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Author Topic: Participation / Illusionism  (Read 9643 times)
Bankuei
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« on: July 15, 2003, 11:53:41 AM »

Quote
Illusionism is in the articles as a valid, functional form of play. A recent poster just spoke out against it and doubted it as a vaild form ...


That was probably me :)  The more I look at it, the more I believe that functional Illusionism is more unstated Participationism, rather than "raw Illusionism".  That is, everyone "knows" that you're supposed to take the job offered by the stranger at the tavern, even though it doesn't really make sense for your character, because if you don't, "there won't be an adventure", even if no one out and out says it.  I can't imagine "flawless" illusionism, free of railroading or bizarre "engineered" events to prevent things from going too far astray.   And I've seen A LOT of advice that pushes Illusionist play...

Chris
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Marco
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« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2003, 11:59:48 AM »

Quote from: Bankuei
Quote
That is, everyone "knows" that you're supposed to take the job offered by the stranger at the tavern, even though it doesn't really make sense for your character, because if you don't ...
Chris


I think at that point both you and/or the GM are responsible for your own difficulties related to the situation. But no, I was refering to someone else.

-Marco
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Nick the Nevermet
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« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2003, 01:22:14 PM »

Clearly, whatever style of play occurs should be talked about up-front with all the social contract stuff.  That was the single biggest smack upside my head out of everything I've read at the Forge:  "Oh yeah... we should probably TALK about how roleplaying is gonna go."

It's amazing how easy it is to get lulled into the assumption that having the book means you know what to do.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2003, 01:33:00 PM »

Hi Nick,

Yeah, that pretty much is the point behind my Social Contract Decisions thread, looking at all the stuff that is just "assumed" to work, requiring folks to hash it out, sometimes with minimal friction, sometimes to dysfunctional meltdown.

What's really interesting to think about, for me, is that Illusionism can't be illusionism if you explicitly agree to play that way...In other words, the defining line between functional Illusionism and Participationism is the latter is the point when you explicitly agree to that style of play.  This is really why I find so much trouble with Illusionism, because there's no way to prevent issues like folks who want to play protagonistic play(or take it as far as Narrativism) through discussion.

It's the fact that for many folks, this is the "standard" way to play, and it totally precludes any chance of explicitly discussing what's going on that makes it such a difficult method to swing into functionality.

Chris
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2003, 01:49:06 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei

What's really interesting to think about, for me, is that Illusionism can't be illusionism if you explicitly agree to play that way.
You're creating definitions that are problematic, Chris. Participationism is when it's done in the open. The difference is like being in front of the stage or behind the stage at a magic show. If you're in front, you know it's Illusionist, you just don't know what's real and what's illusion (though you can certainly suspect). If your in back, you can see all the illusions occuring. Either way we can know that we're at a show.

Illusionist GM: where do you want to go (and then uses Illusion to force the destination)?

Participationist GM: You go to town.

See the difference? Either can be done with the acceptance of the Players or without. Read the Illusionism thread.

Don, you have the term Social Contract correct. It can be verbalized, but rarely is in fact, and includes all social assumptions whether verbalized or not. We're talking very much about the term as used originally by Hobbes.

Mike
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2003, 04:58:48 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei
The more I look at it, the more I believe that functional Illusionism is more unstated Participationism, rather than "raw Illusionism".  That is, everyone "knows" that you're supposed to take the job offered by the stranger at the tavern, even though it doesn't really make sense for your character, because if you don't, "there won't be an adventure", even if no one out and out says it.


I agree that seems a lot closer to Participationism (and Open Play)...If memory serves, that sort of play would be called Trailblazing (as per Mr. Young's definition).

As a matter of personal opinion, I'll say I can't stand Illusionism, but unfortunately that doesn't actually tell you what bothers me. A lot of different techniques can fall under Illusionism.  I don't mind people moving an NPC to a different place, putting the dragon behind the door we happen to open, or deciding it'd be cooler if the 'Rubies of Kassan' we need to find are the red eyes of a woman instead of a couple rocks.  I could say that's all Illusionism, because it's covert force.  But, it's really only Illusionist techniques that involve determination of outcome that bug me.  When it doesn't matter what I do; the impact of my character's actions has already been decided; that's what bothers me.  Or simply put, I don't mind (I might even like) Illusionism to create conflict, but I strongly dislike Illusionism to resolve conflict.

This little bit of rambling was just to point out that when two people say Illusionism (or Participationism, Open Play, No Myth, Trailblazing, and whatever else I'm missing) they may not mean the same thing.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2003, 05:28:45 PM »

Wow--we're still having trouble with illusionism versus participationism versus trailblazing. Now, trailblazing is my term for what I initially and tentatively dubbed "module play" because I saw it exemplified by many of the modules, particularly the early ones, produced in the hobby and run at conventions. As the term was elucidated in the module play thread, that temporary designation was replaced with trailblazing. It is still, in my understanding, very different from participationism.

Illusionism I have experienced; I've even taught people how to use illusionist techniques to improve a campaign. I'm currently working on a scenario in which the level of illusionism will be very high: the scenario provides a sequenced list of what happens during the adventure, and instructs the referee that these events will happen in the order specified no matter which way the player character moves through the physical setting. To illustrate illusionism, my Game Ideas Unlimited article, http://www.gamingoutpost.com/content/index.cfm?action=article&articleid=613&login=">Left or Right talks about descending into a dungeon and coming to a T at the end of the corridor, where the referee asks which way the players want their characters to go. In Illusionist play, the answer is completely irrelevant. The next event will be that the players will come to the room with the sarcophagus, because that's what the referee wants to have happen next. However, the players are made to believe that they came to that room because they chose to go left instead of right. That's a simple example, and not all illusionism is so bold as that; but in illusionist play the primary characteristic is that the players have no control over the unfolding of the plot beyond the color of what their characters do while all this happens around them, but they don't know it. They think their choices matter, and they're wrong.

Participationism has best been described as illusionism by consent. I was out of the illusionist game before it became participationist, and it was a disaster when it did so, because certain somewhat gamist players turned it into a game of confound the referee: could they do things that the referee couldn't possibly work into the story? However, there were players who very much enjoyed playing in that game after they understood that their choices didn't matter. The referee was a master storyteller and could take their color and include it in the unfolding drama he was writing before their eyes. The players still have no control over outcomes; they still provide color for a story whose course and ending are pre-determined; but they're aware of this, and implicitly or explicitly agree to those terms.

Trailblazing is different from participationism on this critical point: the players actually control the outcome of the events. That is, if they don't do it, it won't get done. In participationism, if you come to a fork in the road, you pretend to consider which way you should go, but it doesn't matter which way you choose. If you choose left, there are only three possible outcomes: the correct direction was always left, or the correct direction was right but is now left, or the referee will make sure that the left path is somehow impassible so that the players will return and take the right path. In trailblazing, if you're supposed to go right and you go left, you're lost; you wind up somewhere else. The referee must have left a clue somewhere--maybe you were supposed to talk to the hermit at the last inn, or notice the note on the old prospector's map, or accept the assistance of the old adventurer who said he knew the way--but if you didn't get the clue, you blew it. This has in common with illusionism and participationism that the referee has created the story, but it differs from them critically here. In those forms, it is entirely up to the referee to reveal the story by controling the events of the game; in trailblazing, it is entirely up to the players to actualize the story by following the clues the referee provided. In illusionism and participationism, the referee has almost all of the power to realize the story; in trailblazing, once play begins, he has almost none. The story happens because the players are committed to making it happen, and if they fail in that, the story doesn't happen.

It is still distinct from the sort of protagonized play/bass playing style which allows the players to do whatever they wish and has the referee respond to them and hold things together; in that case, the story is created by the players, not by the referee, who only provides the backdrop and possibilities for story and lets the players decide where the story goes. Still, trailblazing is closer in philosophy to this approach than it is to illusionism/participationism, because at the critical point the actions of the players matter.

The example is the common competition module, in which the players are expected to accomplish certain goals by certain points in the story, and the story unfolds as they do. If they go off course, no one puts them right. They are committed at the outset to figuring out what they should do to achieve the victory, which expresses itself as the telling of the story. In the same way, many referees write "adventures" for their players which have a plot all figured out. Some are illusionist or participationist and will make their story happen whatever the players do, but many are trailblazing, relying entirely on the ability of the players to work out what story is supposed to be told.

I agree with Wayne that taking the job from the stranger because you know it's the right path is more like trailblazing than participationism. In participationism, you do it because one way or another you're going to end up doing that job--it isn't really like you have a choice of jobs, and if you don't take it from this guy, it will be back again and again in a dozen forms and disguises until you do take it. In trailblazing you do it because you've committed yourself as part of the social contract to follow the trail of crumbs that lead you through the forest of the adventure, and this is one of them.

Re: The Ball, I believe this is an analogy for the passing of credibility between players, including the referee. Thus when the player says that his character will do something, and then the referee tells him the result, "The ball" has been passed from the player to the referee; when the referee asks what the player wants to do next, "the ball" is passed back. I'm less clear on the others, although I think transparency refers to the degree to which the mechanics are unnoticed during play.

--M. J. Young
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2003, 06:47:59 PM »

I agree with you MJ, but I think your participationism examples are a little negative sounding.  Sorta makes it all sound like it's doomed to dysfunction.  (No superiority here, I'm sure I've done the same when talking about illusionism)

A participationists approach to the fork in the road could also be the GM saying "You come to a fork in the road, and you go left".  A player might speak up and say "Hey! I wanna go right!".  So, the GM says "But, the story is on the left".  "Oh, OK, I'll go left."  Overt, concensual force.

I know when we talk about GMing styles it always ends up being about the extremes, but participationist techniques can even be handy is protagonist play in the form of scene framing - where a little concensual force is involved.

There is probably no arguement here, but I felt like saying it.

EDIT:  Hey look, I mentioned another GMing term: scene framing.  This thread has some links on the matter...which leads to more links.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2003, 12:21:31 PM »

Participationism as I defined it is pretty uncommon if it exists at all. But imagine if you will players who only want to essentially make commentary and roll dice on the way through a pre-plotted story. "Why would anyone want to do that?" I hear some people shouting. Well, people watch TV, and that's less interactive. It's just not a common style assuming it is used at all.

And it might not be used at all. I theorized that this must be a style from two sources. One, it's certainly a possible combination of the Illusionist spectrum. I mean, if I wanted to do it as an experiment I could play through such a game. But more importantly, I thought I had seen evidence of it. Marco told me that he'd run the (IIRC) "Belltower" adventure for players who had really enjoyed it. Now, if you read that scenario, you'll see that there are cards that are given to players that tell them what to say, and have their characters do. Like little scripts. The GM hands these to the players at the appropriate time, and the players just do what they say.

Participationism.

Now, later Marco described how this game out, and I saw that the players had much more appearance of control than I'd thought. The plot was still on iron rails till it's conclusion, but there were places where they could at least decide on character actions (whether they made a difference or not). So I'm not sure that this was as Participationist as I at first thought.

I do think its an indication that stuff in that direction is possible, however. Note, that I think a well designed Participationist game might be fun assuming that it was expected, and everyone, well, participated correctly. So I think its still valid to think about in terms of the spectrum of styles as one little visited corner.

(Every time I say that, I think that I'm going to suddenly discover that there are tons of people who play this way in a format that we're just blind to here. Interactive Fiction ala Scotos?)

Mike
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Marco
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« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2003, 12:37:08 PM »

Edited from original response on-re-read:

Mike, man, yer never gonna let that go are you?

The Belltower was the first adventure I ever wrote with the intent of someone else trying to run it. One reason I did write it up was because people had told me it was gonna be "impossible" to do as a module. I was pretty pleased with it when we put it up, but yeah, I can see how you read it as a script.

But then, you thought the other example of play that I posted here (what I experienced as extremely protagonized play) was a script too--so maybe you're lookin' for that.

The cards were concieved of as a stunt, not a philosophy. The game itself wasn't on steel rails in anyway that was meaningful to the particiapnts. It ran, instead, as a number of revelations followed by persoanlized scenarios where they played with them. Encoding the complex situation into text blanked out a lot of what they'd been doing during the game. The fact that I couldn't count on someone running the game for *my* players made my attempts to convey the ideas even harder.

Would I write it the same way again? No. I'd be far more sensitive to people who fear the tyrany of a dysfunctional GM. Appearently it's a bigger problem than I thought before going online.

Is it indicative of anything? I don't think so. You once said that it was indicative of the way the game system was meant to be played. That's innacurate.

Do note that it is one of the scenarios we get consistently good feedback on. Appearently people like the ideas presented in it. I expect them to use them however they see fit.

-Marco
[The offending document is here:
http://jagsgame.dyndns.org/jags/template2.jsp?name=Other_Worlds

If you read it and feel compelled to flame me for it, please go read Star Power as well (a cyberpunk adventure). You probably won't like it any better but we don't have a lot of feedback on it and I'd rather be flamed for something new.

It's here: http://jagsgame.dyndns.org/jags/template2.jsp?name=Cyberpunk ]
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Lxndr
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« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2003, 01:29:23 PM »

One of my friends wrote a game for the RPGA that they rejected (I got the T-Shirt!  "Rejected by the RPGA" it says.  I'll probably wear it at GenCon).  He ran it at some conventions anyway, and people enjoyed it.  I think it qualifies as Participationism, and it certainly expresses its goals in plain language up front.  Of course, it's meant to be a farce, which may or may not invalidate the game.  But the people who played it loved it.

It's called Revenge of the Box Text.  The entire game is a bunch of box text, with the only decisions given to the players those that are meaningless.  No matter what decisions are made, the GM still reads the box text in exactly the same manner, all the way to the conclusion.  This, to me, quite firmly seems to fall within "participationism" as I'm reading it here.

A more serious example, another local GM I know claims he scripts out some of his game plots in advance, to the point where he's pretty sure (or claims to be pretty sure) he knows what players are going to do 3, 4, 6 sessions ahead.  He has huge scripts, overarcing plots, and while the minutiae generally doesn't concern him, the overall game plot does.  He's been known to send players home after only a half hour of play, because an irrevocable die roll or a player's decision effectively forced him to re-write everything that came afterwards.  This is very alien to me, yet the games he's claimed to have scripted to such extent are talked of very fondly by the participants.  The players in one of them have admitted they were aware of the general illusion, but didn't mind 'cause they were still the ones moving through the story...

Is that participationism?
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2003, 02:19:58 PM »

Mike,

It's yer definition, so correct me if I'm wrong, but although it isn't an extreme I'd still classify it as relying on participationist techniques.  It's overt, concensual force (that is the definition, right?).  However, it isn't railroading (overt, non-consensual force).  Of course, I think I'd say that bangs are a sort of participationist technique.  I'd probably dump relationship maps into Open Play.  Hell, author stance is sort of like Illusionism (if the GM is doing it).

I'm not convinced any of the extreme ends of Participationism, Open Play, or Illusionism are actually playable.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2003, 03:04:35 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Participationism as I defined it is pretty uncommon if it exists at all....

And it might not be used at all.

I thought I wrote this before, but I saw a game start as illusionism and devolve to participationism, although as participationism it was not terribly functional.

I think that one of the key clues was that no player could really lose his character. The odds of being killed were pretty low. This was the game in which the orcs died or fled when we had suffered enough injuries to make us nervous. The referee kept a very careful tab on just what resources we had, and made us spend them if he thought we were comfortable, so that we would always have the feeling we squeaked by when we reached our goal. Player characters who died alway came back one way or another; it was the only D&D game I'd ever seen where adventurers regularly bought "resurrection insurance"--regular payments to the temple of your choice guaranteed that if you bought it they would bring you back to life even if it took a wish. One character, killed in a very foolish move, wound up hiring a lawyer to argue his case before the gods and get himself returned to his body. Once the referee decided that we were going to travel through the ghost hills, retrieve the black rose, and bring it back to town, not even a skeletal warrior could prevent maybe ten first level characters from doing so. We just felt like we were in danger.

Then the cracks began to show when the referee got a bit too friendly with a couple of the players. One player had introduced a plotline that was likely to make him very wealthy by inheritance. The referee didn't want the game to go that direction, and he happened to be explaining to some of the other players what was going to go wrong before it did, and why the character would be unable to succeed. The player overheard this, and quietly left the game--he recognized, and said to others, that nothing he could do would make any difference in the outcome, because the referee had already decided what was going to happen. Gradually everyone realized that this was why no character died (or at least, no character stayed dead; those who did not have insurance didn't die), why enemies fled when we were nearly beaten, and so much more. But we kept playing. For some time it was implicitly understood that we really didn't control things; yet it was fun to be part of the story, and he maintained the illusion that we had control.

I say at that point it was participationism. It was not explicit participationism, and it may be (I can't recall) that for some of the players it was still illusionism. I know for myself I spent some time in a sort of half-there state in which I knew no one but the referee controlled anything that mattered, but still felt like my choices made a difference. I probably would have continued playing long after that, because I liked the referee and he created great stories, but the games would have been a lot less tense and dramatic. Real life issues required a change of venue for the game, and I was unable to attend thereafter, so I sort of fell out of it.

The point is that participationism does happen, at least implicitly, sometimes, and it can be functional at least in small doses.

--M. J. Young
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Marco
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« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2003, 03:55:52 AM »

Quote from: cruciel
Mike,

It's yer definition, so correct me if I'm wrong, but although it isn't an extreme I'd still classify it as relying on participationist techniques.  It's overt, concensual force (that is the definition, right?).  However, it isn't railroading (overt, non-consensual force).  Of course, I think I'd say that bangs are a sort of participationist technique.  I'd probably dump relationship maps into Open Play.  Hell, author stance is sort of like Illusionism (if the GM is doing it).

I'm not convinced any of the extreme ends of Participationism, Open Play, or Illusionism are actually playable.


Actually this brings up a few things about participationism ... mmm ... I can feel Ron reaching for the "Create new thread button now ..."

Let's say I have a game set up where the characters recieve a series of letters, each one week apart. Each letter tells them something terrible is going to happen and they have to stop it/intervine/let it happen and pay the consequences.

Nothing they do short of, like, blowing up their mailbox or forwarding their mail will stop the letters from coming. Nothing forces them to take specific action on them (although in character creation the GM hopefully specified they're good guys and capable of helping).

Now, here's a sample of "overt force" in this context:
The players take the letter to the authorities. There is already some strong indication that an evil force is at work and the letter contains a credible assessment of the threat (the PC's have the last letter too which shows knowledge of the last bad event and a post-mark that would give it pre-knowledge).

Despite the PC's having a convincing case they're on to something the authorities steadfastly refuse to help.

This might just be kafka-esq "no help from authorities" but that'd need to be pre-established (a character works in the Department of Public Service and the opening scene framing shows a mother pleading for help with her lost child and the authorities cooly giving her reams of paperwork).

Mostly it's the GM going "no--do it yoursleves. Your plan fails."

On the other hand if the letters are very obscure/mystical in tone/otherwise unconvincing and there's no reason for someone not directly involved to think there's a real threat then that could be seen as a reasonable reaction to the events.

Now: the letters will keep coming. The practical consequences of doing nothing are pretty damn high and moderately out of character for the PC's--and, assume, the action for each letter engages the players at least decently.

If the players all agree that the responses to their actions are reasonable, is this:

a) railroading (IMO no, railroading must refer to deception or dysfunction)
b) illusionism (the PC's can live their lives between letters but no matter what they do, that next letter will come, giving them only the illusion of direction).
c) participationism (they know several letters are coming--the GM said so in the set-up, they've agreed to play. They're being led around by the nose.)
d) something else.

-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2003, 07:49:30 AM »

Hello,

The posts so far were split from the Help w/vocab thread.

For what it's worth, I don't see any points of controversy in this topic at all.

Best,
Ron
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