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As I understand it, a 'quantum ogre' is a piece of game content that the party will be unable to avoid encountering. It's a way of saving on prep time for the game master but that subtly removes player agency.

For example: when the party comes to a fork in the road, will they go left or right? This provides the players with the illusion that there is a meaningful choice to be made. However, the reality is that, whichever direction the party chooses the game master will decide that the ogre is (and has effectively always been) lying in wait on that path.

How long has the term 'quantum ogre' been in use and from where did it originate?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Heavily related Q&A is here \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 5 at 12:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've also heard "quantum bears" lately when describing concerns some people have about PbtA gaming and the fact GMs make moves on a miss. \$\endgroup\$ – Powerdork May 5 at 13:05
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The term appears to have originated in this blog post on Hack & Slash in 2011 (the website design now features the tagline "Home of the Quantum Ogre"), although the example the name comes from was defined in this blog post from Dreams in the Lich House it was a response to.

The name comes from the fact that the behaviour of the world (exemplified by an ogre waylaying an adventuring party) in this facet of illusionism shows similarities with the pop-culture understanding of quantum mechanics. By choosing a road to take, the players "observe" the ogre and cause it to have always been along this road, but if they had taken a different path, the ogre would have been there instead. (The main difference to actual quantum mechanics would be that a superimposed ogre being subjected to an experiment along road A would have a chance to collapse into the state of being on road B, instead of always collapsing into the state of being on the path the party chose)

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    \$\begingroup\$ And the other option is that the ogre got so tired of running back and forth between roads A and B that he collapsed-from exhaustion. 8^D \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 5 at 12:47

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