Friday, June 8, 2012

Rant: Illusionism is Lies, Lies, Lies

Allow me to describe two roleplaying incidents that happened decades ago:

The party ambushed a particularly large and ugly ogre. One of the PCs initiated combat by firing his bow. He hit the ogre. The DM provided a delectable description of how the arrow hit the ogre squarely in the ass and how the surprised ogre involuntarily grunted and let loose a huge fart. It dawned on the players just how tough the ogre was.

Pretty cool, huh? A DM with a knack for funny and informative descriptions!

The problem? The PC had scored a critical hit doing a ton of damage. Rather than describe the actual hit ("You shoot him through the neck and he starts to drown in his own blood." etc.) the DM (a) stuck to his pre-canned description and (b) upped the ogre's hp to match (he should have been nearly dead).

The party chased an evil wizard to the top of his tower. Smirking triumphantly, the wizard stepped off the tower, promised bloody vengeance, and activated his ring of flight. He had to make a trivial Magic test to activate the ring ... and fumbled! He plunged to his death.

Pretty cool, huh? A DM who doesn't protect pet NPCs and lets the dice fall where they may!

The problem? The whole thing was scripted. Everything was 100% fake: the wizard's natural 1 ('rolled' behind the screen, of course), the surprise on the DM's face and his lamentations over the death of the NPC.

(I should know. I was the DM.)

I've had it up to here with illusionism, both as a player and as a DM.

It's a common style of DMing and, to varying degrees, consciously embraced by many DMs and players. I suppose that makes it a valid style of play (at least if everyone at the table knows that the DM is fudging rolls, changing numbers on the fly etc.) and I admit that I used to game that way for years.

Today, I can't stand this anymore.

I want anticlimaxes.
I want failures.
I want death.

I'm out for blood.


  1. Yeah, I have no use for illusionism, either.

  2. It's a slippery slope, too. If you fudge to save Bob's character one week, it would be unfair to let Mike's die the next.

    Next thing you know, a three-year campaign comes to an end without anybody having died.

    And the players are often complicit in this, too. They might desire a tougher game - or think they desire - but when it's their PCs' lives on the line, many will happily look the other way when the DM fudges so hard Laplace is spinning in his grave.

    It took me years to shake off this behaviour and to tell DMs "Just roll it. It's okay if my guy dies." even in the heat of the moment.