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View Full Version : What is the line between "plot hook" and "railroading"?



Morithias
2012-10-08, 06:38 PM
Apparently according to one of the members on the forum, if you run a campaign in a school and the teachers gives the PC's an assignment it's railroading. Or at least the BAD kind of railroading.

But that comes to annoy me for many reasons namely the thread title.

Where do you draw the line between rail roading and plot hooks? What exactly is the difference?

I mean they say rail roading is bad period, but what happens when you go off the rails and the DM goes "okay we'll stop 5 hours early tonight because you want to be delinquents I'm not good at improv and I have to write a plot for what you want to do"

I mean a DM clearly can't prepare for EVERY occasion.

So what's the line between "plot hook" and "rail road"?

Jack of Spades
2012-10-08, 06:58 PM
Unfortunately, the difference between those terms is often just which side of the screen one is on. People can be asinine that way.

But, for actual differences, it's pretty simple. Are you telling your players what their characters do? If so, that's probably more railroading than it is dropping a hook.

Getting an assignment is not railroading, it is dropping a hook. No one is ever *required* to do an assignment. If your character disobeys direct orders from a bona fide superior, they should expect consequences. *******s will call those consequences railroading, but it's really just letting the world respond to the character.

Dropping a hook is being told or asked to do something in character, or being exposed to situations that demand action from the characters. Railroading is telling the characters their actions or responses. That includes constructing an encounter in which there is only one action that will produce any sort of successful result. If you can't deal with the players having different courses of actions than you expected, then you'll probably end up railroading more often than dropping hooks.

What I'm trying to say is, dropping hooks instead of railroading is about letting your players hold their own reins and being able to use the 'Yes, and...' rule.

Morithias
2012-10-08, 06:59 PM
Makes sense. "Yes and" Rule? May you please explain that one to me, cause that's a new one?

Jack of Spades
2012-10-08, 07:57 PM
Makes sense. "Yes and" Rule? May you please explain that one to me, cause that's a new one?

The 'Yes, and...' rule is an improv thing. Basically, the idea is that when you are telling a story with others, those others will be bringing different ideas than you to the table. The idea is that you should say 'Yes, and...' to these ideas instead of saying no. It's about encouraging those around you to bring their unique perspectives and training yourself to embrace those ideas instead of meeting them with a brick wall. It's pretty much the main thing that separates improv from dictation.

It's a nearly essential rule for running a game. The players will always go against your expectations, and the 'Yes, and...' rule is simply saying that you should roll with those punches instead of telling the players their cool new out-of-left-field idea just doesn't work because you weren't prepared for it.

nedz
2012-10-08, 08:10 PM
The difference is about something called player agency. Does the player(s) make the decisions about what they do, and are those decisions meaningful ?

A plot hook is an option the players can explore, or ignore.

Railroading is where the player's decisions don't matter. The DM is telling a story and the PCs are following a script. A small amount of this is inevitable, especially around getting the party together at the beginning. "You all meet in an inn" (or whatever) is technically railroading, but it is of no consequence.

Its really about who decides what the characters do.

Morithias
2012-10-08, 08:12 PM
I see. Hmm..I'll have to work on my skills some then and incorporate this into my plans.

Malak'ai
2012-10-08, 08:29 PM
Basically what nedz said.
If the players have the choice to go along with the hook or ignore it, that's fine, they just have to be able to accept any and all consequences if they do choose to ignore it.
If the players have no choice what so ever and HAVE to follow along, that's railroading.
The only real (IMO) exception to the having no choice (or only having one possible choice) is if it is something that would result in the PC's dying, eg: the PC's are taken prisoner and are going to be executed the next day unless they escape somehow. Yes there is a choice here, escape or die... But what player (unless they are wanting a new character or are leaving the group) is really going to choose the latter?

Anxe
2012-10-09, 01:15 AM
Players have a responsibility to follow plot hooks. If the DM dangles a plot hook and the players decide to do something random to spite the DM, they're being a little rude. However, if the DM has dangled this plot hook twice already and they're still ignoring it, then its railroading. The players are no longer interested in the Temple of Sakom. They want to explore the jungle.

Now, the smart DM will put the Temple of Sakom in the jungle and replace all the undead guardians with a tribe of apemen with the exact same statistics. No need to construct a new adventure and the DM and the players are happy.

So... plot hooks become railroading when the players repeatedly refuse them. I've had it happen in my campaigns, sometimes the entire campaign trail is uninteresting to the players. It's sad to see so much work not be used, but I can always come up with something else or reuse it.

How I avoid the players going off the rails is to give them tons of choices. There's probably about ten different plot hooks for them to follow in my current campaign. I basically have statted out everything in my campaign.

Mastikator
2012-10-09, 01:18 AM
A plot hook is something the players decide to get caught by, a railroad is something the players have to deliberately derail. It's about players making decisions about options not presented by the GM, and the GM working either with the players to get them where they want to go, or to get them where the GM wants to go.

Knaight
2012-10-09, 01:29 AM
Apparently according to one of the members on the forum, if you run a campaign in a school and the teachers gives the PC's an assignment it's railroading. Or at least the BAD kind of railroading.
That's a strawman position. The evidence I used for it being railroading was not a teacher giving the PC an assignment in that context, it was you explicitly saying that it was nice that the game made it easy to railroad and using that as an example of how.


I mean they say rail roading is bad period, but what happens when you go off the rails and the DM goes "okay we'll stop 5 hours early tonight because you want to be delinquents I'm not good at improv and I have to write a plot for what you want to do"
I generally avoid this problem by being a reasonably competent GM, and not trying to force the players into a scripted plot simply because of sheer ineptitude regarding both improv and planning. It's not that hard to plan in a fashion that can handle contingencies, and improvisation is really not that difficult. Similarly, I generally avoid playing with people who are trying to tell their story and are unable to deal with even the slightest amount of player input that involves going off the rails.

To be honest, I've never even seen this in a new player. It isn't something that needs to be planned around, just like I don't specifically plan around it taking people a long time to see whether the number they rolled is higher than another number, or whether their ability to speak in their native language somehow vanishes when they start gaming. Sure, all of these problems are theoretically possible, with an ineptitude in storytelling, an extreme problem with numbers, and extreme stage fright potentially causing them, but the probabilities are so vanishingly small that they aren't worth worrying about.


So what's the line between "plot hook" and "rail road"?
Plot hooks can be interacted with in multiple ways. They can be ignored, but more than that there are multiple approaches to interacting with them. Railroads, meanwhile, are strictly linear. Essentially, plot hooks are mechanisms by which the GM and players can all contribute to the game and story, and railroading is a mechanism by which the GM shoves their personal story the players aren't involved in down the player's throats.

LordErebus12
2012-10-09, 01:39 AM
Apparently according to one of the members on the forum, if you run a campaign in a school and the teachers gives the PC's an assignment it's railroading. Or at least the BAD kind of railroading.

So what's the line between "plot hook" and "rail road"?

under the same definition, can you call the main questline (the assignment) in a game like skyrim as being an example of railroading? can't it be simply ignored and turned off? can the players simply ignore the quest and pursuit other things? leave the school and continue off to explore the world, etc.

I think if this assignment is within reason, and they are playing in a game where the campaign is in a school, then they should understand that assignments will happen and if they wish to graduate, they will complete them to the best of their ability. as in real life.

SowZ
2012-10-09, 01:52 AM
A lot of GMs, especially newer ones, think it is their responsibility to come up with a really cool story and write it like a book so they give their players something interesting, then get frustrated when it doesn't happen and get afraid it won't be cinematic enough or whatever if the 'rails' aren't followed. Most of the time it isn't a power trip but not having the right kind of experience.

In my games, I try to make cool NPCs and some neat background stuff but as for specific encounters and such? I plan those one session at a time in reaction to the things the players did last session. The game I am running right now has had the players fall in with a major faction in the world leading to a major attack by said faction on another major faction as well as an accidental PC bombing of the worlds capital city and right 'now' is exploring an alternate reality apocalypse setting. Not to mention countless mini-adventures, rescue attempts, attacks on enemies, recon missions gone bad, etc. etc. NONE of which was planned for or expected by me. It all just happened.

BUT I do have a major underlying plot/end of the world threat and a lot of NPCs written. It isn't sandbox, by any means, there is definitely one threat the PCs are expected to handle. That much is clear to everyone. How they go about it, though, and who they interact with/make friends with/trouble they cause along the way is entirely up to them and it seems to work well.

Kelb_Panthera
2012-10-09, 02:04 AM
What is the line between plot hook and railroading? Thin and subjective, that's what. Some players need to be given more direction than others while some of those others resent being presented with too few options and will ignore them all out of spite.

You're not doing anything wrong until the players' input is completely meaningless.

Make this your "DM's mantra" and you should do fine:

It's our story, not my story.

Check out the post I've linked at the bottom of my sig for a good outline, imo, on how to setup a campaign. Scaling those guidlines down to make a school and the city surrounding it should work out pretty good.

Remember that when you use a piece of fiction as the inspiration for a campaign, that you're creating a world with similar characters and themes, not trying to retell the story in the work itself.

LordErebus12
2012-10-09, 02:27 AM
Make this your "DM's mantra" and you should do fine:

It's our story, not my story.


i agree with every single year of my DM'ing career and every fiber of my being.

the world is a big place, sometimes other things catch their attentions better. try making it cross their paths enough and maybe they will take the bite, then its a hook, not a railroad. if they dont take the bite, let them continue on with what they are doing then try a different way to get them interested in the main plot. time and patience, as well as some careful negotiations with the party out of character so they know what you want from them, that way, in game they can make a better attempt at working with the story you present.

Mistwing
2012-10-09, 03:34 AM
This discussion cuts down the the very core of my DMing. The "Yes and.." rule (I call it "say yes") is my bible.

Yet i have little to add, to avoid far too long rants about things not entierly related. But I have one thing I need to note:

Unlike what many people say here, railroading is not telling players what their characters do. That's... no. That's just being a horrible DM. Even good DM's can railroad. Hell, railroading can be a good thing in certain campeigns or adventures.

Railroading is when you cut away all options and chances to go off the planned track. A character does something that would cut off the plot? you stop 'em. What you planned is going to happen and anything else will, inexplicably if need be, simply not be a ultimately viable option.

So really, a plot hook is about making the players want to or the characters be motivated enough to go in the direction you want. To nudge and lead rather than to drag the characters along. Now, Railroading when in the hands of a good DM running a very closed in adventure isn't all that brash. But in general comparison a ploot hook is a far more delicate yet, if used well, just as viable way to progress the plot. It' drags the PC's in if they bite it.

Thus the name.

Morithias
2012-10-09, 12:02 PM
Snip

Maybe I need to read Railroading again, but when I said that line I was being semi-jesting. I just meant it would be easy to keep the campaign on line. If I need her to get more healing potions or better armor, just have a teacher assign it. Not complex.

I really need to practice using the blue text again.

valadil
2012-10-09, 12:24 PM
Apparently according to one of the members on the forum, if you run a campaign in a school and the teachers gives the PC's an assignment it's railroading. Or at least the BAD kind of railroading.

Homework is a plot hook. You can decide to not do your homework and get an interesting story out of it when you have to explain to your teacher why you didn't do the assignment.

Railroading is when your parents lock you in your room until your homework is done.

LordErebus12
2012-10-09, 01:01 PM
Homework is a plot hook. Railroading is when your parents lock you in your room until your homework is done.

those feels... :frown:

Morithias
2012-10-09, 01:07 PM
Lucky it's a boarding school. No parents around to do anything. Just the warblade, and her healer companion with a superhero complex.

Knaight
2012-10-09, 01:11 PM
Railroading is when your parents lock you in your room until your homework is done.
This depends somewhat on whether you have windows and how high above ground level your room is. :smallamused:

valadil
2012-10-09, 01:14 PM
This depends somewhat on whether you have windows and how high above ground level your room is. :smallamused:

You and I have different ideas about the meaning of the word "lock" :tongue:.

DabblerWizard
2012-10-10, 10:35 PM
I think railroading comes in a couple forms.

(1) Players' / PC behavior is restricted. Players are only allowed to react to a situation in DM approved ways.

This might look like the players being forced to accept one action, the method the DM liked. Or players might be allowed to "try" other options, but all these others have negative consequences that the preferred option doesn't.

E.G. The DM wants the players to slay the dragon with a particular special weapon. The wizard might find his magic not working at all. Or players are punished / "warned" that killing the dragon a different way will forfeit their prize because of [some restricting explanation].

One way this might not be railroading: The special weapon does extra damage, but other weapons can at least take down much of the dragon's health, or incapacitate it, or weaken it, etc.


(2) The outcome remains the same no matter what the players do.

This can be railroading even if players are allowed to take on a variety of actions.

E.G. The DM has predetermined that the King will deny the players' prize money no matter how well they complete their task.

Sometimes a solid and reasonable plot can counteract this. If the King's actions are part of a larger purpose other than just messing with the players, this can be acceptable.


The above two kinds of railroading really don't have much to do with plot hooks. This third kind does though.


(3) The DM presents a quest / plot hook to the players.

This turns into railroading by violating either (1) or (2). E.G. there's "nothing else to do" besides this quest, all other quests are intentionally unappealing or inaccessible to the characters, or the King will end up doing X, Y, Z, no matter what the players do.

This kind of plot hook railroading can be avoided by allowing for player input in how combat / plot scenarios resolve, and by allowing the story to develop based on player actions.

scurv
2012-10-11, 12:12 AM
A teacher giving assignments is life. duh!
Now if the char's have established a trend for skipping assignments I can see how forcing the players to do one could be railroading.

Personally I would thank them, If they are in a school and refused to do an assignment...options for DM amusement may of just happened! Sorry I am a sadist.

Kyberwulf
2012-10-11, 03:48 AM
This, A plot hook is a device to tell the players, "Hey something is going on in the world."

Railroading is what the player feels when he has to deal with ignoring the logical conclusions that comes from ..well ignoring the plot hook.

Jay R
2012-10-11, 08:33 AM
Unfortunately, the real answer is this:

A plot hook is railroading that the players don't object to. Railroading is a plot hook that they object to.

These aren't well-defined terms, and "railroading" is used anytime a player wants to complain about any decision made by the DM or an NPC.

valadil
2012-10-11, 10:18 AM
A plot hook is railroading that the players don't object to. Railroading is a plot hook that they object to.


I completely disagree. It's not whether the object to the plot hook that indicates the presence of the railroad. It's what the GM does with the objection. If they decide to leave the dungeon and go pick flowers, some GMs will let them. Others will tell them to play the damn dungeon. Many will come up with the reason why they can't leave - cave-in keeps you down there, guards are up top, etc. The latter two options are railroads, but the final option is probably more palatable to most groups.

nedz
2012-10-11, 10:42 AM
Real example

The party hits a house run by some gangsters, blow up some complex piece of equipment, bug out and split up. This causes a demon to be released into the city. Some of the PC's know about this, others don't. They meet back at a safe house, ...

Example of railroading:

An NPC handler, with perfect information, orders the PCs back to deal with the demon.

Example of non-railroading:

The PCs meet up, share information, and decide to go back and deal with the demon - or not.

Lord Tyger
2012-10-11, 11:26 AM
Real example

The party hits a house run by some gangsters, blow up some complex piece of equipment, bug out and split up. This causes a demon to be released into the city. Some of the PC's know about this, others don't. They meet back at a safe house, ...

Example of railroading:

An NPC handler, with perfect information, orders the PCs back to deal with the demon.

Example of non-railroading:

The PCs meet up, share information, and decide to go back and deal with the demon - or not.

But even if the NPC shows up and orders them, are they reasonably able to just disobey him?

Water_Bear
2012-10-11, 12:44 PM
I'd say the Plot Hook v Railroading line really has to do with the number of realistic options the Players have to do something other than what the DM wants.

So, for example, Snake Plissken in Escape From New York is (at least initially) on the quintessential quest railroad; if he refuses to go into New York he will be killed, the only foreseeable chance for him to escape is by successfully completing his mission, and he'll explode anyway if he doesn't succeed in 24 hours.

On the other end of the scale, The A Team (TV not Movie) are the ultimate example of a party which follows every plot hook but is never railroaded. They don't have to help anyone, but they never turn down a chance to do so even when it puts them in danger of death or recapture by the Army.

Essentially, Plot Hooks are suggestions while Railroading is compulsory. This isn't a value judgement; Escape From New York and The A Team are both awesome, and both central to our modern understanding of the action genre. But in general, as RPGs are collaborative storytelling, giving the Players more freedom is usually a good thing.

Menteith
2012-10-11, 02:29 PM
Where do you draw the line between rail roading and plot hooks? What exactly is the difference?

Railroading is fundamentally about lacking agency. In the situation described, I'd say it's pretty clearly not railroading - it makes sense for a teacher to give a student an assignment without the world of the game. If the player really doesn't want to do the assignment, they don't need to, but there will be consequences (just as in real life) for their actions. Logical consequences and events occurring due to player choice != railroading. If the player "wasn't allowed" to refuse the assignment, or the DM simply told them "You do this because I say so", I'd call it railroading.

As long as the player has a meaningful choice, I wouldn't call it railroading.

The Glyphstone
2012-10-11, 04:20 PM
You and I have different ideas about the meaning of the word "lock" :tongue:.

Adventurers will steal anything that isn't nailed down or on fire. The nails don't count as being nailed down themselves, and fire can be extinguished.

Similarly, it's not 'locked' if you can unlock it or bypass it, it's merely a delaying tactic.:smallbiggrin:

Ravens_cry
2012-10-11, 07:09 PM
Something to note is that there is far more ways to railroad than at just the start of the adventure.
When you lack any kind of meaningful choice, it still counts as railroading, even if you already bit.

DabblerWizard
2012-10-11, 08:04 PM
Something to note is that there is far more ways to railroad than at just the start of the adventure.
When you lack any kind of meaningful choice, it still counts as railroading, even if you already bit.

I.E. My first two examples of railroading above.

Clawhound
2012-10-12, 11:29 AM
IMHO, Railroading is when a DM negates the players actions and decisions to reach a predestined outcome. This really happens outside the game, even if the DM masqueraded the outcomes as originating inside the game. The second thing about railroading is that it is manipulative. You are given the appearance of free will, but that's a lie.

Sandboxing is where you create a play area, then play unfolds in that play area. You have free will.

Some limits and requirements are part of a normal game. Limits aren't railroading because they are plot devices. They are not intended to manipulate so much as to set up a sandbox. At a minimum, the DM spends time designing a scenario. So there might be a wall of fire keeping everyone in the valley, but that's just part of the sandbox. You still have free will.

Joe the Rat
2012-10-12, 12:34 PM
An (un)amusing way to look at it is that the "plot hook" can be a junction - a chance to switch to a different set of rails.

The real question is who's driving the train? If the game would run about the same without player input, it's "railroading." They might as well be sitting in a boxcar. So what happens when the players take over the train? They're not just picking the destination, but making happen (or not) as they like. Or hopping off altogether, in which case it's time to start thinking fast.

Think of it in terms of setting vs. action. The GM should provide the scene, the backdrop, the backstory. The players should provide the action - what actually ends up happening.

Slipperychicken
2012-10-12, 05:09 PM
Super Douchebag Railroading:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM: "No"

Player: "What do you mean, 'no'? This deal is horrible!"

DM (as DM, not an NPC): "You accept the deal. Just... deal with it and do the damn quest. Stop being greedy, or I'll reduce the pay by half for you."


Railroading:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM (again, as DM): "Before you can open your mouth, you remember that your only alternative to accepting the terms as presented, is having your head explode from the C4 which the loan sharks surgically implanted in your skull"


Plot Hook:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM: "In your line of work, it takes a long time for new contracts to come along. Long enough that you risk being evicted by your landlord, since you're pretty shoddy with rent payments as it is. You stand a decent chance of toughing it out by working odd jobs, but it's not going to be pretty."


Total Freedom:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM: "As you shake hands and begin to leave the room, your prospective client looks down dejectedly. It's clear he's wondering how on earth he'll retrieve those documents without your help..."

huttj509
2012-10-12, 05:58 PM
I think Railroading should also be known as "But thou must!" Always fun to choose "no" options in video games and see how they handle it.

If all choices lead to the same scenario, it's probably railroading (whichever path you take through the forest, that's the path ____ happens on). If they lead to the same events but with different resources/position/etc, it might be railroading, but perfectly acceptable (gain the high ground, have a rebel army at your back, reach the jewels with the guards being alive/dead). If most choices lead to "that's not what you do," it's blatant railroading (But thou must!).

Iceforge
2012-10-12, 08:12 PM
probarly just repeating what has been said a few times already, but to me, playing a scenario at a school and having a teacher giving me an assignment is not, by itself, railroading.

Its a logical plot hook/quest that fits the theme of the campaign.

The railroading comes if 2 things apply:
1) The assignment must be done, which as a student at a school, it pretty much is a "must be done" thing, or there will most likely be harsh consequences
2) The assignment can only be done in a specific way.

If I remember the original thread correctly, the example given was gathering the ingredients for a potion, most of which would be available in a nearby forest.
Cool, but is that the only way to get them?
Could the player choose to have his/her character gather the ingredients another way?
If no alternative exists, then to me, its railroading.

But alternatives could easily be made; Maybe they barter with fellow students for the ingredients or break into the school lab to steal the ingredients rather than go get fresh supplies, just to list 2 possible alternatives off the top of my head.

If those alternatives are blocked completely, then I'd be very upset at the campaign and want to quit it.

Make them very hard? Sure, maybe there is security on the lab thats hard to bypass or the classmate who got the ingredients wants something I don't want to give him for the exchange, but that I COULD give him, if I choose to, then its fair game.


Hell, I can even live with the rails of being given an assignment and going to the forest to collect the ingredients, and would probarly not explore alternatives if presented with it as a player, but I have recently quit a long lasting group with multiple campaigns due to the DM repeatedly doing very bad railroading.
But to compare that to this situation, then it would be us being given the assignment, then kicked outside the school door which is then promptly locked until we retrieve the ingredients, going to the forest, be attacked by a swarm of monsters that clearly outmatch us so we flee, barely surviving to go back to rest up, but not without the monsters capturing someone from the party, being told that those who do not go on a rescue mission will be playing with their thumbs while the rest play the game, then magically experience same monsters having grown tons weaker as we encounter them again, while an until now unknown NPC helps us by slaying 75% of them, despite the DM saying the NPC is lower level than us, only to find out that suddenly the forest ran out of ingredients, then while talking about what to do now, we suddenly find out we gone back to the school, which makes no sense due to the doors being locked until we got the ingredients, and then find out that the teacher suddenly found out the school had a storage of the ingredients all along, so we are allowed back inside now.

Slipperychicken
2012-10-12, 10:29 PM
I think Railroading should also be known as "But thou must!" Always fun to choose "no" options in video games and see how they handle it.


Relevant reading, for the uninformed. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ButThouMust)

Morithias
2012-10-12, 11:10 PM
Snip

What if the point of the assignment is to teach her about gathering ingredients for alchemy and to teach independence? You know since it's an alchemy school. There's a reason gardening and such are in the curriculum. You know, so when you leave the school you have the talent to grow the stuff yourself.

I mean there's a reason teachers in real world colleges don't let you copy-paste reports.

Gamer Girl
2012-10-13, 12:40 AM
Super Douchebag Railroading:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM: "Sorry the only thing in the whole world is this deal.

Player: "What do you mean? This deal is horrible!"

DM (as DM, not an NPC): "You have to take the deal to play the game, or you can just go home now."


Railroading:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM (again, as DM): "Um, well I spent 141 hours making this adventure, so, um, if you don't want to go on the Deal of a Lifetime Adventure we can't play. I don't have anything ready, unless you just want to mindlessly roll for random monster encounters."


Plot Hook:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM(As Dm): "Sigh, I know you want the whole world handed to your character on the very first adventure, but we really need to build up a storyline and all. Naturally as your character is a nobody, you will get the not so great jobs. Your not gonna get one billion gold coins for getting a cat out of a tree. Lets just play it out and see where it goes.


Total Freedom:

Player: "I refuse the deal. It's far too little pay for far too much risk."

DM: "The guy nods and walks away'' *Adventure continues in another direction*



My Definitions:

Railroading:A DM must do this. A DM has to drive the train and keep the game on the rails. This is why the game even has a DM. Even in the most free form sandbox game the DM has to lay some tracks. Say the DM found a cool new monster in a book that they want to use. That means, at some point, no matter what the players do, they will encounter the new monster the DM wants to use. It's even more obvious for a prepared DM. Any DM that spent hours making a 'Castle of Doom' will have to ''amazing'' have the characters end up at that castle no matter what the players do.

And Railroading does have a big positive side: It gets the players to where they can have fun. Say your players want to have a 'pirate adventure'(without doing a total game restart to a lame pirate only game). You could do a ''oh you all trip and fall and become pirates'' OR you can railroad them to the pirate adventure. So the DM has the group be guards for some valuable cargo, that gets stolen, and then leads to the whole pirate adventure. But it's only fun if the players are lead(tricked) without there knowledge and explicit consent to the adventure.

If the players know the whole game plan, it won't be any fun for them. For example to tell the players ''Ok in Act 3 a kobold will steal the Crystal Duck. Now your characters don't know that, but you need to play so that they don't spot or catch the kobold as it leads into the fun chase part of Act 4. And trust me the chase will be lots of fun.''

Iceforge
2012-10-13, 02:38 AM
What if the point of the assignment is to teach her about gathering ingredients for alchemy and to teach independence? You know since it's an alchemy school. There's a reason gardening and such are in the curriculum. You know, so when you leave the school you have the talent to grow the stuff yourself.

I mean there's a reason teachers in real world colleges don't let you copy-paste reports.

What you wrote in your original thread sounded fine to me; It is a bit railroady, but then again, what you neglected to mention in this thread so far (unless I missed it) is that this entire thing is about a sort of introduction campaign, and when you are introducing someone to DnD, the style should be a little more railroady than usual to assure that new player isn't just stuck and unable to decide what to do.

Once a new player gets the hang of it, the rails should be eased away little by little, but overall, I think what you are doing is fine, as long as you remember to let go of the rails, once he/she wants to go off them in some way you hadn't predicted.

Frozen_Feet
2012-10-13, 04:59 AM
Railroading means the course of the game is set. No matter what the players do, events progress from A to B to C.

A game leader can be open about it, going "dudez, you can only go that way", or devious about it, superficially letting the players have their way, but in truth no matter what they do things proceed in same order.

Plot hooks are an unrelated concept. They suggest potential courses for a game. To use the train analogy, they are switches to move to a different rail. But in a true railroad game, these switches are just smoke and mirrors - flipping them has no effect.

Railroading is not douchebaggery. A GM can be a **** about it, or cleverly disguise it so the players will never notice.

Railroad is not limited options. Chess is a great example of a non-railroaded game. There are rigid rules and at any given moment, there are only a couple of possible moves. But you can freely choose between them, and so there are multiple possible sequences of events.

Railroading is not bad consequences. A GM might use the prospect of them to scare players to stay on the train, but once again they're illusions - usually a GM isn't intending to see them through. Chess is once again good example - pick wrong moves,,and you will lose. The key here is again that the sequence isn't predetermined.

Railroading is not bad GM:ing. It's like writing a script, it can be good or bad. It's singled out so often because it's easy to do poorly, leading to a senseless sequence of events that is undesireable to players.

Railroading is hard to identify correctly from a players' perspective because it requires knowing what sequence he has planned, if any. Only by comparing what was planned and what actually happens in a game can it be determined.

Finally, railroading is distinct from setting up a game. Former is concerned what will happen, latter with where it starts. A premise can be very restricting without telling you how things will progress. Once more, see Chess.

nedz
2012-10-13, 05:51 AM
Railroading means the course of the game is set. No matter what the players do, events progress from A to B to C.

A game leader can be open about it, going "dudez, you can only go that way", or devious about it, superficially letting the players have their way, but in truth no matter what they do things proceed in same order.

Plot hooks are an unrelated concept. They suggest potential courses for a game. To use the train analogy, they are switches to move to a different rail. But in a true railroad game, these switches are just smoke and mirrors - flipping them has no effect.

Railroading is not douchebaggery. A GM can be a **** about it, or cleverly disguise it so the players will never notice.

Railroad is not limited options. Chess is a great example of a non-railroaded game. There are rigid rules and at any given moment, there are only a couple of possible moves. But you can freely choose between them, and so there are multiple possible sequences of events.

Railroading is not bad consequences. A GM might use the prospect of them to scare players to stay on the train, but once again they're illusions - usually a GM isn't intending to see them through. Chess is once again good example - pick wrong moves,,and you will lose. The key here is again that the sequence isn't predetermined.

Railroading is not bad GM:ing. It's like writing a script, it can be good or bad. It's singled out so often because it's easy to do poorly, leading to a senseless sequence of events that is undesireable to players.

Railroading is hard to identify correctly from a players' perspective because it requires knowing what sequence he has planned, if any. Only by comparing what was planned and what actually happens in a game can it be determined.

Finally, railroading is distinct from setting up a game. Former is concerned what will happen, latter with where it starts. A premise can be very restricting without telling you how things will progress. Once more, see Chess.

Railroading will not be televised. :smalltongue:

You do seem to be conflating railroading with setting boundaries, the latter can be a very useful discipline for creative people.

Have you tried improvising ?
Paradoxically the best Improv is rehearsed.

Railroading is really about denying choices to the players.
Really bad railroading would be when the DM says "Your character wouldn't do that".
Standard railroading would be when the DM says "Your character does this".
Non railroading would be when the DM says "What are you doing?"
Games are about making decisions, if you deny that - its not a game.

kardar233
2012-10-13, 07:36 AM
Railroading (done well) isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you know your players well, you can integrate their likely actions into your plot without restricting them, and a flexible set of rails can make a swerve (an unexpected player action) without derailing the train.

As an example: A friend of mine ran a Dark Elf campaign set in WHFB's Naggaroth for me and another friend. His plan for the first adventure was "fight some guy in an alley, turns out he was the prince of major house A, hook up with major house B that was the first one's enemy who blackmails them into sabotaging a processing plant of major house A, then work with house B from there".

It went totally according to his plan (without any heavy-handed influence on us) except that I turned to House A by pinning the prince's death on the other PC. The matriarch of the house was all like "I actually really didn't like the prince, I was just making a big deal about it because I wanted to kill someone" and hired us on. We ended up working for house A instead of house B; negligible difference.

Frozen_Feet
2012-10-13, 08:53 AM
You do seem to be conflating railroading with setting boundaries, the latter can be a very useful discipline for creative people.


How on earth did you get that from my text when I explicitly said in my text railroading is not that?

Traab
2012-10-13, 09:37 AM
A plot hook is when you give someone a hint that doing x will lead to a quest. Things like, "Oh, btw heroes, I heard the saldaen farm outside of town has been having problems lately." Railroading is, "You there, heroes! By order of the duke you are to report to the saldaen farm this instant, or be killed where you stand!" A plot hook gives them the choice, railroading means they have no choice but to do something. Also, another difference is, there can be many plot hooks, but there is usally only one railroad path.

So you may wander through a town and hear about how to the east there is bandit activity, to the west wild animals run amuck, to the north a dark wizard sows terror in the mountains, and to the south a plague is wiping out villages. A railroad would tell you all the other gates out of town are broken, so only the road south is open. Any attempts to leave the road are met by gm fiat attacks and occurrences that force you back on the path south. "Oh, you want to go offroad? Well sorry but the party has just entered a grand canyon style path. The walls are over 200 feet tall, at a 95 degree angle, and are inexplicably greased."

nedz
2012-10-13, 12:13 PM
How on earth did you get that from my text when I explicitly said in my text railroading is not that?

Being half asleep probably :smallredface:

Amphetryon
2012-10-13, 01:39 PM
The issue I see is that while in theory you can delineate the difference between "plot hook" and "railroading," in practice, if the players feel they're being railroaded, then for all intents and purposes, they are. They may resign themselves to riding out the line, or they may fight tooth and nail against it, but they'll be reacting to their perception of being force-fed a plot, regardless of whether that perception squares with the GM's.

scurv
2012-10-13, 03:18 PM
I have to ask this, Are the players trying to meta game out of doing the unpleasant stuff that comes with their situation? I tend to try to look and follow the logic of a few views before making a decision. I had a group that tried that once when the thief's they were playing finally got busted. They seemed kinda upset at the choice being rping though a jail-break, facing trial and all that fun stuff, Or calling it abandoned due to avoidance issues.

valadil
2012-10-13, 08:49 PM
The issue I see is that while in theory you can delineate the difference between "plot hook" and "railroading," in practice, if the players feel they're being railroaded, then for all intents and purposes, they are.

True fact. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. If you can pull off an all roads lead to Rome thing, where the players think they're making choices and never see the rails, good for you*. If the players follow the plot hook because they think they're on a railroad, even if you're willing to improvise, well, they might as well have been on a railroad. It's all about the experience they take away.

(*No I'm not trying to justify this kind of manipulation. Only talking about it in this context.)

I'd also like to add that railroads don't have to be linear. I played in a game where the GM advertised that we'd be faced with choices that matter every single session. What he meant was multiple choice. As in he'd give you 2 or 3 things you could do. One of them was usually fatal. A branching railroad is still a railroad IMO.

Amphetryon
2012-10-14, 09:03 AM
True fact. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. If you can pull off an all roads lead to Rome thing, where the players think they're making choices and never see the rails, good for you*. If the players follow the plot hook because they think they're on a railroad, even if you're willing to improvise, well, they might as well have been on a railroad. It's all about the experience they take away.

(*No I'm not trying to justify this kind of manipulation. Only talking about it in this context.)

I'd also like to add that railroads don't have to be linear. I played in a game where the GM advertised that we'd be faced with choices that matter every single session. What he meant was multiple choice. As in he'd give you 2 or 3 things you could do. One of them was usually fatal. A branching railroad is still a railroad IMO.
Given that opinion, how do you GM without a railroad?

Kelb_Panthera
2012-10-14, 09:13 AM
Given that opinion, how do you GM without a railroad?

The question wasn't directed at me, but I have an answer anyway.

You can run a game completely without rails by having a world that will continue to act with or without the pc's input. That's not to say their input has no effect, just that things will happen as they will happen unless the pc's do something. By creating a living world, that the pc's are a part of, they can interact with that world however they please.

See the link in my sig for a more detailed breakdown of what I mean.

Mark Hall
2012-10-14, 10:15 AM
The simplest difference, for me, is if the players have the ability to say No and to say Yes.

Not "There will be consequences if we say no, so we have to say yes." In that case, they're not forced to say yes, precisely... their characters are choosing to say yes to avoid the consequences. This CAN become railroading if the consequences are always so overwhelming that it takes an act of existential stubbornness to say no, but just because the world will end if you don't do something doesn't mean the DM is railroading you.

A railroad situation is one where you CAN'T make choices, or where whatever choices you do make are pointless. If you're trying to get across country and the GM suggests you take the train, but you want to take a boat... and you get darted and wind up groggy on the train. Or the boats are all broken so you have to take the train. Oops, plane crash. Airport shuts down. Looks like it's time to get on the train. They are completely out of rental cars. Yes, even Yugos. The one you just returned has already been rented out. Terrorists have seized the Hertz counter across the airport. No, you can't steal a car. None of you have the proper skills. Sure, you carjack this guy, but he's a retired Navy SEAL ninja, whose cybernetics never got deactivated. He beats you up and puts you on the damn train. No, you can't break a window on the train. You're about to jump out when you cross the Gorge of Incredibly Spiky Poisoned Rocks. It will last the rest of your journey. STAY ON THE DAMNED TRAIN.

valadil
2012-10-14, 11:06 AM
Given that opinion, how do you GM without a railroad?

I let the players go where they choose to go regardless of if I have a plan for it. I'll prep for plan A and plan B by when they suggest plan C, which never even occurred to me and completely subverts one of my plots, I improvise around plan C.

Raum
2012-10-14, 11:33 AM
The simplest difference, for me, is if the players have the ability to say No and to say Yes.

Not "There will be consequences if we say no, so we have to say yes."
While I think I understand your point, I have to object to any implication consequences are something to be avoided. Lack of consequences makes choice just as meaningless as extremely binary consequences. For meaningful choice to exist it has to effect the narrative.

-----

As for the larger question on railroading and plot hooks, I start by looking at the spectrum as a whole. You can completely script a game to the point it's not significantly different from a Broadway play, that's one extreme of the spectrum. The other extreme is pure a free-form game where literally anything goes. Games generally fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two...I'd argue they have to be somewhere in between to qualify as a 'game' but that's another discussion.

A 'plot hook' by definition is an attempt to guide a choice. It falls towards the scripted side of the equation. However, it is just one choice - not the entire game. Even in less scripted games a plot hook may be used to set a common beginning or bring the characters together. After all, we have to start the game somewhere.

Long story short, there's a wide spectrum between strictly scripted and completely free-form games and most games will move back and forth along the spectrum during play. The trick for GMs is finding those areas of the spectrum where all players find the game rewarding.

Mark Hall
2012-10-14, 11:56 AM
While I think I understand your point, I have to object to any implication consequences are something to be avoided. Lack of consequences makes choice just as meaningless as extremely binary consequences. For meaningful choice to exist it has to effect the narrative.


Not my intention. Please note that I was not referring to the consequent of actions, but the more colloquial definition of consequences... i.e. effects of an action that you don't want to happen, and argue against you performing it.

scurv
2012-10-14, 01:03 PM
I'm playing devils advocate a moment here, But as many of us both are players and DM's, I'm not entirely sure how allot of other players would feel, But If I find that my DM has gone though the effort to draw something up, Than I would at least consider taking the bait.

Much of this comes down to the my right to be a jerk vs your right for peace and quite debate It is a subjective line that everyone will see in a different location, And each person will have a different bias as to what it is that defines the line.

Now looking back at the OP, We have students who did not wish to do an assignment, So I am going to bring out my meager conflict resolution skills and consider this.


Is there a communication break down?
Is there a personal player vs dm conflict?
Are the players tired of some repetitiveness?
If so have they voiced that to the DM?
Is everyone being honest about their intentions?
Did the players get them self into something they regret?
Has people forgotten that in group games, That occasionally one has to chew the bitter, just because its your turn and that's part of life?
And seriously, Accusing a DM of railroading when an assignment is given in a school? I mean...that sorta is what happens in schools, My nieces do homework assignments most nights with only marginal complaints. And what has been stated sounds somewhat like how they complain when they do complain. It is generally some vague statement stating that it is unfair, or not what they wish to do.

SowZ
2012-10-14, 02:28 PM
How much or little I railroad is dependent upon one thing: How well do I know my game world? If I know it like the back of my hand, I could go for ten hours of pure sandbox with crazy/powerful PCs. If I only know the major points and a handful of details, the story will be more linear. Still, I will encourage players to solve the problems I throw at them any way they can think of AND they can talk to me between sessions about what kind of sessions they would like to see.

Ex: I think a heist session would be super cool.

Morithias
2012-10-14, 03:20 PM
And seriously, Accusing a DM of railroading when an assignment is given in a school? I mean...that sorta is what happens in schools, My nieces do homework assignments most nights with only marginal complaints. And what has been stated sounds somewhat like how they complain when they do complain. It is generally some vague statement stating that it is unfair, or not what they wish to do.
[/LIST]

I would like everyone to please note that this campaign hasn't even started yet. This thread was made as a response to something that another person on this forum said, and it's my attempts to give my girlfriend the best campaign I can.

She hasn't complained about anything yet. Just making sure we're clear on this. Also I sort of misspoke and misused the term "Railroading" showing I didn't understand the term in the other thread.

I said "At least it'll be easy to keep the campaign on track, I can railroad her pretty much whenever I need to." Or something of that nature.

What I meant was, that if she was short on healing potions or needed to upgrade her equipment, I could give an assignment from the teacher to help her. This hopefully will shape how she thinks and plays the game. Stock up on supplies, keep ready at all time, and think ahead, etc.

I REALLY could've worded that better, but judging from the thread 90% of the people on this forum THE gaming forum, can't agree on what it is anyways.

ReaderAt2046
2012-10-14, 04:27 PM
Another thing worth noting is that there may be a certain degree of railroading inherent in the way a setting would unfold. For example, I've been working on a magic dungeon specifically designed(in-game) to keep the McGuffin Of Ultimate Power inaccesible until it is needed to save the world. Now, in order to make the heroes follow the proper path through the dungeon, I set up an "interference pattern" which is basically a magic forcefield that turns you to chunky salsa if you teleport inside the dungeon. Thing is, the "interference pattern" was a perfectly rational thing for the wizards to do. They need the heroes to have to confront the traps in order for the traps to work as hero filters. So, this would be an example of Justified Railroading (Railroading that is a necessity of the setting/premise).

Amphetryon
2012-10-14, 05:04 PM
I let the players go where they choose to go regardless of if I have a plan for it. I'll prep for plan A and plan B by when they suggest plan C, which never even occurred to me and completely subverts one of my plots, I improvise around plan C.

Could you give an example? From what I understood of your original response, "plan C" sounds like it's another iteration of a railroad.

scurv
2012-10-14, 05:16 PM
Ahh Sorry Morithias, This topic has always been a sore point for me, So I may of over reacted my self.

Although railroading/plot hooks will always be a bit of a debate. I think. DM's will always be invested in actually running what they spent time on, And occasionally players just get a wild hair in you know were and want to do their own thing.
Although I find that if you tell players to tell you what they plan to do with their chars in future sessions. It can cut down the tangents...although I do enjoy running with them when they do happen and the chemistry is good. I just give the players a warning that we are now entering improve land (although I think I spend most of my time their anyway actualy)

valadil
2012-10-14, 08:05 PM
Could you give an example? From what I understood of your original response, "plan C" sounds like it's another iteration of a railroad.

Sorry, I shouldn't have used the same term "plan" to refer to things I've planned and what the PCs have planned.

Let's say that I've given the players the task of stealing the king's crown. To prep for this I plan for the two most obvious strategies. I draw up all the fights in case the players try a frontal assault. And I map the castle and list it's magical defenses in case of a stealth defense. I even write up a couple disgruntled guards in case the decide to take the diplomatic route.

Instead they decide to ask a favor of the dragon they befriended two adventures ago, asking that he do a flyby to burn up half the guards before they even attack. That's plan C. It's something the players came up with and it woks so well that my challenge isn't really a challenge anymore. It wouldn't be too contrived to say the dragon is unavailable or unwilling, but that kind of evasion ends up as a railroad since the only options left are the ones you've defined for the players.


I'm playing devils advocate a moment here, But as many of us both are players and DM's, I'm not entirely sure how allot of other players would feel, But If I find that my DM has gone though the effort to draw something up, Than I would at least consider taking the bait.


See my example above. Taking on the mission the GM offered and prepared for is part of being a good participant at the table. One of The Giant's articles points out that a good role player isn't the one who refuses a mission his character doesn't like but finds an in character justification to get involved in the plot anyway.

However once the mission is underway you should be able to play it however you like. If you have the ability to sneak past a fight, you're not obliged to ignore that option just to play out the fight.

In my opinion the best thing about table top gaming is the unlimited player agency. If you have to play out every fight, just because the fight exists, or can only utter one of five phrases in response to a dialog, you might as well be playing a video game.

Trog
2012-10-14, 09:17 PM
Apparently according to one of the members on the forum, if you run a campaign in a school and the teachers gives the PC's an assignment it's railroading. Or at least the BAD kind of railroading.

But that comes to annoy me for many reasons namely the thread title.

Where do you draw the line between rail roading and plot hooks? What exactly is the difference?

I mean they say rail roading is bad period, but what happens when you go off the rails and the DM goes "okay we'll stop 5 hours early tonight because you want to be delinquents I'm not good at improv and I have to write a plot for what you want to do"

I mean a DM clearly can't prepare for EVERY occasion.

So what's the line between "plot hook" and "rail road"?
A plot hook is a possible path the players can take, at their option, usually. The more plot hooks dangled in front of the PCs the more choices they have. However, different hooks often carry different weights. In other words some hooks are often made more important than others by the DM. To that end some DMs make some plot hooks very obvious (An old sage approaches the PCs and hires them to retrieve something for him) and some are kept a bit more indirect (As you are in hot pursuit of finding the Golden MacGuffin, you overhear that another body has been found in the river, it's head removed and heart cut out, just like a body found only last week). And some things are things that the players mistake for plot hooks when, to the DM, they were only meant as local color.

Railroading is when the DM forces the players to choose a certain, single, path. It's called railroading, after all, because there is only one set of tracks and you can't steer. Once a group of PCs has chosen to follow up on a plot hook, however, the progression on following up on that lead can sometimes have more limited or more direct choices. Often players do not notice that there are fewer choices available for them while in hot pursuit of some goal so most of the time this works out more or less okay. The players may still choose to veer of the path of that goal, of course, and head in the direction of some other hook. If a DM prevented them from veering when they chose that too would be a form of railroading.

Now...

Sometimes what is referred to as "railroading" by players is when they end up trying to follow up on a bit of local color in hopes that it is, instead, an interesting adventure, and the DM has nothing ready for this eventuality. In my opinion this isn't so much railroading as it is a lack of DM preparedness or mindfulness of words - building up something that wasn't meant to be until the players bit the hook. But it takes two to communicate so a player who enjoys trying to deliberately take the path less travelled might try to push the boundaries some even when the DM is careful.

As to the teacher and assignment comparison, I mostly avoid having any "teacher" "in charge" of the PCs. In my experience there's always at least one player who can't seem to help railing against authority. Fantasy is, after all, about a bit of escapism from real life. People can't often stand up to authority figures in real life so they act out through their characters. Or they act out as a player against the DM.

In DMing a player like this I would say it is good to have a pre-made side plot that can act as a follow up for any oddball hook followed up on. This way it gives you as a DM something to run without getting too flustered that the PCs have wandered off the beaten path and it gives the gaming group something to play through. Make the generic side quest short, simple, and less interesting or compelling than the main quest(s). You can also, perhaps, make something at the end of that side path point back to the main quest to help herd the players back into the main highways and byways of the primary plot.

Another option is to make the "teacher" an old PC of one of the players at the table. Being instructed to do something by their now retired adventurer (turned NPC in this instance) often gets a bit of player respect because to rail against this old character of theirs is to rail against themselves, after a fashion, and I find it helps ease the whole rebelliousness streak some. At least with my players.

Er... anyway, that's all I can think of on the subject, offhand. >.>

Amphetryon
2012-10-14, 09:18 PM
Sorry, I shouldn't have used the same term "plan" to refer to things I've planned and what the PCs have planned.

Let's say that I've given the players the task of stealing the king's crown. To prep for this I plan for the two most obvious strategies. I draw up all the fights in case the players try a frontal assault. And I map the castle and list it's magical defenses in case of a stealth defense. I even write up a couple disgruntled guards in case the decide to take the diplomatic route.

Instead they decide to ask a favor of the dragon they befriended two adventures ago, asking that he do a flyby to burn up half the guards before they even attack. That's plan C. It's something the players came up with and it woks so well that my challenge isn't really a challenge anymore. It wouldn't be too contrived to say the dragon is unavailable or unwilling, but that kind of evasion ends up as a railroad since the only options left are the ones you've defined for the players.

If they ask the favor of the dragon in order to complete the task you've given them, that's still a railroad, isn't it? They haven't chosen their mission, they haven't deviated from the task you've given them (such task-giving, to my understanding, is indicative of railroading, btw), they've simply gone about that task unusually.

Kelb_Panthera
2012-10-14, 10:21 PM
By that definition there's no such thing as a game without railroading, Amph.

Even if the players are totally self-motivated and go looking for stuff to do, the DM still has to put stuff in front of them. Suppose that in the example above, the party wasn't asked by anyone to steal the crown. They just decided to do it on their own to show what badasses they are. Is it still railroading then? In anycase, the DM had to have made the king and his kingdom and probably had to say something about either unusually tight security or a particularly unique crown, to pique the party's intrest.

Amphetryon
2012-10-14, 10:59 PM
By that definition there's no such thing as a game without railroading, Amph.
I believe that squares pretty well with my assertion in post #49 that, for all intents and purposes, as soon as Players believe they're being railroaded, they are. Players fighting against or 'resigning themselves to' the plot - regardless of the way that plot came about - are reacting to the perception of being railroaded.


Even if the players are totally self-motivated and go looking for stuff to do, the DM still has to put stuff in front of them. Suppose that in the example above, the party wasn't asked by anyone to steal the crown. They just decided to do it on their own to show what badasses they are. Is it still railroading then? In anycase, the DM had to have made the king and his kingdom and probably had to say something about either unusually tight security or a particularly unique crown, to pique the party's interest.And I have been at tables on both sides of the screen where (different) players did indeed call that railroading, and react accordingly.

Kelb_Panthera
2012-10-14, 11:08 PM
I believe that squares pretty well with my assertion in post #49 that, for all intents and purposes, as soon as Players believe they're being railroaded, they are. Players fighting against or 'resigning themselves to' the plot - regardless of the way that plot came about - are reacting to the perception of being railroaded.

And I have been at tables on both sides of the screen where (different) players did indeed call that railroading, and react accordingly.

Since there's no definitive meaning for the term, I suppose that's one way to look at the issue.

I wouldn't call it railroading, but like you, I, and at least two others have said, railroading is a subjective term.



.......... This post seems incredibly redundant now that I've typed it out. Oh well. :smalltongue:

SgtCarnage92
2012-10-14, 11:29 PM
The biggest thing is to keep lines of communication open. Know what your players like and talk to them about what they want their characters to do in the future. Also communicate with your players how you intend to react to them, make sure they are aware the level at which their actions can and will have consequences in the game world and how "realistic" those reactions will be.

There will always be some form of "railroading" when GMing and that's okay, it gives the adventure/campaign direction and purpose and lets there actually be room for large complex plots instead of just a number of non-affiliated adventures (which is a perfectly legitimate way to play if your players are that sort). The players are much more likely to accept a "railroad" that they helped construct it themselves.

I've always been a fan of natural consequences for actions and try to run players who are of a like mind. Some players don't want consequences and are just looking for a power trip and these players can undermine a game that isn't set up to support them. (again, this is a perfectly legitimate way to play the game but it has to be set up this way from the beginning).

gkathellar
2012-10-14, 11:30 PM
The line is wherever your players say it is.

Conventional wisdom holds that railroading is necessarily wrong, but it ultimately comes down to how your players react to different styles of direction. I've met groups who don't give a damn about being railroaded, or who even expect it. On the other hand, I've met groups who, without exception, rebel against any attempt to direct them at all. Different groups require different handling, and it's ultimately up to a DM to figure out the extent to which he can and should direct things with a given group of players.

valadil
2012-10-15, 06:00 AM
If they ask the favor of the dragon in order to complete the task you've given them, that's still a railroad, isn't it? They haven't chosen their mission, they haven't deviated from the task you've given them (such task-giving, to my understanding, is indicative of railroading, btw), they've simply gone about that task unusually.

Then let's change the example. They made the goal for themselves. You wrote up the assault, stealth, and diplomacy options. They made up a new option. To railroad is to bludgeon them into playing one of the options you've already decided is a valid path.

The key feature of a railroad is denial of choice. If you offer the PCs a quest they're not being railroaded yet. It's what you do when they decline that counts.

Grundy
2012-10-15, 06:58 AM
The opposite of the railroad is the sand box, where there are shiny things scattered all round, but the DM provides no other direction.
It's important to note that the DM still builds the sandbox, however, so in that respect the DM ALWAYS puts limits on what the players can do. It is not railroading, however.
IME, most campaigns fall in between, where the DM lays out 2-3 paths for the players to go down, and throws out a few shiny distractions along the way.
This is also not railroading, since the players can choose their path.
As others have said, if the players have agency, they aren't being railroaded. If all paths lead to the plot line, they ARE being railroaded.

ReaderAt2046
2012-10-15, 11:47 AM
Sometimes what is referred to as "railroading" by players is when they end up trying to follow up on a bit of local color in hopes that it is, instead, an interesting adventure, and the DM has nothing ready for this eventuality. In my opinion this isn't so much railroading as it is a lack of DM preparedness or mindfulness of words - building up something that wasn't meant to be until the players bit the hook. >.>

Depending on the specific players vs. DM, this can also be from the players blowing up a random factoid way out of proportion, and be more the player's fault than the GM's. Also, there might be the case of the players not understanding the world and thinking they're being railroaded when they try to do something that is totally impossible (or else leads to getting in serious trouble) within the world.

For example, in a dragonslayer campaign idea I'm working on, the players would have to either sneak across the countryside or pretend not to be trying to kill the dragon.

This is simply because the entire premise for this setting is that nearly everyone in that particular area is loyal to the dragon, either because he is their emporer or he is their god or he has made life better for them or some combination thereof.

Therefore, if the players reveal why they are there, they will be hunted down by angry mobs with torches and pitchforks.

Delwugor
2012-10-15, 01:13 PM
Depending on the specific players vs. DM, this can also be from the players blowing up a random factoid way out of proportion, and be more the player's fault than the GM's.
Agreed! I'm in a new Classic Traveller game with the GM running the Traveller Adventure, which starts with a railroad must steal the brooch to start. I could call railroad right away and cause an issue or I could play along and see what good gaming comes from a quick hop on the rails.
Part of a player's responsibility is to help the entire game progress in a manner that is enjoyable to everyone.


For example, in a dragonslayer campaign idea I'm working on, the players would have to either sneak across the countryside or pretend not to be trying to kill the dragon.

This is simply because the entire premise for this setting is that nearly everyone in that particular area is loyal to the dragon, either because he is their emporer or he is their god or he has made life better for them or some combination thereof.

Therefore, if the players reveal why they are there, they will be hunted down by angry mobs with torches and pitchforks.
The situation could come across as railroading, since you have already mapped out the approach and consequences if that approach is not followed. There is too little flexibility in what the players may do.

For example I don't want to fight this dragon on his grounds because he has too much of an advantage. Instead I take over one of his temples (he is worshiped), secure it from mobs, setup the temple to so that my group has the advantage and then issue a challenge to his deityship. Hopefully he would have to meet us at a location of our choosing so that he does not loose prestige and worshipers.
Yes, this is a very risky chance to take and may very well fail and lead to death. It may have only 1 in 100 chance of succeeding, but I wont know until it's tried.
As you wrote above it has 0 chance in succeeding because it breaks the GMs premise.

genderlich
2012-10-15, 07:48 PM
Okay, here's a semi-related question. I'm six sessions in to my first extended campaign as a DM. It's going pretty well, but after thinking about it for a while, I've realized that every single thing the players have done has been what I expected. I look at my outline of the expected plot and I look at the campaign journal, and they're literally almost the exact same.

Now, I don't think I'm railroading; it's a more straightforward campaign than usual, but I didn't want to make it too crazy as a first-time DM. But my group's campaigns are usually totally insane, going off the rails constantly. I remember one that started as a quest by some perfectly ordinary first-level adventurers to kill a dragon, and through the efforts of us players turned into a multi-plane-spanning game about a talking dragon, an anthropomorphic fox, and a magic-using gunslinger pirate trying to save the world from two different sets of evil outsiders and a doppelganger warlord. But in this campaign, the players have taken all the exact actions I identified as most likely and least upsetting to the plot and the world.

Am I doing something wrong? Maybe my plot is too straightforward and the steps to be taken are too obvious? I'm perfectly ready for them to go out of the box; I was almost sure that one of them was going to end up joining a group of terrorists instead of fighting them, but he didn't. If he had I would have rewritten some things and moved on, not railroaded him. But if it's my DMing or writing at fault I want to change things.

valadil
2012-10-15, 07:56 PM
Am I doing something wrong? Maybe my plot is too straightforward and the steps to be taken are too obvious?

Ask your players. They'll know better than we will. Maybe they're just being polite. Maybe you've done such a good job getting them interested in your plot, that they have no reason to stray.

Raum
2012-10-15, 08:01 PM
Am I doing something wrong? Maybe my plot is too straightforward and the steps to be taken are too obvious?
Don't think of it as binary question of is it a RR or not. View it in terms of how much of the game you script ahead of time.

You could script a plot hook and let the subsequent game grow organically. Or you could also script the end you want to reach...or even add a few events you'll make happen...or possibly go so far as limiting every choice. At the extreme you put words in characters' mouths by expecting key words or phrases in dealing with each situation.

It's a fairly wide spectrum. The trick is figuring out where you and the players both have fun - it could be anywhere along the spectrum. Good communications help.

Edit: All that said, I often run two plots at the same time. Makes it easier to create new plans when something the players do makes major changes to one plotline. ;)

nedz
2012-10-15, 08:26 PM
Okay, here's a semi-related question. I'm six sessions in to my first extended campaign as a DM. It's going pretty well, but after thinking about it for a while, I've realized that every single thing the players have done has been what I expected. I look at my outline of the expected plot and I look at the campaign journal, and they're literally almost the exact same.

Now, I don't think I'm railroading; it's a more straightforward campaign than usual, but I didn't want to make it too crazy as a first-time DM. But my group's campaigns are usually totally insane, going off the rails constantly. I remember one that started as a quest by some perfectly ordinary first-level adventurers to kill a dragon, and through the efforts of us players turned into a multi-plane-spanning game about a talking dragon, an anthropomorphic fox, and a magic-using gunslinger pirate trying to save the world from two different sets of evil outsiders and a doppelganger warlord. But in this campaign, the players have taken all the exact actions I identified as most likely and least upsetting to the plot and the world.

Am I doing something wrong? Maybe my plot is too straightforward and the steps to be taken are too obvious? I'm perfectly ready for them to go out of the box; I was almost sure that one of them was going to end up joining a group of terrorists instead of fighting them, but he didn't. If he had I would have rewritten some things and moved on, not railroaded him. But if it's my DMing or writing at fault I want to change things.

How well, and how long have you known these guys ?
It could just be that they are kind of predictable, because you know them so well.

One solution to this is to take them out of their comfort zone a little, but this can be a little risky.

Or create a moral dilemma type of encounter ?

Traab
2012-10-15, 08:48 PM
I think, if I wanted to avoid railroading my players, I would try to setup several adventure paths they could take. As an example, they hear about evil wizard morglethunk in his dark castle needs a good killing, so I have that dungeon prepped and ready to go. If they decide they want to wander the wilderness, I have a couple options ready, things like, wild animals acting oddly close to sentient, and a path that leads to some ruins where a magical whatsit is influencing the animals for whatever reason. A third choice would be a bandit option. They get attacked while wandering and after they beat the bandits, they find evidence of a rather large force of united bands operating together so they dont have to worry about the law. Maybe toss in a few other semi random adventures.

The thing is, its a lot of work up front, but the good news is, I can always shelve the routes not taken and reuse them in later sessions. At most I might have to level up the mobs and such to compensate for their current level. This way I have a fairly open sandbox for them to work with, and while they are busy clearing whatever adventure they happened to pick, I can be working on another new one so there are always several routes to cover whatever they might choose to do. I can use the crazy animal storyline any time they head into forests, or the bandit theme any time they are passing through mountains or a trade route. It doesnt have to be in a specific spot, so I can adapt it so that no matter where they go, SOME adventure will jump out at them. There is always going to be a catacomb, or a haunted castle, or an evil warlord, or a group of bandits, or something out there for them to fight. Hell, have them go out to sea and be pulled into an underwater adventure when marauding merpeople or whatever attack their ship and steal some of their stuff.

You dont even have to go too deep into detail on these potential paths. Just create a solid starting point for the dozen or so choices, then when they decide to pick one, you can flesh it out from there. That could save a ton of time and let you create the first steps to even more random setups, allowing you to find something for them to do no matter what random direction they go off in.

Doxkid
2012-10-15, 11:30 PM
Plot hook: "You should probably do X soonish." *Is given options.

Railroading: "But you must!" *Repeats this and the options if they don't pick X.

Dr.Epic
2012-10-15, 11:32 PM
Where do you draw the line between rail roading and plot hooks? What exactly is the difference?

To me, one you can say no to and walk away from while the other is force upon you without avoiding.

Leon
2012-10-16, 04:55 AM
Those bears in the woods are becoming a problem, someone should do something

Vs

Your going to be sorting out those bears in the woods

RFLS
2012-10-16, 09:30 AM
How the best GMs do it. (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=116836) I seriously wonder if this guy has seen how revered he is as a GM.

Anyway. I linked that for a reason. That guy had things happening in his world, and he had a certain way they would go if the players didn't intervene. He also threw them in a sticky situation without many options from the get-go. That's not bad GMing, though, because after doing all of this to his players, he sat back and reacted to what they did, instead of just reading from his script. He's not telling them the story, he's just narrating theirs, if that makes sense. Anyway. My two cents. Some people would call this guy a bad GM, but honestly....they're wrong.

gkathellar
2012-10-16, 12:14 PM
Those bears in the woods are becoming a problem, someone should do something

Vs

Your going to be sorting out those bears in the woods

This man wins the thread. I think we can all safely just go home now.

Gamer Girl
2012-10-16, 12:35 PM
To me, one you can say no to and walk away from while the other is force upon you without avoiding.

I can't help but think that Railroading is simply if the players know they are ''riding a train with no choices''.

Example : DM sits down and makes a 'Pirate Cave' with a ship, crew, guards and such.


Type 1:The Railroad: The DM here has made a whole adventure around the 'Pirate Cave' with a whole plot and storyline and such. So when the players sit down at 6pm, they will be told ''Tonight you will explore the dangers of the Pirate's Cave!''. And when the character's meet at the tavern an NPC will come over and hire them to save his kidnapped daughter from the Pirate's Cave. And as the 'Pirate Cave Adventure' is the only one the DM has ready to play, the players have to take the job and play that adventure.

Type 2:Clueless Players: The game is a pure sandbox, with the players just doing whatever they feel like. So at 6pm the game starts off in the dark woods where they are looking for an artifact they all want. And low and behold, they find a clue to the artifacts location, and guess what....it's in the Pirate's Cave.


In both cases, no matter what, by 8pm the characters will end up at the Pirate Cave and encounter the 'Flotsam Golem' at the entrance. And the only difference is that the players of Type 1 know they have no choice. While the Type 2 players think how great the sandbox game it and how they can do anything.

RFLS
2012-10-16, 12:55 PM
I can't help but think that railroading simply occurs when the players know they are ''riding a train with no choices''.

Example : DM sits down and makes a 'Pirate Cave' with a ship, crew, guards, and such.


Type 1:The Railroad: The DM here has made a whole adventure around the 'Pirate Cave' with a plot and storyline. So when the players sit down at 6pm, they will be told ''Tonight you will explore the dangers of the Pirate's Cave!''. And when the characters meet at the tavern an NPC will come over and hire them to save his kidnapped daughter from the Pirate's Cave. Because the 'Pirate Cave Adventure' is the only one the DM has ready to play, the players have to take the job and play that adventure.

Type 2:Clueless Players: The game is a pure sandbox, with the players just doing whatever they feel like. So at 6pm the game starts off in the dark woods where they are looking for an artifact they all want. And lo and behold, they find a clue to the artifact's location, and guess what....it's in the Pirate's Cave.


In both cases, no matter what, by 8 pm the characters will end up at the Pirate Cave and encounter the 'Flotsam Golem' at the entrance. The only difference is that the players of Type 1 know they have no choice, while the Type 2 players think about how great the sandbox game is and how they can do anything they want.

This is uhm....well :smalleek: "interesting." And a good example of how to be a bad DM. Those both look exactly like railroading to me; the players' actions literally do not matter beyond whether or not they die. Either of those two GMs sound like they're going to force the players through the Pirate's Cave.

A DM who knows his way around...well, DMing will do something more like this. (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=13854513&postcount=5) He's not changing the world to force the players to do something, he's providing a world for them to react to and then, when they do something, reacting in a logical manner. He is NOT suddenly planting maps to exactly the place he wants the party to go. That's a dictator, not a GM.

Frozen_Feet
2012-10-16, 02:15 PM
Both of those are railroading - in example 2, the GM is just seeing some trouble to hide this fact from the players. It's not necessarily bad GMing, but it is essentially a parlor trick. The GM is fooling his players into thinking the game is something it is not.

Inglenook
2012-10-16, 02:22 PM
I think if the OP should gather anything from this thread, it's that there is no clear, unarguable demarcation between plot hooks and railroading (evidenced by all the arguing). And that no matter what you do, there's always the risk of a player being displeased. :smallsigh:

Gamer Girl
2012-10-16, 08:09 PM
This is uhm....well :smalleek: "interesting." And a good example of how to be a bad DM. Those both look exactly like railroading to me; the players' actions literally do not matter beyond whether or not they die. Either of those two GMs sound like they're going to force the players through the Pirate's Cave.

That's a dictator, not a GM.

The problem is most games need to be planned out. Even if the DM does not need to do a huge block of rules and stats (like for D&D), the DM still needs to have plot or a storyline. And if the DM has a plan, the players must follow it. Say the Dm has the Pirate Cave all ready, but suddenly the players are like ''oh we are going to go attack Castle Blackstone''. Well the DM has nothing ready for that. So the DM can make an attempt to 'wing it' with things like ''oh, um, you see two, um, ogre guards at the front gate'' or can just ''tap out'' with the ''hey guys I'm not ready for that action, lets do that next week''. Very few DM's could make an entire interesting castle invasion adventure in less then a couple minutes. And that is not even counting looking up what items, spells, and such do.

Even just role play stuff needs a bit of planning. Say the characters encounter a family of dwarven merchants. It's a big help for the DM to make up the whole family before the game and not just stumble through with ''oh, wait Dorn has three sons and this brother was Korn'' and such.

So like I said, Railroading is if the players know, and a plot hook is if the players are clueless.

Raum
2012-10-16, 08:33 PM
The problem is most games need to be planned out. Even if the DM does not need to do a huge block of rules and stats (like for D&D), the DM still needs to have plot or a storyline. This is often more a matter of planning the right things than a matter of needing everything planned.

Sure, you can work out a static dungeon / pirate cave and have the PCs walk through it. Kinda boring to me but it is a common approach. It's not one I really understand though - why are the pirates in the next room over just standing there instead of helping their friends?

For a different approach, plan goals instead of events. If the pirate king has the goal of controlling merchant traffic through the Sargasso and a side goal of setting himself up as a tyrant over the surrounding areas you can easily work with anything the PCs do. Even if they walk away...they'll come back to a Pirate Tyranny with prices doubled due to the 'taxes'. Or they could try and take out the pirates one ship at a time...or attack his headquarters cave...or build an opposing navy...doesn't matter. As long as you know the pirates' goals and resources you can react easily.


And if the DM has a plan, the players must follow it. Alternatively, the players can lead and the GM follow...better yet (IMO), players and GM can pass the lead back and forth organically!

ReaderAt2046
2012-10-16, 09:21 PM
The situation could come across as railroading, since you have already mapped out the approach and consequences if that approach is not followed. There is too little flexibility in what the players may do.

For example I don't want to fight this dragon on his grounds because he has too much of an advantage. Instead I take over one of his temples (he is worshiped), secure it from mobs, setup the temple to so that my group has the advantage and then issue a challenge to his deityship. Hopefully he would have to meet us at a location of our choosing so that he does not loose prestige and worshipers.
Yes, this is a very risky chance to take and may very well fail and lead to death. It may have only 1 in 100 chance of succeeding, but I wont know until it's tried.
As you wrote above it has 0 chance in succeeding because it breaks the GMs premise.

Actually, the plan you wrote above might work, mostly because you wrote in the line "secure it from mobs," implying that you've taken steps to deal with the dragon-worshippers who would be trying to pitchfork you for desecrating a holy site. I simply said that the players would have to sneak across the countryside because I suspected the players wouldn't have the strength to fight the masses of people who would oppose them upon learning their true mission. If they have a plan that takes that into account, such as yours, they are welcome to try that.

RFLS
2012-10-16, 09:43 PM
The problem is most games need to be planned out. Even if the DM does not need to do a huge block of rules and stats (like for D&D), the DM still needs to have plot or a storyline. And if the DM has a plan, the players must follow it. Say the Dm has the Pirate Cave all ready, but suddenly the players are like ''oh we are going to go attack Castle Blackstone''. Well the DM has nothing ready for that. So the DM can make an attempt to 'wing it' with things like ''oh, um, you see two, um, ogre guards at the front gate'' or can just ''tap out'' with the ''hey guys I'm not ready for that action, lets do that next week''. Very few DM's could make an entire interesting castle invasion adventure in less then a couple minutes. And that is not even counting looking up what items, spells, and such do.

Even just role play stuff needs a bit of planning. Say the characters encounter a family of dwarven merchants. It's a big help for the DM to make up the whole family before the game and not just stumble through with ''oh, wait Dorn has three sons and this brother was Korn'' and such.

So like I said, Railroading is if the players know, and a plot hook is if the players are clueless.

I don't have much to add to what Raum said, except that perhaps you really ought to read the link in Kelb Panthera's signature. I find that if I do that and I have a notecard on hand for any characters, I can generally improvise the rest. It's not especially hard if you put the initial work into it; there's absolutely no reason you have to force your players to do anything. Even with published campaigns, a competent GM should know the world well enough to improvise when a player or players do something wildly outside the expected. In fact, I'd say that having a curve ball thrown at you is really one of the best parts of DMing.

So, uh....yeah. You should read the Red Hand of Doom guidebook, (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=171284) specifically the comments. The thread contains excellent suggestions on how to deal with the campaign going way out of the expected path. You should also read the SilverClawShift campaign archives, (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=116836) which show a DM setting up a world and events around the players, and then just watching things unfold and reacting to them. And, finally, you should read this wonderful post about creating a campaign world, by Kelb Panthera (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=13854513&postcount=5) (I've already linked to it further up the thread). It's a distilled version of what the DM from the SilverClawShift campaigns did. Basically, what I'm saying is that there's no excuse to be lazy and half-ass it as a GM.

Gamer Girl
2012-10-16, 09:56 PM
For a different approach, plan goals instead of events. . As long as you know the pirates' goals and resources you can react easily.

Alternatively, the players can lead and the GM follow...better yet (IMO), players and GM can pass the lead back and forth organically!

Note that you still need to plan, and even if your ''the amazing DM'' that will still take a couple minutes.

And a big job for the DM is to make sure the players have fun. If you know that player #2 likes 'thing X', then you need to make sure that 'thing X' happens. And you can't just have it fall out of the sky, you need to lead up to it. And by leading them up to it, you need to get them on a single track...the railroad.

I don't see how the players can lead, except from the backseat....where they just state in vague terms what they want. And I'm not sure how you'd pass it back and forth, when the players can't lead.

And this does not address the problem that most players don't know what they want out of the game, or worse can't say it in so many words. And a player can't lead unless they know where they are going or want to go. And finally the DM needs to step in and give the players what they really want, and not just what they say they think they want.

RFLS
2012-10-16, 10:16 PM
Note that you still need to plan, and even if your ''the amazing DM'' that will still take a couple minutes.
A couple minutes is fine.


And a big job for the DM is to make sure the players have fun.
Duh.

If you know that player #2 likes 'thing X', then you need to make sure that 'thing X' happens. And you can't just have it fall out of the sky, you need to lead up to it. And by leading them up to it, you need to get them on a single track...the railroad.
Or...you could just include it as an element of the setting and trust that the players will get there.


I don't see how the players can lead, except from the backseat....where they just state in vague terms what they want. And I'm not sure how you'd pass it back and forth, when the players can't lead.
You don't get to make a refutation and then immediately use your refutation as a fact. That's just trying to make yourself right by saying things really fast -.- In answer to your initial point, though, because I'm disregarding your irrelevant second statement, the players lead by going places and doing things with their characters. You know, the one thing the DM doesn't control.


And this does not address the problem that most players don't know what they want out of the game, or worse can't say it in so many words. And a player can't lead unless they know where they are going or want to go. And finally the DM needs to step in and give the players what they really want, and not just what they say they think they want.
You....really, really seem to think that all or most players are morons. I don't know about you, but most people I know are capable of articulating their wishes for a given game. I find your lack of faith disturbing.

Raum
2012-10-16, 10:19 PM
Note that you still need to plan, and even if your ''the amazing DM'' that will still take a couple minutes.I make no claims about being some "amazing" GM, I make my share of mistakes. The real trick is being objective enough to analyze and learn from them. As for planning, yes you need to plan - even if it's just spur of the moment plans made during a five minute break. As I said previously, it's what you plan that matters.

Plan encounters and you're limited to the scope of each planned encounter. Plan goals and changing an encounter becomes simple - little more than answering "What would NPC X do now to reach his / her goals?"


And a big job for the DM is to make sure the players have fun. If you know that player #2 likes 'thing X', then you need to make sure that 'thing X' happens. And you can't just have it fall out of the sky, you need to lead up to it. And by leading them up to it, you need to get them on a single track...the railroad. Fun is a group responsibility. Don't think I've ever seen someone 'force' fun on another successfully. As for falling out of the sky, if thing X is really something a player thinks appropriate for their character they should make it a goal...move towards it. Then it follows naturally, no sky hooks needed.


I don't see how the players can lead, except from the backseat....where they just state in vague terms what they want. And I'm not sure how you'd pass it back and forth, when the players can't lead.They can...some systems even make it explicit and add mechanics covering player agency. They're not really necessary though, just need to be willing to roll with the punches!


And this does not address the problem that most players don't know what they want out of the game, or worse can't say it in so many words. And a player can't lead unless they know where they are going or want to go. And finally the DM needs to step in and give the players what they really want, and not just what they say they think they want.This isn't my experience. It actually sounds a bit insulting.

Approximately half the people I've played with over the years both GM and play...the most clueless one I remember was the individual who only GMed.

Boci
2012-10-16, 10:29 PM
Note that you still need to plan, and even if your ''the amazing DM'' that will still take a couple minutes.

Not necessarily. Consider the following (true story, not hypothetical):

I show up with a planned encounter agreed last session: the PCs are going to hunt down a water demon. At the start of the session, they tell me they don't actually want to do that, and instead were heading east. After taking a moment to insult them, I had them set off. I didn't know what they were going to do, but I knew where they were headed, because I had a map of a the land and they had already been in the southern parts, and were avoiding the northern part, so that would take them through the centre past the city of Birnet. They stopped at a roadside tavern and interacted with each other and the people inside enough that I had enough time to think of something without halting the game to do so. I have never let them forget this, and the fact that they are bastards since, but I managed, and really I'm not that bothered by the whole thing.

Morithias
2012-10-16, 11:22 PM
Not necessarily. Consider the following (true story, not hypothetical):

I show up with a planned encounter agreed last session: the PCs are going to hunt down a water demon. At the start of the session, they tell me they don't actually want to do that, and instead were heading east. After taking a moment to insult them, I had them set off. I didn't know what they were going to do, but I knew where they were headed, because I had a map of a the land and they had already been in the southern parts, and were avoiding the northern part, so that would take them through the centre past the city of Birnet. They stopped at a roadside tavern and interacted with each other and the people inside enough that I had enough time to think of something without halting the game to do so. I have never let them forget this, and the fact that they are bastards since, but I managed, and really I'm not that bothered by the whole thing.

I love it personally when people ignore demons. They're chaotic evil incarnate. I'm sorry, but that town is going to drown. Have them return to that town later in the campaign, only to find a lake where the town was with bones washed up on shore. HUMANOID bones.

Congratulation! The deaths of hundreds of people is now on your concious. Have a ghost of a little girl or something haunt them too.

kardar233
2012-10-17, 04:06 AM
The problem is most games need to be planned out. Even if the DM does not need to do a huge block of rules and stats (like for D&D), the DM still needs to have plot or a storyline. And if the DM has a plan, the players must follow it. Say the Dm has the Pirate Cave all ready, but suddenly the players are like ''oh we are going to go attack Castle Blackstone''. Well the DM has nothing ready for that. So the DM can make an attempt to 'wing it' with things like ''oh, um, you see two, um, ogre guards at the front gate'' or can just ''tap out'' with the ''hey guys I'm not ready for that action, lets do that next week''. Very few DM's could make an entire interesting castle invasion adventure in less then a couple minutes. And that is not even counting looking up what items, spells, and such do.

Even just role play stuff needs a bit of planning. Say the characters encounter a family of dwarven merchants. It's a big help for the DM to make up the whole family before the game and not just stumble through with ''oh, wait Dorn has three sons and this brother was Korn'' and such.

So like I said, Railroading is if the players know, and a plot hook is if the players are clueless.

I asked my friend (who has GM'd several really good open-world games for me and another friend) what he does in situations like this.

He told me that he doesn't really have planned-out adventures for the players. What he has is a mental catalog of "cool things that should happen sometime". So when Aliza Tarran (my character in our recent Iron Kingdoms game) decided that she wanted the duchy of Demon Head Pass for herself, he got thinking. He remembered that he wanted to have this one character idea (a Khadoran spy that replaced an earl, went native and quietly killed anyone who recognized the original), and started thinking about that. He stalled for time with a particularly recalcitrant door guard, giving him enough time to come up with a good name for the family (the house of Mulgrum) and decided on a couple of things that might give the lord away (timings in his absences and the deaths of his wives, his sons' eccentricities, the strange elf in the basement) and then let me muddle my way through from there.

Eventually, I came up with an internally-consistent but wrong idea (that the son had been subverted to the Khadorans while he was away and assumed the identity of a Khadoran spy that decided to retire), reported back to my superior, then found out that the elder was the real spy and struck a deal with him to get him to legitimately pass the earldom to me.

You have to be pretty great at improv to do something like that, so I understand it won't work for everyone. It's such great fun though.

valadil
2012-10-17, 06:53 AM
Well the DM has nothing ready for that. So the DM can make an attempt to 'wing it' with things like ''oh, um, you see two, um, ogre guards at the front gate'' or can just ''tap out'' with the ''hey guys I'm not ready for that action, lets do that next week''.


Third option: stall.

How are the players getting to the castle? Don't answer that! Make the players do it. Give them a map (or make them work for it) and let them puzzle out how. Some player will spend a whole with this, others will look at te map and have a decision five seconds later. If they take a whole you have some time for brainstorming.

For the most part they'll have three options. Make their own way, hire someone, and use magic. The first two lend themselves to wilderness encounters. To be honest you can probably get a full sessions worth of filler combat here, but that's kind of lazy. I'd also use terrain puzzles. A bridge that's put or a whirlpool in the river. That sort of thing.

Teleportation magic is a bit trickier. You might be able to get away with making them work to get coordinates or a teleportation rune or something but that always feels like a low level delay for a high powers character. Instead I'd let them try to teleport but have it fail. This is not due to fiat but because someone else is in the castle and is blocking teleportation. Maybe it's a new npc or maybe a recurring villain. Once the players get there it won't just be a leisurely dungeon crawl but a race to the McGuffin. (I like this idea enough that I'd apply it to the lower level options too. The players can't higher a boat because the captains have been paid to stay away from the castle.) Anyway with enough scrying the players will be able to figure out where the teleportation block ends so they can get pretty close.

At this point no matter which path they took they've reached the castle. If they spent much time arguing the session may be over. If not getting into the castle should be enough to finish things off. Even though theyve been stalled the players got where they wanted to go so it won't feel like a wasted session. And you get time to prep the castle for a proper dungeon crawl.

DigoDragon
2012-10-17, 07:14 AM
This is often more a matter of planning the right things than a matter of needing everything planned.

True. For example, in my current campaign, I have planned out an encounter where the PCs gain the ability to be transported by airship to one of 4 locations of a resistance movement. The locations are all small towns so all I need is are 4 generic town names and the relvant Population and GP Limit figures.
That's easy to do with a chart.

To make things easier, this resistance movement uses codemanes for their leaders. In this case, all the heads of each resistance hideout is called "Martha". So really, no matter which town the PCs choose to go and find the resistance, I only need one encounter with Martha for the PCs to find.

Fitz10019
2012-10-17, 09:20 AM
... I refuse the deal...

I don't get why a session would come to this point. Wouldn't the negotiations continue until both parties were satisfied?



... I'm six sessions in to my first extended campaign as a DM...
Railroading, if it's happening, is more likely to come out after the early stages of the campaign. The players have more ideas about what's (should be) available to them.

Boci
2012-10-17, 10:41 AM
I love it personally when people ignore demons. They're chaotic evil incarnate. I'm sorry, but that town is going to drown. Have them return to that town later in the campaign, only to find a lake where the town was with bones washed up on shore. HUMANOID bones.

Congratulation! The deaths of hundreds of people is now on your concious. Have a ghost of a little girl or something haunt them too.

That can work, but wouldn't have in the setting. The players saw the water demon on a bounty board so there was no obligation to complete the contract, and they were only level 4, so its not as if the fate of the city was up to them.

Slipperychicken
2012-10-18, 08:09 AM
I love it personally when people ignore demons. They're chaotic evil incarnate. I'm sorry, but that town is going to drown. Have them return to that town later in the campaign, only to find a lake where the town was with bones washed up on shore. HUMANOID bones.

Congratulation! The deaths of hundreds of people is now on your concious. Have a ghost of a little girl or something haunt them too.

Plus, have the PCs encounter the occasional refugee from the Demon attacks. That'll teach them what happens when they screw around.

Amphetryon
2012-10-18, 09:07 AM
How are the players getting to the castle? Don't answer that! Make the players do it. Give them a map (or make them work for it) and let them puzzle out how. Some player will spend a whole with this, others will look at te map and have a decision five seconds later. If they take a whole you have some time for brainstorming.

For the most part they'll have three options. Make their own way, hire someone, and use magic. The first two lend themselves to wilderness encounters. To be honest you can probably get a full sessions worth of filler combat here, but that's kind of lazy. I'd also use terrain puzzles. A bridge that's put or a whirlpool in the river. That sort of thing.

Teleportation magic is a bit trickier. You might be able to get away with making them work to get coordinates or a teleportation rune or something but that always feels like a low level delay for a high powers character. Instead I'd let them try to teleport but have it fail. This is not due to fiat but because someone else is in the castle and is blocking teleportation. Maybe it's a new npc or maybe a recurring villain. Once the players get there it won't just be a leisurely dungeon crawl but a race to the McGuffin. (I like this idea enough that I'd apply it to the lower level options too. The players can't higher a boat because the captains have been paid to stay away from the castle.) Anyway with enough scrying the players will be able to figure out where the teleportation block ends so they can get pretty close.

At this point no matter which path they took they've reached the castle. If they spent much time arguing the session may be over. If not getting into the castle should be enough to finish things off. Even though theyve been stalled the players got where they wanted to go so it won't feel like a wasted session. And you get time to prep the castle for a proper dungeon crawl.

Map: "Look at this helpful path the DM has laid out for you!" - players may (and have) react this way.

Teleportation Magic that doesn't work: The truth is, unless the Players themselves intentionally put someone/something into the castle or (knowingly!) into their own possession, it comes across as a form of DM fiat.

No matter which path they took they've reached the castle: All Roads Lead To Rome.

valadil
2012-10-18, 09:34 AM
Map: "Look at this helpful path the DM has laid out for you!" - players may (and have) react this way.

Teleportation Magic that doesn't work: The truth is, unless the Players themselves intentionally put someone/something into the castle or (knowingly!) into their own possession, it comes across as a form of DM fiat.

No matter which path they took they've reached the castle: All Roads Lead To Rome.

This is just getting silly. Are you saying that anything that happens in the game that wasn't caused by the players is railroading?

Amphetryon
2012-10-18, 09:55 AM
This is just getting silly. Are you saying that anything that happens in the game that wasn't caused by the players is railroading?

I'm saying that Players may very well react to anything that happens in the game that wasn't their direct, conscious choice as if it is railroading. I'm saying that has been my experience, not all the time or in every game, but from time to time, in different games. I'm saying that makes it very difficult to avoid the appearance of railroading, because the appearance is based almost 100% on Player perceptions, Player personalities, and Player buy-in to the story.

valadil
2012-10-18, 11:33 AM
I'm saying that Players may very well react to anything that happens in the game that wasn't their direct, conscious choice as if it is railroading.

I think any player who sees a map as an imposition on the expression of his character wouldn't have a good time in one of my games before we even discussed whether or not it was railroading. I'm of the opinion that the extreme sandbox, wherein the PCs are the only entities in the world with any kind of agency, is a game I'm just not interested in participating in.

Grundy
2012-10-18, 10:36 PM
Hmmm.... If railroading is when players have no agency, what's a good name for when the DM has no agency?
I'll agree that that game sounds like no fun. Talk about failure to suspend disbelief!

TuggyNE
2012-10-18, 10:58 PM
what's a good name for when the DM has no agency?

How does that happen? :smallconfused:

(The term for a player that's taking on too much power/agency is "godmodding".)

SgtCarnage92
2012-10-19, 06:14 PM
So i think that the general consensus here is that it doesn't matter what you do, there will always be someone who can call it out as "railroading." The GMs job is to direct the action of the game and to make sure everything goes smoothly so the greatest amount of fun can be had for all those involved. Don't worry about whether or not you're "railroading" as long as everyone is having a good time. Realize however, that a player not having fun can be the fault of that player, and not anything the GM is doing.

Some groups and games function better when they're set on the tracks, while others work better as a sandbox. It all depends on what all parties agree as best. Don't put players in a railroad game who expect a sandbox, and don't sandbox a game that would function better being a little more on the tracks. It's all a matter of play style and the nature of the campaign. I'd rather have a GM who's planning things to shock and surprise us to keep us on our toes than one who can't do anything for fear of "railroading."

Grundy
2012-10-20, 08:59 PM
How does that happen? :smallconfused:

(The term for a player that's taking on too much power/agency is "godmodding".)

I was referring to Valladil's comment about only the pcs having any agency. Which sounds like about as much fun as living in a wax museum. Cool for a day, just to see all that cool work someone else did, then YAWN.

Kadzar
2012-10-20, 09:25 PM
I was referring to Valladil's comment about only the pcs having any agency. Which sounds like about as much fun as living in a wax museum. Cool for a day, just to see all that cool work someone else did, then YAWN.
How would that even work? What would be the point of the DM in that case?

Grundy
2012-10-20, 09:35 PM
I've never run across it, but I suppose it would be a series of npcs that are essentially paper targets for the pcs to knock down. The dms main role would be to facilitate the players' agenda. His secondary role would be that of appreciative audience- "wow, great plan, guys!" :)

valadil
2012-10-20, 10:06 PM
How would that even work? What would be the point of the DM in that case?

I wasn't implying that that game would work. Amph kept pointing out ways that players could accuse me of railroading. My point was that unless the GM has no agency, that accusation can happen (even if I happen to think it's meaningless at that point).

For what it's worth, I think some amount of GMing could be done with random tables. I think it would make for a poor game, but at least there wouldn't be railroading. At that point I think the GM is more of a referee than anything else.

I wasn't planning on coming back to this thread until my name was called. But as long as I'm here, yes I agree that the definition is a little fuzzy and I don't expect there to be a single definition. But I also think that there's a point where the term railroad becomes meaningless. By the time you're accusing the GM of railroading you for using a campaign setting or saying the world has gravity or something, you're way past that point.