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DM Issues: Railroading

On the other hand, I've seen early modules that suggest modifying the opposition based on the number or level of the PC's.

Tomb of Horrors suggests modifying the PC's based on the number of players and their skills.

That definitely exists. None of this stuff was ever monolithic. Especially back in the 70s and 80s before we really had forums like this. I think it is a matter of how prevalent it was. In 1E, my overall memory was tailoring things less to party power level. However I do remember a lot of the things we are discussing (tailoring encounters, lower lethality,etc) creep in more and more during 2E. The first time I remember seeing advice to fudge rolls to save PCs was 2E (I believe). I am sure it came up prior to that. But at the same time, Gary talked about fudging die roll results (usually for other reasons) in the 1E GM guide, if I recall.
 

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S'mon

Legend
But at the same time, Gary talked about fudging die roll results (usually for other reasons) in the 1E GM guide, if I recall.

Gygax seems more likely to fudge against the players than to fudge in their favour.

I know I often 'tailored' while running 1e. The encounter was 30-300 orcs, but whether it was a sleepy orc village spotted from a mile off, or a ravine ambush by 30-300 orc archers, could depend on PC level...

I remember once a player (Upper_Krust) took a 26th level Wizard into a troublesome Orc lair to wipe them out. 30-300 1 hd Orcs, with a few guardian creatures, notably some winter wolves. He just about survived, but I still remember the shell-shocked "WTF?!" look in Craig's eyes as Karzalin the Archmagus staggered back into the daylight... :cool:
 

Gygax seems more likely to fudge against the players than to fudge in their favour.
. :cool:

I agree. Just re-read the 1E DMG and my impression is the same as yours on this. I guess I meant on the fudging aspect of things, Gary seemed on board in some cases, if for other reasons than saving the characters.
 

Vespucci

First Post
I don't think that the tailoring discussion is particularly informative. Seizing on this aspect of not that much difference to say, "Well, they're not really that different" is a poor response to the debate. One can say, "Look, all the editions have fighters, it's the same game!" without less controversy over the premise. That said, the case against difference here is not particularly strong:

Doug McCrae's quotes on the trap arms race indicate that tailoring did take place in the Old School. But it's quite obvious that the tailoring is of a different kind. Gygax discusses dealing with better players by being sneakier. The New School deals with higher level characters by increasing the power of their opposition.

On the other hand, I've seen early modules that suggest modifying the opposition based on the number or level of the PC's.

Tomb of Horrors suggests modifying the PC's based on the number of players and their skills.

The advice in the Tomb of Horrors doesn't include any suggestions for changing the module. Gary's advice to the refs is that, if the group seems too weak (by comparison to the sample parties), use of the module should be delayed, or they should receive some assistance. He also recommended the module for "thinking persons" and suggested that "hack and slay gatherings" should just skip it. This, no doubt, has contributed to S1's reputation as a killer dungeon - most roleplayers would like to think of themselves as "thinking persons", no matter their actual style of play.

So, if you want to insist that both Schools have tailoring - no skin off my nose. What's important here is that each School's tailoring aims at different purposes.
 

Heathen72

Explorer
There is a balance - if your DM has written an adventure, you should play that adventure. You don't have the right to demand the DM create any adventure you wish to play at a moment's whim. The balance of that is that the DM should be able to accomodate reasonable deviations.

This is the nub of it. If your GM isn't prepared, or able to come up with a totally new adventure on the fly, it doesn't mean he is railroading you. For me, railroading is when the GM continually negates unexpected player actions to keep them "on the rails", i.e., bring them back to the game he has prepared. Some examples:

  • The GM has created a pressure plate trap for the players. He expects them to fall into it and be captured by the Villain. Everyone falls down the trap, but the wizard casts levitate and avoids the trap. The GM suddenly decides the trap comes with an anti magic shell.
  • The GM creates a session where the players have to ride through the night on horseback to deliver a vital message to the King. The players, concerned the dangers in the forest (described by the GM to raise the stakes) present an unacceptable risk to the mission and decide instead to sell their horses to pay the 'witches' (who they know from a previous session) to send a telepathic message. The GM has the witches refuse, because he hadn't thought of that idea, despite how reasonable it is.
  • The players are in an area with a foot high stone perimeter. The map has only been drawn to include the area within the perimeter. A player decides to jump over the stone wall, but can't, no matter how high he jumps. When he asks the GM why not, the GM replies "Computer says no"
Okay, the third one was a joke, but the point is one of the defining pro's of gaming (as opposed to computer gaming) is that a GM can react to and accommodate unexpected player actions. It can be frustrating as a player when the GM blocks a perfectly reasonable solution to the problem he has presented, not because it's a bad idea, but because he just didn't think of it. It's like being asked a bad riddle and having your answer rejected because it, despite fitting the riddle, is not the answer the creator had in mind.

Sure, railroading is an emotive term, because it is either used to describe things that aren't actually railroading ("What! But I don't want to do the dungeon you spent ages on. I want to travel to arcadia to study at the feet of Flaubert the Master Chef This is a Railroad!!") whereupon the GM has to engage in a futile exercise of appeasing the player's sense of entitlement, or because it is an accurate call and the GM just has to admit the player outsmarted him. How hard that is to deal with depends on the GM. ;)

So, as GM, what are the solutions? What do you do if a player catches you out and you realize that their clever play has potentially rendered loads of prep work, (or worse, your 'story') useless? I, for one, would suggest going with it, seeing how your impro skills hold up, and holding onto your forest encounters for another time. But if you aren't confident with GMing on the fly, perhaps the best thing to do is just fess up. Tell the players you hadn't thought of that. Give them a load of XP, and then ask them if they are still interested in playing through what you had prepared. In the second example above, for instance, you might just say

"Ah, Of course. Damn. I hadn't thought of that. Good idea! Um.... look. This whole session was based on you going to the King. Do you mind if we assume that at the end of your telepathic discussion the King sends back the message that he needs you to come straight to his side? He says he wants to send you on a mission based on your intel. To help you he has arranged for a guide to help you through the woods, and will pay for new mounts for you to get to him as soon as possible. Is that cool with everyone?"
Hopefully your honesty will keep everyone happy.

If don't want to 'fess up', fearing it might dispel your air of GM infallibility, or destroy the illusion of reality, it is still important that you still make sure that the players are acknowledged and rewarded for their smart play. Because if you end up ignoring the impact of their actions, and charge them for the horses, they are going to feel ripped off.
 
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Starfox

Adventurer
But if you aren't confident with GMing on the fly, perhaps the best thing to do is just fess up. Tell the players you hadn't thought of that. Give them a load of XP, and then ask them if they are still interested in playing through what you had prepared.

Mutants and Masterminds has a rule about action points in cases of GM fiat.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Mutants and Masterminds has a rule about action points in cases of GM fiat.
Yeah, M&M explicitly permits railroading by the GM. He can say, "The villain activates his emergency escape teleport podule", (even if there was no such item listed in his stats) and compensate the players with a hero point.

Personally I would have preferred it if comic book tropes had been more strongly built into the rules rather than the rules being essentially a superhero-y version of 3e D&D with deviation from this structure being entirely in the hands of the GM.
 

CuRoi

First Post
First - I'm replying directly to the OP without sifting through the entire thread. I'll get to it...I promise : )

Second - I think all of your points are vaild further I think the DM's points are valid : )

Railroading IMO can be just another tool in a DMs toolbox (the problem arises when its the ONLY tool). In some cases it can be used in a collaborative story to add dramatic tension and give players a sense they are involved in something "bigger than their characters". Something they feel compelled or coerced to go along with...for a time.

However, the DM has to make sure the players are all buckled in and enjoying the ride. If some players are screaming for it to stop, the DM needs to a) hit the breaks and let the players make more decisions or b) let the players jump from the moving train and suffer the consequences.

Solution A is necessary if the DM has just taken over the story. He needs the players to just smack him in the face and bring him back to a reality where he realizes he's not the only one at the table invested in the story. This may be your case. I don't even recommend discussing this "OOC". Just be obstinate about doing exactly what the DM is trying to railroad you into and reclaim your part in the story. If Elminster or whoever shows up and says "I want you to toss this ring in a volcano" tell him you've got plans, tell him you're allergic to volcanos, tell him he's got Teleport and he should do it his damn self.

Scenario B, jumping from the moving train may be necessary if the DM planned the railroading as part of the overall plot/story. The players are allowed to exit the moving vehicle whenvever they wish but dramatic tension, sacrifice and other great story advancing things will happen when they make that abrupt departure.

So, if your DM is serious about the "well there's a war going on" statement, he shouldn't be using it as an excuse to keep you guys on the tracks. He should let you bail. However, when you come back after several weeks of item making, vacationing, knitting, what have you, you may be dealing with a completely different threat.

Perhaps the war is over, mercs are now having to answer for "War crimes". Perhaps your "side" is losing badly. Perhaps another merc company took up the slack and you are now competeing with them for jobs and for prestige. Who knows.

EDIT: Just skimmed the thread. Great discussion on the definition and positives / negatives of differing play styles. I'll agree with the many posts that essentially say "play what your group wants to play!" Some poeple love railroaded "plots" where they are spectators of sorts to an entertaining story. Some people want to be able to build the story as they go. Some peopel want a bit of both. I will add that IMO, in high level games it's nigh impossible to accomplish railroading unless there is an implicit understanding between the players and DM. Plane Shift, Teleportation, Divinations, etc. etc. all pretty much beg the question of "can I really force the players along a single track of my choosing?" So it's definitely a group choice on how to play as opposed to anything dictated solely by DM or rules. Debating the differences or the value is purely academic.
 
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