Abstract We consider problems in which robots conspire to present a view of the world that differs from reality. The inquiry is motivated by the problem of validating robot behavior physically despite there being a discrepancy between the robots we have at hand and those we wish to study, or the environment for testing that is available versus that which is desired, or other potential mismatches in this vein. After formulating the concept of a convincing illusion, essentially a notion of system simulation that takes place in the real world, we examine the implications of this type of simulability in terms of infrastructure requirements. Time is one important resource: some robots may be able to simulate some others but, perhaps, only at a rate that is slower than real-time. This difference gives a way of relating the simulating and the simulated systems in a form that is relative. We establish some theorems, including one with the flavor of an impossibility result, and providing several examples throughout. Finally, we present data from a simple multi-robot experiment based on this theory, with a robot navigating amid an unbounded field of infinitely many obstacles.