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

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William Hostman
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DanDare2050 wrote:

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


I've run parties through certain solo-modules as if they were GM'd adventure. Convoy has a GM's map just for this purpose

Master of the Amulets is a solo hex-crawl, and can easily be run GM'd.

All of the T&T solos can be handled by railroad as GM'd monsters. The GM reads the options, the players pick, and if there's a fight, the GM runs the monsters and adjudicates the results of player input for "stupid PC tricks."

It can be a fun way to play, and I've know groups who played that way until someone played in a more normal group and brought back to their fellow CYOA-style game the "try anything, not just the prepared options" mode.
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aramis wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
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.

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.


There is still meaningful player choice in these situations - it just happens at the buy-in level when the player answers the question "should I play this game?" A failed campaign might still be the GM's fault, but it ain't railroading.
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skalchemist wrote:
committed hero wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
The anger is crucial, because if I just chuckle to myself and think "whatever, dude, I'll play along" then I'm fine as well. If I am enjoying myself, then who cares?


I'd be more interested in what you would have done if you weren't having fun. In my mind, butting heads with a GM just because you are unhappy with the setup - as opposed to talking about the situation OOC - can be just as destructive to a session as "bad" railroading. So I will cite the specific activity of punishing a GM via the game and not person to person.
I agree completely, that is exactly what I was getting at in my first reply to your post.

I think a one-shot convention game (as I was describing in my anecdote) is a very special case in all discussions of railroading (by any definition), because it has several unique features:
a) it has to be completed in a satisfying way in four or less hours
b) it almost always involves complete strangers
c) the only option for "buy-in" prior to the start of the game is the blurb in the convention program
d) in many cases people have paid real money to participate

Because of these features, I myself accept a much higher level of "railroading-like" activity on the part of the GM in such games than I would in a regular campaign of some sort, but at the same time I am much more likely to "fight back" (in constructive and sometimes non-constructive ways) against what I perceive as misplaced railroading-like activity. Nearly every example I can think of where I probably behaved like a jerk was in a one-shot convention game where I perceived the GM as an awful GM. In my defense, I think that if I provided the details of those situations nearly anyone would agree with my assessment, but the fact is, the better response on my part would have been to stand up and say "yep, I'm done, see ya" at about the one hour mark instead of what I actually did.


At a Con, I openly state to the GM, "Let's get this choo-choo started!"
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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?

Quote:
I don't even consider a totally linear dungeon "railroading", as long as its the logical thing for the PCs to be doing and in keeping with the premise of the game. Nor should players be trying to actively thwart the premise of the game. If we're playing a game about heroically questing underground to fight monsters, they should be willing to go underground to fight monsters.


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 was once warned I would be playing a game of D&D 1st edition starting as a head in a jar. Only God knows why, but I signed on thinking this would be a bizarre escape game. But, only Gary Gygax seemed to have known how to get out of the jar. The warning that this was a difficult puzzle and a stupid starting situation did not help. This wasn't even railroading though as all we could do was talk in character about how to escape.
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aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
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StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.
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aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.
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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?

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

The simple answer is yes, I've seen it.

A specific example: nearly all of the old Living Greyhawk sessions (circa 2005, 2006 or so) that I was involved in were like that. Even the fight scenes (which seemingly should have some ability for player choice to matter) are lovingly crafted to make sure that no one actually dies or gets into serious trouble. No one wanted to rock the boat, no one wanted to go "off module" in any way, because that would put their character at more risk and/or reduce the efficiency of the character leveling process. They were essentially vehicles to spend two to four hours in conversation with each other and then hand out XP.
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StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.


It doesn't just exist in theory, Brian.

I've played, and I've run, extremely scripted adventures, ones where the only resource that mattered was "did the character survive the encounter?"

Several games come to mind... Cosmic Patrol, SCRPG SS, some of the living adventures for D&D 5E and Star Trek Adventures.

These games are not at all about choosing the plot. The plot is on rails, and leaving the rails is ending the campaign.

They are about the scenery on the way... "how did you solve scene X?" not "did you succeed in scene X?"

The only railroad more direct is the linear dungeon with one-way traps (A ramp with oil of slipperiness, the tunnel which caves in as you leave the room, the trigger plate that fills the tunnel behind with sand...).

And I've done those. And had players enjoy the trip. Not because they made meaningful choices - but because they enjoyed the trip - the meaningless fights, the almost automatically found ignorable traps, the never found until triggered non-damaging but plot-hammer traps.

I say again, I have done those. The experience is unrepeatable for the players. For the GM, it is repeatable, but only with new players.

They can be fun, with the right players, in the right mindset. Doesn't mean they're making meaningful choices in relation to the plot.
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aramis wrote:
They are about the scenery on the way... "how did you solve scene X?" not "did you succeed in scene X?"

The only railroad more direct is the linear dungeon with one-way traps (A ramp with oil of slipperiness, the tunnel which caves in as you leave the room, the trigger plate that fills the tunnel behind with sand...).

And I've done those. And had players enjoy the trip. Not because they made meaningful choices - but because they enjoyed the trip - the meaningless fights, the almost automatically found ignorable traps, the never found until triggered non-damaging but plot-hammer traps.

I say again, I have done those. The experience is unrepeatable for the players. For the GM, it is repeatable, but only with new players.

They can be fun, with the right players, in the right mindset. Doesn't mean they're making meaningful choices in relation to the plot.


There are meaningful choices in these games, however, if tactical decisions in the fights are the difference between life and death.

To use the linear dungeon example, tell me what would have happened if a player was walking on the walls when the oil trap was sprung (or used some other other ability such that she might have avoided it - probably, one that the GM was unaware of). I submit to you that the GM's response is what calls it railroading or not.
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aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.


It doesn't just exist in theory, Brian.


Not what I'm referring to.

What I'm talking about is this:

GM A prepares for a wide variety of possible actions the PCs can take.
GM B prepares for only the actions the PCs are most likely to take.

In play, the PCs take the most likely actions - exactly what GM B planned for.

While in theory group B was "on a railroad", in practice their experience is indistinguishable from that of group A. They have no way of knowing if they were being "railroaded" or not.

=========================

A term that I would use for the type of adventure you are discussing did pop into my head - linear. To me, a one-way dungeon is linear, but it does not necessarily involve the players being railroaded, so long as they want to go into the dungeon.
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StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.


It doesn't just exist in theory, Brian.


Not what I'm referring to.

What I'm talking about is this:

GM A prepares for a wide variety of possible actions the PCs can take.
GM B prepares for only the actions the PCs are most likely to take.

In play, the PCs take the most likely actions - exactly what GM B planned for.

While in theory group B was "on a railroad", in practice their experience is indistinguishable from that of group A. They have no way of knowing if they were being "railroaded" or not.

=========================

A term that I would use for the type of adventure you are discussing did pop into my head - linear. To me, a one-way dungeon is linear, but it does not necessarily involve the players being railroaded, so long as they want to go into the dungeon.
The GM's experience, however, isn't the same.
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StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.


It doesn't just exist in theory, Brian.


Not what I'm referring to.

What I'm talking about is this:

GM A prepares for a wide variety of possible actions the PCs can take.
GM B prepares for only the actions the PCs are most likely to take.

In play, the PCs take the most likely actions - exactly what GM B planned for.

While in theory group B was "on a railroad", in practice their experience is indistinguishable from that of group A. They have no way of knowing if they were being "railroaded" or not.

=========================

A term that I would use for the type of adventure you are discussing did pop into my head - linear. To me, a one-way dungeon is linear, but it does not necessarily involve the players being railroaded, so long as they want to go into the dungeon.


Let us move this outside of RPGs and for moment and consider the following:

You are sitting in a room. You want to be in the room. You have no desire to leave the room. As far as you know, you can leave the room. However, it turns out the door is locked. Thus, in reality, you cannot leave.

Are you free by choosing to stay in the room, even though you could not leave if you wanted to? Or, does that fact that you cannot leave mean that you are not free even though you do not want to leave?

That seems to be the dispute that is going on here when thinking of linear dungeons. If you can make up your mind about the room, then you should be able to make up your mind as to if the situation is one of railroad or not.
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SteamCraft wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.


It doesn't just exist in theory, Brian.


Not what I'm referring to.

What I'm talking about is this:

GM A prepares for a wide variety of possible actions the PCs can take.
GM B prepares for only the actions the PCs are most likely to take.

In play, the PCs take the most likely actions - exactly what GM B planned for.

While in theory group B was "on a railroad", in practice their experience is indistinguishable from that of group A. They have no way of knowing if they were being "railroaded" or not.

=========================

A term that I would use for the type of adventure you are discussing did pop into my head - linear. To me, a one-way dungeon is linear, but it does not necessarily involve the players being railroaded, so long as they want to go into the dungeon.


Let us move this outside of RPGs and for moment and consider the following:

You are sitting in a room. You want to be in the room. You have no desire to leave the room. As far as you know, you can leave the room. However, it turns out the door is locked. Thus, in reality, you cannot leave.

Are you free by choosing to stay in the room, even though you could not leave if you wanted to? Or, does that fact that you cannot leave mean that you are not free even though you do not want to leave?

That seems to be the dispute that is going on here when thinking of linear dungeons. If you can make up your mind about the room, then you should be able to make up your mind as to if the situation is one of railroad or not.


If you did not discover the door was locked, it would make no difference whatsoever to you.

And if you did discover the door was locked, you might say you were trapped, but you would certainly not say you were being railroaded.

As I said, this is mostly semantics. I just don't see the value of assigning importance to something that has no actual effect in play.

I've given my definition of railroading. You didn't want to share yours. Are there useful terms we can use to be on the same page regarding this discussion?
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StormKnight wrote:
SteamCraft wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.


It doesn't just exist in theory, Brian.


Not what I'm referring to.

What I'm talking about is this:

GM A prepares for a wide variety of possible actions the PCs can take.
GM B prepares for only the actions the PCs are most likely to take.

In play, the PCs take the most likely actions - exactly what GM B planned for.

While in theory group B was "on a railroad", in practice their experience is indistinguishable from that of group A. They have no way of knowing if they were being "railroaded" or not.

=========================

A term that I would use for the type of adventure you are discussing did pop into my head - linear. To me, a one-way dungeon is linear, but it does not necessarily involve the players being railroaded, so long as they want to go into the dungeon.


Let us move this outside of RPGs and for moment and consider the following:

You are sitting in a room. You want to be in the room. You have no desire to leave the room. As far as you know, you can leave the room. However, it turns out the door is locked. Thus, in reality, you cannot leave.

Are you free by choosing to stay in the room, even though you could not leave if you wanted to? Or, does that fact that you cannot leave mean that you are not free even though you do not want to leave?

That seems to be the dispute that is going on here when thinking of linear dungeons. If you can make up your mind about the room, then you should be able to make up your mind as to if the situation is one of railroad or not.


If you did not discover the door was locked, it would make no difference whatsoever to you.

And if you did discover the door was locked, you might say you were trapped, but you would certainly not say you were being railroaded.

As I said, this is mostly semantics. I just don't see the value of assigning importance to something that has no actual effect in play.

I've given my definition of railroading. You didn't want to share yours. Are there useful terms we can use to be on the same page regarding this discussion?
I;'ve given it. Repeatedly.

ANY case where the players choices have no meaningful impact upon the plot other than success or failure.

Also, any case where the player's character is placed in situations without any choice in the matter and not as a consequence of prior mechanical and/or story choices.

Play/don't play isn't a meaningful decision for the game, just as staying contentedly in a single room isn't, either, because, sooner or later, the needs for food input or waste output make the locked door relevant.

D&D 4E encounters hit both of these. At least in the modules I experienced. Wasn't unfun, but I was aware of how my actions only mattered in the context of retelling what happened, having no impact on story state and the only option affecting the story state was "play this module or don't play"
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Brian M
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aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:

I've given my definition of railroading. You didn't want to share yours. Are there useful terms we can use to be on the same page regarding this discussion?
I;'ve given it. Repeatedly.


We reached a pretty big ziggurat there so it's hard to tell, but that was directed at SteamCraft and not you.

It is interesting that for each of our definitions, there are things one of us would consider railroading and the other would not; neither are a distinct subset of the other.
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“Aramis”]ANY case where the players choices have no meaningful impact upon the plot other than success or failure.[/q]

This seems REALLY restrictive. People who are interested in social role play and emersion in the world make lots of choices that have no meaningful impact on the plot.

“You’re at the tavern, what do you do?” “Ooo, I will have whatever the locals drink, and just sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the town relaxing.” That is a choice that doesn’t have a meaningful impact on the plot, but I don’t see any railroading going on.

[q=“aramis” wrote:
Also, any case where the player's character is placed in situations without any choice in the matter and not as a consequence of prior mechanical and/or story choices.


Again, this seems really restrictive. How do you even start an adventure? What prior mechanical and/or story choice informs “You are in a tavern”? Very few published adventures that I know of start with “So...what are you doing in the world? Are you in Waterdeep? No? Well everyone else is, so let’s focus on what you are doing and maybe you will end up there! How fun for everyone else.”

Look, I love sandboxes and wide open stories whose direction is shaped by the players as much if not more than everybody else, but you have to allow for some structure and GM shaping of the story and plot. I think we all agree that railroading is bad, but your definition kinda comes across as “your fun is wrongbadfun” and focused on a wide range of things.

Maybe I am being pedantic or hyperbolic about your words, but you are saying “ANY case” which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room.
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downeymb wrote:
“Aramis” wrote:
ANY case where the players choices have no meaningful impact upon the plot other than success or failure.


This seems REALLY restrictive. People who are interested in social role play and emersion in the world make lots of choices that have no meaningful impact on the plot.

It's far less so than it may seem at first glance.

If the GM states that the campaign will be starting in a tavern, that's a bit of a railroad. It's not a bad one, but it's still there.

The non railroad is to get player input as to how they want to start off, and give them a choice of several, which have some narrative impact. Likewise, giving several hooks and letting them pick makes the module of the week/module of the month some agency.

I tend to use a fair bit of railroad in my current games... under the label of "Campaign Conceit"...
... in Star Wars, they're part of a Special Ops squadron, and it's mission driven.
... in L5R, they opted for a magistrate game. Which again, is "mission of the week.

Some railroading is normal.
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StormKnight wrote:
SteamCraft wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
aramis wrote:

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


But I would see it as railroading only if the players ever try to break from that railroad. If there's only pre-defined path, but that path perfectly predicts what the characters are going to do anyway, it will never actually be railroading.
I vehemently disagree.

The railroad exists whenever players choices in play are reduced to non-meaningful ones. Even if they don't notice. It's the rails, not the enjoyability of the trip, that makes the railroad.

Which is why it can cause a session 0 fail, as well.


That's a semantic disagreement that I suspect there's no real cure for beyond agreeing on some terminology.

But if it only exists in "theory" and never in actual play, I don't think it really matters.


It doesn't just exist in theory, Brian.


Not what I'm referring to.

What I'm talking about is this:

GM A prepares for a wide variety of possible actions the PCs can take.
GM B prepares for only the actions the PCs are most likely to take.

In play, the PCs take the most likely actions - exactly what GM B planned for.

While in theory group B was "on a railroad", in practice their experience is indistinguishable from that of group A. They have no way of knowing if they were being "railroaded" or not.

=========================

A term that I would use for the type of adventure you are discussing did pop into my head - linear. To me, a one-way dungeon is linear, but it does not necessarily involve the players being railroaded, so long as they want to go into the dungeon.


Let us move this outside of RPGs and for moment and consider the following:

You are sitting in a room. You want to be in the room. You have no desire to leave the room. As far as you know, you can leave the room. However, it turns out the door is locked. Thus, in reality, you cannot leave.

Are you free by choosing to stay in the room, even though you could not leave if you wanted to? Or, does that fact that you cannot leave mean that you are not free even though you do not want to leave?

That seems to be the dispute that is going on here when thinking of linear dungeons. If you can make up your mind about the room, then you should be able to make up your mind as to if the situation is one of railroad or not.


If you did not discover the door was locked, it would make no difference whatsoever to you.

And if you did discover the door was locked, you might say you were trapped, but you would certainly not say you were being railroaded.

As I said, this is mostly semantics. I just don't see the value of assigning importance to something that has no actual effect in play.


The argument between you and aramis is not a semantic one. That is what I am trying to illustrate. That point is illustrated exactly by you saying that if you did not discover the door was locked, that it would not make a difference.

Fundamentally the issue is whether the possibility of making a difference or not matters for railroading or not. Aramis is making the point that because there is no possibility of deviating on a single path dungeon that it counts as a railroad. The reason being that the PCs/players are not in a position to deviate. You are saying the situation does not constitute railroading. Presumably because being able to deviate from the path is not necessary for something to not be a railroad.

In other words, aramis would say you are not free if the door is locked, whether you know it is or not. Meanwhile, you would say they are free because as long as they do not want to leave, it does not matter. As long as the PCs are willing there, it does not matter that they cannot leave.

Aramis, I think, is hinting at a larger and deeper concept of freedom that undermines some definitions of railroading. You, on the other hand, are using a different concept. My point was simply to get you to think about the situation to realize it is not an issue of terminology, but rather, a conceptional difference.
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StormKnight wrote:
What I'm talking about is this:

GM A prepares for a wide variety of possible actions the PCs can take.
GM B prepares for only the actions the PCs are most likely to take.

In play, the PCs take the most likely actions - exactly what GM B planned for.

While in theory group B was "on a railroad", in practice their experience is indistinguishable from that of group A. They have no way of knowing if they were being "railroaded" or not.

=========================

A term that I would use for the type of adventure you are discussing did pop into my head - linear. To me, a one-way dungeon is linear, but it does not necessarily involve the players being railroaded, so long as they want to go into the dungeon.


I agree, there is a difference between a linear adventure and railroading. Linear adventures are far likelier to become railroads, since the opportunities for a party to veer off of a planned script are usually more numerous.

As an aside, my experience has been that regardless of what I think likely actions are, the party does something off of both lists.
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aramis wrote:
downeymb wrote:
“Aramis” wrote:
ANY case where the players choices have no meaningful impact upon the plot other than success or failure.


This seems REALLY restrictive. People who are interested in social role play and emersion in the world make lots of choices that have no meaningful impact on the plot.

It's far less so than it may seem at first glance.

If the GM states that the campaign will be starting in a tavern, that's a bit of a railroad. It's not a bad one, but it's still there.

The non railroad is to get player input as to how they want to start off, and give them a choice of several, which have some narrative impact. Likewise, giving several hooks and letting them pick makes the module of the week/module of the month some agency.


I disagree that the initial campaign framing is a railroad. If you are worried about choice, the players have one: to play or not. Actually, they have the opportunity to negotiate the starting terms of play - which is also a chance to choose meaningfully. But the GM's job shouldn't be to come up with a succession of starting opportunities in the hopes that all of the players will be completely satisfied. The players should let the GM run the game she wants to run, too.
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This si definitely an argument over definitions.

Railroading to me is a negative thing when a player tries to do something and the GM overrules them for no reason. You try to go somewhere else and find you are on rails and cannot leave. You have been railroaded. Getting on a train is not being railroaded, but finding out you are on one and can't get off is.
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downeymb wrote:
Railroading to me is a negative thing when a player tries to do something and the GM overrules them for no reason.

I put this behavior under the wider heading of "blocking." It might occur due to railroading, or for other reasons such as the GM not being sure how to adjudicate what the player wants to try. I would tend to agree that it is almost always negative, in that it damages trust between the players and the GM.
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SteamCraft wrote:

The argument between you and aramis is not a semantic one. That is what I am trying to illustrate. That point is illustrated exactly by you saying that if you did not discover the door was locked, that it would not make a difference.

It is entirely semantics. We are trying to discuss "railroading", but that is not a precisely defined term. And I define "railroading" as a term with a negative connotation used to describe a very specific GM action. Aramis does not have the same definition, and I gather you have yet a different definition.

Which makes it all very difficult to discuss "railroading" - we just aren't all talking about the same thing!

Perhaps a conversation can be more constructive by narrowing in on specific points and details?

Quote:
In other words, aramis would say you are not free if the door is locked, whether you know it is or not. Meanwhile, you would say they are free because as long as they do not want to leave, it does not matter. As long as the PCs are willing there, it does not matter that they cannot leave.

I wouldn't say anything about whether you were "free" or not, because the idea of "freedom" in this sort of grand sense is an abstract and unclear philosophical concept that I wouldn't find particularly useful for discussing a game.

However, I still maintain that only what actually happens in the game matters. A normally inflexible GM running what is written to be a railroad adventure might still have a great flash of inspiration and let players go "off the rails" when the situation actually comes up in the game. A normally highly improvisational GM with lots of backup plans might still jam up and refuse to allow an action they should in play.

A pre-written scenario can be "railroady", if running it directly as written is likely to lead to the GM having to prevent players from taking actions they would like to take and logically and within-premise be able to take.

If the GM and players do not agree on the initial premise of the game, that is a problem, but it is not, in my view, a "railroading" problem.

If the players insist on pursuing something out of line with the premise, that is a problem, but it not, in my view, a "railroading" problem.
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