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Gemini Lupus
2013-03-25, 09:00 PM
After reading a great number of threads where this comes up, it was finally brought up in this thread (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=277136), that there is no one definition for the term "railroading" for use in discussions on this forum. And so, I was wondering if we could all come together to create a unified definition?

I'll start with this proposed definition: When PC's always end up following the plot laid out by the Game Master, whether it is through hints as to which path they should take, subtle or otherwise, or regardless of what they do or where they go, the plot finds them.

Example of the first: Fellowship of the Ring - "We could go through the mines of Moria." "No, let's try crossing over by Caradras." "OH NO! SARUMAN STORM!" "Ok, let's go under and have a couple of awesome battle scenes!"

Example of the second: The PCs decide to kill an important quest-related NPC or not go to the town that the plot token is said to be at. That's ok, he wasn't really the Plot-PC, here's someone else to give you your quest/when you arrive at this other town, the plot somehow finds you. Using the LotR (film) as an example: Gandalf kills Theoden instead of releasing him. Instead, Eomer returns and the plot resumes as normal.

TL;DR
So, what do you guys think? Can we make a unified, agreed upon definition of Railroading? Feel free to adapt and modify the definition that I've put forth or discard it as the playground sees fit.

Amphetryon
2013-03-25, 09:05 PM
When PC's always end up following the plot laid out by the Game Master, whether it is through hints as to which path they should take, subtle or otherwise, or regardless of what they do or where they go, the plot finds them. By that definition, isn't EVERY game railroading? Unless the system in question completely decouples the GM from any influence on the plot, the PCs will invariably be following "plot laid out by the Game Master."

Togath
2013-03-25, 09:08 PM
Railroading is the GM deciding when the PCs try to deviate that they don't(even if it would be easier to just adapt as in the op's examples).
so instead of going right they go left as an example, even if it would be just as easy for the GM to just move the end location they're heading to be down the right hand corridor as opposed to keeping it down the left.

Matticussama
2013-03-25, 09:18 PM
I think the most important part distinguishing railroading from a linear plot (which isn't necessarily bad) is how the players get to the end. It isn't necessarily a bad thing if the players end up facing the same BBEG in the end, so long as the players had some viable choices along the way.

OP's first example of the Mines of Moria v.s crossing Caradras could be an example of railroading depending upon the game. Does the storm force you to take the Mines of Moria, or does it just make it an easier journey? If the players have the option to continue traveling the mountain - even if doing so makes it more difficult on them - then it isn't railroading. If the players simply cannot cross Caradras regardless of what they try, then it is probably railroading. However, small instances of railroading aren't always a bad thing so long as they don't become a trend.

To me, the main definition of railroading is forcing the players to take a particular quest path regardless of player input. Even if the PCs would find the same BBEG at the end of 3 separate quests, giving them those choices of how to get to the BBEG keeps it from being railroading. If the players get a choice to take the Mines of Moria, the mountain path of Caradras, or the Gap of Rohan, then it doesn't matter if they still encounter the same enemy at the end of those paths; they get to choose the path that is most interesting to them based upon what adventure settings excite them the most. It also allows classes with a particular focus (such as a Ranger with favored enemy) to steer the group in the direction that lets them shine the most.

Likewise, making some paths harder than others isn't railroading so long as you give them more than 1 viable option; continuing the LotR example, it isn't railroading to say that taking the Gap of Rohan would be almost impossible, so long as the players still have some alternatives. Occasionally there might only be one viable adventure path, but this should be extremely rare. Players should always have some degree of choice.

TuggyNE
2013-03-25, 09:27 PM
I think a reasonable definition of railroading would be "use of unreasonable DM fiat to negate player choices and substitute the exact plan originally thought of". Of course, this depends on defining "unreasonable DM fiat", but that's a good thing to consider anyway.

Amphetryon
2013-03-25, 10:12 PM
Railroading is the GM deciding when the PCs try to deviate that they don't(even if it would be easier to just adapt as in the op's examples).
so instead of going right they go left as an example, even if it would be just as easy for the GM to just move the end location they're heading to be down the right hand corridor as opposed to keeping it down the left.

Emphasis mine. How is this different than "the GM deciding when the PCs try to deviate that they don't"? Your example GM has fundamentally removed the ability of the Players to choose to go anywhere but precisely on the path he ordains. The fact that the path has the illusion of forks in the road is irrelevant when all roads lead to the same end point.

valadil
2013-03-25, 10:30 PM
Emphasis mine. How is this different than "the GM deciding when the PCs try to deviate that they don't"? Your example GM has fundamentally removed the ability of the Players to choose to go anywhere but precisely on the path he ordains. The fact that the path has the illusion of forks in the road is irrelevant when all roads lead to the same end point.

Except the example was about the end boss. Someone is going to fight the Witch King of Angmar by the last book, regardless of the path taken. He's mobile and will find the PCs. Meanwhile, they got to choose spelunking over a blizzard.

Grod_The_Giant
2013-03-25, 10:34 PM
Emphasis mine. How is this different than "the GM deciding when the PCs try to deviate that they don't"? Your example GM has fundamentally removed the ability of the Players to choose to go anywhere but precisely on the path he ordains. The fact that the path has the illusion of forks in the road is irrelevant when all roads lead to the same end point.
Because the players don't know that layouts were tweaked this way. Railroading, I submit, is about removing even the illusion of choice. What you've described here is "PCs did something I didn't expect, better adapt so we can keep going." Railroading would be "You go left? Nope, the ceiling caves in and blocks the path."

The New Bruceski
2013-03-25, 10:39 PM
There's no set definition because it's rather subjective. It could probably be termed as "one side of a difference in opinion between the DM and the players in how much the players are expected to stick to a planned story." The other side of that is where the players sit in a sandbox waiting for an arrow, but as far as I know that doesn't have a shorter name assigned.

Kol Korran
2013-03-25, 11:22 PM
I was a bit confused about this, but someone sometime posted a short and very helpful definition (for me at least):
Railroading isn't saying "there is a wall in that path", but saying "there is a wall anywhere BUT that path". I liked it.

Guizonde
2013-03-25, 11:41 PM
odd anecdote: while playing in RttToE, we had to go to homlett. all the clues led us to think the underdark would be the fastest way to get there while being the (relatively) safest from xbox huge armies wanting to kill us. except we needed a key and a dwarven scholar to get through the maze to get to the entrance.
we nearly derailed the campaign when we had a collective shrug, said "i don't wanna delve into a dungeon, and only one third of the party has darkvision. let's go through the forest". after a bunch of research, the dm figured it was just as fast, if not slightly more dangerous to go through the forest.

OOC, the dm actually wanted us to go through the underdark, and encouraged us. when we told him no, he relented, said that we'd all suffer horrible deaths (as usual), and off we went. turned out much more interesting than a trip to the underdark, according to the dm.

railroading? i don't think so, yet according to the lotr definition, it is. we got to where we needed to go, everyone was happy, and we didn't almost die as much as we thought we would (only 3 close shaves as opposed to probably more). win-win. what do you guys think?

Grod_The_Giant
2013-03-25, 11:54 PM
odd anecdote: while playing in RttToE, we had to go to homlett. all the clues led us to think the underdark would be the fastest way to get there while being the (relatively) safest from xbox huge armies wanting to kill us. except we needed a key and a dwarven scholar to get through the maze to get to the entrance.
we nearly derailed the campaign when we had a collective shrug, said "i don't wanna delve into a dungeon, and only one third of the party has darkvision. let's go through the forest". after a bunch of research, the dm figured it was just as fast, if not slightly more dangerous to go through the forest.

OOC, the dm actually wanted us to go through the underdark, and encouraged us. when we told him no, he relented, said that we'd all suffer horrible deaths (as usual), and off we went. turned out much more interesting than a trip to the underdark, according to the dm.

railroading? i don't think so, yet according to the lotr definition, it is. we got to where we needed to go, everyone was happy, and we didn't almost die as much as we thought we would (only 3 close shaves as opposed to probably more). win-win. what do you guys think?
Not railroading at all-- you were allowed to take your alternate route. It's certainly "DM discourages the idea because he didn't prepare for it*," but he allowed it and it was interesting, so... yeah, no railroad.


*A quite legit way of thinking, to my mind. We're many of us busy folk; and I as a DM have no problem warning my players that I have no plans for this particular course of action. Many groups-- most people I've played with, certainly-- accept that things will be more interesting if they don't force the DM to pull random encounters out of a hat.

GoddessSune
2013-03-26, 02:10 AM
I'll start with this proposed definition: When PC's always end up following the plot laid out by the Game Master, whether it is through hints as to which path they should take, subtle or otherwise, or regardless of what they do or where they go, the plot finds them.


Your definition is more like a description of Fun. That ''no matter what the players do they will have interesting and fun encounters.''

Railroading is not always leading players to planned encounters. That is simply part of the game and part of the fun. Example: The GM makes a 'haunted tower' complete with some encounters, loot and such. And come game time, no matter what the players do, they will ''find'' the haunted tower. But that is not ''railroading''. And the more complex the game, the more the GM must have ready. Few GM's could run a haunted tower from scratch in say D&D. And the alternative is beyond horrible: ''what is the ghosts AC?" "Um 20" "Ok, we hit for 101 points of damage!" "Um, wait ghosts are incorporeal?!" pull out MM and flip through pages....

Railroading is also not ''changing'' the plot as the game goes on. If sage A had the Ye Old Scroll and is killed, then the GM just moves the scroll over to sage B. And after all, nothing is ''official'' until it occurs in the game.

What Railroading is:A single, unalterable straight line plot that a game master creates and the players must follow. It's often very blunt and obvious: doors 1-5 are locked, but door 6 is open. It is where the GM comes up with a plot, that they wish to watch others act out. A true role playing game gives the players the free choice to do what ever they want. The GM sets up the plot: ''the princess has been kidnapped'', but the players are free to go save her however they want. But on the railroad it would be ''oh, duke Doom has the princess so you all leave your equipment behind and enter the dukes castle as slaves."

LotR does not have a good railroad example. Star Wars does though: the tractor beam. "You are getting caught by the bad guys and can't do anything about it''.

Rhynn
2013-03-26, 02:35 AM
I'll start with this proposed definition: When PC's always end up following the plot laid out by the Game Master, whether it is through hints as to which path they should take, subtle or otherwise, or regardless of what they do or where they go, the plot finds them.

This seems too broad.

Railroading is a verb, and is something done by the GM. A GM railroads the players when he/she forces them to take a specific path or course of action by negating or countering their choices or decisions. A stricter definition would be that the negation is done impromptu, rather than beforehand (i.e. limiting the choices available is not railroading as such, although it is not necessarily a good thing).

Railroading is pretty much bad by definition (with the exception, often, of the pre-existing limitations of a situation).

Both of your example are still pretty spot-on railroading, though - I use the "the pass is blocked/the bridge is out" example constantly. However, I don't think it's railroading if the situation was pre-existing; if the PCs had the opportunity to learn about the pass being blocked at the last town, for instance. And it's not railroading if it can be overcome - the bridge fixed, for instance.


I think the most important part distinguishing railroading from a linear plot (which isn't necessarily bad) is how the players get to the end. It isn't necessarily a bad thing if the players end up facing the same BBEG in the end, so long as the players had some viable choices along the way.

Absolutely. "Linear" describes a session, adventure, module, or plotline. Railroading is a GMing technique (often used to maintain the integrity of a linear adventure, but not intrinsically linked; good GMs don't use it, or at the very least don't let the players notice).


To me, the main definition of railroading is forcing the players to take a particular quest path regardless of player input.

This definition I agree with. Emphasis on "force." It's about negating, by GM fiat, player choice and agency.

It's important to note, though, that the idea that all choices should be just as valid in all situations is nonsense. Sometimes, a choice or idea is not legitimate or sensible, and even the most generous GM can't always make them so. That's not railroading. It's just the constraints of the scenario.


so instead of going right they go left as an example, even if it would be just as easy for the GM to just move the end location they're heading to be down the right hand corridor as opposed to keeping it down the left.

That's just "quantum railroading" - instead of telling the PCs "no you don't," you don't tell them anything and they still don't. It's also bad. Not necessarily game-ruining, especially if the players find out, but the fact a GM finds it necessary to do this suggests a BIG failure on the GM's part.


Except the example was about the end boss. Someone is going to fight the Witch King of Angmar by the last book, regardless of the path taken. He's mobile and will find the PCs. Meanwhile, they got to choose spelunking over a blizzard.

That sounds like it might be railroading. If any plan or idea the players come up with to avoid this final encounter is overcome by GM fiat, it's railroading. It's also bad design and adventure-writing and GMing, and gets at the heart of railroading and its motivations: the GM wants X to happen and forces it to happen. That's not what tabletop RPGs are about (except maybe some esoteric Forge RPGs I guess, sure, why not).


There's no set definition because it's rather subjective. It could probably be termed as "one side of a difference in opinion between the DM and the players in how much the players are expected to stick to a planned story."

I don't think so. Railroading is always a thing the GM actively does.

There is the issue of perceived railroading: basically, if the players feel railroaded, they might as well have been. This is why one needs to be careful with things that look like GM fiat. The players don't know everything the GM does, don't perceive things "objectively" (i.e. the same as the GM), and if the trust and familiarity between GM and players isn't at a sufficient level (which is nobody's fault; there's different levels of GM-player trust in groups), you may need to be careful.


The other side of that is where the players sit in a sandbox waiting for an arrow, but as far as I know that doesn't have a shorter name assigned.

"Bad campaign setting."

If the sandbox is boring, the GM has done a poor job designing it. Contrary to what some people think, sandbox settings take a lot of work - they just take less work per session than creating pre-written adventures. And they take specific kinds of work.


railroading? i don't think so, yet according to the lotr definition, it is. we got to where we needed to go, everyone was happy, and we didn't almost die as much as we thought we would (only 3 close shaves as opposed to probably more). win-win. what do you guys think?

Yeah, any definition that makes that story railroading is probably a poor one. You had a goal, you got to make a choice how to get to it.

It's not uncommon for GMs to get leery when the PCs go off the beaten path in a module or other pre-created adventure, but the better GMs are the ones who roll with it and turn it into something interesting and fun.

Craft (Cheese)
2013-03-26, 03:05 AM
I'm gonna go with a more restrictive definition: Railroading is when a player is required to do something they know to be stupid and/or out of character in order to progress.

Example: Let's say our heroes need to get into the evil Archmage's Tower. They can get into the tower by signing up to become one of the Evil Wizard's minions, but doing this requires that they surrender all of their weapons and gear and put on a magical obedience collar that forces them to do whatever the Evil Wizard commands. The DM outright vetos any other method of getting into the tower by fiat, and doesn't allow the adventure to continue until the PCs get in and do what needs to be done in there. So the heroes have no choice but to hold the idiot ball for a few minutes and put on the obedience collars.

Exediron
2013-03-26, 03:43 AM
Railroading is when the players cannot deviate from the course laid out by the DM. It doesn't matter if they know it or not. A train cannot travel off the tracks, and a party in a railroad game cannot go where the DM does not intend for them to go. The way in which this is achieved is irrelevant - what matters is that whatever the players attempt to do, the DM will force them back onto track.

In a computer game, this manifests as simply not giving any choices; a good example in my opinion would be Neverwinter Nights 2. All the choices you will make have been made for you, rather they fit your character or not. Also Dragon Age 2.

NichG
2013-03-26, 03:50 AM
Whatever definition we go with, I think for it to be useful:

- It shouldn't be so broad as to refer to everything. Something like 'DM action that, by fiat, nullifies player action' is broader than I think we want, since that could technically apply just as much to the DM saying 'we're playing D&D, not WoD' and thereby excluding player actions involving WoD material for example.

- It shouldn't be defined in an emotionally charged way. That is to say, 'Railroading is when the DM uses bad methods to restrict player action' is a bad definition since it immediately brings in an emotional bias rather than trying to define a set of actions objectively. Thats not to say we must choose something that no one could object to in game, but we should avoid using emotional qualifiers in the definition itself.

- We probably should try for an easily understood and parsed definition than something that reads like a legal document or a proof. If we end up having meta-arguments about whether the people in this thread meant one interpretation or another when defining this, it misses the point of having a common baseline.

supermonkeyjoe
2013-03-26, 03:51 AM
Railroading in my mind is where the GM plans event A to lead to event B to lead to event C to lead to event D and will make sure that the prescribed events happen in the predetermined order regardless of player input.

TuggyNE
2013-03-26, 04:02 AM
Whatever definition we go with, I think for it to be useful:

- It shouldn't be so broad as to refer to everything. Something like 'DM action that, by fiat, nullifies player action' is broader than I think we want, since that could technically apply just as much to the DM saying 'we're playing D&D, not WoD' and thereby excluding player actions involving WoD material for example.

- It shouldn't be defined in an emotionally charged way. That is to say, 'Railroading is when the DM uses bad methods to restrict player action' is a bad definition since it immediately brings in an emotional bias rather than trying to define a set of actions objectively. Thats not to say we must choose something that no one could object to in game, but we should avoid using emotional qualifiers in the definition itself.

- We probably should try for an easily understood and parsed definition than something that reads like a legal document or a proof. If we end up having meta-arguments about whether the people in this thread meant one interpretation or another when defining this, it misses the point of having a common baseline.

Hmm. How does my earlier off-the-cuff suggestion compare to this? "Use of unreasonable DM fiat to negate player choices and substitute the exact plan originally thought of." It seems specific enough to avoid the "D&D instead of WoD" problem, although "unreasonable" may be a bit too emotional.

Of course, it still does rely on defining "fiat". :smallwink:

mjlush
2013-03-26, 04:27 AM
LotR does not have a good railroad example. Star Wars does though: the tractor beam. "You are getting caught by the bad guys and can't do anything about it''.

The tractor beam could make a good litmus test of railroading. If getting caught in a tractor beam is the result of a string of poor dice roll's its not railroading. If its the result of a string of impossible dice rolls it is.

Frozen_Feet
2013-03-26, 04:41 AM
Railroading is simple to define: it's when the Game Master does not give his players a real choice. He may give an illusion of choice, but whatever the players do, the end result is exactly the same.

Railroading can be done blatantly or covertly - that does not enter into its definition. Just because the players feel they've been railroaded, doesnt mean the case is so. A player can feel railroaded, cheated, disappointed or left out even if the GM does no mala fide actions towards him. Likewise, a player may feel he had a real choice and be really satisfied with a heavily railroaded game.

Railroading is, essentially, a magic trick, an illusion. The key is to fool the players to play along. As long as they're willing to believe the illusion, railroading is not necessarily a problem. It's not the way I like to run my games, however.

Ironically, my players rarely realize just how much of the game is directed on the spot, based on their actions. They often wonder aloud how badly they've "gone off the rails" or "ruined my plan", despite me not having much of a plan. This is why I strongly disagree with railroading being defined by subjective feelings - it simply does not do justice to different GMing styles. Just like one GM can make a railroad seem like a wide-open sandbox, a good improviser can make things he pulls out of his hat as something he had planned all along.

scurv
2013-03-26, 04:54 AM
I tend to view railroading as pushing something though By ignoring the input and powers of others others on a predetermined path with out deviation in such a way that it defies logic. But keep in mind that I do tend to keep world plots that happen based on historical modals that will proceed with or with out the pc's involvement.

Now understand that it is a two way street, Players can railroad a dm as much as a dm railroads players. (although when players do it we tend to call it derailing) And to be kinda fair to the DM it is jerkish of the players to intentionally waste hours of the DM's time by systematically fouling plot lines with acts that should in all likelihood catch up to them. You know acts like killing plot critical npc's (An act that is still murder) or using social pressure to ensure their DM permits their pc's to do wild antics and always live. You know like killing a god at level 12. Stuff like that.

It goes both ways in this regard Currently it seems the social contract of running the dm's plot-line that they worked hard to put together is out of vogue. But to that end I to have a sit down with my players at the end of every session to say where it is going and if they wish to do that. And if they change their mind the next session That day tends to become a play on the pc day for me.

NichG
2013-03-26, 05:58 AM
Hmm. How does my earlier off-the-cuff suggestion compare to this? "Use of unreasonable DM fiat to negate player choices and substitute the exact plan originally thought of." It seems specific enough to avoid the "D&D instead of WoD" problem, although "unreasonable" may be a bit too emotional.

Of course, it still does rely on defining "fiat". :smallwink:

Yeah I think 'unreasonable' isn't a good word here. Maybe something like:

"Dynamic creation of circumstances for the purpose of restricting player choices to a pre-defined plan or path."

Basically, when the scenario, rules, etc are altered in order to force play along a certain route.

This definition would exclude starting with a scenario that has particular boundaries, which some people consider railroading and others do not. One could argue that what matters is whether or not the boundaries will evolve to match whatever is attempted, versus whether the boundaries are static (and can be bypassed by figuring out something that wasn't predicted when they were made). The difference is between a difficult challenge and a scenario that looks like a challenge but which adapts such that it is always impossible to succeed.


The tractor beam could make a good litmus test of railroading. If getting caught in a tractor beam is the result of a string of poor dice roll's its not railroading. If its the result of a string of impossible dice rolls it is.

The thing is, there are natural points in the flow of game where you cannot actually do anything more. Consider something in a fight, where you have taken your action and between that point and your next action there is some effect that will kill you (your extra hitpoints from Rage are about to go away, there's a poison roll coming up, you're bleeding out and no one is nearby to help, etc). There's always some boundary where you've done what you can and now its time for the consequences. In principle the tractor beam scenario can be like that as well - once you've poked the thing that is massively more powerful than you, it just follows that it may be able to just do things to you you have no recourse against. So I think the railroading question here has to be a bit more subtle.

I personally would try to avoid a definition that makes it so that when 'certain courses of action are guaranteed to fail/resolve a certain way' that is considered railroading. I think it fails to recognize the category of behavior 'in order to achieve a single path of play' and instead is just talking about 'all cases where PC actions are negated', which could be for many different underlying reasons.

Kesnit
2013-03-26, 06:28 AM
Railroading is when the players cannot deviate from the course laid out by the DM. It doesn't matter if they know it or not. A train cannot travel off the tracks, and a party in a railroad game cannot go where the DM does not intend for them to go. The way in which this is achieved is irrelevant - what matters is that whatever the players attempt to do, the DM will force them back onto track.

Using that definition, any game that doesn't start "you are in this world. What do you do?" is railroading. Any plot laid out by the DM is is railroading, since it is assumed that at some point, the PCs will follow it. Any BBEG is railroading since it is assumed that at some point, the PCs will have to deal with the BBEG.

It may not be immediate, but at some point, the PCs will be "railroaded" back to what the DM wants them to do. The exact actions may be up to the players, but the DM has "railroaded" them into following the plot.

scurv
2013-03-26, 06:42 AM
Ok boys and girls a Test Question.

Your players have committed a dozen acts of murder in cities, Is it railroading to have the law send adequate forces to apprehend the players?

<edit>
I also note that people tend to take deterministic views of what the people in questions will do when some action in their control is the subject of debate. Half of being a DM is going with the flow Random encounters are a good way to buy you time to plan plot for your group...Just remember plot development is a cooperative action between players and DM and ether party can derail it.

Totally Guy
2013-03-26, 07:46 AM
I pretty much agree with Rhynn once again but I'm presenting a different way to think about the whole thing.

A game asks implied questions that playing the game answers. A railroaded game already has most of the answers predetermined which the players cannot influence.



The classic implied question that games ask is "Who will win?". The players then play the game to find out.

A roleplaying game asks different implied questions: "Will the players stop Baron Von Darkblood taking over Lys?" "Can the players recover the jade idol from the necromancer's tomb?" "How far will the player go to save the character's mother?"

For those saying "The existence of a villian means a railroad" this is incorrect as the presence of the villain can also mean that now the game is asking a question that features that character. "Will the players beat the villian?", "How will the the players get to the villian?", "Can the villain be redeemed?"

The players need to be on the same page about the questions. If one player thinks the questions are about one subject and another thinks the questions are about something else then you get problems. These days I prefer games in which the questions are explicit rather than implicit as they then become the focus of play and we get less faffing about trying to figure out what we all want.

Once again my definition of railroad is when players believe the game is asking questions that playing will answer when it actually doesn't matter.

Malrone
2013-03-26, 08:59 AM
...reminds me of a Knight of the Dinner Table strip where the DM had been advised on how to get the players to follow the plot. The resultant map was two castles joined by a straight road, one surrounded by "impassible forest" where the trees gre trunk-to-trunk, and the other by "unscalable mountains" where a nonflammable oil-like substance covered the walls.

Just because there is a plot, does not mean it is railroading.
Just because there is a preferred course of action, does not mean it is railroading.
Just because some scenarios were scripted, does not make it railroading.
The presence of choice may real or illusory at times, but as long as players have agency to the course or plot, it is not railroading.

Railroading is when the players are incapable of taking any actions or following routes the DM does not intend for them to take (combat actions usually notwithstanding).

I may be told there is an evil baron. The locals may try to hire me to unseat him. His goons may come to rough me up, and I may witness his depravity first hand. The path to combat this prepared enemy is bright as day, but unless the fabric of reality itself warps to prevent me from ignoring him, IT IS NOT RAILROADING. All roads may lead to Rome, but unless every exit off I-65 is closed indefinitely, the claim of "railroading" doesn't stick.

EDIT: @Scurv- The Law sending after the players alone isn't railroading. It's a perfectly reasonable and sensible thing to do in story when serial killers are loose. The trick is making sure the forces muster match the ability of the Law, and the seriousness of threat the players pose. Having posses track the players down is kosher; having a level [X] cleric&mage teleport in and arrest them with lol-no-save spells is railroading.

Alejandro
2013-03-26, 09:08 AM
Railroading, in tabletop RPGs, is when the GM does not consider player choices of action, and also when the players want him to.

Kurald Galain
2013-03-26, 09:10 AM
I would say that railroading is denying the PCs an action they could reasonably take.

Denying can take many forms, such as simply saying "no", having the action fail for no plausible reason, having a powerful NPC interfere for no plausible reason, and so forth. The key word is "plausible". If the PCs were "supposed" to get a quest from a merchant and decide to rob him instead, it is plausible for the PCs to fail if they roll badly on their stealth checks, and it is plausible that the merchant and his guards will interfere with their plans. It is not plausible that these stealth checks get a DC of 9001, nor of the Imperial High Wizard to suddenly teleport in and incinerate the PCs for thievery.

Morty
2013-03-26, 09:14 AM
Are you guys seriously using scenes from books as examples of railroading in tabletop games? There were no players there to be railroaded and no game master to railroad them. The plot went the way it did and that's that. If the story had been a role playing game instead, it might have been railroading. Possibly. We can't say with any degree of certainty, because the medium is so completely different.

Trying to define "railroading" seems pointless and futile to me. But if I were to sum it up concisely, I'd say that railroading occurs when the players' decisions and actions have no consequence and the story follows the game master's script. Alternately, I would call a situation railroading if there are no choices in the first place - the game master has a script and he or she prods the PCs from one pre-scripted event to another.

scurv
2013-03-26, 09:25 AM
@Malrone
Quite often players will throw up their hands and declare railroading at that situation. And after several heated redhearings are tossed about the dm will make concessions to the players in regards to their earlier actions just to preserve social ties.

Malrone
2013-03-26, 09:37 AM
@Malrone
Quite often players will throw up their hands and declare railroading at that situation. And after several heated redhearings are tossed about the dm will make concessions to the players in regards to their earlier actions just to preserve social ties.

I hope not that often! Town guards and armies do exist for a reason, and one cannot simply assume they are the only adventurers about. For a player to simply assume they can do whatever they want without consequence... shows a lack of maturity and roleplaying mindset I wouldn't allow at my table for long. Personally, I want my actions to have fitting consequences. A story that forms around my character, for good or bad, is superior in my mind to simply trailing along a plot because that's easier.

Having to bluff/disguise to hide myself from bounty hunters, using all my tools to continue a reign of criminal terror, and all such is a more fitting story and challenge to, what, the DM simply putting his hands down and saying, "You win, the village burns, you plunder 2d100 gold," every time we leave a town.

AgentofHellfire
2013-03-26, 09:45 AM
Emphasis mine. How is this different than "the GM deciding when the PCs try to deviate that they don't"? Your example GM has fundamentally removed the ability of the Players to choose to go anywhere but precisely on the path he ordains. The fact that the path has the illusion of forks in the road is irrelevant when all roads lead to the same end point.

"We all die at the end, therefore the kind of life you live doesn't matter."

valadil
2013-03-26, 09:47 AM
That sounds like it might be railroading. If any plan or idea the players come up with to avoid this final encounter is overcome by GM fiat, it's railroading. It's also bad design and adventure-writing and GMing, and gets at the heart of railroading and its motivations: the GM wants X to happen and forces it to happen. That's not what tabletop RPGs are about (except maybe some esoteric Forge RPGs I guess, sure, why not).


Except that it wasn't about avoiding the boss fight. It was about picking a direction to go in. If the players decide to avoid the boss fight that's a separate choice.

Let's consider a different boss. If Gandalf said, "hey guys I heard about a Balrog in Moria. Let's skip that, mkay?" then taking the other path should avoid the boss. When the choice is cold or Balrog choosing cold should bypass Balrog. The WKoA had nothing to do with this particular choice and coud logically appear at the end of either path.

I'd like to point out that I'm not in favor of illusion of choice. That's a railroad, it's just less obvious. I'm in favor of doing what makes sense. If a BBEG is actively hunting the PCs, there are many places he can fight them. A lurking boss monster can only be stumbled upon in a few locations. Even if the players take measures to avoid the BBEG, it might still find them if it can beat those measures. That's not railroading, that's the game world acting as it should. The PCs are not the only game entities with agency.

scurv
2013-03-26, 09:47 AM
It depends on the maturity of the group in question. But it is a social dynamic that I am seeing more and more often in the RP community. When I was enlisted I almost never saw it in those campaigns. When i sitting in groups from the local comic store it happened about twice before the dm would become more accommodating to the group.

My self, My views of what I want are comparable to yours Malrone. I like earning what I get. When I dm I like my players earning what they get. Then again They also have learned the value of peek in the room before you
leroy jenkins it. And that you can quite often talk your way out of a situation.

But It seems like quite often now people will exploit the mentality that you are never suppose to hurt someones feelings and that everyone gets a medal.

GoddessSune
2013-03-26, 10:07 AM
Trying to define "railroading" seems pointless and futile to me. But if I were to sum it up concisely, I'd say that railroading occurs when the players' decisions and actions have no consequence and the story follows the game master's script. Alternately, I would call a situation railroading if there are no choices in the first place - the game master has a script and he or she prods the PCs from one pre-scripted event to another.

But see, an RPG is a GM prodding a group of players from one pre-scripted event to another. That is the 'game' part.

The problem might be the False Freedom Theory: Players of an RPG think they have the freedom to do anything at any time. This is, of course, false. The players can only do things that lead to pre-scripted events. Not every GM can make up stuff out of the blue, everything needs to be done well before the game. The classic one is, right in the middle of the adventure were the players should be heading to spot A, they pull out the map and say ''oh we go to spot B''.

Railroading is also a very over used term. It's the player crying wolf. Every time anything that the player does not like happens; "Oh It's just the GM railroading me again''.

AgentofHellfire
2013-03-26, 10:13 AM
But see, an RPG is a GM prodding a group of players from one pre-scripted event to another. That is the 'game' part.

The problem might be the False Freedom Theory: Players of an RPG think they have the freedom to do anything at any time. This is, of course, false. The players can only do things that lead to pre-scripted events. Not every GM can make up stuff out of the blue, everything needs to be done well before the game.

1. "Not every GM can make stuff up out of the blue" implies there are some that can.
2. Player characters indeed can make up responses out of the blue--they don't know what's going to happen in the game (at least not all the time). So, if the GM makes his characters and locations like PCs make their characters, then it's indeed easy to make up a response.
3. Even refusing to take tall that into account, a choice between a limited number of options is not the same as not having options at all. Which railroading at least can be.




Railroading is also a very over used term. It's the player crying wolf. Every time anything that the player does not like happens; "Oh It's just the GM railroading me again''.

If the player's way of doing it doesn't hurt the plot at all, and the DM still bans the player from doing it, that isn't "crying wolf".

scurv
2013-03-26, 10:13 AM
This is why player DM communication is important!

It goes like this DM (or player) Says " This is the direction i plan on going next week are we committing to it?" then the player (or dm) Says "Sounds good Frank, We might make a stop by the tavern and bazaar for supplies first"

Then both the DM and the players now have time to get ready to sit down for fun.

This is also a good time for players to say "Ummm screw that, we are on the next train out of the kingdom" Thus the DM has a chance to put something together.

Rhynn
2013-03-26, 11:39 AM
I'm gonna go with a more restrictive definition: Railroading is when a player is required to do something they know to be stupid and/or out of character in order to progress.

I'm more used to calling that "the idiot ball," but I think in a tabletop RPG, the idiot ball is always railroading. I just think that's a subset.


Railroading is, essentially, a magic trick, an illusion. The key is to fool the players to play along. As long as they're willing to believe the illusion, railroading is not necessarily a problem. It's not the way I like to run my games, however.

I agree - it's a matter of perception. If the players don't perceive railroading, it's not a problem. If they do, it's a problem even if there was no railroading. But, like you, I think there are so many ways to run a game that are so substantively better that railroading should not be used.


Ironically, my players rarely realize just how much of the game is directed on the spot, based on their actions.

:smallbiggrin:

That's usually a very good sign - you're having the world react so plausibly and consistently, on the spot, that the players think it had to be pre-written.


Using that definition, any game that doesn't start "you are in this world. What do you do?" is railroading. Any plot laid out by the DM is is railroading, since it is assumed that at some point, the PCs will follow it. Any BBEG is railroading since it is assumed that at some point, the PCs will have to deal with the BBEG.

Now we're getting into the definition of "plot"!

Plots are not railroading, because "a plot" is not something the GM does. Forcing the players to follow a plot is railroading.

A "plot" can be "something that is happening and that the PCs may get involved in." I like that. Often, these progress without the PCs' involvement - they can get in, organically, any any stage and any point in time.

Or a "plot" can be pre-scripted, going from encounter to encounter, in the post-late-2E AD&D style (covering basically all published 3.X and 4E D&D). This may practically "require" railroading if the PCs don't stick to the path voluntarily, depending on the quality of the writing.


Ok boys and girls a Test Question.

Your players have committed a dozen acts of murder in cities, Is it railroading to have the law send adequate forces to apprehend the players?

No.

That's a living setting that reacts to the players' choices. That's essential to a free, "sandbox" game. Action and reaction. That's what creates story.


Quite often players will throw up their hands and declare railroading at that situation. And after several heated redhearings are tossed about the dm will make concessions to the players in regards to their earlier actions just to preserve social ties.

That sounds like a small dysfunction cluster.

Often, this sort of thing results from bored or uncooperative players who just start killing and destroying things for no real reason. Often, they're bored or uncooperative because they're immature. Because they're immature, they don't like it when their PCs' actions have consequences. Therefore they complain.

It's tempting, as a habitual GM, to say that this is caused by dysfunctional players. :smallbiggrin: But ultimately it's the dynamic that's dysfunctional - why are the players getting bored? The game needs to focus more. (Here again my refrain: having a big setpiece dungeon is a good way to prevent boredom in the long term; in the short term, like one player getting bored while others are doing something, it doesn't help so much.)


A game asks implied questions that playing the game answers. A railroaded game already has most of the answers predetermined which the players cannot influence.

That is very eloquently put. RPG theory ftw. :smallbiggrin:

And it gets at the heart of the matter, to me. If a GM writes a session/adventure/plot that assumes any results, there's a high risk of railroading. The original Dragonlance modules are hated widely in some circles because of this - the further they get, the more they assume that specific NPCs or PCs survive here or die there, and that the PCs make very specific choices.


Trying to define "railroading" seems pointless and futile to me. But if I were to sum it up concisely, I'd say that railroading occurs when the players' decisions and actions have no consequence and the story follows the game master's script. Alternately, I would call a situation railroading if there are no choices in the first place - the game master has a script and he or she prods the PCs from one pre-scripted event to another.

This ties to the above. The GM's script is one that has answered many of the questions already - "the PCs go to this city, kill person X, and make friends with person Y."

The script is not bad, in itself, although I think it's a bit misguided. It can produce enjoyable, even great games.

But forcing the players to follow the script is the problem, and if you always use a script, eventually your players are going to go off it, and then you're going to have to deal with that. Some people deal with it by railroading.


This is why player DM communication is important!

It goes like this DM (or player) Says " This is the direction i plan on going next week are we committing to it?" then the player (or dm) Says "Sounds good Frank, We might make a stop by the tavern and bazaar for supplies first"

Then both the DM and the players now have time to get ready to sit down for fun.

This is also a good time for players to say "Ummm screw that, we are on the next train out of the kingdom" Thus the DM has a chance to put something together.

I think it's a very good rule to end every session by discussing what the PCs want to or plan to do next time. That way, the GM knows what to prepare.


But see, an RPG is a GM prodding a group of players from one pre-scripted event to another. That is the 'game' part.

:smallconfused:

But it's... not?

I mean, I regularly run sessions without doing this, so it's incorrect. Usually, nothing is scripted.

I mean, where are you even getting this?


The problem might be the False Freedom Theory: Players of an RPG think they have the freedom to do anything at any time. This is, of course, false. The players can only do things that lead to pre-scripted events. Not every GM can make up stuff out of the blue, everything needs to be done well before the game. The classic one is, right in the middle of the adventure were the players should be heading to spot A, they pull out the map and say ''oh we go to spot B''.

But the point is that it is, in fact, fairly trivial to prepare things so that you can run games off the cuff without telling the players where to go, or even knowing or anticipating where they will go.

I've got my keyed hexmap of the Savage Frontier, a keyed map of Waterdeep, and a keyed map of the Undermountain - my campaign setting. Within this campaign setting, my players can go anywhere and do anything. (Or try to.) We sit down, I ask them what they want to do. I use improv, existing/established locations and characters (not scripted; my ideals notes on an NPC, a dungeon room, or a hexmap location are one sentence, and one paragraph is pretty much the maximum) to present them with content (the world around the PCs) where ever they go.

There are no pre-scripted events, and the players can - and constantly do - do things that I never envisioned. That's the fun of being a GM (other than creating a world).

GoddessSune
2013-03-26, 11:46 AM
1. "Not every GM can make stuff up out of the blue" implies there are some that can.

Sure, some very few can. But most GM need to prepare ahead of time.



2. Player characters indeed can make up responses out of the blue--they don't know what's going to happen in the game (at least not all the time). So, if the GM makes his characters and locations like PCs make their characters, then it's indeed easy to make up a response.

As every GM knows, you can't always make stuff that the players agree with or go along with. A GM can make a 'death door' that they think ''well obviously the players won't open this'', and guess what? They open it.



3. Even refusing to take tall that into account, a choice between a limited number of options is not the same as not having options at all. Which railroading at least can be.

This can get complicated. Most plots can't be so open that a player has lots of choices.



If the player's way of doing it doesn't hurt the plot at all, and the DM still bans the player from doing it, that isn't "crying wolf".

There is also ''hurting the game''. When a player wants to say ''sit at the bar and drink and hit on women'' and the other players want to go on the haunted house adventure, then it's not Railroading for the DM to close the bar.(And yes we are saying this player is one you can't talk too)

Frozen_Feet
2013-03-26, 11:55 AM
Random encounters are a beautifl tool for creating stuff "out of the blue". RPG community has come to needlesly look down on them.

Also, the fixation with "plot" is downright unhealthy. Ideally, what plot there is is just background explaining the initial set-up of the scenario, and the actual game has as much "plot" as a game of chess. My advice to all GMs: keep amount of pre-planned encounters to a minimum. Let events unfold as they would logically for the situation. If you craft a scenario that the PCs will lose if they sit with thumbs in their asses, let them lose.

valadil
2013-03-26, 12:09 PM
Sure, some very few can. But most GM need to prepare ahead of time.


Crap. Just about every GM I've ever played with has been able to improvise to react to impulsive players. What am I doing wrong? I mean, I've found some GMs who were resistent to players making sudden left turns, but mostly just wrote them off as bad GMs.

I'd also like to point out that GMs don't need to be able to improvise anything their players think of. If the players decide "screw these troll warrens, I've always wanted to see Waterdeep," you can let them go to Waterdeep ... next session. Finish up an encounter where you are now. Let the players figure out how to get where they want to go. Meet someone on the road. Find a distraction. Maybe the wizard's familiar falls down a well. Maybe another encounter. End the session. Prep Waterdeep. Then let them fulfill the choice they made.

The point is, if you can't improvise a destination you should at least be able to improvise a half a session worth of getting to that destination.

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 12:18 PM
"We all die at the end, therefore the kind of life you live doesn't matter."

As dying at the end is not a certainty in gaming - it is possible in many systems for Characters to achieve immortality - the quote is cute, and all, but off-topic.


Crap. Just about every GM I've ever played with has been able to improvise to react to impulsive players. What am I doing wrong? I mean, I've found some GMs who were resistent to players making sudden left turns, but mostly just wrote them off as bad GMs.I have regularly seen people on various fora and in various gaming stores state that they can always tell when a GM is being forced to improvise, with the rider that it always detracts from the experience. Either yours are the exceptions that prove the rule, or I've been exposed to nothing but hyperbole in 30-some years of gaming.

valadil
2013-03-26, 12:27 PM
I have regularly seen people on various fora and in various gaming stores state that they can always tell when a GM is being forced to improvise, with the rider that it always detracts from the experience. Either yours are the exceptions that prove the rule, or I've been exposed to nothing but hyperbole in 30-some years of gaming.

No, I can tell when they improvise. Maybe I don't mind because I'd rather see a GM wing it than put fences around my character.

AgentofHellfire
2013-03-26, 12:38 PM
Sure, some very few can. But most GM need to prepare ahead of time.

But you acknowledge that it's certainly possible for a human level of options as responses go, yes?




As every GM knows, you can't always make stuff that the players agree with or go along with. A GM can make a 'death door' that they think ''well obviously the players won't open this'', and guess what? They open it.

Well...yes?

But I don't see what this has to do with my point. Options having consequences players disagree with doesn't change the fact that they're options...




This can get complicated. Most plots can't be so open that a player has lots of choices.

1.There are, again, a few that can, though. See: Chat RPs or more sandboxy games without a "start quest" for the players to go on.

2. Well, "lots of choices" is relative. You can certainly have an RPG with more choices than, say, a video game RPG. Or another tabletop game where the DM will cause your character to autofail any time you do anything other than hit your way past the guards, for example.




There is also ''hurting the game''. When a player wants to say ''sit at the bar and drink and hit on women'' and the other players want to go on the haunted house adventure, then it's not Railroading for the DM to close the bar.(And yes we are saying this player is one you can't talk too)

Again, I don't understood where I disagree with that. Yes, there's also "hurting the game", and that's bad. But when you're (pulling a personal example here, in fact) planning the storming of an epic sorcerer's castle, and you decide that rather than going in as a single adventuring band like the DM thought you would, you want to use your planebinding magic to port in some additional extraplanar troops, and your character's wealth to hire a mortal mercenary group...

...well, what then?

Totally Guy
2013-03-26, 12:41 PM
or I've been exposed to nothing but hyperbole in 30-some years of gaming.

You'd be surprised how often that happens. Gamer communities are quite insular. We form opinions based on our own anecdotes and specific experiences and we tie that information to our identities as gamers. When it comes to meeting the larger world we communicate poorly and get upset when our experiences (and subsequently our identities) are challenged. We stick to our comfort zones. Heck, the playground is a very comfortable place for a rather narrow section of opinions when it comes to the overall hobby.

GoddessSune
2013-03-26, 12:51 PM
Crap. Just about every GM I've ever played with has been able to improvise to react to impulsive players. What am I doing wrong? I mean, I've found some GMs who were resistent to players making sudden left turns, but mostly just wrote them off as bad GMs.

The point is, if you can't improvise a destination you should at least be able to improvise a half a session worth of getting to that destination.

Wait, are you not agreeing with me? If the players head somewhere your not ready for as DM, you stall them until the next game? Well, is that not ''A DM needs to prepare ahead of time''?

Can a DM ''toss together'' an encounter in three seconds? Sure. Is it safe to say that any encounter the DM had planned ahead of time is better? Sure. If the players suddenly go to the Red Tower, the DM can put some squares on a blank sheet of paper and draw a tower map in a minute. But it will never be as good as the tower that the DM sat down and took several minutes to draw and even make a handout copy for the players too.

And with things like Waterdeep, DM's have to be careful of the details. If you let the players just randomly go to the city, and you don't have your Waterdeep notes/books, you just have to make stuff up. Oh, Waterdeep is ruled by King Gorn. Wait, oops, no it's not. Waterdeep has ten districts. Wait, oops, no it does not. Trying to remember all the details of a city like Waterdeep without a single note or book is a folly. In other words, the DM needs to be prepared before the players enter the city.

valadil
2013-03-26, 01:00 PM
Wait, are you not agreeing with me? If the players head somewhere your not ready for as DM, you stall them until the next game? Well, is that not ''A DM needs to prepare ahead of time''?

Not quite. I'm saying that a GM can improvise most things. If the players figure out something that can't be improvised, there should be stall tactics that can work. It's a backup plan to keep in your toolbox. When the players throw something at you that you can't improvise, this is how you fulfill their choices. It's not the same as saying very few GMs are capable of winging it.

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 01:13 PM
Not quite. I'm saying that a GM can improvise most things. If the players figure out something that can't be improvised, there should be stall tactics that can work. It's a backup plan to keep in your toolbox. When the players throw something at you that you can't improvise, this is how you fulfill their choices. It's not the same as saying very few GMs are capable of winging it.

It seems pretty close to saying "very few GMs are capable of winging it seamlessly and without detracting from the experience," to me.

AgentofHellfire
2013-03-26, 01:23 PM
As dying at the end is not a certainty in gaming - it is possible in many systems for Characters to achieve immortality - the quote is cute, and all, but off-topic.

Only if you completely misinterpret it.

I'll be clearer: A very broad overarching theme among the options you have at the endgame (E.g.: "Fighting the BBEG") doesn't make every option you take in between the game's start and that end meaningless, as those options could easily change, for example, which midbosses you fight, what resources you have when you fight the BBEG, what emotional context the fight has, what emotional context other characters have...

The list goes on. And on. And on.


I have regularly seen people on various fora and in various gaming stores state that they can always tell when a GM is being forced to improvise, with the rider that it always detracts from the experience. Either yours are the exceptions that prove the rule, or I've been exposed to nothing but hyperbole in 30-some years of gaming.

I (and you) have regularly seen players of RPGs on various fora and in RL state that they like RPGs because they allow for a great deal more options than other material.

So either you're calling them wrong, or...you're calling them wrong.

Also, 1/10th of the time is "regularly".

Rhynn
2013-03-26, 01:36 PM
This can get complicated. Most plots can't be so open that a player has lots of choices.

This is true for some definitions of "plot." For the ones I prefer to put into play, it isn't. A "plot" is just something that is going on that the PCs can get involved in.

In a game of Artesia: Adventures in the Known World, the "plot" was the one introduced by the adventure in the back of the book: three princes vie for succession. The PCs got sort of reluctantly involved in that - they were more involved in the stories they created out of whole cloth:

1. One of them, a charlatan pretending to be a knight, seduced a knight's wife (not knowing, and not caring to find out, she was married) while they stayed overnight as guests at a castle on their way between the starting point (a tournament) and their destination (a manor they were bringing a message to). This was complete improv based off of "my character seduces some woman" (as much for sex as to get a bed instead of rushes on the great hall floor as for the Arcana Points earned from it). Later on, the wife flees to him after her jealous husband beats her; the PC circumvents a duel by using magic to send the knight running; and he takes the woman on as a camp follower slash mistress.

2. Another latched on to a hook in the village description about the tailor looking for a husband for his wife's sister. I hadn't expected this, but rolled with it, and they actually married in short order.

3. The above two PCs, between them, used enough magic (including the above incident) to draw the attention of Templars and Witch-finders. Instead of booking it like I expected, they set up an ambush at a known "witches' hill," tapping into the power of the place and creating a massive illusion of a witches' sabbath, then doing some incredible sharp-shooting to kill the templar commanders and routing the rest.

4. Their main contact with what I expected to be the big plot was at the next tournament, where one of the PCs was talked into hating the eldest prince (a feature of A:AKW; things like Hate, Jealousy, Fury, Ennui, etc. are game-mechanical artifacts). I expected him to become a willing pawn in the plots of one of the other two princes. Instead, at the tournament melee, he got a critical hit and decided to have an "accident" instead of pulling his blow - instantly killing the eldest prince. Then he did some awesome rolling (and judicious use of Gifts and Arcana Points) and actually successfully apologised. (Tourneys were notoriously dangerous business and accidental deaths happened.) They more or less imposed exile on themselves, between this and their problems with Witch-hunters.

5. The 3 PCs fled into the forests with their party, composed of: one PC's wife, one PC's mistress, one midwife and "witch" who needed to flee because of the attention they'd brought down on the area, and one "camp follower" from the second tourney who had tried to rob one of the PCs at night after seducing him, and who the third PC scolded and took into service to reform her. (I rolled up her statistics randomly, and she turned out to have oracular dreams, making her rather useful.)

None of this frustrated or annoyed me, because I had made a point not to spend long on preparing anything. I had no encounters, no long descriptions of characters or places - just enough to improvise off of.

The really unusual thing, for me, is that the players have essentially chosen who to make into important NPCs in the campaign. And I think that is awesome and I will use it in my subsequent games as much as possible.

It was something of a spontaneous experience with a great player-directed campaign (I'd never before run anything so free, oddly enough), which actually slightly predated my introduction to the Old-School Renaissance (through lurking here and following links, IIRC) and my philosophical alignment with sandbox games.


As every GM knows, you can't always make stuff that the players agree with or go along with. A GM can make a 'death door' that they think ''well obviously the players won't open this'', and guess what? They open it.

I'd re-word that: you can't assume that the players will do something specific. That's a rule to GM by. You can not design things with any assumptions about what the PCs will do about them.


Random encounters are a beautifl tool for creating stuff "out of the blue". RPG community has come to needlesly look down on them.

I have become obsessed with random tables since my introduction to the OSR (which is likewise obsessed).

Planet Algol has some of my favorites:

100 Random Adventure Plots (http://planetalgol.blogspot.fi/2010/02/compiled-100-random-adventure-plots.html)

100 NPCs (http://planetalgol.blogspot.fi/2010/02/100-npcs-table.html)

The Planet Algol Referee's Resources (http://refereesresources.blogspot.fi/) also have some wonderful examples of how to key (http://refereesresources.blogspot.fi/2009/10/hexes-of-iridium-plateau-completed.html) a wonderfully playable hexmap (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qvS7K0_WD0U/Spnj3uICGWI/AAAAAAAAAAM/k9EZq9OZiNI/s1600-h/Irridium+Plateau.bmp).

That sort of prep has hugely advantageous returns of gaming on investments of prep time. You can actually prep for improv, by creating random tables of ideas.

Zak's blog (http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.fi/) (supposedly NSFW :smallamused: ) has a lot of great tables, and a lot of links to other blogs with great tables.


Wait, are you not agreeing with me? If the players head somewhere your not ready for as DM, you stall them until the next game? Well, is that not ''A DM needs to prepare ahead of time''?

Can a DM ''toss together'' an encounter in three seconds? Sure. Is it safe to say that any encounter the DM had planned ahead of time is better? Sure. If the players suddenly go to the Red Tower, the DM can put some squares on a blank sheet of paper and draw a tower map in a minute. But it will never be as good as the tower that the DM sat down and took several minutes to draw and even make a handout copy for the players too.

You may be conflating "encounter" and "location." Personally, I don't really prep encounters (I'm happy to go from something like "a group of 12 baaz draconians masquerading as monks" or "a bunch of 17 orcs looking for a halfling" and improvise), but I think locations need to be prepared. This is why I think you need to consult players about their plans between sessions, and major changes of location by the PCs shouldn't happen mid-session (unless they're "just passing through", obviously) - that's just better for everyone. I think GMs absolutely need to know what the locations (cities, dungeons, wilderness) are like, often with maps. But if my PCs want to go anywhere that I've already mapped and defined in, say, Waterdeep, I can adapt and improvise.

GoddessSune
2013-03-26, 01:40 PM
1.There are, again, a few that can, though. See: Chat RPs or more sandboxy games without a "start quest" for the players to go on.

2. Well, "lots of choices" is relative. You can certainly have an RPG with more choices than, say, a video game RPG. Or another tabletop game where the DM will cause your character to autofail any time you do anything other than hit your way past the guards, for example.

1.Sandbox. You can start a game as a sandbox, but only for the first couple of minutes. Eventually you need a plot. Say the players ''just randomly'' want to find some lost treasure. Well, in order to do that they will need clues to follow and figure out and find the treasure. And to follow the clues, they need to stay on the rails. They can't go all snadboxy ''well the clue says the ship sank in the north ocean, so we go become astronauts and go to the moon and fight the moon dogs!" And that leads to two:

2.In order for a game to be interesting, satiating and fun it needs to stay on track. Once the players are set on a goal, they need to stay on track to that goal. That is a big part of the fun of the game: setting a goal, over coming obstacles and completing the goal. And to do that, the players need to stay on the rails. The players can never reach a goal, if they randomly go off on tangents. And it can't be all sandboxy, once the goal is set.

And like any GM knows, you often have to prod players along to get them to have fun. It's common that if not given any prodding, players will just sit around and not know what to do. Even when the GM tells them what to do "Um, guys instead of sitting around the tavern, you could go talk to Duke Dok who is also an enemy of Lord Doom who I have mentioned fifteen times now.






But when you're (pulling a personal example here, in fact) planning the storming of an epic sorcerer's castle, and you decide that rather than going in as a single adventuring band like the DM thought you would, you want to use your planebinding magic to port in some additional extraplanar troops, and your character's wealth to hire a mortal mercenary group...

...well, what then?

In my game I'd close this down fast. We are gaming ''the small band over heroes vs the bad guy'', not the ''epic battle of a thousand creatures''. If the players want to do an epic battle, we could put away the RPG and play a war game.

And this is an example of keeping the game fun. Sure the players could get an army of solars and other troops and have them storm and destroy the castle. While the players just sit there. And weeks of the DM's planning is ruined in five minutes. And the players don't get to have the fun of adventuring through the castle. And even worse, it turns what would have been a three hour adventure through the epic castle to the three hour ''Um, ok, you guys win...so what do we do now?"

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 01:48 PM
Only if you completely misinterpret it.

I'll be clearer: A very broad overarching theme among the options you have at the endgame (E.g.: "Fighting the BBEG") doesn't make every option you take in between the game's start and that end meaningless, as those options could easily change, for example, which midbosses you fight, what resources you have when you fight the BBEG, what emotional context the fight has, what emotional context other characters have...

The list goes on. And on. And on.



I (and you) have regularly seen players of RPGs on various fora and in RL state that they like RPGs because they allow for a great deal more options than other material.

So either you're calling them wrong, or...you're calling them wrong.

Also, 1/10th of the time is "regularly".
To the first, I'll be clearer in turn:

If the result of the endgame is "Fight the BBEG or die beforehand" then many gamers I've known will and have called it railroading, and will and have railed against it, because ultimately they could not choose a path that did not take them to "Fight the BBEG or die beforehand." They wanted to play an RPG that didn't feel, for example, like a game of chess, where multiple paths were going to only result in two options, MAYBE a third (stalemate).

To the second, as far as I can tell, this is a non sequitor. Having options and being railroaded are not necessarily antithetical to each other (see above). It is entirely possible to want the former without the latter.

Malrone
2013-03-26, 01:51 PM
I'm a fairly new DM, and am trying to remain aware of my flaws. I talk to my players, and ask them what they want to do as we go ahead. The setting isn't fleshed out, and the story is growing out of what we experience. I've planted seeds of something grander, but it is all the greater details are yet to be determined. It's a real sandbox.

But I'm **** for just throwing something together. Every major location (save the noble Town Y) has been a module of one kind or another so-far, and I take too long making notes from the MM for the odd random encounter during play. I'm a long time player, so the rules are very familiar to me, but dammit, balancing encounter difficulty is hard. This is why, despite the game being essentially a sandbox, I always try and figure out what the party wants to do next time. For the sake of everyone's enjoyment, it's been agreed that only under exceptional circumstances should the party outright refuse to go along with the program.

Is this ideal? No, not even close, but we're all having fun. I don't lay rails, but I leave the path clearly marked. Along these paths, I have to say, they're making the game as much as I am.

valadil
2013-03-26, 01:52 PM
It seems pretty close to saying "very few GMs are capable of winging it seamlessly and without detracting from the experience," to me.

With all those extra modifiers, yeah I'd agree. I think I mostly objected to the original statement which was probably too broad.

Here's how I see things. Ideally the GM has planned for what the players are going to do. When the players try to leave the planned area, the game will degrade. It can either degrade because the GM railroads you back into charted territory or because the GM isn't as good at improv as prep.

I've been gaming for more than half my life. I can usually tell when I'm going to take a swerve. When I do this, I accept that the quality of the game may degrade. I can't get too disappointed if that happens as expected. If I wanted to only ever play in a perfectly prepped game, I'd behave as predictably as possible and try to steer the other players in the obvious directions.

AgentofHellfire
2013-03-26, 01:59 PM
1.Sandbox. You can start a game as a sandbox, but only for the first couple of minutes. Eventually you need a plot. Say the players ''just randomly'' want to find some lost treasure. Well, in order to do that they will need clues to follow and figure out and find the treasure. And to follow the clues, they need to stay on the rails. They can't go all snadboxy ''well the clue says the ship sank in the north ocean, so we go become astronauts and go to the moon and fight the moon dogs!" And that leads to two:

1. But (and this is important) the players can, still, choose not to go find some lost treasure. That's still an important part of that equation.
2. Moreover, there could be, even after that, five sources of lost treasure in the setting, two of which are hidden in dungeons that have clues that get you to them and another that's held by someone with a big, huge army that will wage war to keep the treasure, another that's underwater and that you'll have to find someone willing to forge you some water-breathing amulet to even reach, and then the last that's currently up for auction, along with a princess who technically is the inheritor of it all. And, on top of all that, there could be a huge number of ways to deal with the general, the cluefinding process, the princess, and the terrain that aren't wage war/go to dungeon A/B/Find high-level wizard guy, do his quest and get the amulet. (For example, "ally with the general and learn his secrets, then steal that ****e with some ninja adventure/make a hell of a lot of money and hire some other dungeon-goers/encourage a rebellion against the kingdom and make off with the spoils/kidnap high-level wizard guy's daughter, make him pay ransom"). And that's not even getting into the number of different ways you could go about each of those. In Tabletop, literally every action is customizable.



2.In order for a game to be interesting, satiating and fun it needs to stay on track. Once the players are set on a goal, they need to stay on track to that goal. That is a big part of the fun of the game: setting a goal, over coming obstacles and completing the goal. And to do that, the players need to stay on the rails. The players can never reach a goal, if they randomly go off on tangents. And it can't be all sandboxy, once the goal is set.

While this is true, deciding their own goals, and methods of going about them, is also part of the fun.


And like any GM knows, you often have to prod players along to get them to have fun. It's common that if not given any prodding, players will just sit around and not know what to do. Even when the GM tells them what to do "Um, guys instead of sitting around the tavern, you could go talk to Duke Dok who is also an enemy of Lord Doom who I have mentioned fifteen times now.

You sometimes do, but when they're into it, you don't. You don't have to tell them, once some zombies start attacking the bar, that now is the time for some sort of action (most of them will think fighting, but more experienced ones will go for escape, possibly, or finding the source--I've seen that happen, even).







In my game I'd close this down fast. We are gaming ''the small band over heroes vs the bad guy'', not the ''epic battle of a thousand creatures''. If the players want to do an epic battle, we could put away the RPG and play a war game.

And this is an example of keeping the game fun. Sure the players could get an army of solars and other troops and have them storm and destroy the castle. While the players just sit there. And weeks of the DM's planning is ruined in five minutes. And the players don't get to have the fun of adventuring through the castle. And even worse, it turns what would have been a three hour adventure through the epic castle to the three hour ''Um, ok, you guys win...so what do we do now?"


But see, there would be some DMs that would be able to compensate for all that--I mean, first of all, there's the huge, still-Sword and Sorcery adventure involved in actually convincing all these people to work with you.

That might actually take hours of the party's time. On top of that, the epic sorcerer is pretty damn powerful even without his castle, and had some allies. So even by gaining the advantage of the army, we could still have to do a great deal before taking him down...and all that's assuming he doesn't teleport, prompting us to have to find him, ourselves.

AgentofHellfire
2013-03-26, 02:07 PM
To the first, I'll be clearer in turn:

If the result of the endgame is "Fight the BBEG or die beforehand" then many gamers I've known will and have called it railroading, and will and have railed against it, because ultimately they could not choose a path that did not take them to "Fight the BBEG or die beforehand." They wanted to play an RPG that didn't feel, for example, like a game of chess, where multiple paths were going to only result in two options, MAYBE a third (stalemate).

Then that's a totally different argument from the one I'm making.

It's also still the exact same argument that I've countered, only from the other side--it isn't railroading (at least not in that sense), because there are still options within that particular set of endgames.


To the second, as far as I can tell, this is a non sequitor. Having options and being railroaded are not necessarily antithetical to each other (see above). It is entirely possible to want the former without the latter.


But some games can, though, railroad more than others, or even too much.

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 02:20 PM
It's also still the exact same argument that I've countered, only from the other side--it isn't railroading (at least not in that sense), because there are still options within that particular set of endgames.
The fact that it's not how you are choosing to define 'railroading' does not mean that it is not a form of railroading. Including a railway switch station does not preclude the existence of tracks.

AgentofHellfire
2013-03-26, 02:22 PM
The fact that it's not how you are choosing to define 'railroading' does not mean that it is not a form of railroading. Including a railway switch station does not preclude the existence of tracks.

I thought we were arguing about what the definition ought to be.

Guess I was wrong. :smallwink:

Frozen_Feet
2013-03-26, 02:26 PM
You may be conflating "encounter" and "location." Personally, I don't really prep encounters (I'm happy to go from something like "a group of 12 baaz draconians masquerading as monks" or "a bunch of 17 orcs looking for a halfling" and improvise), but I think locations need to be prepared. This is why I think you need to consult players about their plans between sessions, and major changes of location by the PCs shouldn't happen mid-session (unless they're "just passing through", obviously) - that's just better for everyone. I think GMs absolutely need to know what the locations (cities, dungeons, wilderness) are like, often with maps. But if my PCs want to go anywhere that I've already mapped and defined in, say, Waterdeep, I can adapt and improvise.

Good imagination, powerful random terrain generator and a fast drawing hand can mitigate prep time for locations too. Me, I can conjure a whole haunted town from wholecloth in a matter of minutes, because I'm an actual construction worker - it's not much of a feat to quickly sketch outline of small village etc. Of course, since I suck at drawing, my sketches tend to be awful, but they serve their purpose. I've had my players zip from island to island, drawing each island as they happened upon them. Of course, this work during session was invaluable later on, since my players often ended visiting those islands multiple times, so I got a chance to flesh them out.

I've also had great fun with How to Host a Dungeon, by allowing my players take part in the creation process and playing different sides in the dungeon's history. That way, they naturally get to know history and neat stuff about the location, while I can still fill in and surprise them with details. :smallbiggrin:

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 02:30 PM
I thought we were arguing about what the definition ought to be.

Guess I was wrong. :smallwink:

I am arguing against what your proposed definition is (among others), because I do not think it is what the definition ought to be, for the reasons I've noted. How is that different, other than being worthy of the wink?


Here's how I see things. Ideally the GM has planned for what the players are going to do. When the players try to leave the planned area, the game will degrade. It can either degrade because the GM railroads you back into charted territory or because the GM isn't as good at improv as prep.

I've been gaming for more than half my life. I can usually tell when I'm going to take a swerve. When I do this, I accept that the quality of the game may degrade. I can't get too disappointed if that happens as expected. If I wanted to only ever play in a perfectly prepped game, I'd behave as predictably as possible and try to steer the other players in the obvious directions. In my experience, a GM in the above scenario is in a no-win situation. Either the Players feel railroaded because they must stick to the planned area, or the Players feel the session degraded because they jumped the rails and now the GM has to improvise. Both have all too often resulted in Players expressing frustration. . . sometimes even the same Players, and often at the same table.

valadil
2013-03-26, 02:38 PM
Good imagination, powerful random terrain generator and a fast drawing hand can mitigate prep time for locations too.

A slow drawing hand is also a good stall tactic. Set up the castle walls while figuring out what defensive spells are on the door to the keep.

Another option here is to outsource it. I can improv pretty well, but the players outnumber me and can probably do better when they put their heads together.

For example, if I've mapped out the bandit's cave, but the players decide to wait outside the cave and ambush the bandits, I've got no map. Instead of randomly shoving some trees on a grid, I'll let the players make a check. Depending on how well they do, they can draw out the ambush scene. They probably won't have a pile of boulders to roll into the cave, but they can certainly have a high tree for each archer, a stream, and a field wide enough for the guy with the lance.

valadil
2013-03-26, 02:41 PM
In my experience, a GM in the above scenario is in a no-win situation. Either the Players feel railroaded because they must stick to the planned area, or the Players feel the session degraded because they jumped the rails and now the GM has to improvise. Both have all too often resulted in Players expressing frustration. . . sometimes even the same Players, and often at the same table.

You've got picky players. Actually I may have forgiving players. In all the groups I've been a regular in, everyone has GMed. There's no permanent GM. I think this makes us all more forgiving of things like this.

There is a third option. Take 10 while the GM plans. I did this a lot in my first game. Whenever the players stymied me, we broke for dinner. They ate while I prepped.

scurv
2013-03-26, 02:47 PM
I tend to keep old content that I have done and by and large tweeks with hp/ac/attack bonus can give old content fair flexibility as something impromptu.


And if you do not mind playing with editors as a time killer hobby on toys such as Google chrome or ones from games. The one from neverwinters nights 1 and 2 comes to mind You can still have some impressive and fair content for those occasions when your players spaz out on you. Also do not be afraid to call it a night early to find out what they want.

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 02:47 PM
You've got picky players. Actually I may have forgiving players. In all the groups I've been a regular in, everyone has GMed. There's no permanent GM. I think this makes us all more forgiving of things like this.

There is a third option. Take 10 while the GM plans. I did this a lot in my first game. Whenever the players stymied me, we broke for dinner. They ate while I prepped.

Glad that's worked for you; I've seen Players opt to leave for the day with the parting shot of "I thought you said you were prepared" when the GM called for such a break to regroup.

Rhynn
2013-03-26, 02:51 PM
Good imagination, powerful random terrain generator and a fast drawing hand can mitigate prep time for locations too. Me, I can conjure a whole haunted town from wholecloth in a matter of minutes, because I'm an actual construction worker - it's not much of a feat to quickly sketch outline of small village etc.

It's definitely a matter of GM expertise, yes. I can whip up plausible medieval villages and manors and motte-and-baileys very fast because I've read so much about feudal life and villages, etc.

I also have a large enough selection of dungeon maps and keep and castle floorplans that I can just grab one to use at need if my players really catch me off guard... stocking up is always a good idea.


Of course, since I suck at drawing, my sketches tend to be awful, but they serve their purpose. I've had my players zip from island to island, drawing each island as they happened upon them. Of course, this work during session was invaluable later on, since my players often ended visiting those islands multiple times, so I got a chance to flesh them out.

This, too. If you're running a setting rather than a linear single-plot game, no work you put into detailing some place will ever go to waste. Re-using interesting locations, sometimes with changes (over time, from PC actions, etc.) is a great idea.

Edit:

Glad that's worked for you; I've seen Players opt to leave for the day with the parting shot of "I thought you said you were prepared" when the GM called for such a break to regroup.

You seriously have like some of the worst experiences with players I've heard that don't involve actual violence. I'm really sorry, man.

Kornaki
2013-03-26, 02:51 PM
Glad that's worked for you; I've seen Players opt to leave for the day with the parting shot of "I thought you said you were prepared" when the GM called for such a break to regroup.

Tell me these players get removed from the group please

scurv
2013-03-26, 02:52 PM
Glad that's worked for you; I've seen Players opt to leave for the day with the parting shot of "I thought you said you were prepared" when the GM called for such a break to regroup.

If said players leave at a DM saying that he needs ten minutes. Then I have to ask if they have ever been a DM. Or if puberty is a past tense for them yet?

Exediron
2013-03-26, 03:13 PM
Using that definition, any game that doesn't start "you are in this world. What do you do?" is railroading. Any plot laid out by the DM is is railroading, since it is assumed that at some point, the PCs will follow it. Any BBEG is railroading since it is assumed that at some point, the PCs will have to deal with the BBEG.

It may not be immediate, but at some point, the PCs will be "railroaded" back to what the DM wants them to do. The exact actions may be up to the players, but the DM has "railroaded" them into following the plot.

No, you don't seem to be understanding what I said (or you're purposefully misinterpreting it, but let's go with not understanding). If the player must follow the plot it is a railroad; just because they do follow the plot does not make it so. If there is indeed no way not to deal with the BBEG he may very well be a manifestation of the railroad.

Let's go with a couple of examples:

a) The characters wake up in a graveyard with no explanation; the DM plans on them having to explore the crypts and mausoleums to find a way out. When they instead try to leave the graveyard, they find that the gate is impregnable and locked with a DC beyond their reach. When the thief and the ranger manage to come up with a plan to increase the thief's open lock skill enough to open the gate, they find that it's barred from the other side as well. This is a railroad, because the players are being prevented from deviating from the DM's plan.
b) The characters wake up in the graveyard and decide on their own that they want to have a look around and explore the crypts to find out where they are and why. This is what the DM wanted them to do, but it isn't inherently railroading if s/he would have let them go. If after looking in a few crypts (the wrong ones) they decide there's nothing here and leave, in a non-railroading scenario the DM would let them leave the graveyard and create something on the other side of the gate.

In the end, I think railroading comes down to choice; if the players have the option (rather they use it or not) to deviate from the script, they are not on rails. Sometimes circumstances that the characters have brought upon themselves will remove their choices, but in that case it still isn't a railroad, because it was a player choice that got them into it in the first place. This only applies if the result really is the only logical outcome, not just the DM punishing them by saying 'You made a plan to dupe the mayor? Well, around here you're burned as a witch for doing that. Sorry, you brought that on yourselves.'


But see, an RPG is a GM prodding a group of players from one pre-scripted event to another. That is the 'game' part.

The problem might be the False Freedom Theory: Players of an RPG think they have the freedom to do anything at any time. This is, of course, false. The players can only do things that lead to pre-scripted events. Not every GM can make up stuff out of the blue, everything needs to be done well before the game. The classic one is, right in the middle of the adventure were the players should be heading to spot A, they pull out the map and say ''oh we go to spot B''.

Railroading is also a very over used term. It's the player crying wolf. Every time anything that the player does not like happens; "Oh It's just the GM railroading me again''.

No, the 'game' part is that it has rules. The rules of the system which are designed to simulate and resolve the actions taken by the characters in the game.

I strongly disagree with your stated belief that the players can 'only do things that lead to pre-scripted events'. Not only can my players do things I hadn't scripted, they often do, and many others in this thread seem to feel the same way.

I don't argue that the term is very overused, however.


I have regularly seen people on various fora and in various gaming stores state that they can always tell when a GM is being forced to improvise, with the rider that it always detracts from the experience. Either yours are the exceptions that prove the rule, or I've been exposed to nothing but hyperbole in 30-some years of gaming.

I wouldn't say that, but it does seem like you have certainly been exposed to quite a bit of it - or maybe just to one specific niche of role-players who prefer a tightly scripted game. In particular, it's the second part I take issue with. I can usually tell when the DM is improvising as well, but I don't think it universally detracts from the experience, or even close.


1.Sandbox. You can start a game as a sandbox, but only for the first couple of minutes. Eventually you need a plot. Say the players ''just randomly'' want to find some lost treasure. Well, in order to do that they will need clues to follow and figure out and find the treasure. And to follow the clues, they need to stay on the rails. They can't go all snadboxy ''well the clue says the ship sank in the north ocean, so we go become astronauts and go to the moon and fight the moon dogs!" And that leads to two:

2.In order for a game to be interesting, satiating and fun it needs to stay on track. Once the players are set on a goal, they need to stay on track to that goal. That is a big part of the fun of the game: setting a goal, over coming obstacles and completing the goal. And to do that, the players need to stay on the rails. The players can never reach a goal, if they randomly go off on tangents. And it can't be all sandboxy, once the goal is set.

And like any GM knows, you often have to prod players along to get them to have fun. It's common that if not given any prodding, players will just sit around and not know what to do. Even when the GM tells them what to do "Um, guys instead of sitting around the tavern, you could go talk to Duke Dok who is also an enemy of Lord Doom who I have mentioned fifteen times now.

Err, no. This isn't how sandboxes work. If the players encounter a clue pointing to lost treasure, figure out an interpretation and follow it, that isn't railroading. All objects in motion have a path they are following, and the players in this example are also following one - but they could deviate from it at any moment (they even picked it in the first place) and so it isn't rails. The difference between a car and a train is that one can turn at any arbitrary moment the driver desires - even if it's a terrible idea - while the other can only turn when the rails turn. No amount of effort on the part of the engineer can force the train to take a path there are not rails for.


Glad that's worked for you; I've seen Players opt to leave for the day with the parting shot of "I thought you said you were prepared" when the GM called for such a break to regroup.

This would be an example of a group to leave.

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 05:33 PM
You seriously have like some of the worst experiences with players I've heard that don't involve actual violence. I'm really sorry, man.
If only the sincere well-wishes of my fellow forumites were sufficient to solve the issue.

Lorsa
2013-03-26, 07:22 PM
The Big Model Wiki defines railroading as Force applied in a manner that breaks the social contract. I think the latter part is what makes it so hard for people to agree. We all have different ideas of how games are supposed to be - thus railroading automatically mean something different to each of us. So in this case I think actually an objective definition that involves a subjective (the social contract) isn't such a bad idea.

But here we are discussing what definition will be used within the playground. If we can't agree then someone just have to decide what definition we will use and everyone has to stick with that. To avoid confusion.

Now I don't have a good definition of sandbox either, but I am fairly certain some people's ideas of sandbox games are more dysfunctional games than anything. Having a problem, adventure or the like (or several) for players to solve does not make something not-sandbox. A sandbox has to have toys in it, and other kids (NPCs) that want to do stuff. If there's nothing to play around with it's just dysfunctional play.

To me railroading is when the GM has decided HOW the problems / adventures WILL be solved and uses his power to make sure it happens that way. To me, a good game is when the GM decides on the outcome of the players' choices based on how likely they are to succeed (and use dice rolls to help if needed). Rather than deciding "the PCs will go to the tavern and talk to the barkeep to get rumours where to find the hidden tower where the evil overlord has captured the princess" he presents the problem 'find the location of the tower' and lets the players figure out how to solve it. If they come up with the idea of "let's go talk to the barkeep!" he can think "oh, that might work, the barkeep should know something" or maybe they'll say "we go visit the library and speak to the scholar" and the GM might think "yeah, a 60-year old scholar should probably know this" etc.

Many times my players come up with an idea I haven't considered and when I consider it all I can come up with is "yeah, that's a good idea, why wouldn't it work!". Some ideas ARE bad and should not work, but if you are uncertain, err on the side of the players. If they come up with a fun plan, in general you should allow it! Let your players decide HOW things happen.

Also, I can't for my life see how a GM improvising leads to poor play. That's just if the GM is bad to begin with. I improvise just about all the time. I keep a list of names that I can give random NPCs should I need to and usually make backstory out as it becomes relevant (when the players ask). I also prepare of course - but mostly when I know what the players will do ("yes, we will take on this quest to travel to this village" - is a good sign you should decide on some things / people that live in said village (and things that can happen on the way)). Sometimes I plan things 'just in case' and never use because they chose something else. But yes, all roleplaying WILL require either improvising or railroading from the GM. And of those two, I consider railroading to be dysfunctional so...

practice improvising. Heck, the players improvise THE ENTIRE TIME as they can't plan how to react to whatever will happen. Why shouldn't the GM improvise as well?

Rhynn
2013-03-26, 08:58 PM
To me railroading is when the GM has decided HOW the problems / adventures WILL be solved and uses his power to make sure it happens that way. To me, a good game is when the GM decides on the outcome of the players' choices based on how likely they are to succeed (and use dice rolls to help if needed). Rather than deciding "the PCs will go to the tavern and talk to the barkeep to get rumours where to find the hidden tower where the evil overlord has captured the princess" he presents the problem 'find the location of the tower' and lets the players figure out how to solve it. If they come up with the idea of "let's go talk to the barkeep!" he can think "oh, that might work, the barkeep should know something" or maybe they'll say "we go visit the library and speak to the scholar" and the GM might think "yeah, a 60-year old scholar should probably know this" etc.

A thousand times yes.

It's also ultimately not that hard to improvise like this. It just requires familiarity with story elements and tropes (most GMs read a lot anyway). To me, avoiding unnecessary prep is essential, so it's much better to just create things on the spot as the players focus on them. I prefer to create broad and fuzzy outlines that come into focus when the players pay attention to them, to the degree that they pay attention. Who cares if the blacksmith is married, unless the PCs for some reason go to his home? Who cares if the blacksmith's marriage is happy, unless the PCs try to seduce the blacksmith for a discount? And so on. These sort of decisions can be made as easily on the spot as beforehand.

Zak S over at his (supposedly NSFW) blog talked (http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.fi/2013/03/journey-to-creamy-vanilla-center-of.html) about something related just recently in connection to reviewing Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk; you should never waste time or space writing about things that are obvious. You don't need to describe the schedule of a bar unless it's completely exceptional somehow. You don't need to describe a stereotypical bartender. And so on. It's wasted writing, because you can just rely on the obvious and well-known tropes shared by your audience (or if not shared between you and some member of your audience, then shared by that audience member's RPG group).

Amphetryon
2013-03-26, 09:32 PM
Please don't get me started on tropes, Rhynn.

Malrone
2013-03-26, 10:06 PM
I take offense at being told I'm a bad DM for being unable to always improvise to the situation. Yes, the players are always having to react to new data, but their character is their character is their character. A DM has innumerable more details, mechanics, and responsibility to wrangle with. Personally, I can characterize an NPC, hash together the broad strokes of a town, and otherwise guide the fluff of the game with impunity. But the crunch of it, oh fudge the crunch. As I said before, I don't have much of an intuitive handle for encounter difficulty, and such related statistics like a trap's DC or a creature's core bonuses, being fairly new to running the show. The party breaks our own social contract, I will refuse to take blame for the invariable lag the game will come under, as I start scrabbling through PDFs and notebooks.

An ideal world this is not, after all.

On Tropes: Tropes Are Tools, and all that. Many became popular devices for good reason. Of course, a well worn tool degrades, and cliches are oft not welcome. It takes discretion and a careful hand to run the more well known tropes correctly.

Rhynn
2013-03-26, 10:25 PM
Please don't get me started on tropes, Rhynn.

Start, start, start!

It can't be a worse start for a discussion than a spammer.


I take offense at being told I'm a bad DM for being unable to always improvise to the situation. Yes, the players are always having to react to new data, but their character is their character is their character. A DM has innumerable more details, mechanics, and responsibility to wrangle with. Personally, I can characterize an NPC, hash together the broad strokes of a town, and otherwise guide the fluff of the game with impunity. But the crunch of it, oh fudge the crunch. As I said before, I don't have much of an intuitive handle for encounter difficulty, and such related statistics like a trap's DC or a creature's core bonuses, being fairly new to running the show. The party breaks our own social contract, I will refuse to take blame for the invariable lag the game will come under, as I start scrabbling through PDFs and notebooks.

That's a problem with systems, and a good reason to dislike 3.XE. D&D 3E and 4E are not friendly to improvisation or open gaming, and almost require linear play (4E more than 3E).

Older D&D, OSR retroclones, and many other games work fine. For A:AKW, I have big files of basic stats. I can pull an appropriate occupation, customize it by rolling and applying lineages, and increase any of the numbers (because there are no derived attributes, other than the sums of the ability scores).

Plenty of systems don't require hours spent working on stats for encounters, making them much more improvisation-friendly.

Lorsa
2013-03-27, 04:27 AM
Improvisation will sometimes require checking something up or taking a minute or three paus. There's nothing wrong with that. Anything is better than "no you can't go there because I didn't plan for it". In an ideal situation the roleplaying between the players should give you time to think as well.

Jon_Dahl
2013-03-27, 05:34 AM
Railroading is NOT this:
- GM creating a very linear and/or difficult adventure which offers no or little options
- GM not allowing or helping the PCs to do something for in-game reasons
- GM following the rules of the game and not allowing something
- GM following the theme of the setting and not allowing something

Railroading is this:
- Forcing players to follow a certain path using GM fiat
- It doesn't matter if you sleep through the game, it will still follow the same path

It saddens me that some players think that it's railroading if the adventure goes like this:
Go to the place A and do something very specific in certain way and in a certain order and basically read the GM's mind while doing this. Then you might succeed.
This is not railroading. It's just an adventure with very few options. Maybe no options at all, you just have to do all the right things if you want to beat the adventure. You might very easily fail the mission.

If you go to the place A, adventure will await. If you leave that place and go to the place B, the same adventure will await there too. If you fail, the adventure will continue. If you succeed, the adventure will continue. Whatever you do, wherever you, the Story, the same cursed Story, will continue. You cannot choose anything, you cannot fail and thus end the adventure, you cannot have real influence on what is happening. The GM is playing alone there and you are the audience.
This is railroading.

TuggyNE
2013-03-27, 05:52 AM
It may be useful, for those noting various bad things railroading isn't, to give some sort of name for them, so it's obvious those aren't considered OK. For example, what's a suitable pejorative for an adventure in which reading the DM's mind, or sheer dumb luck, is literally required to continue?

Frozen_Feet
2013-03-27, 06:01 AM
Assuming others know everything you do = egoism.
Crafting purposefully difficult and lethal adentures = sadism.
Sticking to the rules, no matter what = legalism.
Sticking to the setting, no matter what = lorefapping.
Saying "no" just because you can = tyranny.

For game scenarios that are essentially unwinnable, pick what fits: Catch 22, Morton's fork, sadistic choice, No Win, Lose-Lose, dumb luck, nigh-impossible, practically impossible, dead end, etc. etc. etc.

Lorsa
2013-03-27, 06:01 AM
While it might not be railroading as such, it can often lead to it.

Very constrained adventure plan + GM that wants the players to succeed and continue to the next adventure = railroading

Very constrained adventure plan + GM that doesn't want the players to succeed = dead or generally failed group of players

Frozen_Feet
2013-03-27, 06:15 AM
Yes, any strict scenario where the GM wants one outcome over others becomes railroading if the GM takes steps to ensure that outcome (fudging etc.). This is the transition from "little choice" to "no choice", and from "resistant to change" to "impervious to change".

Which is why a GM should avoid favoring outcomes.

Also, quoting from wikipedia's Catch-22 entry, here's a list of "pejoratives" to use for nasty game scenarios:

Begging the question
Cadmean victory – A victory leading to one's own ruin
Game of Chicken – Two participants desire a positive outcome by taking an action, yet if taken by both the result is devastatingly negative.
Chicken or the egg – a seemingly unbreakable cycle of causation, which has an unknown origin.
Circular reasoning
Cornelian dilemma – a choice between actions which will all have a detrimental effect on the chooser or on someone they care for.
Deadlock – in computing, when two processes reach a standstill or impasse, each waiting for the other to finish.
Deal with the Devil – a cultural motif related to society, morals and religion, best portrayed in Faust, in which a dangerous bargain is struck between a person and Satan, with the human soul in eternal damnation as payment.
Double bind – a forced choice between two logically conflicting demands.
False dilemma – a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options
Gift of the Magi – Where two people in love with each other sell their belongings to buy gifts for each other, only to end up giving gifts related to the belonging they have sacrificed. (i.e. A man sells a pocket watch to buy a brush for his wife. The wife had sold her long beautiful hair to buy a chain for the man's pocket watch.)
Hobson's choice – the choice between taking what is offered and taking nothing. (After James Hobson, owner of a livery stable who required his customers to take the horse nearest the door.)
Kobayashi Maru – a scenario involving a choice between death of civilians or of the civilians and the officers who try to save them.
The Lady, or the Tiger? – a short story involving a princess who must make a decision in a no-win situation.
Lesser of two evils principle – a choice between two undesirable outcomes.
Necessary Evil – anything which, despite being considered to have undesirable qualities, is preferable to its absence or alternative.
Morton's Fork – a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives.
Mu - a question that is founded on incorrect or irrelevant assumptions.
No-win situation – real choices do exist, but no choice leads to success. (See Kobayashi Maru.)
Paradox – a statement or group of statements that leads to a contradiction or a situation which defies intuition.
Pyrrhic victory - a success which is especially costly. (After King Pyrrhus, who sustained such heavy losses when he fought against, and won over, a Roman army that he is said to have complained, "Another such victory, and I am undone!")
Social trap - a situation in which a group of people act to obtain short-term individual gains, which in the long run leads to a loss for the group as a whole
Sophie's Choice – a choice between two equally beloved entities, one of which must be destroyed to preserve the existence of the other.
Vicious circle - essentially the same as a Catch-22
The Captain of Kφpenick
Winner's curse
Zugzwang

TuggyNE
2013-03-27, 07:29 AM
That is an imposing and bountiful list! I particularly like zugzwang; coming as it does from an inherently competitive game, it's a nice little slap in the face of a DM who's trying to "win".

Lorsa
2013-03-27, 07:57 AM
Personally I was leaning towards Hobson's choice.

GoddessSune
2013-03-27, 10:06 AM
In the end, I think railroading comes down to choice; if the players have the option (rather they use it or not) to deviate from the script, they are not on rails. Sometimes circumstances that the characters have brought upon themselves will remove their choices, but in that case it still isn't a railroad, because it was a player choice that got them into it in the first place.

I'd note most players would say that players having their choices removed is still railroading.



I strongly disagree with your stated belief that the players can 'only do things that lead to pre-scripted events'. Not only can my players do things I hadn't scripted, they often do, and many others in this thread seem to feel the same way.

Well, maybe not 'only', but the pre palnned events are always much better. Everyone forgets the Good Side of Railroading:Making and keeping the game fun.

1. I know everyone wants to say ''oh I can whip up a great game in seconds'', and I'll just say 'ok' to that. But not every GM can 'whip up' a great game in ten minutes with nothing but a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Some DM's take quite some time to prepare for a game.

2. The GM needs to keep the game fun. This is very important. So the GM needs to create fun things for the players to do. So lets say the players just love a big melee free for all battle. Well, the GM must create that. Now some GM's can Macguyver an awesome battle encounter with a paper clip and chewing gum in a couple seconds, but the rest of the GM's will take the time to draw and encounter map, look up foes, and otherwise plan a fun encounter with the player characters in mind.

3. But then, the GM needs to get the players to that fun encounter. The GM has to lead the characters to the fun. It just does not work for: "You wake up in the morning and the 'Temple of the Frog' falls out of the sky right in front of you, roll initiative!". It works more like ''there have been lots of bandit attacks along Swamp Road, the Prince asks you to look into it(and the Temple of the Frog is just a bit off that road)...".

4. So the GM has a fun encounter planned. And he needs to get the characters to it in a nice flowing plot. But quite often, the players don't follow the plot. If left to simply and freely make whatever choices they want, the players can very easily eat up hours of game time doing nothing. So instead of just heading down the Swamp Road, they hang around in town and talk to NPCs. And all the while the players whine ''this game is so boring, I wish we could get to the big awesome combat that we all love and came here to do''. And the GM just shakes her head and says ''Well there was a 15th bandit attack on the Swamp Road as you guys again walked around town all day. The Prince asks you for the 15th time to head down the road..."

5. So what does the GM do? She railroads the players right over to the door step of the Temple of the Frog. And then the big battle/temple raid starts and all the players are happy and having fun. And to railroad them, she needs to take away their choices. They need to go to the temple of the frog to have fun. Period. So, ''Well after the 16th attack the Prince orders the town evacuated. He comes to your group with a Royal Order that says ''You will head down the Swamp Road. NOW''.


This is an example of good railroading. Leading the players where they want to go. And yes, like anything else the GM can use it in the bad way ''ok, for today's game you will attack the Abyss or you can all go home''.

Lorsa
2013-03-27, 10:58 AM
That seem to be a problem with players working against their own interests. Or possible making the wrong type of characters for the game / setting. I have never encountered a problem where my players have made characters that are somewhat good-aligned, liking their kingdom and their king refuse a direct request. Ideally if you know what characters they have (and what players they are) the adventure hooks will be something they are interested in. But in that scenario, what if one of the NPCs they talk to is really excited and getting ready for a journey to this 'temple of the frog' that was just uncovered, or found clues to in a book and now he's going to go there to get rich. Most players like adventure so they'll think "oh, if he can get rich so can I, let's beat him to it!". Then you still get the epic fight at the temple without having to actually force them there - all you do is supply an additional adventure hook, one which the characters might care about (if they for some reason didn't care about the first).

I don't think I've ever met people who refuse to explore all possible adventure hooks / problems I've supplied them. That just seem weird to me.

valadil
2013-03-27, 11:02 AM
I don't think I've ever met people who refuse to explore all possible adventure hooks / problems I've supplied them. That just seem weird to me.

I have, but it's usually just selfish players pushing a new GM's buttons, just to see how he squirms. Occasionally you get someone who insists that all the hooks don't apply to his character. In those cases I really like The Giant's advice, that roleplaying isn't about only doing what's in character, but about finding an in character reason to do what the party is doing.

Kurald Galain
2013-03-27, 11:07 AM
Railroading is NOT this:
- GM creating a very linear and/or difficult adventure which offers no or little options
Sure it is. If the adventure is very linear, then it is almost by definition a railroad. I'm not sure how difficulty comes into it.

Many or most D&D modules printed by WOTC are clear railroading, in particular anything related to Living Forgotten Realms. These are written as clear scenes that the players must follow to complete their quest. For example, many of them go like this:

Goody McQuestgiver asks the PCs to find a McGuffin which is in the Castle of Badguy. Note that being given a quest, in and of itself, is not railroading but a genre convention.
The PCs ask in town for information about where to find the castle.
The PCs leave town and get attacked, cue combat #1
The PCs try to find their way to the Castle of Badguy, cue a bunch of skill checks
The PCs arrive at the castle and fight Count Von Badguy, cue combat #2
After being defeated, the count tells them he doesn't have the McGuffin. Insert some skill checks to get information out of him, and the PCs learn that Goody had the McGuffin all along.
The PCs are back in their starting town and have to fight Goody McQuestgiver, cue combat #3.
End of story, receive loot and XP. Yay.


Clear case of railroading. Of course, many beginning DMs take their inspiration from these, and may be unaware that adventures can be written differently.

Lorsa
2013-03-27, 11:20 AM
Most adventure modules I have ever read are somewhat like that. Which is why I don't like them. The thing that you can use is pre-written locales or NPCs because they are not plot-dependant. Writing an "epic campaign book supplement" probably never will end up leading to very fun play because it has to decide the course of the play. Otherwise it can't be pre-written.

Amphetryon
2013-03-27, 11:33 AM
If said players leave at a DM saying that he needs ten minutes. Then I have to ask if they have ever been a DM. Or if puberty is a past tense for them yet?Yes to the former, no to the latter (in at least one relevant case).


Goody McQuestgiver asks the PCs to find a McGuffin which is in the Castle of Badguy. Note that being given a quest, in and of itself, is not railroading but a genre convention.I've seen disagreement at the gaming table over the portion I bolded.

On tropes, at Rhynn's request:
I've had Players call any storyline which could be summed up by an entry on TVTropes "lazy DMing." So, yeah.

Kurald Galain
2013-03-27, 11:43 AM
I've seen disagreement at the gaming table over the portion I bolded.

Me too, but in the context of LFR, the players know in advance what adventures are going to be run when and where (and they can see the blurb) so if their character chooses to not go on this particular quest, the player can simply choose to sign up for some other session instead.

NichG
2013-03-27, 11:50 AM
Sure it is. If the adventure is very linear, then it is almost by definition a railroad. I'm not sure how difficulty comes into it.

Many or most D&D modules printed by WOTC are clear railroading, in particular anything related to Living Forgotten Realms. These are written as clear scenes that the players must follow to complete their quest. For example, many of them go like this:

...

Clear case of railroading. Of course, many beginning DMs take their inspiration from these, and may be unaware that adventures can be written differently.


Lets be careful on terms, since thats what this thread is about. This is a linear adventure, but it in of itself is not (cannot be) a railroad. As was pointed out earlier, railroading is a verb - its something a DM actively does. Your listed adventure can be run without railroading in at least two different ways:

- The players could end up doing as the module predicts they will do of their own initiative.
- The DM could recognize when the players do something that short-circuits part of the module successfully, and run based on the natural consequences of those actions. For instance, if for whatever reason the players decide to kill the quest giver right at the start, or if they sneak out of town to avoid the combat, or even if they just figure out something is up and break into the questgiver's house because they pass a Sense Motive check.

Its only railroading when something is actively done to shut down the 'derailing' actions. Until then, its merely a 'temptation to railroad' or an adventure which may require railroading to run as planned (but really, railroading is all about forcing a plan, so I'm not actually sure this is much of a point).



I've seen disagreement at the gaming table over the portion I bolded.


That definition leads to something so broad as to be useless for any discussion though. For the purpose of coming up with a useful definition for discussion I think we should ignore your disagreeing players here, and go with something more precise than 'any form of structure'.

Jon_Dahl
2013-03-27, 11:58 AM
Lets be careful on terms, since thats what this thread is about. This is a linear adventure, but it in of itself is not (cannot be) a railroad. As was pointed out earlier, railroading is a verb - its something a DM actively does. Your listed adventure can be run without railroading in at least two different ways:

- The players could end up doing as the module predicts they will do of their own initiative.
- The DM could recognize when the players do something that short-circuits part of the module successfully, and run based on the natural consequences of those actions. For instance, if for whatever reason the players decide to kill the quest giver right at the start, or if they sneak out of town to avoid the combat, or even if they just figure out something is up and break into the questgiver's house because they pass a Sense Motive check.

Its only railroading when something is actively done to shut down the 'derailing' actions. Until then, its merely a 'temptation to railroad' or an adventure which may require railroading to run as planned (but really, railroading is all about forcing a plan, so I'm not actually sure this is much of a point).

Thank you NichG, that was exactly my point.

GoddessSune
2013-03-27, 12:11 PM
I don't think I've ever met people who refuse to explore all possible adventure hooks / problems I've supplied them. That just seem weird to me.

Sure, it's weird...but also quite common. Without a Good Railroad to ride on, a lot of players will endless wander around forever. It can be quite amazing to see when a GM says ''there is free loot to the south'' and then the players turn and go north.

And it's much more common for mysteries or more social type plots. Like where the players are investigating a murder. Fictional detectives, like Sherlock Holmes or Batman make insane jumps to advance the storyline ( ''A soup spoon on the floor! It was Cornell Mustard in the library with the candlestick!"). But in an RPG the players need to ''really'' solve the mystery(and assuming we are not using the ''roll a dice to solve the mystery"). But not every player is a master detective. When given a mystery, lots of players will just sputter out. And this is where the GM needs to step in with the railroad

Rhynn
2013-03-27, 02:16 PM
Clear case of railroading. Of course, many beginning DMs take their inspiration from these, and may be unaware that adventures can be written differently.

I still don't think so. I think that's a linear adventure, but railroading is a specific thing the GM does during play - actively forcing the players to follow the linear adventure. Linear advetures often lead to railroading to some degree, because they "need" that to stay on track.

What NichG said, basically.


On tropes, at Rhynn's request:
I've had Players call any storyline which could be summed up by an entry on TVTropes "lazy DMing." So, yeah.

Sometimes someone's opinion is just worthless. All stories use tropes. Read Joseph Campbell - all stories across all cultures use similar themes and ideas, for good reasons.

Also, using tropes or stereotypes like "surly bartender" in play is not the same as an entire adventure that can be summed up by a TVTropes entry. (Not that using that as a criterion for dismissal makes sense - tropes are descriptive.)


Sure, it's weird...but also quite common. Without a Good Railroad to ride on, a lot of players will endless wander around forever. It can be quite amazing to see when a GM says ''there is free loot to the south'' and then the players turn and go north.

Some players are just bad. This can be discussed. Being a RPG player is as much a matter of skill as being a GM.



And it's much more common for mysteries or more social type plots. Like where the players are investigating a murder. Fictional detectives, like Sherlock Holmes or Batman make insane jumps to advance the storyline ( ''A soup spoon on the floor! It was Cornell Mustard in the library with the candlestick!"). But in an RPG the players need to ''really'' solve the mystery(and assuming we are not using the ''roll a dice to solve the mystery"). But not every player is a master detective. When given a mystery, lots of players will just sputter out. And this is where the GM needs to step in with the railroad

Or just not run adventures the players are no good at.

Mysteries are their own difficult thing, though. They will not work if the players are not active and driven - they don't need to be master detectives, the GM just has to not make the mystery too hard (and to have many, many clues for each link in the chain).

Amphetryon
2013-03-27, 03:17 PM
Read Joseph CampbellI have done so.

The Fury
2013-03-27, 03:19 PM
I don't recall this being brought up but I think it's an important part of what makes a railroad plot a railroad plot: if the players do somehow manage to leave the pre-planned path that the DM has come up with then the game is over. When you derail a railroad plot the only thing left is a trainwreck.

kardar233
2013-03-27, 05:11 PM
I don't recall this being brought up but I think it's an important part of what makes a railroad plot a railroad plot: if the players do somehow manage to leave the pre-planned path that the DM has come up with then the game is over. When you derail a railroad plot the only thing left is a trainwreck.

That's a sign of a linear plot, not a railroaded one. When you have a linear plot and the players are starting to leave it (and in-character motivation to stay on it isn't working), you can either:

Break character and explain OOC that this is the plot you have prepared and if they want something else you're going to need some time

Or, start railroading the PCs.

I've seen quite a few DMs take the latter option because they think that having to break character and talk to the players out-of-game reflects badly on their DMing skills.


In the end, I think railroading comes down to choice; if the players have the option (rather they use it or not) to deviate from the script, they are not on rails. Sometimes circumstances that the characters have brought upon themselves will remove their choices, but in that case it still isn't a railroad, because it was a player choice that got them into it in the first place.



I'd note most players would say that players having their choices removed is still railroading.

I would disagree. If you're in a Star Wars game and you decide to piss off a Star Destroyer, being caught in a tractor beam is a logical result (assuming they don't just blow you up).

My question is: is railroading as bad when it's internally consistent?

NichG
2013-03-27, 07:13 PM
My question is: is railroading as bad when it's internally consistent?

I'd personally argue that if its internally consistent consequences, its not railroading - its just what happens when you do whatever thing.

This does bring up an interesting point though. Everyone talks about railroading, but there's also the other extreme, when things that shouldn't work are allowed to work or have some chance of success for metagame reasons (e.g. not wanting to upset players, or even just a system that inherently has a 'say yes, but instead of no' kind of philosophy). Any suggestions for a name for that kind of thing?

kardar233
2013-03-27, 07:21 PM
I'd personally argue that if its internally consistent consequences, its not railroading - its just what happens when you do whatever thing.

That's not quite what I was asking. I doubt anyone except the most disgruntled players would clam that internally consistent consequences are railroading.

What I'm thinking of is something like the adventure set in a small town that was mentioned a while back. If it's established that the storm is grounding planes, the passes are impassable due to the storm, etc. the players' options are constrained as they can't choose to leave the town. I know some people who would call that railroading, even though I wouldn't.

scurv
2013-03-27, 09:21 PM
I'd personally argue that if its internally consistent consequences, its not railroading - its just what happens when you do whatever thing.

This does bring up an interesting point though. Everyone talks about railroading, but there's also the other extreme, when things that shouldn't work are allowed to work or have some chance of success for metagame reasons (e.g. not wanting to upset players, or even just a system that inherently has a 'say yes, but instead of no' kind of philosophy). Any suggestions for a name for that kind of thing?

Self entitled players socially bullying the DM into submission?

valadil
2013-03-27, 09:42 PM
Sure, it's weird...but also quite common. Without a Good Railroad to ride on, a lot of players will endless wander around forever.

A railroad is a tool. There are times to use it. IMO a good GM will have a feeling for how much plot momentum the players have and how much initiative they'll take. If he takes the plot pressure away, will they keep the ball rolling on their own? Personally I lay the rails down heavy in the beginning of the game, but once the plot is up and running I let the players carry it.

Anyway, this is a tangent. I don't think the thread is about when to railroad, but what is a railroad.



I would disagree. If you're in a Star Wars game and you decide to piss off a Star Destroyer, being caught in a tractor beam is a logical result (assuming they don't just blow you up).

My question is: is railroading as bad when it's internally consistent?

I would not call that railroading. The crew of a Star Destroyer has agency in the world. The PCs pissed of the SD. The SD reacted. If it didn't react in this way, it wouldn't really be a Star Destroyer. Railroading would be the GM telling the PCs "don't do that, they'll just tractor beam you and we'll have to run another jailbreak session." He let the players make their choice and dealt them appropriate (and predictable) response.

I can't find the thread but I made an exaggerated example in another post. Consider an adventuring party tasked with rescuing a cat from a tree.

Halfling: I fly and rescue the cat.
GM: With what? You don't have level 4 spells, or winged boots.
Halfling: I just want to fly okay.
GM: What about gravity.
Halfling: Stop railroading me with your laws of physics.

Gravity is part of the campaign setting. Tractor beams are too. The world is going to work in a certain way. The system of the world behaving correctly has nothing to do with railroading. Now if the GM decides to forgo the tractor beam roll because he really wants a jailbreak scene, that's another matter.


This does bring up an interesting point though. Everyone talks about railroading, but there's also the other extreme, when things that shouldn't work are allowed to work or have some chance of success for metagame reasons (e.g. not wanting to upset players, or even just a system that inherently has a 'say yes, but instead of no' kind of philosophy). Any suggestions for a name for that kind of thing?

I've been calling it All Roads Lead to Victory. I'm not a huge fan of it either. But if you turn the 'but' part of 'yes, but', you end up with some roads leading to victory and most leading to plot cul-de-sacs. I'm okay with that.

Lorsa
2013-03-28, 04:13 AM
The more I read of this thread the more I think the definitions that emerged from the Forge are actually pretty good in this case.

http://big-model.info/wiki/Force

http://big-model.info/wiki/Railroading

Frozen_Feet
2013-03-28, 04:38 AM
This does bring up an interesting point though. Everyone talks about railroading, but there's also the other extreme, when things that shouldn't work are allowed to work or have some chance of success for metagame reasons (e.g. not wanting to upset players, or even just a system that inherently has a 'say yes, but instead of no' kind of philosophy). Any suggestions for a name for that kind of thing?

It's called "Everything goes" or "Calvinball".

Surfnerd
2013-03-28, 08:01 AM
I read over most of this thread and it seems to be that railroading is just two four letter words smashed together set to offend. It seems as part of the definition you could include the concept that it can be used as a tool just as much as anything else, but like any tool you can overuse it. If a game could be too loose than railroading is a fine tool to temper that problem.

If I can say I took anything away from this thread its that railroading isn't as terrible as I initially perceived and has its place. Because I don't see a real definitive definition suddenly appearing after four pages of discussion, and some people believe that even the smallest slightest tiny bit of drizzle of rail is full blown railroading and others see it as purposeful and transparent acts by the GM/DM to force players to stay full steam ahead, then railroading is both good and bad depending upon the heavy handedness.

Its seems that the player who cries railroad and rallies against his DM as a bad DM probably helped solidify the term as negative. Sometimes you have to expedite the game to fun town and its probably better to throw the party on the DM Plot Express than letting them wallow about. But on the same turn not every street of Fun town needs to have rails.

valadil
2013-03-28, 08:12 AM
One other thought. I kept meaning to bring this up but lost it midway through my other replies.

How do people feel about gentle railroading? What I mean by that is this: the players start leaving the tracks. The GM hints or pushes that the tracks go thataway. The players continue on their own direction. This GM is okay with this.

I want to say this is harmless, except that there are some players that see the nudge, assume it's the beginning of a railroad, and go back on track. The players took the hint too far and now they think they're in a fully railroaded game, when in fact that's not what the GM meant.

Amphetryon
2013-03-28, 08:22 AM
I want to say this is harmless, except that there are some players that see the nudge, assume it's the beginning of a railroad, and go back on track. The players took the hint too far and now they think they're in a fully railroaded game, when in fact that's not what the GM meant.Other players see the nudge, assume it's the beginning of a railroad, and fight all the more strenuously to avoid what they perceive as a forced straight-jacket plot because they want to treat the game as some sort of freeform Grand Theft Auto experience where they actively avoid deliberate 'quests.'

Lorsa
2013-03-28, 08:30 AM
I read over most of this thread and it seems to be that railroading is just two four letter words smashed together set to offend. It seems as part of the definition you could include the concept that it can be used as a tool just as much as anything else, but like any tool you can overuse it. If a game could be too loose than railroading is a fine tool to temper that problem.

If I can say I took anything away from this thread its that railroading isn't as terrible as I initially perceived and has its place. Because I don't see a real definitive definition suddenly appearing after four pages of discussion, and some people believe that even the smallest slightest tiny bit of drizzle of rail is full blown railroading and others see it as purposeful and transparent acts by the GM/DM to force players to stay full steam ahead, then railroading is both good and bad depending upon the heavy handedness.

Its seems that the player who cries railroad and rallies against his DM as a bad DM probably helped solidify the term as negative. Sometimes you have to expedite the game to fun town and its probably better to throw the party on the DM Plot Express than letting them wallow about. But on the same turn not every street of Fun town needs to have rails.

Actually the more I think about it the more I like the definition I posted. Force is a tool, a technique the GM (or other players) can use in order to advance the game. Different groups will have different tolerance for how much Force can or can not be used. When the GM (or a player) exceeds this limit then that is railroading. Thus Railroading is always bad but Force is not. Since railroading has a negative implication for many I find it is useful to have a definition that is describing dysfunctional play. Force on the other hand, is not negative and is thus the tool you use when you describe a GM forcing the players down a certain path. As long as this force does not break the social contract - all is fine.

From that definition we can conclude the following:

"Soft" railroading as in giving tiny hints is not railroading at all since it is not using Force.

Using in-world agreed upon logical consequences for actions is not railroading as the Force used is within the social contract. Note "agreed-upon" as it is fairly important. If the players agreed to play in a world that has gravity then complaining your character can not fly at will to be railroading is completely without merit. Complaining without such agreement does have merit and can thus be railroading but in this case the problem lies with not having a clearly defined social contract as to judge excessive Force use from.

Having an NPC ask the players to perform a job, favor or the like (as in giving a quest) is not railroading as it is not a use of force. There is nothing in having an NPC asking for help solving a problem that in any way overrides your ability to decide on your character's actions. It is only using force if you end the sentence with "...and then you head off into the woods to fight the bandits".

So to summarize. Force is a neutral tool that can be used by any player. When force is used in a way that breaks the agreed-upon way in which the group wishes to play it becomes railroading. Railroading is always bad as it breaks the social contract. Not all groups have made clear their social contract which sometimes causes problems.

Jon_Dahl
2013-03-28, 09:05 AM
I don't think I've ever met people who refuse to explore all possible adventure hooks / problems I've supplied them. That just seem weird to me.

I have seen this.

One of my worst experiences as a GM was a superhero game, where one of the players systematically refused to do anything. He simply didn't want to adventure at all and was trying find reasons to back down from any given adventure hook. This is not off-topic because this experience really put my anti-railroading skills to test. I had two choices: Just to accept he didn't want to do anything OR force the plot. IMO I didn't force anything. The PCs DID get ambushed once and it was hard to see it coming, but that's all.

An example:
His girlfriend hinted that she wanted a "feminist adventure" so I created an adventure where the police forces of Philippines wanted to crack down a human trafficking ring. The PCs met the highest ranking police chief of the country and he requested that the PCs would help them.

The always-unwilling PC said that this is a police business and they should handle this themselves. He absolutely and firmly refused to help them. And that's it. Pages of adventure material was blown away. I didn't say anything. After that they returned back to England, so it was hard for me to even try to railroad them.

I would love to see how majority of playgrounders would have handled that.

Lorsa
2013-03-28, 09:16 AM
If the other player(s) wanted to take part in the adventure (as in caring about the police business) I would simply let the non-caring guy leave for the time being and let the other players play through the adventure.

As I said, I haven't run into this problem very often if at all. My players usually want to do fun stuff and definitely do things that their characters would care about.

I guess there are basically two ways to handle people like that. Either you learn by experience what things DOES make them tic and use those as adventure hooks. Or you talk to him and ask him what sort of things he wants to do in game, what he wants to get out of the play. If that is incompatible with the wishes of the other players then you can not be a group. Not all people want to play the same type of game. "Roleplaying game" is a very loose term and vastly different types of play can be described as it. Assuming everyone at the table automatically wants the same experience is deluding yourself. Sometimes different wishes can co-exist, sometimes not. When they can't, split the group.

Frozen_Feet
2013-03-28, 09:17 AM
How do people feel about gentle railroading? What I mean by that is this: the players start leaving the tracks. The GM hints or pushes that the tracks go thataway. The players continue on their own direction. This GM is okay with this.

I want to say this is harmless, except that there are some players that see the nudge, assume it's the beginning of a railroad, and go back on track. The players took the hint too far and now they think they're in a fully railroaded game, when in fact that's not what the GM meant.

That's not railroading at all, since the players had a choice, and the GM was willing to abide by it or abided with it.

I restate: railroading is when the GM denies or ignores player choice.

Like Lorsa guessed, railroading is a Hobson's Choice - either the players play the game just like the GM presents it to them, or they don't play, period.

If there's any other choice, it's not railroading, period. Not even if the players fail to make any relevant choices.

It may, however, be one of the other nasty scenarios listed above.

Jon_Dahl
2013-03-28, 10:15 AM
If the other player(s) wanted to take part in the adventure (as in caring about the police business) I would simply let the non-caring guy leave for the time being and let the other players play through the adventure.


In front of his gf? I'm afraid I would've been in a world of hurt had I done that.

Lorsa
2013-03-28, 10:22 AM
In front of his gf? I'm afraid I would've been in a world of hurt had I done that.

Why should one persons refusal to participate in a scenario take away from other people's fun? That hardly seem fair to me. If you are talking about literal hurt then this is not a person you should spend time with anyway.

NichG
2013-03-28, 10:26 AM
Actually the more I think about it the more I like the definition I posted. Force is a tool, a technique the GM (or other players) can use in order to advance the game. Different groups will have different tolerance for how much Force can or can not be used. When the GM (or a player) exceeds this limit then that is railroading. Thus Railroading is always bad but Force is not. Since railroading has a negative implication for many I find it is useful to have a definition that is describing dysfunctional play. Force on the other hand, is not negative and is thus the tool you use when you describe a GM forcing the players down a certain path. As long as this force does not break the social contract - all is fine.


I dislike when definitions include value judgements - it makes it hard to actually later have conversations exploring novel uses of those kinds of behavior, because its 'defined to be bad'. With your chosen definitions I expect you'd say 'just talk about Force then', which I guess is okay, but it seems like its over-generalizing something that has a bit of mileage left in it.

E.g. the term Force doesn't distinguish between things on a finer level of detail than 'the social contract'. But in reality, most players won't explicitly be aware of the social contract - there are things that will strike them as 'fair' and 'unfair' and so on. There are also things that bend but do not break the social contract. For instance, if a DM runs a plot about something he likes, thats probably fine. If he makes every game's plot about that same thing, the players will likely complain about it. This is where the grey in these definitions comes from.

If the DM says 'there's a storm preventing boats from leaving' that is within his rights as DM in most games (in terms of creating the details of the setting). But when he causes a storm to come into being specifically to thwart PC action then he's beginning to railroad - he's causing the universe change on the spot because of what the PCs are trying to do. If this is done very transparently most people agree its bad, but even then I'd say there are uses for it that are not that we haven't been covering (mostly since this thread isn't really about whether its good or bad, just what it is).

For example, lets say the DM has at one point said 'this civilization with this economy exists - they highly value salt'. And then a PC tries to use Wall of Salt, a spell that the civilization has conceivably also had access to, to destroy that economy. Before the PC tried this, the game could operate under the fiction that 'people just don't do that kind of thing' and move on. But now the DM is forced to cause the universe to change (not quite 'railroading' in this example since there's no plotline the DM is trying to force, but a similar class of behavior) or become inconsistent - likely through the creation of some new detail like 'Wall of Salt's salt isn't actually edible' or 'Wall of Salt's salt doesn't stay around' or whatever.

What I'd like is definitions that can be used in similar situations without automatically being charged on the basis of 'well the definition already says its dysfunctional or bad'.

Lorsa
2013-03-28, 10:47 AM
Well, there are plenty of definitions in the language that include value judgments. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Besides, let us assume we use Force as a definition for a particular (often GM) tool. Then we'd also want a definition for when this force is used in a manner that goes against what people have agreed upon is acceptable. Sort of like how you define 'cheating' as 'breaking / disregarding / not working within the rules'. I propose that this is what we call Railroading. The use of force in a way that breaks the social contract. Quite elegant really.

That most people are not aware what they in fact HAVE agreed upon is another matter entirely and a problem that can't be included in a definition of railroading. There always IS a social contract and if not spoken about explicitly everyone in the group will have varying degrees of agreement as to what this actually is.

Breaking the social contract in other ways than using force, such as the scenario you described with using the same plot over and over is not railroading and can be defined by another word.

NichG
2013-03-28, 11:22 AM
In the case of cheating for example, I might want to have a discussion of the ways in which cheating can benefit or improve the game. Towards this end, its better to have a definition like

Cheating: Surreptiously violating the rules of the game intentionally.

instead of a definition like

Cheating: A example of dysfunctional play where someone surreptiously violates the rules of the game intentionally.

Including 'this is dysfunctional' into the definition doesn't actually help the word be useful. It just makes it harder to use the word in subtle discussion later on. The problem with talking about something like railroading as only happening 'when the social contract is broken' is that there are many examples where 'constraint to a single linear plot' could be used that wouldn't violate the social contract. Previously we would have had a term for this (railroading) but under your definitions it would have to be wrapped up into a much broader term (force).

For example, you could easily have a situation where the DM says OOC "Okay guys, the interesting stuff is happening in Waterdeep, so I'm going to get you there from Sigil even if you guys don't know IC how to get there." and all the players buy into it. At which point, whatever portal they go through next goes to Waterdeep. Its both Railroading (in that all actions will have the same outcome), but in this particular example its permitted by the social contract. Yes, you could also just say 'this is Force', but then there are a lot of things that are Force. Its a much less precise term.

Amphetryon
2013-03-28, 12:10 PM
In the case of cheating for example, I might want to have a discussion of the ways in which cheating can benefit or improve the game. Towards this end, its better to have a definition like

Cheating: Surreptiously violating the rules of the game intentionally.

instead of a definition like

Cheating: A example of dysfunctional play where someone surreptiously violates the rules of the game intentionally.

Point of order: Inclusion of the word "surreptitiously" creates the wonky situation where a Player who is openly violating the game rules - say, rolling 3d20 when only 1d20 is called for in order to choose the best result - isn't cheating by the definition given.

Kornaki
2013-03-28, 02:01 PM
If he just roles it in the open and declares "I'm taking the highest roll", it's not really cheating. He's telling the DM his intention and the DM can say "no" or not as he pleases. It's only if he rolls 3d20 and doesn't tell anyone and only shows them the highest that it's actually cheating really.

NichG
2013-03-28, 02:25 PM
Point of order: Inclusion of the word "surreptitiously" creates the wonky situation where a Player who is openly violating the game rules - say, rolling 3d20 when only 1d20 is called for in order to choose the best result - isn't cheating by the definition given.


If he just roles it in the open and declares "I'm taking the highest roll", it's not really cheating. He's telling the DM his intention and the DM can say "no" or not as he pleases. It's only if he rolls 3d20 and doesn't tell anyone and only shows them the highest that it's actually cheating really.

Pretty much this. What Amphetryon describes I think is well covered by the term used obliquely in that post: "rules violation". I'd classify 'cheating' as a subset of 'rules violation' that includes an intent to deceive or otherwise thwart enforcement of said rules, e.g. the 'surreptitious' bit.

Lorsa
2013-03-30, 05:15 AM
Regardless of what definition of cheating that we will agree upon, the definition of railroading as proposed by the big model wiki does not say anything about 'dysfunctional play'. Those are my own thoughts. It just says 'use of force that breaks the social contract'. There are no value judgments in that.

JustinA
2013-04-02, 01:26 AM
Railroading happens when the GM negates the choice made by a player in order to enforce a pre-conceived path through the adventure.

There are two main methods of achieving railroading:

(1) Enforcing Failure. ("I use my spell to drill through the wall [that I'm not supposed to get through]." "It doesn't work .")

(2) False Choice. ("I go left." "You enter the Vampire's Lair." [REWIND] "I go right." "You enter the Vampire's Lair.")

The key here is the motive. If the PCs try to negotiate a peace treaty with Godzilla or beat through an adamantium door with a fluffy pillow, the fact that they have no chance of success is not railroading. That's just the nature of the scenario.

As a corollary to this, I think a railroad only truly happens in play, not in design. However, there are certainly designs which are extremely likely to encourage/require railroading.

For example, if I design a scenario that [b]requires choice A, then choice B, and then choice C in order to be usable then it's quite likely the scenario will require railroading in actual play. But if the players come in and make choice A, then choice B, and then choice C without ever being forced to make any of those choices, then no railroading has taken place: Their choices were never negated.

Actually, I take that back. I'm remembering some White Wolf modules that literally say, "More bad guys keep coming until the PCs stop trying to do that." That's railroad by design. Although, even then, if the PCs never try the "forbidden" action, the railroad never actually happens.

Amphetryon
2013-04-02, 11:40 AM
Railroading happens when the GM negates the choice made by a player in order to enforce a pre-conceived path through the adventure.

There are two main methods of achieving railroading:

(1) Enforcing Failure. ("I use my spell to drill through the wall [that I'm not supposed to get through]." "It doesn't work .")

(2) False Choice. ("I go left." "You enter the Vampire's Lair." [REWIND] "I go right." "You enter the Vampire's Lair.")

The key here is the motive. If the PCs try to negotiate a peace treaty with Godzilla or beat through an adamantium door with a fluffy pillow, the fact that they have no chance of success is not railroading. That's just the nature of the scenario.

As a corollary to this, I think a railroad only truly happens in play, not in design. However, there are certainly designs which are extremely likely to encourage/require railroading.

For example, if I design a scenario that [b]requires choice A, then choice B, and then choice C in order to be usable then it's quite likely the scenario will require railroading in actual play. But if the players come in and make choice A, then choice B, and then choice C without ever being forced to make any of those choices, then no railroading has taken place: Their choices were never negated.

Actually, I take that back. I'm remembering some White Wolf modules that literally say, "More bad guys keep coming until the PCs stop trying to do that." That's railroad by design. Although, even then, if the PCs never try the "forbidden" action, the railroad never actually happens.
I would argue that a scenario that essentially has "CHOICE 'A' IS THE RIGHT ONE, FOLKS!' written in giant letters of fire in the sky is also railroading, regardless of the PCs theoretical ability to take B, C, or D. When the GM makes it clear that some choices are wrong, it doesn't really matter if those choices are expressly forbidden.

kyoryu
2013-04-02, 01:44 PM
A railroad is a tool. There are times to use it. IMO a good GM will have a feeling for how much plot momentum the players have and how much initiative they'll take. If he takes the plot pressure away, will they keep the ball rolling on their own? Personally I lay the rails down heavy in the beginning of the game, but once the plot is up and running I let the players carry it.

I don't think railroading is necessarily bad. It allows for more detailed prep. If your game is less about agency in the story, and focuses more on either char-op/building or the tactical game, railroading is perfectly legitimate.


I want to say this is harmless, except that there are some players that see the nudge, assume it's the beginning of a railroad, and go back on track. The players took the hint too far and now they think they're in a fully railroaded game, when in fact that's not what the GM meant.

I think it's a weird situation that is likely to be the worst of all worlds. Because of the "soft" railroad, the GM is spending a ton of time prepping stuff that may not be used, but can't really commit the time to doing it really awesome.

While I don't like the linear style of play I've described above, I can recognize the value that it has for people that are looking to emphasize a particular aspect of the game. I'd even be willing to play in a game like that - but I'd prefer that the hypothetical GM be honest about it being a railroad.

Illusionism is what I can't stand.



In my experience, a GM in the above scenario is in a no-win situation. Either the Players feel railroaded because they must stick to the planned area, or the Players feel the session degraded because they jumped the rails and now the GM has to improvise. Both have all too often resulted in Players expressing frustration. . . sometimes even the same Players, and often at the same table.

"We want the freedom to do anything, and we expect that you'll have fully prepared stuff for everything we might do."

Either there's some exaggeration going on here, the GM in the situation above needs to work on their improv skills, or you need to find a new group of players. The first statement above is simply unachievable, unrealistic, and overly demanding.


A game asks implied questions that playing the game answers. A railroaded game already has most of the answers predetermined which the players cannot influence.

And I think this is the best definition yet. I think it's also worth pointing out that whether an answer is preordained or not only matters if the characters care about whether or not they get to answer it.

Amphetryon
2013-04-02, 02:10 PM
"We want the freedom to do anything, and we expect that you'll have fully prepared stuff for everything we might do."

Either there's some exaggeration going on here, the GM in the situation above needs to work on their improv skills, or you need to find a new group of players. The first statement above is simply unachievable, unrealistic, and overly demanding.No exaggeration here - at least, none intended. I recall a particular instance with a premade module. Highlights included the Players clapping with 'glee' and exclaiming "Ooh, it's GM Story Hour!" when any set piece descriptions were pulled out, and throwing their hands in the air with an exasperated "FINE!" when they found that the GM had no notes prepared for their attempt to avoid any of the five directions the module considered likely from a given point.

Malrone
2013-04-02, 02:37 PM
No exaggeration here - at least, none intended. I recall a particular instance with a premade module. Highlights included the Players clapping with 'glee' and exclaiming "Ooh, it's GM Story Hour!" when any set piece descriptions were pulled out, and throwing their hands in the air with an exasperated "FINE!" when they found that the GM had no notes prepared for their attempt to avoid any of the five directions the module considered likely from a given point.
:smalleek: Where in the nine hells did you unearth these players? I mean no offense to their person, but their attitude at the table is the absolute worst besides total indifference. "We want the freedom to do anything [always]" stops being completely feasible once you stop playing pretend in the schoolyard sandbox.

Angel Bob
2013-04-02, 02:45 PM
I run a sandox-ish 4E game and have never experienced problems with railroading. Possibly because my players are very casual, but even they would hate being railroaded. Of course, it would be difficult to railroad them, because they often come up with zany ideas that I would never have thought of.

I have a very easy way to avoid railroading: not only do I prepare multiple dungeons, but when they veer off in a direction I have nothing prepared for, I can simply stall with one of the spare encounters I've prepared. Since they're so casual and since we play 4E, we normally only get through one encounter a session; this buys me an entire week to write up material for their new direction.

kyoryu
2013-04-02, 04:47 PM
No exaggeration here - at least, none intended. I recall a particular instance with a premade module. Highlights included the Players clapping with 'glee' and exclaiming "Ooh, it's GM Story Hour!" when any set piece descriptions were pulled out, and throwing their hands in the air with an exasperated "FINE!" when they found that the GM had no notes prepared for their attempt to avoid any of the five directions the module considered likely from a given point.

That's where I'd sit down with them and basically say, "Look, I'm super happy to deliver these types of set pieces. The cost of that is that your freedom to go places where these set pieces aren't is going to be limited. If you're cool with that, let's play. But I don't have the time or resources to make super-awesome set pieces for every possible path you guys want to go. So, tell me what kind of game you want to have."

scurv
2013-04-02, 05:21 PM
Having recently started a new campaign, I have noted that they do tend to begin on tracks. But this is one of those times that observation and good sense tells me that the time to disembark the train is once things are moving.

kyoryu
2013-04-02, 07:59 PM
Having recently started a new campaign, I have noted that they do tend to begin on tracks. But this is one of those times that observation and good sense tells me that the time to disembark the train is once things are moving.

Well, I think that a good sandbox does need something to get the players in motion. A railroad is one way to do that.

I prefer a grenade. If you throw a grenade at someone, you can be pretty sure they'll move, but you're not dictating a direction. Toss in something that they just *can't* ignore, but don't necessarily try to dictate a solution.

A "Session 0" can help, too, to make sure that players are on the same page in terms of what they want from the game.

valadil
2013-04-03, 10:52 AM
Hey guys, I've mulled this one over for a few days and I think I've finally…


Railroading happens when the GM negates the choice made by a player in order to enforce a pre-conceived path through the adventure.


Oh. That's pretty much the conclusion I've come to too. A couple minor differences though.

My definition specifies that a character choice is negated rather than a player choice. I don't think that a GM telling a player he can't play a half-illithid template counts as railroading.

The other point I'm new specific about but struggling with phrasing correctly is that the choice must be negated by GM fiat. To go back a few pages, if the characters piss off a Star Destroyer, then get sucked ino the tractor beam, that's not railroading. The Star Destoyer had its own agency. It's response is not GM fiat and should not be seen as railroading (unless of course if the tractor beam misfunctions or automatically succeeds to avoid or accommodate the GM's jailbreak scene.). NPC reactions, nature, the laws of physics, etc should not be mistaken for railroading.

NichG
2013-04-03, 03:52 PM
My definition specifies that a character choice is negated rather than a player choice. I don't think that a GM telling a player he can't play a half-illithid template counts as railroading.


The definition you're quoting would not call that railroading anyhow, as it has nothing to do with the path taken through the adventure. Do you have another example suggesting that the definition should be character choice? I'm mostly just curious what the practical different with regards to railroading will be.

Calmar
2013-04-03, 05:21 PM
I get the impression that there are gamers who feel offended by their DM preparing the game and want to catch the DM flat-footed instead. I find this notion alien and rude to the extreme.

A DM is a girl or guy who invests their valuable time to work on plots and adventures the player's may experience. D&D and other games are pen-and-paper roleplaying games, not some computer-generated open world where complex encounters and events pop up in a second. As a player I want to honour my DM's work, as a DM I want my players to show some appreciation for my effort.

To me, railroading means that there are several options theoretically available, but the DM allows only one.

valadil
2013-04-03, 05:52 PM
The definition you're quoting would not call that railroading anyhow, as it has nothing to do with the path taken through the adventure. Do you have another example suggesting that the definition should be character choice? I'm mostly just curious what the practical different with regards to railroading will be.

Sure but they're contrived.

Storyteller is just one of the GM's roles. He's also the referee, babysitter, and social mediator. If the kobold's player is using the kobold to irritate the wizard's player, nipping that in the bud isn't really railroading. If the GM gives his girlfriend the best loot and make her PC the main character, that's not railroading either. When the bard begins LARPing his third story, and the GM shuts that down because the fighter looks bored, that's not really railroading either, he's just balancing spotlight time.

Anyway I think those all qualify as choices the GM is negating but not for plot reasons. But I find the plot reasons qualifier a but vague. Character decisions versus player decisions seems more clear cut.

Talakeal
2013-04-03, 10:11 PM
Having posses track the players down is kosher; having a level [X] cleric&mage teleport in and arrest them with lol-no-save spells is railroading.

I HATE that guy. I especially hate when he casts true ressurection on my victims, because, you know, he is also a cleric and can do that.