Why did you railroad?

edited December 2013 in Story Games
This has been discussed as part of plenty of other threads, but I thought it might be handy to have a sample of reasons all in one place.

When you first GMed a game that you would now describe as a railroad, why did you GM that way?

In asking, I'm thinking less of whether it was a good idea or how it turned out, and more about "What was the initial impetus?"

I'm curious about whether you thought you'd been instructed to railroad, or whether it seemed like a natural assumption based on previous knowledge/experience, or whether you consciously or unconsciously chose a railroady approach because it seemed like it'd get you what you wanted out of the game, etc.
«1

Comments

  • Here's me:

    1. My first GM was somewhat railroady. I thought his style was roughly what GMs were supposed to do. In retrospect, I think he interpreted the AD&D book as saying "here's how to run encounters; between encounters, do whatever you want". So, between encounters, he did what he wanted, using his GM powers to override the players when they wanted something different. If that seems socially stupid, I should note that he was 10.

    2. When I first GMed, I got very excited about the stories and characters I was making up before each session. I wanted to present all my ideas in a certain way, and to have them be received as befit my vision. The creepy guy had to seem creepy, the badass monster had to seem badass, the conspiracy had to produce urgent curiosity. So if the players sneered at my creepy guy, quickly killed my monster, and didn't latch onto my conspiracy, it ruined the fun I was expecting. Rather than searching for a different source of fun, I kept banging my head at this problem. I tried various things, and some amount of railroading was effective some of the time.

    The usual problems with railroading cropped up, so I mostly ditched it in the end, but certain techniques actually stood the test of time. Specifically, scripted grand finales. In college, my players all seemed to agree that being forced into my epic endings was a small price to pay for the epic endings themselves.

    Usually, it went like this: I presented a bunch of revelations, set the fate of the world on the line, and then liberated the PCs to engage in battle. From there, I split the difference between (a) fudging enemy stats to keep the fights close and exciting and (b) honoring player brilliance or extreme die rolls. I tended to nudge toward the heroes prevailing, but if a badguy rolled a 20, you could still die. The end result was super fun, and I'd do it again if I had a group I didn't have to deceive or manhandle to pull it off.
  • When I first did it it was because I was just starting and trying to run a very liniar adventure from a book. The book did only ever offer one path and option. So it was limiting and instructed me into that direction by omission of other options. I did not really enjoy that style of play, even if I could not name it really. For the next years I was doing more or less improvised stuff after that, using only source material and not adventures from books.
    Sometimes I did railroad too in those times. Because I felt that my idea was that good or important, but mostly it was collaborative. The impetus for that railroading was having only a narrow idea or a story to tell, not a roleplaying game scenario. It got less railroady as I learned.

    Today I sometimes use railroading still. Well at least the players know they are on rails for a little part of the scenario. Often it is because I do run something from a book that needs a sequence of things to happen. Which especially playing in Games with a metaplot has to happen to stay within that plot. But I am pretty open about it, when I do and the players agree with it. Because we want to play in that metaplot and some things have to happen to exprience it and keep it going as it is for the other players of the game.
    So the reason there is that railroady parts are part of the concept and the style of the game we as a group choose to play. And there is always the option to go of the rails if we as a group really want and play in an "alternate reality" to the normal setting. But that only happend for minor things, like "who rules a town and shows up later" or "what year did that happen again?". Not one of the really big events.
  • edited December 2013
    Because we want to play in that metaplot and some things have to happen to experience it and keep it going as it is for the other players of the game.
    Well said. I've done this too. In theory, a group can stay on-plot without forcing anything on the characters, but I've found that in practice, a good "Please follow the plot this way" easily covers some situations that may be hard to cover otherwise.
  • edited December 2013
    I can't remember the first time I game mastered or railroaded. I guess I did it because adventures are written in the wrong way. They were usually written like a procedure to execute from the top down to the bottom, so all you had to do were to follow it and so did the players. All they had to do was to react instead of act. When I changed my game master style to sometimes instead react to what the players did, I also had to change how I wrote scenarios.

    But I dunno. Different means for different scenes. Sometimes railroading is the preferred way, sometimes it's not. It depends on what kind of feel you want from play. It's important however that everybody knows what's expected of them. Someone who's used to being railroaded usually suck at contribute to a collaborative experience.
  • edited December 2013
    I very rarely do. The one repeated reason I've found myself railroading rather recently is this.

    We have a player in our group who is a professional actor, well read and a generally great creative guy. He's often a real ornament to a game and some of his improvisations are brilliant. He does however have a bad habit of seizing the stage and not yielding it gracefully to other players. Several of our players are quieter and not comfortable saying "Hey can we move on here" when he's holding forth even if they have things they badly want to do (either IC or OOC) in the game. He also has a habit of pushing universes as far as they will go, to the point that often his characters are just BARELY operating in the same sphere as the other characters.

    For awhile, and with some of our GMs in some games this became a real difficulty. The other players at the table would get bored and check out and when someone else finally did manage to focus pull, half the table would be totally out of the game and we'd essentially be back to a cold start. Talking with him, either alone or as a group, didn't seem to help.

    What finally did help is gently introducing some rail road elements to push his scenes back to a point where the other characters could engage rather than spectate. It's worked well, he seems to respond to it better than the other methods of dealing with the problem. Giving him something to react too/ineract with - even if the interactions were sharply limited in the interest of getting him back to the community space- did a good job of pulling the group back into collaboration.
  • I railroaded in some modules because they said to; if you asked me back then why they said to I think I would have said "because that's where the adventure/excitement is".
  • edited December 2013
    I don't run many games, but I'm sure if I tried I could probably think of at least a few more examples than these. Still, here's some:

    1. It was a superhero game, so at some point the good guys HAVE to have a big confrontation with the final villain in his lair. And since it was going to be five against one (and some disposable goons), I decided without any consultation, roll, or justification that he was ready for them when they broke in, no matter what their brilliant plan was, so that I could do a proper Villain Monologue followed by an "unexpected" opportunity to escape the inescapable deathtrap and kick off the ruckus. It was kind of a dirty trick and reaaaaaally obvious, but genre-appropriate, so I don't feel as bad about it as I maybe should.

    2. It was a kind of noir fantasy detective game, and I simply blew it. I forgot one of the PC's big magical abilities, and it was 100% going to short-circuit the entire mystery in a single simple roll (basically all she had to do was touch this clue and it'd all be over). And right when she announced that she was going to take a look at the clue, I panicked and misapplied Raymond Chandler's advice and sent in the proverbial man with a gun. Who distracted them from the uncatchable thief. Without having to roll anything. It was just a rank, inexcusable fuckup on my part, and it didn't even help much -- it ended up pushing them into an immediately aggressive, paranoid style of play, and all of the fun I anticipated having playing the various NPCs they were going to end up talking to just got thrown in the trash, because they weren't in a talking mood anymore. In retrospect, I probably would have been better off letting them solve it right off the bat and then trying to improvise a second mystery for the next two hours (pretending that I meant for them to solve that one so quickly). Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    3. I have a tendency in combat-heavy games to start cheating in the player's favor when a fight has gone on for what feels like too long to me. D&D games where the demon with 90hp dies after taking a total of 50 points of damage, that kind of thing. And I've been caught at it, too, by experts who pay attention to how much damage they've dealt to a monster and remember how many hit points that monster should have. Which is embarrassing, but...honestly, I'll probably keep doing it. Draggy pacing is draggy pacing, even if the rules say we're supposed to keep rolling dice for another half-hour anyway.
  • I railroaded because I wanted a meaningful story leading up to a climax where the characters would eventually triumph.

    I was playing with the wrong rules for the type of game I wanted, but didn't have the insight to see that at the time.
  • edited December 2013
    I haven't stopped railroading. It's the same now as it ever was. I want to GM a game and they want to play. When I point to the smoke off in the distance and say, "Go There!" It's railroading. They go because they want to play the game I'm running. If they didn't they wouldn't be there. We're all on board with railroading or we wouldn't be sitting at the same table.

    The only thing that changed in how I run games now is that there has to be something going on before narrative can flow freely... so the start of all my games all start with one of two premises.

    1. Go to this place and see the adventure I started... we'll work it out from there.

    OR

    2. This is the scenario you find yourself in. Deal with it... the adventure started without you.

    2 is the same as 1 without the invitation to turn it down because we're already in media res.

    I use 2 for con games because I don't want to fight with ornery players.

    I think it happened initially because I read some modules (which I never wanted to run because I always considered modules were like cheating) and they're always pretty railroady. But I read some module adventures and thought, "I can do that." The old man comes into the tavern and says, "I need a group of adventurers to do such and such." The players do it because if they say no... we're gonna be here a while. RAILROADED!
  • edited December 2013
    When I started to run games : Because the module told me I had to.
    Later on : because I had prepped combat encounters and didn't want them to go to waste.
  • edited December 2013
    I can't remember the first time I game mastered or railroaded. I guess I did it because adventures are written in the wrong way. They were usually written like a procedure to execute from the top down to the bottom, so all you had to do were to follow it and so did the players. All they had to do was to react instead of act. When I changed my game master style to sometimes instead react to what the players did, I also had to change how I wrote scenarios.
    In addition, and I'm mostly write this in a philosophical way, most stories that we are facing daily are railroaded in structure. If we read a book, a comic or watch a movie or TV serie, they all have a fixed storyline. So it's natural to think roleplaying games could be played in the same way. I'm suspecting that if impro were a bigger part of our lives, railroading wouldn't come as natural.
  • I used to really enjoy gaming with my first GM. He ran great games for us. I was a very good player because I went along with the things he wanted.

    When I started GMing I wrote out a lot of prep. When I had problems I thought about how my first GM must deal with the problems and I copied that.

    Since I learned to GM like that an alarm bell in my head became sensitive to it. When it goes off I don't enjoy myself. And my first GM was never able to run a great game again.
  • I don't generally, but I have (rarely) run modules which were more than a bit railroady. Typically I've allowed more freedom that was scripted in and ended up having to do some improvising, or just ended up with some sort of error, but on occasion I've been tempted by some particular thing that was cool or nostalgic or what-have-you. I picked up Rogue Mistress for Stormbringer fairly recently for instance, because OMG Michael Moorcock and sailing ships with laser cannons!! and *nearly* ran it, but on reflection just couldn't do it.
    From a module writer perspective of course railroading makes perfect sense....less plot paths to prepare. There are a few modules that are well-written to support freer play (thinking of e.g. some of Paul (Jenelle) Jacquays stuff, like The Enchanted Wood for Dragonquest many moons ago) but it was probably much easier for companies to write linear adventures, and that all too often became a model for aspiring gamers.
  • The traditional roleplaying games that we played when I started gaming in the early '90s all advocated railroading, simple as that. The games that I GMed early, including LotR Adventure Game, Call of Cthulhu, Cyberpunk 2020, Paranoia, Twilight 2000, Runequest (yes, it's a strongly '80s line-up - Finland tended to play slightly older games than America at the time), all included or involved sample adventures and GMing advice that are more likely to make you railroad than not. The same goes for the rpg zines of the time. Specifically, the adventure-writing scheme of the time is hopelessly railroady: once you're writing your events in a chronological order, you're practically ensuring that a railroad emerges, no matter how much empty verbiage you might or might not waste in encouraging player freedom.

    The outcome of this textual environment is that my understanding of rpg adventure design through the 90s was strictly centered upon the aesthetic setpiece or theme: you created an adventure or an entire campaign by getting a literary detail or atmosphere from somewhere (a book or a movie, perhaps), and then you constructed a framework that enabled you to present your artistic inspiration to the players in a powerful manner. This framework generally meant a railroad of some sort, bringing the viewpoint characters to the central point of the adventure via an appropriately paced progression of preparatory scenes. The brand of railroading with us was always pretty mild and let's say weak-willed: the GM would and could roll over when the players did not go along with his illusionist techniques. (We had our overt force moment as well, but it was more common for a game to go awry because the players wandered off the rails and we didn't know how to continue play when lacking a plot.) Nevertheless, nothing came of play when the players broke the railroad, so the alternatives basically were to quit the campaign as a fail, or once in a blue moon the players would bounce in the right direction. Needless to say, our pattern of play through these years involved many short campaigns.

    In hindsight, the only rpg of the time that could maybe have reversed the trend, had we partaken of it early enough, was the D&D red box. Unfortunately it only got into my hands at a time when I was already entirely inculcated with the aforementioned simmy auteur GMing paradigm, and thus I could see nothing in the red box except a game from more primitive times, one that does not e.g. simulate a player character as a fully bodied individual in as skilled a manner as BRP does.
  • because of a lack of tools and techniques to make player choices more relevant.
  • I railroaded because all the stuff I was reading was telling me that I-as-GM was responsible for the fun, and that it wouldn't be fun unless I manipulated things so that the players succeeded and thought they were succeeding because of their own skill. If they caught wind that I was manipulating the game, they'd be mad, but if I could hide it, they'd really think the game was awesome.

    I railroaded because I wanted characters to get to higher levels because low level play had become boring. I kept characters alive so we could have story continuity and character development.

    I railroaded because I was drifting the game towards Vanilla Narrativism and didn't know it, but the game got in the way of that all the time.

    I railroaded because I had prepared stuff that I wanted to use, and I didn't want that stuff to be wasted. I gave players false choices that led to my planned adventures.

    After a while, I stopped planning altogether, and wherever they went and whatever they did, the players would surely stumble onto some improvised excitement. I don't think that counts as railroading.
  • Usually it's a combination of wanting to use the material that I've already prepped and the fact that I'm not terribly gifted in improvisational GMing. I envy those GMs who seem to be able to make an excellent gaming session out of an old Doctor Who episode and some bits of string, but I'm not one of them.
  • After a while, I stopped planning altogether, and wherever they went and whatever they did, the players would surely stumble onto some improvised excitement. I don't think that counts as railroading.
    In that case, I didn’t railroad. But… I still want to learn more ways to make player choices more relevant.
  • Well, I didn't think of it as railroading.

    But I was aware of the players' expectation that I deliver them a story and reveal unexpected things to them, so I did.

  • 3. I have a tendency in combat-heavy games to start cheating in the player's favor when a fight has gone on for what feels like too long to me. D&D games where the demon with 90hp dies after taking a total of 50 points of damage, that kind of thing. And I've been caught at it, too, by experts who pay attention to how much damage they've dealt to a monster and remember how many hit points that monster should have. Which is embarrassing, but...honestly, I'll probably keep doing it. Draggy pacing is draggy pacing, even if the rules say we're supposed to keep rolling dice for another half-hour anyway.
    I've dealt with similar issues of pure numerical pacing. There are some great, easy-to-apply houserules that, IME, feel more satisfying. Like, monsters tend to run away or look for opportunities to escape at half HP. Can make the gameworld feel less numerical and more organic.

    Or, monsters have half their regular HP but do (HD) extra damage.

    Anyway: I would say the main reason I railroaded was to make something happen. Anything really. Because without motivation mechanics that more recent games have, without a clear goal (which is often interchangeable with a railroad), the games tend to meander and then stall.

    Matt
  • Because my players bought tickets for a train ride.
  • edited December 2013
    Probably because it was how I was introduced to the hobby.

    1) My first games were Living Greyhawk, so everything was a railroad.

    2) I went through a "White-Wolf is obviously superior to this D&D stuff and their system is better and I totally want more mature subject matter" when I was in high-school, and the idea of the GM being an author was implicit (I'm sure people can quote the books and prove me wrong, but we're talking about me as a new GM reading GM advice for the first time as a teenager).

    3) "Story" in the context of games to someone who grew up in the video-game generation was, to me at that time, more akin to what a game designer did in Final Fantasy -- you set up the encounters, their progression, and the dramatic pivot points, and the characters get to make banter and minor inconsequential decisions along the way that maybe might change the flavor of scenes but ultimately there is an end-point the GM wants to reach.
  • Anyway: I would say the main reason I railroaded was to make something happen. Anything really. Because without motivation mechanics that more recent games have, without a clear goal (which is often interchangeable with a railroad), the games tend to meander and then stall.
    Ooh, that's a good one. I haven't used it from the GM side, but as a player I've been in some games where I had so little idea how the setting worked or what characters should care about there that I was downright grateful to find some rails that I could hop onto and ride along with for a while.
  • Actually the early tour of the setting is a good point.
  • you created an adventure or an entire campaign by getting a literary detail or atmosphere from somewhere (a book or a movie, perhaps), and then you constructed a framework that enabled you to present your artistic inspiration to the players in a powerful manner.
    I have played sessions where the GM was so good at this that I enjoyed being an audience enough to not miss my agency. I never quite pulled that off myself, but I certainly had a pattern for a while where I'd get inspired by some movie, bring an aesthetic idea into a session, and do a little railroading to to showcase my vision.
  • edited December 2013
    The traditional roleplaying games that we played when I started gaming in the early '90s all advocated railroading, simple as that. The games that I GMed early, including LotR Adventure Game, Call of Cthulhu, Cyberpunk 2020, Paranoia, Twilight 2000, Runequest (yes, it's a strongly '80s line-up - Finland tended to play slightly older games than America at the time), all included or involved sample adventures and GMing advice that are more likely to make you railroad than not. The same goes for the rpg zines of the time. Specifically, the adventure-writing scheme of the time is hopelessly railroady: once you're writing your events in a chronological order, you're practically ensuring that a railroad emerges, no matter how much empty verbiage you might or might not waste in encouraging player freedom.

    The outcome of this textual environment is that my understanding of rpg adventure design through the 90s was strictly centered upon the aesthetic setpiece or theme: you created an adventure or an entire campaign by getting a literary detail or atmosphere from somewhere (a book or a movie, perhaps), and then you constructed a framework that enabled you to present your artistic inspiration to the players in a powerful manner. This framework generally meant a railroad of some sort, bringing the viewpoint characters to the central point of the adventure via an appropriately paced progression of preparatory scenes. The brand of railroading with us was always pretty mild and let's say weak-willed: the GM would and could roll over when the players did not go along with his illusionist techniques. (We had our overt force moment as well, but it was more common for a game to go awry because the players wandered off the rails and we didn't know how to continue play when lacking a plot.) Nevertheless, nothing came of play when the players broke the railroad, so the alternatives basically were to quit the campaign as a fail, or once in a blue moon the players would bounce in the right direction. Needless to say, our pattern of play through these years involved many short campaigns.
    Thanks, Eero. As a child of the 90s, this reflect my exact experiences. Only the games we played were Shadowrun, Vampire and Gurps.
  • edited December 2013
    Not so sure about Cyberpunk 2020, esp if you read Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads. The GM advice book is more about “How do you kill your PCs if they are smarter than you”, very adversarial and not at all “Keep your precious PCs alive”.

    Yeah, the game’s standard structure is the “PCs get hired to do X”-model which is inherently very GM-heavy.
    But there was always a mode of “Go out on a friday night and get shot by Solos, or win against them, as the dice may fall.” I think Cyberpunk 3.0 (panned as it may be for it’s graphic design and doll-based art instead of the gorgeous Nagel-pastiche of 2013/2020) isn’t very railroady at all but instead has a very fighty and location-y (almost Vornheim-like) mode of play. The metacharacters is an early example of the Fate fractal that helps you pace how many Arasaka thugs you meet etc.
    It’s not perfect, but… (And I just got told on RPG.net that RuneQuest 2 apparently had a sandboxy randomy solo-mode.)
  • But that’s only nitpicking of course!! You made the explicit call that they had sample adventures and/or GM advice that was railroaded and I A) don’t have any data to counter that, and B) that wasn’t the main gist of your argument, any way.
    Sorry.
    Just wanted to talk nice about Cyberpunk 2020
  • Cyberpunk 2020 is one of my favourite trad games. The setting and flavour are fine stuff, and the character generation is insanely ambitious for the time - there are very, very few games from this period that so explicitly position player characters in different social classes and positions, giving you an overview of the postmodern cyberpunk society. I mean, you could play a rock star or a journalist in the game, not just street warriors of various flavours. Of course all this was used for the usual "random assortment of misfits get a mission" play, but that was more of a failure of execution and not the scope of the vision.

    And yes, the game had some pretty sand-boxy, challengeful-seeming materials at times, despite this actually bringing incoherence to it more than anything else. (I do not think that the Cyberpunk 2020 character generation process is compatible with a free sandbox game - too complex character backgrounds, and takes too much time; you have to do something story-like with characters like that, I think.) Our particular cargo cult in the Finnish outback had little chance of picking up on the alternate possibilities, though, being as how we were reading everything through our singularly railroady eye-glasses, and it's not like any of these games go out of their way to abuse you of your notions. As I often say: the traditional playstyle is, above all else, the style of playing all games the same way, supported by the ambiguity and lack of procedure in the traditional game text.
  • Lots of great points in this thread. I was, personally, definitely subject to the following:

    1. Game texts advised that "the GM has a plot in mind; the players take on the roles of characters within that plot". That implies a certain linear planning on the part of the GM.

    2. Examples of modules/adventures made this even more clear: there's a pre-written plot, and we play through it.

    3. We didn't have any other good procedures to get going - everyone would just sit around and chew the scenery until the GM threw in the "plot hook" (or threat, or whatever) - so a certain level of railroading was required to "get the motor running".

    4. The GM typically had a strong artistic/auteuristic vision s/he wanted to present: that's not as easy to do without railroading.

    5. The fiction we were emulating often had railroady elements (e.g. the Lord of the Rings!), and it seemed natural to reflect that in the fictional stories we were creating.

    (I remember in the first D&D campaign I ran, I even forced (!!!) a player to play a character class he didn't want to play, because he'd told me earlier that he wanted to play that kind of character, and I'd already made BIG plans for him. Yikes!)

    However, there were some other factors which haven't come up but I think were significant, at least for me:


    a. It was very clear that railroading, however much it was important to hide it (because we all knew it was "bad", someone had read about it in some magazine somewhere), was largely responsible for the fun at the table. Like Dave's Epic Endings, the games which involved some hard railroading tended to be the most successful and fun ones - the loose, improvised ones were generally quite weak or unfocused in comparison.

    So, as a GM, I knew that I had to bring some of that to the table to make a good game. Improvising was an option, but it just wouldn't leave people as impressed, or create as much fun for the whole group. (Yes, we firmly believed that the GM was responsible for the fun of the group!)

    If you want to run a really good game, you expected yourself to lay down some rails and drive them hard - because those were the games that impressed people the most, if you could pull it off without anyone noticing. (And sometimes they'd happily overlook it, too, if you didn't accidentally step on anyone's toes.)


    b. Almost every single gamer I met until I was in university was heavily indoctrinated by what I call the Mystery GM Cult.

    The GM is a guru and a magician, and to reveal any kind of weakness or any kind of secret was verboten. I saw every GM making a mysterious face and ominously saying, "Yes, that's just what I expected you to do along! Haha!" whenever a player did something surprising or unexpected. Naturally, as a GM, I felt I had to do the same thing, or I was failing at being a good GM.

    You were expected to keep up the appearance of being in perfect control of everything that was happening, to know every detail, and not to be surprised or be caught off-guard by anything that happened. Because that's what good GMs were like - practically gods, all-knowing, ready for every eventuality, like some kind of comic villain: "Excellent, everything is proceeding according to plan..." (Sadly, often with maniacal cackling included, as cliche as that sounds.)
  • There really should be a term for the intermediate sort of railroad, where the game runs more like a video game does, with a predetermined track that takes the PC's from scene to scene, but then quite a lot of freedom within the scene, as long as you manage to get back on the train for the next scene. Instead of a train, maybe call it a tour bus, which lets the passengers off at interesting locations but requires them to get back on to get to the next attraction.

    It's a step in between hard railroading and aggressive scene-framing, and I think it can be quite functional. It has the virtues for a GM that you get to use your preparation, and there's always clarity about the next thing to do when you run out of steam in one scene. It can be awkward if the PCs refuse to get back on the bus, though you can avoid this with careful player selection and training.
  • Funny you say that DannyK, as I remember learning about scene-framing/cutting and thinking it was an elegant solution to railroading and switched over to it.
  • "Tour bus"! I love it. As a player, I dig those games as long as I'm never made to want to steer. Montsegur 1244 totally has planned stops, but no one minds because "What's the next stop?" is never what the game's about.
  • Paul, I think that mystery GM cult is super important! I think I briefly wound up there, maybe early high school, and I'm trying to remember how.

    1) A player and GM want different things to happen in the fiction
    2) Because they're supposedly playing a defined game, they short-circuit their natural social ability to play nice together and instead battle to establish a "right answer" that supports their position

    So, eventually the GM tries to make the battle impossible by simply refusing all opposition without explanation. This is understandable, as the battles can:

    a) Waste time and be no fun for anyone
    b) Interrupt the GM's creative and storytelling flow
    c) Cost the GM what they wanted to happen

    It's easy to look at a power-tripping GM and think it's all (c). However, in opposed situations, I recall being more protective of my power than anything else, fearful that puncturing it would be somehow disastrous. To me, that sounds more like (a).
  • Great post Paul!
  • Hm. To a degree, the fact that I started gming after Vampire: The Masquerade came out meant that I was very aware of "no matter what, shove the plot down their throats" as something that was generally not a good idea. So, I've less of an excuse than I might otherwise have. That did not, of course, translate to an utter lack of railroading.

    Depending on how you define the term, I've railroaded because:

    1. That's tonight's adventure, folks. Come up with a reason your PC is going along with it, maybe suggest how I can make a tweak that makes it work better.

    2. Er... Okay, guys? I didn't go over this well enough, and the author insists one needs to do X. Help me dig us out of the hole I should have dealt with?

    3. Idiocy. I gradually got better at catching that. Once, I kept trying to figure out how to cut off logical player options for something I'd come up with, and realized that if there were that many options I had to cut off, it was the WRONG PLOT. Ironically, I ran it anyway because one player couldn't make it at the last minute and cleared me for doing nasty things to his PC so long as they could be undone. This meant I didn't have to railroad for the rest of the players. But, if that hadn't happened, I would've junked the plot. I was way too in love with my idea of what should happen.

    4. Being unaware of options. One player, a very good sport about something I did, said, "Here's how you could have given my character a chance to avoid that -- and I understand you would not have thought of this on your own because you don't get how that particular bit of technology actually works." Chatting with other GMs, using wikipedia and other online sources, asking players what you can without diminishing their enjoyment of surprise (if you're into surprising your players, which I often am), and so on can help here.

    5. Genre convention, especially if the system supports it. "Yep, the bad guy does get away -- have a fate point, everyone."

    And probably more I'm failing to recall.
  • Three things:

    1) IME, the "PCs are hired to X thing" is actually pretty great, as long as you're upfront about it. Definitely an example of the good kind of "railroading". Provided that you have some creative freedom as to how you go about doing X. (And of course it's much much better if the clock is ticking.)

    2) I've definitely been part of the whole "GM has a grand auteuristic vision and wants to share it" thing, but I've only seen it truly work a small handful of times, and crash and burn much more often. I certainly don't think I could pull it off.

    3) I often make the stupid, Yakov Smirnov "In Soviet indie gaming, players railroad GM!" joke, but I think for certain frameworks there is some truth to it. That is, someone has to take responsibility for framing the overall parameters of the game, and many setups actually put this in the players' hands. (The third option is for that framing to be all or mostly in the designer's hands, like DitV or Lady Blackbird.) I mean, look at something like Burning Wheel or TSOY/SS or even FATE. The GM is pretty much obligated to prep things that will ping off what the players say they're interested in. Failure to do so—and I've seen it!—is both a serious breach of social contract and takes the game straight to Suckville really fast.

    Of course the GM—or, ideally, the whole group—in such situations has to approve all Beliefs/Aspects/whatever.

    Now, I certainly don't buy that these setups rob the GM of all meaningful creative input. Anymore than a game where the players OOC agree to go into a particular dungeon denies them the opportunity to decide how to play their characters or approach the challenges.
  • Wait. The term "railroading" has come to mean: "We pay attention to each other's creative input and respond to it"?

    This is the Best. Thing. Ever.
  • Like some other people said, I railroaded because the modules told me to. I'm going to venture a guess that Biest and I ran the same game's modules (DSA).
  • Wait. The term "railroading" has come to mean: "We pay attention to each other's creative input and respond to it"?

    This is the Best. Thing. Ever.
    It's a form of repressive tolerance, I guess.

  • Well, I certainly did have a couple of sessions of Kerberos Club Fate Edition where the players told me what the evening's plot would be. At least once, this was something of a relief, as I'd kinda skimped on my prep work, and their idea meant I could do some easy improvising.

    Players railroading -- an interesting concept. I think I've seen some bad versions of that. I wonder if that's what I've heard called "god gaming".
  • I think railroading happens when someone at the table has a future outcome firmly in mind, and stops responding to what other players are saying/doing when it doesn't line up with their expectations.

    That's my personal definition.

    So someone's trying to push play in a certain direction, and another player is stubbornly refusing to engage with that. They have *something else* planned, so they shoot down other contributions.

    I've seen a player do this (even in a game which gives them no real powers) because they were so looking forward to a certain scene that they refused to engage with any other material (for instance, running away from the scene of an important conflict) - it was pretty frustrating for everyone involved.
  • The first campaign I ever GMed, a hack of Palladium's Robotech, started incredibly railroady, but it was mostly because the initial situation was meant to feel that way. I made these NPCs which were a sort of Mary Sue when they were put together. A couple ace pilots, an AI connected to a comatose hacker able to find out almost anything going on, an expert thief who lead an army of thief kids able to rob any place clean, a not-so undercover human cyborg able to deal with full-sized (unarmed) zentraedy (with mere quick thinking, not brute force) and all lead by an ex drug-lord with good connections (or bad blackmail on the right people)

    I only went full force in the first session, having one of these characters either outmaneuver or surprise each party member to convince the group that following their orders was a good idea. Made it so players didn't had to make many rolls against them nor they got affected in a too permanent way (one meltrandi PC got robbed all the equipment I gave her for free, but got it back when she presented (quite angered at first) to the HQ to retrieve it and receive orders; the intel agent had it worse, being found out by the hacker and turned into a double agent through some more blackmail)

    However this had the effect of making the life of each PC more interesting and afterwards there were sandbox moments, and moments where I run a couple of pre-scripted events I prepared each session. Did I denied players their input? no. Did I ever fudge dice? No, though I admit I switched from palladium's d100 to d20 after a few sessions because it was too lethal for my npcs. Did I took meaningful decisions out of the hands of my players? Of course, but only when that translated into setting an specific mood to the game ("you're either part of the merc army or it's enemy") The rest of the time, they were on their own.

    On almost the totally opposite of the spectre, on the last campaign GMed players were in the middle of a randomly generated dungeon which felt endless. On some room I improvised a painting that inspired the players and they asked if they could start their own religious group and make a stand instead of chasing all the villains and the plot through the whole setting. I found the idea so interesting that I threw away most of the prep I had (fortunately it wasn't too much nor it had good quality) improvised some mechanics for resource management, convincing large groups of people and training them. Each party member trained apprentices in some of their class skills (except for the cleric, who started to train fanatics into suicide bombers) and they had a lot of fun creating a whole new religion in the setting. By far it was one of the best moments of that whole campaign.

    For my next campaign I want to find a middle point between railroading and letting the players railroad.
  • I think railroading happens when someone at the table has a future outcome firmly in mind, and stops responding to what other players are saying/doing when it doesn't line up with their expectations.
    I think this is something that can occur in railroading, but it's something that should stand on it's own legs when it comes to definitions. I wonder if improv talks about this (other than "blocking"), because it seems like the very opposite of "accept and offer". Keith Johnstone talks about "not planning ahead" because it can hinder you from taking in others' ideas.

    This is something that can occur if the player is competetive.
  • edited December 2013
    I'd like to request that all "what is railroading" discussion be kept to other threads.

    In the past, that topic quickly dominated the discussion, with massive post counts. I'd like to keep this thread free of that if possible. I'm quite enjoying the list of various folks' formative experiences.
  • Patterns I'm seeing so far:

    Modules
    Many modules either required railroading or at least made it the most obvious way to run them.

    GM modeling
    Many of us learned to GM from people who thought that force (including railroading) was appropriate to the GM role.

    Wanting things to go a certain way plus nothing stopping you
    "It'd be cool if this happens, so I'll make it happen!"
  • Here's one you haven't got on your list:
    Player Ability

    Facing the choice between playing with less-capable-of-improvising players and not playing at all, I chose to run a game (Legend of the Five Rings aka L5R) where the story was on rails. It was remarkably fun for everyone. The fact that the path was fixed didn't interfere at all, because everyone was just having fun overcoming the challenges I set.

    The group I chose to run for were powergamers. They were good enough at it to put even me to shame, but they wanted to try something a bit different. L5R was the perfect game to bridge that gap because it allows powergaming, but it also involves a lot of social play.

    Eventually, one of the players did a little bit of improvising, taking his character in an unexpected direction. I rewarded that. The game was still on rails, but it was redirected so that he could explore that aspect of his character.
  • edited December 2013
    Interesting! What was the path from "these guys can't improv" to "railroading will help" (as opposed to some other technique)? Did you try a sandbox on them and they just sat there doing nothing, so you saw a need to push them from scene to scene?
  • (I'm also a bit baffled by the revisionism of the term "Railroading" going on here on SG)

    In my circles, back in the late 80s/early 90s, it was how it was done, and it was how we were instructed to do it in modules and rule books. So we did it. I did it. A lot, and I think it didn't really dawn on me until 2002 or so that is was why my roleplaying was so unsatisfactory.

    In Scandinavia (at least in Denmark and Sweden) there was a whole convention scenario culture built around this, and it still exists to some extent today. It was the ruling thought, and I still know people who will fanatically defend this, that scenario writers and game masters had to be in charge of "the story", in order to give the players a good experience. The GM developed into an entertainer that led their audience, the players, through a game experience, possibly with props, scenography and funny voices/shouting, with everyone pretending that it was roleplaying.
  • edited December 2013
    Why did you railroad?

    Because im not omnipresent and the knower of all things cool? or

    I tried to create thrilling worlds for adventure but, 7 times out of 10 that dramatic build up or climatic ending felt forced or broken.

    70% of railroading came about from the system, crap rolls, missing information or meta game taboos.


    Thats probably why I don't role play as much these days. getting the system up to speed with the story is a pain.

    Simulation role play is like trying to see the love with a roll of 17 or more.

Sign In or Register to comment.