Do Plot-Based Adventures Necessarily Involve 'Railroading'?

the Jester said:
Imho, it's tricky but possible to have a heavily plot-driven adventure without railroading. The key is knowing your group and what motivates them.

You have to finesse the pcs into following the plot, rather than beating them over the head with it. It helps to be flexible enough to adapt your stuff to lead the pcs to the end you want while allowing them to choose the path to the end. Better still is knowing the group well enough that you can preplan the path based on predicting which way they'll jump.

This is still railroading.

It's elegantly done. Well done even. But railroading all the same. It is keeping the players on the path.

When you know your group well - you can set it up without them even knowing. The man in the curtain remains hidden.

The railroad is just as substantial as it ever was; it is a difference of elegance and style.

I do not mean this in the pejorative or as a criticism. On the contrary, it is artful DMing.

But don't kid yourself about what you are doing. Or worse, let detractors think that it cannot be done artfully.
 

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Meloncov

First Post
I run my campaighns on the priciple that its only railroading if the players think that its railroading. Theirfore, by magicians choices and the like, you can create a reasonable plot based adventure.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
Yeah, railroading isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes a nessecity. Sometimes a good thing. Sometimes better than the freeform.

It's really a style choice, not a better/worse scenario.

Still, it's railroading. Keeping them on the path you prepared rather than preparing the path as they explore it. That's a choice. Some prefer it. :)
 

rounser

First Post
I think there's several levels you can railroad at.

Dungeon corridors are railroads where the level of choice can be restricted to left or right, or more accurately, the sequence in which rooms are explored (so left or right is less of a choice than it seems, perhaps). I think the main reason why wilderness and city adventures are by comparison so hard to do seems to be the very lack of these corridors, and the much greater scale (thousands of miles and hundreds of buildings, as opposed to 20 rooms) and lack of granularity (this room is area 21, versus this patch of dirt 5 miles in size is area 21, a problem exacerbated by DMs not using wilderness maps with grids or hexes to delineate finite areas). Decision points such as "who do we talk to next" in a city aren't dungeon corridors, and therefore difficult to control.

You can railroad at the level of the plot hook (which is really the choice of which adventure to do next). Most DMs do this because it only means they need to prepare one adventure at a time. I think this level has the greatest potential for defeating railroading, because by deciding which plot hook to pursue of several presented to them, and having that decision actually affect the course of the campaign, the DM has effectively put the players in control of the course of the campaign story arc. Where the DM doesn't do this and tries to run an epic continent-spanning campaign you end up with the Dragonlance Chronicles problem, where the entire story arc is on railway lines. The model of this type of campaign succeeding is probably Baldur's Gate II, where there are perhaps two campaign points that are set in stone, and the ending is railroaded, but how those campaign points are reached can be through multiple adventures which can be performed at will or skipped. Most DMs don't do this because it's far too much work - clearly that's probably why it's only really seen at the P&P table when the DM prepares nothing and is gaming off the top of their head.
 


rounser said:
I think there's several levels you can railroad at.


You can railroad at the level of the plot hook (which is really the choice of which adventure to do next). Most DMs do this because it only means they need to prepare one adventure at a time. I think this level has the greatest potential for defeating railroading, because by deciding which plot hook to pursue of several presented to them, and having that decision actually affect the course of the campaign, the DM has effectively put the players in control of the course of the campaign story arc.

Except of course, where the multiplicity of plot hooks really all lead to the same choice, presented differently and hooked differently: A Magician's Choice.

Which facilitates an epic-contienent spanning campaign - just artfully enough that your players are content.
 

Sammael

Adventurer
I don't like to railroad, but my players actually prefer a mild amount of railroading to complete open-endedness. I use flow-charts, set up site-based (and time-dependent) events, and throw a couple of hooks for the players to bite. Once they bite a hook, however, they want me to pull the line and drag them along. I always try to do so within logical confines of the game.

For example, right now, the PCs are in the north part of Cormyr (Forgotten Realms), looking for a powerful wizard's clone who is recruiting an army of creatures to retake his organization with. I created a number of sites that the PCs can visit (trading "town" of Silverpool, Zhentarim camp, four ruined mannors, goblin citadel, kir-lanan rookery in the mountains, abandoned Sword Herald cache, Baron's castle under construction, Underdark entrance, Shade excavation, etc.) and revealed a number of them right away as potentially interesting places; they learned about the others along the way. I provided them with a guide to the first place they decided to visit; after that, the guide suggested that they might as well visit another nearby site. I didn't force them to visit that place; if they had opted to go elsewhere, I would have gone along with their plan rather than forcing their choice. However, it is likely that, without that small amount of railroading, they would have wasted an entire session on deciding where to go (it has happened in the past). Out of six players, three positively hate such sessions, and I am not too fond of them, either.

The key (to me) is making a limited number of choices and providing reasonable hooks for each choice. Too much choice breaks up the game; too little choice, and it's a heavy railroad.
 
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wedgeski

Adventurer
Steel_Wind said:
I believe the a strong plot focussed campaign with an artfully done railroad is the very height of DMing and provides the strongest enjoyment and fondest memories for characters.

I could not agree with Steel_Wind's post more. Like a good film score, the better you become as a DM, the less your players even notice you. Their decisions could have been predestined almost from the word go, and they are none the wiser.
 

The Shaman

First Post
Steel_Wind said:
Except of course, where the multiplicity of plot hooks really all lead to the same choice, presented differently and hooked differently: A Magician's Choice.
It still means the players don't make meaningful choices with respect to their characters, however crafty it may seem to you.
 

Jupp

Explorer
Railroading is when the players experience it as such. You can railroad all the way to the end of a campaign if the players do not have a ping on their railroad-radar. In the end it doesnt matter if people on ENWorld detect railroading in something, it's more important that your players do not.
And, like Steel already said, if the players are so heavily interested in a certain plot hook they will not detect the railroading being done afterwards because they will be so immersed in the storyline that they will automatically follow it. Then you can just lean back and cackle evilly because your dark plans did work their magic on your PCs :]
 

hagor

First Post
I think there are various degrees of railroading.
IMHO, the really 'linear' plots (find A, then talk to B, who accuses C, etc) are the least fun: as a player you have indeed little to say in the matter.

As a player I don't mind a clearly defined plot/goal: as long as I can develop my character and make some choices which (seem to) matter for reaching that goal, the game is already for the greater part succesful for me. Of course, character development and decision making are easier in a more detailed setting.

As long as everyone is having fun it doesn't matter that much.

Hagor
 

hagor

First Post
as a little side note:

I'm currently running (a slightly modified) 'Assassin's Knot' (the sequel of the 'Bone Hill'-module IIRC). I don't know if you'd classify it as a 'plot-driven' or 'setting-driven' module. While it has a clearly defined goal, it has a well-developed setting and NPCs as well, thus giving the players plenty of choice for their actions (which lead to NPC reactions, etc, so we have a nice PC-DM interaction!). In the end, I expect the PCs to solve the problem, but based on the way they got that far, I don't think of it as railroading (at least not of a high degree). Perhaps use a different term: the players are 'meandering' toward the goal?

Hagor
 


wedgeski

Adventurer
The Shaman said:
It still means the players don't make meaningful choices with respect to their characters, however crafty it may seem to you.

Not true. A PC may arrive at the end point a completely different person than they started. Their actions at that end point may be light-years from what they would have done when the campaign started. 'Meaningful' runs the gamut of definitions in the same way 'railroading' does.
 

rounser

First Post
Except of course, where the multiplicity of plot hooks really all lead to the same choice, presented differently and hooked differently
A certain amount of this is probably par for the course; setting up a certain scenario that all the threads lead to eventually (e.g. one megavillain who all the roads might lead to).

But I think it also misses out on some DM fun if you do this too much. For instance, you set the PCs a genuine dilemma based on the campaign timeline clock ticking and the fact that they're the only real heroes around; they can either purge the vampire infestation spreading quickly in villages to the south, or rescue the royal family who have been spirited away to the plane of shadow. They only have enough time to pursue one of these goals successfully; which will they choose, and why? And what are the consequences? Then you can really get your evil cackle on.
 

Quasqueton

First Post
The Shaman said:
I prefer to create site-based as opposed to plot-based adventures - here's the environment, have at it...
Akrasia said:
Yes, I quite agree. I like this style of campaign.
This is my favorite campaign style too, as DM and Player. [Quasqueton = The Shaman = Akrasia? What's up with that? A sign of the Apocolypse?]

Two of my favorite old adventure modules are Keep on the Borderlands (Caves of Chaos) and Temple of Elemental Evil. Both are site-based adventures without any pre-written pressing plot. In all the times I've run or played these adventures (only played in ToEE), the PCs manage to "create" their own plots -- usually personal to the party -- in and out of the actual dungeon.

there are players who get simply *incensed* with the idea that ANY pre-planned adventure is afoot at the table. Once they smell it, they take it as a challenge to their freedom and go out of their way to ignore anyhitng that smells of pre-planned adventure.
Yep. There are a number of people on this forum who apparently are like this -- they even call "railroad" when the DM follows through with effects to their causes. This rather flabbergasts me. "Don't you *want* to adventure?"

Quasqueton
 

Well I like to tell a story, and that's how all my campaign ideas are born. Many times the players aren't even the main cast, just some individuals that happen to witness part of what is going on. This means that I run almost purely railroad campaigns, but in the recent months I've gotten positive feedback from my players about my ability to mask all that railroading and creating an illusion of freedom.

More to the point most of the best GMs I know railroad, but are really good at disguising the linearity of their games. Running a completely free campaign is very difficult and I know only couple of GMs that can do it. The rest just get gray hairs when their campaigns go to pieces due to player inactivity or their completely brainless actions (even more so than with railroad campaigns).
 

MonsterMash

First Post
Quasqueton said:
This is my favorite campaign style too, as DM and Player. [Quasqueton = The Shaman = Akrasia? What's up with that? A sign of the Apocolypse?]
Uh oh, all we need now is the face of Gary Gygax to appear on the moon and we know its all over.

Personally I usually avoid too much railroading - even where there is a plot type thread there should still be potential for the things to go different ways, personally with homebrewed stuff I try to do a certain amount of prediction and flowcharting, but rely on the players habit of going off in a different direction to avoid doing too much work on one thing. My usual preference is for a site based adventure. One of the better published modules which has a distinct plot is the Grey Citadel from Necromancer Games.
 

Akrasia

Procrastinator
wedgeski said:
I could not agree with Steel_Wind's post more. Like a good film score, the better you become as a DM, the less your players even notice you. Their decisions could have been predestined almost from the word go, and they are none the wiser.

I would find this rather unsatisfying as a GM (even if the players had a great time).

Much of the fun of running a game, for me, comes from the unanticipated course the campaign can take as a consequence of the players' decisions.
 


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