On How an Illusion Can Rob Your Game of Fun

You think you're saving effort. You're not. You think you're making things more 'fun' for the players, but really, you're ruining their fun.

Sometimes you will see a children's cartoon, where they will take the toy and push the button that shoots the missile or fist or something, and they will be so happy this occurs that they will stop playing and give each other a high five.

YOUR PRECIOUS OGRE ENCOUNTER WILL NOT CAUSE YOUR PLAYERS TO DO THAT. If you force them into an encounter - even if they are unaware of the fact that they are being forced, eventually they will grow to resent you. And it will not be long before they become aware.

This is in response to an article by Beedo over at the excellent Dreams in the Lich House. It is round two of a discussion we had in March. His comments from march are here and here, my response on illusionism.

First - what in the hell are we talking about? Illusionism is defined as being presented with a choice that doesn't matter. Beedo's current example are three groves that the players can explore in any order. Beedo provides two examples, one in which SCRIPTO-DM assigns content before the players encounter it, and another in which IMPROV-DM creates encounters (such as a cool ogre encounter) and leaves them unassigned. Then, no matter which grove the players enter, they have his ogre encounter.

What's wrong with making the ogre encounter being the first one the PC's select?

Let's look at some of the comments, and why they do impact agency, and therefore fun.
"By deciding at game time that the MacGuffin is not in Wood C, and the Ogre is there instead, has he *actually* violated player agency?  Player will or choice has not been thwarted.  They wanted to go to the woods, and Lo! - they are in the woods.  And yet objectively he has preordained a game result." - Beedo
Player choice has been thwarted, because the players were presented with a meaningless choice. Does it matter if they know the choice was meaningless or not? If the players have no hint of where the ogre is does it rob them of agency?

It matters for these reasons.
  • If you always pre-ordain 'your precious encounter' then the players never have the experience of choosing correctly and skipping right to the end (which is fun for them).
  • The flaw of the Quantum Ogre is that, if you have a party who plays smart, he won't be quantum long before you enter the woods, and then you've wasted time by not assigning him to a location already or you become the jerk DM where ESP doesn't work, the ground doesn't hold tracks, and if you try and teleport - suddenly anti-magic fields everywhere.
Palette Shifting

Let's take just one moment and talk about palette shifting. There is some misunderstanding of what is meant by this term.
A palette shift is when the players become aware of an encounter, and when making a choice to avoid that encounter, the DM re-skins (changes the 'color palette') the encounter and has them encounter it anyway.
 This can be as simple as the bandit encounter (Bandits to the east - we go west! ack, bandits here too!), or as complex as totally different monsters who lead you to exactly the same place. This can be used to either negate the players choice (You're going to fight my special bandits anyway!) or to negate player freedom (It doesn't matter what you do, you will meet the cultists of Bane!).

Pre-scripting 12 encounter lairs, and randomly generating which is in a hex that was unknown is *not* palette shifting. Having undefined "white space" in a campaign, and dynamically filling it with pre-generated content later is not palette shifting.

Sandbox Triangle


Fast, good, and cheap, pick 2 in the design and management of a sandbox doesn't apply. 

It's based on a fallacy, one of wasted effort. There is no 'effort/detail/freedom' sandbox triangle in the OSR, and the postulation of one is a lie! Though it's an easily believable one. The idea is that work is 'wasted', that somehow if you put a lot of detail into areas that the players don't visit you will be having time you've spent preparing wasted.

Being creative does not, in fact, make you less creative. The more you create, the more your output increases! Let's ignore that there's enough free material on the web to stock 1 millarn over 9000 hexes and dungeons with no more effort than hitting print, not to mention random tables, and point out that if you can't get enough detail to give the players freedom because it takes too much effort then you are expanding the wrong kind of effort.

How long is a gaming session? 4-8 hours? I bet most of us are lucky to push 4 hours in a session. How much can be done in that time at the table? What will you need? 1 million areas? 5 areas? It just isn't enough time to go through that many options. Let's assume you don't know where your players will go. How many options do they need? 3? 5? Let's assume 6 (one for each hex face). So what do you need to come up with?
  • six general encounters for hexes, 
  • a random encounter table, and 
  • a table of random stuff if they reject all six of your hooks. 
Can you not create the basics of that (using web resources, pdf's, blogs, geomorphs, random name generators hell, Zak's site alone!) in under an hour? All that work you 'wasted' in your last campaign - well it's a new campaign, can't you find a place to stick it in?
"The idea being, the DM built a forest village down the east road; when the group goes down the west road instead, and visits a new forest village, go ahead and use the (never visited) east village instead. Because no information has been spoiled, the players don't know the difference, and the DM doesn't waste any work. It's compelling if pulled off well, but changes many of my ideas about prepping for the sandbox." -Beedo
What the heck are you doing building a random forest village somewhere!? How is that a useful use of your time?  I have 10 pages in my DM folder (Buildings based off city size, NPC name/characteristics, random names) that will allow me to wing any random city for the hour or two of a session I need - fleshing it out can happen once I know they are going to stay there.

Agency Theft

What's really terrible about the destruction of player agency in the above examples is the implicit thought that 'your encounter that's sooo cool' is what makes Dungeons and Dragons fun. It's not. It's getting in that Dispel Evil on Strahd that slays him outright. It's getting that critical on that dragon while it's talking shit. It's taking down that frost giant at first level - not your fsking precious encounter.

It's when through luck, chance, or skill, something amazing and heroic happens; Removing you from the real world and giving a rare glimpse with a few close friends into a realm where something truly unique and heroic has happened that the rest of the world will never see. 

How can your little pre-planned scripted encounter compare to that?

Edit: The publication date has been changed for proper tag display. The original publication date was 9/11/11

33 comments:

  1. Just a note, in case it isn't clear - Beedo, Tavis, Zak, and the other members of the OSR are brilliant, and I feel honored to be in their company.

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  2. > Fast, good, and cheap, pick 2 in the design and management of a sandbox doesn't apply.

    While I generally agree with your manifesto here, I take some issue with the above sentence because of the hidden costs in running a sandbox. A fast, good sandbox is not cheap because you have invested either in:

    * A commercial product that lets you produce adventure on demand wherever the players go;
    * Hours of preparation on a home-made product that lets you do the same;
    * Years of reading, playing, and thinking that lets you improvise adventure in a convincing and vivid way.

    Let's be real; it's painfully clear when someone who hasn't invested in one of these three commodities is trying to wing it and floundering.

    I guess if someone makes the first product available for free, that counts as "cheap"; but you still have to have enough sense to know how to use it.

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  3. Yes! You hit on the main thing the folks overlooked at my place, why Improv-DM is such a bastiche - moving the MacGuffin around the woods is the same as the con artist on the street that never gives the mark a chance to win, it's totally out of bounds bad behavior. That kind of thing - the MacGuffin - needs to be fixed in place - the group should have a good shot at guessing the right woods immediately, and an even better shot at gathering some info to make the right choice sans guessing.

    But I disagree on the problem of the quantum ogre - the main factor for me is what information does the group have? If they gather information about an ogre lair, that *needs* to take the ogre lair out of the quantum realm and make it a fixed place. If they blindly plunge into any old woods without info, I don't see a problem with pulling a pre-made encounter out.

    We have a tendency to fetishize random tables and improv in the OSR, but there are a range of techniques available. One DM improvises all encounters (no random tables); the next does everything randomly; the third keeps a stocked folder of pre-made encounters; the fourth scripts out every hex content laboriously. I tend to love random stuff because it makes the game more fun for me at run time, thinking on my feet, but I know its not for everyone, and there are those that will decry improv techniques because the players aren't interacting with pre-made content.

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  4. Thanks for the post and sorry I missed the earlier discussion on player agency. I think the reality of player agency is a developmental experience for both DMs & Players. As a young GM back in the 80's I tended to script and subsequently railroad adventures. It was a moment 3 years into the playing that made me realize that the players wanted more choice and less determinism when one of the said "Screw the adventure!" While at the time I was pissed, it was a great wake up up call and a push forward into less attention on railroading details and more general preparation for the expanding freedom of the players. I still plan out adventures when I gather with players,but no longer with the detail for the path they should take but more with the possible choices they might make and the back up plans to react if they do the completely unexpected.

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  5. Interesting stuff. I love the phrase "quantum ogre".

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  6. @Beedo - You are correct about the way you or I would use the ogre.

    But you are not the DM using the quantum ogre. We have lots of quantum adventures - but we are not vested on keeping them quantum to meet the demands of our pre-planned narrative. The DM that uses the quantum ogre wants to keep it quantum *at any cost* so he can spring his 'my special encounter' on the party.

    The more the party fights that - by trying to gather intel, by heading the other way, by using their powers - the more bizarre the walls and tools the DM uses to stop them.

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  7. @Roger:

    "because of the hidden costs in running a sandbox. A fast, good sandbox is not cheap because you have invested either in:
    . . .
    * Years of reading, playing, and thinking that lets you improvise adventure in a convincing and vivid way."

    We are as gods that walk among men, should we not drink deep of rich wine, and live the life that all men dream to live?

    "In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as just about any other imaginative writing or screenplay you will be able to pluck kernels from which grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good Reading!" -Gary Gygax DMG pg. 224

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  8. Thanks for the nod, always appreciated.

    Here is how I do things and it might seem a bit odd, but then, I have been called worse.

    Those magical 3x5 cards? I bought a zillion of them at a dollar store. I write a mechanic on them; from the 1e DMG, from some other rpg book, from someone's blog, from my blog, it doesn't matter. Then the MacGuffin becomes a monster, item, spell, person, event, etc and I don't even know what it will be. This is sort of like drawing a card in Monopoly; you never know what you will get and sometimes the bad things aren't so bad and the good options turn south on you. That takes away the illusion of me railroading or making choices for the players because I don't want to cheat, I don't want to know what that card will reveal, part of the fun is the randomness of discovery with the players. I can run a four hour session with a few fixed encounters for stability and plot and then ad lib with a half a dozen draws from the pile of 3x5s and we all have fun.

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  9. I'm not sure whether I agree with you or not, let's see.

    I would say I disagree with the fetishization of any and all choice being an absolute good. I think player's must have meaningful choices but I don't think that it follows that each and every choice must make a meaningful difference.

    The ogre that comes hell or high water: The way I read your post, I would disagree to an extent, but your reply to Beedo suggesting that you were only talking about a certain sort of situation where the ogre is "precious" and must occur despite player active resistance or previous knowledge--well,yeah that's bullshit, but your initial post seems to paint a much broader brush that a somewhat indeterminate ogre is bad period.

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  10. I'm with Trey here. I now think, after reading the comments, that you're saying the DM who will not be deflected from a particular scene by any player action - or even who will not be deflected from a particular resolution of the scene - is being a dick. And I agree, that's railroading.

    But the quantum ogre as described in the post wouldn't bother me, and neither would palette shifting (if I understand it), unless they became obvious. The point of Schrodinger's cat is we really don't know what's up with it until we look - it should be indistinguishable to the players from a randomly-generated encounter or a pre-scripted encounter where the players randomly chose the ogre path. To say otherwise is to claim that the random encounter dice somehow impart agency to the players, isn't it?

    Unless you're objecting to the attitude of the DM who would presume to move their pieces around behind the screen - that somehow this pervasive attitude will cause resentment?

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  11. Some of you are saying that the quantum ogre is only bad if the players have information that ought to help them evade it and they cannot. But in addition to that, having to make a choice without any information is also bad. Thus, we’re talking about two bad things.

    The quantum ogre is bad because the players’ choices don’t matter: either they don’t have enough info to make a meaningful choice or the information they have is useless since the quantum ogre will shop up no matter what they do. They have no agency – they have no capacity “to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.” Either they cannot make a meaningful choice because they lack information, or they cannot impose their choice on the world because the quantum ogre shows up anyway.

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  12. @Alex - I don't think that makes much sense unless Ogre or No Ogre is the only choice in the world.

    If player's may make a meaning choice about thing [X] and an ogre encounter is incidental that, they still made a meaningful choice. Choice and information are not absolute. They aren't in real life; they aren't in the game unless you want to rob it of any sense of realism or surprise.

    Does a random encounter rob a player of choice?

    By your logic it must, because players had no information before hand to be able to avoid it-- or choose it (your "second bad thing"). So where are the posts decrying the illusionism resultant from random tables?

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  13. Also, forks in paths. The players don't know what's down either path, and yes, their uncertainty about which to choose shows that they feel their agency suspended. But that's also a fundamental aspect of exploration - that you don't know what's down that path until you go there. Then you have new choices to make.

    ...also DM surprises, BTW, and any trap that doesn't prompt the players to look for it - especially original or unusual traps that they don't already know to hunt for. Come on, we all love them. Are we going to swear off them because they deprotagonize the players? Or is it somehow OK to spring something on the players if it was already written down on the map?

    As for the ogre, let's say he was, after all, down whichever path the players were going to choose. The critical thing is for him to stay there, so the sneaky or quick-running PCs can run back up to the fork and down the other path, having gathered that information.

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  14. @Trey – good point. I think the original setup -C is reacting to was rather constrained, however. There are three places to go and look for an item and no matter where you go, there will be an ogre. The original setup also had Scripto-DM and Improv-DM and so on. So yes, in the original setup, the question is basically "ogre or no ogre".

    In the general context of running a sandbox, however, I think we're talking about a continuum.

    The following assumes that players have some sort of information allowing them to make meaningful choices.

    The quantum oger is at the one end. No matter which way you turn, the oger encounter happens. Next to it, we find random encounter tables. No matter which way you turn, eventually you will meet an item from my precious list. Next to that, we find differing random encounter tables depending on the surrounding areas. No matter which way you turn, eventually you will meet an item from one of the appropriate regional lists. Finally, the last alternative I can think of is having no random encounters and only lairs placed on the map. No matter which way you turn, you will meet the appropriate item for this hex on my precious map.

    What I'm trying to do is increase player agency:

    1. quantum ogre – no choice
    2. single random encounter list – no choice, but DM needs to be flexible
    3. various regional lists – players can influence encounters by picking regions
    4. lairs on a map – players can pick encounters by picking locations

    I'm sure there are more variations. For my own games, I try do #3 and #4. Players get to pick the important encounters by choosing to explore the mountains where they need to fight a frost giant (#4). In addition to that, there are rumors about a white dragons (also #4 with partial information). What players don't know is that the icy glacier environment also supports winter wolves (#3). In addition, the trolls are on a war path and thus I have added them to the random encounter list (this starts out as #2 but eventually moves to #3 as players learn about current events in the sandbox). This creates meaningful choices: If players don't feel like fighting frost giants and white dragons, they can avoid the area.

    Does that make more sense? Thus, I agree with you that simply having a random encounter list is only marginally better than having a quantum ogre. Basically you're just having more of them. The key is introducing ways for players to make meaningful choices and have those choices make a difference.

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  15. Do not mix the theoretical question of "is it OK to drop the ogre on the players at the beginning of the session" with the practical question of "does it hurt the player agency if I drop the ogre on the group now".

    The theoretical problem is that the GM creates the illusion that choosing one path over the others makes a difference when it does not. But that problem is irrelevant because the players do not have any knowledge which allows them to guess that the ogre is in one particular place and not the other. IMO it is not good that the adventure is set up that way but that is the example used here.

    The second question is about whether deciding on an ogre encounter during prep and then forcing the players to face the ogre does the game any good. I think it mostly harms the game. GM's tend to over-invest and that investment tends to collide with what happened since the encounter was prepped. If that happens a GM tends to to bend the reality of the world matrix-fashion to make the encounter fit. Thus the past decisions of the players take a back seat to prep-time visions of the GM. The players usually do not enjoy that at all.

    This is not an issue if the encounter is planned in the style of good random encounter tables (i.e. it is vague, interesting and generally applicable) because then it will fit without bending reality and in fact if the encounter is selected at random you have no reason to do that right up to the encounter itself. That is why we have encounter tables per area: if it does not fit we have to fix it with the ugly woodoo.

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  16. @Alex - That makes more sense except I would disagree that the random table gives the player's anymore agency specifically. Rather, you seem to be asserting that it makes the GM more flexible and that this will presumably pay off down the road in more agency? I'm not sure giving more GM agency over to randomness necessarily equates with more player agency as there isn't an exact link, but I don't think its an unreasonable approach.

    @lior - The GM has created no illusion about ogres because player's weren't making choices about ogres. The paths may still be very different in the ways specified by the GM and chosen by the players. Why must the presence (or lack thereof) of ogres be the only meaningful choice possible.

    If I'm choosing boxed lunch, and I choose based on "turkey" or "ham," but the boxes also have chips (either bbq or regular), was my choice not meaningful because I only picked my sandwich and was unaware of the chip choice?

    You seem to be implying that everything that occurs to player's in a game must be telegraphed to them in some way so that they can make a choice in regard to it. It's hard for me to believe you actually think that. There can be no random encounters without a warning "random monsters may appear in your travels"? No trap without "the room is dark and the Ancient's who built it are notorious for traps?" No treasure on one branch and not the other unless the player's are told "you may see a glint of metal down the path to the left?"

    That seems ridiculous to me. If that's not what you're saying, then how does the ogre differ from the examples I gave?

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  17. @Tray: I am implying the opposite of what you understand from my comment and I am sorry if I made a mess out of my argument.

    It is absolutely fine (and is IMO often desirable) to have random encounters as long as the introduction of the encounters does not come at the cost of negating past choices made by the players.

    The ogre at the start of the session (and the chips in your lunchbox) are fine as long as the introduction of the ogre does not disturb what the players have been playing with so far (and as long as you get the turkey or ham you wanted too). Is it just an ogre and just chips? If so: fine. But if its a super-duper pre-fabricated encounter with bells and whistles then you should to be careful. It may be awkward to have the player bump into it "by chance". And if you bought a lunch box of ham with chips, would you like that to be drenched in a thai curry sauce as a surprise bonus? You still got ham and chips after all...

    Just to be clear: I am not talking about the encounter disturbing the PCs. I am talking about the introduction of the encounter devaluing past decisions of the players.

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  18. @Lior - Ah, ok. Then we agree then. :)

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  19. @Trey. Good question.

    The illusion is not about ogres. The illusion is that the player choice made a difference.

    Let's take your lunch-box example. You make a choice of which lunch to have. Only, I've made two sandwiches, one turkey and one ham, and have two bags of chips, regular and BBQ, and I want you to have ham and plain chips.

    Player: "Which sandwich is in this bag?"
    GM: "You don't know"
    Player: "I open the bag"
    GM: "You can't"
    Player: "I use ESP"
    GM: "It doesn't work because the sandwich doesn't have a brain"
    Player: "Clairvoyance then!"
    GM: "It's dark and doesn't work"
    Player: "I cast light into the bag"
    GM: "There's an antimagic field"
    Player: "Fine, I pick that bag" Points at the turkey/BBQ bag
    DM: "Ok, that's the bag you don't get" hands the player the ham bag.

    You see? The problem isn't with picking something randomly, or having something random happen. This is why random encounters aren't removing player agency, because the players can find out what to expect in the northern woods - they can make an informed choice.

    It's *not* that the information must be telegraphed (though there should be lots of available information, and they should be reminded of it often), it's that if they seek it out, they should be able to acquire it.

    I do personally think that the party should be aware of where random encounters may occur, as well as the fact that traps should be apparent in some way - see the bad trap article on Ars Ludi.

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  20. @-C: We're still not talking about the same situation. The ax you're grinding is with the GM misleading the players. I agree that's bad--we all do, I think.

    This is the situation I'm describing and others are describing which seem to condemn in the post, but now aren't addressing:

    GM: "What sandwich do you want, turkey or ham?"
    Player: "Ham. I see this box is labelled ham, I'll take this one."
    GM: "Ok ham it is. By the way, there's a bag of bbq chips here."

    It makes no difference whether all the boxes had bbq chips or only some of them did, or whether the GM wanted the player to have bbq chips, player choice was unaffected because that isn't a choice they made.

    The situation I'm talking about is identical to a random encounter in its effect on PC agency.

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  21. @Trey

    Would the bag of BBQ chips show up with an augury, Scent ability, etc. Does it exist in the world and allow the players to detect it if they look? They have agency.

    Are the wandering monsters pulled from a table? Is the table tied to an area? Are the monsters in theme with the area? ergo, the players have the ability to acquire information about the wandering monster table. They have agency.

    Now this doesn't mean that they won't make decisions and find surprises. There *is* an element of exploration - but that's fine, as long as what they are exploring makes some kind of sense, then they can gather information about it, and their agency is sustained.

    I guess I'm not clear on how random BBQ chips have anything to do with removing or enabling player agency. Can you explain what the issue is?

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  22. @-C: That's the question I've been asking. :)

    Yes, the chips could be augured or scented or what not, but again I'm assuming a situation like the one I outlined where player's had done nothing to detect (or undetected) an ogre and had made there decision on path based on other issues entirely.

    Are you suggesting players be shown wandering monsters tables so they know what kind of monsters they may ecnounter? I've never done that and never played with anyone who did in nearly 30 years of play, but I admit I'd played with a limit array of folks

    Your post suggests the following situation is "illusionism," but your replies you find it ok. I'll summarize again, but please don't add any "facts" to the situation not presented, because that only obfuscates the issue:

    Situation: Player's leave a town to go to by road to place A or place B. They choose one or the other based on information having nothing to do with ogres--because ogres are the point. They have done nothing particular to ascertain the presence of ogres--it asn't come up.

    GM has prepped a ogre encounter while travelling (a reasonable monster for the environs) as a brief encounter along the way. It will occur on either road. If the player's are cautious beforehand they have a chance of detecting said ogre and avoiding or perhaps ambushing etc. They can handle the ogre anyway they choose, assuming the ogre's rolls cooperate.

    Is that illusionism or a "surprise?" In my estimation (and it seems, many folks replying) it's the latter. In either case, it in no way impairs player agency more than a random table roll in the same situation described.

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  23. I would think it's a question of events versus outcomes.

    Player agency is compromised when player choice is invalidated. This didn't occur. Nothing about the players choice was invalidated.

    You just described a wandering encounter table with a 100% chance of an encounter, and one entry. :-)

    As far as your comment about "players be shown wandering monsters tables so they know what kind of monsters they may ecnounter?" is a bit of hyperbole, because it's not that they are shown the list, but they can infer it from information they have discovered about the game world.

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  24. September Challenge meets the "quantum ogre"

    Every path out of town features the exact same ogre encounter. The encounter is both ingenious and dangerous enough that it would be highly desirable for the party to avoid it if they can. It will also reset while the PCs aren't looking if they manage to pass/defeat it (to get into town, for instance). The ogres can't go roaming for whatever reason (chained in place? Allergic to tourist flowers?) - they have to stay in the encounter location.

    What's going on?

    There's a low-level adventurer living in town who got rich off one big score and has since retired in obscurity. His wife is afraid he's going to go adventuring again, especially if he meets the PCs, so she's been using his prized magic/ultratech possession to keep him at home: a replicator, which she uses to multiply ogres around the town. If the PCs investigate the town they'll notice her acting jumpy. She's spending a lot on ingredients for all her husband's favorite exotic dishes. The husband is oblivious, although he'll start to notice something wrong after a couple of days, when he hears that nobody can get in or out of town and the food stalls fail to set up on market day. Whenever the PCs encounter the replicator itself it will have only 2 charges left. If they confront the retired adventurer with the replicator he'll tell them about where he got it. He's running low on money, so he might be persuaded to guide them back there for a percentage or generous flat fee, but he has no interest in going back into what he calls "the weird."

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  25. @Trey, I guess I'm confused about your strawman.

    The charge of illusionism was laid at the feet of three groves, and no matter which was chosen the first had the ogre, and the last had the mcguffin.

    That's illusionism.

    The rest is discussion of agency theory, so, uh, what's your point?

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  26. @ -C: Thanks for the clarification. I think we agree. :)

    What I was perceived as a strawman, I now think was just a lack of clarity--some of which I brought to to table probably. In the initial discussion at Beedo's and here there is that whether an ogre or indeterminate position was always bad. The post seemed to conflate the Ogre being indeterminate with a host of other abuses automatically so that it was unclear to me (and others too, based on the comments) if it was the technique itself being decried or the its use in certain situations.

    I think, largely, there were a lot of people talking at cross purposes and the further discussion here (at least for me) has helped to clarify positions. Thanks.

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  27. I don't actually have a problem with 'slight of hand' when SETTING UP THE PREMISE or DROPPING CLUES. Because those aren't points where player agency matter much.
    I have a problem when it's a decision the players need to make. THEN it should be meaningful.

    As an example, say I've got a great idea for a plot about spider-priests. One of the PCs has a fear of spiders, and I know the player wants some spider-related plots so they get to play out that fear.
    When I'm setting up, I'm doing slight-of-hand. I'm making them spider-priests rather than snake-priests, because I know the choices the players want to make. The player wants to make choices about their character dealing with that fear.
    The NPC that gives out information about this temple full of gold will "happen" to spill it to the greedy thief, and not the terrified-of-spiders guy. Because I know the players will run with the plot, if it's set up right. I'm avoiding the difficulty where the player who WANTS the spider-plot feels compelled to have their character avoid it because "that's what he'd do."
    If it's still hard for the players to get "into" the plot, I might give them another shove. One of the PCs might get poisoned, and the only way to make a healing potion is to milk a particular type of giant spider. Gosh, spider-temple time!
    I'm essentially setting up the maguffin of "you need to go into the spider temple" as the obstacle, but then leaving it to the players to decide how they want to deal with the obstacle.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, a possible example of "good" quantumn ogre?
      Three islands. The players pick one. It "happens" to be the one with the survivors of a shipwreck, who are desperate to be saved, and warn about the dangerous pirates who have a hidden base somewhere in these islands.

      The survivors are always on the first island chosen, because, although the players didn't know it in advance, the survivors are the premise of the story. Without them we can't give information to the players that there are pirates around, or a hidden lair that they might want to search for, and can't add the obstacle of trying to keep the survivors safe and get them home.

      (Also, this assumes that the players aren't intentionally trying to avoid contact with humans. If they were trying to sneak through the islands undetected, forcing them run into survivors would go against agency.)

      Delete
  28. @Tony

    Do not take this the wrong way.

    Your core supposition that the players must follow your 'story premise' is restricting the engagement of play.

    In the first example you're trying to manipulate the players into something they don't want to do. 'Springing' it on them later A) does not prevent them from leaving and B) means they made the choice without agency.

    Now what if they investigated the temple? Would you start throwing up walls? Coming up with more and more extreme ways to manipulate them there? "Forcing" them to get poisoned?

    How do you know what they want to do? It's not when they say "I'm afraid of spiders." It's when they tell you at the table what they are doing.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Your second example really makes my point for me in the strongest possible way.

    What if they want to ally with the pirates.

    If you have already decided what's going to happen, why have am I wasting my time? I don't know you from Adam, but I could watch a movie or read a book by people who get paid to do those things for a living, rather than sit somewhere while one of my friends tells me what happens.

    It removes the primary pillars of tabletop play. The ability of the players to affect the outcome.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I’d have to say that not all instances of the Quantum Ogre are bad, and that it can even represent a tool for promoting player agency at the table. In some instances players come up with some pretty awesome conclusions to the clues you’ve dropped that are way off base from what you’re thinking. I’ve swapped stuff around to align it to the players conclusions if they have genuinely done the research and worked out their logic.

    Overall though I totally agree that GM hand waving should never be used to force the players into something.

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  31. You know, this is so true. Long time ago, as a player, my PC and another player's PC got separated from the group, and we ended up being chased by an army of orcs and goblins right smack into a white dragons lair.

    I'm not sure what the DM had planned, but my level 2 spearman decided to try to prick the dragon once before meeting his maker. I rolled a natural 20 (we had a house rule system for critical hits) and the DM made the d100 roll and got an odd look in his eye, then sighed.

    He had rolled 00, instant kill. In went my spear, out came the dragons heart. The sight of my PC slaying the dragon stopped the horde of monsters dead in their tracks and they turned around and ran.

    Our DM was hard, and that dragon WAS gonna kill us his turn. Taking him out, as lucky as that roll was, made that moment one of my fondest memories of DnD.

    The whole party later died in a ice cavern cave in.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Someone should stat up the Quantum Ogre as a Petty Gods minion...

    ReplyDelete

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