Saturday, November 30, 2019

Quantum Ogre Sighting

I have some spare time tonight. Rare, lately. Lots of things going on in my personal life that I don't want to get into right now, which is largely why I've been fairly quiet online these past couple of weeks.

Anyhoo, I sometimes try to read gaming blogs and listen to gaming podcasts. Especially when my real life becomes stressful. I really, really appreciate a good episode of Save for Half on days like these.

Today I read Hack & Slash's post on GNS and OSR. That post was tagged "illusionism", which lead me down a rabbit hole of reading up on all the old illusionism and quantum ogre posts (which I largely missed when they were fresh). Upon reading the bits about how making damn sure the PCs encounter your planned encounter regardless of their choices is kind of a dick DM move, I was reminded of an episode of Roll For Initiative (at least I think it was that show... it had DM Vince on it). On that particular episode one of the hosts says that if he preps rooms A-D in a dungeon and the players instead go to E-H he just moves all the content of A-D to E-H. Problem solved.

It really struck me ill when I heard it. It felt like a way to force your own GM vision upon the players. It felt like a major invalidation of the players' choices. It felt like a lie. And yeah, I know, it's just a fuckin' game. It really doesn't matter that much. But still. If you're gonna do a thing, do it right. Right?

Of course the host didn't mean it that way at all. They were just offering advice on how to run a game and how to deal with the problem of the players running around your prep. It's understandable, and common. I've done it a million times, I'm sure. But it kinda sucks, doesn't it? Especially if you're running a sandboxy kind of game where player choice is the primary driver.

So let's say you're running your D&D game and you have this awesome ogre lair all prepped out for when the players take the bait and go down into the valley. But then they don't go down into the god damned valley. They go up on the mountain. You could just move the lair to the mountain, sure. And hell, if there was no hint of the lair already given, no expectation in the players' choice that going to the mountain would allow them to avoid what they suspected was in the valley... then maybe moving the lair to the mountain is OK. I mean, why not? In that case you aren't robbing them of agency in any sense that I can think of. Whereas if you already hinted at the ogre lair in the valley and they make the choice to avoid it and then you move it... that's a dick move. Don't do that.

Secondly, you can just chop that sumbich up. Say there are 5 cool elements of the lair. What if you just peppered those 5 elements throughout other places that the PCs explore? Like if there was a lost spellbook lying in a hidden corner of the lair maybe that same spellbook is instead found on the mountain in a gully where a poor bastard of a wizard fell to their death.

I mean, that's how I tend to do it. I prep shit, the players don't take the bait, and I re-purpose the various elements across the adventure or campaign.

/random thoughts post


  1. I basically share your opinion on the matter. You don't want to completely invalidate travel choices that the players thought mattered. At the same time, I don't have an issue with have selection of encounters at inns that can be inserted at any place the players happen to stay in order to spice up a journey.

    Like a lot of online talk about RPGs, the Quantum Ogre topic has gotten mired in dogmatism. I get people being annoyed by the specific example that DM Vince gave, but it is equally annoying to go all the way to the other side and suggest that the GM can never shift around parts of the world to keep things interesting.

    A certain amount of illusionism is just part of being a GM because the campaign is an illusion. GMs often have to invent or repurpose things on the fly. The alternative is simply to tell the players that their characters just walked into the invisible wall at the edge of the map or that the random house the break into is a white, empty space.

    1. I have heard horror stories of bad GMs literally telling players they CANNOT go south or north for no other reason than they CANNOT. Which is pure crap.

      But also there's the whole player buy-in element. It's equally dickish to avoid a plot hook for no other reason than to be a pain the GM's ass. It's a bit of a delicate balance, isn't it? Most of the time players want adventure so they take whatever bait is presented. Why wouldn't they? Why would you want to force your GM to rearrange or make stuff up on the fly for no other reason than you want to be a giant asshole?

  2. Like so many RPG questions, the quantum ogre conundrum is heavily interrelated with how you DM the rest of your campaign. It might be a harmless reskin or fucking bullshit, depending on many factors.