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Talakeal
2019-03-24, 12:17 PM
Last night in my campaign the adventure was to explore a chasm, a site based semi-dungeon crawl.

There is a giant at the top of the chasm whose tactic is to throw his enemies over the edge. The likely result of this encounter was that the players would end up at the bottom of the chasm and have to find their way out.

This is exactly what happened.

At no point did we go into DM fiat or anything, everything was rolled out normally following the rules and at no point did I ever veto a player's action either OOC or with deus ex machina.

Still, after the encounter, one of the players started whining about railroading, saying that by structuring the adventure the way I did, with the likely outcome being thrown into a chasm, that I was railroading.

Now, in my mind setting up a scenario isn't railroading, that's just being a DM in a not totally sandbox game. Railroading is when you actively come up with reasons to force the players to go along with your plot and do your best to shoot down player wishes.

What do you think?

Wuzza
2019-03-24, 12:57 PM
at no point did I ever veto a player's action either OOC or with deus ex machina.

Still, after the encounter, one of the players started whining about railroading, saying that by structuring the adventure the way I did, with the likely outcome being thrown into a chasm, that I was railroading.

I would point out that the outcome was completely dependant on the actions of the party. Did you make them fluff the rolls? No? Did you stop them doing what they wanted? Doesn't sound like it...

It may have been a likely outcome, but if you have Donkey Kong sat upon a pile of girders, you have to be pretty skilled not to be knocked off by on of his barrels. :smallbiggrin:

My party actually like being railroaded (not that they know it). If I give them too many options the adventure tends to grind to a halt..

Malifice
2019-03-24, 01:06 PM
Still, after the encounter, one of the players started whining about railroading, saying that by structuring the adventure the way I did, with the likely outcome being thrown into a chasm, that I was railroading.

What do you think?

Mate, your players whine a lot.

Tell him it wasn't railroading, ask him if he had fun with the session, and get on with DMing. If he complains further, ask him politely to stop. If he continues, tell him to stop or he'll be booted from the game. If he continues from there, uninvite him from the group, and find a replacement player that complains less.

Eventually (one way or another) your problems will stop.

Wuzza
2019-03-24, 01:18 PM
Mate, your players whine a lot.

I didn't want to go there. :smallsmile: Tell him/her to stop watching YouTube vids and actually start playing the game. :smallbiggrin:

Yora
2019-03-24, 01:22 PM
Railroading is when the GM has decided where the campaign will be going and every time the players decide to do something else, the GMs planned outcome happens anyway. If the players didn't want to roll dice against a giant with poor chances of winning, then they should not have been rolling dice against the giant. Running away is always an option.

Quertus
2019-03-24, 03:44 PM
Railroading is when the GM has decided where the campaign will be going and every time the players decide to do something else, the GMs planned outcome happens anyway.

Pretty much this.

That having been said...


the adventure was to explore a chasm, a site based semi-dungeon crawl.

There is a giant at the top of the chasm whose tactic is to throw his enemies over the edge. The likely result of this encounter was that the players would end up at the bottom of the chasm and have to find their way out.

This is exactly what happened.

What do you think?

Suppose I had rolled up at your house to play. Suppose the character I brought just happened to have some ability (Feather Fall, and a cohort with a lasso?) that completely negated the giant's tactic.

Or suppose the party used flying mounts and ranged attacks to ignore the giant m

Or suppose the party had said, "**** this, we go <somewhere else>..

How would you have reacted?

Rails first form in the GM's mind, when the GM wants something to happen.

This giant encounter certainly feels like you wanted "party go down the hole" to happen. So I can understand where your players are coming from, I suppose. But - just from what you've said - they're no evidence to support claims of railroading.

Of course, if the rails existed in your mind, then your expression or tone may have been damning.

Shrug.

What do you want from us? We weren't there.

But... How else could they have explored the site?

Talakeal
2019-03-24, 03:58 PM
Pretty much this.

That having been said...



Suppose I had rolled up at your house to play. Suppose the character I brought just happened to have some ability (Feather Fall, and a cohort with a lasso?) that completely negated the giant's tactic.

Suppose the party had said, "**** this, we go <somewhere else>..

How would you have reacted?

Rails first form in the GM's mind, when the GM wants something to happen.

This giant encounter certainly feels like you wanted "party go down the hole" to happen. So I can understand where your players are coming from, I suppose. But - just from what you've said - they're no evidence to support claims of railroading.

Of course, if the rails existed in your mind, then your expression or tone may have been damning.

Shrug.

What do you want from us? We weren't there.

But... How else could they have explored the site?

If they had some ability to avoid the situation then they would have avoided the situation.

Not so much asking about the specific instance as to what the consensus on railroading is; is it the DM designing a scenario with a planned outcome or is it actively negating a players decisions?

DeTess
2019-03-24, 04:07 PM
Last night in my campaign the adventure was to explore a chasm, a site based semi-dungeon crawl.

There is a giant at the top of the chasm whose tactic is to throw his enemies over the edge. The likely result of this encounter was that the players would end up at the bottom of the chasm and have to find their way out.

This is exactly what happened.

At no point did we go into DM fiat or anything, everything was rolled out normally following the rules and at no point did I ever veto a player's action either OOC or with deus ex machina.

Still, after the encounter, one of the players started whining about railroading, saying that by structuring the adventure the way I did, with the likely outcome being thrown into a chasm, that I was railroading.

Now, in my mind setting up a scenario isn't railroading, that's just being a DM in a not totally sandbox game. Railroading is when you actively come up with reasons to force the players to go along with your plot and do your best to shoot down player wishes.

What do you think?

As I wasn't there, I can't tell how railroady it'd have appeared, but a scenario like this can be pretty rail-roady, even if that wasn't your intention Just because the rails are represented by the giants 'ledge-throwing'ability, rather than the DM saying 'no', doesn't mean the rails aren't there.

A potential similar, but clearer example: A low-level party arrives at the city. That city is attacked by an ancient dragon/deamonlord+army/host of wrathful angles/A great old one, and despite the DM not doing anything to inhibit the players from taking any action they'd desire to take, the players still end up dead as a natural consequence of this scenario, and the adventure continues as the PC's attempt to escape the realm of the dead. Would you say the DM railroaded the players into dying?

That having been said, I don't think this type of railroading is necessarily bad, as long as you weren't marketing your game as a wide-open sandbox, and it occurs as a way to channel the players towards adventure (such as exploring the chasm, or adventuring to return to the world of the living), rather than punish solutions the DM doesn't like.

Talakeal
2019-03-24, 04:14 PM
A potential similar, but clearer example: A low-level party arrives at the city. That city is attacked by an ancient dragon/deamonlord+army/host of wrathful angles/A great old one, and despite the DM not doing anything to inhibit the players from taking any action they'd desire to take, the players still end up dead as a natural consequence of this scenario, and the adventure continues as the PC's attempt to escape the realm of the dead. Would you say the DM railroaded the players into dying?

That was indeed my question.

I personally would say no, that is just setting up the scenario.

zlefin
2019-03-24, 04:30 PM
it doesn't sound like railroading to me in this instance; though I do wonder what this chasm is like that they can be tossed in and not die, but still be weak enough to not take down a giant.

one thing that might help is mentioning several possibilities to the party that could've caused things to turn out differently, and giving a short synopsis of how it would've played out.

Koo Rehtorb
2019-03-24, 04:36 PM
No that's not railroading. Also, get better players.

Talakeal
2019-03-24, 04:42 PM
it doesn't sound like railroading to me in this instance; though I do wonder what this chasm is like that they can be tossed in and not die, but still be weak enough to not take down a giant.

one thing that might help is mentioning several possibilities to the party that could've caused things to turn out differently, and giving a short synopsis of how it would've played out.


If they had managed to avoid being thrown over the edge either by killing the giant or simply evading it then they would have had a slightly more relaxed mission as they could have come at it from the top down.

If they could all fly, or teleport, or climb really well then they could have explored the area totally at their own pace and skipped what they didn't want to encounter.

If they had just decided to ignore the situation and go home I would have said "Come on guys, we all showed up to play, and I spent a lot of time preparing this adventure, could we please at least be good and fake an interest?"

zlefin
2019-03-24, 04:54 PM
If they had managed to avoid being thrown over the edge either by killing the giant or simply evading it then they would have had a slightly more relaxed mission as they could have come at it from the top down.

If they could all fly, or teleport, or climb really well then they could have explored the area totally at their own pace and skipped what they didn't want to encounter.

If they had just decided to ignore the situation and go home I would have said "Come on guys, we all showed up to play, and I spent a lot of time preparing this adventure, could we please at least be good and fake an interest?"

sounds reasonable. so tell THEM about those things. that may make them feel better.

MoiMagnus
2019-03-24, 04:57 PM
Last night in my campaign the adventure was to explore a chasm, a site based semi-dungeon crawl.

There is a giant at the top of the chasm whose tactic is to throw his enemies over the edge. The likely result of this encounter was that the players would end up at the bottom of the chasm and have to find their way out.

This is exactly what happened.

At no point did we go into DM fiat or anything, everything was rolled out normally following the rules and at no point did I ever veto a player's action either OOC or with deus ex machina.

Still, after the encounter, one of the players started whining about railroading, saying that by structuring the adventure the way I did, with the likely outcome being thrown into a chasm, that I was railroading.

Now, in my mind setting up a scenario isn't railroading, that's just being a DM in a not totally sandbox game. Railroading is when you actively come up with reasons to force the players to go along with your plot and do your best to shoot down player wishes.

What do you think?

Are you players the kind of player that actually try to go outside the rails whenever they can?
Or are there more players that will instinctly follow rails and then complain about their restricted freedom?

Because the way I see it, they may have followed some "imaginary" rails thinking you would enforce them if they tried to get out of them, while you didn't intent to do so. (And then winning about you railroading them)

Alternatively, they just had the feeling that "everything was going as planed" for you, and when they say "we don't want railroading", they mean "we like chaos, we like seing you improvising to take care of the weird situation we put ourself in, and this didn't happen here, so this session wasn't as fun as it could have been"

Quertus
2019-03-24, 06:22 PM
Not so much asking about the specific instance as to what the consensus on railroading is; is it the DM designing a scenario with a planned outcome or is it actively negating a players decisions?


If they had just decided to ignore the situation and go home I would have said "Come on guys, we all showed up to play, and I spent a lot of time preparing this adventure, could we please at least be good and fake an interest?"

Well, I think "general consensus" defines "railroading" more as actively negating player decisions. But I think it's subtler and more insidious than that. Rails first form inside the GM's head, when the GM wants something without getting explicit player buy-in.

Participationism is a thing. Many people just expect "but that's the adventure" level of rails to be acceptable. That doesn't make them any less rails.

Now, to avoid the feeling of rails, I'll second a reply I lost, and say that you should tell the players what their other options were. In fact, that's how I teach new players how to play.

This gets your players on the same page regarding required levels of Participationism, how you think (knowledge: GM is a very important player skill), and what you'll accept.

Communication usually seems to be an issue with your (and most) groups. Try increasing it, in specific, chosen vectors - like this one.

Mutazoia
2019-03-24, 07:08 PM
Ask that player if they like Roller Coasters.
Then ask that player if, while they were riding one, would they still like it, if the Roller Coaster jumped the rails, and went flying through the air in a random direction. How much fun would that be?

Sometimes, just because you are on a rail, doesn't mean you can't have fun.

The Giant had a battle plan. That plan didn't instantly change, just because the players didn't want to be thrown down a hole. If they didn't want to be there, they should have left the Giant well enough alone.

But they didn't. They fought a Giant. And got thrown down a hole.

Sometimes, a DM has to use a little bit of railroading. We spend hours, even days, preparing material for an adventure, and we're suppose to just chuck it all out the window because "Let's suddenly go shopping on the other side of the planet! Lulz" Nope.

You have 3 options.


Run the adventure I have prepared for you, like good little adventurers. Even if I have to nudge you a bit to get you there.
I stop/cancel the entire session for the week while I scramble to make up new material based on your random whims.
I ad-lib EVERYTHING with no consistancy, nobody has fun, game dies.

Quertus
2019-03-24, 07:33 PM
Sometimes, a DM has to use a little bit of railroading. We spend hours, even days, preparing material for an adventure, and we're suppose to just chuck it all out the window because "Let's suddenly go shopping on the other side of the planet! Lulz" Nope.

You have 3 options.


Run the adventure I have prepared for you, like good little adventurers. Even if I have to nudge you a bit to get you there.
I stop/cancel the entire session for the week while I scramble to make up new material based on your random whims.
I ad-lib EVERYTHING with no consistancy, nobody has fun, game dies.



False trichotomy. How about 4) be smarter - find out what they want to do, then build that?

My first campaign, I ended every session asking my players, "what are we doing next session?". And I made any necessary maps, gave NPCs names, etc, in the interim.

I agree, though, that there is a preparation / ad-lib dichotomy. And that pure ad-lib is often not fun - especially for players like me, who care about consistency.

doctor doughnut
2019-03-24, 08:12 PM
What do you think?

Far too many player do the: ''If I don't like it" = "Railroading". It's just the sign of our times. If a player feels bad, they will throw up the flag of ''railroading".


Railroading is when the GM has decided where the campaign will be going and every time the players decide to do something else, the GMs planned outcome happens anyway.

Ok, lets keep this defination in mind and understand that Railroading is not just ''something a player does not like". Railroading is only the campagain direction, and NOT every single event in the game.



Rails first form in the GM's mind, when the GM wants something to happen.

See, here is where it goes wrong. Here is where it's ''jumping the rails" to if the DM does ANYTHING it's automatiacly railroading.


Well, I think "general consensus" defines "railroading" more as actively negating player decisions. But I think it's subtler and more insidious than that. Rails first form inside the GM's head, when the GM wants something without getting explicit player buy-in.

This is the worst defination ever. It would mean the DM can never do anything in the game without it being railroading. The player buy in only makes it worse.

If a player says "I want a goblin to attack my character and steal my loot" then it's not railroading as you have the ridiculious ''player buy in".

If the characters encounter some goblins, and you know ''just using the rules" a goblin steals the loot of a character....that that is AUTOMATIACLY railroading.


A DM is neutral on most things. The DM does not ''want" the bandits to kill the player characters, but the DM is not opposed to the idea. And a good DM has monsters/npc with in-game reasons for actions, not just ''get the players". A lot of monsters attack as they are hungry...or evil abonimations that kill all life.

And roughly 100% of things in the game will ''negatate player decisions"....that is what the game is all about. If the player makes the ''decision" to loot a dragons lair, does the Dm just roll over and say ''done, you now have a ton of loot"? Is not having the dragon defend it's lair ''negatating player decision" to loot the lair?

The thing is, bad players will always cry railroading. Really, it's no diffrent then bad players in any other game. You know when you play a game, and a player either losses or just ''feels bad".....and what do they do? They sart blaming something...anything else except themselves. They lost or ''feel bad" because of something else: never anything they personaly did.

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-24, 09:13 PM
1. No, that scenario had no railroading quality at all.

You know what would be railroading? If the DM wanted the party to get to the top of the chasm and kill the giant, but all the players' choices and the dice rolls led to them all being down at the bottom, injured - "but, wait!" the DM says, "you find a magic teleport portal that takes you to the top of the chasm, behind the giant, and it healed you all +20hp! Ain't magic great?"

That is what railroading looks like.

Players making poor choices and unlucky dice rolls are just part of the game.

2. I as a player would actually prefer more rails and less sand in any RPG I play. I want to experience the highest-quality storytelling and encounter design my GM can come up with. If my fellow players do whatever it takes to avoid plot hooks and go in any direction that is away from the quests the DM has prepared, then that forces the DM to always ad-lib and make up less-dramatic and less-intricate encounters and story lines. I have less fun and enjoyment, because the best I get is "Oh, um.. okay, I guess this other thing happens instead" (* DM frantically comes up with some lame ad-hoc encounter details and rolls on some random tables . . .*)

It is better to have rails laid down in the sand. The players do get actual choice, but their choices should be limited to pre-planned adventures that the DM has put in effort to create.


Here is a recent railroading experience I had, for contrast:

It was a non-D&D RPG (it was my only time playing it, and I don't remember the name). It started out in a modern-day city environment on the streets at night. I was playing the role of a paranoid, introverted vampire. The other characters were similar outcast types - werewolf, other fairy-tale characters - and we came together naturally enough, the anti-supernatural police were after us; there was an explosion; we ran away and ended up all hiding in a building together.

So far, I'm cool with this. We all made reasonable choices, considering the events, to end up where we were. I have no idea what to expect. It's exciting. I'm curious about what's coming next. Then the GM says, "You see a large glowing stone in the middle of the room. Do you touch it?" We all say, "No! Where did it come from? Why is it here?" GM says, "You touch it and are teleported to another place."

- Uh, what? No, I didn't. -

"You find yourself in a dark dungeon, naked, chained to the wall. All your weapons are gone," ..

I, the player, stood up from the table and went home.

If the GM tells you what your character chooses to do, what your character thinks and does (not under the influence of compelling magic), THAT is extreme railroading and should NEVER happen.

A skilled GM will let the players make their own choices - and suffer from or be rewarded by those choices appropriately - but also still steer the course of the adventure towards pre-planned story plots. The Illusion of Choice is a powerful game-running technique. If you can make the players believe that where they go and what happens in the story is determined spontaneously and directly from player choice, but they still end up hitting the main story features, then you've done it right.

The details between major plot points are absolutely based on player choice and luck-of-the-dice, and those details should influence the DM's future decisions about where to take the story; however, during a single session, if the DM has planned one or two or three possible encounter chains, then it is actually in the players' best interest - to have the most fun - to follow one of that small number of train tracks.

Blackhawk748
2019-03-24, 09:29 PM
That event was not railroading, it was a Giant with a plan (a successful one I may add) and thats perfectly fine. Ideal even. Creatures in universe should have plans and goals, and its nice to see those work out.


Well, I think "general consensus" defines "railroading" more as actively negating player decisions. But I think it's subtler and more insidious than that. Rails first form inside the GM's head, when the GM wants something without getting explicit player buy-in.

Participationism is a thing. Many people just expect "but that's the adventure" level of rails to be acceptable. That doesn't make them any less rails.

I'm sorry but the Grand Lich is gonna do what she's gonna do, unless the players specifically do something to stop her. She has a plan and she's carrying out that plan, much like that Giant did. She wants the Glowy Doohicky. The PCs can stand in front of her and try and stop her from getting the Glowy Doohicky, but there is no gurantee that they aren't gonna be able to do so.

Also your definition is ridiculously narrow. By your definition the act of playing DnD is railroading.



Now, to avoid the feeling of rails, I'll second a reply I lost, and say that you should tell the players what their other options were. In fact, that's how I teach new players how to play.

This gets your players on the same page regarding required levels of Participationism, how you think (knowledge: GM is a very important player skill), and what you'll accept.

Communication usually seems to be an issue with your (and most) groups. Try increasing it, in specific, chosen vectors - like this one.

This is a TTRPG not a video game, they can come up with their own plans. Hell, me telling them their options feels more railroady.

Mutazoia
2019-03-24, 09:53 PM
False trichotomy. How about 4) be smarter - find out what they want to do, then build that?

My first campaign, I ended every session asking my players, "what are we doing next session?". And I made any necessary maps, gave NPCs names, etc, in the interim.

I agree, though, that there is a preparation / ad-lib dichotomy. And that pure ad-lib is often not fun - especially for players like me, who care about consistency.

Yes, yes, you are SO much smarter. You shift the work of actually creating something for your players, onto your players themselves, thus avoiding any possibility of someone telling you they aren't having fun.

"It's not my fault your not enjoying the campaign! You're the ones who decided everything every week!"

For you, constantly asking your players what they want you to prepare next works. For others, not so much.

Quertus
2019-03-24, 11:04 PM
I'm sorry but the Grand Lich is gonna do what she's gonna do, unless the players specifically do something to stop her. She has a plan and she's carrying out that plan, much like that Giant did. She wants the Glowy Doohicky. The PCs can stand in front of her and try and stop her from getting the Glowy Doohicky, but there is no gurantee that they aren't gonna be able to do so.

Also your definition is ridiculously narrow. By your definition the act of playing DnD is railroading.

This is a TTRPG not a video game, they can come up with their own plans. Hell, me telling them their options feels more railroady.

I've clearly failed to communicate my idea to you, since I don't think any of what you said disagrees with my stance.

First, the low-hanging fruit: when I first introduce people (often 7-year-olds) to role-playing, I give them a scenario, and ask them what they do. We play it out. And, afterwards, I give them several examples of other things that they could have done in that scenario, so that they get the idea that this is not a story with just one set path.

If you consider that "railroading", then I'm fairly certain that you don't understand the term.

The rest of your examples show an equal level of misunderstanding my position. Would it help for me to spell my position out similarly for them, or, with this context, can you figure it out?


Yes, yes, you are SO much smarter. You shift the work of actually creating something for your players, onto your players themselves, thus avoiding any possibility of someone telling you they aren't having fun.

"It's not my fault your not enjoying the campaign! You're the ones who decided everything every week!"

For you, constantly asking your players what they want you to prepare next works. For others, not so much.

This, I suspect, represents a similar level of failure to communicate my position as to the above poster.

But, to be sure just what you think I've said: why do you think my strategy wouldn't work for others? Because I see absolutely no reason why anyone *couldn't* run a sandbox that way.

Xuc Xac
2019-03-24, 11:53 PM
Not so much asking about the specific instance as to what the consensus on railroading is; is it the DM designing a scenario with a planned outcome or is it actively negating a players decisions?

First one, then the other.

Kaptin Keen
2019-03-25, 12:04 AM
You set up a fight your players couldn't win, to put them in a place you wanted to put them in. It's clearly railroading. I don't even know what the thread is about.

zinycor
2019-03-25, 01:14 AM
You set up a fight your players couldn't win, to put them in a place you wanted to put them in. It's clearly railroading. I don't even know what the thread is about.

What gave you the idea that the players couldn't win that encounter? A giant throwing people doesn't sound like an unbeatable encounter.

Kaptin Keen
2019-03-25, 01:31 AM
What gave you the idea that the players couldn't win that encounter? A giant throwing people doesn't sound like an unbeatable encounter.


The likely result of this encounter was that the players would end up at the bottom of the chasm and have to find their way out.

Did you by chance read the OP?

zinycor
2019-03-25, 01:34 AM
Did you by chance read the OP?

I did, and still, I don't see why you are equating "Likely" to "Definitely".

Kaptin Keen
2019-03-25, 01:45 AM
I did, and still, I don't see why you are equating "Likely" to "Definitely".

Ok - let me stop you there.

Did I say 'definitely'? Please quote me if I did, but otherwise, that's your word, not mine.

You know where I got the idea from, it's in the actual OP. Further, still from the OP, it seems the players have similar views.

Where do you get the idea it isn't railroading?

zinycor
2019-03-25, 01:54 AM
Ok - let me stop you there.

Did I say 'definitely'? Please quote me if I did, but otherwise, that's your word, not mine.

You know where I got the idea from, it's in the actual OP. Further, still from the OP, it seems the players have similar views.

Where do you get the idea it isn't railroading?

You said:

You set up a fight your players couldn't win, to put them in a place you wanted to put them in. It's clearly railroading. I don't even know what the thread is about.

Which isn't implied at all by the OP.

And I get the idea that this isn't railroady from reading the OP.


Last night in my campaign the adventure was to explore a chasm, a site based semi-dungeon crawl.

There is a giant at the top of the chasm whose tactic is to throw his enemies over the edge. The likely result of this encounter was that the players would end up at the bottom of the chasm and have to find their way out.

This is exactly what happened.

In my opinion, the OP setted up a challenge that the players failed at.

Kaptin Keen
2019-03-25, 01:57 AM
You said:

Which isn't implied at all by the OP.

And I get the idea that this isn't railroady from reading the OP.

In my opinion, the OP setted up a challenge that the players failed at.

Then let's waste no more breath on it.

Mordaedil
2019-03-25, 03:06 AM
It is a bit railroady, but I don't think it's always a problem, just a nature of DMing for mortal folk.

The only way we can know how much it was railroaded is if we could see the math of the session.

But that's not really the problem here. The problem here is that you have a player who is unhappy and pointed at this and called it railroading. That's where the issue actually stands and you need to discuss with said players about expectations for your game. Whether you railroad or do not, does not matter. You have an unhappy participant in your social game where you want to have fun together and that needs to be addressed.

Fixating on whether the problem was railroading or not is missing the forest for the trees.

Lorsa
2019-03-25, 04:59 AM
If they had some ability to avoid the situation then they would have avoided the situation.

Not so much asking about the specific instance as to what the consensus on railroading is; is it the DM designing a scenario with a planned outcome or is it actively negating a players decisions?

I don't really think there is a consensus. That is why this is discussed over and over again.

Technically, I think railroading is a verb, and involves negating players' decisions as you say. However, having a scenario with a planned outcome is devising a railroad. And this is where the grey area enters.

A scenario where the players basically only have one real choice, which is at the beginning, will appear identical to railroading. If your scenario looks like a Rube Goldberg machine, then the only choice the players had were "do we flip the initial switch or not". And if you don't know this switch will set off the domino effect, it isn't really a choice at all.

Basically, it is a scenario where the perceived consequences and the outcome are vastly different. If you didn't anticipate your action leading you into the GM-designed Goldberg machine, the outcome will be feelings of railroading.

So, to properly judge if your specific scenario is a type of railroading or not, there are a few questions to ask:

1) How likely is it for the PCs to avoid being thrown into the chasm, once engaging the giant?
2) How many different paths out of the chasm are available for the PCs?

Essentially, have you created a Rube Goldberg scenario or not?

Lorsa
2019-03-25, 05:15 AM
If they had managed to avoid being thrown over the edge either by killing the giant or simply evading it then they would have had a slightly more relaxed mission as they could have come at it from the top down.

If they could all fly, or teleport, or climb really well then they could have explored the area totally at their own pace and skipped what they didn't want to encounter.

If they had just decided to ignore the situation and go home I would have said "Come on guys, we all showed up to play, and I spent a lot of time preparing this adventure, could we please at least be good and fake an interest?"

Sorry for posting so quickly again, I guess I should have read more posts...

A few points.

When you designed the scenario, I am pretty sure you know that the PCs couldn't all fly, teleport or climb really well. Hypothetical options do not count. Only real options do. If they don't have the classes and/or levels to fly and teleport, those are not options. Also, there is no party in the history of RPG where everyone could climb really well. Maybe if you played "Cliffs & Chasms", but anyway.

Basically, as you say, avoiding the situation would not be allowed. Therefore, they had to have the encounter with the giant. So, what real options did they have? Could they talk with the giant or sneak past it or was fighting the only real option?

In the fight, what where the probability of players killing the giant?

In your players' perspective, how likely were they to be able to sneak past the giant? How likely did they think killing the giant was? Were there any signs that the giant's favorite tactic was "throwing people off the cliff"?

I am not asking these things to be difficult, or to classify your actions as "railroading or not". While it may seem like it, that's not really the point.

The point is really to make you think about things differently. A player complained that they felt railroaded. Is there anything you can do with your scenario-design to avoid this in the future?

Talakeal
2019-03-25, 07:37 AM
Sorry for posting so quickly again, I guess I should have read more posts...

A few points.

When you designed the scenario, I am pretty sure you know that the PCs couldn't all fly, teleport or climb really well. Hypothetical options do not count. Only real options do. If they don't have the classes and/or levels to fly and teleport, those are not options. Also, there is no party in the history of RPG where everyone could climb really well. Maybe if you played "Cliffs & Chasms", but anyway.

Basically, as you say, avoiding the situation would not be allowed. Therefore, they had to have the encounter with the giant. So, what real options did they have? Could they talk with the giant or sneak past it or was fighting the only real option?

In the fight, what where the probability of players killing the giant?

In your players' perspective, how likely were they to be able to sneak past the giant? How likely did they think killing the giant was? Were there any signs that the giant's favorite tactic was "throwing people off the cliff"?

I am not asking these things to be difficult, or to classify your actions as "railroading or not". While it may seem like it, that's not really the point.

The point is really to make you think about things differently. A player complained that they felt railroaded. Is there anything you can do with your scenario-design to avoid this in the future?

I actually created the dungeon before the players created their characters. It is an open world sandbox campaign with most of the work done on my end up front.

The players certainly had the capabilities to create a party where everyone could fly or climb, or even teleport or make a rope bridge. And even after their characters were made they could have easilly purchased consumables to allow those abilities at the last minute. Or come up with a plan that I hadn't thought of.

Their mission was to kill the giant. They actually managed to severly injure it their first fight, and once they got out of the chasm they can and did finish it off.

Talking or sneaking were unlikely as the party has some real tin cans in it and the giant didnt speak their language. Possible, but even less likely than avoiding having anyone thrown over the ledge and kind of pointless as they were there to kill the giant and take its treasure.





You set up a fight your players couldn't win, to put them in a place you wanted to put them in. It's clearly railroading. I don't even know what the thread is about.

The question is whether or not that scenario is railroading. You say it is, others say it isnt, I am trying to gauge the consensus.

Now, you use the word "couldn't", which is hyperbole. I agree that a literal no win scenario is always railroading. But in this case it was "unlikely to win on their first attempt'," which to me doesn't seem any different than any other scenario set up.

Imagine if instead of giant throws into chasm it was, say, your master gives you a mission, or you find a treasure map, or you need to take shelter for the storm, or you need to rescue a captured ally, or you are hiding from a dragon flying over head, or you hear a small child calling for help.

These are all scenarios that are likely to lead the players into the dungeon but, imo, only become railroading if you actively negate the players attempts to slip the blind, but in my players oppinion, and apparently yours I think, they would constitute railroading?

Of course, these are the same players who think any information gained throu dialogue constitutes a monologue, so...

Now there are other ways to get people into the dungeon that are a lot more railroady such as starting with the players being arrested or even captured off screen between sessions, which while not definetly railroady I would be a lot more hesitant about.

Mutazoia
2019-03-25, 08:09 AM
But, to be sure just what you think I've said: why do you think my strategy wouldn't work for others? Because I see absolutely no reason why anyone *couldn't* run a sandbox that way.

Anybody COULD run a game that way, but not everybody would ENJOY running a game that way. Ergo, that way doesn't work for everyone.

Kaptin Keen
2019-03-25, 08:16 AM
which is hyperbole.

No - it is not. They tried and they couldn't, and you didn't expect them to. It's in your own post. And it's what your players felt.

So is that railroading? Yes. It is. Is it the worst example of railroading imaginable. No. It's not.

But it's not about whether they could (technically) have won or not. You didn't leave them with the feeling that they could, and that's basically that. And I've been there - where a GM explained, in great detail, how we could have won a given fight, if only we'd been as clever tactically as he is. That's all very nice, but whether it's true or not makes not the slightest difference, because fun was had by no one, and no one walked away feeling happy.

Talakeal
2019-03-25, 08:37 AM
No - it is not. They tried and they couldn't, and you didn't expect them to. It's in your own post. And it's what your players felt.

So is that railroading? Yes. It is. Is it the worst example of railroading imaginable. No. It's not.

But it's not about whether they could (technically) have won or not. You didn't leave them with the feeling that they could, and that's basically that. And I've been there - where a GM explained, in great detail, how we could have won a given fight, if only we'd been as clever tactically as he is. That's all very nice, but whether it's true or not makes not the slightest difference, because fun was had by no one, and no one walked away feeling happy.

Couldn't and didn't are different words with different meanings and different connotations.

But going by that definition isn't every encounter railroading? Every encounter has a likely outcome and the DM tends to plan according to that outcome, even if it is merely "the party beats on the enemy until they win and expends 20% of their daily resources doing so).

Or is railroading a measure of challenge? Like, for example, if I put a really hard optional puzzle in, say for example the players can only bypass a lock by rolling a natural 20 on a disable device check or by solvinga really hard logic puzzle, and if they do they get a cool magic item. It is unlikely they will get the item, and the DM plans with that in mind. Is that railroading?

I assume my scenario in the OP feels more like railroading because of the forced movement, is that correct?

Or is it a matter of NPC agency? Like say the entire dungeon was identical, but rather than having the giant throw people off the ledge the bridge simply collapsed under the weight of the PCs due to poor maintenance while they were halfway across and they tumbled into the chasm below before even reachng the giant?

Or how about in the Hobbit movie where the goblins have built a literal trap door under what is, presumeably, the only secure shelter in the area?

Again, in my mind, it only crosses into railroading once the DM ignores versimilitude and logical consequences in order to counter the player's attempts to avoid a situation or the precautions they have taken.

Kaptin Keen
2019-03-25, 08:58 AM
I assume my scenario in the OP feels more like railroading because of the forced movement, is that correct?

Not at all. You had the dungeon prepared, and you know the players were going in there. The giant was just how it happened. Rather than motivation, you picked them up and put them in there.

Requiring a nat20 is also railroading.

But ... tell you what, I'll admit straight up that it's difficult to have this sort of discussion with me. I consider most ideas of difficulty to be entirely artificial. I can propably not explain that satisfatorily, but I'll try.

One example is your own, needing a particular roll to win. That's not difficulty, that's just randomness.

Another is what we generally consider levels. All levels do is increase the numbers (plus some stuff, like mobility and abilities, but that's irrelevant for the example), so at level 1 the numbers are prohibitively against defeating a giant, at say level 6 the numbers are about even, and at level 10 the numbers are prohibitively against the giant winning. It's not difficulty, it's just scaling.

Difficulty is something entirely different. Difficulty is only a relevant consideration if skill is involved. And ... well, in RPG's ... it generally isn't.

Lorsa
2019-03-25, 09:07 AM
I actually created the dungeon before the players created their characters. It is an open world sandbox campaign with most of the work done on my end up front.

The players certainly had the capabilities to create a party where everyone could fly or climb, or even teleport or make a rope bridge. And even after their characters were made they could have easilly purchased consumables to allow those abilities at the last minute. Or come up with a plan that I hadn't thought of.

Their mission was to kill the giant. They actually managed to severly injure it their first fight, and once they got out of the chasm they can and did finish it off.

Talking or sneaking were unlikely as the party has some real tin cans in it and the giant didnt speak their language. Possible, but even less likely than avoiding having anyone thrown over the ledge and kind of pointless as they were there to kill the giant and take its treasure.

If you created both the entire scenario before players made characters and it is made as a sandbox type game, then I don't see how it would count as railroading either. If you didn't know what type of party would face the giant, and in all possibility it could be one where they bashed the **** out of it, then it shouldn't be railroading.

Mind you, it can still be boring. Which may be what your player really felt, but didn't know how to communicate. That is a matter of taste though.

zinycor
2019-03-25, 09:18 AM
Having thought about it, the scenario could feel railroady if the players didn't get enough preparation. Did the players know about this giant and his tactics before facing him? If so, what preparation did they do, if any?

Resileaf
2019-03-25, 09:27 AM
I will echo the sentiments that railroading is when you force players into a situation or into a specific path despite them actively avoiding it. Some people seem to think that any GM action and intentions are railroading, but they're not looking at it the right way.

It would be best be compared to a cross-country road trip.
What the GM plans is the highway. It's the expected road the players will take and generally they won't deviate too much.
But fairly often, there are side roads they can take at many times on their journey. Those are the alternate ways the GM has taken into account the players can handle his challenges, and some of them are shortcuts or have special characteristics.
And occasionally, a player has an all-terrain vehicle that they use to go off every road. That's when the players do something entirely unexpected and the GM has to decide what to do on the spot. That's much more rare, though.

Thrawn4
2019-03-25, 09:50 AM
A very high likelihood of an outcome can be perceived as railroading, but by its very definition railroading implies that the DM dictates the outcome.

If you say that a very high likelihood of something happening is railroading, does that also mean that a very easy encounter with equal odds of winning is also railroading? Probably not, because it is not about probabilty but player choice (which increases if they are likely to succeed).

If you had several encounters that are next to impossible to win, the DM would dictate the outcome by means of improbabilty. Basically railroading by math rather than fiat, because rather than outright stating that something is impossible, you imply it through the scenario. Still, the intent is the same: negating player agency.

Now in this scenario, we have one difficult encounter. One might argue that this is already railroading, because there is a high likelihood of a certain outcome. However, according the OP, he was open to different approaches like sneaking. They were likewise unlikely, but does this constitute railroading?

First of all, it is one occurence, so we can't talk about a railroady DM in general. We might talk about one railroad incident. As pointed out, using probabilty can be a more subtle way of railroading.

But does this mean a difficult encounter is railroading? If so, the obvious consequence would be to call every difficult challenge railroading. The players in a gritty setting cannot easily overcome the dragon? "Obviously railroading." The young paladin who cannot win against the martial arts master? "Obviously railroading" For the sake of verisimilitude, some encounters have to be hard.

In this specific case, overcoming the giant was the goal, and the scenario was geared towards a certain outcome. But according to the OP, it was by no means the only one. Statistics aside, a creative or unusual aproach might have worked very well, which makes it open (not railroady) by design.

The player who wanted to not fall down before defeating the giant wanted the fight to go smooth. He may do so, but he may not call it railroading just because he did not succeed flawlessly.

Setting up certain scenarios is a DM's job. Making sure players' can always choose from a wide variety of options is not necessarily entailed; and at least imho it makes for less interesting situations if the players are always in full control.

TLDR: Railroading means negating player agency; statistics can do that in the long run, not in one instant. Especially not if other approaches might be valid.

The Kool
2019-03-25, 09:52 AM
I assume my scenario in the OP feels more like railroading because of the forced movement, is that correct?

Closing in on it. Almost any (there are exceptions, usually a DM monologue) claim a player ever makes about being 'railroaded' is really a complaint that they didn't feel like they had a fair chance at doing what they set out to do. Sometimes they never complain because they set out along your rails and thus never notice them. Sometimes they complain when there are none, because something happened to them after, say, a single roll. Let's approach this as the player...

I'm adventuring. The DM has led us to believe that the adventure leads across this bridge. No worries there, we're all willing to accept a bit of rails to follow the adventure of our own volition. Once across, we encounter a giant. He attacks? Alright, sweet, roll for initiative, I can use a giant fight! Round one: I swing, do some damage. He grabs me, okay he's very unlikely to fail that roll so he succeeds, no biggie. He throws me... Okay he has the strength and my roll to resist/avoid doesn't have much chance of success because I'm being tossed around by a giant. So now I'm falling down the chasm on my first turn having gotten basically one roll at a low chance of success. It feels like I had no impact on the scenario, no chance to influence it. Is this true? Well. Tricky answer.

D&D be like that sometimes. And sometimes it don't. It's the nature of the game that not every challenge will be a fair fight. However, leading the players to believe it's a fair fight and then it not being such, while not railroading, isn't fair to the players. If you prepare an encounter where the main threat is being thrown off the cliff, did the players have a chance to know this? If they knew they were going up against the giant, did they ask how it fights? This could be one of those moments where you ease your players into the concept of doing some research on what they're going to fight, but this only works if you consistently run monsters who do more than charge to their deaths (otherwise how are the players supposed to have an idea of which ones to ask questions about?). You should definitely have a quick chat with your players about it though. Something like "Hey guys, I know that was tough and went one way pretty quick. I like to run fights where monsters actually fight smart, so it might serve you well to be a little more cautious or do some research. Not every fight is going to have a soft landing if things go south."

So, was it railroading? I would argue that in your example, no it's not... but it wasn't 100% fair to the players either.

Thrawn4
2019-03-25, 10:02 AM
However, leading the players to believe it's a fair fight and then it not being such, while not railroading, isn't fair to the players.

So, was it railroading? I would argue that in your example, no it's not... but it wasn't 100% fair to the players either.
What do you mean by fair? Should the players always know about a preferred fighting style of their enemies? Because if so, I would argue that a fight being unpredictable might make it more interesting, and monsters fighting strategically likewise.

The Kool
2019-03-25, 10:15 AM
What do you mean by fair? Should the players always know about a preferred fighting style of their enemies? Because if so, I would argue that a fight being unpredictable might make it more interesting, and monsters fighting strategically likewise.

Oh it absolutely makes it more interesting, and if I knew more about the context I could say more as to whether this was easing the players into that playstyle. However, my reading of the OP scenario suggests that the players were led to expect a beat-stick fight, and were instead met with a surprise strategic encounter. I love fights like that, but they might not, particularly if their numbers weren't high enough to present a realistic chance of avoiding a certain specific fate. I wouldn't call it completely unfair, but it wasn't completely fair either if that's the case. It really rests on context, and whether they had good reason to expect that they'd need to do more that swing swords and roll dice to get past it. Like I said though, this could be the flag that tells them to expect that in the future.

Quertus
2019-03-25, 10:49 AM
I actually created the dungeon before the players created their characters. It is an open world sandbox campaign with most of the work done on my end up front.

The players certainly had the capabilities to create a party where everyone could fly or climb, or even teleport or make a rope bridge. And even after their characters were made they could have easilly purchased consumables to allow those abilities at the last minute. Or come up with a plan that I hadn't thought of.

Oh. Well, in that case, not so much.

Communicate this to the players to communicate how you do not perceive it as rails. Even better if you have sample parties. Better still if the conversation includes asking them if they think that said parties are somehow unrealistic.


The question is whether or not that scenario is railroading. You say it is, others say it isnt, I am trying to gauge the consensus.

Now, you use the word "couldn't", which is hyperbole. I agree that a literal no win scenario is always railroading. But in this case it was "unlikely to win on their first attempt'," which to me doesn't seem any different than any other scenario set up.

I cannot extinguish the sun, no matter how hard I pinch it. Rails! Rails, I say!

I don't think "unwinnable" is quite sufficient for a railroad, either.


Imagine if instead of giant throws into chasm it was, say, your master gives you a mission, or you find a treasure map, or you need to take shelter for the storm, or you need to rescue a captured ally, or you are hiding from a dragon flying over head, or you hear a small child calling for help.

These are all scenarios that are likely to lead the players into the dungeon but, imo, only become railroading if you actively negate the players attempts to slip the blind, but in my players oppinion, and apparently yours I think, they would constitute railroading?

Of course, these are the same players who think any information gained throu dialogue constitutes a monologue, so..

But remember, your plot hooks are handed out with a side of "but this is the only thing I have prepared - it's this or nothing".

My plot hooks are handed out by the half-dozen, with a side of "oh, you want to do something else entirely (but that actually exists)? OK..."


Now there are other ways to get people into the dungeon that are a lot more railroady such as starting with the players being arrested or even captured off screen between sessions, which while not definetly railroady I would be a lot more hesitant about.

Buy-in.

Even "captured between sessions" works if the GM gets explicit buy-in.

Quertus
2019-03-25, 11:26 AM
Anybody COULD run a game that way, but not everybody would ENJOY running a game that way. Ergo, that way doesn't work for everyone.

Further clarification: anyone who is running the most sandboxy of sandboxes? Would they not enjoy that method? If not, why not?


I will echo the sentiments that railroading is when you force players into a situation or into a specific path despite them actively avoiding it. Some people seem to think that any GM action and intentions are railroading, but they're not looking at it the right way.

Actually, it's that "intentions" part where I claim others aren't looking at it the right way.

If the GM *intends* the party to go down the hole, but then they choose an option that doesn't lead there, what can the GM do? Abandon their plans? Railroad the party back on track?

Rails are first laid in the GM's mind, even if those rails are innocuous, like "this is the only thing I have prepared". Anything that the GM wants or needs to have happen, he needs to get explicit buy-in from the players, else he runs the risk of railroading.


First of all, it is one occurence, so we can't talk about a railroady DM in general.

Actually, we have a GM with a history of ignoring realistic outcome to get what they want. See previous posts on removing random encounters for the most recent examples.

A GM where game physics are casually cast aside can be fine, if it's done right. Done wrong, it makes the game have the potential to feel railroaded, whether it is or not.

Talakeal
2019-03-25, 11:38 AM
Honestly, in retrospect, I really didn't need to make this thread.

The player in question can't stand losing, and when he does lose a fight he gets mad and looks for something to blame so he can lash out at it.

In this case it was idea that any fight where the likely outcome was defeat in the DMs mind must be a railroad.

I think it really is that simple.



Actually, we have a GM with a history of ignoring realistic outcome to get what they want. See previous posts on removing random encounters for the most recent examples.

Could you please elaborate on this, like a lot?

Because from where I am sitting saying "I am not going to use random encounters anymore because nobody enjoys them and they dont add anything from a gameplay perspective," isn't even in the same galaxy as ignoring logical outcomes to force the players down the rails.

Resileaf
2019-03-25, 11:39 AM
Actually, it's that "intentions" part where I claim others aren't looking at it the right way.

If the GM *intends* the party to go down the hole, but then they choose an option that doesn't lead there, what can the GM do? Abandon their plans? Railroad the party back on track?

Rails are first laid in the GM's mind, even if those rails are innocuous, like "this is the only thing I have prepared". Anything that the GM wants or needs to have happen, he needs to get explicit buy-in from the players, else he runs the risk of railroading.


'Expectations' is what I meant to say.

Ken Murikumo
2019-03-25, 12:24 PM
I have a quasi-related question:

Did the giant toss them all off the cliff at the same time, or one at a time? I cant imagine him bear-hugging the whole party in one motion because they happened to all be occupying the same square on the giants turn.

If you had a real encounter, with initiatives and rolling and such, then i imagine he probably used his turn to dump one, MAYBE two, players off the ledge while the others saw this. If this is true, why did they not change tactics? Perhaps one player tossing a rope to recover the fallen player(s) while the others kept the giant busy.

If the above is true, then it would seem to be your players' fault for this and has nothing to do with railroading. In fact it's the exact opposite because what happened was the direct result of player decision and nothing more.

FWIW: i don't consider what happened to be railroading. Assuming the players had the chance to engage the giant how they wanted, they had the chance to win. And judging from your comment about your player, they seem kind of butthurt and threw the word "railroad" at you to make a pointed insult.

Talakeal
2019-03-25, 12:27 PM
I have a quasi-related question:

Did the giant toss them all off the cliff at the same time, or one at a time? I cant imagine him bear-hugging the whole party in one motion because they happened to all be occupying the same square on the giants turn.

If you had a real encounter, with initiatives and rolling and such, then i imagine he probably used his turn to dump one, MAYBE two, players off the ledge while the others saw this. If this is true, why did they not change tactics? Perhaps one player tossing a rope to recover the fallen player(s) while the others kept the giant busy.

If the above is true, then it would seem to be your players' fault for this and has nothing to do with railroading. In fact it's the exact opposite because what happened was the direct result of player decision and nothing more.

FWIW: i don't consider what happened to be railroading. Assuming the players had the chance to engage the giant how they wanted, they had the chance to win. And judging from your comment about your player, they seem kind of butthurt and threw the word "railroad" at you to make a pointed insult.

One at a time. Dice were rolled normally. Unfortunately the guy with the rope was the first one over the edge.

The Kool
2019-03-25, 12:31 PM
Anything that the GM wants or needs to have happen, he needs to get explicit buy-in from the players, else he runs the risk of railroading.

By your definitions, is this not still railroading? Just rails that the players have, by virtue of buy-in, agreed to ride. If not, why isn't it?


'Expectations' is what I meant to say.

Having actually had this discussion with Quertus, I can preemptively inform you in far fewer words that that doesn't change his response in any way (no offense, Quertus).

For what it's worth, I understand that when a DM envisions a story (which is the first step in any plan, the vision, regardless of how thorough or vague a vision it is) this vision will influence everything that follows. Presumably and hopefully the DM has found players that have bought into this core vision (like agreeing on a specific system/setting/theme). This should mean that any influence of this initial vision does not qualify as railroading (unless something interesting comes of the discussion on my top quote in this post). I understand that this initial vision will influence everything that follows, that's natural and expected and I'm pretty sure it's impossible to do it otherwise... In fact, if it doesn't, you're betraying your players' buy-in trust. From this influence, and from a DM's experience (both in general and with specific players), the DM will naturally form an expectation, probably even more than one expectation. To fail to plan for these expectations is folly, as the DM will quickly find themselves in a situation they are unprepared for. To expand these expectations is not a bad idea. To plan outside the expectations entirely is also folly (What if the players just screw right on off and find a ship to the other side of the world? Let's plan for that) as your capacity for planning will be far outstripped by the amount of planning that it requires. The true question is in two factors: Setup, and reaction. Does the DM set up a situation to encourage a specific outcome? This can be argued as railroading, though the severity (and severity of complaint) varies based on how probable your encouraged outcome is (as an aside, I've yet to meet a perfectly balanced system, so 'any amount more likely is too much' will leave you incapable of finding a situation that isn't by that definition railroading). Response is how you respond to players going in a direction you didn't plan for. Do you force them back into your story, or change the story to meet them? This is very flexible, but if your mind goes "Well darn, they killed the ambush... it was supposed to capture them. I guess there's... a bigger ambush... outside the small ambush? That they have no hope of defeating, yeah that'll do it", then congratulations you're railroading. On the other hand, using flexible milestones to adapt the story to the players is very unlikely to be considered railroading. For example, "Okay, so the ambush can happen literally anywhere, once XYZ conditions are met. If the players capture this guy, they should be able to get the location of the hideout from him. Or they can track him. Or if they kill him I'll have a letter on his corpse. And if none of this works, then..." This is just flexible planning.

Blackhawk748
2019-03-25, 12:43 PM
One at a time. Dice were rolled normally. Unfortunately the guy with the rope was the first one over the edge.

Wait.."guy with the rope"? Why doesn't the whole party have rope?

The Kool
2019-03-25, 12:44 PM
Wait.."guy with the rope"? Why doesn't the whole party have rope?

Ah, a lesson we all learned at some point or other. With hope, so has his party now too.

Talakeal
2019-03-25, 12:48 PM
Wait.."guy with the rope"? Why doesn't the whole party have rope?

Cheap-skates who dumped strength mostly.

Also, nobody has the use rope skill, and most of the party doesnt have climbing, so even if they had all the rope in the world I am skeptical if they could have actually hauled the fighte out of the chasm.

Ken Murikumo
2019-03-25, 12:48 PM
One at a time. Dice were rolled normally. Unfortunately the guy with the rope was the first one over the edge.

Why were they not all carrying rope?! This is why i ALWAYS carry two lengths of rope and a grappling hook. They all laughed at me when i used my starting coin to buy it but when we needed to descend into a cave and i was the only one with rope, who was laughing then! Me, i was. I do the same with sewing needles, but have yet to prove anyone wrong with them...


Another quasi-related question:

The giant was their target so the obviously knew about it. But what about the giant's tactics? Did they know about the cliff and how they may be tossed off it?

Edit: DAMNIT, i was Swordsaged!

AMFV
2019-03-25, 12:57 PM
Cheap-skates who dumped strength mostly.

Also, nobody has the use rope skill, and most of the party doesnt have climbing, so even if they had all the rope in the world I am skeptical if they could have actually hauled the fighte out of the chasm.

So they dumped strength and didn't carry rope without any alternative means of getting out of things? That's their fault then for not planning for a particularly obvious thing.

Also, even if the giant is your target, fighting a giant (who generally have innate abilities to throw things) near a cliff when it wants to fight you is stupid, and getting thrown off the cliff is a forseeable consequence of that. The problem is that your players aren't planning and are then accusing you of railroading when things don't go the way they would like.

Talakeal
2019-03-25, 12:57 PM
Why were they not all carrying rope?! This is why i ALWAYS carry two lengths of rope and a grappling hook. They all laughed at me when i used my starting coin to buy it but when we needed to descend into a cave and i was the only one with rope, who was laughing then! Me, i was. I do the same with sewing needles, but have yet to prove anyone wrong with them...


Another quasi-related question:

The giant was their target so the obviously knew about it. But what about the giant's tactics? Did they know about the cliff and how they may be tossed off it?

Edit: DAMNIT, i was Swordsaged!

They knew there was something there, they didn't know that it was a giant until they spotted it.

The did know that the encounter would take place over a gorge.

AMFV
2019-03-25, 01:05 PM
They knew there was something there, they didn't know that it was a giant until they spotted it.

The did know that the encounter would take place over a gorge.

So they didn't scout ahead in a dangerous area, didn't ask what the target was, didn't do research on the target back in town, didn't do any scrying on the target at the top of the gorge, didn't summon a flyer have it fly over there and take a look, didn't try to retreat to more favorable terrain when they realized they were going to be fighting a giant by a gorge, where it's most obvious strategy would be to knock or toss them off, and it would have every advantage in doing so?

That sounds to me like a situation that's entirely their fault. I mean I can understand that being frustrating for them, but if you fail to plan completely then when bad stuff happens. That's on you.

Gallowglass
2019-03-25, 01:24 PM
It was not railroading. And the one guy in this thread demanding that it is railroading, is exactly the kind of player who gets mad and screams "railroading!" when

a> faced with a tough challenge that he doesn't immediately succeed at.
b> faced with a challenge aimed at a skillset he doesn't possess.
c> faced with a normal challenge and rolls poorly while the other side rolls well.
d> Doesn't like thinking of alternative strategies when faced with something that defeats his normal strategies.

Your scenario sounds like a million other scenarios written in modules and modules before you. A well-planned encounter with a high chance (but not inevitable chance) of a particular outcome.

I'm trusting you when you say "we rolled the dice" that you are being honest. Meaning, if one of the players had been creative, there was the possibility of another outcome (even if low chance)

Player B: "Seeing the giant throw Bruce over the cliff I run over to the cliff, lean over it and yell "Bruce are you okay". But in reality I'm trying to present a target to the giant so he'll come over to the cliff and try and knock me off. Then when he's over here, I'm going to make an acrobatics roll to dive out of the way of his kick."

DM: "Okay, the Giant has like a 5 int and 5 wis and likes to be cruel. Make a bluff check."

Player B: "17"

DM: "Okay the giant sneers and laughs "gyuh huh huh" and runs over toward you, lifting his leg and swinging it toward your butt to kick you off. Take your readied action acrobatics roll."

Player B: "23!"

DM: "Okay the Giant whiffs as you dive out of the way and teeters on his other leg, thrown off balance."

Player C: "Oh good, now that the giant is off balance, i"m going to charge into him and try and knock him off the cliff"

...

So assuming, you would've rolled with something like this if they had thought of it and been ready to proceed with the adventure from the top of the cliff instead of the bottom, then it wasn't railroading. It was an encounter.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-25, 07:51 PM
Most encounters are rigged to let the players win, but ffew people complain of railroading in that case.

Ok, the DM threw a though encounter at them. They could have choosed to not take it, or to evade it, or they could have figured out a better strategy to fight. that's simply how a non-trivial encounter should be.
if the players did come up with a better strategy, and the DM negated it arbitrarily, then it would be railroading.

Also, setting up the scenario must not be confused with railroading, even though the two could be similar. When you set the scenario you already have some bad uys with plans in motion, and you know those plans will happen unless they are stopped. And sometimes you are absolutely certain the players will never discover those plans, or even the eexistance of the baddies, until the plans are sprung. However, that is not necessarily bad, if the players then have to deal with the consequences freely. In that case, the baddie springing his secret plan was merely the beginning of the campaign, and the players will be free to deal with it in the way they choose - within the boundaries of the campaign world, of course.

Personally, I planned some encounters that the party was supposed to lose, because they have smart opponents that can make good plans themselves. It helps to set them up as worthy enemies if they can put the players in a tight spot every once in a while. However, those encounters are about how much the players can salvage, so they still have several possible outcomes. And perhaps more importantly, they can still be won with good strategy. It happened a couple of times, and both times I showered the party with rewards and I moved the story forward. There is also the fact that the party ooften surprises me with their power, so I'm not really sure of what is a proper encounter for them.

Blackhawk748
2019-03-25, 08:28 PM
Cheap-skates who dumped strength mostly.

Also, nobody has the use rope skill, and most of the party doesnt have climbing, so even if they had all the rope in the world I am skeptical if they could have actually hauled the fighte out of the chasm.

But you don't need Use Rope to use a Grappling hook and to climb up a knotted rope! And rope is part of the normal kit, along with a backpack, bedroll, waterskin, flint and steel, tent, 10 pitons, hammer, 5 torches, hooded lantern and several flasks of oil.

Seriously, thats what everyone caries.

zinycor
2019-03-25, 08:39 PM
But you don't need Use Rope to use a Grappling hook and to climb up a knotted rope! And rope is part of the normal kit, along with a backpack, bedroll, waterskin, flint and steel, tent, 10 pitons, hammer, 5 torches, hooded lantern and several flasks of oil.

Seriously, thats what everyone caries.

Talakeal runs a game similar to DnD, without it being actually DnD, so there isn't a real way to know if his players have those things in their normal kits.

Cliff Sedge
2019-03-25, 08:48 PM
The thing I don't understand about this whole conversation is why is there so much discussion of "railroading or not?" in the context of a single encounter?

That doesn't even fit what I thought the term meant.

Firstly, railroad vs sandbox is a spectrum. Rarely is an adventure purely one style or the other. I'd guess most people actually prefer a 60:40 or 70:30 mix of both with a personal preference for more of one or the other.

Secondly, railroad vs sandbox style gaming only makes sense in the context of the wider story/adventure/campaign. A single encounter can't determine that unless it is clear that the next encounter the players face is either 100% or 0% determined in advance. And even if it is 100% predetermined, so what?

A true railroad is when the DM already knows what the last page of the storybook is and makes sure that the players reach that last page by a very specific sequence of other pages. Anyone read choose-your-own-adventure books? If every choice always points to the same page no matter what, then the players don't even have illusion of choice. A choose-your-own-adventure book could still always end up on the same final page, but player choice can determine which sequence of other pages get them there. And each choice and consequence is consistent and makes sense.

Arguing that a single encounter is railroading because a particular outcome has a high probability (or even 100% probability) of occurring is like calling a banana a sandwich. It isn't even a proper application of the terminology.

Lunali
2019-03-25, 09:16 PM
IMO, it doesn't become railroading until the players attempt an action that goes counter to the DMs plan and it doesn't work because the DM doesn't want it to work.

Cluedrew
2019-03-25, 09:27 PM
Personally I feel that railroading is kind of an "excess of linearity". So one part of it is subjective, which is how much linearity is expected. So really if you want to know what is exactly railroading, figure out what level of linearity they are expecting. It might be a vague "more" in which case poke at it until you get a more definite answer.

I'm in a weird posting slump right now and this is all I can seem to put down. It's weird.

Quertus
2019-03-25, 10:54 PM
Could you please elaborate on this, like a lot?

Because from where I am sitting saying "I am not going to use random encounters anymore because nobody enjoys them and they dont add anything from a gameplay perspective," isn't even in the same galaxy as ignoring logical outcomes to force the players down the rails.

Elaborate? Yes. A lot? Again, yes. A lot, meaningfully? That's harder.

Look, the easy answer is to borrow a notion from another game: there are mutable laws, and there are immutable laws.

Or to borrow from Smallville, the notion of placing your values against each other, and asking which you pick in this scenario.

Or to borrow from... IRL?... Would you sell me your car for a million dollars? Yes? Then, in your mind, the car is already mine. (I don't fully get this one, I've just heard it said repeatedly).

Point is, railroading (in the normal sense) is just caving on the principle of realism or simulation or following the rules, in favor of fun or ease or whatever.

Which is what you've done with removing random encounters.

You've shown that you'll make that style of sacrifice of values.


By your definitions, is this not still railroading? Just rails that the players have, by virtue of buy-in, agreed to ride. If not, why isn't it?

Good question. Especially since I almost gave you a wrong answer.

No, it's not railroading. Railroading is when the GM removes player agency. Getting buy-in is Participationism, where the players voluntarily remove their own agency.


Having actually had this discussion with Quertus, I can preemptively inform you in far fewer words that that doesn't change his response in any way (no offense, Quertus).

For what it's worth, I understand that when a DM envisions a story (which is the first step in any plan, the vision, regardless of how thorough or vague a vision it is) this vision will influence everything that follows. Presumably and hopefully the DM has found players that have bought into this core vision (like agreeing on a specific system/setting/theme). This should mean that any influence of this initial vision does not qualify as railroading (unless something interesting comes of the discussion on my top quote in this post). I understand that this initial vision will influence everything that follows, that's natural and expected and I'm pretty sure it's impossible to do it otherwise... In fact, if it doesn't, you're betraying your players' buy-in trust.

None taken - I like it when others can explain my PoV.

However, shorter answer, expectation and intention are different, in my book. Intention is rails, expectation is not inherently rails - it depends on what you do with your expectations. I think I'm with you to about where I ended the quote before my rails sense starts tingling.


The thing I don't understand about this whole conversation is why is there so much discussion of "railroading or not?" in the context of a single encounter?

That doesn't even fit what I thought the term meant.

Firstly, railroad vs sandbox is a spectrum. Rarely is an adventure purely one style or the other. I'd guess most people actually prefer a 60:40 or 70:30 mix of both with a personal preference for more of one or the other.

Secondly, railroad vs sandbox style gaming only makes sense in the context of the wider story/adventure/campaign. A single encounter can't determine that unless it is clear that the next encounter the players face is either 100% or 0% determined in advance. And even if it is 100% predetermined, so what?

A true railroad is when the DM already knows what the last page of the storybook is and makes sure that the players reach that last page by a very specific sequence of other pages. Anyone read choose-your-own-adventure books? If every choice always points to the same page no matter what, then the players don't even have illusion of choice. A choose-your-own-adventure book could still always end up on the same final page, but player choice can determine which sequence of other pages get them there. And each choice and consequence is consistent and makes sense.

Arguing that a single encounter is railroading because a particular outcome has a high probability (or even 100% probability) of occurring is like calling a banana a sandwich. It isn't even a proper application of the terminology.

Strongly disagree. Well, and agree.

So, yes, there's a spectrum. And, yes, most railroad GMs have the whole path planned out.

But the act of railroading absolutely occurs at the single encounter (or even single action!) level.

"I want to do X."

"You can't, because..." (Because that ruins the story).

That's all it takes for railroading to occur.

Pelle
2019-03-26, 03:32 AM
I think the problem with the scenario is that it seems designed to be an unfun experience, regardless of railroading or not.

Just like SoD or stealthy assassins, care must be used for these types of challenges to feel fair and not a screwjob, likely using heavy telegraphing to make them work. This scenario hinges on the players scouting to reduce the bad experience, and when the players are unaware of that, it's a fragile situation.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-26, 05:31 AM
So, yes, there's a spectrum. And, yes, most railroad GMs have the whole path planned out.

But the act of railroading absolutely occurs at the single encounter (or even single action!) level.

"I want to do X."

"You can't, because..." (Because that ruins the story).

That's all it takes for railroading to occur.
I agree on that; however, it can be difficult to differentiate "you can't because i have other plans" and "you can"t because it doesn't work".
I had plenty of brainstorming with the most involved of my players where they proposed plans of actions, and i shoot down many of those. I created a world with established workings and limitations; nobody ever complained because they are consistent and they make sense. Do notice that if they actually insisted on a course of action after repeatedly i pointed out it's likely suicidal, i'd let them.

However, whiny players will often invoke railroading when it's actually setting constraints.
They expect to do whatever they please and when they are faced with reasonable consequences of their actions, they complain that you are limiting their freedom.

So, without hearing all sides involved and looking at the greater picture, you can't accurately adjudicate railroading on a single action.

Talakeal
2019-03-26, 07:10 AM
Elaborate? Yes. A lot? Again, yes. A lot, meaningfully? That's harder.

Look, the easy answer is to borrow a notion from another game: there are mutable laws, and there are immutable laws.

Or to borrow from Smallville, the notion of placing your values against each other, and asking which you pick in this scenario.

Or to borrow from... IRL?... Would you sell me your car for a million dollars? Yes? Then, in your mind, the car is already mine. (I don't fully get this one, I've just heard it said repeatedly).

Point is, railroading (in the normal sense) is just caving on the principle of realism or simulation or following the rules, in favor of fun or ease or whatever.

Which is what you've done with removing random encounters.

You've shown that you'll make that style of sacrifice of values

Ok, fair enough, that makes sense.

I thiught you were saying I would ignore logic to cram my plot down the PCs throats, like "The vampire mind controls you into helping him recover the artifact," "But I am immune to mind control and have a holy aura that destroys all undead within 50 feet," "Ah, but this is a super special plot vampire who ignores such feeble mortal abilities," or even "Dude, just shut up and go along with the adventure!" type BS that I would classify as railroading.


I think the problem with the scenario is that it seems designed to be an unfun experience, regardless of railroading or not.

Just like SoD or stealthy assassins, care must be used for these types of challenges to feel fair and not a screwjob, likely using heavy telegraphing to make them work. This scenario hinges on the players scouting to reduce the bad experience, and when the players are unaware of that, it's a fragile situation.

Maybe.

But this isnt you fall in a whole and die; if I wanted that I would have had the giant throw half the party down and then just straight up kill the isolated guys who remained up top.

It was do as much damage as possible before being thrown of, then climb up, get a bunch of treasure along the way, face the giant again with better tactics to avoid being thrown off again, and hopefully get revenge.

Of course I didn't really stick to my guns. When they faced the giant again they just charged straight in a second time with no precausions, and thihgh I was dissapointed I didnt have the heart or the stamina to throw them down again that late in the evening.

The Kool
2019-03-26, 07:17 AM
...caving on the principle of realism or simulation or following the rules, in favor of fun or ease or whatever.

Which is what you've done with removing random encounters.

You've shown that you'll make that style of sacrifice of values.

I actually disagree that this is any form of bad thing. Like many rules presented in, for example, 3.5's DMG, random encounters are a tool. There is a strong difference between a tool and an immutable aspect of the world. Tools may be implemented when appropriate and left aside when they aren't fitting. Immutable aspects of the world should be upheld consistently. If you know as a table that there is a bandit toll on a highway, and the party travels that highway, the party is going to have to deal with or account for the toll somehow. If you're just traveling down a road, there may or may not be a random encounter, depending on what the DM feels is appropriate at the time. Just like you may or may not have to deal with disease when traveling in the jungle, and may or may not encounter NPCs with heroic class levels.

Mutazoia
2019-03-26, 08:19 AM
Further clarification: anyone who is running the most sandboxy of sandboxes? Would they not enjoy that method? If not, why not?

Not everybody enjoys constantly asking their players "what's next". Some DM's like to run a campaign. A campaign, is a series of games linked by an over-arching plot or theme. Not every adventure has to have something to do with the plot/theme, but the majority will. Otherwise you end up with episodes.... Think of the original Star Trek (or just about any other TV show you prefer). Each episode was a self contained instance, and had no connection to the one before it (unless it was a two part episode).

Now, some people enjoy that kind of thing. Players and DM's alike. Some don't. I've only know one person who enjoyed episodic style games, personally. I don't. I don't enjoy playing them, I don't enjoy running them. To me, those games are good for Con's, where you are only going to play once for a day or two. Give me an epic plot line any day.

(have to cut this short...need to leave for work)

Thrawn4
2019-03-26, 08:54 AM
I think the problem with the scenario is that it seems designed to be an unfun experience, regardless of railroading or not.

Just like SoD or stealthy assassins, care must be used for these types of challenges to feel fair and not a screwjob, likely using heavy telegraphing to make them work. This scenario hinges on the players scouting to reduce the bad experience, and when the players are unaware of that, it's a fragile situation.
I see your point, but I strongly disagree with your first paragaph. There are players like me who value unexpected elements, occasionally difficult fights and enemies who act intelligently. I would have liked that scenario (under the premise that the enemy did not just spawn in front of the group).

Second paragraph is solid, though.

Quertus
2019-03-26, 09:14 AM
Not everybody enjoys constantly asking their players "what's next". Some DM's like to run a campaign. A campaign, is a series of games linked by an over-arching plot or theme. Not every adventure has to have something to do with the plot/theme, but the majority will. Otherwise you end up with episodes.... Think of the original Star Trek (or just about any other TV show you prefer). Each episode was a self contained instance, and had no connection to the one before it (unless it was a two part episode).

Now, some people enjoy that kind of thing. Players and DM's alike. Some don't. I've only know one person who enjoyed episodic style games, personally. I don't. I don't enjoy playing them, I don't enjoy running them. To me, those games are good for Con's, where you are only going to play once for a day or two. Give me an epic plot line any day.

(have to cut this short...need to leave for work)

Short is good. Brevity is the essence of clarity. I aim for verbosity, as it's a trademark of Quertus, my signature academia mage, for whom this account is named.

A forced overarching plot is not a sandboxy sandbox. So that explains the difference.

That said, most of my sandboxes end up with overarching plots rather than feeling purely episodic, because the players make it so. There are a dozen "plots" going on in the background (of which the PCs maybe are aware of half), and they choose to tell their story - which may be them trying to stop (or aid!) an existing plot, or even them progressing their own plot.

So, "sandbox" and "overarching plot" are not opposites. "Sandbox" and "railroad" are. In a railroad, the GM determines if there is an overarching plot; in a sandbox, the players do.

So, what are we doing next time?

Tajerio
2019-03-26, 10:47 AM
Short is good. Brevity is the essence of clarity. I aim for verbosity, as it's a trademark of Quertus, my signature academia mage, for whom this account is named.

A forced overarching plot is not a sandboxy sandbox. So that explains the difference.

That said, most of my sandboxes end up with overarching plots rather than feeling purely episodic, because the players make it so. There are a dozen "plots" going on in the background (of which the PCs maybe are aware of half), and they choose to tell their story - which may be them trying to stop (or aid!) an existing plot, or even them progressing their own plot.

So, "sandbox" and "overarching plot" are not opposites. "Sandbox" and "railroad" are. In a railroad, the GM determines if there is an overarching plot; in a sandbox, the players do.

So, what are we doing next time?

But if the players engage with the schemes and plans that you, the GM, have conceived of and assigned to NPCs in the world, aren't they then at least partially limited by your intentions? Or do you get them to buy-in, explicitly, to the variety of NPC plots and plans you make?

Ken Murikumo
2019-03-26, 10:52 AM
Quertus, my signature academia mage, for whom this account is named.

And never is an opportunity missed to remind us...

Quertus
2019-03-26, 11:22 AM
But if the players engage with the schemes and plans that you, the GM, have conceived of and assigned to NPCs in the world, aren't they then at least partially limited by your intentions? Or do you get them to buy-in, explicitly, to the variety of NPC plots and plans you make?

Well, no. They aren't limited to only engaging with those schemes. They can engage in their own schemes.

I get explicit buy-in for the type of sandbox (a political sandbox, an exploration sandbox, whatever), and populate it accordingly. But how they play with the toys with which I've populated the sandbox is up to them.

Erm, that's not 100% right. If they agreed to an exploration sandbox, then never leave the bar, I think it's fair to say I might have grounds to say that they're having BadWrongFun. Then again, if we're all having unexpected fun with 10 sessions in the bar of a frontier town, I suppose it could work...


And never is an opportunity missed to remind us...

Lol.

Well, it started when posters repeatedly commented regarding their confusion wether I was referring to myself, my account, or my character. So I've decided to be specific.

And, as an added bonus, it really cuts down on people saying "that's impossible" and me having to explicitly waste time & virtual ink explaining, "no, it isn't, I've done it".

But Quertus, my signature academia mage, for whom this account is named? He's arguably even more pedantic, actively correcting anyone who fails to credit Mordenkainen, Elminster, Evard, Kauper, etc, for their spells.

The Kool
2019-03-26, 11:38 AM
actively correcting anyone who fails to credit Mordenkainen, Elminster, Evard, Kauper, etc, for their spells.

Cheapskate modern mages, picking up Chinese knock-off spells for dirt cheap online.

Tajerio
2019-03-26, 11:39 AM
Well, no. They aren't limited to only engaging with those schemes. They can engage in their own schemes.

I get explicit buy-in for the type of sandbox (a political sandbox, an exploration sandbox, whatever), and populate it accordingly. But how they play with the toys with which I've populated the sandbox is up to them.

I guess my point is more that you, as the GM, decide how parts of the world work in ways not governed by the rules, but by your own biases, beliefs, and assumptions--this'll be especially prevalent in a campaign that does anything political. From the very beginning, your imagination partly circumscribes what the players can achieve, both by what you have chosen to put into your world, and by the way you understand it to work.

This isn't a problem for most people's definitions of railroading, but your definition is so expansive that I wonder if it includes worldbuilding--especially since all of us carry assumptions about the psychology of intelligent beings that are either wrong or unprovable, but which will influence how our NPCs choose to act, and thus what the PCs can accomplish.

Quertus
2019-03-26, 02:26 PM
I guess my point is more that you, as the GM, decide how parts of the world work in ways not governed by the rules, but by your own biases, beliefs, and assumptions--this'll be especially prevalent in a campaign that does anything political. From the very beginning, your imagination partly circumscribes what the players can achieve, both by what you have chosen to put into your world, and by the way you understand it to work.

This isn't a problem for most people's definitions of railroading, but your definition is so expansive that I wonder if it includes worldbuilding--especially since all of us carry assumptions about the psychology of intelligent beings that are either wrong or unprovable, but which will influence how our NPCs choose to act, and thus what the PCs can accomplish.

Well, I was going to disagree, until I remembered previous conversations I've had on the Playground. Yes, Knowledge: GM is an important skill, to let you know if the GM believes that you can get vegetarians to eat meat, people to ignore their sexual preferences, or - my personal favorite example - convince someone to kill and eat their best friend. And, if these things are possible, what it will take to convince them.

Myself, I'm all about player skills, about tactics and strategy mattering. About NPCs being people, too. And those above examples being generally impossible without leverage or magic, not something a muggle can do by talking more good, and saying it very convincingly. :smallannoyed:

Yes, some people seem to think that they can just walk up to Palpatine and get him to hand over the Empire, or put out a barn fire without magic. I'm not one of them. Does that make me a railroader? I don't think so. Does my definition make it seem that the existence of GM-adjudicated game physics ("rule 0") inherently produces rails? It shouldn't. It's only* when adjudication of Rule 0 is Tainted by the GM *wanting* something that I'm calling "rails". It's the wanting, not the Rule 0, that I'm blaming.

That said, removing Rule 0 - playing as board game - does also remove change the nature of some the subtler rails.

* Well, I suppose the GM being ignorant and refusing to learn could produce similar results?

EDIT: on the world-building end... Hmmm... This is a big one. We all have weaknesses (one I recognize is that I rarely include "difficult terrain"). It's because of this that I want to run any good characters under as many GMs as possible, so that they get a well-rounded experience.

Torpin
2019-03-26, 03:03 PM
somethings are railroading, others are just facing the consequences of your actions. did the players absolutely have to face the giant, could they have gone for help would you have stopped them from getting help. could they have run away once combat has started

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-26, 09:04 PM
So, "sandbox" and "overarching plot" are not opposites. "Sandbox" and "railroad" are. In a railroad, the GM determines if there is an overarching plot; in a sandbox, the players do.


This just makes no sesne to me:

DM does anything: automatiac railroad.

Players do stuff: great game!

But how does this ever work in real life game play?

DM makes a plot, it must be a railroad. So...ok...the players make the plot...er...how exactly? The players just tell them DM to make plot x that they want. Ok...but catch-22, right. Because:

As soon as the DM makes a plot, even one ''made" by the players, it's a railroad....

Xuc Xac
2019-03-26, 10:12 PM
This just makes no sesne to me:

DM does anything: automatiac railroad.

Players do stuff: great game!

But how does this ever work in real life game play?

DM makes a plot, it must be a railroad. So...ok...the players make the plot...er...how exactly? The players just tell them DM to make plot x that they want. Ok...but catch-22, right. Because:

As soon as the DM makes a plot, even one ''made" by the players, it's a railroad....

Hey, look, it's Darth Ultron!

King of Nowhere
2019-03-27, 03:58 AM
This just makes no sesne to me:

DM does anything: automatiac railroad.

Players do stuff: great game!

But how does this ever work in real life game play?

DM makes a plot, it must be a railroad. So...ok...the players make the plot...er...how exactly? The players just tell them DM to make plot x that they want. Ok...but catch-22, right. Because:

As soon as the DM makes a plot, even one ''made" by the players, it's a railroad....

I have to agree with this.
As my campaign took a more political turn, whichwas encouraged by the players (at least, by the one player who cared enough to interact) i populated the world with several high-end villains with their overarching schemes. Most of those are ready to spring, and there's not much the party can do before that - often they can't even find out the schemes before they are sprung.

For example, i've known for a while that the high priest of vecna had built a secret base under a major city and he researched a ritual to suck the souls of everyone in the city and turn him into a deity. I've also known that external constrains would force him to enact his ritual in a time and manner when the party would be positioned to stop him. I've known that, regardless of the outcome, this would precipitate a large war, and that a few other villains will try to use the consequent power vacuum to spring their own schemes.

The players are free to interact with those schemes however they want, though.

So how much of that would be railroading? I know a few events that will happen in the future, with almost no chance of being changed. At the same time, player agency is not limited, and their actions changed the world - already they made allies with a couple npcs (leaders of nations) i originally intended as villains.

I think the whole "railroading by intention" is too vague and ill-defined to be of any practical concern.

NichG
2019-03-27, 04:30 AM
Railroading, as an abstract concept, is useful in understanding why someone who is upset or not having fun is experiencing that in a given game and to devise ways of addressing that. As an abstract concept though, it isn't useful in predicting or determining whether someone will enjoy something or be upset. It's actively harmful if abstract definitions of railroading lead you to tell someone 'your explanation about why you are upset does not make sense, because this was not railroading by formal definition'.

In that sense, the 'intention-based' railroading Quertus described is useful in understanding the thing that Quertus responds negatively to when railroading is present - what he's saying is that ultimately, more so than the loss of agency, the problem he has is the inherent inconsistency injected into the setting when in-game things are driven by meta-game concerns rather than in-game concerns (e.g. if the DM forms 'rails in their mind' and so starts to arrange the setting in order to achieve a desired outcome). In this sense, it's useful in understanding a particular thing that people could be bothered by and even extends outside of the tabletop genre. For example, if we ask 'is an author writing a book railroading?' the answer is kind of 'that's a nonsensical question'. But we could ask whether the events in a given author's book are driven by considerations of internal consistency or by the author's desire to 'get to' a particular story beat, which is a difference that can exist and may influence someone's ability to enjoy the work (or whether they find it preachy or pushy or so on).

This isn't the same as the aspect of the discussion which centers around feelings of agency, but its not totally disconnected from it. Feeling that the world is more or less consistent factors into whether one believes their choices are capable of mattering (or, the extent to which their choices will be able to propagate through the world in the DM's mind). A DM who has strongly formed intents about how things should go may preferentially look for ways to dissipate divergences from their plans, while you could just as well have a DM who intentionally amplifies divergences as a method of running game - e.g. the plot is made by the unforeseen side-effects of things the players did getting out of control, or a simulationist DM who evaluates the propagation of consequences as a dispassionate calculation, or a DM who outsources calculation of the consequences to the group, or ... Feeling that consequences is one way in which someone may feel that they have less agency than they are being presented as having.

But in the end, saying 'ah, well then everything is railroading!' or 'ah, well then (thing we're supposed to like) would be railroading' is missing the point in that, as a concept these abstract ideas are useful to help someone explain why they're not having fun, but 'in this case X does not like this and explains it as railroading' is not the same as 'whenever there is railroading, X will necessarily dislike it'. And sometimes the explanation may even be misleading - in the case of Talakeal's player, it is more likely that there is some other reason the player is unhappy, but is using the term 'railroading' in lieu of a more specific or accurate explanation of their discontent (which could be for various reasons).

Similarly, if one were to conclude 'I didn't railroad therefore my players are obligated to be satisfied with their agency in my game', that would likewise be a mistake.

Cluedrew
2019-03-27, 07:32 AM
So, "sandbox" and "overarching plot" are not opposites. "Sandbox" and "railroad" are. In a railroad, the GM determines if there is an overarching plot; in a sandbox, the players do.I wouldn't even go that far, mostly because that makes it seem like role-playing games are a scale between the two and there is nothing else. And even if we do reduce it to that, I believe we should speak of sandbox and linear adventure. To me, railroading is when someone tries to make the adventure more linear than it was supposed to be/presented as. So really there are two main ways to prevent a railroad: Buy-in to make sure everyone is on the same page about how linear the adventure is going to be and making the adventure less linear. Neither works in every case.

The Kool
2019-03-27, 07:33 AM
To those curious about Quertus' strong opinions on the matter of railroading, I've been slowly forming an observation. I believe that he prefers a purely player-driven story, for the DM to be purely reactive and fair and completely out of the way and impersonal, leaving him at the helm to explore a world and forge his own story. I could be overstating it, but even if I am it's worth noting that while there are players like this, they are in the vast minority. I believe it's fair to say that DM involvement in the storytelling process is NOT railroading... it is simply a style of play he does not want any part of. Most players and groups, however, are quite comfortable with it as a general principle. I think NichG presents an excellent analysis of the fine points though.

EDIT: On the topic of Sandbox vs Railroad, I too use them as opposites but in a slightly different definition: It's a sliding scale of DM involvement. The more the DM pushes a story on the players, the more railroady it gets in this sense. The more the DM sits back and leaves the decisions to the players, the more sandboxy it gets. I find that the perfect balance point here is different for every group, as it should actually be responsive to meet the amount of agency the players are comfortable displaying. For example, players who sit there quietly and don't do much will need a story heavily driven by the DM, and everyone may enjoy that, there's nothing inherently wrong with it. Another group may be very independent and engage their own story, pushing things forward and doing most of the talking. This is fine too, just a different group.

Quertus
2019-03-27, 11:25 AM
@NichG - wow, that was amazing. Somehow, I didn't quote you, so I'll respond to you in another post.


This just makes no sesne to me:

DM does anything: automatiac railroad.

Players do stuff: great game!

But how does this ever work in real life game play?

DM makes a plot, it must be a railroad. So...ok...the players make the plot...er...how exactly? The players just tell them DM to make plot x that they want. Ok...but catch-22, right. Because:

As soon as the DM makes a plot, even one ''made" by the players, it's a railroad....


Hey, look, it's Darth Ultron!

Lol! That's what I thought while reading it.

Look, in what I'm describing, the GM never makes "a plot". They make, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fox Mulder, Quertus, Titania, Kosh, Gilgamesh, the Loch Ness monster, an ice yeti mystic, etc etc etc. Each of these actors has their own goals, but it's up to the players to decide what story they are telling. Maybe they decide that they want to help Fox Mulder investigate the supernatural. Maybe they device that they ship Buffy & Kosh, or Fox and Gilgamesh, and they try to set them up. The GM uses the rules to determine what happens. In most systems, there aren't rules for "trying to get people to fall in love", so things like this is where "rule 0" comes into play.

If the GM *wants* something specific to happen, they may be tempted to break the rules, or, more subtly, may make "rule 0" rulings which are less realistic which favor their desired outcome.

This is all definitionally railroading - negating player actions to force a specific outcome.

Rails first form in the GM's mind, when they "make a plot". I'm saying "don't do that" - at least, without getting explicit buy-in for rails from the players.


I think the whole "railroading by intention" is too vague and ill-defined to be of any practical concern.

NichG did a better job explaining than I ever could. Suffice it to say, I disagree.


I wouldn't even go that far, mostly because that makes it seem like role-playing games are a scale between the two and there is nothing else. And even if we do reduce it to that, I believe we should speak of sandbox and linear adventure. To me, railroading is when someone tries to make the adventure more linear than it was supposed to be/presented as. So really there are two main ways to prevent a railroad: Buy-in to make sure everyone is on the same page about how linear the adventure is going to be and making the adventure less linear. Neither works in every case.

Linear Adventure? Maybe. I often get that and "railroad" confused. But I think I'm still correct that railroading is caused by the GM *wanting* something.


To those curious about Quertus' strong opinions on the matter of railroading, I've been slowly forming an observation. I believe that he prefers a purely player-driven story, for the DM to be purely reactive and fair and completely out of the way and impersonal, leaving him at the helm to explore a world and forge his own story. I could be overstating it, but even if I am it's worth noting that while there are players like this, they are in the vast minority. I believe it's fair to say that DM involvement in the storytelling process is NOT railroading...

OK, let me stop you right there. Railroading is railroading. Railroading is caused by the GM wanting something. Do you disagree with this?

The Kool
2019-03-27, 11:48 AM
OK, let me stop you right there. Railroading is railroading. Railroading is caused by the GM wanting something. Do you disagree with this?

Absolutely. I believe you're extrapolating your definitions too far. To home in on the underlined phrase being your rallying cry, I believe you've oversimplified the case. Let me counter with something you've occasionally bounced back to before returning to this oversimplified stance.

Railroading is the DM letting what they want influence the game in a way that removes player agency.*

Wanting something opens the possibility of railroading and is (I suppose?) required for railroading, but the presence of the DM wanting something does not mean there is automatically railroading. To highlight this, how do you distinguish between the DM wanting something, and a DM-created NPC wanting something? Are the NPCs allowed to want things? This comes from the DM's mind, yes? (If not, then you really are playing an RP defined by player input with no DM input, as I suggested.) The DM wants the NPC to want something, so isn't the NPC wanting something an extension of the DM wanting something? Is the NPC not allowed to act on and explore these goals and desires? I feel that it would be an awfully flat setting if the NPC are static until acted upon by the PCs.

Earlier in the same post, you say "If the GM *wants* something specific to happen, they may be tempted to break the rules, or, more subtly, may make "rule 0" rulings which are less realistic which favor their desired outcome." This is an incredibly valid concern. Should you not then define railroading as the DM acting on these temptations, rather than simply opening themselves to the potential of being tempted? Or do you have so little trust in your DMs?

*I was going to say "or doesn't make sense" but then I realized in some games and settings, things just don't make sense and that's how it is. Consider that to require player buy-in if you like, but I don't think strangeness itself constitutes railroading.

Quertus
2019-03-27, 12:56 PM
Railroading, as an abstract concept, is useful in understanding why someone who is upset or not having fun is experiencing that in a given game and to devise ways of addressing that. As an abstract concept though, it isn't useful in predicting or determining whether someone will enjoy something or be upset. It's actively harmful if abstract definitions of railroading lead you to tell someone 'your explanation about why you are upset does not make sense, because this was not railroading by formal definition'.

In that sense, the 'intention-based' railroading Quertus described is useful in understanding the thing that Quertus responds negatively to when railroading is present - what he's saying is that ultimately, more so than the loss of agency, the problem he has is the inherent inconsistency injected into the setting when in-game things are driven by meta-game concerns rather than in-game concerns (e.g. if the DM forms 'rails in their mind' and so starts to arrange the setting in order to achieve a desired outcome). In this sense, it's useful in understanding a particular thing that people could be bothered by and even extends outside of the tabletop genre. For example, if we ask 'is an author writing a book railroading?' the answer is kind of 'that's a nonsensical question'. But we could ask whether the events in a given author's book are driven by considerations of internal consistency or by the author's desire to 'get to' a particular story beat, which is a difference that can exist and may influence someone's ability to enjoy the work (or whether they find it preachy or pushy or so on).

This isn't the same as the aspect of the discussion which centers around feelings of agency, but its not totally disconnected from it. Feeling that the world is more or less consistent factors into whether one believes their choices are capable of mattering (or, the extent to which their choices will be able to propagate through the world in the DM's mind). A DM who has strongly formed intents about how things should go may preferentially look for ways to dissipate divergences from their plans, while you could just as well have a DM who intentionally amplifies divergences as a method of running game - e.g. the plot is made by the unforeseen side-effects of things the players did getting out of control, or a simulationist DM who evaluates the propagation of consequences as a dispassionate calculation, or a DM who outsources calculation of the consequences to the group, or ... Feeling that consequences is one way in which someone may feel that they have less agency than they are being presented as having.

But in the end, saying 'ah, well then everything is railroading!' or 'ah, well then (thing we're supposed to like) would be railroading' is missing the point in that, as a concept these abstract ideas are useful to help someone explain why they're not having fun, but 'in this case X does not like this and explains it as railroading' is not the same as 'whenever there is railroading, X will necessarily dislike it'. And sometimes the explanation may even be misleading - in the case of Talakeal's player, it is more likely that there is some other reason the player is unhappy, but is using the term 'railroading' in lieu of a more specific or accurate explanation of their discontent (which could be for various reasons).

Similarly, if one were to conclude 'I didn't railroad therefore my players are obligated to be satisfied with their agency in my game', that would likewise be a mistake.

Again, Wow. I'd never even considered it, but maybe I do despise railroading for the inconsistency at least as much as for the loss of agency. Huh I'll have to think about it.

Regardless of what I personally consciously or subconsciously care about, I think that my understanding of the root causes of railroading stands on its own merits.

But, yeah, as I said, you've done a better job explaining my stance than I could.

EDIT: good call differentiating "feeling railroaded" sam from actually being railroaded.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-27, 01:25 PM
OK, let me stop you right there. Railroading is railroading. Railroading is caused by the GM wanting something. Do you disagree with this?

Let's put it like that:
railroading is caused by the DM wanting something, but not every instance of DM wanting something is railroading.

Is that acceptable?

Ken Murikumo
2019-03-27, 01:33 PM
Let's put it like that:
railroading is caused by the DM wanting something, but not every instance of DM wanting something is railroading.

Is that acceptable?


A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square

Quertus
2019-03-27, 01:46 PM
Absolutely. I believe you're extrapolating your definitions too far. To home in on the underlined phrase being your rallying cry, I believe you've oversimplified the case. Let me counter with something you've occasionally bounced back to before returning to this oversimplified stance.

Railroading is the DM letting what they want influence the game in a way that removes player agency.*

Wanting something opens the possibility of railroading and is (I suppose?) required for railroading, but the presence of the DM wanting something does not mean there is automatically railroading.

Earlier in the same post, you say "If the GM *wants* something specific to happen, they may be tempted to break the rules, or, more subtly, may make "rule 0" rulings which are less realistic which favor their desired outcome." This is an incredibly valid concern.

...

So, we're in complete agreement, I just haven't expressed myself well enough for that to be clear? Fair enough. The above represents my position.

Now, what still needs clarification. Hmmm...


Should you not then define railroading as the DM acting on these temptations, rather than simply opening themselves to the potential of being tempted?

I was not "defining" railroading, I was stating it's root cause (and, thereby, how to prevent it). In other words, I agree.

Except...


Or do you have so little trust in your DMs?

(Oh's voice): "you are bad at math. When probability of railroading falls above 0%, over an infinite timeframe, it will occur."

No, I'd rather remove the risk of the GM ruining the game than trust the game to chance. It's the same reason I metagame, to try not to play/be/do "my guy".


To highlight this, how do you distinguish between the DM wanting something, and a DM-created NPC wanting something? Are the NPCs allowed to want things? This comes from the DM's mind, yes? (If not, then you really are playing an RP defined by player input with no DM input, as I suggested.) The DM wants the NPC to want something, so isn't the NPC wanting something an extension of the DM wanting something? Is the NPC not allowed to act on and explore these goals and desires? I feel that it would be an awfully flat setting if the NPC are static until acted upon by the PCs.

Yeah, no. A GM who cannot differentiate between themselves and their NPCs has issues. And probably shouldn't be anywhere near an RPG.

Gallowglass
2019-03-27, 03:03 PM
So, taking this extended discussion back to the first post, I feel like you've authoritatively reached the point that the scenario presented was not railroading.

In game, there is a NPC giant. The giant lives on top a gorge. What the giant wants is, when interlopers attack him, to throw them into the gorge. He's really good at it.

There are adventurers. They want to kill the giant, so they attack him. They make their rolls. The Giant rolls better. They fall into the gorge.

That's in the game, seems pretty clear. If the adventurers had rolled better and the giant rolled worse it may have turned out differently. The fact that, statistically, there was a 95% chance the Giant was going to win and a 5% chance the party was is just that. Statistics. Some scenarios are easy, some are moderate, some are hard, some are really hard. Nature of the game of challenges.

It only becomes railroading if the statistics roll to 100% to 0%. Which only happens if A> the DM wants the encounter to end a way, ignores the results and makes it happen or B> The players unwisely find a scenario they simply can't win at and choose to pursue it instead of bypassing it. The first (A) is railroading. The second (B) is not.

However, there are many players who would state that B was railroading. Because, why are they being presented with a scenario that they simply cannot hope to win at? That's an excellent question.

A> The DM has a prebuilt dungeon with a challenge not well fit for the players group.
B> The DM has built a sandbox world and the players have chosen to make an enemy with someone the DM has given them ample evidence they can't win against.
C> The DM has built a sandbox world and the players have chosen to make an enemy with someone the DM HAS NOT given them ample evidence they can't win against.
D> The DM is a bad adventure crafter.


A, C, and D are the DM's fault. B the players. So you could argue (I wouldn't) that A, C and D are railroading. They aren't. They're just poor DMing.

I think that should be another point for this discussion.

Not all Bad DMing is Railroading.

But what about the counter. Is all Railroading Bad DMing?

I'm not sure about that. Some players respond well to being shuttled from encounter to encounter in a prebuilt plot because they just like to kick back, relax, immerse in the story being presented and throw some dice. So you really have to understand the players. I would say the majority of railroading is bad DMing.

kyoryu
2019-03-27, 03:56 PM
So, at the risk of being pedantic, I'm going to start with some basics.

Now, I want to be extra clear here that I'm talking about my preferences and what I want and enjoy in games, and not universal statements of truth.

To me, a roleplaying game is basically the following conversation*:

GM: "This is the situation. What do you do?"
Me: "I do the thing."
GM: "Okay, the situation has changed becuase of that and is now this. What do you do?"

That's it.

The key here is that what I say has to change what happens. That, to me, is the game. If the new situation doesn't vary based on what I say, then what I say has no meaning and I'm effectively not playing the game.

(Note, some people play RPGs as a list of encounters strung together by story - the game, to them, is defeating the encounter. How you get there is less relevant. Great for them! I'm glad they have something they enjoy! That's not really what I like, though, and though I can tolerate it if I know that's what I'm going into, if I think/have been told that that's not going to be the case, that's where I get unhappy.)

If the GM already knows what is going to happen, then what I say doesn't actually matter. If the GM knows the sequence of events that will happen, what I say is mostly irrelevant. If I can't surprise the GM, then what I say doesn't matter. The fact that the GM may let me slightly reorder some of the encounters, or some might be optional, or some superficial trappings may change based on what I say doesn't change this. For me. It may for you.

To me, making the decision of what to do in a situation to try to create the "best" next situation is the core of the game*. That's what I play for.

It's not about the GM not getting to make decisions or have things happen. Of course they get to do that! They get to decide the actions of the whole world except for the PCs! They get to have lots of things happen! They get huge impact on what happens to the PCs because they're the ones that set up the new situations!

But the PCs must* be able to impact those decisions. The new situation will have, by definition, an element of what the GM wants/thinks in it. But it should* be combined with the results of what the players do.

Sometimes the results of that will be a high loss of agency on the part of the PCs. So long as that's a reaction to events, randomization, and choices, so be it. Not railroading.

Sometimes options will not be open to the PCs. So long as that's just a natural condition of the world and the game, so be it. Not railroading.

What is railroading is, essentially, the GM using their power of near total control of the world (which I do not begrudge them!) to gain control over the actions of the PCs, and, specifically, the things that occur to the PCs.

If the GM knows that the players will do A->B->C...->Z, with a high degree of accuracy, and is right 95% of the time, then it's probably railroading. Because if the GM knows the sequence that far in advance, then what the players are doing clearly has no real impact, and making those decisions is mostly irrelevant.

So... is the initial sequence railroading?

Maybe? I don't know. It sounds like it could be. There's a lot of common railroad elements there - the PCs being given one mission (kill the giant) but ending up doing something very very different (explore the chasm), an encounter designed to put them in a situation where they had to do the new thing (explore the chasm). The fact that there's a 5% chance of them not having to do that once engaged, or if they took very explicit precautionary steps, or whatever, doesn't really change that. It could also not be railroading. A lot depends on the setup, how it's presented, what the actual chances are, etc. But the fact that the giant was set up, tactically and via abilities (using that GM near complete power) to create a situation that was near-guaranteed (by my reading) to put the players in a situation where they did the desired things without getting buyin (either in character or meta). I mean, when Talakeal starts with "the adventure was to explore a chasm" then pushing the players into that certainly sounds like railroading.

But whether or not it is, the relevant bit is that apparently the players think it is, and that needs to be addressed one way or another. What could have been done to avoid the situation (realistically), etc. Also, I think it''s worth saying - if you want people to explore a chasm, make that the mission.

And, to repeat - for some people, the game is really just a string of encounters, and the fun, for them, is figuring out how to defeat the encounters, not really figuring out how to respond to the situation to shape what happens going forward. That's totally cool and awesome. It's also not very compatible with people that have the preferences I do, especially when they're unaware of the fact that that's the game, or have been told otherwise.

*= For me and my preferences. Other people have different preferences and different tolerances and that's amazingly awesome and I would never take away from that.

Quertus
2019-03-27, 04:05 PM
Let's put it like that:
railroading is caused by the DM wanting something, but not every instance of DM wanting something is railroading.

Is that acceptable?


A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square

Every instance of the GM wanting something (without getting explicit buy-in) is a red flag.

What are the options? The GM happens to get what they want, the GM forces events to get what they want (railroads), or the GM didn't get what they want.

There's a lot of negative feedback that the GM is getting by not railroading, and positive feedback for railroading.

Doesn't seem like complex psychology to me to say that this is a bad setup.


Because, why are they being presented with a scenario that they simply cannot hope to win at? That's an excellent question.

A> The DM has a prebuilt dungeon with a challenge not well fit for the players group.
B> The DM has built a sandbox world and the players have chosen to make an enemy with someone the DM has given them ample evidence they can't win against.
C> The DM has built a sandbox world and the players have chosen to make an enemy with someone the DM HAS NOT given them ample evidence they can't win against.
D> The DM is a bad adventure crafter.


A, C, and D are the DM's fault. B the players. So you could argue (I wouldn't) that A, C and D are railroading. They aren't. They're just poor DMing.

So, sometimes, it's realistic that something's threat level is telegraphed; other times, it is not. I'm of the school thought that says that unrealistically telegraphing something is bad GMing, and unrealistically *not* telegraphing something is bad GMing.

Why do modern gamers seem to assume that if you're not holding their hands, you're a bad GM? Several posters in this very thread have expoused that attitude, and i just cannot cotton to it.

kyoryu
2019-03-27, 04:08 PM
Absolutely. I believe you're extrapolating your definitions too far. To home in on the underlined phrase being your rallying cry, I believe you've oversimplified the case. Let me counter with something you've occasionally bounced back to before returning to this oversimplified stance.

Railroading is the DM letting what they want influence the game in a way that removes player agency.*

The GM can want, and get, a ton of things. Want orcs to invade the kingdom? Cool! Want the King and Queen to divorce? Great! Want the merchant to hate the party? Awesome!

The GM gets almost everything they want by virtue of their position. The one thing they do not get is to control the actions of the PCs. (again, for the types of games I enjoy. Some people enjoy that type of game, and great for them).

Quertus
2019-03-27, 04:17 PM
To me, making the decision of what to do in a situation to try to create the "best" next situation is the core of the game*. That's what I play for.

Wow, that was an amazing post. Other than this bit, which sounds a bit too like the Determinator for my taste, I'm tempted to just steal this whole thing to describe my preferred style.


the PCs being given one mission (kill the giant) but ending up doing something very very different (explore the chasm)

I mean, when Talakeal starts with "the adventure was to explore a chasm" then pushing the players into that certainly sounds like railroading.

if you want people to explore a chasm, make that the mission.

I wasn't going to say anything, but, yeah, I noticed that, too.

kyoryu
2019-03-27, 04:19 PM
Wow, that was an amazing post. Other than this bit, which sounds a bit too like the Determinator for my taste, I'm tempted to just steal this whole thing to describe my preferred style.

It's an awkward attempt at trying to point out that the decision of "what do we do about this?" is, to me, the interesting bit. I don't know that it's the best phrasing. It's not totally an optimizing situation (ideally, you have to choose between more than one suboptimal choice. That's always good stuff).

I'm not sure what a Determinator is.

Gallowglass
2019-03-27, 04:20 PM
So, sometimes, it's realistic that something's threat level is telegraphed; other times, it is not. I'm of the school thought that says that unrealistically telegraphing something is bad GMing, and unrealistically *not* telegraphing something is bad GMing..

Because ultimately this is a game. A puzzle for the players to solve. And some aspects can be fun and some can't.

And saying...

DM: "As you make your way through the acid-scarred and savaged halls into what you were warned was a black dragon's lair, you freeze as you hear a clink. You look down and see a few coins scattered on the ground that you stepped on. You peek around the corner and see a massive pile of gold, some melted and slagged. From somewhere close you hear a massive creature breathing."

Player: "Oh ****... we're third level... let's back off and try the other hall from the t-junction. We can come back here in a few levels."

is fun, whereas saying...

DM: "Okay, as you round the dungeon corner you see a small fire with an orc sentry huddled over it for warmth"

Player: "Great, one orc. I can take that out before he can sound an alarm. I charge in to attack."

DM: "As you charge in, what you thought was an Orc turns into an ancient black dragon and breathes acid at you for 119 points of damage"

Player: "... we're third level..."

Is not fun.

The Kool
2019-03-27, 04:32 PM
What are the options? The GM happens to get what they want, the GM forces events to get what they want (railroads), or the GM didn't get what they want.

There's a lot of negative feedback that the GM is getting by not railroading, and positive feedback for railroading.

Doesn't seem like complex psychology to me to say that this is a bad setup.

Well, there's a lot of negative feedback for people not stealing (remain poor) and a lot of positive feedback for people stealing (get rich). So why are so many people not thieves? There's more to the picture, more factors, more layers of feedback here. I think it's telling that the majority of DMs I've seen have not succumbed to any form of noticeable railroading, yet you seem to be arguing that quite a few should have. Unless you're arguing that even one succumbing for even one moment is an unacceptable risk... In which case, again, I'm sensing a severe lack of trust in DMs. Have you considered playing in games that are structured to not have/need one? Because of human nature, the vast majority of people will find it impossible to participate and not want something in particular to happen.

And Kyoryu, are you agreeing with my quote, or misreading it? Because it sounds like one of those two

kyoryu
2019-03-27, 04:42 PM
And Kyoryu, are you agreeing with my quote, or misreading it? Because it sounds like one of those two

Agreeing and expanding, sir.

Though I am coming to the conclusion that at a fundamental level, railroad and non-railroad games are fundamentally different and work on different principles. To the extent that some people who are fully immersed in railroading literally don't understand what non-railroad people want, because it violates every precept that they understand. And that's where "Railroading is when the GM wants something" comes from.

Pelle
2019-03-27, 04:44 PM
So, sometimes, it's realistic that something's threat level is telegraphed; other times, it is not. I'm of the school thought that says that unrealistically telegraphing something is bad GMing, and unrealistically *not* telegraphing something is bad GMing.

Why do modern gamers seem to assume that if you're not holding their hands, you're a bad GM? Several posters in this very thread have expoused that attitude, and i just cannot cotton to it.

When you are designing the adventure, you also have the option of either realistically telegraphing or realistically *not* telegraphing. The latter might be ok with cool people, but carries a higher risk of being unfun (feels like a screwjob). It's generally a more fun scenario to go with the former.

Quertus
2019-03-27, 05:47 PM
is fun, whereas saying...

DM: "Okay, as you round the dungeon corner you see a small fire with an orc sentry huddled over it for warmth"

Player: "Great, one orc. I can take that out before he can sound an alarm. I charge in to attack."

DM: "As you charge in, what you thought was an Orc turns into an ancient black dragon and breathes acid at you for 119 points of damage"

Player: "... we're third level..."

Is not fun.

Disagree, from experience. It may not be your cup of tea, but it's not BadWrongFun. Decades of Gygaxian adventurers had fun. It may be a different kind of fun, where you learn in the most Darwinian fashion how to be a successful adventurer. Learn to always be prepared, never trust your first impressions, never know when the walls, floor, and ceiling are going to get into an argument over whose turn it is to eat you. Learn to never interact with the box, and that the only way to truly be safe is to not be there at all - to be projecting a proxy from your ivory tower, safely outside reality.

Totally fun. (Color blue to taste)

Quertus
2019-03-27, 05:55 PM
I'm not sure what a Determinator is.

I mean, I'm not sure, either, but it seems to be a Playgroundism for "no personality beyond behaving optimally".


Well, there's a lot of negative feedback for people not stealing (remain poor) and a lot of positive feedback for people stealing (get rich). So why are so many people not thieves? There's more to the picture, more factors, more layers of feedback here. I think it's telling that the majority of DMs I've seen have not succumbed to any form of noticeable railroading, yet you seem to be arguing that quite a few should have. Unless you're arguing that even one succumbing for even one moment is an unacceptable risk... In which case, again, I'm sensing a severe lack of trust in DMs. Have you considered playing in games that are structured to not have/need one? Because of human nature, the vast majority of people will find it impossible to participate and not want something in particular to happen.

I guess I've seen the majority of people failing both of those tests. Either makes you less observant than me, or more lucky.


When you are designing the adventure, you also have the option of either realistically telegraphing or realistically *not* telegraphing. The latter might be ok with cool people, but carries a higher risk of being unfun (feels like a screwjob). It's generally a more fun scenario to go with the former.

Or it teaches people to do legwork.

Many things are learnable, even when they're not telegraphed. I think Call of Cthulhu is kinda based on that formula.

Cluedrew
2019-03-27, 06:30 PM
Linear Adventure? Maybe. I often get that and "railroad" confused. But I think I'm still correct that railroading is caused by the GM *wanting* something.The exact deference depends on who you ask. I would say linear adventure is one that is highly linear (predetermined path, scenes known in advance as is most of the story). A railroad is an adventure that contains railroading, railroading is forcing people onto a linear path. So railroads are linear but linear does not mean a railroad.

On Wanting: Of course the GM wants something. Everyone at the table does and that is why we are here. So while true I don't think that is a useful way to consider the issue. Both that it is overly broad and that getting rid of it probably unhealthy. To ask someone to not want anything from the game is to ask them to not have fun.

So let's narrow this down. What kind of things have to be wanted and what has to be done to achieve that want for railroading to occur?

On Balance: I know no one mentioned balance, but I would like to compare impartiality to it for a moment. Its not a detailed comparison really, just to say that I think the fall into the same box of things that are nice, but shouldn't come at the expense of other elements that make a game fun. An impartial game doesn't account for bad luck, don't encourage interesting solutions or deep characters. An impartial game is a simulation that doesn't care if you have fun. Unless you mean something different that what I am thinking.

Tajerio
2019-03-27, 06:48 PM
Yeah, no. A GM who cannot differentiate between themselves and their NPCs has issues. And probably shouldn't be anywhere near an RPG.

This dismissal of Kool's point about the characters the GM chooses to create is just about the same thing that was bugging me with my posts earlier. Unless you're playing a printed adventure in which there are decision trees for all NPCs (in which case you're probably on the designers' rails instead), or the players design the entire world and all of the NPCs (in which case what's the point), the GM is going to have creative input on the world and the NPCs. And the GM is going to design at least some of the world and the NPCs based on their own desires--what they think would be cool, what they think would be interesting, and so forth. But by your definitions, that's the GM wanting something, and therefore railroading. Which is why I agree with Kool on the excessive breadth of your definitions, and prefer kyoryu's take on when "the GM wanting something" becomes railroading.

Talakeal
2019-03-27, 07:11 PM
For those of you who think the scenario is railroading, let me ask a question:

If the adventure had been identical in every way except instead of throwing the players into the chasm, the giant had himself jumped into the chasm and then hidden in a cave at the bottom, the scenario would have played out in a virtually identical manner.

Would this still feel like railroading?


So... is the initial sequence railroading?

Maybe? I don't know. It sounds like it could be. There's a lot of common railroad elements there - the PCs being given one mission (kill the giant) but ending up doing something very very different (explore the chasm), an encounter designed to put them in a situation where they had to do the new thing (explore the chasm). The fact that there's a 5% chance of them not having to do that once engaged, or if they took very explicit precautionary steps, or whatever, doesn't really change that. It could also not be railroading. A lot depends on the setup, how it's presented, what the actual chances are, etc. But the fact that the giant was set up, tactically and via abilities (using that GM near complete power) to create a situation that was near-guaranteed (by my reading) to put the players in a situation where they did the desired things without getting buyin (either in character or meta). I mean, when Talakeal starts with "the adventure was to explore a chasm" then pushing the players into that certainly sounds like railroading.

But whether or not it is, the relevant bit is that apparently the players think it is, and that needs to be addressed one way or another. What could have been done to avoid the situation (realistically), etc. Also, I think it''s worth saying - if you want people to explore a chasm, make that the mission.

If it sounds like a bait and switch that is a problem in communication between me and the forum, not me and the players.


This is a hex-crawly campaign. The players have known about this chasm for months, and made the decision to head there in the previous session. They knew that the adventure was about exploring a haunted gorge, and their goal while there was to kill a large monster (of unknown nature) and to find a large treasure (again of unknown nature), well before they made the decision to head out.


Although, your post seems to hinge on the idea that a "twist" or "reversal" makes for a railroad, I don't think I much agree with that notion.

The Kool
2019-03-27, 08:05 PM
For those of you who think the scenario is railroading, let me ask a question:

If the adventure had been identical in every way except instead of throwing the players into the chasm, the giant had himself jumped into the chasm and then hidden in a cave at the bottom, the scenario would have played out in a virtually identical manner.

Would this still feel like railroading?

No, because you've fundamentally changed the situation. The difference is that, instead of the Giant's action putting them in this situation, it is their own action putting them in the situation. Even though it ends up in the same place, they still have control over how and when it gets there.

Quertus
2019-03-27, 09:25 PM
The exact deference depends on who you ask. I would say linear adventure is one that is highly linear (predetermined path, scenes known in advance as is most of the story). A railroad is an adventure that contains railroading, railroading is forcing people onto a linear path. So railroads are linear but linear does not mean a railroad.

I'm being slow here... can you... is there a non-railroad linear that either just happens to not need railroading, or that doesn't involve Participationism?


On Wanting: Of course the GM wants something. Everyone at the table does and that is why we are here. So while true I don't think that is a useful way to consider the issue. Both that it is overly broad and that getting rid of it probably unhealthy. To ask someone to not want anything from the game is to ask them to not have fun.

I wouldn't know - I don't enjoy running a game.


So let's narrow this down. What kind of things have to be wanted and what has to be done to achieve that want for railroading to occur?

So... One of my friends... no, two of my more recent GMs, actually... would run adventures where, after the fact, I'd look back, and see that obvious plot hook was obvious. But, at the time, I was doing 0 metagaming*, just playing my character, and didn't notice. And those "obvious plot hooks"? I either ran in the opposite direction, or I tried to pursue them... but the rest of the party naysayed my initiative. And the game just kinda fizzled. For several games under both these GMs.

So, it's negative feedback for the GM who doesn't railroad their intended plot to happen. And it wasn't like they were bad plots, just... that's not the direction the party went. And the GM "let" the party go off script, then ended the game.

So, in that context, what do I want? One of two things.

One, Participationism. To have a player in the group who does metagame "the GM's plot", who utilizes Participationism, and who has the social skills to nudge myself and/or the party back onto the path.

Or, two, for the GM to not need the adventure to go that particular way.

So, what kind of things being wanted leads to the "no win" situation of railroading or GM depression? Well, anything where the GM has a stake in the outcome?

* About the game. I was metagaming the table, to try not to "my guy".


On Balance: I know no one mentioned balance, but I would like to compare impartiality to it for a moment. Its not a detailed comparison really, just to say that I think the fall into the same box of things that are nice, but shouldn't come at the expense of other elements that make a game fun. An impartial game doesn't account for bad luck, don't encourage interesting solutions or deep characters. An impartial game is a simulation that doesn't care if you have fun. Unless you mean something different that what I am thinking.

I'm not sure whether to respond, "An impartial game does encourage interesting solutions and deep characters" or "An impartial game doesn't discourage interesting solutions or deep characters". Because I'm not sure what you mean by "encourage". Basically, there is nothing better to encourage me to try interesting solutions or deep characters than an impartial game, except maybe a slightly "well, I cannot see any reason why this wouldn't work"-biased game.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-27, 09:27 PM
Incidentally, did we consider in this discussion whether railroading is necessarily bad?

As a player, I trust my DM to have some good ideas. I trust that by (mostly) following the story he's crafting I'll have a better story than by forcing him to improvise and roll random tables all the time.

As a DM, I know there are cool things that could happen, but only if certain prerequisites are met. I know that, otherwise, cool things will not happen. this is especially problematic because my players are all very high level, and there are very few things in the whole campaign world that can legitimately challenge them. And since my campaign has taken a strong political direction, it's basically entirely up to me. Sure, I may ditch that plan to have that guy betray the pcs. and then I may tell them that the campaign is over because they have no enemies left, and everyone is too afraid of them to consider becoming one.

My most positively received sessions were railroaded. Maybe because they included the really cool stuff. Maybe because I had those scenes in my mind for a while and I got to prepare better. Maybe because those sessions set major events in motion. Generallly I have a new villain reveal himself in a mostly railroaded sequence where he springs his plan, and then the party can interact with the new situation freely.

Regardless, everyone here is talking like the slightest bit of railroading is a shooting offence. that's a major overreaction. I prefer for the DM to craft at least the major goals of the campaign.

Talakeal
2019-03-27, 09:27 PM
No, because you've fundamentally changed the situation. The difference is that, instead of the Giant's action putting them in this situation, it is their own action putting them in the situation. Even though it ends up in the same place, they still have control over how and when it gets there.

So then it is the forced movement aspect as I mentioned earlier?

Koo Rehtorb
2019-03-27, 09:59 PM
Incidentally, did we consider in this discussion whether railroading is necessarily bad?

As a player, I trust my DM to have some good ideas. I trust that by (mostly) following the story he's crafting I'll have a better story than by forcing him to improvise and roll random tables all the time.

As a DM, I know there are cool things that could happen, but only if certain prerequisites are met. I know that, otherwise, cool things will not happen. this is especially problematic because my players are all very high level, and there are very few things in the whole campaign world that can legitimately challenge them. And since my campaign has taken a strong political direction, it's basically entirely up to me. Sure, I may ditch that plan to have that guy betray the pcs. and then I may tell them that the campaign is over because they have no enemies left, and everyone is too afraid of them to consider becoming one.

My most positively received sessions were railroaded. Maybe because they included the really cool stuff. Maybe because I had those scenes in my mind for a while and I got to prepare better. Maybe because those sessions set major events in motion. Generallly I have a new villain reveal himself in a mostly railroaded sequence where he springs his plan, and then the party can interact with the new situation freely.

Regardless, everyone here is talking like the slightest bit of railroading is a shooting offence. that's a major overreaction. I prefer for the DM to craft at least the major goals of the campaign.

Railroading is when the players don't want to do a thing and the GM forces them to do it anyway. Either overtly or through sneaky sleight-of-hand. It is inherently a bad thing.

Quertus
2019-03-27, 10:19 PM
And the GM is going to design at least some of the world and the NPCs based on their own desires--what they think would be cool, what they think would be interesting, and so forth. But by your definitions, that's the GM wanting something, and therefore railroading.

Why do you believe this?

I think it's the bolded part where your logic / where your argument falls apart.

As a GM, say I made a political sandbox, and included a Dunklezan (sp?) style Dragon as a political figure, because I thought it would be a good toy for the sandbox. I don't want anything beyond the party having enough* of the right type of toys to play in a "political" way. IMO, it's when the GM wants anything else that rails form in their mind.

* Well, more than enough, actually, but hopefully you get the idea.

Tajerio
2019-03-27, 11:25 PM
Why do you believe this?

I think it's the bolded part where your logic / where your argument falls apart.

As a GM, say I made a political sandbox, and included a Dunklezan (sp?) style Dragon as a political figure, because I thought it would be a good toy for the sandbox. I don't want anything beyond the party having enough* of the right type of toys to play in a "political" way. IMO, it's when the GM wants anything else that rails form in their mind.

* Well, more than enough, actually, but hopefully you get the idea.

That seems to me rather more reasonable than blanket statements such as the following:


OK, let me stop you right there. Railroading is railroading. Railroading is caused by the GM wanting something. Do you disagree with this?

Which is the sort of thing that prompted my wonder over the definition of "wanting something," since there's nothing else there in that sentence, and "wanting a cool sandbox that my players will think is impressive" counts as "wanting something."

But I still think your modified view expressed above has some problems.

First, it creates major problems for verisimilitude. If the GM has created a sandbox of even slight complexity, and thinks that time should pass and NPCs take actions while the party adventures, then constraints will emerge on player agency as a result. But perchance then some player will cry "Rails formed in your mind! You wanted that offscreen thing to happen, but I didn't, I don't like it, and we didn't have a chance to do anything about it!"
Which means, second, that this sort of thing is incredibly difficult to police. Because it isn't hard for a GM to decide they want a couple of specific things to happen, and just set up the world in a way that those are plausible outcomes, without ever even looking like it's railroading. And since it wouldn't be hard to do that, players would have to be constantly vigilant to see it didn't happen, resulting in a climate of suspicion that would make a good-natured game devilishly hard to play (assuming the players cared about that kind of railroading).
And third, the constant suspicion of the GM overstepping that line would seem to me to make the game very little fun for the GM, who isn't a player with a PC but is still a player.

More broadly, we humans just tend to think narratively. So while it might be possible to create a number of characters and drop them in a sandbox as "toys," I can't see how it could be interesting or complex without incorporating the narrative biases of the creator. Because in the act of creating such a sandbox, in order to flesh out the characters you've got to be telling stories, consciously or not, and in connecting them all in the same sandbox you've got to tell yet more stories. And those stories are also the heuristics we use to approximate a world that functions plausibly, since we humans don't have the intellectual capacity to forge coherent imaginative worlds from whole cloth. So the whole thing ends up imbued with the creator's narrative biases, which will inevitably, in some ways, act to limit the stories the players can tell once they get to work--though in other ways it helps to enhance and heighten those stories, by giving them a meaningful context.

Perhaps all that doesn't rise to the level of the GM "wanting something specific," and thus isn't railroading. But I have gotten the sense that you are generally hostile to GM-crafted narrative--and my point is that it is definitionally always with you, and if someone were somehow able to dispense with it, their game would be flat, lifeless, and boring.*

*(Unless we're talking a GM-less game in which everyone works together to create the world, which is a sort of thing of which I am very suspicious personally, but to each their own).

Malifice
2019-03-28, 12:11 AM
Cheap-skates who dumped strength mostly.

Also, nobody has the use rope skill, and most of the party doesnt have climbing, so even if they had all the rope in the world I am skeptical if they could have actually hauled the fighte out of the chasm.

You need 'use rope skill' to tie a grappling hook to a rope?

Seriously?

And AFB but climbing a wall with a knotted rope to brace on is like DC 5 or 0. You can take 10 in 3E and just succeed. In 5e it's not even a check required.

I'm no skilled climber IRL but I can tie a knot and climb a rope against a wall with next to zero chance of failure. As could you. As could anyone who isnt morbidly obese or disabled.

Why a bunch of epic heroes cant for some reason is totally beyond me.

If you want them to adventure at the bottom of a chasm make the adventure at the bottom of the chasm interesting.

Dont make silly rulings like that forces them to.

Pelle
2019-03-28, 05:20 AM
Or it teaches people to do legwork.


Yeah, that's a balance between educating and having fun at the current session. Know your players. Some people don't mind having their character being killed by an assassin without any opportunity to act, since they did piss of a noble 10 sessions ago, and it's only realistic. But people are different.



Many things are learnable, even when they're not telegraphed. I think Call of Cthulhu is kinda based on that formula.

Dunno, Sandy Petersen seems to be deliberetaly using telegraphing when he designs horror CoC scenarios, see link below. First a hint of something amiss, then evidence of something being there, before showing the monster. It's for horror though, so you kind of need telegraphing to build the tension.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3o9P9fYrIfo

Pelle
2019-03-28, 06:13 AM
So then it is the forced movement aspect as I mentioned earlier?

I think so, it can feel like losing control of the pc, not that I know how it was pulled off at the table. Same as with mind-control, people have different tolerance for that kind of stuff.

The Kool
2019-03-28, 07:28 AM
So then it is the forced movement aspect as I mentioned earlier?

In this player's case, I believe so. Were they the first one over? Did they have a slim chance of success yet still try the likely-to-fail approach? Did they have an obvious and readily-apparent means of not being harmed by the situation they were literally thrown into?

Interestingly, dynamic and expressive description of the encounter can alleviate these issues a lot and make the fight seem more fair or balanced, or make it clear that a certain outcome is likely before it gets there. Even if you were all going into the chasm and everyone knows it, taking your time to describe the giant crouching back and setting his shoulders like a football player, taking your time to describe the setup for the throw before you even ask the player to roll the dice, give them a (slim, perhaps) chance to catch themselves on the way down, then after the first one is over the edge he turns to the rest of the group and makes it plain he plans to do the exact same to the rest of them. At this point, continuing to engage the fight with the same tactics has an obvious outcome and anyone who tries it and claims railroading is just whining (but maybe needs to be shown some alternative and relatively obvious ways they could have approached the situation). Yet we come back to the first one over. This is the only one I feel has a semi-legitimate complaint, so if I'm going to do something like this I'm usually going to pick a player for the target who I believe won't have an issue with it. (Similarly, I had an encounter with a succubus recently, and the player she went after was one I knew wouldn't hate me if his character died to a succubus. He'd enjoy the tale to tell and get a great laugh out of it. He made it out with 2 levels left undrained, fortunately.)

Talakeal
2019-03-28, 07:30 AM
You need 'use rope skill' to tie a grappling hook to a rope?

Seriously?

And AFB but climbing a wall with a knotted rope to brace on is like DC 5 or 0. You can take 10 in 3E and just succeed. In 5e it's not even a check required.

I'm no skilled climber IRL but I can tie a knot and climb a rope against a wall with next to zero chance of failure. As could you. As could anyone who isnt morbidly obese or disabled.

Why a bunch of epic heroes cant for some reason is totally beyond me.

If you want them to adventure at the bottom of a chasm make the adventure at the bottom of the chasm interesting.

Dont make silly rulings like that forces them to.

Woah, don't make assumptions.

It didn't actually come up in game so I didn't have a chance to make a ruling or hear the players plan.

The place where they were thrown off was over the edge of a bridge fifty meters above a swamp with no chasm walls in the immediate vicinity, and I was picturing some sort of situation where they would be tying multiple ropes together and dangling them over the edge.

Regardless, they only had fifty feet of rope and no grappling hook, and the guy who carries the rope was the first one over the edge so it was a moot point.

Quertus
2019-03-28, 08:28 AM
That seems to me rather more reasonable than blanket statements such as the following:

That's because the blanket statement is being misunderstood. "Burns? They're caused by fire."


Which is the sort of thing that prompted my wonder over the definition of "wanting something," since there's nothing else there in that sentence, and "wanting a cool sandbox that my players will think is impressive" counts as "wanting something."

Yeah, I tried to explain it a few times, but it didn't seem to get traction.


But I still think your modified view expressed above has some problems.

First, it creates major problems for verisimilitude. If the GM has created a sandbox of even slight complexity, and thinks that time should pass and NPCs take actions while the party adventures, then constraints will emerge on player agency as a result. But perchance then some player will cry "Rails formed in your mind! You wanted that offscreen thing to happen, but I didn't, I don't like it, and we didn't have a chance to do anything about it!"

You slept 3 days, the sun came up and set 3 times, deal. Following game physics is not railroading; ignoring game physics is.

So, if the GM wanted you to witness the next sunset, and had the sun just hang there in the sky while you slept 3 days, yes, railroading.


Which means, second, that this sort of thing is incredibly difficult to police. Because it isn't hard for a GM to decide they want a couple of specific things to happen,

Sure it's not hard to be bad. I'm saying don't do that.


and just set up the world in a way that those are plausible outcomes, without ever even looking like it's railroading. And since it wouldn't be hard to do that, players would have to be constantly vigilant to see it didn't happen, resulting in a climate of suspicion that would make a good-natured game devilishly hard to play (assuming the players cared about that kind of railroading).

I'm not trying to teach players how to spot rails, I'm trying to teach GMs not to form rails in the first place.


And third, the constant suspicion of the GM overstepping that line would seem to me to make the game very little fun for the GM, who isn't a player with a PC but is still a player.

So don't be the suspicious unfun GM.


More broadly, we humans just tend to think narratively. So while it might be possible to create a number of characters and drop them in a sandbox as "toys," I can't see how it could be interesting or complex without incorporating the narrative biases of the creator. Because in the act of creating such a sandbox, in order to flesh out the characters you've got to be telling stories, consciously or not,


and in connecting them all in the same sandbox you've got to tell yet more stories. And those stories are also the heuristics we use to approximate a world that functions plausibly, since we humans don't have the intellectual capacity to forge coherent imaginative worlds from whole cloth. So the whole thing ends up imbued with the creator's narrative biases,

Yes, "this is the story of the toy at T minus 1".

And I even accept "this is what would have happened without the PCs intervention - 'and I would have gotten away with if it weren't for you darn kids' - so long as the GM doesn't care how or even whether the PCs change that timeline". This is the one place where I do form rails - I know how my dozen plots would have turned out, and I *want* the players' actions to change *something*.


which will inevitably, in some ways, act to limit the stories the players can tell once they get to work--though in other ways it helps to enhance and heighten those stories, by giving them a meaningful context.

And there you've lost me. In what meaningful way does "the world had a history, the toys in the sandbox have depth" inhibit the players from meaningfully engaging game physics?


Perhaps all that doesn't rise to the level of the GM "wanting something specific," and thus isn't railroading. But I have gotten the sense that you are generally hostile to GM-crafted narrative

Yes, I'm against the GM deciding where the game will go.


--and my point is that it is definitionally always with you, and if someone were somehow able to dispense with it, their game would be flat, lifeless, and boring.*

Wow, quite the opposite. The GM's rails are flat and lifeless, whereas the players' story is anything but boring.

Well, usually.


Yeah, that's a balance between educating and having fun at the current session. Know your players. Some people don't mind having their character being killed by an assassin without any opportunity to act, since they did piss of a noble 10 sessions ago, and it's only realistic. But people are different.

Know your group. Touch.

So, again, why do modern groups feel that they can tick off a noble without researching how he's likely to try to get revenge, and then get upset when they didn't prepare for his revenge? When they take no precautions, get passed out drunk & sleep with their doors unlocked, then throw a hissy when their actions have logical consequences?


Dunno, Sandy Petersen seems to be deliberetaly using telegraphing when he designs horror CoC scenarios, see link below. First a hint of something amiss, then evidence of something being there, before showing the monster. It's for horror though, so you kind of need telegraphing to build the tension.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3o9P9fYrIfo

Well, sure, but that's not what I'm talking about people seeming to want. "Did the party know that the giant was going to throw them in the pit?" "Did the investigators know that the Star Spawn was weak to X?"

IME, they're called "investigators" for a reason.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-28, 09:41 AM
Railroading is when the players don't want to do a thing and the GM forces them to do it anyway. Either overtly or through sneaky sleight-of-hand. It is inherently a bad thing.

this is a different definition than what I am using.

I was using "railroading is when the actions of the players do not impact the plot", and by that definition I stand by my argument that it is ok if done with moderation and for a good reason.

quertus is using "railroading is when the DM is pushing for certain things to happen", which is so vague and difficult to distinguish from regular npc actions that I still can't get his point after all this talking in circles.

others are using "railroading is when the players are forced to do certain actions", and others are using yet slightly different definitions.

in the end, everyone has a slightly different concept of railroading.

Resileaf
2019-03-28, 09:49 AM
For me, railroading is what the DM in DM of the Rings (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=612) does.

Gallowglass
2019-03-28, 10:13 AM
So, again, why do modern groups feel that they can tick off a noble without researching how he's likely to try to get revenge, and then get upset when they didn't prepare for his revenge? When they take no precautions, get passed out drunk & sleep with their doors unlocked, then throw a hissy when their actions have logical consequences?



I think there is about 15 miles of space between your two extremes for people to live in. I have no problems with the DM saying. "As you drink the night away and collapse exhausted and drunk into your beds, you are very surprised to wake up the next morning smelling deep sea air and feeling the rock of a boat underneath you. You blink your eyes open and feel chains on your ankles and see yourself in a barred cell in the hold of a ship" because I know that its a hook to an adventure. But I would never do that as a DM even though I'm fine with it as a player. No I would give the players a chance to notice the sea-brigands casing the inn last night while they drank. I would give them the benefit of the doubt about locking their doors or not drinking to oblivion without them having to expressly tell me so and even if I wanted to run a press-gang to adventure-island scenario, I wouldn't hinge my entire plan on being able to press-gang them even if I thought it would probably more likely succeed than not. But to your point, what was fun for me 20 years ago isn't so fun for me anymore. So the idea of living in a campaign where I have to do this just to keep my character alive...

DM: "Okay, so as the sun starts to set do you guys want to set camp or keep going..."

Player1: "Oh we set camp. First I start digging the typical trench around the campsite area and pull out the punji sticks from my bag of holding and start setting them up... And yes I inspect each one to make sure it doesn't need patching or re-poisoning. Let's see, forty sticks, I'll start making rolls and hand you them all on a sheet..."

Player2: "Yeah and I start stringing the netting through the trees so we don't have another flying monkey incident."

Player3: "Ok, I'll start a fire after making sure the wood and surrounding material haven't been doused in oil or scentless fire power like that one time of course and start cooking. As always I only use food in still sealed containers where my arcane mark hasn't been breached so that we don't have another quickling poison incident."

Player4: "let's see... looking at the map, we are on grid 7 cross grid 14. let me check. Okay, the three sessions we spent in the library at town says that the only known incidents around here involve a small troglodyte band and one case of a wandering minstrel show raping people seven years ago. Better prepare for both. Everyone stick wax in your ears and your noses."

Player2: "No wait... then we won't be able to smell or hear anything else. Um. whomever has the cross-section of the best perception check and the best fort save skip the wax in the nose and whomever has the cross-section of the best perception check and best will save skip the wax in the ears. Someone check the manual of venn diagrams. I'll make sure we have potions of break enchantment and cure poison ready with the poptabs and easy to access."

Player5: "Uh, you know guys, to save time, can't we just say 'We do the normal campsite preparations?"

*all the other players look at the DM*

Dm: *smiling innocently* "anything else you guys want to do?"

Player1: *sigh* "Ok, everyone check your notes under campsite, subsection deep forest and see what we are forgetting."

...is no longer fun for me. I would rather get to the story than spend my limited hours trying to out-think and out-plan the person who controls the world and has perfect knowledge of everything and, apparently, takes some measure of delight in punishing me for my lack of omniscience.

kyoryu
2019-03-28, 10:25 AM
If it sounds like a bait and switch that is a problem in communication between me and the forum, not me and the players.

Maybe. But we only have your information to go on, and the fact that apparently at least one of your players felt like they were being railroaded. Your approach can either be "I will prove that they were not!" or "okay, let me figure out why they feel this way, and ensure that I'm either not railroading them if I was doing so implicitly, ensure they knew the reasonable things that they could have done to avoid the railroad, or be able to tell them that, yes, that is the type of game I run."

I highly recommend the latter. Telling people that what they're feeling is wrong almost never works out well.


This is a hex-crawly campaign. The players have known about this chasm for months, and made the decision to head there in the previous session. They knew that the adventure was about exploring a haunted gorge, and their goal while there was to kill a large monster (of unknown nature) and to find a large treasure (again of unknown nature), well before they made the decision to head out.

So they knew about the chasm but avoided it. "The adventure was about" doesn't seem to indicate a ton of choice.


Although, your post seems to hinge on the idea that a "twist" or "reversal" makes for a railroad, I don't think I much agree with that notion.

Nope. First off "you were fighting the giant and he threw you into the chasm!" isn't a twist or a reversal. Finding out that the king was actually the usurper is a twist. Saying "you're now doing this, like it or not!" isn't a twist.

Secondly, that kind of thing isn't necessarily railroading, but it's often a sign that railroading is occurring. It's, to use the parlance of another thread, a red flag for railroading.

Here's the ACTUAL crux of my post:



To me, a roleplaying game is basically the following conversation*:

GM: "This is the situation. What do you do?"
Me: "I do the thing."
GM: "Okay, the situation has changed becuase of that and is now this. What do you do?"

That's it.

The key here is that what I say has to change what happens. That, to me, is the game. If the new situation doesn't vary based on what I say, then what I say has no meaning and I'm effectively not playing the game.


Saying that "twists" are central to how I define railroading is a bad read at best, and a strawman at worst.


That's because the blanket statement is being misunderstood. "Burns? They're caused by fire."

The problem is that GMs should want things and that's perfectly okay. Saying "railroading is caused by GMs wanting things" implies that GMs wanting things is something to be avoided or cautious about.

It's not. Not at that blanket level. What needs to be avoided is certain categories of things the GM wants - mainly around sequences of events involving the players, and the choices and actions of players.[/quote]


Yes, I'm against the GM deciding where the game will go.

Yet in most (non-railroad) games, "where the game goes" is a combination of both the GM's and the players' contributions to events. This is good and healthy.


this is a different definition than what I am using.

I was using A"railroading is when the actions of the players do not impact the plot", and by that definition I stand by my argument that it is ok if done with moderation and for a good reason.

quertus is using B"railroading is when the DM is pushing for certain things to happen", which is so vague and difficult to distinguish from regular npc actions that I still can't get his point after all this talking in circles.

others are using C"railroading is when the players are forced to do certain actions", and others are using yet slightly different definitions.

in the end, everyone has a slightly different concept of railroading.

(Letters added)

I think A and C are, practically, equivalent. If your actions aren't impacting the plot (especially if "the plot" is defined as a sequence of things the players go through), then you're forced to do things. And if you're forced to do things, then your decisions aren't impacting the plot because you're not really making any.

Talakeal
2019-03-28, 10:25 AM
For me, railroading is what the DM in DM of the Rings (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=612) does.

Yeah, the "very specific level of tired" scene is what I would call classic railroading.

NichG
2019-03-28, 10:57 AM
I think to get the 'DM wants' thing, its actually more informative to look at a case in which there's no question of agency involved: an author writing a piece of fiction. In that case, lets contrast an author who arranges setting elements and then follows their feeling of what would make sense to happen and where the interesting stories are within the interacting setting elements, versus an author who wants to tell a particular story and thereby arranges the setting elements in such a way that the particular story will happen.

If these seem like identical situations, then it won't yet be possible to understand the distinction between a DM whose NPCs want something and therefore act, versus a DM who wants something and therefore has NPCs act.

Also take into account that if you're trying to understand this, it should be with the goal of understanding a specific type of play experience rather than as a negotiation over the meaning of the term 'railroading'. The specific description is more description, and the conversation has gotten to the point where the terminology is likely hurting more than helping. It's also helpful to approach the situation from the perspective of trying to understand what others are reacting to rather than reading things as a persuasive interaction - if you let go of the idea that what's being discussed must reflect what you yourself should like or dislike about play, its easier to come to an understanding about what other people might like/dislike about play. That is to say, if you say 'I dislike railroading' and someone else says 'to me, railroading is fuzzy puppies', then its better to say 'words aside, lets discuss fuzzy puppies' than 'why should I dislike fuzzy puppies?'

Talakeal
2019-03-28, 11:03 AM
So they knew about the chasm but avoided it. "The adventure was about" doesn't seem to indicate a ton of choice.

They didn't choose to avoid it, they just explored the bridge first as it was the most obvious landmark in the area.

We are playing a psuedo hex-crawl, The entire campaign is about exploration and killing monsters / searching for treasure / making politcal alliances along the way.

So when the previous week the players told me they wanted to explore the haunted gorge, I prepped for them exploring the haunted gorge.


Maybe. But we only have your information to go on, and the fact that apparently at least one of your players felt like they were being railroaded. Your approach can either be "I will prove that they were not!" or "okay, let me figure out why they feel this way, and ensure that I'm either not railroading them if I was doing so implicitly, ensure they knew the reasonable things that they could have done to avoid the railroad, or be able to tell them that, yes, that is the type of game I run."

I highly recommend the latter. Telling people that what they're feeling is wrong almost never works out well

The player in question is sullen and grouchy, he gets mad often frequently and seldom explains why.

But when he accuses me of something it does make me self conscious, and I am seriously doubitng if I have been using the term railroading wrong all of these years.

For example, last month when he said he hates how my NPCs monolgue all the time, and I couldn't figure out what he meant as I typically go years between what I would consider a villain monologue. It turns out he didn't know what monologue meant, and he was using it to mean "reveal information through conversation", and as he was a hack and slash player he didnt like having important informatiom come ojt during talky scenes as he prefered to just tune out dialogue and wait for the next fight.


Nope. First off "you were fighting the giant and he threw you into the chasm!" isn't a twist or a reversal. Finding out that the king was actually the usurper is a twist. Saying "you're now doing this, like it or not!" isn't a twist.

Secondly, that kind of thing isn't necessarily railroading, but it's often a sign that railroading is occurring. It's, to use the parlance of another thread, a red flag for railroading.

Here's the ACTUAL crux of my post:



Saying that "twists" are central to how I define railroading is a bad read at best, and a strawman at worst.

I am trying to figure out why the scenario comes across as railroading and am asking for clarification to try and put my finger on it.

It seemed to me that you were implying it was railroading because they thiught the adventure was killing a giant, while it was actually exploring the chasm, which seems to be a problem with a "swerve" causing a midpoint change in the nature of the adventure.

I think that the player is using railroad because he doesn't like losing, and (correctly) assumed that I set up a very difficult fight because having the players suffer a setback, recover, and then triumph is more fun from both a narrative and game mechanical perspective than a straightforward slug-fest where victory in inevitable.

Now, in my oppinion railroading is when the GM ignores the logic of the setting or the game rules (or just browbeats the players OOC) into following a script. It is not setting up a scenario where the players have limited options, althiugh that may well be a bad game.

For example, one time I heard a guy on the white wolf forums gitching about the iron will merit, because he couldn't motivate the players to accept going on missions without mind control. In my oppinion having an NPC mind control the PCs isnt railroading (unless you are ignoring the iron will merit or otherwise cheating / deforming versimilitude) but it sure as heck makes for a completely bad and unfun game.

kyoryu
2019-03-28, 11:39 AM
They didn't choose to avoid it, they just explored the bridge first as it was the most obvious landmark in the area.

We are playing a psuedo hex-crawl, The entire campaign is about exploration and killing monsters / searching for treasure / making politcal alliances along the way.

So when the previous week the players told me they wanted to explore the haunted gorge, I prepped for them exploring the haunted gorge.

Well that's a fairly key bit of info. Somewhat hard to argue that giving the players what they asked for is railroading (though it could be, like if the chasm was a one-directional sequence of rooms with no decisions).


The player in question is sullen and grouchy, he gets mad often frequently and seldom explains why.

But when he accuses me of something it does make me self conscious

Well, I mean, we all do things, and people have preferences, so getting feedback is good, and it also doesn't mean you're wrong or bad. It often just is a matter of clarifying preferences, or ironing out miscommunication. I know it's hard, but it's generally best to view feedback as an opportunity for improvement rather than an attack.


and I am seriously doubitng if I have been using the term railroading wrong all of these years.

If the players choose to go to the chasm, and tehy end up exploring the chasm, that is not, in and of itself, railroading. That doesn't mean that railroading didn't happen or couldn't happen within that scenario, but that information, alone, is not enough for it to be railroading.

While nailing down a formal definition can be difficult, I think the general gist is "if there's a preplanned series of events that the players have to go through, and that's the design of the game." Some people might call that a "linear adventure" and say that only if the players push against it is it railroading, some people might call the whole thing railroading and further divide into participationism (you willingly get on the train) and illusionism (you're told there's no tracks, but there totally are, and the GM tries to conceal that).

But overall, the crux is really "you'll do A, then, B, then C, then D. And your choices don't change that."


For example, last month when he said he hates how my NPCs monolgue all the time, and I couldn't figure out what he meant as I typically go years between what I would consider a villain monologue. It turns out he didn't know what monologue meant, and he was using it to mean "reveal information through conversation", and as he was a hack and slash player he didnt like having important informatiom come ojt during talky scenes as he prefered to just tune out dialogue and wait for the next fight.

That's.... odd usage.

It's also indicative of the difficulty of using terms - you start getting possibilities for getting confusion about the definition. When possible, especially if you're confused, ask for specifics rather than terms. Instead of "railroading", ask what specifically happened that the player didn't like. And try, as best you can, to do so from a place of curiosity and genuine interest, not a place of defensiveness.


I am trying to figure out why the scenario comes across as railroading and am asking for clarification to try and put my finger on it.

Unfortunately, a brief description is not going to be super helpful for us to figure out what happened over hours of gaming.


It seemed to me that you were implying it was railroading because they thiught the adventure was killing a giant, while it was actually exploring the chasm, which seems to be a problem with a "swerve" causing a midpoint change in the nature of the adventure.

No, swerves can happen. Again, it's often a *red flag* of railroading (the GM wants x to occur, so they do something the players want, then force what they actually wanted to occur). But it's not inherently railroading.


I think that the player is using railroad because he doesn't like losing, and (correctly) assumed that I set up a very difficult fight because having the players suffer a setback, recover, and then triumph is more fun from both a narrative and game mechanical perspective than a straightforward slug-fest where victory in inevitable.

I think setting up an outcome of a fight is bordering on railroading, depending on specifics. My personal preference is that the GM not know how a given encounter/fight will go. And, no, a slim chance of it not going that way doesn't really change that.


Now, in my oppinion railroading is when the GM ignores the logic of the setting or the game rules (or just browbeats the players OOC) into following a script.

If you know the players will do A->B->C->D->E, it's a railroad. It's the script that makes it so, not the means for getting players on script.

And scripts are totally okay, if the group is into that.


It is not setting up a scenario where the players have limited options, althiugh that may well be a bad game.

Limited options? No, of course not.

One option? Yes.


For example, one time I heard a guy on the white wolf forums gitching about the iron will merit, because he couldn't motivate the players to accept going on missions without mind control. In my oppinion having an NPC mind control the PCs isnt railroading (unless you are ignoring the iron will merit or otherwise cheating / deforming versimilitude) but it sure as heck makes for a completely bad and unfun game.

If the players have no choice as to what they will do, yes, it is railroading. You seem to be defining railroading as "bad illusionism". Bad illusionism makes the railroading apparent, but the railroad was there already. Arguing that the railroad would be perfectly fine if players just didn't notice is not something that anti-railroad people really find acceptable.

If you're gonna railroad me, do so. Do it loud and proud. And I'll either get on the train or not play your game. And that's what that GM should have done. "Guys, this game is going to follow a story. You're going to get missions and directives, and for things to work you just kinda need to go along with that. Trust me."

Either that or figure out what actually was interesting to the players, and use that to create situations that the players found compelling, rather than just trying to force the players to do what the GM found compelling.

But, in this case, based on your description, I'm not entirely sure that the player doesn't just hate losing and find Internet Arguments to explain that, regardless of how appropriate they are. But, again, I'm not at your table. But your monologuing example is kinda weird, unless the NPCs in question were completely info-dumping for a long time.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in RPG circles are also bad at just saying "I don't like this" and feel the need to "prove" it in some way, often by pointing at some kind of guiding principle. "I'm not happy about losing and I felt the fight was too tough, but I don't think that just saying that is enough, so it's because... railroading! Yeah, that's it. We couldn't win so that's railroading!" But again, the key here is what the player was actually unhappy about, not the word that they used.

Gallowglass
2019-03-28, 11:45 AM
Talakeal,

Wait. Is this the same ******* as the penny-pincher from the other topic you posted?

Cause, if so, man you gotta start tuning that turd out. The same way he tunes out your "monlogues."

I mean, that guy is never going to be happy, is always going to complain and is completely bat-**** insane.

So move on and ignore him. Stop letting him trigger your self-conscious need to be always liked.

The answer to every question you ever ask about him will be "he's a ****."

Talakeal
2019-03-28, 12:31 PM
Talakeal,

Wait. Is this the same ******* as the penny-pincher from the other topic you posted?

Cause, if so, man you gotta start tuning that turd out. The same way he tunes out your "monlogues."

I mean, that guy is never going to be happy, is always going to complain and is completely bat-**** insane.

So move on and ignore him. Stop letting him trigger your self-conscious need to be always liked.

The answer to every question you ever ask about him will be "he's a ****."

Yesh, but I lack a thick enough skin to ignore him entirely, and I keep thinking that even a broken clock is right twice a day.


While nailing down a formal definition can be difficult, I think the general gist is "if there's a preplanned series of events that the players have to go through, and that's the design of the game." Some people might call that a "linear adventure" and say that only if the players push against it is it railroading, some people might call the whole thing railroading and further divide into participationism (you willingly get on the train) and illusionism (you're told there's no tracks, but there totally are, and the GM tries to conceal that).

But overall, the crux is really "you'll do A, then, B, then C, then D. And your choices don't change that."



No, swerves can happen. Again, it's often a *red flag* of railroading (the GM wants x to occur, so they do something the players want, then force what they actually wanted to occur). But it's not inherently railroading.



I think setting up an outcome of a fight is bordering on railroading, depending on specifics. My personal preference is that the GM not know how a given encounter/fight will go. And, no, a slim chance of it not going that way doesn't really change that.



If you know the players will do A->B->C->D->E, it's a railroad. It's the script that makes it so, not the means for getting players on script.

And scripts are totally okay, if the group is into that.



Limited options? No, of course not.

One option? Yes.



If the players have no choice as to what they will do, yes, it is railroading. You seem to be defining railroading as "bad illusionism". Bad illusionism makes the railroading apparent, but the railroad was there already. Arguing that the railroad would be perfectly fine if players just didn't notice is not something that anti-railroad people really find acceptable.

If you're gonna railroad me, do so. Do it loud and proud. And I'll either get on the train or not play your game. And that's what that GM should have done. "Guys, this game is going to follow a story. You're going to get missions and directives, and for things to work you just kinda need to go along with that. Trust me."

Either that or figure out what actually was interesting to the players, and use that to create situations that the players found compelling, rather than just trying to force the players to do what the GM found compelling.

But, in this case, based on your description, I'm not entirely sure that the player doesn't just hate losing and find Internet Arguments to explain that, regardless of how appropriate they are. But, again, I'm not at your table. But your monologuing example is kinda weird, unless the NPCs in question were completely info-dumping for a long time.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in RPG circles are also bad at just saying "I don't like this" and feel the need to "prove" it in some way, often by pointing at some kind of guiding principle. "I'm not happy about losing and I felt the fight was too tough, but I don't think that just saying that is enough, so it's because... railroading! Yeah, that's it. We couldn't win so that's railroading!" But again, the key here is what the player was actually unhappy about, not the word that they used.

I personally think there is a fundamental difference between a linear adventure and a railroad, and I don't think illusionism plays into it.

To me a linear adventure is fine, and for many groups its actually preferable. My PCs, for example, actually like adventures a good deal more linear than I do, because they suffer from severe analysis paralysis (and memory issues) and frequently end up bored and squabling if they arent presented with one correct right answer.

Railroading, in my mind, occurs when the PCs are trying to escape from the confines of the adventure for whatever reason, and rather than going with the flow and adapting their adventure to its new instrad fight tooth and nail to actively push the players back onto script.

DMThac0
2019-03-28, 12:33 PM
Railroads have two directions, forward and backward, no other choices. Once you are on the rails you cannot turn if the rails do not turn, you cannot switch to a different rail unless there is a specific point that allows you to switch. If there is something on the rails that is heading backward relative to your forward there is no way to avoid a collision. If you stop moving on the rails, nothing happens, you can only then choose to continue heading forward or you can head back the way you came.

It is possible to make everything about an TTRPG game seem like a railroad.

A "DM wanting things" as a definition of railroading is a difficult stance to keep, as we have seen. From the moment a DM chooses a module or crafts a homebrew, we are inherently seeing railroads form by this definition. They both "want" the players to participate in the adventure that is written, you are "railroaded" into following that adventure otherwise there is no forward movement.

A "sandbox" game where the DM doesn't do anything unless the players choose to is a recipe for chaos, and forces the DM to create "rails" if there is nothing happening. The DM cannot give the players a setting because that is a "want", cannot create a plot arc because that is a "want", cannot make any decisions prior to the players' input because that is a "want". If the players do not make any decisions, then the DM must create something for the players to do, which is "railroading" since you're forcing the players' hands.

The fact that you are using the rules/guidelines presented by the books is, inherently, "railroading" since you are forced to follow them. The flow of combat "railroads" your players into only being able to perform specific actions. The classes "railroad" your players into only being able to accomplish certain acts as described by those classes. The races "railroad" your players into certain abilities, you're "railroaded" in how weapons and spells are handled.

----

There is a need for rails in a game, it helps, it's what makes the games work. The problem is that some people are unwilling to relax and allow for the players to explore more than what they, the DM, are willing to work with. Whether it be from inexperience, an unhealthy need for control, or a misunderstanding of the social contract, it's a problem. On the PC side it's more often used as a weapon, and a misunderstanding of what is actually going on in the story, or displeasure in not being able to succeed in whatever they were trying to do. The resolution is as simple as talking it out and explaining both sides of the situation. If neither side is willing to budge, then it creates conflict and may indicate a need to remove one of the offended people. If both parties are willing to listen and come to, at the very least, a compromise, then the game can grow into something everyone can enjoy.

kyoryu
2019-03-28, 12:57 PM
I personally think there is a fundamental difference between a linear adventure and a railroad, and I don't think illusionism plays into it.

To me a linear adventure is fine, and for many groups its actually preferable. My PCs, for example, actually like adventures a good deal more linear than I do, because they suffer from severe analysis paralysis (and memory issues) and frequently end up bored and squabling if they arent presented with one correct right answer.

Railroading, in my mind, occurs when the PCs are trying to escape from the confines of the adventure for whatever reason, and rather than going with the flow and adapting their adventure to its new instrad fight tooth and nail to actively push the players back onto script.

And this is why I hate these terminology things.

At the end of the day, I think we both agree on the following things:

1) Some games are arranged as a prewritten list of things the players will do: A->B->C->D and so on and so forth.
2) Some people like this and that is cool.
3) Some people do not like this and that is also cool.
4) When people don't like this type of game, and they play in one, they usually push back against the path. If the GM pushes them back onto it in whatever way, that leads to very uncool situations.

(I mean, I think that the issue actually occurs when people say "I don't like that" and the GM does it anyway, but that point has a baffling to me amount of contention).


A "sandbox" game where the DM doesn't do anything unless the players choose to is a recipe for chaos, and forces the DM to create "rails" if there is nothing happening. The DM cannot give the players a setting because that is a "want", cannot create a plot arc because that is a "want", cannot make any decisions prior to the players' input because that is a "want". If the players do not make any decisions, then the DM must create something for the players to do, which is "railroading" since you're forcing the players' hands.

The fact that you are using the rules/guidelines presented by the books is, inherently, "railroading" since you are forced to follow them. The flow of combat "railroads" your players into only being able to perform specific actions. The classes "railroad" your players into only being able to accomplish certain acts as described by those classes. The races "railroad" your players into certain abilities, you're "railroaded" in how weapons and spells are handled.

There are ways to play that completely avoid being either railroads or "empty" sandboxes.

DMThac0
2019-03-28, 01:02 PM
There are ways to play that completely avoid being either railroads or "empty" sandboxes.

I believe I said that in the last paragraph:

TL;DR: Rails are necessary for a game to work, as is being able to go off rails when necessary. It is a poor DM or Player that makes railroading bad.

Resileaf
2019-03-28, 01:51 PM
See, this is why I prefered my analogy of roads, with highways and side roads (and the occasional off-road venture). It's way more versatile a description when you can both have a main road to take and side roads to use to do things differently than expected.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-28, 02:02 PM
(Letters added)

I think A and C are, practically, equivalent. If your actions aren't impacting the plot (especially if "the plot" is defined as a sequence of things the players go through), then you're forced to do things. And if you're forced to do things, then your decisions aren't impacting the plot because you're not really making any.

There's still much difference if the railroading is not taken to the extreme. if your actions aren't impacting the plot, you are still free to choose what your character does. this can happen because of in-world reasons, so it can be done in moderation. It borders on not-railroading.
On the other hand, if the DM tells you which actions you are taking, the DM is taking away your agency. While politely asking is ok ("uhm, guys, that's the only adventure I prepared, you can refuse it but know i will have to improvise otherwise") forcing the players is not ok.

As an example, I will use my own railroading:
- the high cleric of vecnawas trying to ascend to godhood by draining the soul of everyone in a city. the party was trying to stop him.
now, I knew that, regardless of the fight outcome, the ritual would have fizzed, and it would have blasted everyone in the room with godlike essence. All those dead or destroied would have been resurrected on the spot, and everyone would have developed some minor divine ability. I had yet to decide which was for the players, but I knew the vecna guy would get an ability to ignore antimagic fields. I also knew that, with the ritual failed, the guy (regardless of whether he won or lost the first time) would have no interest in taking risks to fight the party again, so he would escape. He had plenty of quickened teleports and the capacity to cast quickened disjunction. Also, he got a sort of demilich form, without most of the demilich powers (would be way too strong for the power level of the campaign) but with the fast fly. and his freedom of movement now worked in antimagic.
So, I basically railroaded the fight into being a phyrric victory for the good guys. The villain was not going to complete his ritual, and he was going to escape; the only difference was that by winning the battle, the party got better rewards. I admitted that with the players afterwards.

However, that outcome stemmed from the way I built the magic ritual. It made sense in the situation. It served to bring in the major conflict of the campaign, a conflict between forces that vecna had been rallying for centuries and everyone else.
The players were very happy with the session.

Now, suppose that instead I had said "ok, and just as you are about to defeat the villain, he escapes"
"But i stop him with [action X]"
"You don't do that. He escapes"
Now, that would have sucked.

So, maybe in the end contriving circumstances so that some things happen regardless of the players is just railroading with a better camouflage. Still, there is a world of difference.

Gallowglass
2019-03-28, 02:40 PM
There's still much difference if the railroading is not taken to the extreme. if your actions aren't impacting the plot, you are still free to choose what your character does. this can happen because of in-world reasons, so it can be done in moderation. It borders on not-railroading.
On the other hand, if the DM tells you which actions you are taking, the DM is taking away your agency. While politely asking is ok ("uhm, guys, that's the only adventure I prepared, you can refuse it but know i will have to improvise otherwise") forcing the players is not ok.

As an example, I will use my own railroading:
- the high cleric of vecnawas trying to ascend to godhood by draining the soul of everyone in a city. the party was trying to stop him.
now, I knew that, regardless of the fight outcome, the ritual would have fizzed, and it would have blasted everyone in the room with godlike essence. All those dead or destroied would have been resurrected on the spot, and everyone would have developed some minor divine ability. I had yet to decide which was for the players, but I knew the vecna guy would get an ability to ignore antimagic fields. I also knew that, with the ritual failed, the guy (regardless of whether he won or lost the first time) would have no interest in taking risks to fight the party again, so he would escape. He had plenty of quickened teleports and the capacity to cast quickened disjunction. Also, he got a sort of demilich form, without most of the demilich powers (would be way too strong for the power level of the campaign) but with the fast fly. and his freedom of movement now worked in antimagic.
So, I basically railroaded the fight into being a phyrric victory for the good guys. The villain was not going to complete his ritual, and he was going to escape; the only difference was that by winning the battle, the party got better rewards. I admitted that with the players afterwards.

However, that outcome stemmed from the way I built the magic ritual. It made sense in the situation. It served to bring in the major conflict of the campaign, a conflict between forces that vecna had been rallying for centuries and everyone else.
The players were very happy with the session.

Now, suppose that instead I had said "ok, and just as you are about to defeat the villain, he escapes"
"But i stop him with [action X]"
"You don't do that. He escapes"
Now, that would have sucked.

So, maybe in the end contriving circumstances so that some things happen regardless of the players is just railroading with a better camouflage. Still, there is a world of difference.

So, let me ask you a question.

Let's say during the fight, you had a player who just absolutely HATED the guy you had pinned to escape after turning into a demi-demilich. And concentrated all his devious concentration on going after that guy instead of concentrating on disrupting the ritual. And you weren't expecting that.

Let's say that guy had a plan you didn't expect.

DM: Okay Brad, your turn...

Brad: Okay, I'm going to use my quickened dimension door ability (*) to teleport here, right behind Lucius Badguyov then backstab him. *rolls* hey nat 20! *rolls* oh wow, that's really good. 112 damage!

DM: *checks bad guy sheet. Has no defense against that particular attack, no reasonable way to survive it. has 98 hp left*

*please, for the nature of this argument, don't reply with how Lucius Badguyov would've escaped that particular scenario. Or explain that dimension door doesn't work that way. I know that. Please fill in the blank with any particular scenario that could/would have worked if tried. (and, as an aside, if your response is "well there's nothing the PCs could have done that would have worked because of how I built the scenario and Lucius' defenses" then you have a problem and we won't ever get anywhere by discussing it)

In this case would you have had Lucius die and moved forward without him turning into a demi-demilich and returned for future games or would you have found a convoluted way to keep him alive or bring him back for the role you intended for him?

Because, I would've reward the player who OBVIOUSLY wanted that win and took the effort to play outside the box with his well-earned victory. Lucius is dead. Go Brad. Then figured out some other, new, unrelated badguy "Mucious Worseguystan" to fill in the future role I need Lucius for.

But if you would've "fudged" to keep Lucius alive, then that would -feel- like railroading to the player (because it was)

And if you would've found a way to bring Lucius back before he was needed next time (Bad Guy resurrects him), well that still would have -felt- like railroading to the player (even though it wasn't. It was the legitimate thing the bad guy would have done.)

Ultimately, like many people has said. Its a matter of knowing your table. Some players would be super pissed to have Lucius come back after working so hard to kill him because it feels like it takes their agency away. Some would be happy to have a recurring villain return so they can kill him again. That lucius. What an asswipe.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-28, 05:57 PM
So, let me ask you a question.

Let's say during the fight, you had a player who just absolutely HATED the guy you had pinned to escape after turning into a demi-demilich. And concentrated all his devious concentration on going after that guy instead of concentrating on disrupting the ritual. And you weren't expecting that.

Let's say that guy had a plan you didn't expect.


If the plan is a good one, I let it work.
vecna dude has a few lieutnants that could become bosses of the coalition if he was dispatched. none of them is powerful enough to challenge the party on his own, though, so they'd have definitely gotten rid of the major boss earlier.
And I would have strenghtened the vecna coalition a bit to keep the competition going. It's that, or tell the party "ok, you won the campaign. there is literally nothing else that can give you real trouble in the world". that, or I would have had some of the other groups of potential villains I know of join them.

The way I plan the campaign could be likened to a valley surrounded by mountains. the players are encouraged to follow the river, and if they do nothing they are transported by the flow of the current. They can also choose to move around the valley, deviate from the river (which, in this metaphor, is the planned course) easily as long as they don't deviate too much. However, the more they deviate, the more they have to climb. If they sit, gravity will move them towards the river gradually.
If they really put effort into climbing the mountains, though, there is no hard barrier to it.

But besides being reasonably certain that I had covered all angles, one of my major safeties here is that I put effort into making him a cool and interesting villain. I'm sure the party preferred to have him as an arch enemy, rather than an obscure underling that hasn't even gotten a name yet. If that was not the case, then I failed at creating a compelling plot.
And besides sprining the occasional surprise (that ritual came completely out of the blue, the church of vecna had been pretending to be reformed until that point, and it even helped the players a couple of times), I generally discuss with my players the direction they prefer to take.

Which makes me think of another layer in this discussion: that of players wanting, or not wanting, to follow the DM.
If the DM creates a compelling story that interests the players, the pplayers want to follow it. They will not mind being railroaded a bit, because they actually want to experience the cool stuff that the DM has planned.
If the players are not interested in the story that the DM is telling, then they will try to go off the rails. A bad DM will try to keep them boxed. A good DM will try to figure out the problem. Better players, however, may simply tell the DM "look, we don't like this plot, can we move to something else?"

This whole conflict on railroading is born on the premise that the players cannot trust the DM, nor the DM can trust the players. that the DM wants to have the players as spectators, while the players care nothing for the world or the plot and only want to mess up with the DM.
If there is open discussion and reciprocal trust, DM and players will move in tandem like a group of dancers to push the campaign in the direction everyone agreed, and there is no conflict.
I think I finally found out what cheeses me in those extremistic stances on railroading.

Tajerio
2019-03-28, 06:10 PM
You slept 3 days, the sun came up and set 3 times, deal. Following game physics is not railroading; ignoring game physics is.

So, if the GM wanted you to witness the next sunset, and had the sun just hang there in the sky while you slept 3 days, yes, railroading.

And there you've lost me. In what meaningful way does "the world had a history, the toys in the sandbox have depth" inhibit the players from meaningfully engaging game physics?

Yes, I'm against the GM deciding where the game will go.

Wow, quite the opposite. The GM's rails are flat and lifeless, whereas the players' story is anything but boring.

Well, usually.


Most of what I might have said in response has already been well put by DMThac0.

The part I find bizarre is that you agree that the world should have a history, and that its elements should have depth. But then you don't concede the logically necessary consequence, which is that the existence of those things constrains the players' actions. Not all things are possible, some developments are more likely than others, and NPCs will do things that change conditions for the players, in part because of the narrative elements that a world with verisimilitude and the ability to engage the players requires.

Unless you don't care about verisimilitude at all/aren't human, there will never be a game that satisfies the conditions of being an interesting sandbox, being run impartially, and valorizing player agency to the maximum.

NorthernPhoenix
2019-03-28, 07:16 PM
I railroad all the time, there's really no reason for me not to. However, I never "force" players to do anything or constrict their choices or actions. It's Quantum Ogre every time. Why does this matter? Because "traditional" railroading involves moving the players to the plot (or any "thing"). With Quantum Ogre, it's always the plot that moves to the players. The difference in perception is what matters.

Cygnia
2019-03-28, 07:17 PM
I think a big part of it is if you're using the carrot or the stick approach. As I like to say: "If I have to railroad, it's gonna be with a well-stocked dining car". :smallwink:

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-28, 08:11 PM
If these seem like identical situations, then it won't yet be possible to understand the distinction between a DM whose NPCs want something and therefore act, versus a DM who wants something and therefore has NPCs act.


Look identical to me.

1.The NPC bandits want to rob the PCs.
2.The DM wants to rob the PCs....with the bandits

So how can a player...ever....know if a bandit is just a bandit ''being a bandit" or if the bandit is some sort of set up the DM is using to get what they want?



Railroading, in my mind, occurs when the PCs are trying to escape from the confines of the adventure for whatever reason, and rather than going with the flow and adapting their adventure to its new instrad fight tooth and nail to actively push the players back onto script.

TO my mind, only a crazy player would even want to ''escape" from an adventure. For a player to say they don't want to go on an adventure makes no sense. And if the player really wanted to ''escape" the adventure so baddlly....well, they could just sty home and watch TV or something.

The ''adapting" part really does just show that Railroading is a thing for Clumsy DMs. Like say the DM wants ''X", and the players go ''escape crazy" to not do "X". Well, it really does not matter. At all. If the DM wants ''X" to happen: then it will. There is nothing the players can do....other then ''really" escape from the game and leave.


Let's say during the fight, you had a player who just absolutely HATED the guy you had pinned to escape after turning into a demi-demilich. And concentrated all his devious concentration on going after that guy instead of concentrating on disrupting the ritual. And you weren't expecting that.

Let's say that guy had a plan you didn't expect.

That last part is very important. And it's something that a good, expereinced DM does not let happen. For such a DM there is not unexpected stuff. In general, the players are not going to think of crazy unknowable things.....they are much more just going to go for Obvious Thing One, or Two, or Three. Yes, the DM might not know the details, or the ''how" the players will do something: but they can see the general idea.

Now the plan part. So the DM had the plan that NPC A would be a reaccoring lich villain. So the players do Obvious Thing Three...and kill NPC A.

Ok? So what. The DM still has...oh, a trillion OTHER NPCs in the world that they can make in to a reoccoring lich villain. So, the DM can just do that.

And even if the DM really wanted NPC A to come back...well, they could do that too. In just about any game, there are at least a couple fantasy fiction ways to do it. A clone...a ghost...a robot...a construct...a time traveler...and so on. So a DM can ALWAYS do one of them.

NichG
2019-03-28, 08:58 PM
Look identical to me.

1.The NPC bandits want to rob the PCs.
2.The DM wants to rob the PCs....with the bandits

So how can a player...ever....know if a bandit is just a bandit ''being a bandit" or if the bandit is some sort of set up the DM is using to get what they want?


Well, let's go back to the case of the novelist. Can you see a difference between a story in which the protagonist visits the poor and under-policed outskirts of a crumbling kingdom and has to deal with bandit attacks and a story in which the protagonist comes into super powers and the next day gets to show them off by handily defeating a bunch of bandits that attack them?

For a more obvious example, murder mysteries. Everywhere Hercule Poirot goes, someone is getting killed.

The Insanity
2019-03-28, 09:03 PM
I railroad my players... into having fun.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-28, 09:10 PM
Well, let's go back to the case of the novelist. Can you see a difference between a story in which the protagonist visits the poor and under-policed outskirts of a crumbling kingdom and has to deal with bandit attacks and a story in which the protagonist comes into super powers and the next day gets to show them off by handily defeating a bunch of bandits that attack them?

For a more obvious example, murder mysteries. Everywhere Hercule Poirot goes, someone is getting killed.

Sure....thoes two are diffrent, Somehow?

Are you talking about the player permission thing? Like:

A.Ok, DM, I am officaly stating that my character crosses the offical border into the officaly marked Bandit Lands. As I have had my character enter that lands freely of my own will, I hearby give you, the DM, limited premission to occasianly have my character be attacked by bandits for as long as they are in the Offical Bandit Lands.

And

B. Bandits exist in the game world. Everywhere. At any time...in any place...it's possible the character might encounter bandits. And it does not matter what the player thinks or does.

Malifice
2019-03-28, 10:26 PM
A certain amount of railroading is expected and indeed encouraged.

The DM has designed encounters during the week for his group. Simply purchasing an adventure and prepping it is 'railroading' seeing as the expectation is the players will participate in that adventure, and they will be nudged in that direction by the DM (via hooks and similar DM tactics).

If the players dont buy into those hooks and decide they dont want to participate in that adventure (or story) however, they shouldnt be 'forced' into it.

The DM should instead have a re-think about his DMing style, his understanding of what his players want in the game.

You dont put encounters or an adventure in front of your players (as DM) if you dont think they'll enjoy it, or participate in it. It's more than just a total waste of time for the DM, it's a massive Red flag he doesnt know his players.

If they refuse to engage with that adventure or series of encounters, it's a message to the DM that either he doesnt know his players, or he's doing something wrong.

Nothing is more frustrating as a player as when your actions and choices dont matter. In super railroady games, it literally doesnt matter what you do, or what actions or choices you make, the same thing happens. You can have your character even sit down and do nothing, and the next 'scene' just happens, and you just stay on those tracks.

A good DM knows how to make the rails invisible, even when running Adventure Paths and similar 'story' campaigns.

We've all played with bad DM's and good DM's. It's ultimately down to him or her as to how invisible railroading is, and how well they handle things when PCs get off those rails and do something unforseen.

NichG
2019-03-28, 10:49 PM
Sure....thoes two are diffrent, Somehow?

Are you talking about the player permission thing?

Nope. The reason I'm using novels as the example is that there's no player, so agency and permission issues are set to zero.

In the former case, the author is extrapolating from premises that have been established and I can borrow the author's work in thinking through consequences to reach some new insight, understanding, etc. If instead of doing that, the author decides where they want the story to go first, then where the story ends up doesn't follow from established causes, so I can't borrow the author's brain in the same way anymore.

If I read a story about four orphans, three of whom steal bread to survive but then each have misfortune befall them (let's say they all get cancer), while the fourth suffers but is eventually adopted and becomes wealthy, should I conclude that stealing causes cancer and starvation causes wealth? No - the author presented things as natural consequences in order to convey their own ethical system, and the story has no bearing on medical fact. If I read realpolitik fiction about the difficulties faced by minor participants in the Cold War era, can I learn anything about politics, espionage, etc? Maybe, maybe not - it depends on the degree to which the story is shaped by real considerations, versus shaped by trying to include certain external considerations.

Up to this point, agency is a non-issue. But there's still a difference in the relationship between reader and author in those cases. The confusion in the railroading discussion is that things which feel to people like railroading don't necessarily have to center on questions of agency first and foremost. But at the same time, agency can be influenced by this difference.

If I'm playing in the game of the first of those two authors, then I can take seriously the proposition that the logical consequences of my actions (from the DM's point of view) will follow, and I can plan around that fact. I don't want to deal with bandit attacks, so I help shore up the crumbling central government, and consequently bandits don't attack me. The more consistent the DM, the further my planning horizon could in principle go.

For the second author's game, actions with planned consequences tend to fade out and be replaced with metagame considerations. I can't actually cure the 'random encounter' problem because the players get bored if there's no combat for 10 sessions straight, so something is going to attack the group. Or, if we take out the BBEG in session 3, there will be a secret bigger BBEG behind them.

That's the consequence to agency, but agency isn't the root difference.

I will note here, I'm not advocating for or against either of these styles, just trying to clarify what seems to be a point of confusion about the declared stances.

Quertus
2019-03-29, 12:45 AM
NichG - again, clearer than my explanation. Kudos!


A "DM wanting things" as a definition of railroading

Is something noone has advocated. Either address the actual contention, or this is a willful misunderstanding / strawman.


is a difficult stance to keep, as we have seen. From the moment a DM chooses a module or crafts a homebrew, we are inherently seeing railroads form by this definition. They both "want" the players to participate in the adventure that is written, you are "railroaded" into following that adventure otherwise there is no forward movement.

A "sandbox" game where the DM doesn't do anything unless the players choose to is a recipe for chaos, and forces the DM to create "rails" if there is nothing happening. The DM cannot give the players a setting because that is a "want", cannot create a plot arc because that is a "want", cannot make any decisions prior to the players' input because that is a "want". If the players do not make any decisions, then the DM must create something for the players to do, which is "railroading" since you're forcing the players' hands.

Either you honestly believe this, in which case I doubt talking to you would be productive, or you don't believe this, in which case case I doubt talking to you would productive.

But I guess I'm not a Boov. I'll give it a shot.

A sandbox game where every actor follows their desires and game physics, modified by the players actions, is not a recipe for chaos, nor does it necessitate the GM to create rails for anything to happen.

Are you honestly incapable of comprehending this concept? Can you honestly not comprehend that the thousands of ingredients at the grocery store did not railroad me into making a PB&J? Can you honestly not comprehend that the bread would go bad much faster than the other ingredients because of "physics", not because of rails? Can you honestly not comprehend a sandbox with active toys which follow game physics which do not require the construction of rails?


The fact that you are using the rules/guidelines presented by the books is, inherently, "railroading" since you are forced to follow them.

Nope, completely wrong. Being forced to follow game physics prevents railroading, as railroading is defined as ignoring game physics.


I believe I said that in the last paragraph:

TL;DR: Rails are necessary for a game to work, as is being able to go off rails when necessary. It is a poor DM or Player that makes railroading bad.

Rails are not necessary for a game to work, as evidenced by working game without rails.

Railroading is pretty much inherently bad, like murder or slavery is inherently bad.

Conclusion: you are using your words differently than a) I am, and b) I suspect most Playgrounders are (although I could be wrong on b).


If the plan is a good one, I let it work.

That's your good. Well, conditionally - if "is good" is defined by game physics, not by your subjective values, unless a) we're in "rule 0" territory, or b) the players have bought in to a narrative game.


If they really put effort into climbing the mountains, though, there is no hard barrier to it.

This is also your good. Just to check, though - if a player had a character who can metaphorically fly, would you invent new obstacles? That is, is it the effort, or the logical ability to get there, that lets one bypass the mountains in your game structure?


But besides being reasonably certain that I had covered all angles, one of my major safeties here is that I put effort into making him a cool and interesting villain. I'm sure the party preferred to have him as an arch enemy, rather than an obscure underling that hasn't even gotten a name yet. If that was not the case, then I failed at creating a compelling plot.
And besides sprining the occasional surprise (that ritual came completely out of the blue, the church of vecna had been pretending to be reformed until that point, and it even helped the players a couple of times), I generally discuss with my players the direction they prefer to take.

Which makes me think of another layer in this discussion: that of players wanting, or not wanting, to follow the DM.
If the DM creates a compelling story that interests the players, the pplayers want to follow it. They will not mind being railroaded a bit, because they actually want to experience the cool stuff that the DM has planned.
If the players are not interested in the story that the DM is telling, then they will try to go off the rails. A bad DM will try to keep them boxed. A good DM will try to figure out the problem. Better players, however, may simply tell the DM "look, we don't like this plot, can we move to something else?"

This whole conflict on railroading is born on the premise that the players cannot trust the DM, nor the DM can trust the players. that the DM wants to have the players as spectators, while the players care nothing for the world or the plot and only want to mess up with the DM.
If there is open discussion and reciprocal trust, DM and players will move in tandem like a group of dancers to push the campaign in the direction everyone agreed, and there is no conflict.
I think I finally found out what cheeses me in those extremistic stances on railroading.

See, this touches on what I've learned since joining the Playground: that some people like to be railroaded. Or, perhaps more accurately, like to be guided along a more linear story? I never used to believe that was possible until I started posting here.

Anyway, I've not had a group in quite some time that didn't seem allergic to communication. :smallfrown: And, before that, I was mostly looking at gaming with either like-minded individuals, or ones willing to accept, Participationism style, my fanaticism against rails. So I can't really relate from experience.

I can only say that I'm not at all interested in the GM's story - I'm here to see what story these particular characters will tell with the GM's content.


Most of what I might have said in response has already been well put by DMThac0.

The part I find bizarre is that you agree that the world should have a history, and that its elements should have depth. But then you don't concede the logically necessary consequence, which is that the existence of those things constrains the players' actions. Not all things are possible, some developments are more likely than others, and NPCs will do things that change conditions for the players, in part because of the narrative elements that a world with verisimilitude and the ability to engage the players requires.

Unless you don't care about verisimilitude at all/aren't human, there will never be a game that satisfies the conditions of being an interesting sandbox, being run impartially, and valorizing player agency to the maximum.

... I honestly cannot decide if you're being serious or not. Let's pretend you are serious.

The GM saying, "D&D, 3e, 15th level" greatly constrains my character options. But I don't scream "railroad". Playing chess constrains me from landing on Park Place, but I don't scream "railroad". Following game physics is not railroading. Constraining player options by Park Place not existing on Toril is not railroading.

Player Agency may also need defining (is everyone secretly DU? I jest - I have trouble with subtle (or not so subtle) points of definitions myself), but it's not being violated by things having history and logic and physics - in fact, I'd argue that it's being enabled and validated by the existence of such things.

The maximum player agency occurs in a sandbox being run impartially. I'm lost how you could try to write that equation otherwise.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-29, 05:46 AM
Wow, quite the opposite. The GM's rails are flat and lifeless, whereas the players' story is anything but boring.

Well, usually.



This makes me think you had bad experiences in the past with some DM, and you became allergic to a DM-driven story as a result.:smallfrown:
Because I don't see any reason the players driving a story would be intrinsically better than the DM driving the story. In fact, if several players have different ideas, they may spend half of each session arguing over it.
Myself, I had passive playes, so I became convinced that you can't go anywhere if you don't nudge them here and there.



This is also your good. Just to check, though - if a player had a character who can metaphorically fly, would you invent new obstacles? That is, is it the effort, or the logical ability to get there, that lets one bypass the mountains in your game structure?


That's... complicated to answer. I'll try my best.

I would say that you have the relation obstacle-capacity backwards here. I build the obstacles around what the characters can't do.
One of the first, and most important things I determine for a world is "what can't a high level party do?". I follow that line of thinking because I find limitations, and ways to circumvent that, are interesting. A character walking in a straight line without any obstacle that he can't overcome is boring. A character finding an impassable obstacle and having to circumvent it somehow is better. For some deeper musings on this argument, I invite everyone interested to read sanderson's second law of magic (https://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-second-law/). That, and the other two laws, are very sensible principles that have a deep influence on my worldbuilding.

So, I establish those things that cannot be done, at least not directly.
Once I do that, I automatically set the power level, and possibly I do a bit of houserulings, to make sure of it. Once those limitations are established, I preemptively ban or nerf anything that would break them. Those limitations are part of how the campaign world works. And if I were to describe my houserules to new potential players, I would not make a list of rules; I would make a list of limitations, and then possibly explain what they entails.

You could also say that when the fluff and the number crunch don't align, I change one or I change the other to make them align. And if I established the fluff earlier, I change the crunch.

All this means that if some player finds out a way to bypass the mountains, I only allow it if the mountain was not one of the things established as impossible. If it was established impossible, then any attempt to bypass must have some counter to it, least the whole premise of the world collapses. I do not think this is related to railroading, simply to establishing some principles.

For example (I got into an argument with you a few weeks back, which got me quite angry; but now I am contextualizing your point better, and I am also figuring better answers), I established that in my world the greater powers would have some extremely fortified magical strongholds that would be capable of repelling even a high level party. They may be taken with great numbers and effort, but a single adventuring party cannot, period.
That's before I even considered how they were made.
So after I figured out a bit how they were made, if a player were to bring a new obscure spell and say "with this spell I can break in easily", I have to say that either the spell does not exist, or it was specifically countered, because that's a basic premise of the world. If they bring me a long ritual involving hundreds of casters? that could fly, because it keeps with the "may be taken with numbers and effort". (the ritual of vecna dude weakened the defences as a collateral effect, and I managed to show that; that's how I created the opportunity for the party to defeat him)
Or, I established that a high level party cannot just take over a powerful nation*. A powerful nation has one of the aforementioned strongholds to protect its most valuable possessions and personnel, and it can call allies and hire people and eventually it vastly outpowers a single party. So, if any players says "I walk into the throne room and dominate the king", the attempt to take over the nation is doomed to fail. And I make that clear with the players well in advance. On the other hand, undermining a nation through selective strikes and political manuevers can be done; the party brought a great nation to heels as early as level 12, but they had to pull off a clever scheme.
Of course those obstacles are there for everyone in the world. The players allied themselves with a great nation and use the nation's stronghold as a base, if some enemy managed to teleport in there while they cannot they'd have every right to complain.

* My worldbuilding stemmed from me wondering "how would the world react to the existance of people with superpowers? either it would fall to anarchy, with everyone high level taking what they want, or they would find a way to contain them. Let's assume this second case" and from there I started figuring out what it would take. Impregnable strongholds, inescapable prisons, ability to rally high level help of your own. How could it be done, what principles would it be founded upon, how it would impact the world at large and the goals of adventuring groups specifically.

Tajerio
2019-03-29, 07:52 AM
... I honestly cannot decide if you're being serious or not. Let's pretend you are serious.

The GM saying, "D&D, 3e, 15th level" greatly constrains my character options. But I don't scream "railroad". Playing chess constrains me from landing on Park Place, but I don't scream "railroad". Following game physics is not railroading. Constraining player options by Park Place not existing on Toril is not railroading.

Player Agency may also need defining (is everyone secretly DU? I jest - I have trouble with subtle (or not so subtle) points of definitions myself), but it's not being violated by things having history and logic and physics - in fact, I'd argue that it's being enabled and validated by the existence of such things.

The maximum player agency occurs in a sandbox being run impartially. I'm lost how you could try to write that equation otherwise.

You are again picking really obvious and mechanical examples that don't have much to do with the more subtle nature of the issue I was trying to express, but there's at least one point of agreement there--player agency is enhanced by the world having depth.

My point at the end is that you will never have a sandbox run impartially, because anyone who runs it will bring existing biases about realistic paths for the development of institutions and actions of NPCs in the game. If that's covered by your usage of "game physics," then that's more than a little odd, but carry on.

However,


Railroading is pretty much inherently bad, like murder or slavery is inherently bad.

this is the point at which it becomes clear there can be no further profit in engaging you on this point. Either you're arguing in really bad faith, or you've drifted so far from reality that you honestly support that comparison you've made. And in either case, you ought to sit down and have a word with yourself about it.

DMThac0
2019-03-29, 09:43 AM
Is something noone has advocated. Either address the actual contention, or this is a willful misunderstanding / strawman.

I believe it was you who said "Well, I think "general consensus" defines "railroading" more as actively negating player decisions. But I think it's subtler and more insidious than that. Rails first form inside the GM's head, when the GM wants something without getting explicit player buy-in." and continued to argue that point in multiple posts.




Either you honestly believe this, in which case I doubt talking to you would be productive, or you don't believe this, in which case case I doubt talking to you would productive.
I am making a case of extremes (argumentum ad absurdum), what I believe is the summary I made which you quoted: I believe some railroading is necessary for a game to function properly as well as the necessity to be able to go off rails as necessary.



A sandbox game where every actor follows their desires and game physics, modified by the players actions, is not a recipe for chaos, nor does it necessitate the GM to create rails for anything to happen.
I agree that, when players are placed in a world and must propagate said world with plots and activities, this would be the definition of a sandbox without rails. At which point in time many people will find them with decision paralysis, those people find the lack of direction and purpose to be too much and stall out. These people need a DM to say "this event is happening and you are doing this thing as the game starts", which is inherently railroading your players.

The other possibility is the players will simply do whatever they want with no regard to the world setting. With no direction it is possible they turn it into a sim and start building shops and homes. It is possible, with no direction, that they become murder hobos, or usurp whatever leadership is present. Without direction the players have no reason to come together as a cohesive party. It is also entirely possible that they are altruistic and seek out the lost and down trodden to assist. Without the DM to give them direction it is a crap shoot as to what they're going to do.

When the DM gives them direction, or the DM chooses a response to their actions, they risk railroading depending on who is giving the definition.



Are you honestly incapable of comprehending this concept? Can you honestly not comprehend that the thousands of ingredients at the grocery store did not railroad me into making a PB&J? Can you honestly not comprehend that the bread would go bad much faster than the other ingredients because of "physics", not because of rails? Can you honestly not comprehend a sandbox with active toys which follow game physics which do not require the construction of rails?
I comprehend that a tree is a tree, and gravity is still a force that impacts us. However, the point that was being made was that telling the players that something happens in the game which confines them to certain results or activities is railroading. If you walked into said store and they only had PB&J you'd be railroaded, however, is it just as much of a railroad if the store only sells sandwich items? In some people's eyes, yes, in others, no. If I had planned on that store being a sandwich store before anyone knew I as building the store, does that mean I've railroaded people? Some say yes, some say no. If I was asked to build a store and I chose to build a sandwich store, have I railroaded people? Some say yes, some say no.




Nope, completely wrong. Being forced to follow game physics prevents railroading, as railroading is defined as ignoring game physics.
As I stated above I made this point in argumentum ad absurdum in regards to the confines of the rules when in considering things like combat flow, how spells work, the damage/range/etc. restrictions of weapons, but I never mentioned the physics.



Rails are not necessary for a game to work, as evidenced by working game without rails.
I refer to decision paralysis again, as well I would like to consider story flow and logical consequences of actions. If the players have too many options it may be necessary to do something to prompt them to make decisions and create a sense of priority. Some people see this as railroading. If the story, as the players have interacted with it, would naturally take a direction then it would seem that telling the players the results of these actions, even if they cannot change it, would be the logical step. Some see this as railroading.

[

Railroading is pretty much inherently bad, like murder or slavery is inherently bad.
Railroading is a tool which is sometimes necessary. It helps with the narrative and structure of a story in some places. When used as a weapon by the players or used as a way for the DM to assert some imaginary dominance over players, then it is bad.


Conclusion: I am probably using my words differently than you are.

kyoryu
2019-03-29, 09:59 AM
Guys, stop arguing with Sock Ultron.


I believe I said that in the last paragraph:

TL;DR: Rails are necessary for a game to work, as is being able to go off rails when necessary. It is a poor DM or Player that makes railroading bad.

And I disagree with this. I specifically am arguing that rails are not necessarily. And that the alternative to rails is not "an empty sandbox where nothing happens unless the players do it."


A certain amount of railroading is expected and indeed encouraged.

The DM has designed encounters during the week for his group. Simply purchasing an adventure and prepping it is 'railroading' seeing as the expectation is the players will participate in that adventure, and they will be nudged in that direction by the DM (via hooks and similar DM tactics).

I agree that this is railroading. It's also totally okay so long as the group is into that.

It's also not the only game style available, and it's important to make sure everyone is on the same page in regards to what game it is that they're playing.

Koo Rehtorb
2019-03-29, 10:29 AM
I would still argue that if the players agree to participate in an linear plot and willingly go along with it it isn't railroading. Railroading is specifically when players do not want to participate in a linear plot but are intentionally forced back into it by the GM every time they try to do something else. Sometimes this forcing is crude and visible, sometimes it's subtle and skillful. Both are bad.

DMThac0
2019-03-29, 10:43 AM
And I disagree with this. I specifically am arguing that rails are not necessarily. And that the alternative to rails is not "an empty sandbox where nothing happens unless the players do it."


What do you do if the players are stagnant, how do you get them to move forward in a game? If you present them with a threat, such as the blacksmith's daughter being kidnapped, is that not a form of railroading? Sure your players have a choice to help or not, but it's a binary choice. If the townsfolk react poorly to the players not helping out, are you not then punishing them for inaction, which could be construed as railroading?

The players choose to enter a dungeon, you then have to come up with a map. The map has walls and doors, traps and monsters, all the necessary components to make a dungeon. One of the doors is magically sealed, made of thick metal, has to be opened by acquiring specific items and behind it is the final challenge of the dungeon. Are you not then railroading the players since they must scour the dungeon for the items necessary for victory? If they don't follow the design they can leave, sure, but they're being punished for not following the dungeon design by not getting the reward or victory.

These are stark examples, but depending on who you ask, and how a person interprets things we can call both examples of bad railroading. At the same time, it's the DM creating a flow, an opportunity for the players to do something, which is creating rails, but they're necessary for the ability to progress.

Railroading has a negative stigma and has become weaponized, and that's what's causing this issue. There is nothing wrong with railroading, guiding, directing, or otherwise providing boundaries for your players. The problem is when you actively attempt to negate player agency for the sake of your own desires. This is not railroading, this is being a dictator.

Talakeal
2019-03-29, 10:50 AM
TO my mind, only a crazy player would even want to ''escape" from an adventure. For a player to say they don't want to go on an adventure makes no sense. And if the player really wanted to ''escape" the adventure so baddlly....well, they could just sty home and watch TV or something.

The ''adapting" part really does just show that Railroading is a thing for Clumsy DMs. Like say the DM wants ''X", and the players go ''escape crazy" to not do "X". Well, it really does not matter. At all. If the DM wants ''X" to happen: then it will. There is nothing the players can do....other then ''really" escape from the game and leave.

Sometimes it is just players being weird or stubborn or disruptive.

More likely it is just players have different priorities than you do; for example you expect them to destroy the one ring and they want to keep it, you expect them to get captured and do a jailbreak but they refuse to surrender and instead fight to the death, you expect them to rescue the princess but they are still nursing a grudge against the king for the time he called you a lowly commoner, that sort of thing.

The Kool
2019-03-29, 11:47 AM
Sometimes it is just players being weird or stubborn or disruptive.

More likely it is just players have different priorities than you do; for example you expect them to destroy the one ring and they want to keep it, you expect them to get captured and do a jailbreak but they refuse to surrender and instead fight to the death, you expect them to rescue the princess but they are still nursing a grudge against the king for the time he called you a lowly commoner, that sort of thing.

I firmly believe that it's the nature of the game such that, if a player does something stupid and has good reason to know it's stupid (like at the end of the campaign, everyone has known darn well why the Ring needs to be destroyed and what it can do to people and the massive armies that move against it, but they keep it anyway) then sure, give the dice a roll and see if fate swings things in their favor... but they deserve whatever is coming at them. That's not railroading, that's just consequences. To use the latter example, alright the players chose not to rescue the princess. What consequences follow from that? Are they wanted by the king? Perhaps a power-hungry adventurer rescues her, marries her, and ascends the throne forcefully, turning the kingdom into a tyrannical empire? Maybe the princess gets murdered and the kingdom is thrown into turmoil, sparking a war that the PCs are now in the middle of?

zinycor
2019-03-29, 12:31 PM
I firmly believe that it's the nature of the game such that, if a player does something stupid and has good reason to know it's stupid (like at the end of the campaign, everyone has known darn well why the Ring needs to be destroyed and what it can do to people and the massive armies that move against it, but they keep it anyway) then sure, give the dice a roll and see if fate swings things in their favor... but they deserve whatever is coming at them. That's not railroading, that's just consequences. To use the latter example, alright the players chose not to rescue the princess. What consequences follow from that? Are they wanted by the king? Perhaps a power-hungry adventurer rescues her, marries her, and ascends the throne forcefully, turning the kingdom into a tyrannical empire? Maybe the princess gets murdered and the kingdom is thrown into turmoil, sparking a war that the PCs are now in the middle of?

What if it happens at the beginning? Like the Frodo player disregards the advice from the Gandalf NPC and now he and the other players want to learn to use the ring for power.

That would be an absolutely valid way to play the game, as long as the players agree to do so. Does it go against the GM wishes, yeah. But I Fail to see how that would matter.

I believe that some GMs are very impatient, too worried about making their story come true. And that's when railroading happens.

Maybe the PCs don't care about the princess, and the consequences of it can be a war that maybe they will enjoy. Or maybe not, and the next quest is about them leaving these territories at war.

I believe many here are confused on what is railroading and the job of the GM. The GM has the power to make anything happen, and should often use it to make interesting things happen to and around the PCs, the job of the PCs is not to go according to the GM story, but to interact with the story in whatever way they feel like.

kyoryu
2019-03-29, 12:51 PM
What do you do if the players are stagnant, how do you get them to move forward in a game? If you present them with a threat, such as the blacksmith's daughter being kidnapped, is that not a form of railroading? Sure your players have a choice to help or not, but it's a binary choice. If the townsfolk react poorly to the players not helping out, are you not then punishing them for inaction, which could be construed as railroading?

You create a dynamic world that has opportunities and risks, and let the world evolve and they can decide to do something about that, or not.

You also can talk to the players on a player level about what they want in a game, and use that to guide what gets prepped and how the game moves forward.


The players choose to enter a dungeon, you then have to come up with a map. The map has walls and doors, traps and monsters, all the necessary components to make a dungeon. One of the doors is magically sealed, made of thick metal, has to be opened by acquiring specific items and behind it is the final challenge of the dungeon. Are you not then railroading the players since they must scour the dungeon for the items necessary for victory? If they don't follow the design they can leave, sure, but they're being punished for not following the dungeon design by not getting the reward or victory.

These are stark examples, but depending on who you ask, and how a person interprets things we can call both examples of bad railroading. At the same time, it's the DM creating a flow, an opportunity for the players to do something, which is creating rails, but they're necessary for the ability to progress.

"Saying no" is not railroading. "The players don't get everything" is not railroading.

Having a series of events that the players will go through, regardless of how they react to said events, is (optionally, forcing people onto said tracks is, there's not 100% agreement on where that term occurs). And that's a valid way to play, too!

But saying "no" is not railroading. Removing some options is not railroading. Removing all options but one IS.

In the first scenario, are the villagers responding with an appropriate level of negative reaction? Are there others (NPCs) that could theoretically rescue the girl, and are they getting the same reaction? Does the reaction increase until the players finally give in and rescue the girl? "Villagers react" is not inherently railroading, but if the reaction is designed to get the PCs to eventually just given in and do the thing that the GM wants, it is.

I don't think anyone here is claiming that "not getting rewards from something you didn't do" is railroading, and I think we can safely assume that those people are enough outside the mainstream of discussion that we don't have to worry about that.

I've made how I define railroading very clear. I've made it very clear that it's a valid way to play, and one that I don't like. And I don't like it, and it is not a necessary way to play. Bringing up things like "well, if you don't give players rewards for things they choose not to do, somebody might call it railroading" is a strawman and devolves the conversation.

[QUOTE=DMThac0;23809548]Railroading has a negative stigma and has become weaponized, and that's what's causing this issue. There is nothing wrong with railroading, guiding, directing, or otherwise providing boundaries for your players. The problem is when you actively attempt to negate player agency for the sake of your own desires. This is not railroading, this is being a dictator.

There's two things going on.

1) Some people don't like railroading. Tell me "we're playing this adventure path!" and I'm likely to bow out. Because if we're playing an Adventure Path, I know the path is set up, and the choices I make don't matter for jack-all. Not my cup o' tea, though clearly other people like it so good on them.
2) Some people use this as a weapon to whine when they don't get their way.

Can we just all acknowledge that the people in group 2 are idiots and probably toxic and not worry about them? And that there are valid reasons to not enjoy railroads (like Adventure Paths) that don't require you being a whiner or weaponizing legitimate points when you don't get your way?

The Kool
2019-03-29, 01:06 PM
What if it happens at the beginning? Like the Frodo player disregards the advice from the Gandalf NPC and now he and the other players want to learn to use the ring for power.

That would be an absolutely valid way to play the game, as long as the players agree to do so. Does it go against the GM wishes, yeah. But I Fail to see how that would matter.

I believe that some GMs are very impatient, too worried about making their story come true. And that's when railroading happens.

Maybe the PCs don't care about the princess, and the consequences of it can be a war that maybe they will enjoy. Or maybe not, and the next quest is about them leaving these territories at war.

I believe many here are confused on what is railroading and the job of the GM. The GM has the power to make anything happen, and should often use it to make interesting things happen to and around the PCs, the job of the PCs is not to go according to the GM story, but to interact with the story in whatever way they feel like.

Yeah I can totally work with any of that. Such a choice can mean anything from the untimely demise of a character, to an unexpected change of campaign style. I think Frodo would have been in for a more difficult campaign if he chose to use the ring instead of destroy it, but some players relish that challenge. In the case of the princess, yeah it may make things awkward and difficult but it presents new quests and plotlines for them to interact with. These are examples of how to avoid railroading. Sure, you had a plan, but when the players go against it you let them do their thing and react in a fair and appropriate manner, then work from what they've now given you to bring them new stories. No rails there, just a healthy back and forth that your average group can be expected to experience on the regular.

PhoenixPhyre
2019-03-29, 01:32 PM
A question for the "DM should be a neutral arbiter and not push his desires" camp:

Is the DM also a player with an expectation of a fun time? Or is he merely there to serve the rest of the group, personal desires notwithstanding?

I strongly believe that DM and players are all in it together. They should work together to find a pattern that works for all of them. This involves honest and open communications about likes and dislikes and intent from all sides. Everyone must be willing to both voice and take negative feedback, when such is appropriate. The only owner of the "story" (whether prospective or retrospective) is the whole group. It's not the DM's story to tell, it's not any of the players' story to tell, it's the group's story. This usually means working from both sides iteratively during play to create a scenario or scenarios that adapt and respond to the players' goals and desires, not just the characters.

What I mean by that is something like the following. The DM constructs a basic setup and gets buy-in. At session 0, they construct characters together, finding ways to fit the characters into the scenario and to mold the scenario around the characters so there's the best possible fit. At this point, things like "I want to have a clear path at all times" or "I don't want encounters to be 'balanced' for the party" need to be clear. During play, the DM adjusts the upcoming presentations (not necessarily the scenario itself, just what parts are emphasized) to meet the play-style of the characters. Do they ignore NPCs and prefer straight up "go there, do this" meta-instructions? Do more of that, or talk to the players about changing their desires. Do they latch on to the social scene and want to do more of that and less "pure dungeon crawls"? See if you can adapt that. If there's a strong break between how the players during play express their desires and what was agreed on at session 0, bring it up OOC and resolve it then, in the open.

All of this requires trust. A player that doesn't trust the DM or vice versa is toxic to this environment. All of this requires willingness to compromise from all parties. Maybe not everything (everyone's entitled to some red lines), but at least many things.

To the OP: I don't feel like that situation was railroading in any meaningful sense. Rather I feel like that player is latching on to "objective" terms to criticize a subjective thing, his lack of success.

kyoryu
2019-03-29, 02:22 PM
A question for the "DM should be a neutral arbiter and not push his desires" camp:

Is the DM also a player with an expectation of a fun time? Or is he merely there to serve the rest of the group, personal desires notwithstanding?

I'm not in the "GM as neutral arbiter" camp, but I am in the "I don't like railroading" camp (I don't call it anti-railroading because, hey, some people dig it and good on them).

Of course the GM is there to have a fun time and has influence on what happens. By nature of what they do they have more influence than anyone. And that is totally, 100%, perfectly okay.


I strongly believe that DM and players are all in it together. They should work together to find a pattern that works for all of them. This involves honest and open communications about likes and dislikes and intent from all sides. Everyone must be willing to both voice and take negative feedback, when such is appropriate.

100%.



...
During play, the DM adjusts the upcoming presentations (not necessarily the scenario itself, just what parts are emphasized) to meet the play-style of the characters.
...
All of this requires trust. A player that doesn't trust the DM or vice versa is toxic to this environment. All of this requires willingness to compromise from all parties. Maybe not everything (everyone's entitled to some red lines), but at least many things.

Here's where I ask for a bit of clarification and push back slightly.

I do not like railroads. For this purpose, we'll define railroads as a game structure where the players move from pre-defined scene to pre-defined scene. I do not like them. Period. Allowing slight re-ordering does not change that. Allowing me to do irrelevant things until I figure out where the next "real" scene is doesn't change that. Adventure Paths? Not interested, no thank you, have a nice day.

That game structure takes away the main reason I enjoy gaming, and as such, is not something I want. (I may tolerate it in certain circumstances if there are other, overriding, things going on that make me want to be in the game despite the railroading).

Me not liking that has nothing to do with "trust". Changing the presentation of the railroad does not change that. I. Do. Not. Like. Them. I want to play a game where neither the GM nor the players know how things are going to turn out. That's what I enjoy (from both sides of the table)

So, if your argument is that people push back against railroads because they're not presented properly, or because players don't trust the GMs, then I strongly disagree. If that's not what you're saying, then my apologies.

Pelle
2019-03-29, 02:46 PM
I do not like railroads. For this purpose, we'll define railroads as a game structure where the players move from pre-defined scene to pre-defined scene. I do not like them. Period. Allowing slight re-ordering does not change that. Allowing me to do irrelevant things until I figure out where the next "real" scene is doesn't change that. Adventure Paths? Not interested, no thank you, have a nice day.

That game structure takes away the main reason I enjoy gaming, and as such, is not something I want. (I may tolerate it in certain circumstances if there are other, overriding, things going on that make me want to be in the game despite the railroading).

Me not liking that has nothing to do with "trust". Changing the presentation of the railroad does not change that. I. Do. Not. Like. Them. I want to play a game where neither the GM nor the players know how things are going to turn out. That's what I enjoy (from both sides of the table)

So, if your argument is that people push back against railroads because they're not presented properly, or because players don't trust the GMs, then I strongly disagree. If that's not what you're saying, then my apologies.

So where do you stand on DM improvisation? When the group gets into territory where nothing is prepped, and extrapolating from the known game state the GM can see multiple possible options. As 100% neutral arbiter you should roll for it instead of simply picking what sounds the most fun (for the group). The latter would be railroading under Quertus' definition, but I think that's a little extreme. I much prefer the GM is also allowed to contribute creatively and not only be expected to be a simulator only. I suspect this is what PP is going for with GMs being part of the group, and not advocating pushing linear adventures...

zinycor
2019-03-29, 02:49 PM
Here's where I ask for a bit of clarification and push back slightly.

I do not like railroads. For this purpose, we'll define railroads as a game structure where the players move from pre-defined scene to pre-defined scene. I do not like them. Period. Allowing slight re-ordering does not change that. Allowing me to do irrelevant things until I figure out where the next "real" scene is doesn't change that. Adventure Paths? Not interested, no thank you, have a nice day.

That game structure takes away the main reason I enjoy gaming, and as such, is not something I want. (I may tolerate it in certain circumstances if there are other, overriding, things going on that make me want to be in the game despite the railroading).

Me not liking that has nothing to do with "trust". Changing the presentation of the railroad does not change that. I. Do. Not. Like. Them. I want to play a game where neither the GM nor the players know how things are going to turn out. That's what I enjoy (from both sides of the table)

So, if your argument is that people push back against railroads because they're not presented properly, or because players don't trust the GMs, then I strongly disagree. If that's not what you're saying, then my apologies.

What do you mean by "pre-defined scene" because unless the GM is completely improvising, most scenarios are some-what pre-defined. For example, every dungeon is pre-defined, in the sense that there is already a dungeon there, Which has whatever structure it has, on the other hand, the way that the players approach the Dungeon, why they decide to do so, and when they do this, is what makes it so the dungeon isn't really a railroad in my opinion.

zinycor
2019-03-29, 02:55 PM
So where do you stand on DM improvisation? When the group gets into territory where nothing is prepped, and extrapolating from the known game state the GM can see multiple possible options. As 100% neutral arbiter you should roll for it instead of simply picking what sounds the most fun (for the group). The latter would be railroading under Quertus' definition, but I think that's a little extreme. I much prefer the GM is also allowed to contribute creatively and not only be expected to be a simulator only. I suspect this is what PP is going for with GMs being part of the group, and not advocating pushing linear adventures...

Pretty much this, without the GM making pre designed encounters, the game could really become boring with nothing interesting going on. I believe the Gm should come up with these pre designed scenarios, the players choose the way they face the scenario. Only if the Gm refuses plausible actions in the scenario, we find ourselves on a railroad.

kyoryu
2019-03-29, 03:08 PM
So where do you stand on DM improvisation? When the group gets into territory where nothing is prepped, and extrapolating from the known game state the GM can see multiple possible options. As 100% neutral arbiter you should roll for it instead of simply picking what sounds the most fun (for the group). The latter would be railroading under Quertus' definition, but I think that's a little extreme. I much prefer the GM is also allowed to contribute creatively and not only be expected to be a simulator only. I suspect this is what PP is going for with GMs being part of the group, and not advocating pushing linear adventures...

GM improvisation is the main reason you have a GM.

I've never advocated for "100% neutral arbiter". Of course the GM contributes creatively. The progression of what happens is a combination of the input of the players and the GM.


What do you mean by "pre-defined scene" because unless the GM is completely improvising, most scenarios are some-what pre-defined. For example, every dungeon is pre-defined, in the sense that there is already a dungeon there, Which has whatever structure it has, on the other hand, the way that the players approach the Dungeon, why they decide to do so, and when they do this, is what makes it so the dungeon isn't really a railroad in my opinion.

Railroad:

"The players will hear about the kidnapped daughter in the tavern. Then they will search for her and meet the orcs in the woods. Then they will get the map to the caves. Then they will fight the kobolds guarding the caves. Then they will fight the hobgoblin holding her captive."

A->B->C->D progression.

Not railroad:

"The players decide not to rescue the daughter. Bill the Bastard was planning on the adventurers leaving town to do this so that he could stir up anti-goblin sentiment, and now that his plans have a wrench thrown in them he decides to stage an attack on the PCs instead."

(NPCs have plans, but those plans change based on the actions of the PCs)

Not railroad:

"There's a dungeon. There's rooms in it. Based on what the PCs do, the denizens of the dungeon may respond, which will change what's happening in the dungeon. As a GM, I have no idea of what rooms they will go to, in what order, or how their actions will change how the dungeon plays out."

The non-railroady nature of a dungeon is not just the layout, but also the fact that the dungeon is a living, breathing system of its own, and actions within the dungeon beget their own reactions.

The key here isn't "there's prep". There's obviously prep. The key is whether or not the prep is the specific sequence of things that the players are going to encounter.

And, again, there's nothing inherently wrong with railroads. They are not objectively bad. But, to some people, they are very subjectively bad. I'm not telling people that they shouldn't use railroads! Go for it! But be honest about it, and expect some people to not want to play in that game. I mean, some people don't like sushi, so you don't expect them to go to eat sushi, right?

DMThac0
2019-03-29, 03:25 PM
Railroad:

"The players will hear about the kidnapped daughter in the tavern. Then they will search for her and meet the orcs in the woods. Then they will get the map to the caves. Then they will fight the kobolds guarding the caves. Then they will fight the hobgoblin holding her captive."

A->B->C->D progression.

Not railroad:

"The players decide not to rescue the daughter. Bill the Bastard was planning on the adventurers leaving town to do this so that he could stir up anti-goblin sentiment, and now that his plans have a wrench thrown in them he decides to stage an attack on the PCs instead."

(NPCs have plans, but those plans change based on the actions of the PCs)


I'm going to go out on limb and guess that you prefer open world/homebrew content rather than modules. The confines of a module making it seem that you have little/no impact on the story vs the idea that a homebrew/open world game gives you freedom to do whatever it is you want.

In the examples above I have a bit of a problem seeing the difference between the two.

Plot hook in tavern:
Option A: search (Bill the Bastard stirs up trouble) > fight 1 > fight 2
Option B: wander off > Bill the Bastard stirs up trouble with the party > Fight 1
Option C: wander off > Bill the Bastard begins propaganda > No fight > Reach next town

All of these are sequences of events that are possible and should be expected/anticipated by any good DM. None of them are railroads, they are simply options the players could take.

kyoryu
2019-03-29, 03:55 PM
I'm going to go out on limb and guess that you prefer open world/homebrew content rather than modules. The confines of a module making it seem that you have little/no impact on the story vs the idea that a homebrew/open world game gives you freedom to do whatever it is you want.

Generally. Specifically modules structured as Adventure Paths or the like, as I've said many times in this thread. Location-based modules or whatever that give more freedom? I'm okay with those.


In the examples above I have a bit of a problem seeing the difference between the two.

Plot hook in tavern:
Option A: search (Bill the Bastard stirs up trouble) > fight 1 > fight 2
Option B: wander off > Bill the Bastard stirs up trouble with the party > Fight 1
Option C: wander off > Bill the Bastard begins propaganda > No fight > Reach next town

All of these are sequences of events that are possible and should be expected/anticipated by any good DM. None of them are railroads, they are simply options the players could take.

Those are multiple options, and the GM should also be prepared that the players will come up with option D which the GM had no clue of. And anticipating that is fine, but since each of those should change hte world in some way, anticipating how things will stand more than a step or two out becomes increasingly difficult. Impossible, really, for pre-published content.

But the fact that there are multiple options means that it's probably not railroading, though at the extreme end it can get to the "theme park" model where you really just choose which railroad you're jumping on.

So for option B, what happens if they lose Fight 1? What happens if they run away? What happens if they somehow befriend the combatants, or lead them back to town? Or.....

The ability to extrapolate the situation at hand based on the PCs' actions is, to me, precisely why you have a GM in the first place. Of course, the tradeoff for that is that the encounters may be less crafted, as they will have to at some level be put together more or less on the spot.

Quertus
2019-03-29, 05:20 PM
So how can a player...ever....know if a bandit is just a bandit ''being a bandit" or if the bandit is some sort of set up the DM is using to get what they want?

Ignoring how very different those two feel to some people, that's not what I am even caring about or describing. I am simply discussing the nature of railroading, not the detection thereof.

In other words, defining a thing, and detecting a thing, are not necessarily the same thing.


A certain amount of railroading is expected and indeed encouraged.

Encouraged? By whom? Certainly not by me. I advocate rails-free GMing when possible, explicit buy-in when necessary.


The DM has designed encounters during the week for his group. Simply purchasing an adventure and prepping it is 'railroading' seeing as the expectation is the players will participate in that adventure,

I'm not sure where the disconnect is here, so I'm not sure if I should point to Participationism / buy-in, or simply to following physics vs changing / forcing outcomes.

Railroading - as I understand the definition, at any rate - involves changing facts or physics in order to force or prevent a specific outcome.


and they will be nudged in that direction by the DM (via hooks and similar DM tactics).

I explained this better to KoN, below, but nudging isn't railroading in my book.


If the players dont buy into those hooks and decide they dont want to participate in that adventure (or story) however, they shouldnt be 'forced' into it.

Agreed. However, this sounds like a good time for a new Session 0.


The DM should instead have a re-think about his DMing style, his understanding of what his players want in the game.

Agreed! However, it's just as likely to be a communication issue. My standard example is the GM saying "political campaign", one player hearing "arranged marriages", another hearing "assassinations", a third hearing "talky bits".


You dont put encounters or an adventure in front of your players (as DM) if you dont think they'll enjoy it, or participate in it. It's more than just a total waste of time for the DM, it's a massive Red flag he doesnt know his players.

Agreed. Building a good sandbox and knowing your players are important skills.


If they refuse to engage with that adventure or series of encounters, it's a message to the DM that either he doesnt know his players, or he's doing something wrong.

Or there's a communications breakdown, or just rotten luck (out of the GM's 100 ideas, the party (the combination of the players playing their specific characters) would have engaged with 75 of them - just not any of the 7 that the GM picked as "obvious at the start of the sandbox").


Nothing is more frustrating as a player as when your actions and choices dont matter. In super railroady games, it literally doesnt matter what you do, or what actions or choices you make, the same thing happens. You can have your character even sit down and do nothing, and the next 'scene' just happens, and you just stay on those tracks.

Agreed? Although, usually, IME, railroads are more often like computer games of the "the game just sits there until the players pick the one and only thing that the GM will accept" (no matter much their actions *ought* to move things forward) variety, rather than having forced momentum.


A good DM knows how to make the rails invisible, even when running Adventure Paths and similar 'story' campaigns.


We've all played with bad DM's and good DM's. It's ultimately down to him or her as to how invisible railroading is, and how well they handle things when PCs get off those rails and do something unforseen.

I feel almost like the troll from HISHE Frozen. I mean, I suppose you could try to hide the rails, but I am advocating exactly the opposite: get explicit buy-in for the rails. Make them obvious.

Less skill required, fewer ethical issues. Win-win.


This makes me think you had bad experiences in the past with some DM, and you became allergic to a DM-driven story as a result.:smallfrown:
Because I don't see any reason the players driving a story would be intrinsically better than the DM driving the story. In fact, if several players have different ideas, they may spend half of each session arguing over it.

Erm, well, while there is some truth to that, I had actually meant something simpler: single author fiction is not as dynamic as multi-author fiction. If the GM has the railroad all planned out, it lacks life.

The players' story may or may not have life, but the GM's won't.

More to your point, IME, when the GM forces a story in a particular direction, it usually produces a worse story than if they had just gone with game physics & what the players were doing. So, yes, I associate "railroading" with "idiots with no concept of what makes a good story". I realize that that's not always the case, but it usually is, IME.

I suspect it's because people who could make good stories usually could see the value in other people's ideas?



Myself, I had passive playes, so I became convinced that you can't go anywhere if you don't nudge them here and there.

This might actually be the most important distinction (or, at least, the one *I* am most likely to get wrong :smallredface:): "nudging" isn't "railroading", at least as I define those words.

Nudging I see as trying to add momentum; railroading as removing momentum.

So, to use your example, when a player sees a way through your defenses, and you respond by changing reality to prevent that from being possible? Railroading.

When the players have no idea how to deal with the Cthulhu monster, and you prompt them with, "well, what you do IRL when you don't know how to do something?" "Ask Google?" "So, what's the equivalent of 'Google' in this setting?", that's nudging.


That's... complicated to answer. I'll try my best.

I would say that you have the relation obstacle-capacity backwards here. I build the obstacles around what the characters can't do.
One of the first, and most important things I determine for a world is "what can't a high level party do?". I follow that line of thinking because I find limitations, and ways to circumvent that, are interesting. A character walking in a straight line without any obstacle that he can't overcome is boring. A character finding an impassable obstacle and having to circumvent it somehow is better. For some deeper musings on this argument, I invite everyone interested to read sanderson's second law of magic (https://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-second-law/). That, and the other two laws, are very sensible principles that have a deep influence on my worldbuilding.

So, I establish those things that cannot be done, at least not directly.
Once I do that, I automatically set the power level, and possibly I do a bit of houserulings, to make sure of it. Once those limitations are established, I preemptively ban or nerf anything that would break them. Those limitations are part of how the campaign world works. And if I were to describe my houserules to new potential players, I would not make a list of rules; I would make a list of limitations, and then possibly explain what they entails.

You could also say that when the fluff and the number crunch don't align, I change one or I change the other to make them align. And if I established the fluff earlier, I change the crunch.

All this means that if some player finds out a way to bypass the mountains, I only allow it if the mountain was not one of the things established as impossible. If it was established impossible, then any attempt to bypass must have some counter to it, least the whole premise of the world collapses. I do not think this is related to railroading, simply to establishing some principles.

For example (I got into an argument with you a few weeks back, which got me quite angry; but now I am contextualizing your point better, and I am also figuring better answers), I established that in my world the greater powers would have some extremely fortified magical strongholds that would be capable of repelling even a high level party. They may be taken with great numbers and effort, but a single adventuring party cannot, period.
That's before I even considered how they were made.
So after I figured out a bit how they were made, if a player were to bring a new obscure spell and say "with this spell I can break in easily", I have to say that either the spell does not exist, or it was specifically countered, because that's a basic premise of the world. If they bring me a long ritual involving hundreds of casters? that could fly, because it keeps with the "may be taken with numbers and effort". (the ritual of vecna dude weakened the defences as a collateral effect, and I managed to show that; that's how I created the opportunity for the party to defeat him)
Or, I established that a high level party cannot just take over a powerful nation*. A powerful nation has one of the aforementioned strongholds to protect its most valuable possessions and personnel, and it can call allies and hire people and eventually it vastly outpowers a single party. So, if any players says "I walk into the throne room and dominate the king", the attempt to take over the nation is doomed to fail. And I make that clear with the players well in advance. On the other hand, undermining a nation through selective strikes and political manuevers can be done; the party brought a great nation to heels as early as level 12, but they had to pull off a clever scheme.
Of course those obstacles are there for everyone in the world. The players allied themselves with a great nation and use the nation's stronghold as a base, if some enemy managed to teleport in there while they cannot they'd have every right to complain.

* My worldbuilding stemmed from me wondering "how would the world react to the existance of people with superpowers? either it would fall to anarchy, with everyone high level taking what they want, or they would find a way to contain them. Let's assume this second case" and from there I started figuring out what it would take. Impregnable strongholds, inescapable prisons, ability to rally high level help of your own. How could it be done, what principles would it be founded upon, how it would impact the world at large and the goals of adventuring groups specifically.

Interesting.

Wait, the previous discussion made you angry? Well, there's little hope for this, then, so I'll not even try to be diplomatic, and just lay it out straight.

Or I would, if it were straightforward.

So, on the one hand, you've got mutable physics / history to enforce an outcome - pretty much the definition of railroading - coupled with getting angry over people questioning you. That's GM horror story area right there.

On the other hand, you're seemingly up front with your definitions - they're first and foremost Narrative definitions, not mechanical ones. Mechanics are derived from Narrative. If that's communicated well, if - dare I say it - if you get buy-in, then that could be a great way of doing things. In part because you make, as you say, mountains, not impenetrable barriers.

Thus, the answer to my question seems to be that, yes, if someone could metaphorically fly, you'd change your mountains. If you communicate it well, and get buy-in, you don't have to worry about reasonable players accusing you of railroading. Sounds like we're on the same page here.

Now, if a player pointed out the holes your physics, but, rather than trying to exploit them, wanted to play the however-many-thousand-year-old inventor of the modern defense system (Elf? Necropolitan? Been in Medusa's stone garden for a while? Whatever), how would you respond?

Similarly, if a player came up with a clever way to utilize those changes to physics you've made, what would you do? Retcon the physics, retcon that everyone's already using that exploit, or allow the PC to innovate?

What I'm getting at is subtle, but the crass and exaggerated version is, is your world worth thinking about? Or should clever players just turn off their brains?

I relish the little details, the clever ideas, but if the GM has already said, "the formula must look like this:", then there's no point in me thinking about it. I don't want to be Beethoven and be told "too many notes".

Or, put another way, Exploration is my greatest source of enjoyment in a game. You've done lots of cool world-building... but have you left room for cool characters & Exploration? Or is there only room for your rails?

Like I said, I think that description is harsher than you deserve, because I can't come up with words at the right level. Especially since, honestly, what you're saying really *sounds* like what I'm advocating - explicit buy-in for necessary rails. Just, your rails aren't "this will happen this way, because rails" - they are at this weird "the world makes sense, because rails" layer that I'm not really used to processing.

So, what if a player wanted to use the same logic? They didn't care what their stats actually said, they wanted a narrative mechanic that said, "I win all one-on-one duels*". They played as whatever decent (or rubbish, doesn't matter) stats they had, unless it was a one-on-one duel, in which case they invoked their narrative power. How would you feel about this character?

* Possibly limited to something like CR <= their level +2 for 3e, or something.

PhoenixPhyre
2019-03-29, 06:10 PM
takes away[/I] the main reason I enjoy gaming, and as such, is not something I want. (I may tolerate it in certain circumstances if there are other, overriding, things going on that make me want to be in the game despite the railroading).

Me not liking that has nothing to do with "trust". Changing the presentation of the railroad does not change that. I. Do. Not. Like. Them. I want to play a game where neither the GM nor the players know how things are going to turn out. That's what I enjoy (from both sides of the table)

So, if your argument is that people push back against railroads because they're not presented properly, or because players don't trust the GMs, then I strongly disagree. If that's not what you're saying, then my apologies.

Ah. No. Sorry, that's not what I meant. By that point I had wandered a bit, merely discussing my ideal for campaign planning. Which is iterative refinement. Having a linear game flow (what you're calling railroading) is somewhat orthogonal to this process and should have been discussed (and nailed down either for or against) at session 0.

My point with that part was to say that the DM always has some discretion about how to move the "narrative" forward at each step. In a highly linear one (which you don't like but some do), this discretion is mainly about presentation. Did the players enjoy talking to NPCs? Put the focus of the next scene on interesting NPCs (more). Did they prefer to just be told OOC what to do ("He wants you do X and Y"), as some of the OP's players have said? Consider doing that instead of using dialogue, or at least balancing the types. In a more dynamic game, the discretion is much larger. You have all the prior discretion plus larger considerations. How did the world react to what the players did? It is very unlikely that the game system or the setting is detailed enough to provide a single specific answer in many cases. So the DM has discretion and can "steer" the resulting changes toward things that they know the party enjoys doing. Rolling a random result is still an exercise of discretion and is just as biased as picking one, because you picked the table to roll on.

Basically, do more of what the players like and less of what they don't like. The "best" results are found at the intersection of three factors:
a) what makes sense in terms of the established narrative, setting, and rules. This is a constraint, but it's not enough.
b) what do the players like to do/experience?
c) what does the DM like to do/experience?

Random tables don't help with any of that. They're pre-established and can't react to what the people do (failing part a). They don't know anything about the players (part b) or the DM (part c). So for me, a campaign governed by pre-existing tables and structures (necessary for "impartiality") is one of the most narrowly restrictive ones. And one restricted without even consideration for the people playing. It's a tyranny of randomness. As soon as you want the world to adapt dynamically, you require a DM's discretion. No set of rules or pre-written notes can get near enough and still be manageable.

As a personal matter, I don't run modules or linear campaigns. I establish a starting scenario (a "quest seed"), which is a reason for the party to be in <location>. I also establish a bunch of pre-existing tensions. Set up a house of cards in a dynamic status quo. Any intervention by the PCs, including possibly just their presence on scene, is enough to set things in motion and alter the status quo. Then we run with it--the players meddle, as players are wont to do, and the world meddles back. I often know the players well enough to predict with decent accuracy what they're going to do next. Sometimes they surprise me and things take a sharp turn from where I thought they'd go. But I only plan a session or two out with any detail. Beyond that I know who the players are and what their goals are (and the other major factors), but not down to the "there are 42 guards patrolling in 10 minute intervals..."

King of Nowhere
2019-03-29, 06:18 PM
Interesting.

Wait, the previous discussion made you angry? Well, there's little hope for this, then, so I'll not even try to be diplomatic, and just lay it out straight.

Or I would, if it were straightforward.

So, on the one hand, you've got mutable physics / history to enforce an outcome - pretty much the definition of railroading - coupled with getting angry over people questioning you. That's GM horror story area right there.

where do you get the idea that physics are mutable? they are not, that's the point.

because, judging from what I see on this forum, the standard method of action is
- there is a certain worldbuilding
- someone rifles through an obscure sourcebook and discovers a new spell that make plenty of worldbuilding points moot
- the new spell is used freely, and the consequences on worldbuilding are ignored.

I don't do that. If a spell or combo would make established worldbuilding moot, then the spell or combo doesn't exist. it's really no different than banning a spell because it is beyond the established power level of the setting, or asking the players to not outshine each other.

Because, let's face it, when you say "a player is being smart and bypassing the obstacles", 99% of the times it just means "a player found an obscure spell/feat/item and wants to use it to break the campaign".

If a player is being clever with the use of established resources, then it's probably something related to a specific situation. in which case it's probably allowed, because I said "it can be done with power and effort". Either that, or it was a glaring worldbuilding mistake on my part; but while I freely admit I have many weaknesses as DM, worldbuilding is my strenght.

Also, on the "getting angry" part, it was a matter of tone. I got a very "I know nothing about your campaign or your group, but I've decided that you are a terrible DM and I want to prove it" vibe. Now I'm getting a "trying to understand how different people do things" vibe, which is fine.



On the other hand, you're seemingly up front with your definitions - they're first and foremost Narrative definitions, not mechanical ones. Mechanics are derived from Narrative. If that's communicated well, if - dare I say it - if you get buy-in, then that could be a great way of doing things. In part because you make, as you say, mountains, not impenetrable barriers.

I never got explicit buy-in because I started this campaign as my first DMing experience years ago, and my players were completely new, so I didn't knew much and I organically evolved into my style. Players are not complaining, though.
If I were to start new, I'd be able to have a proper session 0. Actually, arguing with you is helping me putting order in my ideas


Thus, the answer to my question seems to be that, yes, if someone could metaphorically fly, you'd change your mountains. If you communicate it well, and get buy-in, you don't have to worry about reasonable players accusing you of railroading. Sounds like we're on the same page here.

Now, if a player pointed out the holes your physics, but, rather than trying to exploit them, wanted to play the however-many-thousand-year-old inventor of the modern defense system (Elf? Necropolitan? Been in Medusa's stone garden for a while? Whatever), how would you respond?

Similarly, if a player came up with a clever way to utilize those changes to physics you've made, what would you do? Retcon the physics, retcon that everyone's already using that exploit, or allow the PC to innovate?

What I'm getting at is subtle, but the crass and exaggerated version is, is your world worth thinking about? Or should clever players just turn off their brains?

I relish the little details, the clever ideas, but if the GM has already said, "the formula must look like this:", then there's no point in me thinking about it. I don't want to be Beethoven and be told "too many notes".

Or, put another way, Exploration is my greatest source of enjoyment in a game. You've done lots of cool world-building... but have you left room for cool characters & Exploration? Or is there only room for your rails?

I'm not really understanding your questions there. they are very generic, so I don't think I can do any better than "I'll judge case by case, trying to juggle worldbuilding consistency, player enjoyment and rewarding cleverness".

But as I said before, what I really shut down is the "I look for spells in obscure sourcebooks that explicitly let me do this stuff" kind of mentality. I don't want my games to be a contest of who finds the more obscure stuff to surprise the other. Clever use of established resources is encouraged.




So, what if a player wanted to use the same logic? They didn't care what their stats actually said, they wanted a narrative mechanic that said, "I win all one-on-one duels*". They played as whatever decent (or rubbish, doesn't matter) stats they had, unless it was a one-on-one duel, in which case they invoked their narrative power. How would you feel about this character?

* Possibly limited to something like CR <= their level +2 for 3e, or something.

If a player asked me for such a mechanic, I'd try to help him find the right class and build for it. Possibly with homebrewing, trying to keep a consisten power level.
Maybe I'd concoct for him a feat "focused attention: when you only have one opponent, you focus all your attention on him and are much more capable of dodging. You get a +5 dodge bonus to AC against him, but you get a -10 to spot and listen to notice other stuff"

I'm not sure it's what you mean, but I already did it for some of my players. I have the cleric who always likes to come up with crazy weird ideas, and I gave him a utility belt that could produce pretty much anything nonmagical that he could use for his plans. Once he was trying to look for a secret passage, and he asked if he could get something from his utility belt: "let's see; roll a d20 for general luck" "ok...wow, 20!" "... ok, you find the assembly manual of the pit trap you're in". He once conjured sunscreen lotion to protect from sunburst. Those were great moments. Now I try to include a few weir obstacles just to give him chances to be creative.

The barbarian wants to be a leader, and the player has a lot of leadership, but the barbarian has a charisma of 5. His main modus operandi is to try to convert defeated enemies, and I let him be successful whenever it makes sense, especially if he showed insight on the enemy; I don't care how bad is your diplomacy, if you defeat a guy and then give him an acceptable way out, he's generally taking it. Later, I got him an item that gives +10 to diplomacy to befriend an enemy you just defeated. He became a one-person-army just by virtue of all the favors he can call

those are examples of how I adjust the crunch to fit the fluff.

EDIT: those are not normal items, I call them personal artifacts. Basically, people belief have power. If you do something special, heroic, noteworthy, it may generate enough belief that some item you carry, especially one that is associated with you, becomes magic. Most of those items only work for one person, or they work better for a specific person. I gave one to each pc when they developed enough personality. some npcs may also have one.

EDIT 2: I think we are confusing plot mountains and setting mountains here.
setting is, I establish that certain things are impossible. that's not open to discussion, any source that does that is automatically banned, any way to circumvent that must be at least curtailed enough to keep consistent.
plot is, I have planned a certain course of events that will happen if the players don't rock the boat, and that's very mutable by players actions. Say I decided a villain will escape because I have future plans for him: in that case, I'll give him stuff to help him escape, I'll concoct a situation that will allow him to escape. However, if the players are clever and stop him anyway, I let them, no problem. The "river and valley" analogy was referring to that. But when you talked of bypassing obstacles, I iimmediately associated it to finding new spells to do stuff, which falls under the case of setting

kyoryu
2019-03-29, 06:29 PM
Basically, do more of what the players like and less of what they don't like. The "best" results are found at the intersection of three factors:
a) what makes sense in terms of the established narrative, setting, and rules. This is a constraint, but it's not enough.
b) what do the players like to do/experience?
c) what does the DM like to do/experience?

Ah cool and I am in vigorous agreement.


As a personal matter, I don't run modules or linear campaigns. I establish a starting scenario (a "quest seed"), which is a reason for the party to be in <location>. I also establish a bunch of pre-existing tensions. Set up a house of cards in a dynamic status quo. Any intervention by the PCs, including possibly just their presence on scene, is enough to set things in motion and alter the status quo. Then we run with it--the players meddle, as players are wont to do, and the world meddles back. I often know the players well enough to predict with decent accuracy what they're going to do next. Sometimes they surprise me and things take a sharp turn from where I thought they'd go. But I only plan a session or two out with any detail. Beyond that I know who the players are and what their goals are (and the other major factors), but not down to the "there are 42 guards patrolling in 10 minute intervals..."

Our styles are highly similar.

PhoenixPhyre
2019-03-29, 06:32 PM
@King of Nowere:

I think, for me, the apt comparison to what you do is whitelisting. Only approved sources are available--nothing else exists even if not specified. The (3e D&D) default seems to be blacklisting--everything is allowed except those things specifically banned.

So you say "XYZ are allowed sources, excluding any source that would allow PDQ in-universe effects." Those are setting constraints. Even if someone digs up an obscure source (whether in XYZ or not) that allows PDQ in-universe effect, it's already not allowed. Allowing those would be letting physics be mutable. Players can be creative knowing that certain things are off the table.

If it's not clear, I approve. I find the "everything's allowed, and any restrictions are just being a bad DM" mentality that some people have to be tiresome and juvenile. But that's them--they can do whatever they want at their tables. I'll just not play with them.

One example from my games is that I have a hard rule that no in game event will ever reveal the true "eternal" fate of the soul. No matter what happens, not even the gods themselves know that. I don't know what it is. I know what the theories are, but it is explicitly unknowable. Like knowing the exact position and momentum of a particle here on Earth. Can't be done, it's logically inconsistent.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-29, 06:52 PM
@King of Nowere:


So you say "XYZ are allowed sources, excluding any source that would allow PDQ in-universe effects." Those are setting constraints. Even if someone digs up an obscure source (whether in XYZ or not) that allows PDQ in-universe effect, it's already not allowed. Allowing those would be letting physics be mutable. Players can be creative knowing that certain things are off the table.


Good job, you managed to expose my point in many less words than I did

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-29, 07:34 PM
Because I don't see any reason the players driving a story would be intrinsically better than the DM driving the story.

I don't get the crazy idea that if the players do it it's perfect and good.....but anything the DM does is bad and wrong.



So after I figured out a bit how they were made, if a player were to bring a new obscure spell and say "with this spell I can break in easily", I have to say that either the spell does not exist, or it was specifically countered, because that's a basic premise of the world. If they bring me a long ritual involving hundreds of casters? that could fly, because it keeps with the "may be taken with numbers and effort".

This falls under clumsy DMing. No single spell should ever be so good that it can knock the world out of orbit. But in any case, just let the player try and fail. The player casts the spell...auto things it will work for no reason....then they get said when, supprise, it does not work. For the DM to stop the game and stand on the table and say ''I say that spell does not exist in the world, I have spoken" is the wrong move.


If you walked into said store and they only had PB&J you'd be railroaded, however, is it just as much of a railroad if the store only sells sandwich items? In some people's eyes, yes, in others, no. If I had planned on that store being a sandwich store before anyone knew I as building the store, does that mean I've railroaded people? Some say yes, some say no. If I was asked to build a store and I chose to build a sandwich store, have I railroaded people? Some say yes, some say no.

This is some classic Railroad crazyness right here.



Railroading is a tool which is sometimes necessary. It helps with the narrative and structure of a story in some places. When used as a weapon by the players or used as a way for the DM to assert some imaginary dominance over players, then it is bad.


I think we should really just let Railroading be bad. Maybe call ''directing the players" something like Trailblazing?


I would still argue that if the players agree to participate in an linear plot and willingly go along with it it isn't railroading. Railroading is specifically when players do not want to participate in a linear plot but are intentionally forced back into it by the GM every time they try to do something else. Sometimes this forcing is crude and visible, sometimes it's subtle and skillful. Both are bad.

I don't really get the idea that players don't want to participate. Why did they even show up for the game then? Why did they just not stay home?



Railroading has a negative stigma and has become weaponized, and that's what's causing this issue. There is nothing wrong with railroading, guiding, directing, or otherwise providing boundaries for your players. The problem is when you actively attempt to negate player agency for the sake of your own desires. This is not railroading, this is being a dictator.

Railroading gets the bad wrap from that near mythical DM from decades ago. Just about everything else is not even close to that one bad example of railroading....and yet, people will cry out.

Desire seems to be a big part. Most DMs would say they do things in the game FOR the players, not themselves. It's that DM that is on a power trip and making the game for themselves, with the players as toys, that you get railroading.


Sometimes it is just players being weird or stubborn or disruptive.

More likely it is just players have different priorities than you do; for example you expect them to destroy the one ring and they want to keep it, you expect them to get captured and do a jailbreak but they refuse to surrender and instead fight to the death, you expect them to rescue the princess but they are still nursing a grudge against the king for the time he called you a lowly commoner, that sort of thing.

Yea...I know ALL about them players. As a girl gamer I could do a whole thread on ''guys that ruin girls games for fun".

The different priorites comes back to the clumsy DM....and really the inexperenced DM too. For a DM to expect things is on the list of top ten things DMs should never do. A good DM expects nothing, and simply waits to see what happens.




I believe many here are confused on what is railroading and the job of the GM. The GM has the power to make anything happen, and should often use it to make interesting things happen to and around the PCs, the job of the PCs is not to go according to the GM story, but to interact with the story in whatever way they feel like.

Wait, there is a flaw here. It's not the DMs story. The DM makes the story for the game...for the players. Then the players go through the story. Basic role playing 101.


A question for the "DM should be a neutral arbiter and not push his desires" camp:

Is the DM also a player with an expectation of a fun time? Or is he merely there to serve the rest of the group, personal desires notwithstanding?

Well, lots of word salad...the DM is playing the game but not as a player. The two are very diffrent. Almost all of what a DM does is for the game and for the players, with the flavor of thier own desiers.

For example, I love horses and unicorns. And all the horse-like creatures. They are all over my game. The evil bad guy rides a nightmare(shocking), the kingdom has a large group of mounted knights(wow) and look over there, it's a unicorn!(yep).






Railroad:

"The players will hear about the kidnapped daughter in the tavern. Then they will search for her and meet the orcs in the woods. Then they will get the map to the caves. Then they will fight the kobolds guarding the caves. Then they will fight the hobgoblin holding her captive."

A->B->C->D progression.

Not railroad:

"The players decide not to rescue the daughter. Bill the Bastard was planning on the adventurers leaving town to do this so that he could stir up anti-goblin sentiment, and now that his plans have a wrench thrown in them he decides to stage an attack on the PCs instead."

But your comparing apples and oranges. Comparing to tottaly diffrent games.

And how is the second one NOT a stright progression?

The characters hang out in town(A), at night the characetrs will rest(B), Bill will send his thgs to kill the characters just after midnight(C) and the character will have to fight the thugs(D).




Not railroad:"There's a dungeon.

So...what would be a dungeon railroad? One that was compacting and physicaly pushing the characetrs forward?

King of Nowhere
2019-03-29, 08:06 PM
This falls under clumsy DMing. No single spell should ever be so good that it can knock the world out of orbit. But in any case, just let the player try and fail. The player casts the spell...auto things it will work for no reason....then they get said when, supprise, it does not work. For the DM to stop the game and stand on the table and say ''I say that spell does not exist in the world, I have spoken" is the wrong move.

Who said i do it in the middle of the session, when the players are attempting to use it? why some people seem to read everything I write in the way that makes me look more stupid?

it happens outside of the game. player sends me a message on phone, "i found this new spell, can I use it?" and then I may say "no, it would collapse the world", or "it is problematic, but you can use it with an homebrewed-in limitation", or "sure, no problem".
it's what any DM does, deciding if a spell is allowed or not. Only my rationale and reasoning for banning some spells are a bit different.

Quertus
2019-03-29, 10:33 PM
I would still argue that if the players agree to participate in an linear plot and willingly go along with it it isn't railroading. Railroading is specifically when players do not want to participate in a linear plot but are intentionally forced back into it by the GM every time they try to do something else. Sometimes this forcing is crude and visible, sometimes it's subtle and skillful. Both are bad.

Your definition and mine may not be identical, but I think that they're compatable.


The problem is when you actively attempt to negate player agency for the sake of your own desires. This is not railroading, this is being a dictator.

Or, you know, that could be the definition of railroading, depending on who you ask.


the job of the PCs is not to go according to the GM story, but to interact with the story in whatever way they feel like.

I'd word it as "interact with the world / content as they see fit", but yeah.


A question for the "DM should be a neutral arbiter and not push his desires" camp:

Is the DM also a player with an expectation of a fun time? Or is he merely there to serve the rest of the group, personal desires notwithstanding?

Well, if you treat the GM like any other player, if their personal desires get in the way of the fun of the group, you talk to them, then kick them.

Railroading, as I define it, is an abuse of authority. With great power comes great responsibility. It is irresponsible of the GM to set themselves up to pit their fun against the group's. Such irresponsible GMing is a red flag.

Thus my contention that any rails that the GM requires should be explicitly vetted by the group, so that there is no such conflict.


I strongly believe that DM and players are all in it together. They should work together to find a pattern that works for all of them. This involves honest and open communications about likes and dislikes and intent from all sides. Everyone must be willing to both voice and take negative feedback, when such is appropriate. The only owner of the "story" (whether prospective or retrospective) is the whole group. It's not the DM's story to tell, it's not any of the players' story to tell, it's the group's story. This usually means working from both sides iteratively during play to create a scenario or scenarios that adapt and respond to the players' goals and desires, not just the characters.

Agreed.


What I mean by that is something like the following. The DM constructs a basic setup and gets buy-in. At session 0, they construct characters together, finding ways to fit the characters into the scenario and to mold the scenario around the characters so there's the best possible fit. At this point, things like "I want to have a clear path at all times" or "I don't want encounters to be 'balanced' for the party" need to be clear. During play, the DM adjusts the upcoming presentations (not necessarily the scenario itself, just what parts are emphasized) to meet the play-style of the characters. Do they ignore NPCs and prefer straight up "go there, do this" meta-instructions? Do more of that, or talk to the players about changing their desires. Do they latch on to the social scene and want to do more of that and less "pure dungeon crawls"? See if you can adapt that. If there's a strong break between how the players during play express their desires and what was agreed on at session 0, bring it up OOC and resolve it then, in the open.

(Treebeard voice) Sounds like railroader mischief to me.

No, seriously, I'm not sure what you're saying. Basically, what kyoryu said about this.

But there are multiple ways to play the game.


All of this requires trust. A player that doesn't trust the DM or vice versa is toxic to this environment.

Well, maybe. But, as I've said, there are multiple ways to play, and the games I've seen, players who trust the GM just enable toxic railroaders. Not to get too political, but "trust your politicians" sounds pretty idiotic, don't you think? The US system of governments was based on "checks and balances" - on explicitly not trusting authority.

I've seen too many bad GMs. I'll stick with my "distrust and verify" model, thanks.


All of this requires willingness to compromise from all parties. Maybe not everything (everyone's entitled to some red lines), but at least many things.

Mostly agree? Depends on if your definition of "compromise" is itself a red card.


I'm not in the "GM as neutral arbiter" camp, but I am in the "I don't like railroading" camp (I don't call it anti-railroading because, hey, some people dig it and good on them).

May be a definitions thing - would you say that, by my definitions, you're not anti-linear?


So where do you stand on DM improvisation? When the group gets into territory where nothing is prepped, and extrapolating from the known game state the GM can see multiple possible options. As 100% neutral arbiter you should roll for it instead of simply picking what sounds the most fun (for the group). The latter would be railroading under Quertus' definition, but I think that's a little extreme.

Sigh. There's plenty of perfectly valid ways to attack my argument, and doubtless several places where I'm just wrong. But I'm not *defining* railroading.

Or, well, since we don't all share the same definition of railroading, I suppose I technically *am* defining it, but I'm doing so in much the same way as several other posters - I'm not *redefining* it. What I am doing that is "innovative" is... hmmm... *examining* it, or, well, I don't have a catchy one word way to say looking at how it comes to be. "Light comes from the sun, falls on plants, and they use the energy in photosynthesis." "So photosynthesis is defined as the sun?" "So photosynthesis is defined as light?" No!

Yes, the Playground's understanding of Quertus' "definition" is a little extreme. But that is because of a communications failure.


I much prefer the GM is also allowed to contribute creatively and not only be expected to be a simulator only. I suspect this is what PP is going for with GMs being part of the group, and not advocating pushing linear adventures...

Except that linear adventures can be fine; the dysfunctional stuff comes from the GM viewing himself as "part of the group" (or worse), then abusing his position to get his way.


Pretty much this, without the GM making pre designed encounters, the game could really become boring with nothing interesting going on.

Counter point: with the GM making pre designed encounters, the game could really become boring with nothing interesting going on.

What are you actually trying to say?


I believe the Gm should come up with these pre designed scenarios, the players choose the way they face the scenario.

... Maybe? Or maybe the scenarios should be defined dynamically by the PCs' actions, the NPCs actions, and game physics?


Only if the Gm refuses plausible actions in the scenario, we find ourselves on a railroad.

If you define "refuses" as "changes physics or facts to change the outcome of", then you have my - dare I say it - *definition* of railroading.


GM improvisation is the main reason you have a GM.

The key here isn't "there's prep". There's obviously prep. The key is whether or not the prep is the specific sequence of things that the players are going to encounter.

But be honest about it, and expect some people to not want to play in that game.

Just wanted to agree with these tidbits.

zinycor
2019-03-29, 11:18 PM
Counter point: with the GM making pre designed encounters, the game could really become boring with nothing interesting going on.

What are you actually trying to say?



A GM who makes no prep, will most likely create simple encounters, that don't challenge or interact with the players in meaningfull ways. Big pieces are important, and those often need preparation, not saying they can't mutate, or be tweeked before or during the actual game. But pre designed encounters have a place.

Talakeal
2019-03-30, 10:40 AM
The different priorites comes back to the clumsy DM....and really the inexperenced DM too. For a DM to expect things is on the list of top ten things DMs should never do. A good DM expects nothing, and simply waits to see what happens.

That's kind of impossible to do. Anyone who views a situation, let alone creates one, is going to automatically form expectations about how it is going to go down.

Likewise, DMs typically need to prepare at least some material for the game. Unless they are super good at improving, they need time to make plans, they can't just give the players total freedom and expect a good game to come out of it. Hell, my players would actively get bored and angry if I didn't lay tons of hooks down in front of them.

Saying that any GM who is not a grand-master of improv is clumsy and inexperienced is like saying that an ordinary professional athlete is clumsy and inexperienced because they aren't an Olympic gold medal gymnast


I firmly believe that it's the nature of the game such that, if a player does something stupid and has good reason to know it's stupid (like at the end of the campaign, everyone has known darn well why the Ring needs to be destroyed and what it can do to people and the massive armies that move against it, but they keep it anyway) then sure, give the dice a roll and see if fate swings things in their favor... but they deserve whatever is coming at them. That's not railroading, that's just consequences. To use the latter example, alright the players chose not to rescue the princess. What consequences follow from that? Are they wanted by the king? Perhaps a power-hungry adventurer rescues her, marries her, and ascends the throne forcefully, turning the kingdom into a tyrannical empire? Maybe the princess gets murdered and the kingdom is thrown into turmoil, sparking a war that the PCs are now in the middle of?

Well, I think that is the core of the issue, now isn't it?

In my OP, is being thrown into a chasm railroading or just a natural consequence of running into melee with a giant standing on a narrow bridge? Likewise is Sauron taking over the world GM railroading or is it the natural consequence of creating a super powerful and super maniacal villain who only has a single very specific weakness?

When you have an all powerful DM creating every aspect of the world a lot of players will see railroading in every consequence, especially if it involves bad things happening to their character for following (or not following) what the GM saw as the natural outcomes of various situations.

zinycor
2019-03-30, 11:23 AM
Well, I think that is the core of the issue, now isn't it?

In my OP, is being thrown into a chasm railroading or just a natural consequence of running into melee with a giant standing on a narrow bridge? Likewise is Sauron taking over the world GM railroading or is it the natural consequence of creating a super powerful and super maniacal villain who only has a single very specific weakness?



To Answer this I must ask, Did the players have a real option of not fighting the gint on a narrow bridge? By this I mean, Did they know of the giant and its location?

BTW, Sauron having a single very specific weakness would be railroading if it was roleplaying game. In fact I don't think it was, the company could have gone with Boromir's plan for example.



When you have an all powerful DM creating every aspect of the world a lot of players will see railroading in every consequence, especially if it involves bad things happening to their character for following (or not following) what the GM saw as the natural outcomes of various situations.

That's only natural, the table needs to focus on trust if that happens, players need to trust the Gm won't be screwing their choices and only doing whatever he thinks is right. And the GM needs to trust his players, and give them the freedom to mess up with theelements of the world as they see fit.

Not having that, yeah, there will be tons of railroading needed.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-30, 11:23 AM
That's kind of impossible to do. Anyone who views a situation, let alone creates one, is going to automatically form expectations about how it is going to go down.

This is a problem, but also my point. It's the diffrance between that medium DM and the great DM. Sure, most people are stuck at medium. Give them a sistuation and they will say X...every time. But some people have the skill and ability to see that expectation and have the ability to step back.



Likewise, DMs typically need to prepare at least some material for the game. Unless they are super good at improving, they need time to make plans, they can't just give the players total freedom and expect a good game to come out of it. Hell, my players would actively get bored and angry if I didn't lay tons of hooks down in front of them.

The trick is to have one hook, that is attached to a couple diffrent lines.



Saying that any GM who is not a grand-master of improv is clumsy and inexperienced is like saying that an ordinary professional athlete is clumsy and inexperienced because they aren't an Olympic gold medal gymnast

Woah...first i'm not talking about improv at all.

Take the classic railraod: DM makes an encounter ''the pit of doom'' and can't wait to drop the characters in it. It's a fun, exciting encounter made for both the DM and players to enjoy. The DM mentaiy put the pit of doom on the map at spot x. The players know none of this.

The game goes on, and the players decide for whatever reason to have their characters head back to the city....and nowhere near the pit of doom. What does the DM do?

The smooth DM does one of two basic things:

a)Simply move the encounter. There is no rule that just because the DM ''thought" the encounter was at spot x on Monday, that the DM can't just move the encounter anywhere else in the world. Things in the world are only set once the players know about them.

a1)Also, in fiction, it IS possible to move the whole pit of doom, with something like magic. So, yes, it can move places.....or for even more wild fiction...maybe it IS in two places at once.

a2)Also, the DM can leave the 'name' of 'pit of doom', but take the encounter...move it whereever...maybe change or tweak a thing or two....and have the 'pit of dread'.

B)IS a bit more work, but the DM can set up a hook to get the players to want to go to the pit of doom.

Now....lets see the Clumsy DM:

DM:"Nope, your characters can't go back to the city"
Players: "What why?"
DM:"Because I say so! Your characters walk east....and fall in the pit of doom!"
Players"Wait what?"
DM:"Roll reflex saves!"

Or, even worse: Before the game the DM tells the players ALL about the great pit of domm they made and can't wait for the game to start so the characters can go through it and likely die. Though shockling, once the game starts, the players will say they don't go to the pit of doom. Then the DM just forces them to go.

Quertus
2019-03-30, 12:07 PM
That's kind of impossible to do. Anyone who views a situation, let alone creates one, is going to automatically form expectations about how it is going to go down.

Likewise, DMs typically need to prepare at least some material for the game. Unless they are super good at improving, they need time to make plans, they can't just give the players total freedom and expect a good game to come out of it. Hell, my players would actively get bored and angry if I didn't lay tons of hooks down in front of them.

Well, I imagine that the PCs are entirely in improv territory. So that leaves us with two questions.

One, what would the game look like if the PCs "prepared some material", like "this is where I assassinate the king" or "this is where Sempai falls in love with me".

Two, why cannot the GM just create content, then roleplay that content extemporaneously, without preparation, just like the players do?

PhoenixPhyre
2019-03-30, 12:19 PM
Well, I imagine that the PCs are entirely in improv territory. So that leaves us with two questions.

One, what would the game look like if the PCs "prepared some material", like "this is where I assassinate the king" or "this is where Sempai falls in love with me".

Two, why cannot the GM just create content, then roleplay that content extemporaneously, without preparation, just like the players do?

Two: because consistency is hard. Your way, you get either LOL-random tables (which are a ton of prep work, by the by) or you get chaos (which denies agency entirely as you can't predict the outcome).

You can't have both consistent, responsive worlds and no prep. The two are incompatible.

One: They should, but by the inherent contract (the DM plays the world and the players don't, in return for the players playing the PCs and the DM not doing so), they only have control over what their own character does. The DM has to manage the entire world. That's way more labor intensive, at least if you want good results.

I get it. You want DMs that can be replaced by computers, with someone else coming up with all the content. But that's total railroading. You can only do what's prepared, the "robotic" DM can't respond to that. Adaptive, open worlds and no DM discretion are incompatible. You want things that cannot coexist; you want A and !A at the same time.

zinycor
2019-03-30, 12:56 PM
Well, I imagine that the PCs are entirely in improv territory. So that leaves us with two questions.

One, what would the game look like if the PCs "prepared some material", like "this is where I assassinate the king" or "this is where Sempai falls in love with me".

Two, why cannot the GM just create content, then roleplay that content extemporaneously, without preparation, just like the players do?

GMs improvise quite a lot, and entire games where the GM has done no prep could happen. They are quite dull too.

In the end I believe it has more to do with the charge of being a player or a GM

As a GM you are the final arbiter on what is plausible and what not, as well as the one who sets up a world, full of challenges, situations and people of different background, which needs consistency and work. Prep is expected because that's quite a lot to just wave your hand at.

As Players, You only have real control of a few actors, mainly react and make desicions based on whatever they feel like. Consistency here, is appreciated, but not really needed.

Let's set up an example.

Your group goes to a party, full of people dancing, loud music, drinks and whatever...

There are different levels of preparation the GM might take. From detailing every room and person at the party, and what they are doing and how. To just giving a general idea of it. In either case it is the GM responsability to set up the mood for it, and characterize it.

Player on the other hand, are expected to react to the party, maybe one of them goes to dance, another goes to drink and talk, another one goes to kiss to the prettiest girl in there, etc. The thing is player react in whatever way they see fit.

You can bend this of course, and the players may suggest different things that may or may not fit with the party going on, such as music or different kinds of people the Gm didn't consider but would make sense to be at a party.

Now, Gm and Players may have a perfectly good time doing this, players interacting with other players and the NPCs, all good fun. But it does lack something vital to a good story. CONFLICT. The moment where something unexpected by the players happens. Sometimes the players themselves bring the conflict with them or create it. Which is all fine and good. But other times conflict appears to them, which is natural for life and stories.

Let's say for the sake of the example, someone at the party (Let's say the host) gets shot. Now the players are surprised and will act in whatever way they see fit to act.

Now, people getting shot at a party isn't common or expected, but it is plausible, and more important, is entertaining. The Job of the GM is to set up these situations. Things that are entertaining, dramatic and plausible. Consistent with the world around it, and yet unique. The Gm will also need to know why the host was shot, who did it and how. If the Gm improvises this, the mistery will most likely be simple and boring, preparation time allows for the GM to create a more intricate story that could be more interesting.

The GM you are describing, most likely won't create interesting yet plausible situations, most likely, only mundane situations.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-30, 01:37 PM
Well, I imagine that the PCs are entirely in improv territory. So that leaves us with two questions.

One, what would the game look like if the PCs "prepared some material", like "this is where I assassinate the king" or "this is where Sempai falls in love with me".

Two, why cannot the GM just create content, then roleplay that content extemporaneously, without preparation, just like the players do?

Others already have explained the differences between playing and DMing.

But I'll add, for point ONE, that one my players DO prepare some material. In fact, you can say we plan many sessions together. "Next session I want to attack despotonia". "Ok, how exactly?" "You said that they have some powerful artifacts. I want to steal one". "[DM considers a bit, improvises] ok, one of them is in the hands of their most powerful wizards. One is used by their most powerful fighters. The other is kept by the high priest of hextor."
"I do research on all three of them. I hire this npc spy we know to do the job" "ok, I'll prepare some material and let you know the specifics".
Player preparation goes as deep as detailing the attack plan, once I established that the wizard takes a daily stroll during which he may be ambushed, though he's heavily protected. I tell him what would be the main obstacles, based on what his character should know or should be able to easily find out.
And of course the players trusts me to not screw him up, because by knowing the plan in detail, I totally could.

This works well for us for some reasons:
- both me and the player can prepare better, have better responses. It feels better, when roleplayingg people who are supposed to be competent.
- the other players are quite passive, and they'd have little interest in hour-longs discussions of strategy.
- I have to prepare much less material, knowing exactly what will be needed. I can have a deeper focus.

EDIT: I would say that healty player preparation and healty DM preparation are not at all dissimilar:
A player can coontrol his character. Prepares what his character is going to do, according to what he expects from his knowledge of how the world may react. Sometimes, the DM surprises him.
A DM can control everything except the characters. Prepares what the world is going to do, according to what he expects from his knowledge of the world. Sometimes, a player surprises him.
A player would be railroading if he tried to control what the rest of the world does, just like a DM would be railroading by trying to control what the players do.
Extreme powergaming, in that regard, can be considered a form of railroading by the player:
"your character is ambushed" "no he's not, because he cast x and y and z and so he knows of every impending threats that will happen to him for the next three years."
"the duke decrees so" "no, he does not, because I have +875 to dimplomacy that brought him to the attitude of 'exhist to serve my will'. Every morning he casts sending to ask me if it pleases me that he keeps on living" "diplomacy doesn't reach those extremes" "ok, then mindrape" "going about mindraping a duke can have consequences" "not if you also mindraped everyone who may have anything to say about it. I proceed to do that".
Just like a bad DM railroading will turn the players into spectators of his story, so a bad players railroading will turn the rest of the party, and the DM in particular, into a spectator. Player railroading, of course, cannot exist if the DM stops it, but stopping it may be controversial because removing certain tools may also be perceived as railroading.

So, what I garnered from this is that DM hating powergamers has the same root causes of players hating railroading. and that in the common picture of dysfunctional group, with a DM railroading and the players trying to get away with stuff, is ultimately just a bunch of railroaders trying to impose their own story to everyone else.

Quertus
2019-03-30, 02:20 PM
Well, I imagine that the PCs are entirely in improv territory. So that leaves us with two questions.

One, what would the game look like if the PCs "prepared some material", like "this is where I assassinate the king" or "this is where Sempai falls in love with me".

Two, why cannot the GM just create content, then roleplay that content extemporaneously, without preparation, just like the players do?


Two: because consistency is hard.

You can't have both consistent, responsive worlds and no prep. The two are incompatible.

Agreed. In fact, strongly agreed. Although some GMs are foolish enough to believe that they can wing consistency, I am not in that camp.

So, new question: why does the GM need prep after session 1? Why cannot they just prep all the actors before the game, and then "just roleplay" them, just like the players "just roleplay" their PCs?


One: They should, but by the inherent contract (the DM plays the world and the players don't, in return for the players playing the PCs and the DM not doing so), they only have control over what their own character does. The DM has to manage the entire world. That's way more labor intensive, at least if you want good results.

You've lost me here.

I get the "social contract" bit - I'm rather fond of it.

I *think* you're saying that the players railroading results would produce as inconsistent a world as the GM railroading results does. Is that close to what I'm supposed to walk away understanding?


I get it. You want DMs that can be replaced by computers, with someone else coming up with all the content. But that's total railroading. You can only do what's prepared, the "robotic" DM can't respond to that. Adaptive, open worlds and no DM discretion are incompatible. You want things that cannot coexist; you want A and !A at the same time.

I'm not so sure. Suppose we're all "brains in jars", with somewhat programmable memories. Someone rewinds all our memories by a few years, then "joins" the Playground to see what difference, if any, their presence would have had.

That's more like what... hmmm... at least one of "I want" and/or "I am describing". (Reads) - yes, that would match up to my #2, I think.


GMs improvise quite a lot, and entire games where the GM has done no prep could happen. They are quite dull too.

Eh, gotta disagree. IME total improv games can be a hoot, but I've got to check my brain at the door. They aren't worth my time to think about, and aren't generally my cup of tea, but that doesn't make them dull.


In the end I believe it has more to do with the charge of being a player or a GM

As a GM you are the final arbiter on what is plausible and what not, as well as the one who sets up a world, full of challenges, situations and people of different background, which needs consistency and work. Prep is expected because that's quite a lot to just wave your hand at.

Looks like "consistency" is again the reason for prep. I gotta agree.


As Players, You only have real control of a few actors, mainly react and make desicions based on whatever they feel like. Consistency here, is appreciated, but not really needed.

Now, here, I've gotta disagree with almost every point. Because this really depends on the table.

You can absolutely have a group where role-playing is King, and PC consistency is Hard Required. You can absolutely have a game where the PCs are active, and it's the world that is reacting. Usually, the PCs constitute the minority of the world, but that, too, is not an immutable law (PCs alone in an abandoned space station, or lost the woods being hunted by a werewolf, for example).

So, this paragraph is only true for certain playstyles.


Let's set up an example.

Your group goes to a party, full of people dancing, loud music, drinks and whatever...

There are different levels of preparation the GM might take. From detailing every room and person at the party, and what they are doing and how. To just giving a general idea of it. In either case it is the GM responsability to set up the mood for it, and characterize it.

Player on the other hand, are expected to react to the party, maybe one of them goes to dance, another goes to drink and talk, another one goes to kiss to the prettiest girl in there, etc. The thing is player react in whatever way they see fit.

You can bend this of course, and the players may suggest different things that may or may not fit with the party going on, such as music or different kinds of people the Gm didn't consider but would make sense to be at a party.

Now, Gm and Players may have a perfectly good time doing this, players interacting with other players and the NPCs, all good fun. But it does lack something vital to a good story. CONFLICT. The moment where something unexpected by the players happens. Sometimes the players themselves bring the conflict with them or create it. Which is all fine and good. But other times conflict appears to them, which is natural for life and stories.

Let's say for the sake of the example, someone at the party (Let's say the host) gets shot. Now the players are surprised and will act in whatever way they see fit to act.

Now, people getting shot at a party isn't common or expected, but it is plausible, and more important, is entertaining. The Job of the GM is to set up these situations. Things that are entertaining, dramatic and plausible. Consistent with the world around it, and yet unique. The Gm will also need to know why the host was shot, who did it and how. If the Gm improvises this, the mistery will most likely be simple and boring, preparation time allows for the GM to create a more intricate story that could be more interesting.

The GM you are describing, most likely won't create interesting yet plausible situations, most likely, only mundane situations.

Well... either the people being shot in the real world were shot because they had a history with the other person, things happened, whatever... or there's a lot of GM-created murder stories in this world.

What did I just babble? Good question. Hmmm... What I'm saying is, if the GM is "just role-playing" all the actors, then someone getting shot at the party could occur as a natural consequence of the party, or as a natural consequence of previous events, with the party merely providing an opportunity.

As an added bonus, if this comes up "through physics", it makes the players potentially *already aware* of the precipitating events (both the real ones, and the red herrings), making the event more "real" than some random murder.

The downside is, the game might *just* about the players'/PCs' goals, and the conflicts that arise. If you can call that a downside.

King of Nowhere
2019-03-30, 02:31 PM
Agreed. In fact, strongly agreed. Although some GMs are foolish enough to believe that they can wing consistency, I am not in that camp.

So, new question: why does the GM need prep after session 1? Why cannot they just prep all the actors before the game, and then "just roleplay" them, just like the players "just roleplay" their PCs?



If you can come up with a whole world prepared into the tinyest details, down to which important people are around in every city and what their personalities are, you are a genius.
If you do that without even knowing if you'll find players interested in playing your world, you're insane.
In both cases, you have way too much free time.
(I'm trying to paraphrase the fluff text of the mtg card battle of wits (http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=83133))

what is humanely possible is to paint the world in broad strokes, and then put in the fine details as the players get there, and even finer details once they pick up a certain adventure hook.

zinycor
2019-03-30, 02:40 PM
Maybe is because english is my second language... But I barely understood anything Quertus said xD

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-30, 03:42 PM
One, what would the game look like if the PCs "prepared some material", like "this is where I assassinate the king" or "this is where Sempai falls in love with me".

One of them storytelling activities? Not even really a game...more like just group improv in a theater.



Two, why cannot the GM just create content, then roleplay that content extemporaneously, without preparation, just like the players do?

Er..well, when the DM creates content that is preparation.

It's like asking..ok, why do players make characters?




So, new question: why does the GM need prep after session 1? Why cannot they just prep all the actors before the game, and then "just roleplay" them, just like the players "just roleplay" their PCs?

Because the game changes. You don't want to be stuck in the past.

A DM can prep things before a game...this is called an Adventure Module.

zinycor
2019-03-30, 04:39 PM
So Quertus do you GM for a game in this completely improvised way? Are you going to? If so, I wish you the best of luck, but I don't believe I would join such a game as a player nor would I try to as a GM.

Or are these purely hypothetical questions?

Quertus
2019-03-30, 05:18 PM
Others already have explained the differences between playing and DMing.

But I'll add, for point ONE, that one my players DO prepare some material. In fact, you can say we plan many sessions together. "Next session I want to attack despotonia". "Ok, how exactly?" "You said that they have some powerful artifacts. I want to steal one". "[DM considers a bit, improvises] ok, one of them is in the hands of their most powerful wizards. One is used by their most powerful fighters. The other is kept by the high priest of hextor."
"I do research on all three of them. I hire this npc spy we know to do the job" "ok, I'll prepare some material and let you know the specifics".
Player preparation goes as deep as detailing the attack plan, once I established that the wizard takes a daily stroll during which he may be ambushed, though he's heavily protected. I tell him what would be the main obstacles, based on what his character should know or should be able to easily find out.
And of course the players trusts me to not screw him up, because by knowing the plan in detail, I totally could.

This works well for us for some reasons:
- both me and the player can prepare better, have better responses. It feels better, when roleplayingg people who are supposed to be competent.
- the other players are quite passive, and they'd have little interest in hour-longs discussions of strategy.
- I have to prepare much less material, knowing exactly what will be needed. I can have a deeper focus.

EDIT: I would say that healty player preparation and healty DM preparation are not at all dissimilar:
A player can coontrol his character. Prepares what his character is going to do, according to what he expects from his knowledge of how the world may react. Sometimes, the DM surprises him.
A DM can control everything except the characters. Prepares what the world is going to do, according to what he expects from his knowledge of the world. Sometimes, a player surprises him.
A player would be railroading if he tried to control what the rest of the world does, just like a DM would be railroading by trying to control what the players do.
Extreme powergaming, in that regard, can be considered a form of railroading by the player:
"your character is ambushed" "no he's not, because he cast x and y and z and so he knows of every impending threats that will happen to him for the next three years."
"the duke decrees so" "no, he does not, because I have +875 to dimplomacy that brought him to the attitude of 'exhist to serve my will'. Every morning he casts sending to ask me if it pleases me that he keeps on living" "diplomacy doesn't reach those extremes" "ok, then mindrape" "going about mindraping a duke can have consequences" "not if you also mindraped everyone who may have anything to say about it. I proceed to do that".
Just like a bad DM railroading will turn the players into spectators of his story, so a bad players railroading will turn the rest of the party, and the DM in particular, into a spectator. Player railroading, of course, cannot exist if the DM stops it, but stopping it may be controversial because removing certain tools may also be perceived as railroading.

So, what I garnered from this is that DM hating powergamers has the same root causes of players hating railroading. and that in the common picture of dysfunctional group, with a DM railroading and the players trying to get away with stuff, is ultimately just a bunch of railroaders trying to impose their own story to everyone else.

Well, there's a lot here. So this might get confusing.

So, what you've described, to my parlance, is just an active player. A player creating content would look more like this: "OK, you said that despotonia had artifacts? How's this sound? The Book of Ages is guarded by the High Priest of Hades, plus a pack of 24 mummies. Here's a keyed map, stats, role-playing notes, etc".

But even that wasn't what I was describing. Well, not even describing - asking someone else to describe, actually. More like... hmmm... if someone had built the encounter, but the PCs could just spend X Narrative Points / a beanie to not play it out, and just declare the mission successful. I'm asking what would it look like if the players could railroad an outcome.

Which, I suppose, needn't be a successful one - maybe the players decide that it would be more fun if they (the PCs) tip their hand, and expose their plans with an unsuccessful run. So the players just railroad "our characters go to retrieve the artifact, but fail, alerting despotonia to our presence".

For "having to prepare less material"... that's why I would ask, at the end of each session, "what are we doing next time?". The content was already there, just... it didn't have all the details that the players would care about. Like names. And I'd usually make a few extra NPCs into "named NPCs", with note background than "generic guard #7", because the party really liked NPC interactions.

Whereas, other parties, I'd make notes about details of artwork, clothing, food, religion, laws, whatever that particular party tended to ask about. So, I could take something I've run half a dozen times before, and still need to add new notes.

-----

For your edit, I agree with the "healthy preparation" bit, but disagree with the "extreme power gaming" bit - the latter because you're describing the GM narrating an outcome (railroading), rather than observing game physics, and claiming that the ability to hop the rails is somehow railroading.

To go back to my "nature of railroading" example, why would a GM with no stake in the outcome care about a power gamer?

There are many reasons to hate on power gaming; I edge towards "balance to the table" and "equality of narrative contribution", personally*. But I think GM hatred of power gaming that isn't "because it makes my other players have less fun" comes from the same source as railroading, not the hatred thereof - namely, a desire to control the outcome. "But I cannot ambush you" is the same as "but I cannot railroad you".

*for tables that care about such things

Quertus
2019-03-30, 06:19 PM
Maybe is because english is my second language... But I barely understood anything Quertus said xD

Lol. Not to worry, I barely understand a lot of what Quertus says, either. :smallwink:


So Quertus do you GM for a game in this completely improvised way? Are you going to? If so, I wish you the best of luck, but I don't believe I would join such a game as a player nor would I try to as a GM.

Or are these purely hypothetical questions?

Oh, I *hate* having to improv as a GM. My players have repeatedly throughout the decades claimed that I'm good at it, that it's one of my strengths*, but it's not something I enjoy having to do. I want to already understand all of the pieces on my side of the chess board, not suddenly be thrown into a game of MtG with an unknown deck.

So, yeah, hypothetical questions.

* Little did they know that much of my "improv" was from stuff I'd already created. I build worlds, not adventures. Some *was* pure improv, though.


If you can come up with a whole world prepared into the tinyest details, down to which important people are around in every city and what their personalities are, you are a genius.
If you do that without even knowing if you'll find players interested in playing your world, you're insane.
In both cases, you have way too much free time.
(I'm trying to paraphrase the fluff text of the mtg card battle of wits (http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=83133))

what is humanely possible is to paint the world in broad strokes, and then put in the fine details as the players get there, and even finer details once they pick up a certain adventure hook.

I build worlds. While I'm waiting for the teacher to explain things at the pace of the slowest student, while I'm waiting in line to buy my groceries, every second that Ennui calls, I'm building worlds. Because it's better than being bored.

I am a genius, but I'm not *that* good. :smalltongue: Well, at least not at having all the details finished. I have the broad strokes, and culture and stuff, and can extrapolate individuals that the PCs might encounter given their current plans? That adds to the NPCs I already know, and I'm ready for the session?

NichG
2019-03-30, 07:56 PM
I run my games as 90-95% improv after session 0. It's really not as hard to be consistent as people are saying. The 5-10% I do is to set down broad motivations and determine if anything has changed about them. Details about the world are derived from underlying setting principles as needed. I definitely have things I want, but generally since I write a system from the ground up for each campaign, much of that is expressed by designing the rules to achieve my ends. The rest is usually tied to an NPC or two whose motivations involve being a provocateur - often but not always a core antagonist, so players may end up deciding to go kill them if they want. The campaigns aren't really sandbox, nor are they plot driven. I'd describe them more as question driven - there is some abstract problem posed by the setting, and the game is about how the players decide to approach it.

Examples: all resources (including space in the afterlife, number of alternate realities, and causal relationships) are finite and on long timescales getting used up; your ancestors had plans for your civilization that you may not like; your present self gets to determine your past - who are you? Given infinite power, what is important? How do you live as a society where everyone can destroy everything?

There's a campaign I was in where the players had the ability to spend 1000xp and get a portal to any setting or situation they could describe in a few sentences. The DM would then take 10 minutes to think, and would then run it. Probably the best and most elaborate campaign I've been in. Improv-focused GMing doesn't have to end in chaos or mundanity, but like any skill it requires practice. GMs who lean too heavily on prep never get that practice, so when they're forced to improv then the campaign quality drops. But GMs who train themselves to rely primarily on improv and only prep when they absolutely need to will produce high quality results consistently.

Lorsa
2019-03-31, 05:03 AM
Agreed. In fact, strongly agreed. Although some GMs are foolish enough to believe that they can wing consistency, I am not in that camp.

Looks like I am a foolish GM. That's good to know.

The only difference between improvisation and preparation is the time period between "GM coming up with content" and "GM using content". Both of them are the same thing. The GM creates something, designs something, makes a decision or whatnot. It is fundamentally the same action, they only differ in when you do it. Before you sit down at the table or while you are at the table.

For much of my youth, me and a friend played a lot of solo campaigns. It would usually be me coming to his house, where we'd spend some time arguing about who should be the GM (which always ended up with it being me, so I don't know why I kept arguing), after which we'd decide which of the many running campaigns to play.

Once that happened, it was usually time for him to eat dinner, which took about 10-15 min. During that window, I had time to do some "prep", which usually involved the basic premise of tonight's game, the opening scene and such. Most of the time it was not enough to come up with all the stuff needed for the session, so I had to improvise a lot. That really helped me understand just how far you can get with improvisation.

Quertus
2019-03-31, 06:12 AM
Looks like I am a foolish GM. That's good to know.

The only difference between improvisation and preparation is the time period between "GM coming up with content" and "GM using content". Both of them are the same thing. The GM creates something, designs something, makes a decision or whatnot. It is fundamentally the same action, they only differ in when you do it. Before you sit down at the table or while you are at the table.

For much of my youth, me and a friend played a lot of solo campaigns. It would usually be me coming to his house, where we'd spend some time arguing about who should be the GM (which always ended up with it being me, so I don't know why I kept arguing), after which we'd decide which of the many running campaigns to play.

Once that happened, it was usually time for him to eat dinner, which took about 10-15 min. During that window, I had time to do some "prep", which usually involved the basic premise of tonight's game, the opening scene and such. Most of the time it was not enough to come up with all the stuff needed for the session, so I had to improvise a lot. That really helped me understand just how far you can get with improvisation.

Ah, I could have been clearer. Try to imagine a GM "winging" a murder mystery, inventing "clues" and suspect positions over the course of the two IRL years it takes the players to play through the scenario. Or look at the internal consistency of Star Trek, Doctor Who, or your average Hollywood movie.

Trained professionals show gross incompetence on a regular basis, even when they have time and don't have to just extemporaneously "wing" it. If there exists a GM who can actually pull it off, they really ought to go replace those morons hacks in Hollywood.

(EDIT - yes, I know Dr. Who isn't made in Hollywood. I'm using it in a figurative sense, not a literal one.)

NichG
2019-03-31, 06:41 AM
One trick is to use positive pressure - actively fill the session with references to specific hidden things you know, for which it isn't critical to anything for it to be discovered. If 9 out of 10 inferences the players make lead them correctly to hidden things, that 1 out of 10 times it was a mistake will matter a lot less than if the only time something odd appears is when a mistake was made.

Another trick is post-hoc consistency. Leave enough give in the things you do specify such that if there was a consequence or inconsistency you didn't think of, there are places to absorb it. Commit to follow thru - if something gets pointed out and it makes sense, go with it rather than retconning or backpedaling. Prioritize preserving the utility of players trying to reason stuff out over any particular original concept.

The same way the players are borrowing your brain, you can borrow theirs.

Morgaln
2019-03-31, 07:35 AM
Ah, I could have been clearer. Try to imagine a GM "winging" a murder mystery, inventing "clues" and suspect positions over the course of the two IRL years it takes the players to play through the scenario. Or look at the internal consistency of Star Trek, Doctor Who, or your average Hollywood movie.

Trained professionals show gross incompetence on a regular basis, even when they have time and don't have to just extemporaneously "wing" it. If there exists a GM who can actually pull it off, they really ought to go replace those morons hacks in Hollywood.

(EDIT - yes, I know Dr. Who isn't made in Hollywood. I'm using it in a figurative sense, not a literal one.)

I've actually done that and it works fine. Just like NichG, I improvise about 90% of my stories, so I have a lot of practice there. I've done murder mysteries and similar stories where I as the GM didn't know who had done it in advance. I basically went on a journey with my players to find out who had done it alongside them. Afterwards, I've been congratulated by the players how well all the clues fitted together and how well I managed to keep it a secret for so long. They were quite surprised (not in a bad way) when I explained that I hadn't planned it out and just let it fall into place naturally over the course of the game.
Personally, I find it much easier to improvise than plan much ahead. That way, I can let the players fill in blanks and I don't risk wasting work. Often, players will come up with theories and suspects that I like and I'll just take those and run with them. Not only does that make my life easier, it's also a positive experience for the players when they realize their suspicions have been correct.

Of course all of that only works if you have active players that will do stuff out of their own volition. If you have people that just passively wait for you to provide something, more planning is required or nothing will happen.

Lorsa
2019-03-31, 07:47 AM
Ah, I could have been clearer. Try to imagine a GM "winging" a murder mystery, inventing "clues" and suspect positions over the course of the two IRL years it takes the players to play through the scenario. Or look at the internal consistency of Star Trek, Doctor Who, or your average Hollywood movie.

Trained professionals show gross incompetence on a regular basis, even when they have time and don't have to just extemporaneously "wing" it. If there exists a GM who can actually pull it off, they really ought to go replace those morons hacks in Hollywood.

(EDIT - yes, I know Dr. Who isn't made in Hollywood. I'm using it in a figurative sense, not a literal one.)

I'm having trouble imagining a murder mystery taking two IRL years to solve in the first place. Have you actually played such an adventure? It seems like the players remembering details would be equally difficult as the GM doing so. In the end, noone will remember the clues from the first half of a year, so yeah, the game WOULD lack internal consistency. I just doubt that anyone would notice.

I do agree that many shows, especially Star Trek, are horrible when it comes to internal consistency. Part of the reason is that they simply don't care, and the that they lack a clear "person in charge". With multiple script writers, someone needs to be the one through which it all has to pass, and whose job it is to keep track of exactly that - internal consistency.

I do think I would do a better job keeping track of internal consistency than many Hollywood shows seem to do. I doubt they'd be more enjoyable for it, as half of all story ideas would get shot down.

Pelle
2019-03-31, 08:13 AM
I've actually done that and it works fine. Just like NichG, I improvise about 90% of my stories, so I have a lot of practice there. I've done murder mysteries and similar stories where I as the GM didn't know who had done it in advance. I basically went on a journey with my players to find out who had done it alongside them. Afterwards, I've been congratulated by the players how well all the clues fitted together and how well I managed to keep it a secret for so long. They were quite surprised (not in a bad way) when I explained that I hadn't planned it out and just let it fall into place naturally over the course of the game.


I like to improvise as well, and specifically prepp to improvise, but when it comes to murder mysteries I prefer to have the answer set already. Both styles can be fun, but as a player I like to know which activity I am participating in, either solving a puzzle or group improvisation. If I realize that there was no answer from the beginning my actions can feel meaningless, but if I knew from the start it can be empowering!

When it comes to GMing I don't have all the facts established early, but try to at least to establish them in my mind before the players make meaningful decisions regarding them. If you do that with the murder mystery, stay at least one step ahead of the investigators, I guess I'm fine with it.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-31, 11:31 AM
I've actually done that and it works fine. Just like NichG, I improvise about 90% of my stories, so I have a lot of practice there. I've done murder mysteries and similar stories where I as the GM didn't know who had done it in advance.

Except this is a VERY different game. And very importantly, the players/characters did not solve a mystery, they railroaded a mystery game to solve. And the big thing here is the nature of game reality:

Reality: the murder happens at a set time and place and way for a set reason. Everything is a hard fact and can never be changed. So to solve the mystery of the murder, you must discover as many facts as you can and put them all together until you find the solution.

Unreality: The murder happens, but anything else is a blank. There is nothing except the murder, and there are no clue or even details. So, in this case, there is nothing to solve. There are no clues or even facts to find. If the players look at a spot, the DM might or might not make something there. And if the players railroad, like they say ''I wonder if x is here", and then the DM simply makes x just like the players said, then your creating things as you go. And again, this is not discovering something all ready made, it's creating something that did not exist.

Doing the reality murder mystery is HARD, to an extreme...unless you have players that are HUGE mystery fans. The unreality murder event is easy: after all the DM is doing nothing here by design. The DM just waits for the players to do things, create things or railroad things, and then uses that. It has the added benefits of the players allways feel right, get the sense of power that they are shaping and creating the game world, and the DM can end it any time on a whim.


It works similar with other adventures too.

Quertus
2019-03-31, 12:22 PM
One of them storytelling activities? Not even really a game...more like just group improv in a theater.

Honestly, I was expecting a response not entirely unlike this, only with a little more "game", like "spend a beanie to railroad the game" mechanics.


A DM can prep things before a game...this is called an Adventure Module.

I'm not taking about prepping encounters or adventures - just prepping content (places, NPCs, etc). My question was, "why does the GM need to prep", followed by, "why does the GM need to prep after session 1".


One trick is to use positive pressure - actively fill the session with references to specific hidden things you know, for which it isn't critical to anything for it to be discovered. If 9 out of 10 inferences the players make lead them correctly to hidden things, that 1 out of 10 times it was a mistake will matter a lot less than if the only time something odd appears is when a mistake was made.

Is this "make your prepared content look indistinguishable from your improv"? If so, my WoD Mage master of Blatancy, who made his mundane actions indistinguishable from Magick, approves.


Another trick is post-hoc consistency. Leave enough give in the things you do specify such that if there was a consequence or inconsistency you didn't think of, there are places to absorb it. Commit to follow thru - if something gets pointed out and it makes sense, go with it rather than retconning or backpedaling. Prioritize preserving the utility of players trying to reason stuff out over any particular original concept.

This sounds like the recipe for many of my horror stories of incoherent GM worlds.

So, one: have I completely misheard you, or can you see an incompetent GM using this technique to produce incoherent world-building?

Two, given that my experiences leave me where I have no concept how that could work, do you have, I dunno, a good example story to point me towards, orsomething? (@Morgaln, same question)


I'm having trouble imagining a murder mystery taking two IRL years to solve in the first place. Have you actually played such an adventure? It seems like the players remembering details would be equally difficult as the GM doing so. In the end, noone will remember the clues from the first half of a year, so yeah, the game WOULD lack internal consistency. I just doubt that anyone would notice... Part of the reason is that they simply don't care

OK, good, you've clearly gotten and engaged the concept. Now imagine that we slowly move back in time, until we find the point where *someone* remembers the original clues. Given the number players around table, odds are, that someone isn't the GM. So, the GM is making up inconsistencies that the player(s) who do remember notice.

Does that sound bad to you? It does to me.

Exploration is my favorite part of the game. Any table I'm at, I am, historically*, most likely to be that "last player who still remembers". So, any GM who runs a long improv game - murder mystery or no - will have me noticing the inconsistencies in things that they don't care enough about to remember, and feeling that their garbage deserves the same ridicule as Hollywood excretion.

Honestly, when I'm forced to improv, I've found it often produces exactly the same result: it's something I can't be bothered to remember and to keep consistent for as long as the players might care about it.

* I haven't tested this at my current level of senility (or, if i have, I don't remember), so i don't know if it still holds true or not.


I do agree that many shows, especially Star Trek, are horrible when it comes to internal consistency. Part of the reason is that they simply don't care, and the that they lack a clear "person in charge". With multiple script writers, someone needs to be the one through which it all has to pass, and whose job it is to keep track of exactly that - internal consistency.

I do think I would do a better job keeping track of internal consistency than many Hollywood shows seem to do. I doubt they'd be more enjoyable for it, as half of all story ideas would get shot down.

So you'd only let the writers tell the "good" stories / make them work harder to make their stories fit canon? I'm not seeing that as a bad thing.


The same way the players are borrowing your brain, you can borrow theirs.

Hmmm... I suppose, in the previous scenario where the GM cannot bothered remember their own rules, the GM could simply abdicate rules adjudication to the person who actually remembers the established rules. But that doesn't sound like fun to me.

PhoenixPhyre
2019-03-31, 12:53 PM
I think that full improv is much easier when you're running rules-light systems for short-run games (a few sessions). I run 2+ games a week, with very limited time frames (1.5 hours max per session), with teenagers who have busy lives. Oh, and it's a persistent world so everything they do affects the whole setting for everyone in future games. So likely I'm the only one who remembers a lot of things...except when they focus in on something I didn't think was important.

I improvise a lot of things, but I have to know the basic layout of the area they're in and how it relates to the bigger goals/plots/factional desires. I've gotten good at it enough that I only take ~30 minutes a week (mostly finding appropriate monsters) for a session and sometimes one chunk of prep will last a few weeks because they move slower than I thought. On the other hand, I can't do all the prep up front because the world is very large. They could go anywhere and do anything. The amount of work required would be enormous and likely entirely wasted. Plus, when I'm planning on my own I don't come up with nearly as cool things as when I'm reacting to the players. Lots of times I've thrown out my "planned" explanation for things and gone with what the players theorized was the reason for the sole reason that theirs was a better fit and/or made for a more coherent story.

Too much prep can lead to railroading (for sunk cost reasons); too little prep can lead to railroading as well (if you haven't done the work to consider the options, it's easy to grab onto the first one you see and force everything down that path). Or either one can jettison consistency entirely. Without planning (both long-range and short-term), there's very little ability to predict. But really, prep work is orthogonal to the linearity (forced or otherwise) of the campaign.

A super linear campaign can require very little prep--just say "No" whenever people try to leave the rails. That way you don't have to build the tops of the mountains. This is evident when MMOs introduce flying mounts--World of Warcraft had to completely rework the main zones to allow flying, since behind the facade was just empty blank space and the sizes didn't match. A super non-linear, "sandboxy" campaign may require tons of constant prep to update the world in a sane fashion as the party does their thing. Plus the tons of work just to create the thing in the first place.

For me, the worst is the DM who has a script but doesn't know it cold. Having to take the time to look things up during the session totally kills my immersion and slows things to a crawl. So if you're going to run an adventure path, know the part you're on super well and be willing to fudge the details where needed. If it's a custom campaign generated "just in time" (aka improv), make sure you know the core elements of the world and situation cold so you can pretend you planned for everything. Etc.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-31, 01:18 PM
Honestly, I was expecting a response not entirely unlike this, only with a little more "game", like "spend a beanie to railroad the game" mechanics.

Improv and game don't really mix.




I'm not taking about prepping encounters or adventures - just prepping content (places, NPCs, etc). My question was, "why does the GM need to prep", followed by, "why does the GM need to prep after session 1".

Then the answer here is no sane DM with a life creates a ton of detailed content before the game. A lot of content needs to be created and prepared as the game moves along. The DM is in control of a whole game world...and that is a lot of people, places and things.




Is this "make your prepared content look indistinguishable from your improv"?

This is the sweet spot.





So, any GM who runs a long improv game - murder mystery or no - will have me noticing the inconsistencies in things that they don't care enough about to remember, and feeling that their garbage deserves the same ridicule as Hollywood excretion.


This is just as common in RPGs as it is in Hollywood. A handful of people are really into deep immersion detailed consistency and perfect facts. And....well...most are not.

Even with the middle ground of taking notes, often does not work. And this is 100% true in Hollywood. The typical zinnger mistakes you see in Hollywood would be impossible for people like me to do: I know the content. Ask me a random, even obscure, DR. Who question...and there is a good chance I'd know. AND if there was something I did not know, or was not sure on...I would simply do the research to find out.

Though most people are not like that. They don't remember trivial things and have zero interest in looking things up. (even in 2019 where we can find out TONS of things with a couple button pushes).

NichG
2019-03-31, 01:45 PM
Is this "make your prepared content look indistinguishable from your improv"? If so, my WoD Mage master of Blatancy, who made his mundane actions indistinguishable from Magick, approves.


Not quite. It's more like, there's generally something very simple but with vast consequences going on. In almost any context where the PCs are investigating actively, there are hundreds of opportunities to grab a little bit from the implications of those core mysteries and expose it. Example - in my current campaign, the universe of the PCs was conquered long ago, bulldozed, and turned into a research lab for new powers. At one point one of the PCs was mucking around in the collective subconscious trying to research how to impose taboos on humanity, so in their exploration they found a - totally improvised - ruin of a conceptual structure that had been part of the armor against the invaders. It was early enough that the implications weren't obvious until 6 months later, but it was consistent despite being improv because it was derived from an underlying, simpler, truth.

If I have 5 such things in every game, then for the most part thinking about clues or inconsistencies will pay off. The one time they mistakenly decided an NPC was an alien because a flubbed summoning power got an alien instead when trying to summon the NPC, well, hopefully that will just be a footnote.



This sounds like the recipe for many of my horror stories of incoherent GM worlds.

So, one: have I completely misheard you, or can you see an incompetent GM using this technique to produce incoherent world-building?

I can see an incompetent GM making disasters with any technique, so I'm not sure what your point is here.



Two, given that my experiences leave me where I have no concept how that could work, do you have, I dunno, a good example story to point me towards, orsomething? (@Morgaln, same question)

An example release valve from the portals campaign - that game involved a huge amount of player metagaming at times (why would the Jedi want to open a portal to a zombie apocalypse specifically?). At the same time, the overarching conceit was 'everything has an explanation, even when we play the artifacts of gameplay as reality'. To do this, the GM introduced a cosmological force of 'Madness', which would explain any sort of OOC inspirations, metagamed conversations, etc - at the same time, this was grounded by establishing that Madness was sometimes actually connecting to information that existed somewhere (associated with the place beyond where the atemporal, acausal Lovecraftian entities lived that they could only look towards with envy). Similarly, time travel featured but had a release valve in the form of a rule that if you introduced inconsistencies, eventually you get shunted off into a copy of the universe indistinguishable from reality while everything else goes on normally - the trick being, there's no way of knowing whether the characters are already there (and in fact, we kind of were).

Those are big picture ones. A smaller scale example would be things like specifying early on that many alien superweapons had a stealth and build infrastructure strategy, so I don't have to commit to an exhaustive list at session 1. Or establishing early on that several people with wildcard powers, power granting power, travellers from alternate Earths, etc exist so that the exact roster of superpowered individuals is always a bit in flux.

A clear example of borrowing the players brains isn't coming to mind right now, though it's something I've done many times. Maybe one example would be from Memoir, when one of the players suggested an interpretation of the personality of one of the deities of the setting that hadn't been involved much. Their idea made a lot of sense including with respect to background stuff they didn't know yet, and the campaign premise was about the PCs revising the past by remembering it, so I went with it. Basically, if a player says something that makes the stuff they don't know yet make even more sense or hang together better than what you came up with, it's often better to go with it - better for consistency, even. I tend to do this more opportunistically than with the expectation it will happen.

Lorsa
2019-04-01, 09:24 AM
OK, good, you've clearly gotten and engaged the concept. Now imagine that we slowly move back in time, until we find the point where *someone* remembers the original clues. Given the number players around table, odds are, that someone isn't the GM. So, the GM is making up inconsistencies that the player(s) who do remember notice.

Does that sound bad to you? It does to me.

Exploration is my favorite part of the game. Any table I'm at, I am, historically*, most likely to be that "last player who still remembers". So, any GM who runs a long improv game - murder mystery or no - will have me noticing the inconsistencies in things that they don't care enough about to remember, and feeling that their garbage deserves the same ridicule as Hollywood excretion.

Honestly, when I'm forced to improv, I've found it often produces exactly the same result: it's something I can't be bothered to remember and to keep consistent for as long as the players might care about it.

* I haven't tested this at my current level of senility (or, if i have, I don't remember), so i don't know if it still holds true or not.

Yes, that does sound bad to me.

At some level, it is bound to happen with something at some point. Maybe not major plot points, but prep or no prep, unless you write down everything, there'll be inconsistencies.

Speaking of writing things down; the entire problem can be solved by writing things down during / after the session. Just because you improvise content, doesn't mean it can't be put on paper after the fact. Basically what you are really pointing out is that "without proper note-keeping, it is easy to get inconsistencies in the game". That is true, regardless of if you rely on prep or improv.

In the games I have been in, historically *I* am the person who remembers most things furthest back in time. I have a very good memory, it seems, and I care a lot about roleplaying, so the sessions stay with me. I mean, my current group haven't played for a bit over 2 months (since I just became a parent to a beautiful baby boy). When I told them I might be ready for another session, their response was "where were we again?". Sometimes I can't understand how people can forget just the very last session so easily...

If I had a player with better memory, I'd be more careful with making sure inconsistencies didn't happen. Also I'd work *with* the player, if I felt I had forgotten something I'd ask like "do you remember what I said about X?". I don't see anything wrong with rely on the collective memory to make sure I don't contradict something said in the past.

Morgaln
2019-04-02, 11:41 AM
This sounds like the recipe for many of my horror stories of incoherent GM worlds.

So, one: have I completely misheard you, or can you see an incompetent GM using this technique to produce incoherent world-building?

Two, given that my experiences leave me where I have no concept how that could work, do you have, I dunno, a good example story to point me towards, orsomething? (@Morgaln, same question)



I'm a bit late but here's one example for making use of the players' brains:

Game/Setting: Werewolf: The Apocalypse.
The characters got trapped in a pocket of the Dark Umbra, the place where the souls of dead humans go. That pocket contained a city with five seats of power. Each seat of power was occupied by a master controlling it, who was waging a neverending war against the other masters. In addition, there were so-called aspirants in the city, people who were aspiring to overthrow one of the masters and take their seat for themselves. The players had to find a way for the characters to escape that pocket and get back home, while not being press-ganged into helping one side or the other.
The characters had been brought there by one of the masters (who they had made an enemy of in the previous chapter of the story), so getting one of the masters to help them return was one obvious option to escape, but I was willing to let the players come up with other ways if they wanted to.
Now in addition to the regular inhabitants of the city, I had also introduced several other beings. Those weren't interested in the wars; the inhabitants only told them "don't bother them for your own good," and that even the masters were afraid of them. I hadn't really decided who exactly these beings were, only that they were original inhabitants of this realm older than any of the others. In trying to understand the nature of the place, at one point one of the players theorized that those ancient beings were the original holders of the seats of power and had abandoned them for some reason. I hope my poker face at that point was good, for inside I was like "that's so obvious, why didn't I think of that?"
Long story short, I brought the number of those ancient beings up to five (well, six actually, but that came a bit later), dropped some hints that this theory was correct and the solution the players came up with involved convincing those beings to take back the power in the city.

Of course not every time I make use of my players' brains will affect a story to this extent, often they are just small things that help form a bigger picture. Admittedly, improvising a lot is easier if you play a predefined setting like I do, but I've been playing like this forvever, regardless of system, even back to my first forays into AD&D 25 years ago.




OK, good, you've clearly gotten and engaged the concept. Now imagine that we slowly move back in time, until we find the point where *someone* remembers the original clues. Given the number players around table, odds are, that someone isn't the GM. So, the GM is making up inconsistencies that the player(s) who do remember notice.

Does that sound bad to you? It does to me.

Exploration is my favorite part of the game. Any table I'm at, I am, historically*, most likely to be that "last player who still remembers". So, any GM who runs a long improv game - murder mystery or no - will have me noticing the inconsistencies in things that they don't care enough about to remember, and feeling that their garbage deserves the same ridicule as Hollywood excretion.

Honestly, when I'm forced to improv, I've found it often produces exactly the same result: it's something I can't be bothered to remember and to keep consistent for as long as the players might care about it.

* I haven't tested this at my current level of senility (or, if i have, I don't remember), so i don't know if it still holds true or not.



My regular group consists of three players and me. Of those, two of the players and I have about the same memory for details, while the third player forgets a lot more. If one of us forgets some detail, one of the others will be there to remind them Also, all of us are taking notes during the game independently of each other. Since we only have about one session a month, I usually hold a ten minute recap at the start of each session where the players talk about what happened the last time and pool the information they have. If they forgot any details I consider relevant, I will provide those details again. If they mention something I don't remember, I'll take note that this detail is important for my players. So far, this has worked perfectly fine.

Consistency and versimilitude are very important to me; to the point where in a different group, one player (not one of the above three) actually accused me of taking the game too serious. The situation?
W:tA again; during session 0 I had made clear that this story would be set in a major metropolitan area, and requirements for secrecy and keeping the veil would be much higher than during games set in rural or wilderness regions.
Previously in the story, the group had performed a hit against a respected citizen of the city (in actuality a vampire whose vest wasn't nearly as clean as the populace believed, so there were good reasons). Considering they had used heavy weapons and molotov cocktails to get at this guy and his bodyguards, federal agents had come into town to investigate; so the players knew they should lie low and keep out of sight.
Now while the characters were investigating a different lead, they ran across two people surveilling the same area, and two of the characters (among them said player's character) managed to get captured by them. Instead of trying to solve the situation diplomatically, the player decided to have his character switch form and shred those two people into tiny bits. In an inhabited apartment building. During full daytime. (The two guys were professional hitmen working for the Russian mafia, so at least they weren't exactly innocents.)
While I did let the characters excape, I later had the federal agents visit the player's character, telling him his car had been seen parked near the apartment building and inquiring why he'd been in the area. That's when I got accused of being to serious about the game, since I didn't let him rampage through the city without consequences. Of course several other players were quite happy to assure me that they actually liked having realistic consequences to their actions, so I didn't really change anything.

Talakeal
2019-04-07, 10:10 AM
So I have been thinking a bit about the issue, and I really think that there is some sense of player power tied into agency.

Take for example two scenarios:

Scenario A:
The PCs witness a group of low level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring horrendous luck or terrible decisions defeat them easily, kill or drive them off, and take their loot.

Scenario B:
The PCs witness a group of high level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring incredible luck or brilliant decisions the players will likely be forced to retreat or beaten up and left for dead. The players are then almost certain to regroup, plot revenge, prepare a bit better, and then track the bandits down, kill them, and take their loot.


The two scenarios are identical except for the power level of the bandits; and I am almost certain that nobody except for the extreme "anything but pure improv sandbox is a railroad" crowd would think that scenario unusual at all, but I imagine that a large portion of players would view the second scenario as a railroad.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-04-07, 11:22 AM
The two scenarios are identical except for the power level of the bandits; and I am almost certain that nobody except for the extreme "anything but pure improv sandbox is a railroad" crowd would think that scenario unusual at all, but I imagine that a large portion of players would view the second scenario as a railroad.

Well, sure this is a big problem: when players see anything they simply don't like, they will cry railroad.

The thing is, it's not even close to a railroad...it's just the players using a Trigger Buzz Word. You know, it's a lot like that loser up at bat that swings and misses the ball...and then whines and cries that they ''were not ready" or ''the sun got in their eyes" and that the strike should not count.

zinycor
2019-04-07, 11:23 AM
So I have been thinking a bit about the issue, and I really think that there is some sense of player power tied into agency.

Take for example two scenarios:

Scenario A:
The PCs witness a group of low level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring horrendous luck or terrible decisions defeat them easily, kill or drive them off, and take their loot.

Scenario B:
The PCs witness a group of high level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring incredible luck or brilliant decisions the players will likely be forced to retreat or beaten up and left for dead. The players are then almost certain to regroup, plot revenge, prepare a bit better, and then track the bandits down, kill them, and take their loot.


The two scenarios are identical except for the power level of the bandits; and I am almost certain that nobody except for the extreme "anything but pure improv sandbox is a railroad" crowd would think that scenario unusual at all, but I imagine that a large portion of players would view the second scenario as a railroad.

That depends, are both groups of bandits distinct enough? If a low level party of bandits is identical to a high level. I would consider that to be bad GMing. In my opinion (some exceptions allowed in order to surprise players) combat encounters such as these should be telegraphed in such a way that the players to have an idea of how powerful the enemies ahead of them are.

Quertus
2019-04-07, 11:48 AM
So I have been thinking a bit about the issue, and I really think that there is some sense of player power tied into agency.

Take for example two scenarios:

Scenario A:
The PCs witness a group of low level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring horrendous luck or terrible decisions defeat them easily, kill or drive them off, and take their loot.

Scenario B:
The PCs witness a group of high level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring incredible luck or brilliant decisions the players will likely be forced to retreat or beaten up and left for dead. The players are then almost certain to regroup, plot revenge, prepare a bit better, and then track the bandits down, kill them, and take their loot.


The two scenarios are identical except for the power level of the bandits; and I am almost certain that nobody except for the extreme "anything but pure improv sandbox is a railroad" crowd would think that scenario unusual at all, but I imagine that a large portion of players would view the second scenario as a railroad.

You set a guy in drag, you may say "girl", but that doesn't change what's under the skirt. What people say is irrelevant. "Railroading" is changing facts or ignoring physics to force or prevent an outcome. This isn't that.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-04-07, 12:15 PM
If a low level party of bandits is identical to a high level. I would consider that to be bad GMing.

But why? What is the ''look" of a level?

A bandit might be wearing say: fur boots, leather armor, a cloak with a hood and have a sword. And, really, that will describe a bandit of any level.

zinycor
2019-04-07, 12:31 PM
But why? What is the ''look" of a level?

A bandit might be wearing say: fur boots, leather armor, a cloak with a hood and have a sword. And, really, that will describe a bandit of any level.

Because creating expectations is the job of the GM. Especially for combat encounters. Players should be able to tell if a combat is going to be hard or easy (unless you on that particular case are going for a surprise or deception), and prepare if they want.

Thrudd
2019-04-07, 01:06 PM
Well, sure this is a big problem: when players see anything they simply don't like, they will cry railroad.

The thing is, it's not even close to a railroad...it's just the players using a Trigger Buzz Word. You know, it's a lot like that loser up at bat that swings and misses the ball...and then whines and cries that they ''were not ready" or ''the sun got in their eyes" and that the strike should not count.

I agree. That's not railroading, that's called "whiny players." That they use this buzzword doesn't make the claim accurate.

GM's have to prep scenarios, and there's an acceptable gradient of planning/linearity vs open world/sandbox. One of the earliest and most traditional ways of playing D&D is for the DM to tell the players that they will be exploring X dungeon today: ie "you find yourselves at the entrance to a cavern," and expect the players to go along and explore the dungeon. Because that's the game. Of course, this would have been expected by the players, they know that to be the format of the game.

So, as almost always, it comes down to setting expectations and communication. Simple as that. Instead of struggling and hoping to get players to go where the prepped material is, you can set up an episodic game, where non-adventuring time is minimized and participating in each session's adventure scenario is assumed with a DM-fiat pre-game set-up. Adventures can start in-media res if you want- a shipwreck on an island, waking in a prison, at the entrance to a lair with a dictated goal of finding am artifact, etc. If the players know this is how the game works and agree to play it, there should be no complaints of railroading (unless you railroad them during the adventure in some other way.)

If one wants a totally open-world game with player-directed quests and adventures, there is necessarily going to be quite a bit of improv on the part of the GM, in addition to quite a bit more prep. You should anticipate players going off in any/every direction and may need to invent things on the spot when they inevitably go somewhere you didn't prep for.

I think the best mix is a totally open environment of limited and predictable scale, with expectations for the game set in such a way that there won't be confusion about how and where the adventures will take place.
IE, You're all treasure hunters who explore dangerous ancient ruins hoping to get rich (with whatever personal motivations for doing that), with a base of operations at the border town of the kingdom. Travelers and explorers pass through town with rumors and news of places that are promising loot sites. Collect rumors and intel, pick a destination, stock up on supplies and begin your expedition. That's the game. I can expand the scope of the game any time I want to, but to start the players would know exactly what's up. If you don't want to be a treasure hunter, too bad. That's what the game is about.

Xuc Xac
2019-04-07, 02:50 PM
Take for example two scenarios:

Scenario A:
The PCs witness a group of low level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring horrendous luck or terrible decisions defeat them easily, kill or drive them off, and take their loot.

Scenario B:
The PCs witness a group of high level bandits raiding a village. The DM knows with 99% certainty that the players will attack the bandits, and barring incredible luck or brilliant decisions the players will likely be forced to retreat or beaten up and left for dead. The players are then almost certain to regroup, plot revenge, prepare a bit better, and then track the bandits down, kill them, and take their loot.


Neither one is railroading.

Scenario A would be railroading if the GM decided in advance that the PCs would attack and win in spite of any "horrendous luck or terrible decisions". If the players roll badly or choose to do something stupid, the GM will change the facts so they win anyway. "Oh, you only rolled a 1 for damage? *looks down at notes, sees Bandit Chief has 12 hp left, crosses out the 2* The bandit leader squeals like a pig and looks panicked. He was all show."

Scenario B would be railroading if the GM decides in advance that the PCs will attack, lose, get left to regroup, then attack again and win.
PCs see that the bandits are too much for them and try to sneak away? "The bandits see you and chase you. Roll for initiative!"
PCs get some lucky rolls that should turn the battle in their favor? Well, maybe instead of average hit points, the bandits should have max hp instead... "Wow, that was a good shot, but these guys seem tougher than average."
PCs get beaten and left for dead as planned but decide to cut their losses and run instead of regrouping and seeking revenge? "Uh, after you heal up and start heading down the road--away from the bandit hideout?--uh, the bandits appear on the road behind you! They came back to finish the job. You run? Well, they all have boots of jaunty skipping (with one charge left so you can't loot them after you win the battle) so they catch up to you. Roll for initiative!"

If you're hiking, a trail through the woods is not a railroad, because you can turn and walk into the forest. You don't have to follow the trail.

If you're driving a jeep through the desert, a road is not a railroad, because you can turn and drive cross country if you want. Staying on the road might be the best option, but you can still do something else.

If you are riding a train, the railroad is a railroad because you can't leave the tracks. That's why game scenarios with a predetermined outcome are called railroads: you can't choose to go another way.

Quertus
2019-04-07, 05:20 PM
Because creating expectations is the job of the GM. Especially for combat encounters. Players should be able to tell if a combat is going to be hard or easy (unless you on that particular case are going for a surprise or deception), and prepare if they want.

If I grab a random Knight from history, and Teleport him and, say, Bruce Lee next to each other, will they know how dangerous each other is? Opinions vary. I've stood in the same room as numerous dangerous people - some of them, I could tell; others, I couldn't. Shrug.

The Simulationist says that everything should appear exactly as dangerous as it appears. But opinions vary on what that means.

Conventional wisdom says err on the side of giving the players too much information, giving it repeatedly in different ways, rule of 3, etc. But that requires a baseline of how much is "enough" to begin with.

The Narrative gamer cares about what makes the best story, but what is that? Is it the players always acting knowledgeably, or getting surprised?

The Gamist player would care about game play - but, again, public vs hidden information both have their place in games (Chess vs Stratigo, for instance).

The Rules Lawyer says that we should follow the rules - but what system we're playing will change whether the rules cover this. And the OP is making his own system, so who knows what the rules say.

The CaS player thinks both of these positions are idiotic, as of course the bandits have to be exactly dangerous enough to be a "sporting challenge"; otherwise, why would the GM waste their precious gaming time on them? If the GM didn't calibrate the encounter exactly right, to ensure the exact correct amount of resource expenditure, they'll tell their mom.

The CaW player knows that any one of those bandits could actually be an ancient dragon polymorphed into human form, or a demon host, or any number of other things, and wants to spend the next 5-6 sessions carefully researching the background of each bandit while observing their actions for any signs of unusual behavior before choosing whether or not to engage them. Oh, wait, the GM bothered to describe their clothes? Better make it 7-8 sessions, and have at least 3 emergency contingency plans readied, just in case.

In short, there's lots of ways to play the game, but, afaict, none of them mandate that the GM absolutely *must* telegraph the danger of a challenge. So, IMO, it feels wrong to call BadWrongFun on a GM for not doing so.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-04-07, 05:46 PM
Because creating expectations is the job of the GM. Especially for combat encounters. Players should be able to tell if a combat is going to be hard or easy (unless you on that particular case are going for a surprise or deception), and prepare if they want.

I don't agree this is a job for the DM.

The players should really have no idea how hard or easy a combat could be. It's really the worst sort of metagaming.

You really can't see ''levels". What is diffrent between a low level person and a high level person? They will look the same, and their equipment would look the same.

Exactly what do you do to telegraph levels in your game to make things easy for the players?

zinycor
2019-04-07, 06:02 PM
I don't agree this is a job for the DM.

The players should really have no idea how hard or easy a combat could be. It's really the worst sort of metagaming.

You really can't see ''levels". What is diffrent between a low level person and a high level person? They will look the same, and their equipment would look the same.

Exactly what do you do to telegraph levels in your game to make things easy for the players?

We agree to disagree then

Pippa the Pixie
2019-04-07, 06:06 PM
We agree to disagree then

Sure.

I still wonder how you describe a human, for example, of different levels. What does your 10th level human bandit look like that makes them SO different then the 5th level bandit? How do you even describe say 1st level human bandits vs 5th level human bandits?

I can't see anyway yo do it myself unless your just going to metagame and tell the players.

Xuc Xac
2019-04-07, 07:10 PM
Sure.

I still wonder how you describe a human, for example, of different levels. What does your 10th level human bandit look like that makes them SO different then the 5th level bandit? How do you even describe say 1st level human bandits vs 5th level human bandits?

I can't see anyway yo do it myself unless your just going to metagame and tell the players.

Look at the opera house battle in the movie "The Fifth Element". Corben Dallas is cool, calm, professional, and deadly accurate. Ruby Rhod is screaming, panicked, and flailing about. The Mangalore soldiers are obviously trained in the use of their weapons, but they're also obviously regular soldiers and not elite special forces.

Or go to a boxing gym and watch people in the ring. It should be obvious who is new to the ring and who is an experienced fighter.

Resileaf
2019-04-07, 07:30 PM
Look at the opera house battle in the movie "The Fifth Element". Corben Dallas is cool, calm, professional, and deadly accurate. Ruby Rhod is screaming, panicked, and flailing about. The Mangalore soldiers are obviously trained in the use of their weapons, but they're also obviously regular soldiers and not elite special forces.

Or go to a boxing gym and watch people in the ring. It should be obvious who is new to the ring and who is an experienced fighter.

Yes, but how do you tell when they are not fighting at the time. When they're sitting around reading the newspaper?

Pippa the Pixie
2019-04-07, 07:42 PM
Look at

Sure you can look at the vague context clues...and be wrong about half the time or more.

And, sure, if you watch a character fight in game....and cheat and metagame....then sure you can figure out the level, or CR or power of a character. If you want to play the game that way....

Xuc Xac
2019-04-07, 09:51 PM
Yes, but how do you tell when they are not fighting at the time. When they're sitting around reading the newspaper?

That's irrelevant. The two situations presented were both about seeing bandits attacking a village and deciding to get involved.


Sure you can look at the vague context clues...and be wrong about half the time or more.

And, sure, if you watch a character fight in game....and cheat and metagame....then sure you can figure out the level, or CR or power of a character. If you want to play the game that way....

Just because you're wrong over half the time, that doesn't mean everyone is that bad.

And figuring out how well a character fights by watching them fight is not cheating or metagaming. Cheating would be sneaking a peek at the GM's notes to read the enemy's stats during a bathroom break. Metagaming would be doing things like "he hit my AC when he rolled a 12 so he must have at least a +5 to hit and the DM rolled an extra 2d6 when he flanked me so he's got some Rogue levels", but not "he hits me a lot more often than he misses and he does a lot of damage when he hits, so this guy is more dangerous than his buddies".

I don't like to play idiots. I like to play perceptive warriors. A gunslinger who stares an enemy in the eye during a poker game to gauge how steady his nerves are. A detective who watches the way someone moves and listens to their accent to recognize that they were trained by the British military. A wandering kung fu warrior who estimates another warrior's strength and skill by politely insisting that he take the last dumpling at dinner and engaging in a minor duel with chopsticks to put the dumpling in his bowl when he politely refuses and tries to turn it away.

Resileaf
2019-04-07, 10:19 PM
That's irrelevant. The two situations presented were both about seeing bandits attacking a village and deciding to get involved.


Yeah, but you're not watching the bandits fighting, you're watching them cutting down helpless peasants.

Quertus
2019-04-08, 12:08 AM
That's irrelevant. The two situations presented were both about seeing bandits attacking a village and deciding to get involved.


Yeah, but you're not watching the bandits fighting, you're watching them cutting down helpless peasants.

Oh. Reading comprehension is not my strong suit. Yes, if the bandits are fighting, and *all* the bandits are fighting, and the party watches long enough to see how well all of them fight, then, yes, I would agree that the party could accurately judge the combat capabilities of the bandits.

But, then, I've only ever seen one PC played that way. I was the player, and I spent my every action just making observations (while hiding) and asking the GM questions while the other PCs ("village heroes") fought the orc invaders. I never got involved in the opening fight (which lasted long enough for one hero to have fumbled his long sword, short sword, and 3 daggers. I think he was fighting with a rock & a pointy stick by the end).

Most PCs are made of more impulsive stuff.

Xuc Xac
2019-04-08, 01:40 AM
Yeah, but you're not watching the bandits fighting, you're watching them cutting down helpless peasants.

Do the bandits hold their swords properly and cut with correct technique while covering each other and watching for any surprise counterattacks while working together as a team like a serious military unit?

Or are they a bunch of uncoordinated individuals who hold their pistols sideways and one-handed to look cool swords point down and swing wildly with a lot of unnecessary flourishes because they don't take the peasants seriously and aren't keeping their guard up in case a real threat appears?

Even if they are unopposed, you can tell how skilled they are. Even if they use the same gun to shoot the same target on a practice range, you should be able to easily tell a special forces soldier from a new recruit.

Lorsa
2019-04-08, 02:12 AM
After having thought about it a little, I think I've reached a somewhat decent description of railroading in terms of [b]kyoryu[b]'s premise of basic play where the GM presents situations which the players then have to navigate somehow.

Under this model, railroading occurs when the GM presents a "fake" situation. That is, a situation which is only meant to lead to a different situation, "the real situation" if you wish. This sequence can last for any number of situations. For a purely railroaded adventure, maybe the real situation is only the boss fight. But rather than simply introducing that, the GM first drags the players through 30 or so fake situations with an already determined outcome.

Another way in which railroading occurs is when the GM forces the same situation to happen again, after the players solve it in an unforseen or undesired way. Like if they have planned the situation to be a hard struggle to travel past a mountain range and when it turns out the players simply fly over, somehow changes the situation, or presents a very similar one in order to force it on the players. Rather than simply coming up with an entirely new situation.

Which means that the best way to avoid railroading is to simply present situations with no plan for what the next situation will be, and without forcing the same situation on the players if they avoid it in an elegant way.

King of Nowhere
2019-04-08, 02:14 AM
But why? What is the ''look" of a level?

A bandit might be wearing say: fur boots, leather armor, a cloak with a hood and have a sword. And, really, that will describe a bandit of any level.

Not really. At second/third level they will have some masterwork gear. At higher level they will have magic items. Unless you fluff that magic items are absolutely indistinguishable from mundane trinkets, the difference should be clear.
Or unless you have a 20th level bandit still working for copper.
Or unless this specific bandit has taken a vow of poverty. Maybe he just robs people to donate the money to the fund for victims of robbery :)

EDIT: another hint of someone's level are scars. Someone with a couple of nasty scars is likely a veteran of several battle.
On the other hand, someone without scars may be receiving high level magical healing regularly.
In my campaign world, if somebody has nice equipment but no scars, he is likely level 10+.

Earthwalker
2019-04-08, 05:50 AM
Weather I think the original post is railroading or not seems unimportant. What is important is the player felt this and so working out why and what can be done should probably be the next step and hopefully a chance to learn. For GM and Player.

Why does he think it was railroading and also the question of, what should have been done different can reveal a lot I suspect?
Now the player seems to be of the standard stock that Talakeal gets, and I am sorry for your troubles even if your posts do keep me entertained reading them.


[Snipped for length]
Scenario A:
Normal Level Bandits
Scenario B:
Tough Bandits


Again why would the players think it was railroading is a good question to ask.
Oddly in this scenario it brings up a lot of questions for me on the nature of player agency and how players can find out information.

Also on what rules are in place for running away from a losing fight.

So can the players tell how tough the bandits are ? Is it simple ? Is finding out part of the game or are the players just told by the GM these are lvl 7 bandits and the players are lvl 3. (I need to say I have no problem with this, its beta gaming but the advantage of levels its a simple shorthand of how tough something is, so why not use it when trying to get information across of how tough something is)

If the players are unable to find out how tough the bandits are, can they make meaningful choices about what to do?

If they cant make meaningful choices, then it impacts on player agency.

Quertus
2019-04-08, 07:27 AM
Oddly in this scenario it brings up a lot of questions for me on the nature of player agency and how players can find out information.

Also on what rules are in place for running away from a losing fight.

So can the players tell how tough the bandits are ? Is it simple ? Is finding out part of the game or are the players just told by the GM these are lvl 7 bandits and the players are lvl 3. (I need to say I have no problem with this, its beta gaming but the advantage of levels its a simple shorthand of how tough something is, so why not use it when trying to get information across of how tough something is)

If the players are unable to find out how tough the bandits are, can they make meaningful choices about what to do?

If they cant make meaningful choices, then it impacts on player agency.

Huh. This definition of "player agency" as the ability of the players to intentionally make informed, meaningful choices seems optimal. Defining "railroading" as the act of removing player agency seems optimal. Which would imply that your definition of railroading would be optimal.


After having thought about it a little, I think I've reached a somewhat decent description of railroading in terms of [b]kyoryu[b]'s premise of basic play where the GM presents situations which the players then have to navigate somehow.

Under this model, railroading occurs when the GM presents a "fake" situation. That is, a situation which is only meant to lead to a different situation, "the real situation" if you wish. This sequence can last for any number of situations. For a purely railroaded adventure, maybe the real situation is only the boss fight. But rather than simply introducing that, the GM first drags the players through 30 or so fake situations with an already determined outcome.

Another way in which railroading occurs is when the GM forces the same situation to happen again, after the players solve it in an unforseen or undesired way. Like if they have planned the situation to be a hard struggle to travel past a mountain range and when it turns out the players simply fly over, somehow changes the situation, or presents a very similar one in order to force it on the players. Rather than simply coming up with an entirely new situation.

Which means that the best way to avoid railroading is to simply present situations with no plan for what the next situation will be, and without forcing the same situation on the players if they avoid it in an elegant way.

I mean, it can be irritating, to keep fighting ever-stronger versions of bandits until the party *has* to use the McGuffin to defeat them, like they're "supposed" to.

But the funny thing is, the reason that the GM has to pull out more, stronger bandits is that they *aren't* railroading the individual encounter - they're giving the players full agency to deal with that encounter however they want, without changing game physics.

That they are then changing facts of how many bandits of what power level exist at what location is where the rails form.

Lorsa
2019-04-08, 09:11 AM
I mean, it can be irritating, to keep fighting ever-stronger versions of bandits until the party *has* to use the McGuffin to defeat them, like they're "supposed" to.

But the funny thing is, the reason that the GM has to pull out more, stronger bandits is that they *aren't* railroading the individual encounter - they're giving the players full agency to deal with that encounter however they want, without changing game physics.

That they are then changing facts of how many bandits of what power level exist at what location is where the rails form.

I am not sure if you agree or disagree with me or not. We both conclude that there is railroading (it seems), and we both conclude that it will appear different in play compared with where a situation is really just "fake" in order to lead the players to the next one.

zinycor
2019-04-08, 11:07 AM
Sure.

I still wonder how you describe a human, for example, of different levels. What does your 10th level human bandit look like that makes them SO different then the 5th level bandit? How do you even describe say 1st level human bandits vs 5th level human bandits?

I can't see anyway yo do it myself unless your just going to metagame and tell the players.

From the top of my head:

1- Reputation: A 10 level bandit would probably be well known.
2- Gear and equipment: There should be substantial difference in the equipment used by a level 1 bandit and a level 10 bandit.
3- Techniques: any martial character should be able to get an idea of how proficient someone is with a weapon, even if he is only fighting villagers. Hell, even if he is only doing cutting practice.

This is all not to say that the players would get know the exact level/CR of the opponents, but to get an idea of the encounter's difficulty. To get back at the example, in it the GM expects with 90% certainty that the players would be defeated, if so, the players at least the players should get a sense of it.

King of Nowhere
2019-04-08, 11:31 AM
After having thought about it a little, I think I've reached a somewhat decent description of railroading in terms of [b]kyoryu[b]'s premise of basic play where the GM presents situations which the players then have to navigate somehow.

Under this model, railroading occurs when the GM presents a "fake" situation. That is, a situation which is only meant to lead to a different situation, "the real situation" if you wish. This sequence can last for any number of situations. For a purely railroaded adventure, maybe the real situation is only the boss fight. But rather than simply introducing that, the GM first drags the players through 30 or so fake situations with an already determined outcome.

Another way in which railroading occurs is when the GM forces the same situation to happen again, after the players solve it in an unforseen or undesired way. Like if they have planned the situation to be a hard struggle to travel past a mountain range and when it turns out the players simply fly over, somehow changes the situation, or presents a very similar one in order to force it on the players. Rather than simply coming up with an entirely new situation.

Which means that the best way to avoid railroading is to simply present situations with no plan for what the next situation will be, and without forcing the same situation on the players if they avoid it in an elegant way.

interesting concept. However, more restrictive than it should be.

take the "fight" example. You are ambushed by assassins. You defeat the enemies through a cunning strategy.
Now, assuming that you are still dealing with the same big bad, or that you are dealing with a new big bad but they made their research, it is completely reasonable that you'll face a new group of assassins. And equally reasonable that they will be prepared for whatever strategy you used last time.
When my players curbstomped an ambush by a larger number of mid level character with four (quickened) firestorms, the next group (that happened a few weeks late) had protection from fire, and none of the players complained; they were all "right, it makes sense that they would do that".

Take the "mountain" example. Ok, you can fly past mountains without effort. At this point, it becomes completey pointless to present you with more mountains. I either give them some feature than you cannot fly over, or I don't give you an obstacle in the first place. As DM, my job is to challenge the party, and that requires adapting to the party strategies.
Now, of course if the DM withdraws the prize for getting over the mountains the first time because he wanted them to pass them in another way, that's railroading. but simply presenting a new obstacle that is "like your old obstacle, but without that weakness that let you exploit it the other time" is perfectly legitimate, especially if you don't do it straight away. Sure, a good DM will try to vary the obstacles, but in along campaign reciclying a few old ones is acceptable. And not all DM have a huge creativity to always come up with something new.
Furthermore, having always something new riisks making the world less cohesive. You keep introducing new stuff instead of delving deeper into the stuff you have, which is what I'd rather do.

Finally, for the "it only has one possible outcome", sometimes it's unavoidable. And if there is enough freedom to create meaningful consequences along the way, it may not be bad.
In you given example, the "real" situation is only the boss fight. but then, this applies to pretty much any villain. You know that when your party picks an arch-enemy, it will lead eventually (almost always) to a boss fight. it is not railroading, because you still influence everything else. Did the villain destroy that little village, or did you save it? did you leave in charge the former henchman, who is evil but makes the train run on time, or do you give a chance to someone more honest but less competent? did you sway to the side of good that miniboss who had somewhat nobler motivations than his peers?
I'm thinking of the Mass Effect 3 videogame. You have lots of choice, and in the end, no matter how you get there, no matter what you did before, you get three basic choices, and that was it, and I read some criticism for it becauuse "the choices you made before were pointless". but they were not. Did you help the quarians, or the geth? did you manage to persuade them to stop their war? did you cure the genophage, leaving wrex in command of the krogan? or maybe you cured the genophage, but wrex died and left his dumb brother in charge? or maybe you refused to cure the genophage because you were afraid of what they'd do? how many of your friends did you manage to save? when you had to choose, which one you left to die?
those are all the choices that matter, and it means nothing that in the end they do not affet the three options you are given. It does affect that the new galaxy will still have both quarians and geth, which it wouldn't have if I didn't persuade them to make peace. And to do that I had to complete a long list of loialty subquests spanning three games, take the time to go talk with all my companions through three games, and pick the right dialogue options through all of them, and it was probably the single most rewarding thing I ever did in a videogame; especially after I did it and then looked at a guide and saw how actually difficult it was to get that outcome. And that didn't have any meaningful effect on how the "reaper" main plot was resolved, but it doesn't matter.

So I'd still go with "it is not railroading if the players can make meaningful decisions that affect the plot long term".

Lorsa
2019-04-09, 04:38 AM
interesting concept. However, more restrictive than it should be.

take the "fight" example. You are ambushed by assassins. You defeat the enemies through a cunning strategy.
Now, assuming that you are still dealing with the same big bad, or that you are dealing with a new big bad but they made their research, it is completely reasonable that you'll face a new group of assassins. And equally reasonable that they will be prepared for whatever strategy you used last time.
When my players curbstomped an ambush by a larger number of mid level character with four (quickened) firestorms, the next group (that happened a few weeks late) had protection from fire, and none of the players complained; they were all "right, it makes sense that they would do that".

One thing I wonder is how the enemies learnt of the characters' tactics? Were there any survivors or witnesses who reported the incident? Just because a group uses a tactic, it doesn't mean word of that tactic gets spread around.

Anyway, it matters what you put into the phrase "situation". It does not necessarily have to be any individual encounter. For example, the situation could be "a big bad is trying to get you killed". This could involve continually sending assassins until the PCs are gone. This situation could be solved by either killing the big bad, disguising themselves so the assassins can't find them, setting up fake rumors of their whereabouts or paying off the assassins (or any other number of ways).

Sometimes the encounter is the situation, but sometimes it is not. What should always happen though (in a non-railroad game), is that the players can affect the next scene. They can control how and where they get attacked by assassins, based on where they go or what they do.



Take the "mountain" example. Ok, you can fly past mountains without effort. At this point, it becomes completey pointless to present you with more mountains. I either give them some feature than you cannot fly over, or I don't give you an obstacle in the first place. As DM, my job is to challenge the party, and that requires adapting to the party strategies.
Now, of course if the DM withdraws the prize for getting over the mountains the first time because he wanted them to pass them in another way, that's railroading. but simply presenting a new obstacle that is "like your old obstacle, but without that weakness that let you exploit it the other time" is perfectly legitimate, especially if you don't do it straight away. Sure, a good DM will try to vary the obstacles, but in along campaign reciclying a few old ones is acceptable. And not all DM have a huge creativity to always come up with something new.
Furthermore, having always something new riisks making the world less cohesive. You keep introducing new stuff instead of delving deeper into the stuff you have, which is what I'd rather do.

Exactly, the mountains should not be the obstacle if they are, in fact, not an obstacle. And if they DM had planned for "something awesome to happen in the mountains" which they simply fly over, then too bad, that thing won't happen. Figure out something else instead.



Finally, for the "it only has one possible outcome", sometimes it's unavoidable. And if there is enough freedom to create meaningful consequences along the way, it may not be bad.
In you given example, the "real" situation is only the boss fight. but then, this applies to pretty much any villain. You know that when your party picks an arch-enemy, it will lead eventually (almost always) to a boss fight. it is not railroading, because you still influence everything else. Did the villain destroy that little village, or did you save it? did you leave in charge the former henchman, who is evil but makes the train run on time, or do you give a chance to someone more honest but less competent? did you sway to the side of good that miniboss who had somewhat nobler motivations than his peers?
I'm thinking of the Mass Effect 3 videogame. You have lots of choice, and in the end, no matter how you get there, no matter what you did before, you get three basic choices, and that was it, and I read some criticism for it becauuse "the choices you made before were pointless". but they were not. Did you help the quarians, or the geth? did you manage to persuade them to stop their war? did you cure the genophage, leaving wrex in command of the krogan? or maybe you cured the genophage, but wrex died and left his dumb brother in charge? or maybe you refused to cure the genophage because you were afraid of what they'd do? how many of your friends did you manage to save? when you had to choose, which one you left to die?
those are all the choices that matter, and it means nothing that in the end they do not affet the three options you are given. It does affect that the new galaxy will still have both quarians and geth, which it wouldn't have if I didn't persuade them to make peace. And to do that I had to complete a long list of loialty subquests spanning three games, take the time to go talk with all my companions through three games, and pick the right dialogue options through all of them, and it was probably the single most rewarding thing I ever did in a videogame; especially after I did it and then looked at a guide and saw how actually difficult it was to get that outcome. And that didn't have any meaningful effect on how the "reaper" main plot was resolved, but it doesn't matter.

So I'd still go with "it is not railroading if the players can make meaningful decisions that affect the plot long term".

Generally speaking, most story-based computer games are railroads. Even (or especially) Mass Effect. While it does give you some choices, they really don't matter in the grand scheme of things for the gameplay itself. The sequence of events in the game is very well set, and it doesn't really adapt its scenes to what you want to do.

If you try to model your game to ME, it will inevitably become a railroad. Very few things actually has "only one possible outcome". If you think that way, it's mostly because you can't see all the other possibilities.

Quertus
2019-04-09, 07:31 AM
I am not sure if you agree or disagree with me or not. We both conclude that there is railroading (it seems), and we both conclude that it will appear different in play compared with where a situation is really just "fake" in order to lead the players to the next one.

Appropriately oddly worded, because "or not". That is, while I may technically be agreeing in the general sense of it being railroading, what I am actually doing is neither agreeing nor disagreeing, simply exploring the interesting example of the nature of railroading.

Lorsa
2019-04-09, 09:00 AM
Appropriately oddly worded, because "or not". That is, while I may technically be agreeing in the general sense of it being railroading, what I am actually doing is neither agreeing nor disagreeing, simply exploring the interesting example of the nature of railroading.

Indeed it was oddly worded, and accidentally so. But perhaps accurate in this case.

After having thought it about it some more, I've come to realize that railroading is best understood in examples. All the ways to try and define seems to fail. I think my idea using kyoryo's flowchart of preferred game style comes close, but like all definitions it breaks down at the boundaries and may require too much abstract thinking.

So, the best we can really do to capture the nature of railroading would be to construct a large data set of examples, hoping people will understand the concept through that.

King of Nowhere
2019-04-09, 11:25 AM
One thing I wonder is how the enemies learnt of the characters' tactics? Were there any survivors or witnesses who reported the incident? Just because a group uses a tactic, it doesn't mean word of that tactic gets spread around.

of course




Generally speaking, most story-based computer games are railroads. Even (or especially) Mass Effect. While it does give you some choices, they really don't matter in the grand scheme of things for the gameplay itself. The sequence of events in the game is very well set, and it doesn't really adapt its scenes to what you want to do.

If you try to model your game to ME, it will inevitably become a railroad. Very few things actually has "only one possible outcome". If you think that way, it's mostly because you can't see all the other possibilities.

I'm not using mass effect as an example of not railroading, merely an example of how something can have deep and meaningful consequences and yet not affect some other parts of the plot.

and while it's true that nothing is completely unavoidable, some things are really hard to avoid. If you have a big bad, you may be able to persuade him to change plans, you may make some ally to go fight the big bad in your place, but actually we all know that 95% of the times it means that there will be a boss fight somewhere in the future.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-04-09, 08:14 PM
From the top of my head:

1- Reputation: A 10 level bandit would probably be well known.
2- Gear and equipment: There should be substantial difference in the equipment used by a level 1 bandit and a level 10 bandit.
3- Techniques: any martial character should be able to get an idea of how proficient someone is with a weapon, even if he is only fighting villagers. Hell, even if he is only doing cutting practice.


Yup, as I though, you use homebrew rules to make metagaming mini games. If that works for you, then great.

I just wonder if such metagaming counts as railroading?

Like if the DM says ''the random grup of bandits you encounter are well known to you and have a reputation of seven, and they have the number seven on their hide armors and they hold their swords in the seven style...so you know the bandits are seventh level" is that taking away agency and railroading?

awa
2019-04-09, 08:43 PM
Yup, as I though, you use homebrew rules to make metagaming mini games. If that works for you, then great.

I just wonder if such metagaming counts as railroading?

Like if the DM says ''the random grup of bandits you encounter are well known to you and have a reputation of seven, and they have the number seven on their hide armors and they hold their swords in the seven style...so you know the bandits are seventh level" is that taking away agency and railroading?

that's quite the straw man there

how do you picture a fight happening that its inconceivable to you that you could tell that a foe is wildly out of your league?

A level 7 character wearing non mw armor and hide at that come on seriously.

edit
magic weapons would cut through flesh and bone more easily

if their rogues they should be striking vitals with every blow

if fighters they should have multiple attacks
and how could providing additional info possible be railroading

zinycor
2019-04-09, 09:51 PM
Yup, as I though, you use homebrew rules to make metagaming mini games. If that works for you, then great.

I just wonder if such metagaming counts as railroading?

Like if the DM says ''the random grup of bandits you encounter are well known to you and have a reputation of seven, and they have the number seven on their hide armors and they hold their swords in the seven style...so you know the bandits are seventh level" is that taking away agency and railroading?

What? what are you talking about? I... I don't think we are talking of the same game xD... What sort of game are you talking about with mini-games ... And what even is metagaming according to you? I am incredibly confused by your post.

Did I imply that I assign a numerical value to things like reputation? Is that common at your table?

Koo Rehtorb
2019-04-09, 10:24 PM
People should probably stop responding to Darth Ultron's alt account...

Florian
2019-04-10, 12:20 AM
@Quertus:

Ok, this is why I have a bit of a problem with your answers to this particular topic. You are advocating a style (SimWorld) that has been dead and irrelevant to RPG mainstream for decades, provided it actually was ever part of the hobby beyond the starting years (which I doubt). The creation, maintenance and exploration of a fictional world is not the main activity most people associate with TTRPGs as a hobby per se. It is a by-product of the actual activity, which is exploring content that is there to amuse you in some way. As in, when your main activity is, say, exploring a mega-dungeon (Rappan Athuk), you still will want to answer some questions (How is elven culture different from human culture? Where do we sell all the loot?), which is why you need a setting. When people talk about "Sandbox style", it comes down to the players being able to freely select what content to engage and how, but the sole reason detre for this content is there to be explored and interacted with. Trying to go for verisimilitude is not really a requirement and more a form of courtesy towards people needing it for their enjoyment. (You might remember one of our previous dialogues about stage and backdrop?)

The sole definition of the act of "Railroading" is still the GM overriding player agency and choices to force an predetermined outcome."Illusionism" is the act of hiding that you did it (see Quantum Ogre).

In a certain sense, strictly linear styles, like that used in Adventure Paths, are also not "Railroads", because they will mostly allow for exploration and options, but only in a very limited "game world", which is centered about exploration of this one story. That can change when the GMs acts like/maintains the illusion that there is any relevant outside world beyond that story (actually seen that quite a lot: GMs keen on playing a certain module or campaign, but hiding that from their players. Personal opinion: When you want to gm Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, say so.). Here, too, the act of "Railroading" only happens when the GM overrides player agency and choices.

@the magic topic that came up:

Im quite open towards my players about that one. We use game rules for convenience sake and as a means of communication/settling issues at the table. This can often lead to a certain disconnect between a game setting and the rules system used to play in that setting, but this is something that the players have to solve by themselves. To use Pathfinder and Golarion as an example, I generally explain that this world is post-apo twice over, Dying Earth style, with "magic as science" being slammed in the first apo, the follow-up civilization scavenging much, but with incomplete knowledge and an esoteric spin, going down in the second apo, the actual civilization being stuck in the equivalent of medieval times and scavenging bits and pieces, what we call "spells", of that lost knowledge. This being like collecting print-outs of single Wikipedia pages.....

Lorsa
2019-04-10, 03:23 AM
I'm not using mass effect as an example of not railroading, merely an example of how something can have deep and meaningful consequences and yet not affect some other parts of the plot.

and while it's true that nothing is completely unavoidable, some things are really hard to avoid. If you have a big bad, you may be able to persuade him to change plans, you may make some ally to go fight the big bad in your place, but actually we all know that 95% of the times it means that there will be a boss fight somewhere in the future.

Some things are certainly harder to avoid than others.

However, in the boss fight example, in a non-railroaded game you can decide when and how that fight will occur. Unlike most computer games, where the eventual boss fight will look identical in every playthrough.

Florian
2019-04-10, 04:19 AM
Not really. 30 days, 4 hours, 26 minutes until the world ends is no "Railroading". Its just the consequence of something and it doesn't even have to be the GM to pick that.

The Reapers will cleanse the galaxy, zombies will overrun Raccoon City.... no railroads, simply consequences.

Quertus
2019-04-10, 08:13 AM
@Quertus:

Ok, this is why I have a bit of a problem with your answers to this particular topic.


Some things are certainly harder to avoid than others.

However, in the boss fight example, in a non-railroaded game you can decide when and how that fight will occur. Unlike most computer games, where the eventual boss fight will look identical in every playthrough.


Not really. 30 days, 4 hours, 26 minutes until the world ends is no "Railroading". Its just the consequence of something and it doesn't even have to be the GM to pick that.

The Reapers will cleanse the galaxy, zombies will overrun Raccoon City.... no railroads, simply consequences.

Well, sort of. Yes, following game physics, the world will end 30 days, 4 hours, 26 minutes if the party does nothing.

However, if the party singlehandedly kills The Reapers / all the zombies, I would expect that 30 days, 4 hours, 26 minutes from then, the world would still exist.

Similarly, if the party manipulates Time in the Reapers' favor, or starts killing Raccoon City guards, I'd expect the world to end sooner.

If the party does things like blows up walls to kill zombies, Raccoon City may fall faster or slower, but the one thing I wouldn't expect is for the timer to be completely unaffected. If there's a good physics engine / simulator for the game, it should be rerun with the new numbers, and a new countdown produced.

In short, if the players can manipulate the conditions, it is railroading to deny them the agency to manipulate the results accordingly.

PhoenixPhyre
2019-04-10, 09:30 AM
Well, sort of. Yes, following game physics, the world will end 30 days, 4 hours, 26 minutes if the party does nothing.

However, if the party singlehandedly kills The Reapers / all the zombies, I would expect that 30 days, 4 hours, 26 minutes from then, the world would still exist.

Similarly, if the party manipulates Time in the Reapers' favor, or starts killing Raccoon City guards, I'd expect the world to end sooner.

If the party does things like blows up walls to kill zombies, Raccoon City may fall faster or slower, but the one thing I wouldn't expect is for the timer to be completely unaffected. If there's a good physics engine / simulator for the game, it should be rerun with the new numbers, and a new countdown produced.

In short, if the players can manipulate the conditions, it is railroading to deny them the agency to manipulate the results accordingly.

But it is not railroading if the system in place does not give the players those possibilities at all. An example:

My setting went through a major catastrophe, called the Cataclysm. This was a fixed point. Nothing that happened would change that a catastrophe occurred. I did have two groups running in that world in the days leading up to the catastrophe. They had (through the plot) choices as follows:

Group 1 had been placed in a position to decide how the cataclysm happened and the parameters. Whatever they chose, the world as they knew it would end at the same time. But would it end with a bang, with a whimper, with a boot stamping on their faces for ever, or how? That was up to them.

Group 2 had no control over the cataclysm itself. It was a background fact for them. On the other hand, they had control over how a certain group of people survived (or not) and what happened afterward (how the civilizations rebuilt), using Group 1's result as a given.

King of Nowhere
2019-04-10, 11:38 AM
Some things are certainly harder to avoid than others.

However, in the boss fight example, in a non-railroaded game you can decide when and how that fight will occur. Unlike most computer games, where the eventual boss fight will look identical in every playthrough.

then we are saying basically the same thing, we were just focusing on different angles.

Jakinbandw
2019-04-10, 02:20 PM
So I'm looking for a ruling on my own last session of how railroady it was on a scale of 1 to 10.

The players have something big planned for the future in my game, but they needed one more level before they could pull it off. It's a thing that will forever change the entire universe and I'm rolling with it, but it also made my last session feel like a bit of a lame duck. Paperwork before the real coolness could start.

I asked the players what they wanted to do for the session, if there was anywhere they wanted to explore, and they told me they didn't have any real plans themselves. I answered that then I would be forced to use ninja's (a reference to some GMing advice I had once read, where if the players are stuck, have them attacked by ninja's to move the plot along). The players agreed, and I prepped for the session.

On the night of our session one of the three main villians leads an attack against the pcs in their place of power. In a dungeon, this fight would be unwinnable for them, but at home, with all their allies, and defenses they stood a chance. Before the session started I warned the players that this would essentially be a mid season finale battle. While they had allies who could bring them back if they died, that they could lose their castle and allies till they managed to retake their base. With the stakes set the battle commenced.

It lasted most of the session, with the main Villain leading the army slowly losing his forces as he used power to defend them. Finally, when all his forces were lost, the players went and confronted him directly. The players had suffered only light casualties through smart play.

Then in the final climactic battle, one of the players announces a plan that works by careful interpretation of RAW (think destroying a castle by using the crafting rules to craft a million slinger ammo because crafting time is based on cost, and slinger ammo is free). I pause and thing about it, and then give the player this reply: I'll let it work once (afterwards a house rule will be going in to prevent stuff like this), but in return I'm going to let the main villain have a power that is normally outside of what the game would expect him to have (though still fitting the setting really well). The player thinks about it and agrees. I narrate how the main villain is almost instantly destroyed, but then flashes back into existence through use of a contingency spell, leaving behind all his belongings and flees back o his lair.

I hadn't planned for the villain to escape, Instead I had planned for either the players to win, and defeat him, or lose and have to fight to retake their base.

Was what I did railroading the game? The players seemed fine with it (but then people don't always tell you when you've messed up), but I still also worry that it was bad GMing, even if not railroading.

zinycor
2019-04-10, 03:06 PM
Was what I did railroading the game? The players seemed fine with it (but then people don't always tell you when you've messed up), but I still also worry that it was bad GMing, even if not railroading.

I don't see any railroading happening here, and it seemed like a very fun and open game.

Quertus
2019-04-10, 03:28 PM
But it is not railroading if the system in place does not give the players those possibilities at all. An example:

My setting went through a major catastrophe, called the Cataclysm. This was a fixed point. Nothing that happened would change that a catastrophe occurred. I did have two groups running in that world in the days leading up to the catastrophe. They had (through the plot) choices as follows:

Group 1 had been placed in a position to decide how the cataclysm happened and the parameters. Whatever they chose, the world as they knew it would end at the same time. But would it end with a bang, with a whimper, with a boot stamping on their faces for ever, or how? That was up to them.

Group 2 had no control over the cataclysm itself. It was a background fact for them. On the other hand, they had control over how a certain group of people survived (or not) and what happened afterward (how the civilizations rebuilt), using Group 1's result as a given.

Well, you've certainly presented me with something challenging to discuss.

Let me create what I think is an easier to discuss parallel:

GM: Bob, the friendly guard is at his post, and won't let you pass. What do you do?

Player: I kill him.

GM: you can't - I already ran him as alive tomorrow with my other group.

It doesn't matter the reason, if the GM is ignoring game physics or facts to force or prevent an outcome, it's railroading.

Now, if you get player buy-in / Participationism, you shouldn't reach that point, and it's just a linear adventure, or a... I'm not sure what to call what you've described. An adventure with linear components, perhaps?

But any time you reach the point where you are denying the players the agency to have the PCs take actions, or to have those actions have the logical consequences that they would through following game physics, then you are railroading.

Quertus
2019-04-10, 03:48 PM
Then in the final climactic battle, one of the players announces a plan that works by careful interpretation of RAW (think destroying a castle by using the crafting rules to craft a million slinger ammo because crafting time is based on cost, and slinger ammo is free). I pause and thing about it, and then give the player this reply: I'll let it work once (afterwards a house rule will be going in to prevent stuff like this), but in return I'm going to let the main villain have a power that is normally outside of what the game would expect him to have (though still fitting the setting really well). The player thinks about it and agrees. I narrate how the main villain is almost instantly destroyed, but then flashes back into existence through use of a contingency spell, leaving behind all his belongings and flees back o his lair.

I hadn't planned for the villain to escape, Instead I had planned for either the players to win, and defeat him, or lose and have to fight to retake their base.

Was what I did railroading the game? The players seemed fine with it

So, the villain didn't have the Contingency until your deal with the player?

In this scenario, you got (blind) Participationism from the one player - he has no right to claim rails. The other players could technically call rails - you changed reality to cause an effect without their explicit approval / declaration of Participationism. It depends on the gaming culture of the table if one player had the right to trade away game physics like that (I suspect most tables would say "in silence, you are assumed to consent" - that is, since they did not object, they implicitly gave their consent to Participationism).

So, unless your table has an unusual social contract, it's "rails with permission". If this were ShadowRun, someone Teleporting is a Big Deal, and, were I at your table, I'd speak up. But, since, as you said, it worked with game lore, I might grumble about the social contract, or nudist Teleporters, or how two wrong rules don't make things right, or other such, but I wouldn't scream "Railroad!", and certainly wouldn't add this to my own personal GM horror stories.

Also, you happen to know that this wasn't your intended outcome, so, in that regard, you acted *against* the standard application of rails, by being open to things turning out differently than you had intended.

King of Nowhere
2019-04-10, 03:56 PM
So I'm looking for a ruling on my own last session of how railroady it was on a scale of 1 to 10.


I don't think it was railroading. the player asked to do something he should not be able to do, you offered him to also let the villain do something he was not supposed to do. the player agreed.