Do Plot-Based Adventures Necessarily Involve 'Railroading'?

Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
heh heh Steel_Wind. Humorously put....

I think since I have made my point, and after being labeled as obstructionist felt need to qualify my opinion, there's not much more that I can do than get dragged about the mud so I'll bow out at this point and leave my previous posts to stand as they will or will not. As a parting thought (not intended to be a shot), I will say that I think the heart of this discussion ("Do Plot-Based Adventures Necessarily Involve 'Railroading'?") is best served by moving beyond arguing which definition of "railroading' best serves most gamers and requires shrugging off that terminology so that a discussion cna truly commence on how to improv while presenting the most possible in-game choices that don't leave the game completely up for grabs. Subtle, seemingly open-ended, gaming that can still feel (retrospectively) like a complete story. It is an art.
 

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DarkMaster

First Post
thirdwizard said:
Now, it does get tricky. If the merchant wants the PCs to investigate the dungeion, is that railroading? I know what I think of it, but I'll leave that one unanswered for now.

Not tricky, it isn't. The PC don't have to accept the offer. The can decide to investigate the locals to figure out what is the real motive behind the investigation, investigate blindly, kill the merchant and take his gold, ..... simply ignore him and continue their journey.
 

DarkMaster

First Post
I don't think Plot-based necessarly involves railroading. But Dungeon Crawl surely do.
They're in my mind the pinacle of railroading.

But most players still enjoy them (myself included), proving that railroading can be fun.
 

SweeneyTodd

First Post
I know, I know, we're never going to get a good definition for railroading.

I'm still sticking with "Making decisions for the player that they wanted to make themselves." So it's not railroading if they wanted to do it (or went along with it), nor if it's just putting them in a situation then letting them decide how to deal with it.
 

Ry

Explorer
Akrasia, sounds like you'd like Vault of Larin Karr, as well (although I think it needs more villainy, personally).
 

S'mon

Legend
Mark CMG said:
The fact of the matter is that there are degrees to how much influence any DM will allow in his game and it's different for each player how much influence they believe they should have. The term Railroading becomes meaningless on its own. We're saying the same thing, I'm just acknowledging that the term is useless and you're choosing to continue using while acknowledging it is essentially useless. Tagging me as "obstructionist" really just proves the point that derogetory terms like "Railroading" will often be used by some gamers who feel more secure when they can claim to be on the "correct" side of a line they know to be drawn in the sand.

The silliness was your defining of 'railroading' as "making decisions on what information to convey to the players".
 

S'mon

Legend
SweeneyTodd said:
I know, I know, we're never going to get a good definition for railroading.

I'm still sticking with "Making decisions for the player that they wanted to make themselves." So it's not railroading if they wanted to do it (or went along with it), nor if it's just putting them in a situation then letting them decide how to deal with it.

That's a pretty good definition IMO. It can include ignoring/overriding stated player choices to reach the desired result - ""We go east" - railroading GM:

1. "OK, you go west" or

2. "OK, you try to go east, but a red dragon chases you back west" or

3. "OK, you try to go east. You see an approaching red dragon. Do you want to go west?"
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
ThirdWizard said:
It's perfectly possible to run a plot based game without railroading. The "plot" consists of what will happen without the PCs doing anything. The actual gameplay consists of what the PCs do to change this "plot" into something else. The DM has to know the NPCs extremely well and he has to have good improvational skills.

See, you get your nice linear plotline that will never actually happen. The PCs can do anything they want. Everyone gets a nice story to unfold around them. And, there's no railroading.

Pretty close to what I do.

For me railroading is simply not giving the PCs choices - read some of the Vampire Age of Reckoning adventures for horrendous examples, including one where the characters are literally dragged from scene to scene just to witness the adventure. They aren't even allowed to leave.

The Auld Grump, after reading that one I did not bother to purchase the book.
 

Dark Jezter

First Post
I definately agree with some of the above posters. It seems that a lot of people in this thread define railroading as "Giving the players plot hooks" or "having any kind of storyline in the campaign."

My definition of railroading means that the DM gives the players little to no control over what's happening in the campaign. Heavily railroading DMs (AKA Rick James DMs) pretty much have everything that's going to happen in the campaign planned out in advance. If the players try to deviate from the script, the DM creates situations that force them back on track. Classic example from an old D&D humor list of different types of DMs:

DM: "You pump the bartender for information and he tells you about a red dragon's lair to the west."
Player: "Too risky. We go to hear rumors somewhere else."
DM: "A man offers to hire you to clean out a red dragon's lair for him."
Player: "We say `no, thank you' and leave for the next village."
DM: "On the way to the village you stumble onto a red dragon's lair..."
 


Akrasia

Procrastinator
SweeneyTodd said:
I know, I know, we're never going to get a good definition for railroading.

I'm still sticking with "Making decisions for the player that they wanted to make themselves." So it's not railroading if they wanted to do it (or went along with it), nor if it's just putting them in a situation then letting them decide how to deal with it.

I like that definition.

The most planning that I can do for a long-term campaign is come up with a general series of events that will unfold in the world, and a set of organizations (cabals, churches, nobles, etc.) that will interact in various ways.

Beyond that, though, the actual progress of the campaign is determined by the players' actions. I suppose individual sessions will be 'linear' -- but that is because I've planned them on the basis of what the players decided during the previous session.
 

Akrasia

Procrastinator
Dark Jezter said:
... DM: "You pump the bartender for information and he tells you about a red dragon's lair to the west."
Player: "Too risky. We go to hear rumors somewhere else."
DM: "A man offers to hire you to clean out a red dragon's lair for him."
Player: "We say `no, thank you' and leave for the next village."
DM: "On the way to the village you stumble onto a red dragon's lair..."

I think I had a DM like that for one session about 20 years ago. If I recall correctly, the PCs all decided to commit suicide in order to thwart the DM's goals. We were so immature ... :eek:
 

CarlZog

Explorer
Kamikaze Midget said:
I railroad pretty hardcore, but the players desire it. They want to be told a story about the characters they create, they want to have a chain of events happen in the world, they don't just want to explore a site. They want to be motivated, and it's my job as DM to motivate them.

Not unlike people in real life. Lots of people crave being part of "something bigger", and take great pleasure and enjoyment from being swept in worldly events. I think, in many ways, that's the very heart of adventure.

ThirdWizard said:
It's perfectly possible to run a plot based game without railroading. The "plot" consists of what will happen without the PCs doing anything. The actual gameplay consists of what the PCs do to change this "plot" into something else. The DM has to know the NPCs extremely well and he has to have good improvational skills.

I strongly agree with this. And to me the peak of good DMing in this vein is when the world really is continuing to evolve around the characters regardless of their involvement. If the Princess has been kidnapped by the Dragon, and the characters instead choose to go fight the pirates raiding the coast, the princess may die. If she does, the distraught king may end up focusing all his resources on destroying the beast that killed his daughter, and as a result the pirates are running wild.

In a truly dynamic game world, even choosing not to pursue some particular adventure can end up being a very significant choice. This takes a lot of work on the part of the DM, but if you're up to it, your players will become deeply invested in their characters' world, and as the DM you'll come to see your world as a fluid pool whose tides and currents eventually seem to occur on their own -- with you merely observing and taking notes. When you reach the point where you're that in touch with all the grand and petty events happening each day in your world, it's pretty awesome.

Howling Coyote said:
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.

I'm a DM who has ALWAYS aspired to be in the latter group, and I think there's been a couple times where I've really gotten there. However, all my experience has been in running long campaigns suited to that style.

Recently, I've started learning how to run one-shots and convention games -- an entirely different beast from running long-term campaigns, I'm discovering. A certain degree of railroading, linearity, and fairly set plotlines are mandatory for success in this tightly timed style of play. Here creating excitement within the story is more important than how much the players influence where the story ends up going -- but the players need to feel as though the conclusion could not have been reached without them. In this arena, I think Coyote's right about disguising the linearity of the game. By the way, I have to say that adjusting to this style of play has been a huge challenge for me, but I'm enjoying learning it.

Carl
 

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