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?

away-1020200_960_720.jpg

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?
 
Last edited by a moderator:

log in or register to remove this ad

Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

@EzekielRaiden

On you list #2 is the one that seems rather questionable to me, and that is the sort of problematic railroading that people often complain about. Most others seem to be just one-off low-key force to set up cool stuff for later (about which the players presumably can make a lot of interesting decisions once we get there,) whilst #2 is a whole predestined scenario. It is not the setup that is forced it is the conclusion, and that, I feel, is a rather significant difference.

#5 is also a bit eh... but doing a proper classic murder mystery where it actually feels the PCs are genius investigators is super hard, and usually requires some sort of shenanigans. 🤷
 

log in or register to remove this ad



pemerton

Legend
Well, encounters are just a very simple and straightforward example of something which might or might not happen. They clearly require some effort on the DM's part to set up, while being easy to negate/derail purely by happenstance via player choice.
That last clause seems false to me, unless a whole lot of further assumptions are being made which aren't true of RPGing in general, and probably don't make a lot of sense outside the context of hidden gameboard, map-and-key play.

There have been other examples, though, like running into an important NPC no matter which town you travel to, or finding a certain treasure in the next dungeon regardless of what that dungeon is or who(/what) occupies it, or certain physical locations cropping up regardless of the direction the players travel (such as, from previous threads, the "haunted house" scenario that the DM plonks down on the path the players take, no matter which path that happens to be.)

Other examples of railroading appeared in the OP
You seem to be suggesting that all or any of running into an important NPC or finding a certain treasure or finding a haunted house, regardless of where the PCs go, is per se a railroad. To me that's obviously false, and once again rests on assumptions that there's no good reason to cling to.

I think what you see as an "obsession" is just using the simplest, most ready-to-hand example that requires minimal faffing about with explaining or inventing context.
Your other examples all have exactly the same structure - the PCs go to imaginary location X and find or encounter imaginary thing or person Y - and reflect the same obsession. It's as if the only meaningful choice posters can think of players making is the choice of where on the map to take their PCs, as if we were still all playing in the manner set out by Gygax and Moldvay 40+ years ago, when that hasn't been mainstream for decades.

So, to cover other examples that have nothing to do with encounters (in the sense of combats or at least the risk of such):

1. The players are presented with what seems to be a difficult choice: they are adventuring through a cave system, and they can either try to rappel down a rock face, or take some circuitous pathways that hug to the wall. This looks like a real choice, with risks and significance, but in actuality, there's no way for them to get down safely: the DM has prepared a fall into an underground lake as a prelude to a "Lost World" scenario in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs (which she happens to know several players are fans of Burroughs.) If they try to take the slow but safe path, a rockfall will occur, throwing them off into the darkness below. If they try to rappel, the crumbly rock will fail, same result. It seems to be a choice, but it isn't.
What's the way in which the choice is presented? Suppose that this is the first session, and we've all built our explorer-type PCs, and the GM asks "Would you guys be rappelling down the rock face, or going down via the narrow, circuitous path?" And we answer, and the GM incorporates that colour into the framing of the fall into the Lost World.

I don't think that's a railroad: it's just inviting the players to introduce some colour into the framing.

Or to put it another way: your example, on its own, doesn't reveal whether or not it's a railroad because doesn't reveal what, if anything, is at stake in the GM's invitation to the players to make a choice.

A war is brewing.
Who decided this? To my mind, this is where the incipient railroad is being laid.

The PCs know that the Duke and the Countess are both gearing up for civil war against the childless King who has been acting strange and draconian, but that in truth, they are each being deceived by the Abbess, actually a demon in disguise who has been manipulating the King.
The same question arises here. Who wrote all this backstory? How did the players come to know it? Of course there are non-railroad-y ways that something like this might come about (eg Burning Wheel play could lead to a situation like this) but when I see this example posted in this context the first thing it suggests to me is GM-dominated play in which the players' principle role is to provide a bit of colour.

If the players support the Duke, the King will in turn show favor only to the Countess, and vice-versa. If the players try to reconcile the two sides, the DM will invent new problems to prolong the tension until the three-way meeting can occur. If the PCs try to heal the King, find an heir, or seduce any of the three, all attempts will either fail or "succeed" (that is, appear to work, but never actually accomplish anything.) There are many different things the party could potentially think to do, but the DM won't let anything that doesn't lead to this (literally) crowning moment of heartwarming happen. No choice
Sure, a GM could keep writing more and more stuff. Personally I would be out of the game you're describing here well before it got to this point.

It's early in the campaign, and the DM thinks the players would really love a story about cursed artifacts and ancient deals with eldritch beings and people, both wicked and well-meaning, making decisions for the whole world whether or not they are justified in doing so. But to get the ball rolling, the players have to get drawn into the curse. The players are presented with their choice of which magic item to take from a mysterious benefactor--but no matter whether they choose the ring, the sword, or the robe, it's a cursed item and the others will just be ordinary magic items. They won't be allowed to investigate which item might be cursed, nor even know that they're cursed. The choice is illusory, but presented as though it could have gone differently--they WILL get this plotline, there is no other way.
This sounds like it has the potential to involve clumsy GMing. But from the point of view of railroading, the real issue, again, is who decided to play a campaign about cursed artefacts?

Also, how do "the others" turn out to be ordinary magic items? When do they come into play? If the PCs are obtaining them by killing and robbing the mysterious benefactor, it seems that the wheels have completely fallen off, and railroading is the least of this table's problems.

Murder mystery. A victim was murdered, and there are clues that point to the real perpetrator. Let's say the Baron did the deed and the Duchess is the innocent person he's framing. The party has found clues and started to build a case. They fall for the Baron's ruse immediately, and interpret the deceptive clues as genuine. For a classical railroad (as described in the OP), the PCs will simply keep bumping into new clues until the resolution is a foregone conclusion; there will never be any doubt. Or for the quantum railroad, whoever the party decides is guilty is in fact guilty, no matter what fiction was established to begin with--which, to be clear, is just as bad. Either way, there is no choice: correct because of enforcement or correct because of transformation, either way, the only world allowed to exist is one where the PCs correctly identify the killer. This shows more clearly the connection to consequences, which is why "agency" is more important than "choice" per se--sometimes, a choice either has no consequences, or the consequences of a particular choice just aren't relevant. But clearly there should be consequences for pinning guilt on an innocent person, and that's not allowed to happen here.
Your last sentence makes little sense to me - the guilt and innocence are all in the fiction, and if whoever authors the fiction decides that whomever the players have fastened on is the killer, then no guilt is being pinned on any innocent person.

You seem to be assuming that a murder mystery must be set up and run as a game in which the players try and work out the content of the GM's notes. That's one way to run a murder mystery - I've done it - but it's not the only way - I've done others too. The first approach was closer to a railroad than the second.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
No it isn't. That's your pretty blatant misinterpretation of what was said. Nobody has said that agency is avoiding encounters. Repeating something that you know to be false, because I've corrected you at least 4 times now, isn't going to suddenly make it true.
If I were to ask for an example of "player agency where players make a meaningful choice", I bet your example would be avoiding an encounter. Again, that example has been used dozens of times.

ISaying, "Agency means embracing things like the possibility that the players choose things which invalidate your prep work" does not, at all, whatsoever, mean saying, "Agency is very specifically players maliciously trying to waste the DM's time, and then bragging about their successful rejection of work the DM put into the game."
Guess it just looked that way to me as no one was giving any postive examples.

Railroad example: DM says(to themselves) "no matter the road they pick they will encounter the fire troll bandits. It's a well balanced challenging fun encounter I made, I think everyone will like it, and we will use it.

Player Agency Example(players out loud)-"the DM has encouter set at the South Bridge, lets leave town by the North Road, so the DM can't use that encounter. Ha, we will show that DM to come prepared to a game!"

Was there a postive example I missed? Maybe repost it?



1. The players are presented with what seems to be a difficult choice: they are adventuring through a cave system,
Ok, so what would you require here for a choice? A safe boring path down where nothing happens? Or a ladder up and out of the caves? Or something else? Why can't things happen in a game world without the players approval? Would this example be better if there was a foe causing the rockfalls TO trap the characters?
2. A war is brewing.
I guess here the DM can't "just say" that is the way each NPC is? And this is an example of "if a DM makes any plans, its always wrong". Right? Only pure random improv is the right way. And why must the players have the ability to alter reality? Unless the players are High Ups in the social group, why would anything they do effect the Big Npc?

But ok, lets say the DM just improved the big NPCs. Then when the players "do stuff" the DM has the big NPCs react to the players stuff. So is this not illusionism? Making the players feel special no matter what they do?

4. It's early in the campaign, and the DM thinks the players would really love a story about cursed artifacts and ancient deals with eldritch beings and people, both wicked and well-meaning, making decisions for the whole world whether or not they are justified in doing so. But to get the ball rolling, the players have to get drawn into the curse. The players are presented with their choice of which magic item to take from a mysterious benefactor--but no matter whether they choose the ring, the sword, or the robe, it's a cursed item and the others will just be ordinary magic items. They won't be allowed to investigate which item might be cursed, nor even know that they're cursed. The choice is illusory, but presented as though it could have gone differently--they WILL get this plotline, there is no other way.
Sounds fine to me. Though really you can just drop the pointless choice. Just have the mystery person offer one item. Even better if it's a group item. As many players are greedy, look before they leap and do zero research it is easy to curse characters a lot. The set up is so easy: The Glade of Good is where some unicorns guard a vorpal sword. A lot of players will murderhobo those unicorns in no time...and get a curse doing so, start plot.

This is a perfect example of, yes SOMETIMES things just happen to characters that they can't avoid. That is life, even game life. Everything can't be only because of choices and concquences.
5. Murder mystery.
You lost me here. When the PCs follow the false clues don't they figure out the Lady is innocent? A railroad, by design, would offer real clues that did not fit the red herring clues. And I'm not sure the "quantum" one is a railroad. Your talking about a DM that does not make a "mystery" they just sit back and let the players "DM" the mystery, and whatever the players say, the DM is like "wow, you guys solved it!" That is not railroading. I'd call that side table buddy DMing.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
If I were to ask for an example of "player agency where players make a meaningful choice", I bet your example would be avoiding an encounter. Again, that example has been used dozens of times.
No it hasn't. Not once has agency = evading an encounter. Keep trying to spin it that way, though. Maybe you'll convince people if you make that claim enough. :)

Agency = a player actually having a choice(or at least the capability of getting a choice), not the DM's choice forced on the player.
 

pemerton

Legend
If I were to ask for an example of "player agency where players make a meaningful choice", I bet your example would be avoiding an encounter.
Just using this as a springboard: for me, the core of "player agency" is the players deciding what their PCs goals and motivations are, what the campaign is about, and who the PCs' friends and enemies are; establishing what is at stake in situations presented to them and deciding how to respond to those situations; and not having the GM dictate the outcomes of action declarations without reference to mechanics.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
No it hasn't.
Ok, so several pages of this thread did not have the avoid encounter example, when say the players "used agency" to avoid bandits or an ogre.

Maybe you could help by giving a non encounter avoiding example?

Just using this as a springboard: for me, the core of "player agency" is the players deciding what their PCs goals and motivations are, what the campaign is about, and who the PCs' friends and enemies are; establishing what is at stake in situations presented to them and deciding how to respond to those situations; and not having the GM dictate the outcomes of action declarations without reference to mechanics.
I have not seen anyone mention this "type" of agency. After all goals and motivations don't really matter on a railroad. A character can have a goal of X, and ride the railroad just fine.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Ok, so several pages of this thread did not have the avoid encounter example, when say the players "used agency" to avoid bandits or an ogre.

Maybe you could help by giving a non encounter avoiding example?
Pick any example where the DM is forcing his choice on the players. No agency. Now pick any example of player choice mattering(the DM not forcing his choice on the player). Agency. It's really simple.
 

pemerton

Legend
I have not seen anyone mention this "type" of agency. After all goals and motivations don't really matter on a railroad. A character can have a goal of X, and ride the railroad just fine.
I'm talking about the approach found in RPGs otherwise as varied as 4e D&D, Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World. Where players set the stakes, decide their PCs' goals, and this is what play is about.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
Pick any example where the DM is forcing his choice on the players. No agency. Now pick any example of player choice mattering(the DM not forcing his choice on the player). Agency. It's really simple.
Well, I don't agree here. Players, if they are lucky, get maybe 50% real choice....more often like 1%. But then they won't know anyway.

I'm talking about the approach found in RPGs otherwise as varied as 4e D&D, Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World. Where players set the stakes, decide their PCs' goals, and this is what play is about.
If the players want this illusion it's fine. The players pick X, and then the DM makes the X railroad.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well, I don't agree here. Players, if they are lucky, get maybe 50% real choice....more often like 1%.
If the DM is a dictator, yes. If he's a player in the game and wants the other players to actually be playing, it's at around 100%
But then they won't know anyway.
Dictators use that philosophy as well. You're the only one playing in your game. The other "players" are just there for the ride, even if they don't know it.
 

pemerton

Legend
If the players want this illusion it's fine. The players pick X, and then the DM makes the X railroad.
I don't think you're quite getting what I have in mind. Here's a short illustration - a summary account of a skill challenge:

The current focus of my 4e game - which is now at 30th level, the top end of Epic tier - is the fate of the multiverse: will it be engulfed in an imminent Dusk War, or is there some way of averting such a thing?

<snip>

Upon arriving at the tarrasque's location they found the tarrasque being warded by a group of maruts who explained that, in accordance with a contract made with the Raven Queen millenia ago, they were there to ensure the realisation of the end times, and to stop anyone interfering with the tarrasque as an engine of this destruction and a herald of the beginning of the end times and the arrival of the Dusk War.

<snip>

I wasn't sure exactly what the players would do here. They could try and fight the maruts, obviously, but I thought the Raven Queen devotees might be hesitant to do so. I had envisaged that the PCs might try to persuade them that the contract was invalid in some way - and this idea was mentioned at the table, together with the related idea of the various exarchs of the Raven Queen in the party trying to lay down the law. In particular I had thought that the paladin of the Raven Queen, who is a Marshall of Letherna (in effect, one of the Raven Queen's most powerful servants), might try to exercise his authority to annual or vary the contract in some fashion.

But instead the argument developed along different lines. What the players did was to persuade the maruts that the time for fulfillment of their contract had not yet arisen, because this visitation of the tarrasque was not yet a sign of the Dusk War. (Mechanically, these were social skill checks, history and religions checks, etc, in a skill challenge to persuade the maruts.)

The player of the Eternal Defender PC made only one action in this skill challenge - explaining that it was not the end times, because he was there to defeat the tarrasque (and got another successful intimidate check, after spending an action point to reroll his initial fail) - before launching himself from the flying tower onto the tarrasque and proceeding to whittle away around 600 of its hit points over two rounds. (There were also two successful out-of-turn attacks from the ranger and the paladin, who were spending their on-turn actions in negotiating with the maruts.)

The invoker/wizard was able to point to this PC's successful solo-ing of the tarrasque as evidence that the tarrasque, at least on this occasion, could not be the harbinger of the end times whom the maruts were contracted to protect, because it clearly lacked the capacity to ravage the world. The maruts agreed with this point - clearly they had misunderstood the timing of celestial events - and the PCs therefore had carte blanche to finish of the tarrasque. (Mechanically, this was the final success in the skill challenge: the player rolled Insight to see what final argument would sway the maruts, knowing that only one success was needed. He succeeded. I invited him to then state the relevant argument.)
There is no illusion in this play.
 


Ok, so several pages of this thread did not have the avoid encounter example, when say the players "used agency" to avoid bandits or an ogre.

Maybe you could help by giving a non encounter avoiding example?
An example from one of my games would be a time that a player learned that some NPCs who had ties to his PC had been captured by a band of hobgoblins and bugbears. I had planned for the entire party to respond, and so there were enough opponents for multiple battles involving the whole party, and I had planned to have three different fights. However, just two players actually attempted to tackle the problem, and they did so by trying to sneak into the encampment at night. When they failed a sneak check they tried to fight the whole camp straight up (they just assumed that I had balanced the battle so that they would be able to win). This was incredibly foolish and totally hopeless, but I decided that I wasn't going to go easy on them and instead would send every opponent at them which would surely steamroll them. Yet, when one of the players realized they were in over their heads, he tried a very smart tactic: he had his PC shout out a demand to challenge the leader 1-on-1. Since there was a NPC leader, I decided to go with it. Then, with some very lucky rolls and more smart roleplaying, the PC got the leader to give up and let them leave.

This scenario played out completely differently then I had planned. However, this wasn't because they avoided the encounter. On the contrary, they aggressively (and stupidly) sought out the fight. But at every point of the way I allowed their choices (and dice rolls) to matter, for both good and ill.
 

That last clause seems false to me, unless a whole lot of further assumptions are being made which aren't true of RPGing in general, and probably don't make a lot of sense outside the context of hidden gameboard, map-and-key play.
I had assumed we were talking about games where the DM takes a necessarily leading role. In a "no-myth" or "story now" game, if you actually stick to those principles, railroading is impossible, so I had assumed that was irrelevant to the conversation.

@bloodtide I have no further response to you, other than to say that you are, again, either assuming the absolute dirt-worst about the players involved, or actively inserting malice and hostility where none is present ("Ha, we will show that DM to come prepared to a game!") Unless and until you drop that presumption of players being actively hostile to their DM, I won't be responding. You aren't arguing in good faith, so there's no point in having a conversation.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Mod Note:

I‘m seeing some posts in this thread that could be considered arguing in bad faith…or merely strong disagreement. I haven’t seen anything that’s actionable, though.

Still, the result has been a rise in the general tension up in here. Because of that, I would suggest that disengagement between certain posters is in order. Perhaps even the use of ignore lists. (Before lines get crossed, obviously.)
 
Last edited:

pemerton

Legend
I had assumed we were talking about games where the DM takes a necessarily leading role. In a "no-myth" or "story now" game, if you actually stick to those principles, railroading is impossible, so I had assumed that was irrelevant to the conversation.
I took it we were talking about D&D. Some posts seem to be talking about RPGing in general.

Of course if play involves the GM taking a leading role in the sense you seem to mean, it will be a railroad - that's virtually tautological!
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
An example from one of my games would be a time that a player learned that some NPCs who had ties to his PC had been captured by a band of hobgoblins and bugbears.
Guess I'd point out that right here is a railroad. Sure the player could refuse to not only role play, but also not play the game, but really the player has "no choice" but to help right?


I had planned for the entire party to respond, and so there were enough opponents for multiple battles involving the whole party, and I had planned to have three different fights. However, just two players actually attempted to tackle the problem, and they did so by trying to sneak into the encampment at night
So you had a group of people, but only two took the adventure hook? Did the rest just sit there and watch? Go home? Or did you try the ill advised two adventures at once?

. When they failed a sneak check they tried to fight the whole camp straight up (they just assumed that I had balanced the battle so that they would be able to win).
That sounds like "player agency" to me.

This was incredibly foolish and totally hopeless, but I decided that I wasn't going to go easy on them and instead would send every opponent at them which would surely steamroll them. Yet, when one of the players realized they were in over their heads, he tried a very smart tactic: he had his PC shout out a demand to challenge the leader 1-on-1. Since there was a NPC leader, I decided to go with it. Then, with some very lucky rolls and more smart roleplaying, the PC got the leader to give up and let them leave.
You said you were not going to go easy on them....and then you did.
This scenario played out completely differently then I had planned. However, this wasn't because they avoided the encounter. On the contrary, they aggressively (and stupidly) sought out the fight. But at every point of the way I allowed their choices (and dice rolls) to matter, for both good and ill.
But this is no example of "player agency" though. The players were always free to choose whatever they wanted to do, right? You don't seem like a DM that would ever say 'no' to a player. When you "decided to go with whatever the players want" you effectively gave them control of the game. And not that that is a bad thing, but it only works as the players agree. You don't describe the role playing or rolls, but if both were amazing, then sure the characters might get out of this jam the chose to get in.

Also you never mentioned your plan. If your plan was just "encounter the npcs", ok, you did that.

Also I note a bit of confusion when just two characters go up against a powerful group, you do nothing. But then once the characters get in trouble you are suddenly willing to change everything. I'd guess as you did not want to kill two characters. And if your plan was to "not kill two characters", then you did that plan.
 

I've read it many times.
yet you are still not seeing that DMs determine if a skill is appropriate...
The "appropriateness" is not about "does this fit the GM's preconceived plot?". It is about "does this make sense in the situation presented to the player?" The example given (4e DMG p 75) is of trying to use Diplomacy to help survive a desert crossing.
and in what way does finding a clue about the military leader poisoning the queen in a random tree make??? it is just picking a skill and trying to force it into the story for no reason.
If the PCs are looking for clues in a wooded area, what is inappropriate about trying to find a clue by looking in the trees?
it depends on if there is a reason to suspect a clue up there or if the high str trained in athletics fighter just thinks he should get to use his best skill...
As for the Duke example, that is not a rule that the PCs can't find a clue. It is about methods that will or won't work,
and climbing a tree will not work.
Whereas your example of the clue is exactly that: you have decided, in advance, that the players can't get what they want out of their action declaration.
just as intimidate not working on the duke was decided in advance by the DM... that the player can't get what they want ouf of their action declaration.
 

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top