curtain. I would not dismiss too lightly the possibility that it's happening with your group. And second, I'm making this a personal declaration, a delineation of a baseline that I will never again fall below, as I continue to refine my ability and understanding as a player and as a GM. Thanks to anyone who made it this far, I'd appreciate any feedback.

Peace,
-Joel
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Precious Villain
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« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2006, 06:47:10 PM »

I feel your pain, Joel.  I never got to the Illusionist stage, but I know exactly how you feel about defending your input as GM.  My methods tended toward brute, overwhelming force.  I recall one occasion involving a "tax" on magic items collected by a small army. . . .  This had the upside of quickly ending my work as GM for the problem players involved - instead I ended up with a more select group.  I think that when you're a Gamist (like me) you end up detesting powergamers even more than the narrativists . . .

-Rob

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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2006, 07:28:36 PM »

Hi Joel,

I can relate to your woes and techniques (yup, done the 'read the dice roll and decide what happens' thing and more). But I don't entirely agree with Ron,
Quote from: Ron
And finally, all this fascination with the Tolkien canon is a tremendous mental dodge on your and probably everyone else's parts. Everything in play is Cary's bitch, including the source material, and including anything you guys make up to go with it. It's totally malleable clay, or better, a totally transparent lens through which all of you pretend to be generating some kind of fiction, when the raw release of emotion is really the priority at the table.
I don't think it was Cary's bitch, instead everything in play is the conch shell holders bitch. Yeah, Cary might be holding that most of the time, but that's not really as big as the issue of there being just one conch holder.

Also keep in mind that Capes rewards players for targeting each others (PC's) emotional hot spots, in much the same way. However, all players are doing this to each other. While here, Cary is playing one game of targeting hotspots and the players are playing another one entirely. They aren't doing the same activity together, which can get warped real fast. They aren't traveling in parralel toward a shared goal, so to speak. The players are (generally), but Carry is intersecting them/T boning them as he goes for his goal, which is in an entirely different direction. Two different games at the one table.

If I have any mutual ground with you on that, basically only one game can hold the conch shell at a time (GM's game or players game (think of your muchkins unbreakable hold)). Since it's two games, they can't really blend the conch shell between all paticipants (as not everyone is a participant in each game).

Rons game 'It was a mutual descision' has two sides, male group and female group, but as I understand it's intended that both sides are enthusiastically giving suggestions all the time. When you have a great idea but other people are shouting great ideas and you feel you just have to use as much of this cool stuff you can, is there a conch shell?

Quick, rough theory there. And I'll probably be shot down by Ron on 'It was a mutual descision'. So, one crazy last thought - the tolkeen fascination isn't a mental dodge - its the fanatical passion required to stop the conch shell being in one place (since that passion affects the game Cary was playing). Gets frenzied enough and he wont kill off that guy. So if he doesn't have the conch shell, is there one? Kind of - Cary is getting exactly what he wants still ('make the players FEEL something'), while in 'mutual descision' everybody is likely hybredising their ideas with other peoples ideas. Perhaps there is no conch shell, but there's still no shared game between you all either.

Okay, I've drawn a long bow and if it starts to spoil this thread, I'll take back my post and be quiet :)
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2006, 07:51:53 PM »

My methods tended toward brute, overwhelming force.

Yeah, I was deliberately trying to avoid that route, which in the end was worse because I developed a subconscious martyr complex and got real passive-aggressive.

One thing that's still amazing to me is exactly, perfectly the features that I thought would help me backfired. The system was so simple that I thought there would be no gamism possible. Instead, the system was so simple that they simply gamed the descriptions (such as the "unbreakable hold" guy above), encouraged by the rule that penalizes boring attack descriptions. Oy.

Callan, I see what you're saying about playing different parallel games--that's often, in traditional games, how play has been promoted: the Players "get in character," and "roleplay," while the GM does a whole bunch of work to do another thing entirely, with different goals (including, sometimes primarily, "please your players"). Leads to a lot of dysfunction wrt differing expectations and often a persecuted-feeling GM ("I give and I give and I give. . ."). I know I was one.

That said, I'm not sure you're on the right track about the conch shell thing, simply because there are NO narrative rights being passed around here--sure, everyone gets to direct their character's actions, but the issue of how stuff really gets decided in the story reverts back to Cary and his "Fate interpretation" of criticals. (Hey, the "Roll some dice and make an arbitrary decision" mechanic in OTE is ALSO called "The Hand of Fate." hmmm. . .). Nowhere do the players get to decide what a 20 or 1 means to the SIS. They look expectantly to Cary, waiting for something amazing. The only instance in Jay's report where the players got their way was when the PC was going to be executed, and Cary had him roll a die. (Not a "try to escape die," a "just because" die.) And he rolled 4 Twenties in a row, and everyone clamored for the Cool Thing that would save him, and Cary knew he couldn't deny them. By contrast, when the Wizard electrocuted the Dragon, using up 6 "Tomahawk 20s to do so (a resource that only comes from being part of the group long-term, at a rate of one a year!), the Dragon only suffered a flesh wound. Jay's take was that this was a cool means of establishing just how badass the thing is, but I read it as, Cary was dead set on a Dragon laying waste to Rivendell, and BY GOD a Dragon was goonna lay waste to rivendell. Bear in mind that they have no clear standard for this sort of thing: combat itself is a case of subjective, "eh, high number, that looks like a kill" judgment calling. From where I sit, Cary's got that shell all the frickin' time, and he sometimes deigns to allow others to sway his decrees if they get psyched enough.

Anyway, I guess what I'm taking from all this is that I look Cary and I see what I would have been, gladly, if I'd had the skill, patience, and player buy-in. Kind of a "there but for the grace of God go I" story. I honestly don't know where I want discussion to go from here, I think it's more of a "can y'all relate?" thread than anything. So I can see where we'd get off on a big tangent if you kept going with your line of thought, but I'm not exactly sure what you'd be derailing it from. :)

Thanks for dropping by,
-Joel
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2006, 07:59:13 PM »

Hey guys,

Let's stick with Joel's game and what was going on there. The parent thread only matters here as an inspiration for him, not in as a topic of debate in and of itself.

Best, Ron
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Barlennan
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« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2006, 08:15:51 PM »

Hi, I'm Michael, and I'm an Illusionist GM.

My system of choice was GURPS.  Two years ago, if you'd asked me if anything creative happened in my games, I'd talk about the Star Control game where one PC shot down a ground-to-space missile with a hand weapon and another was trying to pick a lock and got his arm jammed in it just as the bad guys on the other side decided to open the door anyway.

Pretty much every significant event in my games (including these two) were critical successes or critical failures, outcome described through GM fiat.  No player input, and the outcomes moved the plot in the direction I wanted it to go...

I also used overpowered NPCs to force the plot back into line.  The last game I ran fell apart after the session where one of my NPCs had a weapon skill of 22, allowing her to stab a PC even after being hit in the face with acid and blinded.  In hindsight, I can't blame the player for screaming at me.

So, yes, I recognise your story because I've been through it myself.
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Michael
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My name is Jon.


« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2006, 09:41:20 PM »

I've been there.  Sometimes I go back there.  The scary thing about illusionism is that it's expected, sometimes even demanded among players that I've run games with. 

I have two different groups I play with.  One group has reacted really well to the empowerment I've been introducing.  They found Primetime Adventures a lot of fun, because they can add in their own cool ideas for scenes.  They're becoming a lot more willing to suggest scenes and situations and possible outcomes.  They're really interested in Burning Wheel for it's combination of player-driven conflict mixed with plenty of points of contact.

The voyage to this point started rocky.  My first AP here detailed a rather terrible Eberron D20 campaign I was forcing them through.  I completely ignored the backstories they wrote up for their characters.  One had a mother in servitude, he's trying to buy her freedom.  I responded with a political maneuvering type game based on my "great idea" that I forced on them, and then played through.  I ignored their offerings of content, and played "my one true vision" of plot.  The game was a crushing bore, and after posting my AP, I got a wake up call from Ron. 

A year ago, there was a constant push and pull contest of wills between GM and Player.  Now, I collaborate and challenge.  We had to talk it out, and we had to work on building back some trust.  I had to trust them to guide the path of the game, and they had to trust me to make that path interesting.

The second group is a work in progress.  They still don't trust or like the things I've learned on this site, and object to me giving them narrative power.  This stuff is foreign to them.  But slowly, I'm winning them over.  The Dogs in the Vineyard AP I posted recently was one attempt on my part to show them how exciting it is to have players in charge.  It's rough going, and I try to keep the dialog open.  But I am surprised at how easy it is to slip into that authoritative, "This is the main plot do not deviate" mindset.  Scary stuff.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2006, 02:40:56 AM »

From where I sit, Cary's got that shell all the frickin' time, and he sometimes deigns to allow others to sway his decrees if they get psyched enough.
Sorry, I mean that too. What I was focusing on is that there is a conch shell at all - that someone just sits there in a vacuum and says exactly what they want. The immediate solution to illusionism might seem to be to share this conch shell around, while I'm suggesting that although it seems precious, conch needs to be eliminated and focus needs to be on bringing the GM and players into the one game. That's why I refered to capes - targeting emotional hotspots would be/is very useful, if only the GM was playing the same game as the other players. So I'm awkwardly suggesting a mental switch around - instead of looking at his decrees and thinking "How do we get rid of that?" instead thinking "How do I give everyone that power? So were all playing the same game and everyone is drawing everyones emotions out". So, kill the conch and keep the 'tease out feeling' somehow (if more mechanically regulated), as RL feelings are what significant SIS stuff grows from.
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Frank T
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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2006, 04:43:05 AM »

Joel, I have two questions for you:

Did your players like your OtE sessions?
Did you like your OtE sessions?

- Frank
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2006, 04:10:37 AM »

Good call, Ron. Thanks.

Hi, Barlennan,

I also used overpowered NPCs to force the plot back into line.  The last game I ran fell apart after the session where one of my NPCs had a weapon skill of 22, allowing her to stab a PC even after being hit in the face with acid and blinded.  In hindsight, I can't blame the player for screaming at me.

Heh. I had this one NPC (he's still at large in the campaign, actually) who I created as a more or less invincible foil for the players. They were all chasing after a McGuffin, which was NOT railroady, actually; in fact I was vexed because they had all decided to focus on it and I was unprepared, hence a lot of slapdash, panicky decisions. Like this guy. I just made him up out of thin air, based on some On the Edge card art, and he was a thief who was hired to get the McGuffin for some other party, and he was preternaturally fast, strong, capable of leaping several stories. . .and unkillable due to regenerative powers. A PC tore into his throat with some freaky knife, and the guy just grinned as the damage knit up before his very eyes. Then the dude leapt up to the roof and escaped.

Now, I had an idea of why this all was (he's got trollish blood, see; the Faerie creatures of old are making a comeback in Al Amarja), and partly just wanted to give everyone a poser, figuring they'd mis-guess that he was a vampire or something (dunno if they did, they never speculated on it in my presence). And he DID figure into a plotline I wanted to put forward, the Faerie thing, but was (still am) having trouble getting off the ground. But I also knew that if I was going to put opposition in their path, he was gonna get his throat ripped out (and I was right) pretty much on sight, so I had to protect myself. And so I did. I had the good sense to use him sparingly, but he was still my trump card for "need a bad guy that won't get killed" purposes. And hey, he works for hire, so he's usable in just about any situation!

Hi, Glendower!

I've been there.  Sometimes I go back there.  The scary thing about illusionism is that it's expected, sometimes even demanded among players that I've run games with. 

[snip]

A year ago, there was a constant push and pull contest of wills between GM and Player.  Now, I collaborate and challenge.  We had to talk it out, and we had to work on building back some trust.  I had to trust them to guide the path of the game, and they had to trust me to make that path interesting.

The second group is a work in progress.  They still don't trust or like the things I've learned on this site, and object to me giving them narrative power.  This stuff is foreign to them.  But slowly, I'm winning them over.  The Dogs in the Vineyard AP I posted recently was one attempt on my part to show them how exciting it is to have players in charge.  It's rough going, and I try to keep the dialog open.  But I am surprised at how easy it is to slip into that authoritative, "This is the main plot do not deviate" mindset.  Scary stuff.

I never had a strong idea of a plot that must be followed; my experience was one of sheer, constant panic, not knowing what to do or where to take the "story." I did have my own version of the "main plot," and that was emulation/presentation/celebration of the setting. My two brothers (who were players in the game) and I had previously played the On the Edge card game and loved it, so I had fallen in love with the setting and wanted to show everyone else how cool it was, and I got kind of obsessed with getting everything "just right". This crippled me creatively, and since no one but my brothers knew the card game stuff, it was kind of like trying to get, say, Star Wars just right, with a group of people who have never seen it. And when I didn't get player buy-in for some part of the setting, like what this Barrio is like, or how cool that character is, it was doubly frustrating, like if I was portraying Darth Vader and everyone was constantly going "haha, he's not scary, what's with the heavy breathing, is he some bondage dude or something?"

My work with flag framing and driving conflict with NPCs (much props to Chris Chinn for that wisdom!) has really helped turn things around, though there's some rough going in spots. One player from the old guard who recently came back to play with us took up his old character and had what I thought was a real fun session with him a few weeks back. In response to a Leutenant in the Aries gang's shady dealings with a rival gang (the player plays a street kid martial artist who's buddies with the gang but not part of it), he had his character march right into Aries HQ and blow the whistle, accusing the guy in front of the gang leader, who, enraged, kicked the guy from right-hand-man status, and offered the PC his spot in the gang. They then roared off on their Battle Bikes in a war party to go kick rival gang ass for the offense. All this time I was thinking, "cool, this is proactive, exciting play, I can roll with this," and just riffing off the player for my NPC reactions, and giving him a real, palpable reward in terms of positioning and power within the game world. I just found out he was dissatisfied with the whole thing because he never wanted to be a member of the gang or anything. I was just like, "you coulda had Shane say no." He feels like I didn't give him the chance, just kinda swept him up into everything before he could react. There's some discrepancy in our memories (I recall the leader offering him the spot, he says it was more like "hey, kid, you're in), but I really think the bottom line is that he sees, on some level, my giving him an in character opportunity and choice as me trying to force him into a pre-planned situation. He said it without malice, like he didn't seem to think pointing him toward plot like that was bad or anything, just that he didn't like the particular thing I "pushed" him into.

That "expected, sometimes even demanded" thing you talk about seems to be about responsibility--it's the GM's responsibility to keep the plot moving, because, duh, who else's could it be? The player above was taking NO responsibility for moving the plot forward, even when he most MANIFESTLY WAS DOING IT.

I'll have to check out that Dogs AP when I have the time.

Hey, Callan,

That's why I refered to capes - targeting emotional hotspots would be/is very useful, if only the GM was playing the same game as the other players. So I'm awkwardly suggesting a mental switch around - instead of looking at his decrees and thinking "How do we get rid of that?" instead thinking "How do I give everyone that power? So were all playing the same game and everyone is drawing everyones emotions out". So, kill the conch and keep the 'tease out feeling' somehow (if more mechanically regulated), as RL feelings are what significant SIS stuff grows from.

Yeah, I see what you're getting at. And it relates back to my game nicely, I think, since that's exactly what I'm driving for. When I reconvened my OTE game after a month or two's break, I decided to implement some new techniques, and briefly explained Flags and Scene Framing to the group. It seemed to go over well, and at least a couple players have adopted the Flags terminology quite effortlessly ("Hey, I was throwing out a real ckear flag there! Aren't you gonna do something with that?"). One guy though (same guy as in the above example, hmmm. . .), remarked while I was out of the room that it sounded like I was just trying to get other people to do the GM's job. Freedom can be scary. . .

Hi, Frank,

Joel, I have two questions for you:

Did your players like your OtE sessions?
Did you like your OtE sessions?

Hmm. For my part, I had lots and lots of frustration, some caused by players' attitudes or playstyles, a lot self-inflicted. I felt (as I mentioned up there somewhere) like I had to fight tooth-and-nail with at least a clouple of players for control of the SIS. I can think of fun stuff that happened with every player and their character, but the ratio was pretty lousy, though better for a couple of players who seemed to be on a more similar wavelength with me.

As for the players, I can't speak for them fully, but I will say that in spite of a fair chunk of occasions when I would be like, "is anyone enjoying this? Should we even continue? Etc etc," I always got solid majority feedback that they loved the campaign, were interested in playing,and so forth. However, in play I often felt a lot of apathy toward the setting and the game as a whole. SO the whole thing was pretty hard to read. Fortunately, some of the newer players are easier to guage enthusiasm with, and seem really into it. And by the same token I'm starting to have more and more fun with it.

So make of all that what you will. Sounds like you'd like to go somewhere with this, and I'm all ears.

Peace,
-Joel
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Frank T
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« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2006, 02:05:20 PM »

Hi Joel,

Yes, I would like to go somewhere. You have explained pretty well why you were being an Illusionist. I would like to know why you whink you were being a wanker. Because so far, I don't see it.

- Frank
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Joel P. Shempert
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Posts: 451


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« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2006, 04:43:40 PM »

Interesting, that's not a question I'd expected. Are you saying that the players seemed to be having fun, therefore I wasn't being a wanker? If so, good point. We could very well be talking about "functional illusionism," where the players on some level know and expect that,and are perfectly happy with it. The guy I talked about in the examples with the gangleader and such, is certainly a good case for that. Although I know he reacted badly in the past to another GM's game, where he felt that she was using powerful NPCs to drive the plot, with PCs as mere spectators. So he does want some kind of player control, or at least player centrality, or something. Though to add a third dimension, I remember a D&D game of his that I played in, where he made my character be in the Thieves guild, because "that's just the way it is, ALL thieves have to be in the thieves' guild," then proceeded to direct me (and through me, the other PCs which I was sent to infiltrate and "shepherd") very heavily via Guild directives to follow his plot. Hmm, thinking about this and relating it to his two reactions above to other people's games, perhaps we can postulate a pretty consistent theory on his preference: PC centrality, without necessarily player control. Sure, there's control in a "you can react to the plot however you want" kinda way, but not really control of how the plot might branch out or anything.

Reminds me of my brother and I, years ago, going with my mom to buy a new computer game. We wanted F-14 Tomcat, which was (so research indicated) a [retty free-range flight-sim with a variety of missions, dogfights, ect. But mymom found some content on the box objectionable (I believe the promise of being "cussed out" by your CO aftera mission), so we came home with F-18 Hornet instead. Which turned out to NOT be a flight simulator, not really. It had roughly aircraft controls, and a string of missions, bot those missions were simply a linear "track" of a certain width containing various obstacles to fly over/under, and ending at the mission objective, i.e. thing to blow up. You flew in one direction the whole time, and of course you had the "choice" of how to navigate this invisible tunnel, and retry it to find the best route, but there was no REAL choice of where to fly or what to do at all. You persumable were happy with flying in the tunnel, and seeing just what challenges the next tunnel would throw at you was its own reward.

So yeah, that seems to be the mindset of at least ONE player, and I suspect several entertained at least a similar mindset; at least a few of the current players probably still do. So persumably if that's what I was giving them, it was perfectly functional and acceptable, right?

Except for two things: one, I wasn't just fudging things in terms of the areas of Illusionist Authority implicitly granted me, that is, what happens in the plot, what's going on behind the scenes, how the world works, how special powers work, etc. I was also fudging in areas that at least some players seemed to believe was in their purview: consistency of causality, and player effectiveness in using their traits, at least in combat. Like the player who caught me in having no clear idea of what target number I was having him roll against. He assumed, reasonably, that when I said, "roll three dice for your trait," I had a difficulty set and he would succeed in his action based on equalling or exceeding that number. And as I said, in combat I was adopting a policy of "the bad guys have whatever HP I feel like," by which I mean, moment to moment I was deciding whether an NPC was down or still in the fight, based on my whim, with accounting for the limits of believability, like if the characters KNOW he's suffered a huge pile of damage (which I hadn't bothered to actually subtract, rather using it as a rule of thumb).

But more importantly, I think, I was a wanker because I was NOT acting from a position of mutual faith and committment to everyone's fun. Sure, I wanted everyone to have fun, but more and more as things proceeded and I started to feel more and more browbeaten and beleaguered, I began to look oat it as "oh sure, they're having fun, but what about MY fun?" I was acting from a position of bitterness and resentment, and I think it showed. At least a couple of times I flat-out lost my temper, and even apart from that, I ran the game with teeth clenched and eyes glowering, just waiting for the next fuckoff to step up and ruin MY game. Yes, people said they enjoyed themselves when asked, but it was clear it wasnt (for many) the REAL fun game in the group, as opposed to D&D. And my poisonous attitude was definitely raining on what parade they WERE having. Sure, "what about MY fun" was a legitimate question, but not the way I was (or wasn't) asking it.

So there you go. I appreciate the question because my original use of "wanker" was pretty flippant and offhanded, based on the assumption that Illusionism, MUST perforce be bad and asshole-y. You've made me examine the social dynamics to understand just WHY what I did was basically assholery. Understandable, excusable assholery, MAYBE. But, I believe, assholery still.

Does this clear things up at all?

Peace,
-Joel
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Call Me Curly
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Posts: 63


« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2006, 07:48:48 PM »

Joel,

That doesn't clear things up for me.

The thing I appreciated about your original post was how perfectly-reasonable the slide into Illusionism was:

You were overwhelmed by GM duties, so you fudged to keep your head above water.   

You felt 'powergamers' would take a mile, so you fudged randomizers to not give them an inch.

And this new one in your last post-- you weren't having fun; so you fudged to give yourself more fun. 

One needn't be a wanker or 'assholish' to be concerned about those three things.   

Illusionism was just a problematic choice of Means to the the Ends you sought.

Illusionism is a common practice.  So if we answer 'why' with 'because the Illusionists are jerks',
we fail to see the ways that well-intentioned players fall into it.  Thus we don't have a good diagnosis
to build a cure from.

And-- this may just be me-- but I have a distaste for the entire thread title.
It smacks of grovelling to curry favor.  And of us/them  = saved/sinners snobbery.

Good thread, though.

--Curly




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Joel P. Shempert
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Posts: 451


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« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2006, 08:51:18 PM »

Hi, Curly,

To tell you the truth, I was kinda stuck for a title. I ended up going for a kinda self-deprecating and sarcastic title, meant to be read like "I was a teenage werewolf!" or similar, with cheesy organ music cued up. Sorry you found it distasteful. You're right about the connotations it carries, it was meant to be an ironic parody of those connotations.

Anyway. I think maybe you're operating from a false dichotomy here: "perfectly-reasonable" vs "assholish." A person need not have malicious intent or an unreasonable goal to behave like a jerk. My "I was a wanker" is identical here to your "problematic choice of Means to the the Ends," I think. I'm not trying to paint myself as a monster (either honestly OR as favor-currying groveling), just trying to examine why I behaved badly, even if for entirely reasonable motives. I agree with you about the productive purpose of this thread: to analyze "the ways that well-intentioned players fall into it [illusionism]." I just happen to think that the "it" includes (in my case anyway) being a jerk. That's all.

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?

And before we move on too far, any feedback from folks on my last few comments? I'd be interested in more back-and-forth from the folks who have responded already, if they think there's anything still fruitful in it.

Peace,
-Joel
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Frank T
Guest
« Reply #14 on: October 01, 2006, 01:01:32 AM »

Hi Joel,

Thanks for the breakdown. I really see two different questions here, as indicated above:

1) WERE YOU BEING A WANKER IN HOW YOU TREATED THE PLAYERS?

Well, maybe a little, in taking your own frustration out on them, but that doesn’t really have much to do with Illusionism. It’s just what happens when play is dysfunctional and you don’t change anything. That stuff about the target numbers is just making a mistake. No one ever said it’s easy to be an Illusionist GM. The opposite is true: It’s probably the hardest job you can have in role-playing. From what you say, you probably did fairly well most of the time, and if there is a little lapse every now and then, that’s only human.

Yeah, you were not being up-front and honest to them. That’s inherent to Illusionism. Greg Costikyan laid down the bible of Illusionism in 1987 in the first edition of Star Wars d6. Granted, it has always got the danger of the players finding out and being disappointed. Or they might say, “Yeah, what did we expect?” and play might gradually turn into Participationism. That’s what happened in my group, and if I read you correctly, your players were also fine with some types of GM force.

What I did to make it work was to be absolutely fair with the rules and the already established situation. So the players knew that it was perfectly in my hands to have reinforcement burst in every round I was seeing fit, but they also knew that this fight, here and now, was theirs to decide. And they trusted me in using my GM force to create interesting plot twists, even if that meant that the overall plot was not in their hands. That’s what worked for us, anyway.
   
2) WERE YOU BEING A WANKER IN HOW YOU TREATED YOURSELF?

You were putting all that pressure on yourself to create the “perfect fiction”, all by yourself, and even against the players’ resistance. That’s a shitload of stress. I know that I was sick of it at some point. 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. It was probably because of bad gamer habits, and because OtE was your baby to begin with, and the others would have just as well played more D&D. I’ve been in that position, too: A new game, yourself pretty unsure about how it’s supposed to run, but at the same time required to make it work and sell it to sceptical players.

Anybody to call you a wanker for not being up to that should try and walk a mile in those shoes.

Best,
Frank
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