... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why Illusions Are Simple

So, let's get more practical about the issues raised in yesterday's post about illusions. It was sparked by someone's forum comments about how difficult it was to run illusions. Now, the comments weren't worth a lot of deep reflection, since the guy is well-known for trolling and included pre-emptive insults for anyone who wasn't sure what he was up to. However, "illusions are hard" is a frequent complaint from people who really do believe it. And I think it's because people *make* it hard.

There's really only a couple unclear points in the original Phantasmal Forces spell:

  1. Vision only, or multiple senses?
  2. One image, or multiple?
  3. Is the "disappears when touched" reciprocal?

And it doesn't really matter what your answers to those questions are, as long as you're consistent. We're talking about a made-up thing, remember, so you can define what it means in your game world and that's it, problem solved. I think people are afraid of players challenging their interpretation. That shouldn't be a big deal, since the proper response is to openly mock the player for challenging your interpretation of something you made up. One of you is being far too serious, and the great thing is: you get to decide.

Some people will probably raise the objections that disbelief and damage is tricky, too, but I think that's because they're interpreting these as mechanics, when they don't have to be. Sure, the JG Ref Sheets include a tiny table for "roll to disbelieve", and The Fantasy Trip's approach was to make this a formal IQ roll. But there's actually no reason to make it a roll unless you want to. The point of the comment about disbelief was to make it clear that illusions aren't real, and that a victim of an illusion might believe the pack they dropped is on fire and being destroyed, but since the pack itself doesn't have a brain, it can't be fooled by an illusion and therefore cannot really be damaged.

The imaginary cup I mentioned in the last post was given as an actual example of a "hard" problem when handling illusions. I still can't quite cope with the ridiculousness of that suggestion. It's not a real cup. Of course it can't hold water. Nor can you create an illusion of a staircase so that you can reach the top of a cliff easily. You can make someone else think they are climbing stairs to reach the top of a cliff, but in reality they're just kind of thrashing around, flailing their arms and going nowhere.

Now, you can invent a new spell for your campaign that creates illusions so real, they can interact with physical reality and not just your brain; but again, that's something you're making up, and you are responsible for your creation. Have some conviction in your beliefs, if that's the way you want illusions to work. Stop complaining about how hard it is.


  1. Point 3: I don't see how the illusion touching the person can be any different that the person touching the illusion: each is simultaneous contact between the two. It seems to me that if you made, say, an illusion of an archer firing arrows at someone, and the illusionary arrow hit that person, the entire illusion would disappear because part of the illusion was touched by a living creature. Same with Dragon Breath. Now you could distinguish between living flesh and clothing/weapon/armor etc.

    1. It's a question of "simple contact" vs. "attempt to interact". I used to side with simple contact and no splitting of illusions, so I would have rules the same thing as you for the phantom bowman. Then I decided less substantial effects, like dragon fire, would be exempt. But given the fact that Phantasmal Forces originally referred to *military* forces, I restrict "dispel by touch" to deliberate actions by characters. It's easier that way, anyways.

      But it doesn't matter which interpretation you chose, as long as it makes sense to you and you're willing to stick with it.

  2. "I disbelieve!" is my least favorite part of AD&D illusions.

    1. I don't even think it was phrased that way in the first AD&D publications. It sort of crept in slowly, under the influence of TFT, possibly.

      Disbelief should definitely be more like "Wait a minute! Where'd he find a gorilla?" and less like "LA LA LA! THIS ISN'T HAPPENING!"

    2. I guess I should make it clearer that I'm agreeing. I don't remember there being a saving throw or other roll to disbelieve in the first few AD&D books, but it definitely showed up before the publication of 2e.