Now and then, I've seen people use the term 'Illusionism', used for describing a kind of railroad, such as in this answer and elsewhere. I'd like to learn the origin of Illusionism, both in the sense of when/where/under what circumstances people started consistently using the term in RPGs, and in the sense of when/why/under what circumstances the phenomenon became widespread enough to be known and recognisable.

I've seen people point vaguely in the direction of the World of Darkness fandom and/or books as the natural habitat of the phenomenon in question. Is that where it originated? Was it part of some Storyteller advice, a common advice among some renowned GMs, both or neither?


2 Answers 2


It comes from philosophy

Illusionism is a metaphysical theory first propounded by professor Saul Smilansky of the University of Haifa. It holds that people have illusory beliefs about free will.

Basically the illusory beliefs about free will are that we have it. Hence the easy port to the three-card monte style of railroading - “Pick any card. Pick my card.”

This is a good explanation of its use in gaming from someone who thinks it’s bad. And one from someone who thinks it’s not so bad. Of course, neither of them (or you or I) have free will anyway so it’s not something you can choose to learn about.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I had no choice but to up-vote this. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2023 at 11:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Back in my day we would still just call it "Railroading" - just a much more complex railway system. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 29, 2023 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the use in roleplaying come directly from the use in philosophy? An argument or a source for that would be interesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Jul 1, 2023 at 17:36

In roleplaying context the term was in heavy use at the Forge. You can find it in the provisional glossary and in the texts on simulationism and narrativism, but not in "GNS and other matters...". Articles are at the Forge archive: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/

This would place the widespread use of the term somewhere in the 2001 and 2003 interval.

The articles are the result of extensive discussions at the Forge forums, which are also archived at that link. I do not know whether the term was taken to RPG use at the Forge or somewhere else before then.


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