D&D General Chekhov's Gun and the Hickman Revolution- What Type of Campaign Do You Run?

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Of course they do.
Getting to decide which ogre to attack isn't a meaningful choice. How many times you get herded back to the referee's pre-planned story isn't a meaningful choice.
Which is all of course BS.
There's no real other options. Unless the players can opt out of the pre-planned story and still play the game, then they don't really have much choice. Engage with what the referee prepped or go home. That's not a choice.
The whole point of an adventure like this is that you've already got player buy in. They want to and have signaled both in and out of game that they want to be doing this adventure and this campaign.
I've been doing this about 40 years and I've never met a player who wanted to be railroaded. I've met a lot of referees who think that's the best way to run games, but never met a player who wanted to be railroaded. It honestly sounds exhausting. All that effort and energy spent keeping the players on the rails. Put that energy into designing an interesting sandbox instead and you'd have less resentful players.
If that buy in ever falters, well, then by all means remove the bumpers.
Or...you know...never have bumpers to begin with. Because you can have multiple hooks and characters engaging with multiple quests at once. After a few of these being juggled simultaneously it begins to look an awful lot like a sandbox.
In my 40 years of gaming, the overwhelming majority of players that I've ran of all different levels of experience want to bite the hook, want to follow the bread crumbs, and want to engage with the story.
None of those things require bumpers or railroading. If you signpost that the adventure is to the north and the players decide to go south, that should be all you need to hear to understand they don't want to do that and would rather do something else. Forcing them to go north is robbing the players of agency.
They prefer that to there not being a story or having to manufacture all their own fun.
Maybe your specific group, but that's not a blanket statement that applies to even most gamers in my experience.
The experience that they are buying into is being in a choose your own adventure book, of being the protagonist in a movie where they can make the choices. They aren't buying into the experience of writing that novel themselves.
Good thing RPGs are not novels, movies, or choose your own adventure books. They are games. Whatever story comes out of gameplay is emergent, not forced.
Look, I don't know who took a leak in your corn flakes and burned you badly with terrible GMing, but you really need to get that chip off your shoulder.
Just all those frustrated novelists force-feeding players their "epic" stories instead of running an honest game. I am grateful for all the players I get that hate being railroaded, though I am a bit tired of cleaning up the mess.
I think that every GM railroads by necessity...
Then you're blind to a huge part of RPGs. I've never railroaded. It's my job to run the world, not the PCs. That's up to the players. It's not my job to force feed the players plot or story. They go where they want and do what they want and I react to that through the world. I've never had a player complain about that style.
 

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Shiroiken

Legend
I try to strike a balance. My campaign usually has an overarching story, but individual adventures may or may not be part of it. Since I try to run semi-sandbox, the players might not pick the plot related adventures, but I have the plot unfold without their participation, incorporating the result into the events around the party.

As for Chekhov's Gun/Arrow... I tend to avoid it. The world exists beyond the scope of the PCs, and I try to show this by using random charts, including treasure. A dragonslaying arrow is useful in a world with dragons in it, even the players never actually see one. That's not to say 'never,' however, as foreshadowing can be a useful tool (along with paranoia).
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've been doing this about 40 years and I've never met a player who wanted to be railroaded. I've met a lot of referees who think that's the best way to run games, but never met a player who wanted to be railroaded.
I've met some such players, at least to the point of their a) wanting the story to be laid out in front of them rather than their having to go find it and b) not being interested in going and finding any alternatives. If nothing else, they're certainly easy to DM for! :)

Also, there's times when a bit of railroading - e.g. suddenly teleporting the party into the middle of a different adventure site - can be a good thing. Just don't overdo it! :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I try to strike a balance. My campaign usually has an overarching story, but individual adventures may or may not be part of it. Since I try to run semi-sandbox, the players might not pick the plot related adventures, but I have the plot unfold without their participation, incorporating the result into the events around the party.

As for Chekhov's Gun/Arrow... I tend to avoid it. The world exists beyond the scope of the PCs, and I try to show this by using random charts, including treasure. A dragonslaying arrow is useful in a world with dragons in it, even the players never actually see one. That's not to say 'never,' however, as foreshadowing can be a useful tool (along with paranoia).
To the bolded: or better yet, they may not even realize how a particular adventure ties in to the greater plot until much later. Those moments are always fun. :)
 

Celebrim

Legend
"Rowboat worlds"? Errr...wha?

A railroad is a degenerate adventure path. It's marked by boarding a train and never being able to get off until it reaches it's destination.

A rowboat world is a degenerate sandbox. It's marked by being able to go anywhere if you expend a lot of effort, but everywhere you go is as empty as the Pacific Ocean, with perhaps a few islands of content somewhere out there that the GM blames you for not finding because you went the wrong way.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Just all those frustrated novelists force-feeding players their "epic" stories instead of running an honest game. I am grateful for all the players I get that hate being railroaded, though I am a bit tired of cleaning up the mess.

Considering the The Alexandrian took notes on railroading from me before laying out his ideas, I'm not particularly impressed by your appeal to authority.

In any event, his essay is degenerate because it presumes the definition of railroading is forcing a player to do something he doesn't want to do, which he then strikes down as the nonsense straw man that it is and is self-satisfied about it.

The only one in this thread exhibiting abused gamer syndrome is you. You are the one that got triggered. You are the one that went all emotional.

Then you're blind to a huge part of RPGs.

No, there is one thing I'm not, and that's blind to RPG's. I've spent 40 years studying and thinking about them and I've gamed for countless hours and critically examined what goes on in games - my games other peoples games - for more times than I can count. And so I'm not blind to the illusionism or the techniques.

I've never railroaded.

I'm sure you honestly mean that but it's BS. Like the Alexandrian you get to that conclusion by defining for yourself what a railroad in. What you probably actually mean is you've never ran a railroad, in as much as I'm sure with your bitterness about this that you've very much done your best to not dominate the agency in your games and you very much respect player choice. But that's not the same as never having railroaded.

It's my job to run the world, not the PCs. That's up to the players.

Of course. What about it?

It's not my job to force feed the players plot or story. They go where they want and do what they want and I react to that through the world.

Sure. And how is that proof you don't railroad?

I know how to run a sandbox. The essential ingredient of a sandbox is you prep much more material than you intend to use. If you aren't willing to have not just some of your prep go unused, but most of it, you aren't running a sandbox. If you say, "I don't need to prep more material than I use, because I just wing things extemporaneous", congratulations you are railroading. If you start your game and you have a dungeon and you have a rumor the discloses that there is this dungeon filled with treasure to be had, and the 1st level PC's go and get the treasure, congratulations you've conducted a railroad. If you are really good at employing railroading techniques, you can run a railroad where the players feel they've been free to make every choice. If you are really really good at it, you can even fool yourself with your own high illusionism.

I run narrow/broad/narrow games. As an example, I'm currently running a D6 Star Wars RPG where the players are bounty hunters set in BBY 15. Why am I running that? Well, because that's what my players wanted after The Mandalorian came out. My players can also do whatever they want, but also and at the same time we have so far never had them do anything that got them off a path, because fundamentally I have control over what jobs are available and taking a job means pursuing an acquisition. But then, there is no alternative to that. They can't invent their own jobs because you can't be both the player and the keeper of secrets. And I also control all the bread crumbs and all the clues that lead from A to B because who can make a mystery but the secret keeper? It's inevitable that if there are bread crumbs it's because I crafted or validated them because who else could by the one that runs the setting? So while I don't ever really know what wandering path they'll take from A to B, I do know all the paths from A to B as an inherent part of the game. And moreover, when designing those bread crumb trails I don't simulate them. I do make them conform to what is logical for the setting, but the bread crumb always gets dropped and doesn't get swept away outside the player's agency unless I also drop another bread crumb. A real world wouldn't do that. I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm choosing to keep the game going where I think it will be fun when I run the setting so that the fun is there whether they go left or right. Despite the fact that they can do whatever they want and despite the fact that they frequently do things that surprise me and solve problems in ways I didn't expect, ultimately these are all my stories. And even if they were to really go off the rails, that would still be true. They got lots of agency, but if I don't put down the rails in front of them they can't really go anywhere.

And like it or not, no matter how devoted you are to your multi-plot sandboxes (I once started a campaign with 18 different storylines I'd brainstormed up), no matter how devoted you are to creating more content than you need or how happy you are to shrug when the players don't engage with this cool thing or the other, you still are using railroading techniques to keep your game going - remarkable coincidences, false choices, small worlds, hand waving, schrodinger's maps and all the other little soft bumpers that keep the game moving instead of crashing into a gutter.

The reality is that this idea of games strictly separated into linear and not-linear or player agency or not is all bogus. The reality in every functional game is somewhere in the middle.
 
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MGibster

Legend
(I mean you, literally you ... the world is, in fact, Snarf-centric).
The existence of Bards would seem to suggest otherwise.


When they find a magic arrow of dragon slaying in Act One, will there be a Dragon in Act 3 to shoot at?
If I deliberately placed it there, almost certainly there will be a dragon to shoot at, but players being players, who knows if they'll even want to shoot the dragon? Several years ago I ran an Angel (Eden Studios game based off the show) campaign, and for one of the players, who absolutely loved dragons, I worked a dragon into the campaign. We spent several sessions with an NPC (who was actually Sir Kay of Arthurian legends) who trained the PC, received multiple warnings that some great beast was coming, only to reveal that it was to be a dragon, and when the dragon finally arrived, the PC essentially walked away from the dragon and left it up to another PC to defeat.

Wait, where am I going with this? An author can place Chekhov's dragon in act I, but if it's not breathing fire in act III it might be a player's fault.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In any event, his essay is degenerate because it presumes the definition of railroading is forcing a player to do something he doesn't want to do,
Which seems like a good enough defnition to me; though I'd expand it to include "...or wouldn't otherwise have done; or forcing a player to not do something he wants to do."
I'm sure you honestly mean that but it's BS. Like the Alexandrian you get to that conclusion by defining for yourself what a railroad in. What you probably actually mean is you've never ran a railroad, in as much as I'm sure with your bitterness about this that you've very much done your best to not dominate the agency in your games and you very much respect player choice. But that's not the same as never having railroaded.
I'm not @overgeeked but I make no such claim. There's been times in the past I've quite gleefully railroaded the hell out of 'em. Thing is, from pretty early on I was aware of what I was doing when I was doing it (we used to call it "leading 'em by the nose"), and tried to keep it to a minimum except for those (not too many) occasions when it was fully intentional.
I know how to run a sandbox. The essential ingredient of a sandbox is you prep much more material than you intend to use.
That's one. Another essential ingredient is that the players have full in-character decision-making power over what elements of said material they will interact with, and in many cases what form that interaction will take.
If you aren't willing to have not just some of your prep go unused, but most of it, you aren't running a sandbox.
Agreed.
If you say, "I don't need to prep more material than I use, because I just wing things extemporaneous", congratulations you are railroading.
Disagreed. If I prep nothing but a regional map and some deities (kind of essential if anyone wants to play a Cleric!) and wing the rest in response to what the players have their characters do, how an I railroading?
And like it or not, no matter how devoted you are to your multi-plot sandboxes (I once started a campaign with 18 different storylines I'd brainstormed up), no matter how devoted you are to creating more content than you need or how happy you are to shrug when the players don't engage with this cool thing or the other, you still are using railroading techniques to keep your game going - remarkable coincidences, false choices, small worlds, hand waving, schrodinger's maps and all the other little soft bumpers that keep the game moving instead of crashing into a gutter.
Perhaps, but one can intentionally choose to eschew some or all of those elements. Remarkable coincidences is one I try to avoid, ditto false choices (a.k.a. quantum ogres). Small worlds I only use rarely (and almost always for just a single adventure, then it's back ot the main world). Hand waving - not sure what you mean by that, in terms of what those hands are waving at. Schroedinger's maps - yes, I leave blank bits on the map for later fill in, but I also try to make sure that filling in something later doesn't invalidate what went earlier by post-hoc adding choices or options the PCs should have had in the past.

On the flip side, sometimes I'll intentionally build in very railroad-y aspects to certain adventures or adventure paths e.g. anyone falling into the chute trap in adventure A is one-way teleported to room 1 of adventure B; meaning you've now got no choice other than to interact with adventure B even if such interaction consists only of figuring out how to get out of it.
The reality is that this idea of games strictly separated into linear and not-linear or player agency or not is all bogus. The reality in every functional game is somewhere in the middle.
Indeed; though that middle is a big area with many gradations.

P.S. My world's not a rowboat, it's a battleship. :)
 

MGibster

Legend
How relevant to going from level 1-20 to D&D campaigns in general? I cannot remember the last time I even attempted such a feat. Truthfully, once we hit level 10, I start losing interest. The sweet spot for me in 5th edition has been levels 6-9 or so.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Which seems like a good enough defnition to me; though I'd expand it to include "...or wouldn't otherwise have done; or forcing a player to not do something he wants to do."

Yeah, it seems like it might work as a definition. It captures the idea that people are going for when they say "railroad is bad", and it does in fact explain why a railroad is bad. But if you think about it a bit more, you'll see why it's inadequate.

To not be a tease, I'll explain. Suppose you are engaged in playing a AAA video game RPG and you play the game make many choices and have a good time. You enjoy it so much that you replay the game, this time determined to make wildly different choices from your first play through and to see what you missed. But to your surprise you discover that that no matter what you choose, the game plays out the same. It doesn't matter what dialogue choices you make, the NPC's end up answering in the same way. The same story beats happen. No choice you make actually effects the ending, you still end up in the same place with only some very minor cosmetic changes. Your attempt to go explore areas you missed fails because it turns out there was never anything to the left or the right of what you chose, or the left and right corridors led to the exact same place through basically the exact same obstacles. The clever solutions you found to bypass difficult fights turned out to be the only way to advance and not the clever sneaky hidden alternate route you thought they were, but really the only solution the puzzle had.

In short, you finish and you scream, "It was a railroad all along?"

Was it not also a railroad the first play through even though you were not forced that play through to do anything you didn't want to do? Did you have to know you were trapped on the rails before it became a railroad, or was it always a railroad?

I say that it is always a railroad and whether or not the player is ever forced to do something he doesn't want to do is irrelevant. Because, whether someone is forced to do something that they want to do or not is at best subjective. The fact that you were tricked into believing you had agency and you were making meaningful choices doesn't make it less objectively linear. A railroad can be detected as such by looking behind the GM's screen (as it were) without anyone playing it and making choices at all.

So The Alexandrian's straw man is indeed a straw man. It's a neat rhetorical trick, and it almost amounts to railroading a conclusion on the reader. But, neat or not, it's a straw man.

That's one. Another essential ingredient is that the players have full in-character decision-making power over what elements of said material they will interact with, and in many cases what form that interaction will take.

I sort of agree. I think the way you state it what you say is implied by what I said. But there is a related thing that I think says it better, and that is that to run a Sandbox the DM must allow choices and events that are not at that moment what he would prefer. If throughout the whole adventure, nothing happens but what you want to happen, then it's not a Sandbox (and is indeed not even a functional adventure path but rather choo choo, all aboard we are on rails). Agreed?

This is an important distinction from what you said because again, if the players believe that they have full in-character decision making power because they are allowed to make any choice that they want, it doesn't in fact mean that they aren't on rails. See point #1.

Disagreed. If I prep nothing but a regional map and some deities (kind of essential if anyone wants to play a Cleric!) and wing the rest in response to what the players have their characters do, how an I railroading?

Because everything that will happen will be only what you decided you wanted to have happen at that moment. With nothing to constrain your choices because you are delaying all your choices to the moment you have to make them instead of making them ahead of time, no matter how studious you are at observing your own biases you will still ultimately be only choosing to have happen what you wanted to have happen in that moment.

It should be obvious on a moment's reflection that this is a vastly more powerful way to ensure the PC's are on rails than prepping a plot based adventure. If you prep a plot based adventure then you have to a lot of a work to keep the PC's on rails. But if you prepare nothing until you need it, well you can accomplish the same prepared plot without having the PC's ever the wiser. A truly skilled rail roader does exactly what you suggest - prep the grand ideas and then implement his plans as if they were just the natural response of the setting to whatever choice the player made, whatever that choice was.

Perhaps, but one can intentionally choose to eschew some or all of those elements.

I'm not saying you can't. I'm just saying that there is a continuum, and everyone is on it. The ones that aren't aware of the techniques that create a railroad are perhaps the furthest to the linear end of the continuum because they aren't intentionally eschewing them.

Indeed; though that middle is a big area with many gradations.

Oh absolutely. And many good GMs exploring those spaces.
 

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