If you had, I wouldn't be asking it.
My bad, but in my defence, I thought I had!
Me: If they skip the Red Cabin or turn around and decide to follow a different road instead - now you do need to create a Yellow Bandit Caravan or a Green River Crossing, because the player's actions have opened your box and fixed the location of the Red Cabin Mystery plot (and incidentally, the Red Cabin itself).
You: Which is often a litmus test for illusionist GMs, yeah .
...That doesn't answer the question at all. Which is the Illusionist, the DM who has his side-plot fixed once its location is determined, or the one that moves his side-plot in front of the players even if they turn around take a different road?
The one who doesn't change it is the more subtle illusionist, while the other switches to railroading once it doesn't go his way. That's all.
Or is the only viable alternative giving the group a detailed map of the haunted forest no one has ever returned from because they are the PCs?
Oh middle, I love thou dearly, no matter how excluded thou might seem!
Or, in other words, the jump from "no illusionism" to "perfect transparency with metagame information" is a non-sequitur. The two aren't tied.
See, now you're doing the twisting. One of the scenarios is a GM who openly takes away the player's agency by saying nothing they do matters, they will encounter this mystery - he doesn't care if the players have a good game experience, only that they do what he wants.
Yes, you can't deny it's a rather direct approach, right?
The other GM wants the players to have the best game experience he can provide within his own resources and time. Everything still depends on the player's choices except for the location of the encounter, and without being given the GM's notes, the players can't know whether the location was fixed or mutable.
After several threads on illusionism, I was waiting almost in dread for this argument. Not because I can't refute it, but because I hate refuting it.
Basically, this amounts to the argument that the players will never know if it's "done right", and besides, it's for their own good. Been there, considered it from all angles, and I'm not persuaded.
Let's just say this. The only way they might not know is if they tacitly accept you using this technique, including accepting you making decisions for their own good. And if that's the case, there's probably no problem.
My only advice is to make sure they wouldn't mind before the campaign. Finding out that they very much mind mid-game is bound to be unpleasant, if my experiences with it are anything to go by.
You've painted the two variant as sides of the same ugly coin to create a false dilemma.
They are the sides of the same coin. One of them is simply much rougher. Some people might accept one of them but not the other. That doesn't change the underlying principle, though.
You very much are, though - you're implying that any DM who doesn't do short-term improv the way you do is 'doing it wrong' as an evil, fiendish railroader who can't even be honest with their railroading.
Actually no, I don't think anyone has to do it my way. I'm also well aware of at least two other approaches to sandbox GMing which avoid this issue without relying on pre-determined outcomes like illusionist GMs or railroading GMs do.
One of them relies on extensive preparation as a primary tool, replacing my own "short-term improv". Such GMs often have quite a few binders of notes for the setting where they're running their games, and have devoted years if not decades to its development. The other approach relies on the use of random tables whenever necessary.
And of course, I also use notes, and random tables, so you can obviously mix and match the three to your heart's content.
Maybe you're a brilliant improvisationalist, able to create a detailed haunted mansion stuffed with traps, puzzles, NPCs, and interaction opportunities the day before the game, or else you have vast amounts of free time in which you can lovingly detail every square inch of the world with said fully fleshed out and detailed sideplot locations.
I strongly doubt I'm brilliant!
My sessions run for longer than I prepare for them, though, that much I can tell you. So, I guess I tend towards the improv variant, without the claims for brilliance.
Other people don't - they prepare when they can, but aren't willing to throw their players' enjoyment of a game out the door by using simplistic or poorly detailed plots to satisfy their need to have metagame control over the DM's world.
Interesting enough, I've been accused of using too convoluted plots for my NPCs, but never of making them too simple. And yeah, it's easy to generate a haunted mansion with traps and history. I've seen enough GMs doing something similar on their first session to know it's not the big deal you make it out to be.
I don't want meta-game control over the setting, either, unless we agreed to play a game where it's assumed. So, unless we're playing HotB or Fate, I don't want it. I don't think I've played or run anything like that this year. But if the players want this, we'll talk about it. So far, they seem satisfied.
But yeah, I still love that excluded middle, where I somehow run games without all of this stuff. And many GMs I know do the same.
That's the real issue I have with your black-and-white view of this, because it amounts to saying 'if you can't do detailed improv on the fly, you suck'.
Much as you'd like to paint my position this way, it's got no bearing on it. Should I repeat the spoilerblock?"If you use one of these techniques I find to be killing my enjoyment of the game, I don't want to play with you. Thank you for warning me in advance, though, and good luck finding people that would enjoy your game!"
would be a fair representation of my position
! I doubt losing one player would spoil your sleep.
Consider several scenarios, each marginally similar to another:
-In Scenario 1, the GM has a haunted mysterious forest with three roads. He has decided that a bandit camp lies to the North, a river crossing to the East, and a trader's caravan to the South. While the players may or may not know these things exist where they do, they are fixed.
-In Scenario 2, the same haunted forest exists, but the Bandit Camp, River Crossing, and Caravan are nebulously located. His Bandit Camp is the most detailed and complex encounter, so it will be on whatever is the first road the players choose. If they turn around, or come back later, the Bandit Camp remains on that road, and the next road they pick has the River Crossing - currently only a rough outline that can be detailed later once he knows it is needed. The players in this instance cannot know where these things are, because the DM doesn't either.
Now, you are openly and unambigiously proponent that Scenario 1 is Good and scenario 2 is Bad.
First, writing Good and Bad with capital letters is something I leave for D&D alignments.
Second, that's also a misrepresentation. I'm openly and unambigiously telling you that Scenario 1 means I'd probably like your game, and scenario 2 is likely to see me leaving once I get the idea that this is how you proceed. Hope I'm entitled to my preferences? And the people that share them are also entitled not to play in a game run in a way that spoils their fun?
If you agree with that, we have no disagreement. As I've said multiple times in this thread already, there are people that would enjoy Scenario 2, there are GMs that run like this, and I know more than one example of such groups IRL!
I just don't play with them, as I have no fun with the way their games are run, and due to the lack of habit, they're awful players once you give them my way of running. End result, we're happier in different groups.
The issue is that with Scenario 1=Good, you assume that the GM has limitless time for preparation. He cannot necessarily know, without asking, which route the players will take when they enter the forest. With limited time, he must divide his prep work between his three scenarios - a Scenario 1 GM will end up with either 1 fully written encounter and 2 unfinished sketch-outlines, or 3 half-written and probably lackluster encounters.
First, I don't prepare "encounters", I prepare locations, events, NPCs and the like.
Second, since we said already that's how I run my games, I can confirm it doesn't require long preparation. Actually, it takes me less time than preparing a whole "encounter" for a linear game.
Given the feedback, I'd conclude that improvisation doesn't yield worse results than having stuff mapped up. Of course, you must make the necessary preparations to improvise, but it takes next to no time.
If he devotes his time to fully detailing one direction and they end up picking another direction, his work is wasted and the players have nothing to do.
Yes, if he prepares in a self-defeating way, the players accidentally pressing the "defeat GM preparation" button is a possible outcome. Your point?
The 'bad' Scenario 2 GM, comparatively, definitely has 1 fully written encounter, ensuring the players at least have an opportunity to experience a good encounter even if they choose poorly at the crossroads.
So, not following what the GM wants them to is "choosing poorly"? No comment.
Now, Scenario 1a/2a, so-written because it can be a variant of either of the above, includes the same DM with a backup folder of sideplots, mini-adventures, and NPCs to be slotted in whenever necessary. Let's go with Scenario 1, where the GM has all the time he needs to create three fully detailed encounters at the ends of three different roads. But the players, for player-reasons unknown, ignore the roads and go haring off into the woods to the Northeast. Now GM 1 has a choice - end the session immediately because he has nothing already set in that direction, improv something on the fly that could go ill or well depending on improv skill, waste the players' time with random encounters, or dive into his backup folder and pull something out to drop in their path, which turns out to be a Red Cabin Mystery. Now, the actions of the players have out-of-game caused this Mystery to appear when otherwise it would have remained tucked away until needed; this is 'illusionism', and thus Bad. All of the other alternatives, though, involved the players either not having fun or doing nothing whatsoever. GM 2's story would be much the same as this, except it's likely that Bandit Camp, River Crossing, Caravan, and Red Cabin are all in his backup folder to begin with.
And your point is? That you can use illusionism as a back-up tool only and mix it with other approaches? I've never denied that. And yes, this might be more acceptable to some people than the other options. To others, it might make no difference.