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Illusionism: Just a bad game

October 16, 2008

Last post got me thinking about the last Illusionist game I played, about 3 years back. It was a game of Unknown Armies, and I stuck with it for about 3 months, just to see and try out the group and the game.

I remember losing all investment when I realized the pattern to the game: It didn’t really matter what we did to investigate the mystery- the GM would simply delay, block, or withhold, and at the point when we gave up and started doing other things (say, focusing on character development between PCs and ignoring the pointless investigation) he would suddenly throw some uber-event at us.

In other words, the only way to “advance” the plot was to run from it and force the GM to slap us upside the head with it.

And this basically clarified my issues with Illusionism: It’s just a bad set up for play. You have to develop a massive set of skills as a GM to keep up the facade, to produce content, to pace it, to redirect attention of players, and most of the time, it doesn’t work. See all the threads, letter columns, advice etc. about “how to control the players” and complaints by players about “railroading” and it’s clearly not a reliable method.

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