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Subject: Behind the Screen #43: To the Untrained Eye, this looks like Railroading! rss

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Hans Messersmith
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SteamCraft wrote:
In other words, you may think that railroad and sandbox each have potential problems. But the problems are not one that can be mapped on to the same line. If you were going to mix all of the different aspects involved I think you will be looking at a complex coordinate system instead of a gradient.
I agree with your sentiment, Jamie.

I suggest a way to think about it might be this, thinking back to Eric's earlier post and how he called railroading "breaking the arrangement."

Any game has "degrees of freedom" open to the participants of the game as part of its structure. Degrees of freedom are the choices you are allowed to make, the content you are allowed to create, the mechanics you are allowed to use, etc. In the vast majority of RPGs, the GM has many more degrees of freedom than the other players, especially with respect to content creation.

Some players thrive with a lot of degrees of freedom, some will flounder. Some will demand certain degrees of freedom, or even demand to NOT have certain degrees of freedom (Jamie's jedi crystal example). Some (like myself) will find certain restrictions to their degrees of freedom a spur to their creativity (e.g. tightly restricted character creation options), while some will find those same restrictions chafing and annoying.

A fantasy sandbox typically has many degrees of freedom, at least with respect to action. Players can literally do anything with their characters that is allowed by the GM's judgement and interpretation of the ruleset about what is physically possible. But all games have degrees of freedom:

* Dungeon crawl - the players have complete freedom within the dungeon, but outside the dungeon their actions could be very limited and highly abstract (e.g. Torchbearer (2013))
* Investigation game - the players have complete freedom to investigate the mystery, but any non-investigation activity may be curtailed or off limits
* Mission-style game (e.g. Shadowrun, Top Secret) - the players have complete freedom to pursue the mission goals given them by the GM, but anything else might be curtailed or cut-off; the very idea of doing things not about the mission is anathema.
* Feng Shui/Robin Laws "three fight scenes with connective tissue" game - the players have complete freedom to fight the fights as they wish, and describe any kind of crazy action their characters do, but have no freedom outside of the fights except to move on to the next fight.
* Parlor LARP: players have complete freedom to do anything they can do physically with their bodies as long as it doesn't harm anyone else in the game, but have no freedom to leave the game area or refer to anything outside of it.

etc.

Tying this back to Michael's article, the degrees of freedom are the places where players make "meaningful choices" in Michael's definition of railroading.
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skalchemist wrote:
I suggest a way to think about it might be this, thinking back to Eric's earlier post and how he called railroading "breaking the arrangement."

Any game has "degrees of freedom" open to the participants of the game as part of its structure. Degrees of freedom are the choices you are allowed to make, the content you are allowed to create, the mechanics you are allowed to use, etc. In the vast majority of RPGs, the GM has many more degrees of freedom than the other players, especially with respect to content creation.

...

Tying this back to Michael's article, the degrees of freedom are the places where players make "meaningful choices" in Michael's definition of railroading.


This is excellent! Well-said. I like this interpretation a lot. Everyone agreeing to the correct terminology is vital, otherwise we can't even have the discussion because we are talking about different things.

So: railroading is breaking the contact by removing the degrees of freedom the players otherwise expect. So making sure you know what that contract and expectations are is vitally important.
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downeymb wrote:
This is excellent! Well-said. I like this interpretation a lot. Everyone agreeing to the correct terminology is vital, otherwise we can't even have the discussion because we are talking about different things.

So: railroading is breaking the contact by removing the degrees of freedom the players otherwise expect. So making sure you know what that contract and expectations are is vitally important.
Thanks!

I think there is another important part of this, which is that all the participants, GM and players, should recognize that there is no guarantee of coherence or coolness within the space of the degrees of freedom. That sounds weird, but stick with me here...

A lot of what looks like railroading is a sincere attempt by the GM to make sure that the "story", whatever that means in the context, is interesting and cohesive. The GM thinks the story would be more interesting if X happens, but the degrees of freedom do not mandate X will happen. Even worse, given how the game is going it seems likely that the opposite of X will happen. So the GM applies force to make it so. The GM may even be right that X is by far the most interesting thing to happen, and the players might even agree if they viewed it objectively for a moment.

Who cares. The degrees of freedom are EXACTLY the point where RPGs cross over from "a game where you tell cool stories" to "a game where people role-play characters in a fictional world". The hope is that if you let things play out, the story will be cool. But the chance you take is that it won't be cool:
* the dice will go awry and things you hate will take place
* some other player will make a choice that you think is stupid
* the players will take a course of action that shortcuts or invalidates pages of your notes
* etc. according to the context of the game

That is the risk you take playing a game with other people to tell a story, instead of just telling the story yourself.

I suspect that that this may be a controversial point, because it directly challenges anyone who thinks the GM should do whatever it takes to "make a cool story". As you can see, I disagree with that sentiment. I think careful game design, careful choice of game, careful choice of players and careful communication can all minimize the likelihood that by your personal definition as GM the story will be uncool. But once you start playing the game, you have to play it, you can't change the rules.

EDIT: as I have noted below, in response to a comment from Paul, the advice above is phrased too negatively and combatively. I still stand by it, but it could have been better to phrase it in a more light-hearted, affirmative way.
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Brian M
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committed hero wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
Quote:
Did your GMs ever tell or warn you that capture was in the cards beforehand?


Nope. Forewarning wouldn't have made any of it better though, had things played out the same way.


I submit that if you've never been forewarned, you can't be sure this is the case. If the GM has been amazing up until that point, and capture was a trope of the campaign you were playing in, you wouldn't give her the benefit of the doubt in any case?

Well, if the GMs had been amazing, things wouldn't have played out in the same way with or without forewarning.

Quote:
There are presumably 2 ways out of a linear dungeon: straight out to the end, or retreat the way they came in. It's not railroading as long as the party chooses the latter and the GM suddenly caves in the tunnel. If, as in Moria, the cave-in happened before the retreat idea was floated, I'd still be OK with it. Maybe that means railroading should involve a conscious reaction to a player's decision? Arguably, this addresses the quantum ogre situation too, if the encounter is planned before the players get to the fork in the road.


I can see a "in or out of the dungeon" as a total non-choice; "out of the dungeon" may just lead to "wait, why are you adventurers in the first place?" And that's OK to me, that's part of defining the premise of the game. I don't consider it railroading for a GM to present an 'adventure' in keeping with the premise and to not have something if the PCs don't want to pursue it.

And I might not consider a cave-in railroading either; it isn't like the PCs control the ground (unless, ya know, you've got PCs that DO control the ground ). Though a cave-in could wind up seeming suspiciously contrived.

Come to think of it, the ambush Enduran describes doesn't sound remotely like railroading either. You don't control when someone ambushes you.

Enduran wrote:

Why, though?

Is it because she wants to believe that the game world is real, that there's a right answer that exists independently from her? I know there are people who feel that way. And the GM giving up narrative control to that player or another player can actually make the immersion much deeper. I wouldn't necessarily say "What color do you think it is?" in response to her question. I might say "It's exactly the color you expected it would be" or "least expected." Or "It's the color of your murdered lover's eyes." In my game, another player would be allowed to answer and if that happened, I'd confirm it. All of those things seem to me like they would enhance the believability of the answer.

I know people that really enjoy playing a character and getting into the role of that character, and who enjoy playing a game and using the mechanics of the game, but have little to no interest in telling a story. They simply don't want to or don't enjoy coming up with stuff like that.
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skalchemist wrote:
SteamCraft wrote:
In other words, you may think that railroad and sandbox each have potential problems. But the problems are not one that can be mapped on to the same line. If you were going to mix all of the different aspects involved I think you will be looking at a complex coordinate system instead of a gradient.
I agree with your sentiment, Jamie.

I suggest a way to think about it might be this, thinking back to Eric's earlier post and how he called railroading "breaking the arrangement."

Any game has "degrees of freedom" open to the participants of the game as part of its structure. Degrees of freedom are the choices you are allowed to make, the content you are allowed to create, the mechanics you are allowed to use, etc. In the vast majority of RPGs, the GM has many more degrees of freedom than the other players, especially with respect to content creation.

Some players thrive with a lot of degrees of freedom, some will flounder. Some will demand certain degrees of freedom, or even demand to NOT have certain degrees of freedom (Jamie's jedi crystal example). Some (like myself) will find certain restrictions to their degrees of freedom a spur to their creativity (e.g. tightly restricted character creation options), while some will find those same restrictions chafing and annoying.

Tying this back to Michael's article, the degrees of freedom are the places where players make "meaningful choices" in Michael's definition of railroading.


Great! But for those following along, I would like to point out that the freedom is only one possible axis. There are many others. Further, how the freedom is restricted in another consideration as to why it is restricted. There are likely more considerations.

For example, restrictions in place due to the rules, GM decisions, GM style, the type of RPG, etc. Take the type of character as an example. One might be limited due to the rules. One might be limited because the GM says you can't play that type of PC. A player might want to play a paladin, but the adventure is a thief campaign, so that would not work well.

Of course then there is he when restrictions are put into place. In the OP, it used an example of having the PCs captured. I think there is a difference between a set up and having it occur later on. For example, I don't see being captured as a "railroad" even by the OP definition. Why? Because it is simply setting up the game. I see it as pitching a game on par with asking the players if they want to play soldiers in Vietnam with some Cthulhu thrown in. Additionally, most players will ask questions about the game to see if the want to play and how things fit it.

So, staring out is much different than later on telling the players that they are now captured. In the first case, it is about if I want to play the game. It is about my freedom as a player to participate or not. In the second case, it is about restricting the freedom of my PC (and therefore me as a player.)

Then, to complicate matters more, there is the issue of control. That seems like freedom, but I want to use a different word. There are some who only want to control what their PC does. They expect the results to be rendered based on dice, game coherence, etc. Then, there are those who want control over the effects. That is, they want to have a say over what happens to the PC. One of the most obvious ones is if/when the PC dies, but there are other options.

Given all of the complications, the "solution" is simply navigating out the internal structure of your gaming group. This shared agreement is done over time by both direct and indirect means. In many cases, it might mean finding another group depending on exactly what you want.

I had a GM who wanted things to be player driven. I want things to be player driven. Half of the other players did not. While never discussed directly, the GM simply had us write up what we wanted for our PCs. He used this to set up the next week's adventure. It was all about giving him ideas and he had the ultimate say. Not my ideal style of a GM, but it worked out well enough. I enjoyed the sessions. There was not anything railroaded about things.

On the other hand, if the GM stopped and let the players decide on if their PC dies or is it OK for X to happen, I would probably leave the game if it continued. This becomes too much about rendering specific agreed upon outcomes. This gives too much control to the player as to what happens to their PC.

In any case, I think we can take away from this that concepts of freedom and control of actions and results are important to both the GM and the player. Each group needs to find a way through on how to handle them. Railroading, however it is defined, is just one potential method of limiting freedom or control, but it is not the only one.
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I think we see eye to eye, Jamie. I particularly agree with you on the ultimate solution, which I think I can summarize as working things out in a charitable and friendly fashion over time.

SteamCraft wrote:
Then, to complicate matters more, there is the issue of control. That seems like freedom, but I want to use a different word. There are some who only want to control what their PC does. They expect the results to be rendered based on dice, game coherence, etc. Then, there are those who want control over the effects. That is, they want to have a say over what happens to the PC. One of the most obvious ones is if/when the PC dies, but there are other options.
I was trying to get at this by saying that some people may reject certain kinds of freedom, but I totally agree with what you are saying.

I think it is not just control over what happens to their PC, it is also control over things outside their PC, such as "what color is the crystal?"

For example, many games from recent history have some kind of communal campaign setup process (e.g. most Powered by the Apocalypse games). These procedures explicitly give control to players of things that in a more traditional game would be solely the province of the GM (e.g. locations, organizations, NPCs, historical events, etc.) Some players will thrive on this extra control. Some will hate it.

Some will say they hate it, but actually be quite happy to exercise the same authority if its granted informally in a different fashion (for example, by writing up a backstory for their character that may include characters, locations, organizations, etc. that are not in the actual setting text). That last point is not unlike your example of the players not wanting to drive the campaign, but the GM reframing it as "tell me what you want to see your character doing" as a thing between sessions. So its not just about freedom and control, but its also about the way that freedom/control is presented.
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While I'm not sure I have the discipline to go through all the discussion, some RPGGeek member had a cool point that struck home with me, but it was in a QotD from months ago. The gist was that railroading tends to only be consistently onerous at the specific decision level (e.g. "I tie up the villain" "Sorry, they disappear in a puff of smoke and get away."), not on the campaign level where structure is not only fine but often ideal, and where plenty of hooks, dungeons, etc. will be linear.

Maybe others' experiences are different, but I always thought the "railroading" bogeyman was largely abstract. At the table, it's just not as big a deal. So, for example, I 100% railroaded a player once when he tried to do something weird, and I struggled to incorporate it into the narrative. If I could do that over again, I absolutely would. But it was one choice in a campaign that was dozens of sessions long and where I had rolled with hundreds of "punches" thrown by the players earlier. It was a mistake, but it derailed nothing, including the trust between player and Gm we had created.

For another example, I like the "quantum ogre" example of the OP. I've done it both ways. "Oh, you went this way? You avoided the encounter!" or "The ogre is waiting for them and will feel natural in the setting regardless of which route they take." And both work fine imo. Again, I think this might break down at a more specific level (e.g. the pit trap is in front of whatever door they open), but then we're talking about something else entirely that imo feels more antagonistic than about the story and pacing.
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skalchemist wrote:
Who cares. The degrees of freedom are EXACTLY the point where RPGs cross over from "a game where you tell cool stories" to "a game where people role-play characters in a fictional world". The hope is that if you let things play out, the story will be cool. But the chance you take is that it won't be cool:
* the dice will go awry and things you hate will take place
* some other player will make a choice that you think is stupid
* the players will take a course of action that shortcuts or invalidates pages of your notes
* etc. according to the context of the game

That is the risk you take playing a game with other people to tell a story, instead of just telling the story yourself.

Nothing requires me and my players to put our enjoyment at stake simply to preserve the prearranged "degrees of freedom" of the game. No advice I've ever seen in a roleplaying book has ever suggested to me that I not simply decide things, on whatever basis I see fit (including the wishes of my players), in order to help bring about an interesting game.

skalchemist wrote:
But once you start playing the game, you have to play it, you can't change the rules.

If you say so. I establish how my game works upfront, and it involves not staking our fun on the rules.

StormKnight wrote:
I know people that really enjoy playing a character and getting into the role of that character, and who enjoy playing a game and using the mechanics of the game, but have little to no interest in telling a story. They simply don't want to or don't enjoy coming up with stuff like that.

Lordy. What's implied with all the italics?

First, I'm not talking about "telling a story."

If people don't want to take opportunities they're offered, they don't have to. Someone else can, including me. I merely give them the option, because some people enjoy that and can actually help them get into the role of their character better than some choice someone else makes. Most people have inherent expectations of how something will go, even if they don't realize it, and if those expectations aren't met they find it even more jarring that if they'd been asked what their expectations were. If the player for some reason strongly believed that the crystal was green and had been imagining that for some time before it occurred to them to check with the DM, then learning at that point that it's actually red might wreck things for them, so why not offer to defer to them? If they don't care, fine, but if they do then great!

They're also going to remember that detail much more clearly than if I just told it to them, because we remember better what we ourselves have helped create. That should also cement their roleplaying further, since they have a deeper tie to the detail, closer to what someone would remember if they'd actually seen a thing, rather than just being told about it.
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enduran wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
I know people that really enjoy playing a character and getting into the role of that character, and who enjoy playing a game and using the mechanics of the game, but have little to no interest in telling a story. They simply don't want to or don't enjoy coming up with stuff like that.

Lordy. What's implied with all the italics?

First, I'm not talking about "telling a story."

If people don't want to take opportunities they're offered, they don't have to. Someone else can, including me. I merely give them the option, because some people enjoy that and can actually help them get into the role of their character better than some choice someone else makes. Most people have inherent expectations of how something will go, even if they don't realize it, and if those expectations aren't met they find it even more jarring that if they'd been asked what their expectations were. If the player for some reason strongly believed that the crystal was green and had been imagining that for some time before it occurred to them to check with the DM, then learning at that point that it's actually red might wreck things for them, so why not offer to defer to them? If they don't care, fine, but if they do then great!

They're also going to remember that detail much more clearly than if I just told it to them, because we remember better what we ourselves have helped create. That should also cement their roleplaying further, since they have a deeper tie to the detail, closer to what someone would remember if they'd actually seen a thing, rather than just being told about it.


I think the issue between you two here is one of semantics. I might be wrong, but assuming i am not, let me suggest a different terminology.

Some players only want to narrate what their PC does. They do not want to narrate the results of those actions. There are multiple reasons why. I will suggest one related to the crystal. Part of the fun of playing is seeing what happens from your actions. When the player narrates the outcome, then there is no surprise. The world stops being something they are playing in, but rather, something that they, as a a player now control. Control that has nothing to do with the actions of the PC, but in the results.

As I said, there are many reasons why players may not want to narrate the result and a complete enumeration I doubt would be fruitful. There can be different degrees of narration that a player may accept or enjoy. But for those that have no interest, certain games can become slow going. Just try playing the Genesys system with people who do not want to narrate anything and it will become a very painful playing experience.
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enduran wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
Who cares. The degrees of freedom are EXACTLY the point where RPGs cross over from "a game where you tell cool stories" to "a game where people role-play characters in a fictional world". The hope is that if you let things play out, the story will be cool. But the chance you take is that it won't be cool:
* the dice will go awry and things you hate will take place
* some other player will make a choice that you think is stupid
* the players will take a course of action that shortcuts or invalidates pages of your notes
* etc. according to the context of the game

That is the risk you take playing a game with other people to tell a story, instead of just telling the story yourself.

Nothing requires me and my players to put our enjoyment at stake simply to preserve the prearranged "degrees of freedom" of the game. No advice I've ever seen in a roleplaying book has ever suggested to me that I not simply decide things, on whatever basis I see fit (including the wishes of my players), in order to help bring about an interesting game.

skalchemist wrote:
But once you start playing the game, you have to play it, you can't change the rules.

If you say so. I establish how my game works upfront, and it involves not staking our fun on the rules.


I did not mean the literal rules in that last quoted statement, I meant what Eric referred to as the "arrangement", that is, both the written rules plus all the formal and informal conversations and agreements that went into deciding what kind of game everyone would play. That was unclear, and I apologize.

I have no problem with people talking about things in the middle of a game, as you have described, to change "the rules" aka "the arrangement". I don't have much of an opinion about whether that will be effective, but it seems like it works for you, which is great. Its good to know. I should do more of it.

The specific problem of railroading is not "putting EVERYONE's enjoyment at stake by sticking to the rules". If everyone at the table thinks that if X happened it would be stupid, then by all means, don't let it happen. I'm not asking people to be blind to what is happening and endure a boring session. If your game is boring, then something needs to change, no question.

The specific problem of railroading is that ONE player (the GM) thinks that their enjoyment will be at stake if they stick to the arrangement aka the rules, and tries to force choices on the other players to make them confirm to this vision. Charitably, the GM probably believes the players will agree with them once the railroad is over, and in many cases the GM might be correct. In that context, I stick to my advice, and will phrase it a different way. The GM should trust the arrangement aka the rules. You set it up with the players, you chose the game, you talked things over. Trust it. Let things happen according to it, let them play out, see what happens, react to it don't try to control it.

EDIT: on reflection, I phrased the advice Paul quoted above in far too negative and combative a fashion. I like the rephrasing immediately above much better.
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mawilson4 wrote:
Maybe others' experiences are different, but I always thought the "railroading" bogeyman was largely abstract. At the table, it's just not as big a deal. So, for example, I 100% railroaded a player once when he tried to do something weird, and I struggled to incorporate it into the narrative. If I could do that over again, I absolutely would. But it was one choice in a campaign that was dozens of sessions long and where I had rolled with hundreds of "punches" thrown by the players earlier. It was a mistake, but it derailed nothing, including the trust between player and Gm we had created.
Mark, I think this is a very good point. I have done what you describe myself on many occasions, either consciously or reflexively. These days, I do my best to explain to the player why I am doing it, and make it a conscious thing as much as possible. "Bob...I have no idea what to do with what you just said, I'm just...wow. Can we do something else, or I'm going to railroad past that?"

But this is where I think the emotion of being railroaded is a very important component. It is not the railroading techniques themselves, per se, that are the problem, its when the techniques generate the feeling of being railroaded.

This is directly related to the advice I gave earlier. I strongly believe that the risks of making your players feel railroaded outweigh the risks of your players being bored or thinking something that happened was stupid because you didn't railroad them. I also strongly believe that most GM's (including myself) overrate the quality of their own "visions" for what should happen in the game as compared to what will happen if the players just make choices and the GM responds to them.
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skalchemist wrote:
This is directly related to the advice I gave earlier. I strongly believe that the risks of making your players feel railroaded outweigh the risks of your players being bored or thinking something that happened was stupid because you didn't railroad them. I also strongly believe that most GM's (including myself) overrate the quality of their own "visions" for what should happen in the game as compared to what will happen if the players just make choices and the GM responds to them.


This got me thinking about how I GM and why I don't seem to have problems that other GMs do.

IMO, I am really great at creating worlds. I am good at creating interesting enjoyable set up(s) for adventures. What I am bad at, is thinking of a long term story with a plot line. My solution is to play an RPG and let the players do that part (This is one reason I hire people to write adventures for me.)

If I have no intended direction, no set plot, no vision, etc. then I cannot get in the way. So, sandboxy PC control of the direction of the game becomes a necessary part of how I play. I set things up and then see where the PCs/players take things. Trying to impose more than the initial set up would require me to think beyond what I am good at doing. To use another analogy, I could write a setting book for my novel. I can write the first 10 pages of my novel. What I cannot do is know what happens after that. I need other people to provide me with the direction things go and the dialogue.

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skalchemist wrote:
mawilson4 wrote:
Maybe others' experiences are different, but I always thought the "railroading" bogeyman was largely abstract. At the table, it's just not as big a deal. So, for example, I 100% railroaded a player once when he tried to do something weird, and I struggled to incorporate it into the narrative. If I could do that over again, I absolutely would. But it was one choice in a campaign that was dozens of sessions long and where I had rolled with hundreds of "punches" thrown by the players earlier. It was a mistake, but it derailed nothing, including the trust between player and Gm we had created.
Mark, I think this is a very good point. I have done what you describe myself on many occasions, either consciously or reflexively. These days, I do my best to explain to the player why I am doing it, and make it a conscious thing as much as possible. "Bob...I have no idea what to do with what you just said, I'm just...wow. Can we do something else, or I'm going to railroad past that?"

But this is where I think the emotion of being railroaded is a very important component. It is not the railroading techniques themselves, per se, that are the problem, its when the techniques generate the feeling of being railroaded.

This is directly related to the advice I gave earlier. I strongly believe that the risks of making your players feel railroaded outweigh the risks of your players being bored or thinking something that happened was stupid because you didn't railroad them. I also strongly believe that most GM's (including myself) overrate the quality of their own "visions" for what should happen in the game as compared to what will happen if the players just make choices and the GM responds to them.


I rate very few of my ideas highly, so no fears there. But I get what you're saying. What you're talking about sounds like a more subtle - and thus potentially more insidious - version of "My Precious Plot" syndrome (or whatever you want to call it). When I've been guilty of such things (and I have been) I'm usually hyper-aware of it and ready to correct the behavior next time, and it's usually just because of things like your example...it's not intentional, you just don't know what to do with an idea (poor Bob and his creativity ). Frankly, if a GM took that approach, I could forgive dozens of such instances, because they're both aware of it and they're trying to make things work. And I also get that some GMs (or players) may prefer the zanier randomness that comes from wholly improvised moments, whereas as others don't mind being kept on task some.

I guess I don't see it as a big issue, so long as there's conscious effort away from the worst of it. Again, your mileage may vary.
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mawilson4 wrote:
I guess I don't see it as a big issue, so long as there's conscious effort away from the worst of it. Again, your mileage may vary.
I've been thinking about your comment, and something hit me. I have been in this situation more than once:

a) the GM had a strong vision for "how the story should go" that differed from my own, in so far as I had one
b) the GM used obvious techniques to ensure that vision came about (e.g. lots of dice fudging, not letting people roll dice when normally they would, etc.)
c) I thought that the GM's vision was stupid
d) due to social constraints, I could not leave the game easily, at least not without a lot of hard feelings, and had to endure the experience for multiple sessions.

But on reflection...maybe I just have had very bad luck? If that is the case, then something that seems very relevant and important to me is just...not really that important, in the big scheme of things.

hmmm...
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skalchemist wrote:
mawilson4 wrote:
I guess I don't see it as a big issue, so long as there's conscious effort away from the worst of it. Again, your mileage may vary.
I've been thinking about your comment, and something hit me. I have been in this situation more than once:

a) the GM had a strong vision for "how the story should go" that differed from my own, in so far as I had one
b) the GM used obvious techniques to ensure that vision came about (e.g. lots of dice fudging, not letting people roll dice when normally they would, etc.)
c) I thought that the GM's vision was stupid
d) due to social constraints, I could not leave the game easily, at least not without a lot of hard feelings, and had to endure the experience for multiple sessions.

But on reflection...maybe I just have had very bad luck? If that is the case, then something that seems very relevant and important to me is just...not really that important, in the big scheme of things.

hmmm...


Or I've had better luck. Or a combination of both of those. In any case, I've never had a situation like this, albeit in what is likely a shorter time period in the hobby than you. But I'd also be surprised if it ever happens with regularity in my gaming, knowing what I do of the type of friends I game with and how I select groups to game with. The situation you describe is indeed a problem; though I think it's far more severe than anything the OP is talking about.
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skalchemist wrote:
mawilson4 wrote:
I guess I don't see it as a big issue, so long as there's conscious effort away from the worst of it. Again, your mileage may vary.
I've been thinking about your comment, and something hit me. I have been in this situation more than once:

a) the GM had a strong vision for "how the story should go" that differed from my own, in so far as I had one
b) the GM used obvious techniques to ensure that vision came about (e.g. lots of dice fudging, not letting people roll dice when normally they would, etc.)
c) I thought that the GM's vision was stupid
d) due to social constraints, I could not leave the game easily, at least not without a lot of hard feelings, and had to endure the experience for multiple sessions.

But on reflection...maybe I just have had very bad luck? If that is the case, then something that seems very relevant and important to me is just...not really that important, in the big scheme of things.

hmmm...


Unless one is very fortunate to have a lot of groups, I am not sure we have enough data to draw a conclusion as if it is bad luck or something more common.

I will say that I have experienced, A, B, and C. I have no issues with D. None of these groups were people I was very close with, although some I may have worked with.

I will say that A-C, in lesser versions that how you have described, I have experience directly and indirectly more often than not. I would say it was more that they intended the adventure to play out in a certain way and taking various steps to keep things on a particular direction. I experienced less dice fudging to get things to turn out a particular way, than other methods, e.g. NPCs are added, someone in line with the GM in put "in charge" if the group, anyway off the path is blocked, GM simply tells the player that he/she cannot do that, telling the group that X action won't work, etc.

When I was young, I got upset because I was the GM for like 3 years straight and would rather play. I got older and spent most of my time as a player. I learned that after experiencing a lot of different GMs, I really preferred to be the GM and not the player. One reason was simply not liking how any of them GMed and the fact that if I got the group to allow me to GM, they vastly prefered me being the GM than who was running the group. (It is a nice ego boost.) It did create jealousy from some GMs that led to the group being canceled.

So, yeah, you are not the only one in that boat.
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downeymb wrote:
jasperrdm wrote:
..My definition of the term is "intentional deprivation of meaningful choice that’s not fun for the players." ....
I am glad you said players with the s. Instead player. If 6 out of 7 players are having fun then it is not railroading.
However you did not cover buy in railroading. Which basically covers the DM running only modules. And the adventures are linear.
It not railroading if it is logical and in the theme of situation. I had a player said I was railroading his pc when He got exiled for attempted bribery of official in Waterdeep. Yes that 6 pack of free Pabst blue ribbon cost him a year. He had gotten off on 14 counts of murder with a reason. I forget all the crimes his pc got away with just fines.


Sounds like someone who has a very different idea of roleplaying than you do. I wonder, how would he respond to this: "The GM's job is to provide verisimilitude." (paraphrasing Matt Coleville)

The beer dude is example of a player will scream railroad when it just the logical outcome of the pc actions. If the player is not happy.
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Or Matt who?
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I am it a game we are NOT telling a story gm. The story comes from when bob slew the dragon with 4 swipes of his sword of sharpness. Only to fumble against the last Orc. He lost his weapon and the orc picked up and took bob's head.

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SteamCraft wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
This is directly related to the advice I gave earlier. I strongly believe that the risks of making your players feel railroaded outweigh the risks of your players being bored or thinking something that happened was stupid because you didn't railroad them. I also strongly believe that most GM's (including myself) overrate the quality of their own "visions" for what should happen in the game as compared to what will happen if the players just make choices and the GM responds to them.


This got me thinking about how I GM and why I don't seem to have problems that other GMs do.

IMO, I am really great at creating worlds. I am good at creating interesting enjoyable set up(s) for adventures. What I am bad at, is thinking of a long term story with a plot line. My solution is to play an RPG and let the players do that part:P (This is one reason I hire people to write adventures for me.)

If I have no intended direction, no set plot, no vision, etc. then I cannot get in the way. So, sandboxy PC control of the direction of the game becomes a necessary part of how I play. I set things up and then see where the PCs/players take things. Trying to impose more than the initial set up would require me to think beyond what I am good at doing. To use another analogy, I could write a setting book for my novel. I can write the first 10 pages of my novel. What I cannot do is know what happens after that. I need other people to provide me with the direction things go and the dialogue.

Thanks for putting it this way.

I'm really awful at creating worlds, at least in terms of the level of detail that I think most people think of. I'm not going to make even a rough map, or a history, or a detailed web of relationships between factions. It's possible I could if I really tried, but I find that the more effort I put into something upfront, the more I'm inclined to block player ideas (or railroad), in order to make it work. If I give that all up, I'm free to accept what the players choose to do. I'm not good at planning, but I'm pretty good at improvising.

(By the way, improvising and accepting player ideas does not, as I think some believe, lead inherently to zaniness. The GM is still present to guide the process.)

I also have no intended direction, no set plot, no "vision." All those things lead to GM overriding. What I do have, and what I believe enough people share to make this a viable approach, is an impatience for interesting things to occur on their own, and a taste for situations more interesting than I generally see games generate on their own.
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SteamCraft wrote:
When I was young, I got upset because I was the GM for like 3 years straight and would rather play. I got older and spent most of my time as a player. I learned that after experiencing a lot of different GMs, I really preferred to be the GM and not the player. One reason was simply not liking how any of them GMed and the fact that if I got the group to allow me to GM, they vastly prefered me being the GM than who was running the group. (It is a nice ego boost.) It did create jealousy from some GMs that led to the group being canceled.
Heh, maybe the problem in my case is that right from the start I have always wanted to be the GM more often than not, and just can't stand not being in charge!

It occurs to me reading this reply that it is important to recognize the difference between a GM that likes to railroad and a GM that doesn't have good improvisation skills. The ability to roll with the punches and handle anything the players do with equal ability is not something everyone is born with. Some people will be better at it than others, and its a skill that improves with experience. Because of this, going back to your earlier post, Jamie, some GM's will NEED more control of the overall situation than others, simply because that is the only way they can do the job.

To the uncharitable eye, this might in look a lot like railroading, and honestly the overall effect might be roughly the same. But I do think motives matter, and come through in play. If I sense that a GM is just new to things, or maybe just not that comfortable with improvising, but is truly open to the players inputs then I will be a lot more indulgent as a player of railroad-y techniques that the GM uses to control their own cognitive load.

I think this goes to the example Mark mentioned about just not knowing what to do with some action the player takes. Something that I (who have been doing this for 30 years now) might just roll with could throw someone who is only running their sixth session ever.

EDIT: it also goes to Paul's reply which I just read above, where you say that you are not so good at planning, but good at improvising. I think I have for the most part been the same, but there is no question I am much better at it now than I was when I first started.
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skalchemist wrote:
EDIT: it also goes to Paul's reply which I just read above, where you say that you are not so good at planning, but good at improvising. I think I have for the most part been the same, but there is no question I am much better at it now than I was 30 years ago.

It definitely takes practice. And I don't mean to imply that one can improvise the exact same experience one could achieve with something pre-planned, anymore than an improvised theater show would be the same as a scripted play. But it does enable me to avoid railroading and still have fun situations, without a lot of work (unless you count the reading and watching and thinking I do about fun ideas and situations, but I'd do that whether or not I played RPGs).
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enduran wrote:

StormKnight wrote:
I know people that really enjoy playing a character and getting into the role of that character, and who enjoy playing a game and using the mechanics of the game, but have little to no interest in telling a story. They simply don't want to or don't enjoy coming up with stuff like that.

Lordy. What's implied with all the italics?

First, I'm not talking about "telling a story."

If people don't want to take opportunities they're offered, they don't have to. Someone else can, including me. I merely give them the option, because some people enjoy that and can actually help them get into the role of their character better than some choice someone else makes. Most people have inherent expectations of how something will go, even if they don't realize it, and if those expectations aren't met they find it even more jarring that if they'd been asked what their expectations were. If the player for some reason strongly believed that the crystal was green and had been imagining that for some time before it occurred to them to check with the DM, then learning at that point that it's actually red might wreck things for them, so why not offer to defer to them? If they don't care, fine, but if they do then great!

They're also going to remember that detail much more clearly than if I just told it to them, because we remember better what we ourselves have helped create. That should also cement their roleplaying further, since they have a deeper tie to the detail, closer to what someone would remember if they'd actually seen a thing, rather than just being told about it.

Hey, you asked "why do some people not like this", I gave you one reason that I know of.

The italics are because those three things are very different motivations and concepts and to illustrate that. However, some people do not acknowledge that these differences exist.
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StormKnight wrote:
I know people that really enjoy playing a character and getting into the role of that character, and who enjoy playing a game and using the mechanics of the game, but have little to no interest in telling a story. They simply don't want to or don't enjoy coming up with stuff like that.


StormKnight wrote:
The italics are because those three things are very different motivations and concepts and to illustrate that. However, some people do not acknowledge that these differences exist.

Put that way, you're not illustrating any differences. All of us feel that we're "playing a character," and "playing a game" and some feel that, in addition to these things, they're also "telling a story." As basic things, they're not mutually exclusive.

If by "playing a character" you're referring to the approach of becoming as immersed as possible in that character, with the goal of feeling as much as possible that the character is real, despite lacking several forms of sensory input that the character would have, and relying substantially on verbal descriptions, then okay, I could sort of see a difference. But I still wouldn't see why they wouldn't want to contribute information about the game world, if they could, since that would be likely to augment that immersion.

One could say "In real life, we don't decide on the appearance of things we can see," but one could also say "In real life, we don't have another person describing the appearance of things we can see." I suppose, though, that some people are simply used to getting their character's impressions in a certain way and have accepted the compromise. Hopefully that hasn't locked them in too firmly and they'd be willing to try other approaches.

I'm frankly not quite sure how you think anyone who is "telling a story" might not also be "playing a game." I think you mean (but please correct me if I'm wrong) that these people want whatever happens in the game (including creature reactions, and things like the properties of objects) to be either dictated by the rules or to be completely "logical" and "neutral."

Rules, though, are generally designed to replicate expectations that are consistent with the game itself. A modern game and a fantasy game would have random encounter tables that were substantially if not completely different, because it would be jarring for a police officer to appear where a dragon would be appropriate and vice versa. A result might be surprising, but it wouldn't be intended to make a player say "Wait, that's not right!"

In fact, in my experience, random tables are often accompanied by advice to the GM to override table results that don't make sense. "The Isle of Dread" says "The DM should use logic when rolling wandering monsters." It's an acknowledgment that, at least in one area, the rules don't necessarily produce logical outcomes.

But, at the end of the day, "logic" is heavily weighed by "preference" as well as reasonable differences in opinion of what if "logical." I think most of us can see this everyday, but I'm certain we've all seen this in our games. We're all smart people and when we think something is logical, we're pretty good at coming up with reasons why it is. "The Isle of Dread" gives the example of "a plesiosaurus in a non-lake hex." Ridiculous right? Or is it? I'm not an expert on dinosaurs, and I'm definitely not an expert of fantasy dinosaurs in a magical setting, facing an existence that a real dinosaur could never have encountered.

So, if I'm playing Isle of Dread and dinosaur shows up in circumstances that I personally think aren't "logical" should I take issue with this? Arguably, I should tell the GM, hey, we're playing a game here, not telling a story, so be logical. Arguable, I could say that I'm playing a character and when things happen that don't make sense, that interferes with that.

But perhaps the GM sees it a different way. They don't have a reason for the situation I find illogical, they just don't find it illogical, and neither of us is an expert (and neither are the rules) so who can say for sure? Since it's my immersion at stake, shouldn't the GM be interested in my view of what's logical, and either change things or create from whole-cloth a reason why the situation actually does fit with my view of things? If I don't raise the issue, and the GM's sense of logic never comes in line with mine, my immersion might demand that I engage in an extensive search for a source of the strangeness, a search that would ultimately be fruitless.

(Okay, arguably my character wouldn't know anything about dinosaurs, and could only know what the GM described about them. I think the point stands, though, that some things aren't clear cut, and simply relying on "logic" doesn't get around the potential issue of reasonable disagreement and the possibility that asking the player what they think is logical might be a good resolution to things that would otherwise interfere with the concepts of "playing a game" and "playing a character.")
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enduran wrote:
If by "playing a character" you're referring to the approach of becoming as immersed as possible in that character, with the goal of feeling as much as possible that the character is real, despite lacking several forms of sensory input that the character would have, and relying substantially on verbal descriptions, then okay, I could sort of see a difference. But I still wouldn't see why they wouldn't want to contribute information about the game world, if they could, since that would be likely to augment that immersion.
Mostly this is a conversation between you and Brian, so I'll butt out, but on this point, I can tell you I have met these players, they are real, and they really don't want to contribute information about the game world, or at least don't want to contribute that information in an overt fashion. They find it anti-fun, because it hurts their sense of immersion. I understand you might not have met them, but I have, and their preferences are real and not in some way due to a lack of experience or lack of openness to trying new things. They just like what they like, same as you and me.

I will add, however, that the first time I met someone like this I was quite surprised, because their goals of play were so radically different than mine. "What color do you think the crystal is?" (using Jamie's example) seems like such an innocent, affirming question, its hard to imagine how someone might find it objectionable. And yet, it really is for some people.
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skalchemist wrote:
I can tell you I have met these players, they are real, and they really don't want to contribute information about the game world, or at least don't want to contribute that information in an overt fashion.

I get what you're saying. My point is that, from what I've seen, an effort not to contribute can potentially be more harmful to one's immersion than a moderate willingness to contribute. It at least seems no harder, inherently, to rationalize than many other things that someone must rationalize against the fact that the character isn't real and the player is not directly or even approximately experiencing most of the things in the game.

But, as far as I know, they've already tried a bunch of different methods and have really found the best one for them.
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enduran wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
I can tell you I have met these players, they are real, and they really don't want to contribute information about the game world, or at least don't want to contribute that information in an overt fashion.

I get what you're saying. My point is that, from what I've seen, an effort not to contribute can potentially be more harmful to one's immersion than a moderate willingness to contribute. It at least seems no harder, inherently, to rationalize than many other things that someone must rationalize against the fact that the character isn't real and the player is not directly or even approximately experiencing most of the things in the game.

But, as far as I know, they've already tried a bunch of different methods and have really found the best one for them.


It may seem that way to you, but your experiences are not universal. Someone who is immersed in their character may very well have to step out of that character and decide as the player what other things are around them. A character they are playing does not get to create their environment, but reacts to it. Sure, they can be used together in an immersive way, but not everybody thinks that way.
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