Being open with railroading your players

edited September 2012 in Play Advice
I'm breaking out this discussion from this thread.
I said: "Railroading is a technique" - and some more, claiming that railroading is a tool that may be used effectively to help immersion and engagement in a game. ...
I've never met a tabletop gamer who would have stood for that, or at least not one who mentioned it to me in passing.
I agree with Tomas. I'm always telling my players if I'm railroading or not. I don't see the point trying to hide it. That's why I think "illusionism" is a pretty strange term.

The thing is, even if I'm open with railroading my players, I can still give the illusion if player choice. Things that happens in the first scene may have importance in future scenes. Is it still illusionism? I define railroading as I got place A, B, C and D and the PCs have to get to those places in order (in looser rails: in any order). But when they are there, they may do whatever they want, probably creating consequences in future scenes. Is it still railroading? Illusionism?

Is railroading bad? No, it's a technique that can be used for several purposes. I usually use it for cool twists, like in The Usual Suspects, Stay or The Sixth Sense, but I can also use it as a scenario structure. In Feng Shui, I got a combat in the beginning to start things off and a combat at the end. What happens in between is up to the players. It's their duty to find a path to the end scene.
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Comments

  • The critical issue is assent rather than knowledge. If you are open about where you hope the game will go, and the players assent to that pre-decision, then that's an example of perfectly healthy collaborative play. It's when you plan something ahead of time and don't bother asking for your player's assent, or if they don't assent and you trick them into it anyways, then you have a serious problem.
  • If you sit down to play a game, that's the only "assent" most people need to play that game with you.

    If you want to railroad; do it. Tell the players you do. Most players respect honest intentions. Tell them, and make sure you USE the railroading techniques to make the game taste differently. Use them to set the stage for a different kind of interaction. Have fun!
  • edited September 2012
    While they may not be the most popular, especially with people that are hardcore players and have had serious issues with railroading GM's, I'm pretty fond of mechanics that allow GM's to force an outcome sometimes. Like in Old School Hack, the GM can use some of their Awesome Points to do things like say, "You get overwhelmed by guards and get arrested." or "Despite your best efforts, the villain slips out the back and lose him." Those can be railroad situations, arguably. You're not really giving the players a chance to react. But then again, this is basically just an AW Hard Move which seems to be an accepted tactic now-a-days.

    This goes back to that GM fiat discussion that was going on not too long ago. Many people believe GM Fiat is back and is cool now.
  • Oh, so typical; I did not know GM fiat had left. And now it's back! Goodness gracious!
  • edited September 2012
    I do use railroading occasionally and informs the player about it. Often in his form:
    "Okay. Welcome to this convention scenario. The first few scene that kick of the session is a bit railroaded to get things going, but then I'll will let you loose. You a group of miners who sent to repair a broken remote controlled truck..."
  • edited September 2012
    "Many people believe GM Fiat is back and is cool now."
    ...and to think, I was shot down for saying such an outlandish thing.

  • Once you talk about what you're wanting to do as GM and get everyone on board doesn't it cease to be 'railroading'? Once you systematize it, set it within a structure of triggers and ground it within the fiction doesn't it cease to be 'fiat'?

    How negotiation can be called railroading and system can be called fiat I'm really not sure, but I'm curious to see where this conversation goes.
  • I think railroading can be used as a useful device, but is always something to handle with care, like GM Fiat. RPGs are primarily a mode of collaborative storytelling, and just like when a player can steal the spotlight and make a situation uncomfortable, I think the same thing applies with the GM too, and when it becomes a case of the GM telling the story they want to tell, rather than a story with the other players, then the railroading has gone too far.

    However, light railroading is useful in some styles of game. In Adeptus Evangelion, for example, it is a great method of reminding the players that they are children and will be treated like that, no matter how big the robots they pilot, as well as increasing the overbearing atmosphere to drag out the social anxieties that all the players possess at their core. Similar styles can be used in any situation where the villain is particularly pro-active. GM fiat I would argue is useful to speed things up and as rulings, but it isn't OK to take choice out of the hands of the players (Exceptions being a one-shot where you need to get a viable plot out fast).
  • 'Railroading' (using your authority over the game or over the other players to push the game towards a pre-planned outcome) is certainly a technique, and a nuanced one. Its appropriateness depends on the game and the attitude of the players. These are all quite different:

    * You are playing a traditional game (GM + players) with a pre-set "plot" structure (Scene A, then Scene B, etc.).

    A range of possible ways it plays out:

    A. The players know the sequence of Scenes, and have assented to follow them.

    B. The players know that there EXISTS a sequence of scenes, and have assented to follow it, but do not know the scenes themselves, and are looking forward to finding out what those are.

    C. The players know that there EXISTS a sequence of scenes, but are interested in pushing the story in other directions (towards their particular characters' pursuits -- in other words, are not assenting to follow the sequence), while the GM tries to keep the game "on the rails". This is known to the players, in other words, but not explicit.

    D. The players do not know that there is a sequence of scenes, and the GM tries to keep the game "on the rails". The GM doesn't mind if the players discover this fact, however.

    E. The GM and game system/rules claim that the game is completely open to player initiative, but the GM is trying to "railroad" the players into a specific sequence of events without letting them know that's what he or she is doing.

    F. The GM and game system/rules claim that the game is completely open to player initiative, but the GM denies this and is trying to "railroad" the players into a specific sequence of events, while the players stubbornly try to break free of the secret "road".

    I don't know if I've covered everything (and railroaded/non-railroaded elements can cover different parts of the game, like a scenario which is open-ended until the very last scene, which happens no matter what). But there's definitely a spectrum, and different ways the players of the game can interact with the element of potential "railroading". Some of these will be functional (conducive to the goals of the game), others will be utterly toxic.

    I'm guessing the toxic types happen when either:

    a) the players (including the GM) feel that they are being lied to or otherwise deceived, so their trust in each other is undermined, or

    b) the elements being railroaded are the same elements that the players care about most. (For example, in a game where a player cares most about testing his or her character's ability to survive various combat encounters, that player will be very frustrated to discover that the outcome of combat encounters is rigged, whether in their favour or not.)
  • Somewgat tangentially, I like it when the players THINK they're being railroaded, but they're not (for instance saying "Oh CLEARLY we're supposed to go explore the sewers!" when the sewers are only one option). Often I'll point that out when it happens, and remind them that they're not "supposed" to do anything - it helps reinforce that the fiction comes first.
  • Would it be okay for a player other than the GM to "railroad" a session, invalidating the input and ideas of everyone else at the table?
  • edited September 2012
    There's also the case, which I've experienced, that players don't want to be told if they are being railroaded or not.

    You can borrow my avatar to flag railroading if you like.
  • There are plenty of modern game designs that use "railroading" techniques in interesting and non-abusive ways. I mean, almost any technique can be abusive if you use it in a way that intentionally misleads and coerces other players, and "railroading" -- like most other techniques -- can be great if everyone is on-board.

    One that specifically comes to mind is Marvel Heroic. How do the character get from Action Scene to Action Scene? Often, the GM just frames them there, at least in many of the published adventures, just like it's a pre-planned 4E battlemap fight. Sometimes the players have some leeway about what happens next, but not always. Players get to help determine how specific sequences of events play out, which may inform what future events are like, but they don't always get to decide where they go and what they do next. And smart GMs just frame those scenes rather than doing passive-aggressive tricks to try to convince the characters to do what they are "supposed" to. You can also play in looser, more improvized ways, but not in pre-written adventures as much.

    Really, a lot of games with explicit scene-framing mechanics are like that. "The next scene takes place in the warehouse and Billy and Susanna are there" is much more railroading than "Are you there, Billy? What about you, Suzanna?" Even then, presumably SOMEONE has to be in the scene, right? I've rarely experienced games where somebody frames a scene that everyone rejects, though I guess it does happen.

    Sometimes, in some games, you don't get to decide where you go or what you're doing next. That's totally a thing. Can it be abusive? Sure. Is it always abusive? Certainly not.
  • edited September 2012
    By the way, has anyone been poking around Emily Short's blog lately? She's been doing some research on something called "The Holographic Story" which has a lot of interesting implications for both collaborative and interactive fiction (whoops, here comes the semantics debate!).

    Edit: I should probably explain the relevance. Some guy named N. J. Lowe explained a concept that along with the beat-by-beat timeline a reader mentally maintains while experiencing a work of fiction, there is also a anachronistic "holographic" mental model, containing a vague map of everything the reader has been told, everything they can reasonably guess based on genre and foreshadowing, and everything that has yet to be revealed. The holographic model begins as a blurry shape and is refined piece by piece, rather than being revealed top to bottom an inch at a time. Since railroading is essentially the technique of agreeing to events before they occur, I think this is something definitely worth looking into.
  • edited September 2012
    @Jon_Shepherd: that "holographic mental-model" sounds intriguing! Something to ponder, for sure, both in relation to railroading and other aspects of role-playing. Thanks for sharing!

    @C.Edwards: Most of us are curious about where a discussion goes. That goes without saying. One of the nice things about discussions. ;)
    C. Edwards: Once you talk about what you're wanting to do as GM and get everyone on board doesn't it cease to be 'railroading'?
    No. Railroading the interaction IS railroading wether you tell the players or not. It is not railroading in the worst sense, but still.
    C. Edwards: Once you systematize it, set it within a structure of triggers and ground it within the fiction doesn't it cease to be 'fiat'?
    No. As long as YOU are the one making the final call, as a GM, we are taking about GM fiat. Not in the worst sense, but still.

    I get the impression you'd rather like to think of these terms in the worst sense, Edwards. ;)

  • Does it count as railroading if it is collaborative? In my weekly D&D game, I use Keys to level up the players. What I mean is, I don't reward with XP but things like more HP, Skills, Feats, Relationships etc etc Although due to the nature of Keys, in order to get these levelled up components they need to follow the narrative to the goal.

    I'm a bit confused because technically it's railroading but it's the players railroading themselves.
  • Collaborative railroading is an option, yes. I do not understand your example, so I can't say if that is collaborative railroading.

    I believe the essence of railroading is that you set the basic storyline beforehand, and then interaction takes place within/on-top-of it. If all participants (or some) collaborate in making the storyline come about, it is collaborative railroading, of course.
  • To me, the border between railroading and not comes with the existence of choice.
    For example, to take the nice Marvel Heroic example, I would say that 'And then you go off to the Brotherhood's Secret Base.' to be railroading, and one that I would be particularly uncomfortable with in a game situation, whereas:
    "You receive some SHIELD intel that the Brotherhood are hiding out in the ruins of Genosha, maybe it might be a good idea to go follow them."
    Is GM prodding, and perfectly OK, because the players always have the choice to say:
    "Actually, we'd really like to collect some further information on who might be there, so we are going to try and find Prof X first."
  • edited September 2012
    I disagree that the border of railroading is with "the existence of choice". There is no such thing as "no choice" in a role-playing game, James. From the minute you sit down to play a game, choice is taken away from you, yes. The moment one other player do something in character, you loose some options, yes ...
    - but you get some too, all the time; choices, new options, new ways of experiencing your character ...
    Railroading is barely about pre-planning the frames of interaction. The interaction itself is still full of choices for you to make. Your character is still yours to play with, in the scenes that comes along. To me your objections sounds more like refusal to go with the flow of the game. I know it is fairly common amongst role-players to act like that, but it is not the basis for constructive co-play.

    And why on earth should we "prod" when all around the table know that The Secret Base is where the adventure lies? Go there, do the stuff that makes a great adventure, have fun! Don't dawdle about with illusionary "choice"!
  • edited September 2012
    RPGs are primarily a mode of collaborative storytelling,
    I disagree with that as a general assertion. It's true of storygaming, but it's not true of most "trad" styles of game, some of which have every bit as much of depth of character as storygames can have, with a great deal of player agency and breadth of scope and a general organic feel. The point being that many gamers are playing not to participate actively in the conscious construction of a story, but simply to enjoy "being" their character in some way. They may positively prefer NOT to have to think about the dramatic merits of the "story" or at a more basic level they may just want to think "in-character" and not have to think about what will make the game or "story" interesting, preferring simply to go wherever the character naturally takes them. They may feel drained or distracted or "jolted" out of their immersive state when they have to think too much in explicitly out-of-character terms. This being the case, players of that kind are NOT actively engaged in telling a story. When they state their character's intentions, they may be not really narrating anything so much as simply performing an illocutionary act, meaning "doing by speaking", just like when a bride or groom says "I do" in the marriage ceremony. I fully accept that this may not be the case for storygames, depending on what part of the game you're talking about, depending on the player and depending on what you mean by storygames. But for "trad" RPGs, thinking of them as storytelling games can lead to confusion.

    NB trad gamers of the kind I describe can hate railroading with the same venom that many storygamers hate it with. Because it interferes with suspension of disbelief and it interferes with their sense of "ownership" of their character, both of which frequently are critical, by the way, to immersion in character, which is a big deal for many trad gamers [though by no means all].
  • I agree with Omnifray. Many traditonal games aren't collaborative.
  • Somewgat tangentially, I like it when the players THINK they're being railroaded, but they're not (for instance saying "Oh CLEARLY we're supposed to go explore the sewers!" when the sewers are only one option). Often I'll point that out when it happens, and remind them that they're not "supposed" to do anything - it helps reinforce that the fiction comes first.
    Ah, Reverse Illusionism can be so much fun. Players disclaim authority for guiding the plot, but the "rails" always take them where they wanted to go.
  • edited September 2012
    I disagree that the border of railroading is with "the existence of choice". There is no such thing as "no choice" in a role-playing game, James.
    To me the best definition of railroading is something along these lines:-

    Absence of meaningful ability to influence the course of the events of the game or absence of meaningful choice.

    Specifically the central case of railroading is that no matter what the players do to try to get off the rails, the GM sticks them right back on. So though they maybe briefly seemed to have a choice, the GM negated and nullified their choice. If the GM is always going to negate/nullify your choice whenever it goes off the rails, then you don't really have a choice to come off the rails. By putting you back on the rails, the GM in a sense retrospectively robs your choice of meaning, and retrospectively renders it not a choice, but just an impotent gesture. But that's just the central case of railroading, which the name comes from. The core essence of railroading is simply the absence of meaningful choice.

    Why is that absence of meaningful choice important? For many players, the answer is "because it impacts on the player's sense of ownership of the character and thus on their sense of 'being' the character". For other players the answer may be "because the game is about collaboratively telling a story and this shoves the players out of that process of collaboration and makes them just an audience". There may be other answers too. But they all come back to the absence of meaningful choice.

    The "out" is that what is "meaningful" choice is subjective. If you don't care about the course of the game's events and you only care about how you portray your character, maybe you might decide that for you a choice about the course of the game's events can never be meaningful anyway, so it doesn't really matter, AS LONG AS it doesn't interfere with your character's internal thought process and internal decision-making, and only "frustrates" your choices externally by their consequences, and not internally by dictating your character's thought-processes to you. BUT even so, railroading may interfere with your suspension of disbelief and thus break immersion in character.
    Would it be okay for a player other than the GM to "railroad" a session, invalidating the input and ideas of everyone else at the table?
    A loaded question perhaps, but an interesting one. I have one player who says to me that another player in the same group will inevitably turn every possible situation into combat. It's not exactly railroading in the classic sense, but it has the same impact on the other players' sense of agency, sense of ownership of their characters, sense of ownership of the "story" and suspension of disbelief. If you constantly escalate, escalate, escalate to physical combat / magical combat, that could be very selfish and rude if it's not consistent with other participants' preferences. It doesn't seem accurate to call it "railroading" but I can't see an important distinction of substance between that sort of behaviour and railroading. An extreme example would be a character with mind-control powers or enormous in-game social authority [e.g. being the king] whose player uses them in key ways to ensure that the group always has to follow their agenda.

    Edited to add:- in a trad game, the solution lies with the GM, who can restore equilibrium to the situation. And therefore the blame for the situation also lies at least partly with the GM, if it's an ongoing situation which is never addressed.
    Can it be abusive? Sure. Is it always abusive? Certainly not.
    I think it would have to be a massively extreme case before the word "abusive" would be the appropriate word to describe a GM's approach to a game. E.g. forcing players who themselves have suffered sexual abuse to roleplay sexual abuse situations. I think there's a lot of discourse around storygames/RPGs which focuses far too much on the power dynamics within an RPG group and on the GM's fiat or authority as social power rather than as simply a cog in the inner workings of the game; GM fiat can be a valuable tool to facilitate a certain kind of playstyle for a group of players who desire to game that way. Focusing on the power dynamic really misses the point, IMHO. It's not about power. It's about facilitation. There might be a few screwball GMs who take advantage of GM fiat in crappy ways, and you could technically say they "abuse" GM fiat, but it's not really abuse of the players except in a truly extreme case.
    No. As long as YOU are the one making the final call, as a GM, we are taking about GM fiat. Not in the worst sense, but still.
    There's a bad sense of GM fiat?? GM fiat is a tool, good in good hands, poor in poor hands, or inconvenient if it's incompatible with your preferred playstyle (e.g. collaborative storytelling, which is a playstyle, and not the be-all and end-all of RPGs). GM fiat can't in and of itself be a "bad thing" outside a particular context of people's tastes and preferences for different playstyles.
    [Zachary Wolf said:-]
    Many people believe GM Fiat is back and is cool now.
    It's never been "out" or "not cool" as far as I'm concerned!!

  • edited September 2012
    I agree with Omnifray. Many traditonal games aren't collaborative.
    They're still collaborative, but they're not collaborative storytelling... they're collaborative roleplaying. Not saying that storytelling games or storygames don't involve roleplaying too, just saying that when we're just talking about trad games, we can talk about collaborative roleplaying. People collaboratively create an atmosphere and social situation where they can roleplay their characters.

    Edited to add:- @walterman, consider this. In Montsegur 1244 the game follows a set sequence of scenes and reaches a more or less pre-determined conclusion. Is that railroading? Is it the game-designer railroading the participants? The game simply wouldn't "work" if you went "off the rails"... there aren't even mechanics to deal with that situation... it would just end up totally freeform...

    Another thought. If it was pre-agreed by the group that one player was going to be playing the King, and everyone would be following his lead, that would be something very close to and analogous to railroading, being done by one of the players, and it would be fine. If people agree to it, why not? If it doesn't interfere with what they're getting out of the game, whatever that may be, then it's fine isn't it. And whether it interferes with what they're getting out of the game is something only they can answer... However I have played in a tabletop game where there were three characters, my berserker, a wizard and a noble who was the commander of 60 troops who were with us at the time. When it came to key decisions and the noble inevitably got her way because she had 60 troops with her and [more critically] expected deference to authority, it sucked in a big way.
  • Oh my gosh! I've been railroading all my life and I didn't know it! Well, there's a thin line between a hard move and coercing the creative agenda of the rest of the players, both can be railroading but the later also happens to break the social contract -which is why we dislike it. Yet looking at it well you can say that players make hard moves too (kill an important NPC before she spits out the information they need, sticking to a place instead of leaving to the next, etc) so Omnifray is right about trad games. Rule zero states GM fiat above the whole rulebook, so that part is undeniable.

    However the gaming experiences that have shaped the current level of knowledge about GMcraft and playcraft have showed us that letting go of the competitive antagonistic behavior between players and GM can also be tons of fun. It allows collaborative storytelling and creates an original setting, made by the players. Which helps inmersion a lot, since players care more about whatever they create than about whatever the GM creates (unless the GM is really good) or whatever comes with the book.

    So I'd say: railroad all you want, call it whatever you like, just don't break the friggin' social contract.
  • If players at the table are good with GMs or other players or designer "railroading" a game then the railroading is happening because of their decision. Making a decision to accept "railroading" is a meaningful decision, in my opinion.

    It is really only an issue when the decisions made by someone at the table are invalidated by someone else (ie I don't get to choose if I follow the orders of another PC or the GM rejects all actions my PC attempts).

    Every one should be allowed the opportunity to have a "moment in the spotlight".
  • I believe the essence of railroading is that you set the basic storyline beforehand, and then interaction takes place within/on-top-of it. If all participants (or some) collaborate in making the storyline come about, it is collaborative railroading, of course.
    Yeah, I agree, and that's why I think Dirty Dungeon is still railroading.

    ---

    On another note, I wondered how long time is would take before the discussion would derail into a "What is the definition of railroading". :)
  • To me, the border between railroading and not comes with the existence of choice.
    To me, there is no "only this is railroading". You got loose and hard railroading, and what I quoted above is a hard one. Me and Tomas is talking about a more loose style.

    It's usually the hard ones, where you as a player is reduced to react and possible roll some dice (= no choice), that I dislike. I have no trouble with loose railroading.
  • edited September 2012
    This is really quite interesting, because I have always been of the opinion that even trad games are collaborative storytelling. Whilst the player might prefer to think in terms of character and person, their interaction with the world should seem realistic, meaningful, reactive and responsive.
    It perhaps comes from my regarding the GM as a facilitator more than a storyteller. Rather than being there to tell a narrative, I think the GM should exist to supply a populated world. The players interaction with the population then becomes the primary source of the narrative, and whilst the GM places particular NPCs in their path to push them one way or another, the story is ultimately thereby in the hands of the players, not of the GM, in their choices and interactions with those individuals.
    Hence, collaborative storytelling, without necessarily dragging oneself out of the nature of character.

    Ultimately I think I agree with WarriorMonk and walterman on this, its all about the social contract, and I would personally argue that when it presumes or invalidates the actions of characters, which in most trad games are the only thing that the players have any control over whatsoever, it goes too far.

    Yes... Is the railroad a sliding scale? Maybe a spectrum? I think if we can get some definite definitions, we can probably do better. I automatically see Railroading as the negative use of a GM's ability to direct and dictate the story, whereas I would see what you call loose railroading as just GM Plot Guidance.
  • edited October 2012
    It perhaps comes from my regarding the GM as a facilitator more than a storyteller. Rather than being there to tell a narrative, I think the GM should exist to supply a populated world. The players interaction with the population then becomes the primary source of the narrative,
    This is what I suspected when I read what you first wrote. You got a more fish tank kind of style, and in that case, I agree that it's more collaborate storytelling.
  • edited September 2012
    letting go of the competitive antagonistic behavior between players and GM
    I've never viewed trad tabletop RPGs as a competition between players and GM. The GM is a facilitator. Usually when I GM I actually feel emotionally on the player characters' side. Even so some players may feel that I'm out to get them. And yet, mysteriously, they nearly always survive and even triumph. I wonder how that could be!! Possibly because they're just being paranoid about it, or because I do a good job of hiding how much I'm rooting for the player characters? Maybe.
    Making a decision to accept "railroading" is a meaningful decision, in my opinion.
    What, like an "elective dictatorship"? It might be a meaningful decision but is it an in-character decision or a decision you get to make more than once in the game? If you're talking about players stating at the outset of a game that they understand they will be railroaded, that decision is pre-game, not in-game, and it's not a decision they make as their characters.
    Every one should be allowed the opportunity to have a "moment in the spotlight".
    Wholehearted agreement here.
    even trad games are collaborative storytelling. Whilst the player might prefer to think in terms of character and person, their interaction with the world should seem realistic, meaningful, reactive and responsive.
    It perhaps comes from my regarding the GM as a facilitator more than a storyteller. Rather than being there to tell a narrative, I think the GM should exist to supply a populated world. The players interaction with the population then becomes the primary source of the narrative, and whilst the GM places particular NPCs in their path to push them one way or another, the story is ultimately thereby in the hands of the players, not of the GM, in their choices and interactions with those individuals.
    Hence, collaborative storytelling, without necessarily dragging oneself out of the nature of character.
    You see, the funny thing is that we are talking about the same playstyle, we just understand the idea of "collaborative storytelling" differently. I agree that player characters' interaction with the world should should seem realistic, meaningful, reactive and responsive. I don't think that makes it storytelling. I agree that the GM is a facilitator, not a storyteller, and should supply a populated world, and that the players' interaction with it is what primarily directs the course of the game's events, which ultimately depends on the decisions the players make by in-character reasoning, and player agency is central. Hence, collaborative roleplaying. All I'm saying is that the players aren't engaged in telling a story. They're engaged in performing a series of illocutionary acts (doing by speaking). The players needn't and perhaps shouldn't have any conscious awareness during the game itself of the "needs of the story". They can and perhaps should simply reason and think in-character. As such, they are not telling the story; rather, they are engaged in "being" key components in the events of the course of the game, which I'm uncomfortable referring to in that context as a story, but you can call it that if you want. So they're "being" the story (or a central part of it), and not "telling" it. This in no way implies that the GM is dictating the course of the game's events or the "story". It may imply that the only person consciously influencing the course of the game's events to push them in more exciting directions is the GM, but the players may be doing that same thing subconsciously. And many a GM may be doing it without conscious thought too, but only subconsciously, like the players.

    DISCLAIMER:- I am talking about the immersive approach to trad RPGs here, and what I say has no application to more storygamey approaches. Whatever's fun for you, more power to you.
    Ultimately I think I agree with WarriorMonk and walterman on this, its all about the social contract, and I would personally argue that when it presumes or invalidates the actions of characters, which in most trad games are the only thing that the players have any control over whatsoever, it goes too far.
    And "social contract". I hate that phrase. Such a crappy phrase. Why not just refer to the group's [loosely shared] expectations, or the group dynamics. I know, I know, it's the jargon of sociology/anthropology/bad jurisprudence etc. But at the end of the day, it's just not a contract. It isn't agreed; it evolves. Its content isn't definite; it's loose and undefined. No authority can adjudicate on its meaning. It's certainly not legally enforceable as a general proposition. It's not a screwing contract!!!
  • I have just finished running a Strange FATE (Kerberos Club) game for trad gamers. They were uncomfortable about the freedom they had because of aspects. So I scrapped the game.

    I suggested switching to Savage Worlds Space: 1889 because it was still Victorian, but no aspects (they had a lot of trouble with aspects). The Red Sands campaign that comes with the game is fairly railroady. So I was prepping by looking at the "side quests" to open up the narrative and be less railroady.

    I mentioned what I was doing and the players asked me to stop and allow them to play it as a railroad game. Is their request "wrong"? Should I be using my GM fiat to force them to stop looking for the constraints that a railroad brings?
  • I think some of the early D&D modules, most notably Dragonlance, are cited as "railroad". IMHO this is how to "railroad" the right way. Not for everyone, every time, but for a simple epic adventure it is good to have a device which puts the protagonists "back on the tracks" of the plot. Also I dont think it actually takes away *anything* from player choice in a lot of cases, merely focuses the choices down to key relevant ones.

    JMO,
    :) Snake_Eyes

  • edited September 2012
    I suggested switching to Savage Worlds Space: 1889 because it was still Victorian, but no aspects (they had a lot of trouble with aspects). The Red Sands campaign that comes with the game is fairly railroady. So I was prepping by looking at the "side quests" to open up the narrative and be less railroady.

    I mentioned what I was doing and the players asked me to stop and allow them to play it as a railroad game. Is their request "wrong"? Should I be using my GM fiat to force them to stop looking for the constraints that a railroad brings?
    Usually I've heard stuff like that referred to with some variant of "rollercoaster" play.

    A rollercoaster is like a railroad in that it goes in one direction, on rails. But it's more Woo-Ha! and exciting than the railroad.

    All about expectations. One of the main conflicts I see in perception and tastes in RPG play is that it very often isn't set out strongly by GMs whether the style of play that they're shooting for is more A) Explore/live in world sandbox as your characters or B) Make some characters who have reasons to go on this adventure/quest/solve the mystery.

    Different game texts have implied that both of these are what happens, and the culture has picked both up. Coming into a game, those things may well be in conflict if different folks in the group have different ideas of which they are getting into in this particular case.

    Of course, it can get even trickier when a guiding person in the group ( GM or otherwise) changes along the way.

    I know that, as a GM, especially with a D&D type et up, I have often alternated between the two, usually starting out with a "Let's go on an adventure!!!" approach for the first session or two, then moving to a sandbox/live it approach, and back to an adventure approach at different times when things seemed to becoming stale or too meandering.

  • In Feng Shui, I got a combat in the beginning to start things off and a combat at the end. What happens in between is up to the players. It's their duty to find a path to the end scene.
    Another thing that bugs me with the term »illusionism« is this above. Perhaps I've understood it in the wrong way, but illusionism is when you're railroading and the players find out about it? The gaming style in your group is broken? Illusionism implies that the players will find out about it sooner or later, but I can't agree with that opinion.

    The thing is, I usually move things around in my railroaded adventures to adapt to the players plans. Yes, this means that if I planned an ambush in the forest and the players take the mountain road instead, I move the ambush there instead. The thing is, I never plan like that. I just plan for an ambush that will occur whatever the players will do.

    I just read a thread that was about Trail of Cthulhu and one guy mentioned that the clues can be free and not bound to a certain place, and when the players do something they will get a clue. I use this a lot, no matter what game I game master. If the players invent a person on the spot that they want to talk to - "Lets talk to that merchant over there" - I reward them by giving out information about the scenario. If they want to break into a house, I reward that with information. I give positive feedback when they act, because I want them to act.

    But this is just railroading. It's the same thing as the ambush. I planned for something, and whatever the players do, they will find out about it.

    What's the people's opinion about this? Or is it different with a planned event (ambush) and information (clues)? That events force the players to react and information gives the option of what they will do with the information - "We know that the cardinal is summoning the demons. What shall we do?". On the other hand, bangs are all about creating events that the players have to react to.
  • I played in a game where the railroad was so strict that NPCs were brought back and their plot points given to similar characters if something happened to the original. If all players want this play and are having fun, how can it be bad?

    Is chess a bad game because pawns are "on rails" and can only move forward (except when in "combat")? Or are the constraints on pawn movement something that all players agree to?
  • To over-simplify: two questions. What kind of "railroading" are you talking about?

    1. Is playing this way fun for everyone? Is everyone having a good time?
    2. Is the "railroading" known to all the participants and agreed-upon? (Like pawn moves in Chess.)

    The answers give a matrix with four different categories.

    1. Fun, and any railroading is agreed-upon by the whole group. (This is called Participationism in Forge jargon.)
    2. Fun, and the railroading is secret/hidden. (This is functional Illusionism in Forge jargon.)
    3. Not fun, any railroading is agreed-upon by the whole group. (This is still Participationism, except something else is wrong with the game.)
    4. Not fun, and the railroading is secret/hidden. (This is dysfunctional Illusionism in Forge jargon, and what people most often mean by "railroading".)
  • I think some of the early D&D modules, most notably Dragonlance, are cited as "railroad". IMHO this is how to "railroad" the right way. Not for everyone, every time, but for a simple epic adventure it is good to have a device which puts the protagonists "back on the tracks" of the plot. Also I dont think it actually takes away *anything* from player choice in a lot of cases, merely focuses the choices down to key relevant ones.

    JMO,
    :) Snake_Eyes

    From the point of view of the OSR, the DragonLance modules were actually not "early" at all. In fact their publication is one of the clearest demarcation lines that exists in RPG history, from Old-School to Trad.

    Here is why the DL series is the epitome of the bad trad model: even if everyone in the group is on board with the idea of playing out a traditional epic fantasy story, and isn't going to try to go off the rails or do anything deliberately disruptive, the game's mechanics all but guarantee gruesome and bloody deaths for the entire party, very quickly. (I'm pretty familiar with DL1 because I ran it using Dungeon World back in February, so I read the whole thing very carefully. Overwhelming monsters, high chances of dropping hundreds of feet, etc.) So this is where you get the need for the GM to fudge die rolls to ensure PC survival. Which then takes away meaningful choice in all sorts of ways.

    Some groups can still make something like the DL series work, of course, but it requires both buy-in to the railroad and a willingness to completely disregard the game's numerical rules. At which point we really are just doing collaborative storytelling, and not gaming, even more than in the most "out there" of the story games.

    By the way, I also want to address something I saw upthread about the nature of story games versus trad games. While it's true that many S-G require some Director or Author stance thinking, rather than pure Actor stance... many of the best ones don't (at least not after chargen). In particular, it is fallacious to equate the Narrativist agenda with the idea that the players are required to think about what's best for the story during play. In fact this is not the case; all the players must do is simply play their characters. If the game is set up well, a good story will come out of that play, but it doesn't require conscious shepherding on the players' part during the game.

    Example: in The Riddle of Steel, once you've set up your Spiritual Attributes, you just play your character. Same with TSoY / Lady Blackbird and Keys.

    Matt
  • @ Deliverator
    From the point of view of the OSR, the DragonLance modules were actually not "early" at all. In fact their publication is one of the clearest demarcation lines that exists in RPG history, from Old-School to Trad.
    Well they are not technically D&D either, being AD&D, but if I was not clear enough let me address that.

    I still think I used the right word "early", a lot of modules, and Dungeon Magazine from the 80s and 90s adventures were "railroad". I do not know many people who watched the cartoon and played Dragonlance that are not in their 30's or 40's or older.

    I would not know what you would define as early then, before Dragonlance seems to be your criteria.
    Here is why the DL series is the epitome of the bad trad model: even if everyone in the group is on board with the idea of playing out a traditional epic fantasy story, and isn't going to try to go off the rails or do anything deliberately disruptive, the game's mechanics all but guarantee gruesome and bloody deaths for the entire party, very quickly. (I'm pretty familiar with DL1 because I ran it using Dungeon World back in February, so I read the whole thing very carefully. Overwhelming monsters, high chances of dropping hundreds of feet, etc.) So this is where you get the need for the GM to fudge die rolls to ensure PC survival. Which then takes away meaningful choice in all sorts of ways.
    Not in my experience, I have never heard before that it was anything more than challenging, certainly not "highly lethal". Playing the entire series a few times, I would be happy to use it as introduction to players of any age, and I have not ever fudged a _single die_ in decades of rp.

    I know nothing of Dungeon World, but maybe your modification of the basic adventure gave you anomalis results?

    And saying that it takes away the meaningful choices? Like choosing what path of magic Rastlin takes? Or is relationship with his twin? These things are player choices! If you dont have White, Red, and Black magic then that takes away one of the central choices to Rastlin. His choice of divinity, or saving his twin, how does a single dice roll make that decision for you?

    I would not flip a coin to determine which path of magic Rastlin would take, it is up to the player, and that is one of the most meaningful choices within the earlier part of the campaign, likewise the end his decision to defeat Tiamat is _not_ based on anything but the player.
    Some groups can still make something like the DL series work, of course, but it requires both buy-in to the railroad and a willingness to completely disregard the game's numerical rules. At which point we really are just doing collaborative storytelling, and not gaming, even more than in the most "out there" of the story games.
    Well perhaps the fact you have not played it with the original game rules is the problem?

    Yes I have played the DL1-14 series without dice a few times, it is a nice story. Both using simple karma-based resolution, and by purely dramatic means.

    Perhaps giving it another run, with a play-group of people that have experience with the AD&D 1st Ed game system you will find that both it is not "all but guarantee deaths for the entire party", or lacking in choices regarding character motivations. Also not fudging dice probably would help a little, just ask the players to use tactics rather than "feats" or whatever is in Dungeon World, as to be honest this is you disregarding the mechanisms of the game, not anyone else.

    Hope that helps to clear up things,
    :) Snake_Eyes
  • Wow! I would love to hear why you two have such different experiences with that module. Difference in play style, play culture, rules interpretations?
  • edited September 2012

    From the point of view of the OSR, the DragonLance modules were actually not "early" at all. In fact their publication is one of the clearest demarcation lines that exists in RPG history, from Old-School to Trad.
    Now here's a funny thing - I could have sworn that Old-School is just a particular style of Trad. Surely Trad simply means a roleplaying game with a degree of GM fiat and essentially minimal or nil sharing of narrative authority, where players act through their characters? By and large associated with "Actor Stance" and "Character Stance" though not exclusively so. In that sense, Trad has no necessarily negative connotations, depending of course on your own preferences. It certainly doesn't imply railroading (or hack-n-slash, or dungeon-crawling), though when something a bit like railroading happens outside the context of a Trad game, you probably wouldn't call it railroading (e.g. the scene-based structure of Montsegur 1244).


    So this is where you get the need for the GM to fudge die rolls to ensure PC survival. Which then takes away meaningful choice in all sorts of ways.
    Whilst I can't comment on the DL modules I would agree that if the GM is constantly fudging die-rolls to ensure PC survival then that may remove an element of meaningful choice which is akin to railroading in some respects. Of course, there can be meaningful choice other than the choice to risk life and limb, so it doesn't necessarily take away ALL meaningful choice, and might not ruin the game, depending on all the circumstances. Indeed, some storygames specifically give player characters script immunity, and it would be a surprising assertion to state that the players have NO meaningful choice in such games. If players can have meaningful choice despite having explicitly recognised script-immunity, how is fudged/disguised script-immunity different? Maybe the main difference is that a player might feel they are being tricked or that the GM is cheating? Surely that's a question of player expectations. You can house-rule script-immunity into a D&D game and openly fudge the dice-rolls. How is that different to script immunity in storygames?


    By the way, I also want to address something I saw upthread about the nature of story games versus trad games. While it's true that many S-G require some Director or Author stance thinking, rather than pure Actor stance... many of the best ones don't (at least not after chargen). In particular, it is fallacious to equate the Narrativist agenda with the idea that the players are required to think about what's best for the story during play. In fact this is not the case; all the players must do is simply play their characters. If the game is set up well, a good story will come out of that play, but it doesn't require conscious shepherding on the players' part during the game.
    I don't intend to define storygames as axiomatically only being games which require some conscious "Director-" or "Author-" -stance thinking. BUT I might get to that conclusion starting from more basic principles.

    A game where all the players must do is simply play their characters may qualify perfectly well as a trad game in my eyes. It seems odd to think that a game could simultaneously have all the core features of a storygame and all the core features of a trad game.

    For me, the defining line is this:- is your primary purpose [as a player] to tell a story [whether or not by conscious effort], or is it something else, perhaps simply to pretend to be [and perhaps feel like or imagine being] your character? It's still not an infallible demarcation though. Because human action doesn't always have a primary purpose... and you could have twin purposes of telling a story and imagining being your character, without being able to prefer one over the other. And also, notice that this is a personal thing for each player. One player might be storygaming, and another might be gaming in a trad way, at the same table, seamlessly and without problems interfacing with each other and the game.

    I tend to think that there's no point calling it a storygame if the story part stops at character creation. So what if the character creation system is designed to sew conflict for you to reap later? It's just character creation. It's preliminary to the game. It's not of the essence of the game itself. You could arrive at the same point with any trad game simply by writing up a backstory full of conflict potential for your character during CharGen, and that's perfectly trad. Why call such a game a storygame and not a trad game? Why does it make a difference if the CharGen system hardwires that into the game? The division between storygame and trad game is surely most fundamentally in the execution, not necessarily to be found in the basic design.

    Therefore I tend to think that to really be a storygame there has to be a focus on "our story" during play. Which means that the player has to be thinking at some level about making the story. And that basically equates to at least occasional "Author-" -stance thinking, be it conscious or I suppose subconscious. Ay, there's the rub. Subconscious will probably do the trick, especially if you had it in mind to start with...
  • Wow! I would love to hear why you two have such different experiences with that module. Difference in play style, play culture, rules interpretations?
    Well I have played it a few times, Rastlin as White / Red / Black Wizards. Cameron as a Wizard (not canon but was interesting) in dramatic and karma based resolutions.

    I have run the DL series for a group of kids as young as 4yo, after they watched the series (Kitika and Goldmoon seem to be the popular ones, (Kitika is my fav btw)). I cant recall anyone dying except Rastlin at the end, and maybe Sturm died once by player choice.

    But yeah I am happy to play both dramatic and karma based resolution as well as the conventional fortune as resolution. It makes it a lot quicker when you are not rolling dice.

    But even with Rules As Written I found that using tactics such as retreating and ranged weapons, also knowing how to play spell-casters, when to rest, et al generally having a good understanding of the tactical side of AD&D was a necessity for most players.

    Most importantly I finished the series, it is a long one, and the first book out of fourteen does not have many of the "key" plot points that I mentioned earlier. And I enjoy all of the characters, they are well written giving the player choices on what they want to do, and they are varied in their personalities and objectives even if they are united under the same banner of defeating Tiamat.

    :) Snake_Eyes
  • ...everything I thought I knew about RPGs is wrong... all of it, every scrap
  • Komradebob got it right a few posts ago: the terms are Railroad and Rollercoaster. The first one breaks the social contract, the second keeps the Flow going. Yes Onmifray, I wrote Social Contract again, and I'm sorry about that but it is a contract: "A contract is an agreement entered into voluntarily by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing, though contracts can be made orally"

    Ok, perhaps we're pushing it since the social contract is always made in a totally unprofessional way: players assume many things that are left unspoken (there ar exceptions of course), everybody comes to the table with different expectations (this has exceptions too) and it's never stated which of those expectations are gonna be fulfilled (this too, obviously) -even when part of that contract is actually written in every single RPG corebook.

    Notice that all this doesn't make the contract less "sacred". Players get frustrated when their expectations aren't met, as well as GMs. Players claim "it's railroad!" and embark in an effort to break the whole campaign and ruin every effort of the GM to keep her creative agenda going, or just accept and deal with it. Or even go the opposite claiming "Gimme my illusory rollercoaster!" and confront the GM directly doubting the strenght of her creative agenda.

    And on the other side, GM's abuse GM fiat to put the players back on the track, rely on illusionism or are caught flat-footed by the players asking them for less options and more emotions.

    Good playcraft and good GMcraft can do magic on each situation. And inform players on what constitutes good GMcraft and playcraft in the corebook is a golden advice. But in the end we're back to the Social Contract, which for the particular case of RPGs begins when we state what game we're gonna play, what's the game about and how the rules go. And many other more important things that we end assuming or that we prefer no to talk about since it could break the inmersion.
  • edited September 2012
    ...everything I thought I knew about RPGs is wrong... all of it, every scrap
    How delightful! You are in for a ride then; rediscovering role-playing games! Huzzah!

    @WarriorMonk; I've never ever seen a "social contract". It has been so much talked about, I find it strange not to have seen one in real life. Or, to be serious; the real world stuff you are talking about when using the phrase "social contract", is so far from a contract that I find the phrase seriously misleading.
  • edited September 2012
    Don't get hung up on the word "contract". It's an agreement on how to play, often unspoken and organically created over time. It's just a term, like railroading, so don't try to interpret the term by reading in a lot in the name of the term.
  • See now Tomas, if you'd ended up being forced to go through an American High School History class, you'd have had the term drilled into your head and wouldn't think twice about its usage in this context.
  • I see. This is part of your particular culture, and not something invented to explain how you gather around a table for a game of role-playing. OK!
  • edited September 2012
    @ TomasHVM, @ WarriorMonk, yeah, it's one of my personal idiosyncracies, as I tried to make clear, that I despise the term "social contract". I'm fully aware that it's a mainstream topic of political theory. Was it something to do with John Locke? Anyway, the fact is, it's not a contract, and here's the thing. I can accept that a contract can be inferred from tacit behavioural indications of agreement, without even an express exchange of oral promises. Contracts escaped the formality of the stipulatio in the Roman era, if not earlier. The point is that actual contracts (1) exist within legal regimes, not just a broader social context, and (2) have a definite content or can be given a definite content by some tribunal, court or like body with authority to adjudicate on them. Insofar as treaties in international law could be considered contracts in the absence of international adjudicating bodies such as the International Court of Justice or the WTO Appellate Body, there may, I accept, be lacunae in something which could loosely be called a contract. But still, they had/have a great deal of definite content. And beyond that, and more fundamentally, they exist in the context of a legal system. The debate on what makes a legal system is not straightforward, and the term "international law" may in some contexts be a misnomer. "International lawlessness" might be better. [The WTO Appellate Body's work is perhaps an exception.] But applying the term "contract" to what is commonly called the "social contract" is just repugnant to me. Everyone's idea of what a given "social contract" stipulates will be different, and there's no applicable legal system. Among other things, theorists use the term "social contract" to try to justify the submission of the individual to the state, as if the voluntary character of the "contract" carried some moral force. But the fact is that the "contract" is not of a voluntary character. You're born in a country you're a citizen of, and you can't easily emigrate. Certainly as a child younger than 18, you have no real choice about the laws you submit to, yet you're still subject to them. As an adult, emigrating is possible but difficult, and wherever you go, you'll still have to submit to laws. You can't live on Mars, and by the time you can, it'll probably have a nascent legal regime imposed on it by Terrestrial imperialists. Anyway, sorry TomasHVM if my post has spurred you to unwittingly oppose the accepted (but to me, idiosyncratically, repugnant) common parlance of social contracts, which, by the way, is certainly a focus of jurisprudence in Germany and not just in America. However I would say this. Appeals to "social contract" generally set the wrong tone for a discussion about RPGs. They tend to sound a bit... well, frankly, a bit whingey and antagonistic.

    @ Deliverator, presumably you're being sarcastic, but if not, you're being too hard on yourself. And if you are being sarcastic, I think maybe you're being too hard on us (especially me). I certainly wasn't aiming at shooting down everything you think about RPGs. In fact, re-reading my post where I responded to some of your points, I was indicating partial agreement with some of them at least. And, it's all just ideas about how and why we play games, isn't it? It's nothing to be taken too personally... So, er, chin up, ok?
  • I agree fully with you, Omni.
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