I hadn't heard this term before JDCorley's analysis of Call of Cthulhu modules, but I've been hearing it more lately. I just found a useful definition
, and it got me thinking -- what's bad about this? In a game where players are invested in driving the story with their decisions, and they think that's what's going on, then a GM offering a magician's choice is being deceptive and robbing the players' decisions of their oomph, right? But hold on a sec. If, as a player, magician's choices have any prayer of working
on you, that means that the connection between your choice and the outcome is already hidden, and thus you will never
get the desired oomph directly
. Instead, you will get it via the GM -- "Because you guys chose to investigate the mansion, not the crypt, you're finding all these macabre secrets in the mansion! Well-chosen, players!" If that's
how your choices pay off, then does it actually matter
whether or not the GM was going to just place the macabre secrets wherever you went, crypt or mansion?
meaning in the choice is usually something like, "Prioritize squashing the threats emanating from the crypt, or those emanating from the mansion? Which sounds worse, and needs stopping now, while you leave the other to fester and grow?" But really, without further info on the consequences of "What'll happen if we don't address the crypt's threat?", what may look
like a highly random strategic character decision is actually
just a player flavor decision. "Which sounds cooler to y'all as the setting for the investigation -- a crypt or a mansion?" The GM could
just say this, rather than offering the magician's choice, but players who are already immersed/in-character/whatever often prefer
choosing their path without jumping up to the meta level. Magician's choice, it seems to me, is largely a matter of taste. Do we prefer a moment of deception so we don't have to break character, or would we rather drop the illusion and tell it like it is? Different strokes for different folks, and agendas, and games.
I mentioned "info on consequences" above, and I think this is key. If the players choose to address "mansion" because the mansion threatens the town, and the crypt threatens the village, and the players care more about the town than the village, then that
have consequences, right? A magician's choice there would suck, right? Well, yes, but a magician's choice there also won't work
. If you go to save the town, and then it turns out the village is fine too, then it becomes totally obvious
that your choice had no meaning. This isn't magic being bad; this is just bad magic.
If everything I've said is already perfectly obvious to everyone who cares, then I guess this doesn't deserve a thread. But it wasn't obvious to me
from seeing the term used on Story Games, so I wanted to broach the topic.