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

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Brian M
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Quote:
Put that way, you're not illustrating any differences

Playing a character = putting yourself into the role of a fictional character; making decisions from the point of view of a character in that position, deciding what that character feels, talking in character.

Playing a game = manipulating rule-driven mechanics. Trying to use a set of mechanical options to achieve a certain end-result.

Telling a story = acting as a narrator, describing and inventing fictional context and material for the fictional world.
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Paul Unwin
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downeymb wrote:
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.

Clearly, but they may also have to do that for other aspects of the game.

downeymb wrote:
A character they are playing does not get to create their environment, but reacts to it.

In a significant way, they still do, because they're interpreting what the GM is saying.

downeymb wrote:
Sure, they can be used together in an immersive way, but not everybody thinks that way.

Nor seems even willing to consider it.

Anyway, one of my other points was that if this is the kind of thing a person means then saying "playing a character," even in italics, is not a clear description of the type of experience they're talking about. We're all playing characters.
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Jamie Hardy
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skalchemist wrote:
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.


The cause of the railroading does matter as well as the attitude towards it. In some cases, it is because the GM does not know what to do. In other cases, it is because the GM wants things to go in a particular way. In terms of criticism of railroading, I think most are much for forgiving of the first than the second.

One of the reasons we may be more forgiving of someone who limits things due to not know what to do, is we think that is something that can be changed. The GM just needs more practice, more suggestions, game aids, feedback, etc. The idea being that they can improve and move from train tracks down to training wheels.

Those who want the game to go in a particular direction, e.g. to ensure the vision, are ones we find to have a character flaw. In this case, it is not about skill. Those who do not want things railroaded will see such a GM as a bad GM due to his motivations. It isn't a question of skill or learning. It is now a question of the GM having the wrong approach to the game.

Then, we need to look at the attitude the GM has. Does the GM realize he or she is doing it? Does the GM not want to do this? Is the GM open to new things?

I was in a 3E group before, the worst group I have played an RPG with and this includes demos at cons that I was a player or a GM for, where the issue was primarily the GM's attitude. The GM, and his wife, had a dysfunctional view of an RPG. To them, role-playing meant talking to character. The game, was combat. You had to play games with alignments or maybe nature/demeanor to tell them how the PC behaved. The GM ran published adventures. I believe the GM could improvise, but chose not to. I would do something off script, and he would roll with it. However, he and other members of the group would push me back on. The AD&D Dragonlance modules where you had to follow the plot of the books had more room for deviation than they allowed.

Now, there were some members of the group who were open to something else. I raised the issue in an indirect way and the response was that he didn't have time to run a non-published adventure. I made suggestions on how he could alter things from the set adventure. He saw no reason to do that and it would take him more time than he had. I talked about other games, got some other players interested, and offered to GM. This is because the GM would complain about the time it took getting ready and other general grumblings. Yet, he would never relinquish control to another GM.

The GM and a couple of players are just fundamentally broken. There is no fixing them because they do not believe that there is anything that should be changed. An adventure should be on rails. You should not do anything other than talk in character and follow along. That is at least what 3 of them enjoyed. The rest of the group did not, but were not willing to leave or demand change.

The level of control a GM needs is often dependent on skill, but not always. I would suggest that those who have difficulty with players not knowing what to do or who need extra control explore games that automatically limit things. In Shadowrun (5th Edition), you are going on missions. It is pretty much accepted that the group will take the mission. That already limits a lot of things for the GM and the group. In Firefly Role-Playing Game, you can also make it mission oriented in the sense that you get a job and do that job. However, you can open things up. It can become about getting a job. A GM can leave clues for a larger plot while they are doing a job.

My point is that you can start off with something that has naturally built in structure and move to less structure over time as a way to get more comfortable with less planning and control as a GM.

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StormKnight wrote:
Quote:
Put that way, you're not illustrating any differences

Playing a character = putting yourself into the role of a fictional character; making decisions from the point of view of a character in that position, deciding what that character feels, talking in character.

Thanks for clarifying that. It might differ in degree, but we're all doing that.

StormKnight wrote:
Playing a game = manipulating rule-driven mechanics. Trying to use a set of mechanical options to achieve a certain end-result.

Yes, we're all doing that.

StormKnight wrote:
Telling a story = acting as a narrator, describing and inventing fictional context and material for the fictional world.

An odd definition. Even a GM who would be loathe to say they're "creating a story" is doing all those things. A player who is stating what they're character is doing is acting as a narrator. And in any case all of that can be along side "playing a game" rather than different from it.
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Brian M
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Side comment: by far the most effective way I've seen to get PCs to go along with a capture/railroad is systems that give something along the lines of "Hmm, you are Going to uncover the lodge's secrets at any cost aren't you? Getting captured might get you some answers..." *GM dangles a nice shiny fate point*
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enduran wrote:
downeymb wrote:
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.

Clearly, but they may also have to do that for other aspects of the game.

downeymb wrote:
A character they are playing does not get to create their environment, but reacts to it.

In a significant way, they still do, because they're interpreting what the GM is saying.

downeymb wrote:
Sure, they can be used together in an immersive way, but not everybody thinks that way.

Nor seems even willing to consider it.

Anyway, one of my other points was that if this is the kind of thing a person means then saying "playing a character," even in italics, is not a clear description of the type of experience they're talking about. We're all playing characters.


Reacting to what the GM says is not the same as reacting to the fictional environment.

More to the point, he is not saying you either player a character or you tell a story. He said that they enjoy playing a character and enjoy playing the game, but they do not enjoy telling a story. His statement is about exclusion of a type of activity due to the desire of the players. It is not saying that if you want to tell a story then you are not playing a character.
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StormKnight wrote:
Side comment: by far the most effective way I've seen to get PCs to go along with a capture/railroad is systems that give something along the lines of "Hmm, you are Going to uncover the lodge's secrets at any cost aren't you? Getting captured might get you some answers..." *GM dangles a nice shiny fate point*

That's a great example, because it illustrates a key issue: gaining player buy-in. Systems with fate points try to do it by essentially softening the blow. Sure, it's a bad situation for the character, but it's at least partially good for the player, and (though the character might not realize it) will be much better for the character later on when they're empowered with the fate point.

Dungeon World gives players an experience point every time they roll a failure, in part because rolling a failure gives the GM permission to make something happen that, while it will probably entertain the player, will be bad for the character.

The more inherently entertaining to the players the "bad thing" is, the less in-game reward is required, I find. I'm told that people who play Fate for a long time eventually stop using the fate point economy, because it has served its purpose of getting players to consider that bad things for the characters are often inherently worth it for the players.
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SteamCraft wrote:
The GM and a couple of players are just fundamentally broken. There is no fixing them because they do not believe that there is anything that should be changed. An adventure should be on rails. You should not do anything other than talk in character and follow along. That is at least what 3 of them enjoyed. The rest of the group did not, but were not willing to leave or demand change.
I would hesitate to use the word "broken" to describe this, simply because it sounds like they, at least, were having enough fun to continue playing that way over long periods of time.

But oof, I would certainly say it doesn't sound like any fun at all! Its the sort of thing I would run screaming from the room about. I find it mystifying as to why someone would enjoy it in the exact same fashion that I find enjoyment of Scandinavian Death Metal mystifying.

I have seen a nearly the exact same pattern, and strangely it also involved a couple. Normally the husband was the GM in their group. A friend asked me to run a game of Spirit of the Century for them, because he felt I could expose them to a totally new way of gaming, and my friend was very deep into all kinds of new indie designs at the time (~2007 or so). He had been playing in a GURPS Firefly game with them that exhibited all of the features you describe except for the module orientation, and was incredibly frustrated by it.

The couple played in a one-shot, and at the time it seemed like they were enjoying themselves. I've run this same one-shot many times both before and since, and I think I can safely say that it is a crowd-pleaser by the normal reaction I get to it, so I felt pretty confident. Although I remember a moment in the game where the wife seemed inordinately interested in which way the door opened in a ship stateroom. Did it open in our out? from the left or the right? Its the sort of detail that simply doesn't matter in a game of Fate, but it occupied a seemingly large place in the wife's mind.

Later, I learned that they were just being polite...they HATED nearly everything I had done. HATED IT. It was literally one of the worst RPG experiences they had ever had. They went back to exactly the same thing they had been doing before, one supposes even more confident in their preferences. From that perspective, I guess it was a useful experience for them, and for me a lesson in humility.
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skalchemist wrote:


I find enjoyment of Scandinavian Death Metal mystifying.



You might want to make an exception with this song.



I have been listening to this for years, and I still can't listen to the words with dry eyes.

EDIT: Found a version with lyrics, so swapped files.

Amon Amarth: The Fate of Norns (2004). Album: Fate of Norns.

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skalchemist wrote:
I would hesitate to use the word "broken" to describe this, simply because it sounds like they, at least, were having enough fun to continue playing that way over long periods of time.

But oof, I would certainly say it doesn't sound like any fun at all! Its the sort of thing I would run screaming from the room about.


Everyone likes different things!

Quote:
I find it mystifying as to why someone would enjoy it in the exact same fashion that I find enjoyment of Scandinavian Death Metal mystifying.


Because of the technical acumen of the musicians, for one thing. Do you have any idea how difficult those drum parts are? How the heck do those drummers hit double bass pedals that fast and with perfect timing, let alone maintain it for seven minutes straight? DANG. They are practically computers.
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And it's more progressive metal, but Opeth is amazing.
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Mallet wrote:
You might want to make an exception with this song.


downeymb wrote:
Because of the technical acumen of the musicians, for one thing. Do you have any idea how difficult those drum parts are? How the heck do those drummers hit double bass pedals that fast and with perfect timing, let alone maintain it for seven minutes straight? DANG. They are practically computers.

Hahah, I love RPGGeek!
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skalchemist wrote:
downeymb wrote:
Because of the technical acumen of the musicians, for one thing. Do you have any idea how difficult those drum parts are? How the heck do those drummers hit double bass pedals that fast and with perfect timing, let alone maintain it for seven minutes straight? DANG. They are practically computers.

Hahah, I love RPGGeek!


Jimmy Page took John Bonham's double base away from him. He could make it sound like a double base without one and adding a second just overwhelmed everything. He was often put into a separate room while recording due to how hard and fast he hit.

The 15 minute drum solo starts after about a minute. You can hear the double base sound some a single base at various parts, but around 12:40 is one.



Of course to appease the Canadians on here, we can't forget Neil Peart. He had better solos when he was younger, but this is still very impressive. Probably more than your typical Scandinavian death metal. However, I think Neil's modern solos are more about showing off that he has so many drums to use rather than how awesome he is at playing drums.



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SteamCraft wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
downeymb wrote:
Because of the technical acumen of the musicians, for one thing. Do you have any idea how difficult those drum parts are? How the heck do those drummers hit double bass pedals that fast and with perfect timing, let alone maintain it for seven minutes straight? DANG. They are practically computers.

Hahah, I love RPGGeek!


Jimmy Page took John Bonham's double base away from him. He could make it sound like a double base without one and adding a second just overwhelmed everything. He was often put into a separate room while recording due to how hard and fast he hit.

The 15 minute drum solo starts after about a minute. You can hear the double base sound some a single base at various parts, but around 12:40 is one.



Of course to appease the Canadians on here, we can't forget Neil Peart. He had better solos when he was younger, but this is still very impressive. Probably more than your typical Scandinavian death metal. However, I think Neil's modern solos are more about showing off that he has so many drums to use rather than how awesome he is at playing drums.





Both are great and two of my favorites! I don’t think anybody beats Tool’s Danny Carey though. They play in all sorts of weird time signatures.
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SteamCraft wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
downeymb wrote:
Because of the technical acumen of the musicians, for one thing. Do you have any idea how difficult those drum parts are? How the heck do those drummers hit double bass pedals that fast and with perfect timing, let alone maintain it for seven minutes straight? DANG. They are practically computers.

Hahah, I love RPGGeek!


Jimmy Page took John Bonham's double base away from him. He could make it sound like a double base without one and adding a second just overwhelmed everything. He was often put into a separate room while recording due to how hard and fast he hit.

The 15 minute drum solo starts after about a minute. You can hear the double base sound some a single base at various parts, but around 12:40 is one.



Of course to appease the Canadians on here, we can't forget Neil Peart. He had better solos when he was younger, but this is still very impressive. Probably more than your typical Scandinavian death metal. However, I think Neil's modern solos are more about showing off that he has so many drums to use rather than how awesome he is at playing drums.





Both are great and two of my favorites! I don’t think anybody beats Tool’s Danny Carey though. They play in all sorts of weird time signatures.
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skalchemist wrote:
For me, personally, anything that happens BEFORE we start playing cannot be railroading, so I'm not sure I consider this directly relevant to the article. But I don't care, because it is such great advice anyway. I have have never seen a campaign fail because the GM exercised too much control over the initial circumstances, but I have seen them fail multiple times because the GM exercised too little. When I start a campaign, I won't hesitate to place whatever restrictions I see fit on the character creation process:
I've had campaigns fail at the player's precis point. (Which is a little more in depth than just an elevator pitch.) At least, if failure at session 0 counts as a failed campaign.

For me, I won't run a campaign for less than 3 players except in a public open game. (And for AL, I still need 3. Then again, I quit running AL in early 2018. Due to WotC effing with the rules coupled with expense of keeping up, and locally, other GMs at the store didn't run AL, but still run D&D open public games.)

As an example...
I pitched a lower decks TNG/DS9 campaign at my players. I had one who wanted to play. the other 5 regulars said, "No Thanks" for the following reasons (all paraphrases):
1: "As lower ranks, we have no authority to bend the regs"
2: "as if Star Trek wasn't railroady enough"
1: "Can we play WFRP?"

Stillborn campaign. We wound up doing Cyclopedia D&D.


I've had campaign concepts fail on the elevator pitch. "You play members of a team sent by the Megacorps to “justify” their investment in the world they blind beamed you to." Eyes light up here. "And you're all humanoid animal hybrids," massive groan by them, "owned by the corps, trying to earn enough to buy yourself." Everyone makes various indications of "no"... (That elevator pitch is a paraphrase of the back cover of Justifiers RPG.

And I've had more fail in session 1 because the rules were too hard for the players to grasp, or did annoying things immediately.
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committed hero wrote:
Also, as players we need to express how dice putting us in the undesired location is preferential to a GM deciding it so.

Dice are helpful to players where they have had a chance to asses a risk and take it.

DM: You have a 15 in 20 chance of falling to your death if you try that jump.
Player: what the hell, if I make it its glorious, I jump. Give me the dice.
DM: No, the odds are against you. You fall to your death.
Player: Hey!
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I have handled prisoner situations in the past by offering players (not their characters) some choices:

1) we can abstract time passage to information gathering and moments of oportunity to escape or gather tools to help with escape.
2) we can skip ahead to release time (ransom is paid or external forces arrive for a rescue etc)
3) you can switch to alternate characters for the duration of the incarceration

The players have been quite happy to pick or even combine (play external characters working on the release, jump back to the prisoner characters when interesting moments arise or play in the prisoner for some time, then if it seems to drag on skip to a future more interesting moment).
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And I just realised something.

Railroading is a thing that happens to players, not to characters.

Characters face the constraints of their world. They may be charmed and lose free will. That's just narrative.

The players on the other hand are not there to watch a narrative unfold, they want to be engaged in making it progress and mutate, preferably through the chosen behaviour of their character.
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enduran wrote:
I've railroaded a few things openly.

One was a surprise attack. The party were in a place where they stuck out (they were in a drow city and the party included two eladrin, one a cleric of Corellon), so I told them that their rented room would be attacked. I asked them who would attack them, and they told me "half-drow" (I didn't have stat-blocks for half-drow, so I used shadar-kai). Because he had a habit of shutting down encounters, I asked the wizard if he would mind not being present for the first three rounds of combat, given that he had stated he was going out to look for information. He agreed, but I think we settled on two rounds, rather than three.

The ambush occurred, and was a lot of fun. The wizard had no complaints about being left out initially, because he had agreed to it.

I don't see a railroad there. All of that is natural consequence and player choice.

It would be a railroad if the players had stated "we will set up in a secure, unobtrusive place and the wizard will be ready all night for an attack" and you said "oh well, there was a surprise attack that caught you all off guard while the wizard was out for a walk".
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enduran wrote:
I don't want illogical things to happen, I just want things to happen that my players and I actually want to have happen. It could happen that they shoot a police officer, sure. And normal police procedure (as we all understand it in our group, not being experts) would follow from that. But unless we want the game to focus on them dodging the police, that's not what the game focuses on. It happens, but it doesn't necessarily matter that it happens.

What happens instead? I myself don't know, and it would greatly depend on the kind of game. Since, as GM, I allowed it to be possible for a police officer to be shot, I would have done well to consider ahead of time what could happen next, but assuming I didn't I'd ask the players. After all, it's just possible that they'd love to be on the lam from the police (we might have established that earlier as well), in which case, that's what we focus on. If not, well, something plausible happens such that the manhunt can rage away and maybe even complicate things, but not be the focus of the game. The way we determine if it's possible is a player suggests it. If a player suggests it (and is playing in good faith) then it's plausible to that player, and is therefore plausible to me. If it's not plausible as-is to anyone else at the table, they're welcome to add to it until it is plausible to them.


This seems to give the reality of the world a complete player driven value. i.e. I can shoot a police officer and, well I don't want a police follow up so there isn't one for some reason.

I couldn't play in that game. My expectation is the world has some correspondence to reality as I experience it. Things happen in that world in ways that make sense even when I don't know they are happening. I end up in a situation where I shoot a police officer (he was corrupt and was going to kill my friend to "teach me a lesson"). The force is going to respond in obvious ways and perhaps in some ways I am not prepared for. I have to make decisions and those decisions have to be based on my understanding of how things might play out and risks.

I don't want narrative control of the police force response. That is the GMs role. I just want that response to be associated with how those police might reasonably respond based on some reality, not how the GM wants them to respond in this situation "to get me" or "to save me". That's my job.
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DanDare2050 wrote:
enduran wrote:
I don't want illogical things to happen, I just want things to happen that my players and I actually want to have happen. It could happen that they shoot a police officer, sure. And normal police procedure (as we all understand it in our group, not being experts) would follow from that. But unless we want the game to focus on them dodging the police, that's not what the game focuses on. It happens, but it doesn't necessarily matter that it happens.

What happens instead? I myself don't know, and it would greatly depend on the kind of game. Since, as GM, I allowed it to be possible for a police officer to be shot, I would have done well to consider ahead of time what could happen next, but assuming I didn't I'd ask the players. After all, it's just possible that they'd love to be on the lam from the police (we might have established that earlier as well), in which case, that's what we focus on. If not, well, something plausible happens such that the manhunt can rage away and maybe even complicate things, but not be the focus of the game. The way we determine if it's possible is a player suggests it. If a player suggests it (and is playing in good faith) then it's plausible to that player, and is therefore plausible to me. If it's not plausible as-is to anyone else at the table, they're welcome to add to it until it is plausible to them.


This seems to give the reality of the world a complete player driven value. i.e. I can shoot a police officer and, well I don't want a police follow up so there isn't one for some reason.

I couldn't play in that game.

You're not describing the game I'm talking about. It's not completely player driven and it's not completely illogical. It's logical to the GM and the players at that table because, unsurprisingly, most of people don't want an illogical game.

If you don't see what I mean, and would like to please ask.
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skalchemist wrote:
Here is a style of GM'ing that leads to a very different game than the one I run. The GM has a very clear vision of the entire storyline that will happen when they sit down at a table. They know that the characters will first do X, then do Y, then have a problem while doing Z, and finally have a big climactic battle against the evil ones and defeat them. Or something like that. This GM is utterly convinced that this story is AWESOME! And they may be right about that, or they may not. But what matters is they are convinced.

This style of GM'ing can lead to at least two different games being played (as Jamie wisely put it).

* There is the game where the players sit down and enjoy the GM's planned story. They work out their roles in that story, performing the script, as it were, making such decisions as necessary around the edges, improvising dialogue and minor business, and after the defeat of the evil ones leave the table thinking "Wow, that was such a great game! That was the best GM ever."

* There is the game where the players sit down and start playing the game, and find that every decision they make is contradicted, every choice they make made meaningless, by the GM. They chafe and buck against this, fighting it every step of the way. The session is a trainwreck, and the player's leave the table grumbling about what a railroad it was.

Have you ever actually seen a reaction like the first bullet point? Why didn't the players go and read the awesome book or watch the awesome movie instead?

What you are describing seems like a "choose your own adventure" that goes like this:

There is a hulking monster in the room.

If you draw your sword an yell "what ho!" go to page 12
If you draw your sword and yell "huzzah!" go to page 12
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DanDare2050 wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
Here is a style of GM'ing that leads to a very different game than the one I run. The GM has a very clear vision of the entire storyline that will happen when they sit down at a table. They know that the characters will first do X, then do Y, then have a problem while doing Z, and finally have a big climactic battle against the evil ones and defeat them. Or something like that. This GM is utterly convinced that this story is AWESOME! And they may be right about that, or they may not. But what matters is they are convinced.

This style of GM'ing can lead to at least two different games being played (as Jamie wisely put it).

* There is the game where the players sit down and enjoy the GM's planned story. They work out their roles in that story, performing the script, as it were, making such decisions as necessary around the edges, improvising dialogue and minor business, and after the defeat of the evil ones leave the table thinking "Wow, that was such a great game! That was the best GM ever."

* There is the game where the players sit down and start playing the game, and find that every decision they make is contradicted, every choice they make made meaningless, by the GM. They chafe and buck against this, fighting it every step of the way. The session is a trainwreck, and the player's leave the table grumbling about what a railroad it was.

Have you ever actually seen a reaction like the first bullet point? Why didn't the players go and read the awesome book or watch the awesome movie instead?


I have, well mostly. The GM ran published adventures. The GM and two players thought it was awesome. Make no choices. Talk in character. Thought the story they were essentially listening to was awesome.

I left after a few sessions for many reasons, but one of which is that there was even less choice than choose your own adventure.
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DanDare2050 wrote:
And I just realised something.

Railroading is a thing that happens to players, not to characters.

Characters face the constraints of their world. They may be charmed and lose free will. That's just narrative.

The players on the other hand are not there to watch a narrative unfold, they want to be engaged in making it progress and mutate, preferably through the chosen behaviour of their character.

characters being constrain is still railroaing if the constraint is not a "natural result" of their prior actions.

A single path dungeon is a railroad as much as starting session with, "now that you've been drafted into the hussars..."
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