All Aboard the Invisible Railroad!

What if I told you it was possible to lock your players on a tight railroad, but make them think every decision they made mattered?

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

While this may sound like the evil GM speaking, I have my reasons. Firstly, not every GM has time to craft a massive campaign. There are also plenty of GMs who are daunted at the prospect of having to figure out every eventuality. So, this advice is offered to help people scale down the pressure of being a GM and give them options to reuse and recycle their ideas and channel players through an exciting adventure that just doesn’t have as many options as they thought it did. All I’m suggesting here is a way to make sure every choice the players make takes them to an awesome encounter, which is surly no bad thing.

A Caveat​

I should add that used too often this system can have the opposite effect. The important thing here is not to take away their feeling of agency. If players realise nothing they do changes the story, then the adventure will quickly lose its allure. But as long as they don’t realise what is happening they will think every choice matters and the story is entirely in their hands. However, I should add that some players are used to being led around by the nose, or even prefer it, so as long as no one points out the “emperor has no clothes” everyone will have a great game.

You See Three Doors…​

This is the most basic use of the invisible railroad: you offer a choice and whichever choice they pick it is the same result. Now, this only works if they don’t get to check out the other doors. So this sort of choice needs to only allow one option and no take backs. This might be that the players know certain death is behind the other two doors ("Phew, thank gods we picked the correct one there!"). The other option is for a monotone voice to announce “the choice has been made” and for the other doors to lock or disappear.

If you use this too often the players will start to realise what is going on. To a degree you are limiting their agency by making them unable to backtrack. So only lock out the other options if it looks likely they will check them out. If they never go and check then you don’t need to stop them doing so.

The Ten Room Dungeon​

This variant on the idea above works with any dungeon, although it might also apply to a village or any place with separate encounters. Essentially, you create ten encounters/rooms and whichever door the player character’s open leads to the next one on your list. You can create as complex a dungeon map as you like, and the player characters can try any door in any order. But whatever door they open after room four will always lead to room five.

In this way the players will think there is a whole complex they may have missed, and if they backtrack you always have a new room ready for them, it’s just the next one on the list. The downside is that all the rooms will need to fit to roughly the same dimensions if someone is mapping. But if no one is keeping track you can just go crazy.

Now, this may go against the noble art of dungeon design, but it does offer less wastage. There are also some GMs who create dungeons that force you to try every room, which is basically just visible railroading. This way the players can pick any door and still visit every encounter.

This idea also works for any area the player characters are wandering about randomly. You might populate a whole village with only ten NPCs because unless the characters are looking for someone specific that will just find the next one of your preset NPCs regardless of which door they knock on.

What Path Do You Take in the Wilderness?​

When you take away doors and corridors it might seem more complex, but actually it makes the invisible railroad a lot easier. The player characters can pick any direction (although they may still pick a physical path). However, it is unlikely they will cross into another environmental region even after a day’s walk. So as long as your encounters are not specific to a forest or mountain they should all suit “the next encounter.”

So, whichever direction the players decide to go, however strange and off the beaten path, they will encounter the same monster or ruins as if they went in any other direction. Essentially a wilderness is automatically a ‘ten room dungeon’ just with fewer walls.

As with any encounter you can keep things generic and add an environmentally appropriate skin depending on where you find it. So it might be forest trolls or mountain trolls depending on where they are found, but either way its trolls. When it comes to traps and ruins it’s even easier as pretty much anything can be built anywhere and either become iced up or overgrown depending on the environment.

Before You Leave the Village…​

Sometimes the easiest choice is no choice at all. If the player characters have done all they need to do in “the village” (or whatever area they are in) they will have to move on to the next one. So while they might procrastinate, explore, do some shopping, you know which major plot beat they are going to follow next. Anything they do beforehand will just be a side encounter you can probably improvise or draw from your backstock of generic ones. You need not spend too long on these as even the players know these are not important. The next piece of the “proper adventure” is whenever they leave the village so they won’t expect anything beyond short and sweet. In fact, the less detailed the encounters the more the GM will be assumed to be intimating it is time to move on.

Following the Clues​

Finally we come to the most common invisible railroad that isn’t ever considered railroading (ironically). Investigative adventures usually live and breathe by allowing the player characters to uncover clues that lead to other clues. Such adventures are actually openly railroading as each clue leads to another on a proscribed path. The players aren’t forced to follow the clues, but what else are they going to do? The players are making a point of following the railroad in the knowledge it will take them to the denouement of the adventure. What makes this type of railroading entertaining is that the players feel clever for having found the clues that lead them along the path. So if they start to divert too much the GM can put another clue on their path or let them find the next one a little easier and you are back on track.

The "Good" Kind of Railroading​

Now, all this may all seem a little manipulative, but modifying events in reaction to what the players do is a part of many GM’s tools. Any trick you use is usually okay as long as you do it to serve the story and the player’s enjoyment.

That said, never take away player agency so you can ensure the story plays out the way you want it to. This sort of railroading should only be used just to make the game more manageable and free up the GM to concentrate on running a good game instead of desperately trying to create contingencies. So, remember that you must never restrict the choices and agency of the players, at least knowingly. But it is fine to make sure every road goes where you want it to, as long as that is to somewhere amazing.

Your Turn: How do you use railroading in your games?
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

NotAYakk

Legend
Choices only matter when the PCs have actionable information between the choices.

"There are 3 doors, which one do you open" isn't a choice, it is a random number generator. If the same encounter is behind all 3 doors regardless of what scouting work the PCs do, it is a fixed random number generator.

I don't know about your players, but when I'm playing and my choices are blind and the information I try to gain is unconnected to what happens when I act on it, I don't feel I have agency.
 


Choices only matter when the PCs have actionable information between the choices.

"There are 3 doors, which one do you open" isn't a choice, it is a random number generator. If the same encounter is behind all 3 doors regardless of what scouting work the PCs do, it is a fixed random number generator.

I don't know about your players, but when I'm playing and my choices are blind and the information I try to gain is unconnected to what happens when I act on it, I don't feel I have agency.
Exactly this. "I go left/I go right" is meaningless unless its based on information or knowledge. Coin flipping decisions isn't player agency.
 

jgsugden

Legend
In my experience, these approaches tend* to result in games that feel like slow paced video games rather than an RPG.

Why? The text works, but the subtext is often* nonexistent. It usually* has that feel of randomly inserted challenges because the way

Players start to ask questions about why the dungeon is laid out in such a random manner. They ask why the group has to go through the kitchen to reach the chief's bedroom. The group asks why they always choose the right door. They ask, and ask, and ask ... the same way we ask questions about video games, especially older ones, where the pieces only kinda fit together.

D&D is an RPG. A role playing game. Characters play a role in a story. In a good story, the world around thew characters makes sense. It feels like the players are entering someplace that has existed long before they arrived, not something that was thrown together to give them a challenge. A well prepared session is going to be a better experience for players most of the time.

Usually*, it isn't hard for players to see through a collage approach of improvised railroads and note that it feels far less immersive than a dungeon setting where you built the dungeon with a plan and a thought about how it is laid out. When you can smell the cinnamon a few rooms away from the kitchen, when the escape passage is laid out in a way that makes sense, when all the puzzle pieces fit ...

* All that being said, there are times when this is the best path. For example, when PCs reach higher levels, they get the capability to teleport across the world - or even between planes - in an instant. My setting's primary world is roughly 23 times the size of the Earth. My Astral Sea is literally infinite, as are my Elemental Planes - as is my version of Space surrounding the Prime Planet. I can't plan everything. I have a few 'in reserve' dungeons/cities/bnuildings/wilderness settings that I can pull out and populate on the fly, but there are times when none of them work for the strange place the PCs decide to go. In those instances, I have to improvise the entire encounter/scenario and follow many of the rules recommended above to do so. However, when I do so, I try to make sure I do the following:

1.) Put a story first, There has to be something there for the PCs to discover. That story should unfold, and it is often best if it is not 'linear' so that the PCs are walked through the story as they find the elements. It has to unfold as they go.

2.) There should be a greater story element wherever they go. It may play into the current storylines that the PCs know, or it may drop seeds for a future storyline, but the adventure they are undertaking should have a purpose. Sometimes that lore drop isn't even going to come to fruition during the current campaign ... but may result in seeds the players can plant that will impact the next campaign. In the end, they can't just feel like this choice they made went nowhere. You can get away with the occasional entirely self contained one shot ... but I really try not to have that be the case.

3.) I try to drop a seed that will get them back to parts of the world that have prepared materials. It won't be a direct connect, usually, as that feels out of place, but instead it will be something that reminds them of what they might be neglecting, or that would benefit them in doing what they are trying to do elsewhere. A simple example would be finding a skeleton key that can open any lock once when they've been stymied by a lock that was not intended to be such a challenge, but they just couldn't get past and they left behind many sessions ago.
 

It’s a nice OP.
I feel as DM that I deliver a story influenced by players.
I can’t have infinite rooms, encounters and npcs prepared.
I use floating plot and encounters that can be place on need.
The overall need to be coherent, feel real, and a Dm should be a good story teller and have a good poker face.
 

What if I told you it was possible to lock your players on a tight railroad, but make them think every decision they made mattered?
Then I would think you have rather a high opinion of your ability to consistently and faultlessly outwit 4-5 other people for a sustained period. I find most players are highly intelligent, and can pretty quickly figure out that they're being deceived. A clever and chary DM can keep up the charade for a while, but it never lasts forever.

While this may sound like the evil GM speaking, I have my reasons. Firstly, not every GM has time to craft a massive campaign. There are also plenty of GMs who are daunted at the prospect of having to figure out every eventuality. So, this advice is offered to help people scale down the pressure of being a GM and give them options to reuse and recycle their ideas and channel players through an exciting adventure that just doesn’t have as many options as they thought it did. All I’m suggesting here is a way to make sure every choice the players make takes them to an awesome encounter, which is surly no bad thing.
It is a bad thing if it is presented deceptively. It's not the rails that are the problem--it is their (alleged) invisibility. Putting someone in a cage when they think they're completely free is questionable at best.

A Caveat​

I should add that used too often this system can have the opposite effect. The important thing here is not to take away their feeling of agency. If players realise nothing they do changes the story, then the adventure will quickly lose its allure. But as long as they don’t realise what is happening they will think every choice matters and the story is entirely in their hands. However, I should add that some players are used to being led around by the nose, or even prefer it, so as long as no one points out the “emperor has no clothes” everyone will have a great game.
Yeah...this is exactly the problem I have. If their joy depends on never, ever realizing that they've been deceived, then the game is eternally on the edge of collapse when it doesn't need to be. It's really not that hard to actually let players have agency either--nor to recycle old ideas into new things if you didn't have the time or opportunity to use them when you originally intended. Recycling doesn't have to take the form of "it's literally exactly what I was originally planning to do, but I've just quantum-superposition'd it from being south of the Dark Marsh to being west of the Fire Cliffs."

You See Three Doors…
This isn't even agency in the first place, so we're not exactly off to a good start.

This variant on the idea above works with any dungeon, although it might also apply to a village or any place with separate encounters. Essentially, you create ten encounters/rooms and whichever door the player character’s open leads to the next one on your list. You can create as complex a dungeon map as you like, and the player characters can try any door in any order. But whatever door they open after room four will always lead to room five.
At one point, I actually did something like this....sort of. It's from the Gardens of Ynn supplement, which (other than this one small flaw) is actually quite excellent. When I solicited feedback from players after the journey to Ynn, one of them spoke up about how when he realized that I would roll to find out what the next area was after they chose which way to go, it bled away all tension and impact. He knew that, whatever would happen, it was random, so there was no strategy or preparation involved. Just some new thing the party hadn't seen before. (Technically that was me very slightly tweaking it because I didn't want to have to keep completely re-drawing my map every time they hit a new room.)

Should I do something like this again in the future, I will try to generate a set of labyrinths in advance, and then select between them when the adventure starts, so that it's still random and I'm still surprised by what specifically happens, but there is an actual set of rooms and choosing to go in direction A actually truly is different from choosing to go in direction B (unless, contextually, it isn't because of magic BS or whatever.)

So while this has some potential, I have actually gotten direct player feedback about how this is not great, and if I were actually hiding it from the players, that would have gone over like a lead balloon.

What Path Do You Take in the Wilderness?
Frankly this is so much worse than the three doors. At least there, you're making it clear that they're picking even if the "choice" is really not a choice at all, just a random selection. With this method, you're literally just straight up lying to them about whether or not they're making choices. There is no direction except "forward," you're just letting them believe there is.

Before You Leave the Village…
....why not just talk to them? This isn't even doing anything that just saying, "Alright guys, time for final preparations before you head out. Is there any remaining business you'd like to cover, anything you might have forgotten?" wouldn't. Like...at least with the others you're trying to be efficient with resources. This is literally just "they'll pick up on the hints! There's no need to communicate with them!" What possible advantage does this provide?

Following the Clues​

Finally we come to the most common invisible railroad that isn’t ever considered railroading (ironically). Investigative adventures usually live and breathe by allowing the player characters to uncover clues that lead to other clues. Such adventures are actually openly railroading as each clue leads to another on a proscribed path. The players aren’t forced to follow the clues, but what else are they going to do? The players are making a point of following the railroad in the knowledge it will take them to the denouement of the adventure. What makes this type of railroading entertaining is that the players feel clever for having found the clues that lead them along the path. So if they start to divert too much the GM can put another clue on their path or let them find the next one a little easier and you are back on track.
Here I must outright disagree with you. Yes, it is one possible option that this is done in a railroading fashion. It is ABSOLUTELY NOT going to ALWAYS be railroading. The problem is, you have presumed a linear sequence of clues...meaning, you have presumed the rails. You can have clues that are just...present. They don't specifically point to subsequent clues. They're just single pieces of information. I know this because that's how I did a murder mystery. There were clues in the kitchens, clues on the body (some real, some faked), clues in the victim's bedroom, clues that could be gleaned from talking to the servants. No clue directly led to any other clue; it was on the players to choose where to look and who to talk to. There were intentionally-placed false leads, and there were dead ends. (The players tried to resurrect the victim, for example; it only partially worked, however, so the victim wasn't going to revive fast enough to prevent the diplomatic incident the players wanted to prevent.)

The players had to reason, had to use IRL information I knew they had (e.g. that livor mortis takes at least 2 hours to be noticeable, so the victim couldn't possibly have been killed by the person who found his body), contradictions between statements made by the suspects, and weird differences in the reports between different people who had no reason to lie. I had prepared for as many possible results of this mystery as I could: failure to identify any culprit at all, positively identifying the wrong person, having two or more plausible suspects without a clear identification, identifying the right culprit but not the reason for the murder, or truly finding everything. The players were persistent and clever and worked out almost everything, including the secret motive. There was no railroad here, because I was willing to accept essentially every possible result from the investigation. The one mystery they didn't solve was who was keeping one of the tertiary suspects under control via addictive drugs. (I think it just got lost in the shuffle, to be honest, but it is the one component of the mystery that never got solved.)

There was no "track" to get back onto, because the players were fully in control of whether the mystery was actually solved, or not. And they very, very much appreciated that their success was theirs, not something I ensured would happen.

Now, all this may all seem a little manipulative,
Because it is. Blatantly so. There is no "seem" about it.

but modifying events in reaction to what the players do is a part of many GM’s tools. Any trick you use is usually okay as long as you do it to serve the story and the player’s enjoyment.
I strongly disagree with this sentiment. Tricking people is rarely wise, and never necessary.

That said, never take away player agency so you can ensure the story plays out the way you want it to.
This order is impossible to obey while implementing the other things you have described here. Either you actually do respect player agency, and thus do not force the story to end up in the shape or location you want it to be, or you do ensure that things end up going where you wanted them to go anyway, and thus do not respect player agency. (Note that, if you have a frank conversation with your players, that's rather a different story; you are still respecting their agency, by giving them the opportunity as players to choose whether or not to participate. It's not ideal to say "please just do X thing, even if you might not normally, because it's important for this to happen." But at least you're respecting them and their agency.)

This sort of railroading should only be used just to make the game more manageable and free up the GM to concentrate on running a good game instead of desperately trying to create contingencies. So, remember that you must never restrict the choices and agency of the players, at least knowingly. But it is fine to make sure every road goes where you want it to, as long as that is to somewhere amazing.
Again, your instructions are directly contradictory. You advocate knowingly making it so whatever direction the players choose to go in the wilderness, it will always lead to the haunted house (or whatever other location you have in mind.) That is directly and specifically restricting the choices and negating the agency of the players. They do not actually have a choice of where to go. They can have any color they want, as long as the color they want is black.

Your Turn: How do you use railroading in your games?
I don't. Ever. Full stop. I have never needed to, and I see no reason to start. I have always been honest with my players. The characters I play are not always honest with them. But I, as DM, have never lied to my players. And doing so has enriched my game in ways too numerous to count.
 

I know this because that's how I did a murder mystery. There were clues in the kitchens, clues on the body (some real, some faked), clues in the victim's bedroom, clues that could be gleaned from talking to the servants. No clue directly led to any other clue; it was on the players to choose where to look and who to talk to. There were intentionally-placed false leads, and there were dead ends.
You publish? I would love to have this adventure!
 


Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
To me, the way I want to 'railroad' came up during a stream with the three Critical Role GMs - Matt, Aabria and Brennan.

Brennan said that any railroad comes from session zero. The plot hooks you laid out during that 'get to know your character and build the party' will be used against you.

(Side note: the video is full of good advice for gaming, but another point Brennan brought up: most people in real life don't HAVE forty pages of back story.)
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
I have no problem with linear sessions - in fact I often prefer them, as long as they are honestly presented as linear. It irritates me when a session is presented as open ended yet turns out to be anything but.

I've found VERY few players who don't share in that view, the linear adventures are not the problem, the deception is.

So why deceive?
 

No hurry, but I would love to see it. Some of my players (and my wife) are big murder mystery fans, but I have never been able to write one.
As an overview, the structure of the adventure was as follows:

1. Players arrive in the Jinnistani city of Mt. Matahat, which is located inside the mountain. (It's lit up during the day because the side of the mountain is made of transparent crystal--probably the work of an ancient noble genie.) For my group, they needed a favor that only a foreign dignitary could provide; your group would likely have its own reasons.
2. They secured an audience with one of the four sultans of the city. (It rotates who's Padishah Sultan(a) every couple of centuries, as the original Padishah Sultana of Mt. Matahat had four noble genie children and didn't want them resorting to violence over the throne.) He, being a subtle manipulator type, had the party seek out an audience with his brother, in order to retain plausible deniability.
3. The party did favors for the younger brother, and for their boon from him, asked to attend an upcoming masquerade ball (timed to match a every-other-year lunar eclipse). Younger brother got them nice costumes to wear. (You can use whatever one-session adventure you like as the favor for the younger brother.)
4. The eldest sister is the current ruler, but she's been paranoid someone is trying to overthrow her, and thus becoming draconian. The elder brother (2nd oldest sibling) wants the PCs to investigate, looking for any evidence that his sister has gone truly overboard; if they can find anything, he can use it to pressure the royal court into a vote of no confidence, which will allow him to ascend the throne a century early. Even if they turn up nothing, he'll grant their request--just having them as an asset at the party is worth the paltry thing they're looking for. (Again, this might need adjustment for your group.)
5. Before the party begins, the players have the chance to talk to the staff/servants. This is their first opportunity to gather clues, though they don't know that it's going to be for a murder mystery yet. (I sprung the murder on the players--they thought this was going to be pure courtly intrigue at first!) My group chose to be friendly with the servants, particularly in the kitchen; others could choose the guards, footmen, groundskeepers, or various other workers.
6. At the party, set in a manor estate with various magical protections to prevent invasion or untoward behavior, things go well at first. They meet some foreign dignitaries, greet the Padishah Sultana, and generally have fun. Then, there's a row between one of the guests (the young Baron of Cinders) and the Secretary of Agriculture for Mt. Matahat. The secretary said something disparaging (seemingly by accident) and the Baron took offense; the secretary departs to another part of the manor.
7. An hour later, just after the lunar eclipse has reached its height, a woman's scream is heard from the top floor, and the body is found with an obviously efreet-wought (that is, fire-genie) dagger in his back. The body is currently in livor mortis (blood settling) and his clothes are disheveled. (Successful examination reveals he's been re-dressed, and there is no blood on his clothes around the wound--meaning, the dagger was planted after death, once the blood no longer had pressure to push it out of the wound.)
8. Conversations with the servants revealed a key clue: one of the other visiting dignitaries, who had been at the manor for diplomatic deals prior to the party, had received a dress delivered to her so she could attend the party. The servant who received it explicitly said the dress was blue. The dress the woman wore during the party was explicitly red.
9. Kitchen servants identified that the victim had requested coffee be sent to his room a little while before the party began, but it was left outside his room rather than brought in. (Checking the coffee reveals it was poisoned with a narcotic drug--in small doses it produces euphoria, in large doses it is quite fatal.) [Aside: this was one of the multiple levels of misdirection: another possible suspect was someone who, the party learned, had been hooked on this drug and his supply was missing. It had been stolen by the perpetrator in order to commit the murder, and acting as another possible fail-safe should the true method of death be discovered.)
10. Examining the papers in the man's room, they discovered who he'd been working with. A successful analysis proved that some of the documents had been forged, and that the authentic documents pointed to the woman who'd been with him--the one who had the strange dress of apparently changing color! They also found suspicious connections among the woman's stuff to accounts they knew connected back to a merchant in their home city, whom the party has quarrelled with in the past, a man named Jafar el-Aly.
11. The Baron of Cinders--along with the Prince of the South Wind, Sahl--were effectively under temporary house arrest as possible suspects for assaulting the Padishah Sultana's court. Interviewing them, the party realized that the victim had to have been dead before his quarrel with the Baron. Meaning whoever had had that quarrel, they were using illusions or shapeshifting to pretend to be the victim after he was already dead.
12. Examining the room and the outside of the house, they realized that the windows of the victim's room had been left unlocked, and the plants growing on the exterior of the building had been damaged. Someone had climbed on the outside of the building, while people were busy paying attention to the party.
13. An interview with one of the other suspects--the woman who had found him--revealed that the victim had been carrying on a secret affair with her, despite their outward appearance of antagonism. The two had been subtly funneling money into private accounts, so they could retire and live out the rest of their lives together in some other court. She confessed to having stabbed him (which the party already knew wasn't what killed him) because she thought he had betrayed her.
14. Finally they put it all together: the aforementioned diplomat woman had stolen the drugs from that other dignitary, whom she had gotten addicted to that drug in the first place. She requested a meeting with the man, because she was already there to conduct diplomatic discussions, and killed him by poisoning his coffee. She then pretended to be him at the party, intentionally riling up the Baron of Cinders to make him look guilty of murder. She then returned to the body in his room (where livor mortis had set in), used magic (probably a bag of holding) to carry him up to the top floor by climing on the outside of the house. She then deposited him in the room where he was found, left the knife in easy reach of his location, and venomously directed the man's lover to him.
15. With the correct perpetrator caught, it would seem like everything is good. However, this whole fiasco played perfectly into the elder brother sultan's hands: even though the victim had been resurrected and the killer caught, his elder sister's incredibly poor handling of the diplomatic situation was ample evidence for a vote of no confidence, meaning he was essentially guaranteed to become Padishah Sultan; he gladly fulfilled their request and, in effect, now has warm feelings specifically toward the party and the city they come from, a major diplomatic boon for their own city's ruler (a Sultana herself.)

I used a neat mansion map I found online, I'll have to get you a link. But yeah that's pretty much the overall journey. As I said, a lot of distinct clues, few of which were smoking guns and none of which were a breadcrumb trail per se. Some of the clues do relate (e.g. the coffee, the poison, the drug addict it was stolen from, etc.; or the state of the body, the lack of blood around the wound, the body's clothes, etc.) but I did my best to create as many totally distinct clue locus points as I could so that the players could easily miss half the clues and still potentially solve the mystery.
 


TheSword

Legend
Even if there is no agency in which door the players go through, there can be plenty of agency in how they act when the do.

To me egregious railroading is when players want to effect an outcome and common sense/plausibility gets bent trying to prevent that happening… the enemy always gets away or can’t be killed. The guard can’t be persuaded or bribed. The door can’t be broken down.

I couldn’t care less as a player which door I go through as long there is something interesting on the other side that I get to interact with. Locational/geographical railroading always happens to some extent and is really just a question of degrees. There is always some form of railroading based on the structure design of the place. It really doesn’t matter to me.
 

What if I told you it was possible to lock your players on a tight railroad, but make them think every decision they made mattered?

What if I told you I could run a game where you had actual choices that matter with consequences and a good chance of the whole party dying?

I get the idea you are going for but why teach people a short cut when you can work to teach them the actual process.

It's scary but start small, practice, and don't be afraid to fail.

In fact I would sat you to take steps to show your player the transparency.

For example I roll all my dice on the table. So when I roll a wandering monster and it comes up a trolls I might hand them the paper with the list that shows a troll is a 13 on the table. Then let them roll the 2d4 to see how many. If there are no spoilers on the list why not show them the dangers they face, the ranger should know anyway.

When a player is fleeing randomly down hallways with one hit point and they chose left instead of right. And left hits a dead end and get killed. I would show them the map that shows right lead to the exit. Not to rub it in but to show them how close they were and build trust. Trust that I don't fudge for them so they know that victories achieved are true victories.
 

MrZeddaPiras

[insert something clever]
This is the way me and the people I knew used to DM all the time when I was a kid. Turns out players like it, and even kind of expect you to do it, as long as you make their characters look cool and incorporate pay-offs to their backstories in the game. Incidentally it's a style I came to dislike profoundly, because it's all manipulation and keeping the players happy so they'll like you.
 


Choices only matter when the PCs have actionable information between the choices.

"There are 3 doors, which one do you open" isn't a choice, it is a random number generator. If the same encounter is behind all 3 doors regardless of what scouting work the PCs do, it is a fixed random number generator.

I don't know about your players, but when I'm playing and my choices are blind and the information I try to gain is unconnected to what happens when I act on it, I don't feel I have agency.
Agree and disagree. I agree that choices only matter when the PCs have actionable information. So, a PC who says “We go north” without a specific reason is mot really exercising their agency.

To me, the corollary is that if a PC is not exercising their agency, a DM isn’t taking it away by throwing in a disconnected encounter. If the PCs go north and encounter a troll, their agency is not impacted if, had they chosen to go west, they would have encountered a western troll (maybe with a hat and cowboy boots).

Of the other hand, if a PC is exercising agency (“Yon peasant, prithee tell what is to the north of this hamlet”), then the DM ignoring this is denying the PC their agency.
 
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Stalker0

Legend
When these types of threads come up, people inevitably turning into the notion that "The Dm lying is inherently bad".

And that is simply not true. As a DM, your job is to craft an experience for your players. And you have many tools at your disposal to choose from, manipulation is simply one of them. And all DMs do it to some extent or another. For example, do you describe in detail every single person that exists in a city?....probably not. So when you decide to describe in detail an NPC....you are manipulating the players, you are focusing their attention on something specific. Maybe because the NPC is important, or because you want them to be a red herring, but you are directing their focus and their decision making.

There are definately times when the PCs throw you a curve ball, and go somewhere you had never thought of, and have no plans for. So maybe you throw together a super quick dungeon in your head, using a few of the tricks above. This isn't meant to be a major dungeon, its just meant to cover an XYZ quick thing and then the party moves on. And sometimes....DMs get busy. Maybe they didn't have as much time to prep as they wanted, and so their choices are throw something together real quick with maybe a little manipulative glue in the middle....or cancel the session. I know my players would always rather play than me going, "sorry guys I got busy, no game". Now like all tools, overuse of one is not a good idea. And if your doing this is a crutch because you haven't learned how to make adventurer's with player agency....than yes that's a problem. But as one more tool in the box, these tactics are fine when used in moderation.
 

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