PDA

View Full Version : The railroading problem: source & solution



Pages : 1 2 [3]

RazorChain
2016-04-24, 08:57 PM
The way I see it, the whole railroading GM thing boils down to a pretty simple continuum:

The GM is interested in his own ideas <------------------------------------------------------> The GM is interested in his players' ideas

Most GM's land somewhere in the middle there, leaning one way or another and that's fine. The extremes are dangerous as you're either going to want to write a novel or just watch the game if you have too little or too much interest in what everyone else but you has to say.

So, yeah, that's the way I see it. The GM should be interested in what the players bring to the table, but I definitely understand that gut feeling of having done a lot of work with maps and backstory and all that creative stuff and wanting to present that to the players as entirely as possible. That's dangerous territory, for sure, but I understand where it comes from.


I think you may be on right track here, in a way. Of course in the case of module the GM has bought then it may represent that he is not prepared for the players go off the beaten path.

As nobody admits to railroading it is hard to discern the reason WHY GM's railroad. As I thought back on my 26 years of GMing career and pondered if I had been guilty of railroading? Probably by limiting choices or manipulaton but my personal playstyle has kinda discouraged me from it, I certainly do not recall banning or disallowing player choices. I dislike adventure modules made by other people and as a disorganized, unprepared GM with lots of ideas but little written down I rarely had a reason to railroad. Often the PC's ideas or their agency were better than the things I had thought of.

I must admit I have become a tad better organized than I was when I was younger but drawing maps , finding out what magic items people have (unless it is relevant for a plot) or using hours on making stats for NPC's is not my thing. NPC's I make have 3 stats Fighting, Diplomacy and Resources. My preparation goes more in writing a description of NPC's and what they are up to and plots are usually summarized in few sentences. Random encounter tables?!? Woot? Treasure tables? whats that?

So that makes me ask this question: How detailed is your preparation and how does it make you feel when your players skip over (or try to) a lot of that content?

To answer my own question; I have given details about how I prepare (or lack of preparation). This means I don't have content that can be skipped or missed out. I may have good plots or plot hooks but as they are not detailed or developed I don't really care if the PC's skip them. They remain in my book of unused plots (or my head) Then I just focus on the plot the PC's are pursuing and use more GM preparation time on that, stat out few baddies, use a little time to detail NPC's and stuff.

This means I'm not disappointed that content is skipped or nobody crawled through my uber detailed dungeon of doom.

As TheMaque mentioned a villain and a mine where the PC's were supposed to follow but wanted to seal the entrance, I would have been delighted by that turn of events as a GM. The players would have thought they had outwitted the villain only to have him show up again as he had an escape planned

kyoryu
2016-04-24, 09:17 PM
A lot of railroading is actively pro-player in concept. Many GMs railroad simply because they've come up with stuff that is SO DARN COOL and they just want to share it with their players. Letting go of that is sometimes the hardest thing to do to break the railroading habit.

GreatWyrmGold
2016-04-24, 09:28 PM
A roleplaying game can not be set up like a book, or a movie, or a computer game.
Whoever suggested that video games have to be linear is dead wrong.
Yes, in theory, you have unlimited choice in an RPG, while in a video game you have only what the developers could think of and had time to program. In practice, this is almost never the case except on the smallest scales. Generally, the games I've played have ranged from "go through this dungeon until you get the thing" to "do this thing, using whatever plan you like (but limited to the paths I've left)"ónot so much as a moral choice system. And I've had more games closer to the former than the latter, even disregarding the ones that railroad you (directly or by only feeding you required clues in a certain order).
I think GMs could improve by thinking of their adventures less like novels or movies and more like video games. (Well, specific types; open-world games like the GTA and Witcher series, branching-narrative ones like Telltale's and some visual novels, and even adventure games like Monkey Island or Darkseed could make for interesting campaign seeds, while Mario, Call of Duty, and the like would just lead to more of the same.)

kyoryu
2016-04-24, 09:43 PM
Whoever suggested that video games have to be linear is dead wrong.

Whoever even suggested they have to have "plots" is dead wrong.


Yes, in theory, you have unlimited choice in an RPG, while in a video game you have only what the developers could think of and had time to program. In practice, this is almost never the case except on the smallest scales.

The great advantage that RPGs have over video games is the fact that a living GM can adjudicate or come up with appropriate things on the fly, rather than having things planned in advance.


Generally, the games I've played have ranged from "go through this dungeon until you get the thing" to "do this thing, using whatever plan you like (but limited to the paths I've left)"ónot so much as a moral choice system.

Play with different GMs.


I think GMs could improve by thinking of their adventures less like novels or movies and more like video games.

Actually, I think they'd do well by emulating TV shows even more. But as they're actually written (fairly on the fly and reactive) not as we perceive them (written ahead of time to a master plan). Writers have to deal with real world intrusions, audience reactions, etc., and in many shows aren't that much ahead of the shows. For instance, Ben Linus in Lost was originally supposed to be on for only a few episodes, as was Jesse Pinkman. Both of these characters ended up becoming far more major due to audience reaction.

goto124
2016-04-25, 01:23 AM
Actually, I think they'd do well by emulating TV shows even more. But as they're actually written (fairly on the fly and reactive) not as we perceive them (written ahead of time to a master plan). Writers have to deal with real world intrusions, audience reactions, etc., and in many shows aren't that much ahead of the shows. For instance, Ben Linus in Lost was originally supposed to be on for only a few episodes, as was Jesse Pinkman. Both of these characters ended up becoming far more major due to audience reaction.

That means if emulating TV shows, one has to keep track of the audience reactions as well?

Because in a game, your players are the audience and you have to react to them appropriately?

Lorsa
2016-04-25, 01:42 AM
"Random" would be deciding to have the Baron order a peasant to dance a jig or decide to walk off and play cards or any number of other possibly nonsensical actions which have nothing to do with the Baron's personality and the PCs' actions.

Even with quotation marks, why play into DU's hand with misusing the word random? Having the Baron react randomly would be to roll on a table with listed reactions. What you describe is indeed nonsensical, but not random. The random reaction table might indeed end up being nonsensical also, but it's not a guarantee.



You seem bad at math, and many other things. Your um ''math'' does not even make common sense.

It's really simple: the DM comes to the table with a premade plot/plan/story/adventure....or they do not. There is no gray area and no middle ground.

Oh right, I forgot. The plot/plan/story/adventure are not one and the same. A DM could come to the table with an adventure, but not a plot or story, similarly, they could have a plan but no adventure or plot, as well as a story but no adventure etc.

I endorse DMs having a plan, depending on the players adventures might be required, and can certainly live with a story (as long as it is made explicit). It is the plot I take specific issue with.

RazorChain
2016-04-25, 03:18 AM
That means if emulating TV shows, one has to keep track of the audience reactions as well?

Because in a game, your players are the audience and you have to react to them appropriately?

I'm running a game for a group of new players....and I mean couple of them have never played TTRPG before and the others are new to the hobby but have some sessions under their belt. In that instance I emulate TV shows. I name the adventures and tell them beforehand what I'm running. This helps them a lot as even they get very invested and excited they aren't used to the freedom of being allowed to do anything they want. That means they aren't very proactive and I kinda have to nudge them along sometimes.

By nudging I mean like
Me: "The ship docks, it is early morning in the city and the docks are already bustling with activity...so what do you do?"
The players look at each other waiting for someone to take the initiative.
Me: "So do you want to go shopping? Wander around the city look at the sights? Or do you want to answer the summons of the Baron and head to the palace?"

My other group that I've played with for 20+ years probably would have seduced the barons daugther while they were negotiating a better price for helping the Baron out and being drunk at the same time. And that is before I ask them what they do!!!!


So no running a game with linear plots in a tv episode style isn't bad, as long everyone knows what they are getting into. A friend of mine once ran a comedic campaign called: Somwhere in Newfoundland. It took place in a town called Somewhere and we were playing just normal people and it was set up exactly like a tv show. Even though the town was attacked by zombies, people abducted by aliens and other weird things happening the stage was always back to normal before next episode. It worked well because we had agreed on the premise of the game beforehand.

goto124
2016-04-25, 03:33 AM
Oh, depends on the audience. Other players who're more... TTRPG-inclined would take issue with the lack of freedom.

RazorChain
2016-04-25, 03:52 AM
Oh, depends on the audience. Other players who're more... TTRPG-inclined would take issue with the lack of freedom.

Yep that is why you have to watch your audience reaction. Don't get me wrong, the players have full freedom but in this case it is more comforting to them just to follow the plot. As they will get more seasoned as roleplayers they probably want exercise their freedom.

SirBellias
2016-04-25, 07:08 AM
Yep that is why you have to watch your audience reaction. Don't get me wrong, the players have full freedom but in this case it is more comforting to them just to follow the plot. As they will get more seasoned as roleplayers they probably want exercise their freedom.

This is interesting to me. For my group I typically see as "actual role players," I tend to be able to and have more interest in planning out more detailed areas, worlds, and hooks. I see their actions as more predictable, as they are trying to look at what their character would do. As such I can plan out some things based on that.

My other group, however, doesn't particularly care for role-playing. Their primary drive to play seems to be getting rich/leveling up and actively going against any plans I try to make. This leads to me preparing less, as they can't destroy what isn't made in the first place. I just write out a list of rumors, maybe 1 sentence each, and tell them to agree on one. Then I roll random tables for everything else, and it works. It's not as fun as the other group's games, but it is a viable way of playing.

Basically, my one group exercises their complete freedom less in the name of role-playing, and my the exercises it more in the name of FREEDOM! That's how I see it.

RazorChain
2016-04-25, 08:45 AM
This is interesting to me. For my group I typically see as "actual role players," I tend to be able to and have more interest in planning out more detailed areas, worlds, and hooks. I see their actions as more predictable, as they are trying to look at what their character would do. As such I can plan out some things based on that.

My other group, however, doesn't particularly care for role-playing. Their primary drive to play seems to be getting rich/leveling up and actively going against any plans I try to make. This leads to me preparing less, as they can't destroy what isn't made in the first place. I just write out a list of rumors, maybe 1 sentence each, and tell them to agree on one. Then I roll random tables for everything else, and it works. It's not as fun as the other group's games, but it is a viable way of playing.

Basically, my one group exercises their complete freedom less in the name of role-playing, and my the exercises it more in the name of FREEDOM! That's how I see it.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. But I get you, my experienced group is very predictable as well. Of course we have been playing together for 20 years as well

kyoryu
2016-04-25, 08:51 AM
That means if emulating TV shows, one has to keep track of the audience reactions as well?

Because in a game, your players are the audience and you have to react to them appropriately?

Pretty much. And isn't "the players think they're awesome" at least as good of a reason to have an NPC come back or take a major role as "I decided they should be major"?



By nudging I mean like
Me: "The ship docks, it is early morning in the city and the docks are already bustling with activity...so what do you do?"
The players look at each other waiting for someone to take the initiative.
Me: "So do you want to go shopping? Wander around the city look at the sights? Or do you want to answer the summons of the Baron and head to the palace?"


The 'issue' here is that you're basically arguing for one of two extremes - either railroading, or nothing happens at all.

What I prefer in most cases is what I call plot grenades - these are things that require action, but do not require *specific* action. Essentially, you present the players with a problem, but *not* a solution.

For me, the biggest tell of a railroad is how much control the players have over not THIS 'scene', but the next one. Even in a more freeform game, it's totally viable to start with handing the players a problem that they've gotta deal with. But you as a GM shouldn't know where that goes.

So, for instance, you might start with the players being in a town when all of a sudden an army attacks! (bad example as it's totally illogical, but work with it). If you don't know what the players will do in response (organize the townspeople, run, hit the water, etc.), you're not railroading.

However, if you know that, one way or the other, the players will end up on a boat to Watersville so that you can have the boat attacked by mer-people so that they can capture the mer-princess and eventually meet the mer-folk to find out that they're threatened by the actual bad guys.... yeah, you're railroading.

Segev
2016-04-25, 09:30 AM
Even with quotation marks, why play into DU's hand with misusing the word random? Having the Baron react randomly would be to roll on a table with listed reactions. What you describe is indeed nonsensical, but not random. The random reaction table might indeed end up being nonsensical also, but it's not a guarantee.


Granted. I should have said, "'Random,' even colloquially, implies..."

Because the issue is that his usage of it evokes an image of utter disconnect of effect from cause.

In truth, what we often colloquially call "random" isn't at all, because when humans think of randomness they actually look for maximal diversity and divergence. Ask humans to make a list of random numbers (without aid of an RNG) and they will give you a far more evenly distributed sequence than any RNG would, because as pattern-recognizers, we actively fight having a pattern WE can discern show up. And since any random series will have apparent patterns in it to our pattern-recognition engines, we are just really, really bad at making them.

"3, 4, 1, 4, 2," give me a random number to add to this! <--- Most people will absolutely, positively avoid "4," or even 3 or 2 in this case.

2D8HP
2016-04-25, 09:58 AM
The great advantage that RPGs have over video games is the fact that a living GM can adjudicate or come up with appropriate things on the fly, rather than having things planned in advance.Previously I thought that it could be due to what setting/system I was using, in that my players seemed to be happier when I "GM'd" Espionage, Horror, and Space Opera genre games rather than the Swords and Sorcery settings that I preferred as a player. But in looking at this thread, I think it may be how I approched GM'ing the settings differently.
When it is D&D I will usually have the scenario mapped out before hand, but for other games I just didn't care as much, so except for envisioning a few scenes that I often stole, er... was "inspired" by movies, almost everything was improvised on the spot. Much to my frustration the less I prepared the adventures, the more my players seemed to like it!
Maybe they just felt "rail-roaded"?

kyoryu
2016-04-25, 10:09 AM
Much to my frustration the less I prepared the adventures, the more my players seemed to like it!
Maybe they just felt "rail-roaded"?

Possibly. One thing I've noticed is that hte more prep teh GM has done, the less obvious impact the players and their actions have. At the worst it can devolve into "okay, we have to find the button to get to the next thing," even if not intended that way.

By using more improv, it's easy to make it obvious that hte players' actions have an impact. It also makes it easy to focus on the things the players care about, rather than the things either you care about, or the things that you thought the players would care about.

neonchameleon
2016-04-25, 12:16 PM
Previously I thought that it could be due to what setting/system I was using, in that my players seemed to be happier when I "GM'd" Espionage, Horror, and Space Opera genre games rather than the Swords and Sorcery settings that I preferred as a player. But in looking at this thread, I think it may be how I approched GM'ing the settings differently.
When it is D&D I will usually have the scenario mapped out before hand, but for other games I just didn't care as much, so except for envisioning a few scenes that I often stole, er... was "inspired" by movies, almost everything was improvised on the spot. Much to my frustration the less I prepared the adventures, the more my players seemed to like it!
Maybe they just felt "rail-roaded"?

In actual classic D&D (not the stuff Darth Ultron considers classic that was, thank goodness, mostly swept away by 3.0) the setting is mostly reactive. You set the dungeon infested landscape, the players decide which dungeons and how to tackle them. The players are the ones in control in both the micro and macro - but this works because D&D is very much an artificial environment.

And overpreparation without an artificial environment designed for adventurers is easy. The key thing to remember is that the protagonists are the PCs - the more cool stuff you prepare that you want to happen the more the whole thing feels premade, canned, and less about the PCs. When the PCs are the important part.

It's the difference between a live and interactive show and an under-rehearsed (and you will be under-rehearsed) pre-recording.

AMFV
2016-04-25, 12:44 PM
Possibly. One thing I've noticed is that hte more prep teh GM has done, the less obvious impact the players and their actions have. At the worst it can devolve into "okay, we have to find the button to get to the next thing," even if not intended that way.

By using more improv, it's easy to make it obvious that hte players' actions have an impact. It also makes it easy to focus on the things the players care about, rather than the things either you care about, or the things that you thought the players would care about.

Well you don't necessarily have to have that be the case. One can prepare and still be flexible. I find that a happy medium is best, you do a lot of prepwork, and then see where the players are most interested in going.

kyoryu
2016-04-25, 01:31 PM
Well you don't necessarily have to have that be the case. One can prepare and still be flexible. I find that a happy medium is best, you do a lot of prepwork, and then see where the players are most interested in going.

It also depends on the *type* of prep you do. Prepping NPCs with agendas and goals is less likely to lead to railroading than prepping events.

But if you create a Really Cool Fight, the tendency is going to be to want to use it, and to try to nudge things that direction. If you think of a Really Cool Thing that could happen, you'll tend to make it want to happen.

There's nothing evil or underhanded about this. It's just a pretty natural result of being excited about a cool thing.

goto124
2016-04-25, 09:30 PM
At the worst it can devolve into "okay, we have to find the button to get to the next thing," even if not intended that way.

As someone who's been playing video games, I've always thought this was the only way to play a game.

Transitioning was a bit difficult.