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D&D General Why defend railroading?

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I’d really like to know. I keep seeing arguments about player choice and agency and railroading. And for the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would defend railroading. Any advocates of railroading willing to explain why it’s good to do?
 

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I’d really like to know. I keep seeing arguments about player choice and agency and railroading. And for the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would defend railroading. Any advocates of railroading willing to explain why it’s good to do?
1) Railroading is ill defined, so people aren't always thinking the same thing when the word comes up.
2) People see other people talking about railroading and decide that it applies to the way they run their game. This means they can then take umbrage and defend themselves, something people on the internet are always itching for an excuse to do.
 
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guachi

Adventurer
Because players trust the DM to come up with interesting adventures that everyone will enjoy participating in.

Something like this often occurs at the start of a campaign. Player: "I don't know enough about the world, my PC, or the other PCs to really know what I want to do. So I'm game for whatever you have planned."
 

There's probably two ways to think about railroading.

1) It's something that the GM does, either deliberately or through enacting bad design from an adventure module. In this case it generally means either never offering the players meaningful decisions or invalidating their decisions by always leading to the same result

2) It's the player experience and frustration of having their decisions invalidated, and not matter.

These sound like the same thing but they're not. In the case of 2) railroading is pretty much bad by definition, it's a negative experience. However, the situation of 2) is something that can actually arise through miscommunication or simple inexperience.

In the case of 1) it may actually not be an issue in a game if everyone is having fun. However, in terms of GMing advice and scenario design it's usually better to focus on avoiding 1), because 1) is obviously the most common cause of 2)
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
Many people have a different definition of Railroading, so one's definition might not align with another and the arguments may start to talk past each other. The method in which railroading is enforced also changes.

Some people define railroading as a linear path the player's must complete. First, get the sword. Next, climb the tower. Then, defeat the wizard. Finally, rescue the princess.
Certain DM's force this structure through their adventure design: The player's can't defeat the wizard without the sword and the wizard never leaves his tower and the spell imprisoning the princess is magically tied to her life.
Other DM's force this structure through external means. "Can we go rescue the princess first?" "No. Kill the wizard first." "Why?" "Its more interesting."


Some DM's regard railroading as controlling the very last outcome, meaning that as long as the wizard is defeated, you win. But that still means that the DM must somehow enforce that the wizard is defeated somehow. The previous two methods occur but there is a third for this case.
Some DM's may decide that the wizard just dies no matter what because the next steps of the adventure requires it. So even if the players are able to reason with the wizard, the wizard dies anyways because Chapter 2 is about the aftermath of the wizard's death. Clever writing could make this work, but many times it falls flat.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
There's probably two ways to think about railroading.

1) It's something that the GM does, either deliberately or through enacting bad design from an adventure module. In this case it generally means either never offering the players meaningful decisions or invalidating their decisions by always leading to the same result

2) It's the player experience and frustration of having their decisions invalidated, and not matter.

These sound like the same thing but they're not. In the case of 2) railroading is pretty much bad by definition, it's a negative experience. However, the situation of 2) is something that can actually arise through miscommunication or simple inexperience.

In the case of 1) it may actually not be an issue in a game if everyone is having fun. However, in terms of GMing advice and scenario design it's usually better to focus on avoiding 1), because 1) is obviously the most common cause of 2)
I would basically agree with this definition of railroading.

Railroading is the DM removing agency from the players by removing meaningful choices from the players that would otherwise effect how the game unfolds.

If the DM puts whatever adventure they planned in front of the players and doesn’t allow them to go left when the adventure is to the right, that’s railroading in the form of removing choice.

If the DM puts whatever adventure they planned in front of the players no matter which direction they go, that’s railroading in the form of the illusion of choice.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I would say that railroading is always bad because by definition it involves force via subverting choice a player believes he or she made in good faith; however, if a player agrees to choose certain things over others (e.g. follow the plot of the module everyone agreed to play to the exclusion of choices that aren't on that plotline) or agrees the DM should, say, engage in the illusion of choice for whatever reason the group agrees is acceptable, the DM is not railroading since the DM is not forcing those outcomes.
 

Grantypants

Explorer
DM style aside, one reason railroading persists is because it is easier for module writers. Whether that's homebrew or published, it's much easier for a DM to prepare for a flowchart, where scene A leads to scene B leads to scene C. When players get off the rails and don't take on scene C like the DM expected, all the time and expense of preparing scenes D-Z is wasted. That can be super frustrating if the DM has spent a bunch of time planning how everything is supposed to come together, or if they've spent a bunch of money buying a published campaign or the exact right minis or terrain or something.
 



overgeeked

B/X Known World
DM style aside, one reason railroading persists is because it is easier for module writers. Whether that's homebrew or published, it's much easier for a DM to prepare for a flowchart, where scene A leads to scene B leads to scene C. When players get off the rails and don't take on scene C like the DM expected, all the time and expense of preparing scenes D-Z is wasted. That can be super frustrating if the DM has spent a bunch of time planning how everything is supposed to come together, or if they've spent a bunch of money buying a published campaign or the exact right minis or terrain or something.
Node-based design is a thing. Modules don’t have to be strictly linear.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I should have also included in my first comment, that it is generally the adversarial players who throw around the railroading accusations. They are the ones who want to just do whatever they feel like and not engage in the social contract that is playing in a cooperative game.
Likewise, a DM not allowing the players meaningful choices in the game is breaking the social contract by removing the cooperative portion of the game.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I like @iserith 's answer a few above this a lot.

So, how railroady we're the Dragonlance Modules that are a topic of a different thread right now?
I read part of one of those modules about 30 years ago, so I honestly cannot speak meaningfully about that specific module. But I would say that modules are not in and of themselves "railroady." Even a linear adventure is not a "railroad." Railroading is something only the DM can do, though I'll leave open the possibility that a module could suggest to the DM to engage in various strategies that could amount to railroading if the players otherwise believe they are making choices in good faith. I'm sure I've seen that in old Ravenloft modules.
 



Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I read part of one of those modules about 30 years ago, so I honestly cannot speak meaningfully about that specific module. But I would say that modules are not in and of themselves "railroady." Even a linear adventure is not a "railroad." Railroading is something only the DM can do, though I'll leave open the possibility that a module could suggest to the DM to engage in various strategies that could amount to railroading if the players otherwise believe they are making choices in good faith.
It's been ages since I read the DL ones, but I thought they were trying to get the players to fill in gaps in the books or relive parts of them.

As opposed to B2 where the party has bought in to going to the caves, but they can do whatever once they get there (assuming all of the monsters don't have their alignment that firmly engraved on their souls that they have to all be killed).
 

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