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Author Topic: Railroading Fun  (Read 14520 times)
Andrew Cooper
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« on: April 07, 2004, 08:52:33 AM »

My question at it's simplest is "What constitutes Railroading?"  Does any overarching plotline by the GM mean the players are being railroaded?  If railroading is defined as the GM forcing the players along a specific plotline, then is any story element that the GM introduces that makes certain choices more viable than others railroading?  Is railroading always bad then?  After all, as the GM, I'm still a player in the game too and there are things that I think are cool and would like to see happen in the game.  Why is it railroading if I introduce those elements and not if a player does it?  (Okay... so I have more than 1 question.  Shoot me.)

As an example, let's take something like a Geas in D&D.  Geas is a very powerful spell that can force a character to *do* something... like "You must find the Twinky of Doom and return it to me!"  It doesn't say how the character does it or what choices he can make along the way but it does tend to funnel him in a specific direction at times.  So, is using a Geas in a game railroading the players?  Always?  Never?  Sometimes?
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Alan
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« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2004, 09:01:17 AM »

One of the commonly accepted rules in roleplaying is that what a PC thinks, feels, and decides to do is completely up to the player.  If the GM tells a player what his character decides, that's railroading.  But also, in more subtle ways, if the GM unilaterally removes all meaningful choice from the character that is also railroading.

It is always bad, as it removes the player's major participation in the game.

What if the player had plans to do something other than seek the twinky of doom?  It only takes a bit of discussion and agreement among the group.  The players may agree that going after the twinky is okay now, as long as Durf the Barbarian gets to rescue his unladylike love first.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
timfire
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« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2004, 09:09:07 AM »

I personally define railroading to mean anytime the GM only leaves one possible outcome to an event. Sometimes this is the GM saying "no, you can't do that," and sometimes it's just the GM just making it obvious that's there's only one "right" decision.

I think the issue with railroading is that the GM is making decisions for the player. This removes the player's ability to impact the story in any meaningful way. This leads to Illusionism, the illusion that the players can impact the story when really the GM is pulling all the strings.

Is it always bad? Not if the players know about it upfront and they're OK with that style of play.

[cross posted with Alan]
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2004, 09:09:29 AM »

Quote from: Alan
One of the commonly accepted rules in roleplaying is that what a PC thinks, feels, and decides to do is completely up to the player.  If the GM tells a player what his character decides, that's railroading.


Then why ever have mind affecting spells in the game or should players be the only characters with access to those spells?  One of the most common elements found in literature and movies in the Evil Villain(tm) that forces the protagonists to do certain things in his evil badness.  The interesting part is to see how the protagonist gets out of it.  So, is it railroading when I have His Evil Nastiness kidnap the hero's girlfriend and say, "Steal me the Cosmic Thing-a-ma-bob or Betty Boop here gets it!"?
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timfire
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« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2004, 09:16:22 AM »

Quote from: Gaerik
Then why ever have mind affecting spells in the game or should players be the only characters with access to those spells?

I think those are a little different. Spells are generally some sort of limited resource (or there are limitations on their use), so players can't use them all day long to decide every little matter in the game. Also, players know and accept upfront the possibility of the mind-control spell, and they know when a player is doing it. The GM, however, can railroad all day long, and often disguises the fact that he's doing it.
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Alan
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« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2004, 09:30:27 AM »

Quote from: Gaerik
Quote from: Alan
One of the commonly accepted rules in roleplaying is that what a PC thinks, feels, and decides to do is completely up to the player.  If the GM tells a player what his character decides, that's railroading.


Then why ever have mind affecting spells in the game ... ?


Why indeed.  I'm in favor of eliminating them.  

Quote
... or should players be the only characters with access to those spells?


That seems a reasonable solution.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Nick the Nevermet
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« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2004, 09:51:28 AM »

If you a do a search for the word 'illusionism" you'll get some good stuff relating to this.  I invite all forge regulars who know this stuff better than I to correct me.

Illusionism is a functional style of play, and a very common one.  Basically, the GM has a story line he wants to players to follow.  This GM is GM influence over character decisions; it has to be to a degree.  It is also generally covert, meaning the GM uses things in character to manipulate things (he doesn't usually tell the players explcitly where to go).  Outcomes can be relatively pre-determined or left open.

Now, as I said, this can be a functional style of play.  Now we get to the important part: the social contract.  The difference between railroading and illusionism is when a GM railroads, he violates the social contract over what he is allowed to do to a player character.

What does this mean?  Well, it means what constitutes railroading is necessarily different in different gaming groups.  What might feel like a great compelling story to some players may feel like coercive pushing to others.  There is no absolute right answer to where that boundary is, which means we figure it out through social interaction.  Ron, GNS, and several non-GNS texts (such as Nobilis) encourage talking about all this before the game even starts, to minimize problems.

So, let's deal with issues of mind-control spells.  In a game that has a lot of those, I would say that might be something people may want to work out ahead of time.  It solves the problem of the GM thinking it is OK to do something, and a player thinks it is ultimate betrayal.  I have personally been in games where it was perfectly acceptable for a villain to try to mind-control the big, stupid fighter to attack his own part.  I've also been in a group where telling a player "Your character feels angry about X" lead to an hour long argument.
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DannyK
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« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2004, 10:52:09 AM »

Personally, I'd rather have my character mind-controlled than be told what he feels (unless that is also a form of mind control).  

As far as I can tell in my gaming experience, Illusionism is pretty much the default stance in much of roleplaying.  Not everybody wants to get a director's chair; lots of people are happy to ride the rails, as long as it's a wild ride.
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Nick the Nevermet
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« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2004, 11:04:32 AM »

Quote from: DannyK
Personally, I'd rather have my character mind-controlled than be told what he feels (unless that is also a form of mind control).  

As far as I can tell in my gaming experience, Illusionism is pretty much the default stance in much of roleplaying.  Not everybody wants to get a director's chair; lots of people are happy to ride the rails, as long as it's a wild ride.


I hear you on both points.

Personally, I'm a very 'old school' kind of player (I like my sim & my illusionism), though as I get older I'm getting more interested exploring character, and this has lead (for me) to an interested in protagonized play.
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Tomas HVM
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« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2004, 02:33:22 PM »

Quote from: Alan
One of the commonly accepted rules in roleplaying is that what a PC thinks, feels, and decides to do is completely up to the player.  If the GM tells a player what his character decides, that's railroading.  But also, in more subtle ways, if the GM unilaterally removes all meaningful choice from the character that is also railroading.

It is always bad, as it removes the player's major participation in the game.
Oh bollocks! I've done it then! Haven't I? I've made games with lots of railroading in them, and seen players engage in them like in no other game (offering their thanks afterwards), and it's all been an illusion!!!

Seriously; lay aside the silly notion that "railroading is always bad". It is but a social convention, and has no place as a dogma on roleplaying games. Use whatever tools necessary to engage your players.
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Tomas HVM
writer, storyteller, games designer
www.fabula.no
Alan
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« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2004, 02:47:20 PM »

Quote from: Tomas HVM

Seriously; lay aside the silly notion that "railroading is always bad".


But it is - without player consent, it's always bad.  The GM acting without consent, holds up the illusion that everything that happens was pure player free choice, then reveals the truth - and the players feel betrayed.  Or if he doesn't reveal the truth, he's lying by omission.

Good Illusionist play requires player consent at the social contract level.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Domhnall
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« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2004, 03:35:03 PM »

I hate the idea of the GM leading anyone around by the nose as well.  But, the problem is that the GM must accommodate the choices of players.  Itís impossible for the PC to choose ďanythingĒ and for the GM to be on-the-spot prepared for all choices.  I think the solution here is very careful and patient character creation.  The player and the GM must be on the same page and thoroughly understand the character and his motivations.  Once the playerís mind is understood by both parties, then the choices of the PC can be reasonably anticipated by the GM.  

There is the issue of character consistency.  Itís possible for the player to make a mistake playing his character.  If a character is established to be, say, extremely selfish, and if the player decides to have his character acting in an altruistic way, he is erring.  In these cases, the GM and player should have a discussion about it.  

As far as magic controlling players, if those spells exist in your game worlds, then by all means, your PCs are prone to suffer their effects.  

As far as the GM setting up scenarios that seems to be forcing the PCs down a choiceless pathóthis is a failing in the GMís creation of his world.  Game worlds should be rich, filled with a multitude of things occurring, only some of which involve the PCs.  If the game is set up where every piece of information is a cue for the PCs to act on, the world would feel shallow and contrived.
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--Daniel
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2004, 08:22:17 PM »

Hey folks,

We've talked about this topic a lot at the Forge, and rule #1 about this topic is, "railroading means different things to different people." When you use the word, the reader 'sees' something very different from whatever it is you 'saw' when you typed it.

If someone less fatigued than me can look up the threads with TrizzlWizzl and other related threads about all this stuff, and list them soon in a post here, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Best,
Ron
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2004, 11:07:12 PM »

One thread I think is important to this (so much so that I looked it up while reading, before I got to Ron's call for threads) is http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6266">Does Module Play Equal Participationism? It surprises me that it was not a year ago that Illusionism, Participationism, and Trailblazing were distinguished.

I think Nick may be confusing Illusionism with Illusionist Techniques; they are not the same. Illusionist techniques are those which sereptitiously remove the force of a player choice in a specific instance to enhance play; Illusionism is the persistent use of such techniques to control all directions and outcomes such that a pre-planned (or referee-determined, even if improvised) story will be told over which the players have no real influence, but are unaware of this.

Ron is correct that the meaning of the word Railroading is uncertain. Part of that is because people tend to describe it in terms of what they find unacceptable to them, and others see that as acceptable. I think that the best definition of railroading would be something like this: the player's control over events in the shared imaginary space is considerably lower than he expects.

For example, in my current work on Why Spy in Multiverser: The Third Book of Worlds, I include a scenario in which there is heavy use of illusionist technique to achieve a very specific aspect of play. In essence, all of the encounters in the scenario will be played in the order listed; it does not matter which direction the player turns within the high rise office building, because the maps are irrelevant and the encounters are not on the maps. The purpose is to build the feeling of a particular kind of movie story (Die Hard, Under Siege) in which the hero has to get past these obstacles to save the world. Many of the encounters are tropes of this kind of story, such as the civilian discovered who has not been caught by the villains. The player cannot either accidentally or by cleverness get to the end scenario before playing through the other bits; he has to go through the events as slated to get there.

At the same time, how the player handles these situations is completely up to him. He can avoid many of them, with a good roll and the choice to do so. He can create his own strategies, solve the problems he faces in any way he chooses. He can fail; he can turn many situations to his advantage. He can kill all the hostages himself and let God sort them out, or he can attempt to capture all the villains alive.

Some people would call this railroading. For them, the idea that they can't end-run the scenario and go straight to the big boss of the whole game means that the referee is forcing them to do something they don't want to do--they can't use their skills to get out of that part of the game. Whether it's because they would consider it really clever and successful to skip the mooks and take out the boss, or because they don't see anything interesting to address in the various situations that arise and just want to get out of this adventure as quickly as possible and on to something potentially more interesting, or because they don't see it as realistic because to them "realistic" has to mean that everything is already fixed on the map before they start play, the very idea that I would require them to move through these events in chronological order they find offensive.

Others would call this a very interesting adventure planning technique; to them, it would be no different from designing a dungeon complex in which you could not reach room B without passing through room A, nor room C without passing through B, and so to reach room Z you had to run the entire alphabet first. Such a dungeon design the might think a bit boring, but they wouldn't consider it unfair. Doing the same thing with events similarly might not be unfair to them. They get to make the important decisions, in that they respond to the encounters however they choose and can use any of a great variety of tactics and skills to do so, in any way they want.

Thus railroading comes to mean any form of play in which players don't get to make the decisions they think are important. The confusion comes in when one player reads another player's description of a session of railroading, and believes that for him that would have been a perfectly acceptable distribution of credibility in play. Thus one player reads the description of my above scenario with the label "railroading" from someone who doesn't like the approach, and they see it more as a person who finds it valuable, and based on that they conclude that railroading is not unacceptable play.

Does that make sense?

I don't think we particularly need it as a term, unless as a personal description, "I felt railroaded" or "the players felt railroaded".

I hope that helps.

--M. J. Young
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Tomas HVM
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« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2004, 11:17:37 PM »

Quote from: Alan (on railroading)
It's always bad.
Not true.

Quote from: Alan
- without player consent, it's always bad.
When choosing to participate in the game, the players basically consent to all the small tidbits that the game consist of, included the tools made use of by the GM. That's the basics of the "social contract". It is common for the "social contract" to be some unwritten understanding. As such it certainly includes some expectations by the players, but these are not fixed, and should not be so. I have, and other gamesmiths and game master have, repeatedly experienced that players expectations may be disregarded, or reformed, to the betterment of the game and their enjoyment of it. If you try to elevate the players expectations into some holy, unbreakable dogma, you will do both the game and the players a great disservice.

I will not argue that railroading done bad, is really bad, but it is certainly not "always bad". Some roleplayers argue that railroading involve some deceit by the game master. I expect them to have experienced such deceit, but it is not a necessary part of railroading. "The illusion that everything that happens was pure player free choice" is not an illusion necessary for the GM to maintain. The use of tools aimed at steering the characters in certain directions, is something the game master may do quite openly. When done right the players will experience the game as strongly as ever. Players do not have to be deceived to make this happen. Deceit is not an obvious part of railroading. Such illusionism tend to be a way for inexperienced game masters to handle their own fear of players doing something they can't cope with. GM-nervousness handled in such a way, is often detrimental to the roleplaying game.

It's like driving a car clinging desperately to the steering wheel, without ever turning it; it's bound to end in a ditch at the first corner. But to argue the removal of steering wheels in all cars, is a misdirected "solution" to the problem. It you know how to use it, it is quite comforting to have a steering wheel in your car.

Railroading as a tool may be used to steer the characters (and their players) in directions not normally chosen, in directions beneficient the drama. It may leave the players shipwrecked with their characters, in some remote part of fantasy, where no roads to safety is obvious. It may be used to place characters under foreign influence (like a spell of mind control), with all it's consequences. It may be part of the frame for the campaign or the scenario (the characters being "under order" by some authority). It may be done to make the players experience a feeling of helplessness possessing the characters. Railroading may be used in a multitude of ways. In the hands of a conscious game master, it is a powerful tool.

The railroading done by nervous game masters, should not be taken as the definition of railroading. It is a fully acceptable tool, and may be used to great effect.
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Tomas HVM
writer, storyteller, games designer
www.fabula.no
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