D&D General [+] Players, what do you like about railroads?

I enjoy railroads as long as I don't perceive the rails.

I had a friend who made some great adventures, and it was really logical how our choices lead to the next stage. However, the DM was really good at presenting to us the 2-3 most likely choices we would chose, and have those lead to the next story beat. Sometimes we might have some advantage or disadvantage, or some other orthogonal effect, but what was next was what was next. There was also more than one "station", to extend the metaphor, in the chain. So if something needed to change in the fourth chapter because of what happened in the second, that could be adjusted to a degree.

One time I did perceive the rails. There was a fight going left, and easy stealthy way going right. I realized that we could actually take the fight it one of those moments of gaming clarity. I explained the plan, everyone was either on board or considering, and the DM almost paniced. And that's when I saw the "man behind the curtain", and publicly reconsidered the plan. I know he worked hard on the story, and didn't want to derail him.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
I don't understand the difference between what you have called a "linear game" and what you have called a "railroad". Both seem to involve a prescripting that is then followed in play.

Where is the difference?

I cannot speak to what overgeek feels is the difference. However, I think we can draw a difference between an adventure design that has a linear structure, and use of GM force to move you along that structure.

As an example, I will use my current 5e game - I'm running The Wild Beyond the Witchlight...

On the large scale, TWBTW is linear. The characters go from the Witchlight Carnival, to the Feywild sub-domains of Hither, Tither, and Yon, in that order, and then to the Palace of Heart's Desire.

If you want to finish the adventure, you must go through those domains, in that order. In Yon, there is an exit from the entire adventure, but that it only one way - if you leave, you quit.

If I run this as a linear adventure, I allow characters to bum around in Hither for as long as they like - there's people to meet and things to do there but it is mostly irrelevant - and then move on to Tither when they feel they are ready. If I run this as a railroad, I have the hag that runs Hither beat the party up, put them in the basket of a hot air balloon, and send them to Tither whether they want to or not.

The difference between the two is the use of GM force to get the party to move along the path. Linearity is a structure, but railroading is a technique.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
Two questions for the players. Do you like railroaded games? If so, what do you like about railroad games?
To the first question: of course. All formats have their good parts, "railroads" are no exception. I don't take them as seriously as open-world or sandbox games, but even railroads have their merits.

To the second question: it means I can relax! I don't have to remember the names of NPCs, I don't have to play nice with certain factions, I don't have to worry about going left when I was supposed to go right. (Heck, for one DM in our group, I don't even have to worry about losing a fight...we've had monsters just straight-up walk away from a battle even when they were winning.) It's also a lot more boring, and a lot less immersive, but I'm trying to keep with the spirit of the [+] tag.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
(Heck, for one DM in our group, I don't even have to worry about losing a fight...we've had monsters just straight-up walk away from a battle even when they were winning.) It's also a lot more boring, and a lot less immersive, but I'm trying to keep with the spirit of the [+] tag.
Wow. That's...certainly something. I think I'd be walking away from that, too.
 

ECMO3

Hero
This is a [+] thread.

This is not about linear adventures. If the game goes from A to B to C and the players willingly engage, that's linear but not a railroad.

The definition of railroading used here is having no choices in the larger arc of the story. You as a player will follow the referee's script and there will be no deviations. Round-by-round choices don't prevent something from being a railroad. The railroad is usually masked with the illusion of choice, i.e. no matter what choice you make...the adventure is that way, or more forceful means of keeping the players from deviating from the "correct" path.

A lot of referees who enjoy running railroads say that their players enjoy this style. Okay. I have my doubts. So I thought I'd ask.

Two questions for the players. Do you like railroaded games? If so, what do you like about railroad games?
As a player I enjoy playing D&D regardless of whether it is sandbox or railroad but I do see more problems in sandbox games (both between me and another player and between 2+ other players that don't involve me). As a DM I find most players typically prefer railroads .... or perhaps one could say most players prefer railroads when I am their DM.

For me there are two benifits of a railroad:

1. The story tends to be more straightforward, more thematic and more purposeful.

2. It can ease tensions between the group. In a railroad the game is typically story or quest focused. In a sandbox the game is typically character focused, which causes problems if there are thematic conflicts between the characters. While thematic character development is great and fun, in a sandbox this can be very difficult for all players.

Details below:

1. In a railroad it is very well defined what you are doing, usually this is for one of two reasons - civilization is going to end if you don't do X (and for evil PCs who might not care it is going to screw you too) or alternatively you personally have no choice but to do X.

If you are playing a sandbox you might get more satisfaction out of character development, building your kingdom, fortune, guild or whatever but the "adventurer" motif falls often flat in large sandbox campaigns, especially if you have a group of PCs that don't share the same "life goals". While it can be cool to play the noble who protects his lands and makes decisions on taxes and trade routes and goes out to clear the bandits himself, it is much more difficult to integrate that story with the Asimar who came down to earth because her god sent her to save the masses and the Rogue who wants to establish a criminal network.

2. I find players tend to want to build a lot of different themes and it is not uncommon to have "bad" characters and "good" characters in the same party. If it is a railroad this is easier to manage. It is easy to roleplay around the Lawful Good Paladin and the evil Dampir Necromancer both working to defeat a world-ending enemy or escape captivity or make it back to their home plane. It is much more difficult to roleplay this effectively in a team oriented fashion if the situation is "what do we do when we wake up today"
 
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