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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 137 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Anatomy of a Railroad  (Read 15499 times)
Brand_Robins
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« Reply #30 on: October 03, 2005, 09:07:20 PM »

Good point. I think that the module as instructional tool has been overlooked in many cases as the culprit in creating methods of play.

I remember a Shadowrun module that I played in years and years ago. I was a Lion shaman, and by the rules in the book could not take insults without giving them back or attacking. (Oh the My Guy badness just lurking there....)

At one point we were in a situation where a powerful NPC was belittling our characters, calling us names and so on and forth. My character steps up and insults back. In retaliaiton the GM has the NPC hit us with everything he has -- resulting in a TPK in the second scene of the adventure.

When I protested, the GM showed us the module, wherein it said, "If the PCs are stupid enough to threaten [this npc] or give him lip, have him hit them hard enough to teach them to shut up. If they fight back, kill them to teach them not to be stupid" -- or something to that effect, I can't recall the exact words. (And even if that isn't what it said, the GM, and many of the players in the group, took it to mean that and to justify the behavior.)

From then on everyone in that group was very certain never to do anything "stupid" that could get in the way of our goal. Play became as simple as get mission, fulfill mission, come home and get more cyber. No personal BS anywhere, and no trying to step out of line. Because the module told us so.
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- Brand Robins
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #31 on: October 04, 2005, 06:32:24 AM »

I've said this before, but I think it's interesting that the text like this that's in the Hackmaster modules is only slightly exaggerated. That is, it tends to go on at length about stuff like this, but it was all in the original copies of the modules being parodied. Check out the introduction to an old D&D module, and one of the parallel Hackmaster modules to see what I mean. Often the Hackmaster version simply lays bare the subtext of the original.

Mike
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Sean
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« Reply #32 on: October 04, 2005, 03:47:07 PM »

Mike,

If it's not thread drift, could you be more explicit? I don't understand your 'like this'. I'd disagree if you were responding to Brand and if by 'old' you meant the pastels (which you almost must have, since most of the HM parodies are of the pastels). But maybe I don't understand what your 'like' is. Like what?

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Josh Roby
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« Reply #33 on: October 04, 2005, 03:54:33 PM »

When you run low on riffing enthusiasm, if system doesn't keep the game flowing regardless, as GM you start to rely on force techniques to get players to where you do have some enthusiasm left.

There's also the possibility that the players can direct the game in directions they want; this responsibility does not fall solely on the GM's shoulders.  In lots of old games, the GM was the only one with the explicit power to do so, though.  I see a lot of instances in new games of empowering the players to direct the course of the game, either implicitly or explicitly.  TonyLB's thread about transferring excitement back and forth is a good example of this.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #34 on: October 05, 2005, 05:41:42 AM »

I've never heard the term "pastels" before, but I think we're talking about the same thing. The modules typified by the "Giant" and "Underworld" ("D" series) stuff. I'll have to grab one when I have a chance to make a direct reference, but in those series there is a lot of text that amounts to "GM Hints for Play" interspersed with the rest of the text. Often in odd contexts, and almost throw away at times.

One I can remember specifically (because I just happened to re-read it recently) is in the Descent Into the Depths where it talks about traveling in the underworld, and that the party can't teleport in and out. The surrounding text is telling the GM essentially to use whatever plot methods are neccessary to ensure that the party has to follow the rout that leads through the labeled encounters.

I haven't read the hackmaster version of this particular module, but I'm betting that it says this stuff, just much more explicitly. Now this example is specific to linear scenario railroading, but not all modules will have that. I'm not saying that they all, or even most of them, promote railroading. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, for example is just a map, and one that can be entered from many points, in fact. So it doesn't have railroading subtext. But it has other challenge related subtext. For example, there's a long explanation for why the steading can't simply be burnt down, no matter what the PCs bring to bear. The subtext of which is, "Don't allow the players to avoid going through the dungeon crawl by using creative means. They have to go inside and kill the giants, one by one."

These modules, despite the short length of the non-room-description parts of the text, are full of this stuff. And for my eleven year old self trying to figure out how to play AD&D, it was all very formative information. Given that a lot of it is subtextual, I'm sure that people read the modules differently, and get different ideas. But, again, I think if you read the HM versions that you'll see them extrapolating the text in the ways that I'm talking about.

Mike
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #35 on: October 05, 2005, 07:49:57 AM »

One I can remember specifically (because I just happened to re-read it recently) is in the Descent Into the Depths where it talks about traveling in the underworld, and that the party can't teleport in and out. The surrounding text is telling the GM essentially to use whatever plot methods are neccessary to ensure that the party has to follow the rout that leads through the labeled encounters.

For the record, Forge types aren't the only ones to notice (and be unhappy with) this. Monte Cook did a bit, a couple years back, about how badly many dungeons are designed. He comes at it from a very gamist POV (as you'd probably expect), and talks about the way that PC powers should be used as opportunities to open up possibilities and not as obsticles that should be shut down in order to control the environment.

So Monte also saw a lot of railroading in those adventures, because not only did they force the story in one direction, they harshly limited the players rightful ability to step on up.
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- Brand Robins
ffilz
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« Reply #36 on: October 05, 2005, 08:45:51 AM »

Interesting to realize how quickly D&D modules went from fairly open (I consider G1s not allowing you to bypass the module completely pretty minor, especially for prep-heavy gamism, you need the players to agree to "do the module," however, short of things that bypass the challenge, player creativity should be open - which G1 did a pretty good job of) to being pretty railroady. Thinking about it, I suspect that's why I have fond memories of G1, and can hardly remember playing D1-D3 (I do remember playing Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits). I really rejected the serial dungeon form of railroading (though I'm sure I've done plenty of other railroady things).

Of course I had learned to play before modules were really available (we started with the original Basic set, complete with Dungeon Geomorphs and Encounter and Treasure Tables).

It's interesting contrasting these modules to Judge's Guild's Dark Tower that I'm running right now. Verry little railroading text in that, in fact, it doesn't really even make an assumtion whether the players will help the forces of good (Mitra), the forces of evil (Set), or none of the above.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Sean
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« Reply #37 on: October 05, 2005, 08:47:49 AM »

The pastels are B1, G1-3, D1-3, S1-2, C1, and T1 - the 11 modules originally released with monochrome pastel colors. I would agree that there are some railroading elements in G1 and G2 (though G2 is one of the grandest 'series of fights' modules ever written IMO). But in general 'railroading' was understood as a bad thing by most early D&D players and it's one reason that e.g. the Dragonlance modules are and were widely hated by old-schoolers: because they took away the freedom to improvise and plan cherished by so many in the early days.

With the D series, it's funny. It's true what you say about the teleport restrictions, but there was ALSO this huge underworld map inviting to be filled in, which you could travel all around and get way off the planned adventure if you wanted. The 'sunless sea' 4-hex area was especially intriguing. Lots of GMs I knew filled in those areas and ran extended underdark campaigns connected to but distinct from the drow epic.

What I don't see in those modules though is the particular thing Brand was talking about where an NPC essentially bullies the players into doing what he wants and the players have no option to resist. There is a lot of latitude for interpreting individual encounters, most extremely in D3 and T1. (Our run of D3 involved much more politics and hot elf-drow sex than fighting, and might have been construed as an early stab at narrativism - the main protagonist was beloved of the surface-world elf-queen, but seducing Eclavdra was his most effective route to staving off the Drow invasion, setting up some moral hand-wringing alongside the sex.) The only exception I can think of offhand is Ghost Tower of Inverness (C2, not a pastel), but there the setup is in media res - you're all in the Duke's dungeon and the Duke wants you to get this soul gem for him, so go get it or die - but it's a tournament module, so that's not exactly the same thing.

It's true that sometimes old-school modules include unwinnable fights, but this is a feature not a bug from the old PoV - players need to be smart enough to recognize these unwinnable fights and run away. They also don't say "you can't do this", they just give you an obstacle which you could concievably roll your way into overcoming, though your odds aren't good.

The genius of non-railroaded old school modules was Paul Jaquays, whose Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower (both Judges Guild) are masterworks of this kind of design. I think that's one reason those modules (along with Tegel Manor) are so beloved, actually - they were much more 'blueprints to make your own stuff out of', as were Gygax's D3 and T1.

So anyway, I guess I disagree with you about a 'general subtext' pointing in the direction of railroading pretty strongly, though I'm sure you could find (a) some compelling instances which were (b) read that way by some fraction of the early D&D community. The 'sandbox' philosophy is much more common to the great majority of Judges Guild products and a substantial fraction of TSR ones, and a great number of people were aggravated/pissed off/left the game when the Dragonlance modules ushered in the railroading style for a much larger group of players - and was seen as 'licensing' it as well.

Monte Cook and Andy Collins both have opined that since the game contains lots of transportation and divination spells at high levels, it's the GMs responsibility to challenge players with those powers rather than to shut down on them to protect the 'secret' of the adventure etc. In general I think that's a fair assessment, though I also note that the OD&D/1e versions of many of these spells that had built-in 'bugs' (dying from teleportation, going insane from contact other plane, etc.) so that there was a real risk built into using them to compensate somewhat for this, and I don't think that's a bad approach either.

Anyway, sorry to put the grognard hat on here, but I had an extremely fun and functional early D&D experience in general, and one reason was that we felt very free to improvise things in a way that few other games provided until I discovered the Forge. IIRC you've been around a while too Mike and while I accept that other people had very dysfunctional early experiences with the game, I also think that anyone who came into D&D after '84 and in some cases a little earlier may derive very misleading assumptions about what a substantial percentage of early play was like based on the text of later supplements and rulebooks.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #38 on: October 05, 2005, 12:08:16 PM »

But in general 'railroading' was understood as a bad thing by most early D&D players and it's one reason that e.g. the Dragonlance modules are and were widely hated by old-schoolers: because they took away the freedom to improvise and plan cherished by so many in the early days.
You being an expert on how all "old-schoolers" played, I take it. So the way that I was informed by the modules made my group an aberration? The HM parodies of these modules also being abberational readings?

Or, perhaps, could it be that your group was the aberration? Or, perhaps, is it as I've said that different people get different things from the subtext?

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With the D series, it's funny. It's true what you say about the teleport restrictions, but there was ALSO this huge underworld map inviting to be filled in, which you could travel all around and get way off the planned adventure if you wanted. The 'sunless sea' 4-hex area was especially intriguing. Lots of GMs I knew filled in those areas and ran extended underdark campaigns connected to but distinct from the drow epic.
Yes, a module you paid money for with mostly blank space. Frankly I had bought it to play it as written because I could have made a map of some underground caverns myself, and filled them. The point is that, yes, this subtext does say that there's another way to play the module. It's just a suggestion, however, with no more support for it in the module than, perhaps, the wandering monster tables.

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What I don't see in those modules though is the particular thing Brand was talking about where an NPC essentially bullies the players into doing what he wants and the players have no option to resist.
I wasn't commenting on that.

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There is a lot of latitude for interpreting individual encounters, most extremely in D3 and T1. (Our run of D3 involved much more politics and hot elf-drow sex than fighting, and might have been construed as an early stab at narrativism - the main protagonist was beloved of the surface-world elf-queen, but seducing Eclavdra was his most effective route to staving off the Drow invasion, setting up some moral hand-wringing alongside the sex.)
My annecdotal evidence is that the party I ran through D3 basically committed genocide on the populace taking out whole clans of drow with barrages of magic missiles. Where you get roleplaying out of those modules is your groups predilections alone. Yes, there is an implication of some political play possible. But, again, the only support is for combat, with the drow stats all being listed neatly for them to be killed.

But, then you're not reading me again. I said explicitly that the subtexts of different modules say different things, and it's not all about railroading.

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The only exception I can think of offhand is Ghost Tower of Inverness (C2, not a pastel), but there the setup is in media res - you're all in the Duke's dungeon and the Duke wants you to get this soul gem for him, so go get it or die - but it's a tournament module, so that's not exactly the same thing.
I think that the fact that they almost all started out as tournament modules is telling. Descent into the Depths is like it was because it was a tournament module that required railroading. The "and you can fill it out" part was tacked on to make it theoretically into something more. Again, our readings basically were to simply accept the "tournamentyness" of them, and go along with that, since that was what was supported. I remember calculating the point totals for Shrine of Tamochan play after finishing it to see how well the players did.

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The genius of non-railroaded old school modules was Paul Jaquays, whose Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower (both Judges Guild) are masterworks of this kind of design. I think that's one reason those modules (along with Tegel Manor) are so beloved, actually - they were much more 'blueprints to make your own stuff out of', as were Gygax's D3 and T1.
I still have my Caverns of Thracia, and read it also not long ago. And I agree with you about it. Again, where have I said that all old modules promoted railroading?

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So anyway, I guess I disagree with you about a 'general subtext' pointing in the direction of railroading pretty strongly, though I'm sure you could find (a) some compelling instances which were (b) read that way by some fraction of the early D&D community.
Thanks for agreeing with me completely.

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The 'sandbox' philosophy is much more common to the great majority of Judges Guild products and a substantial fraction of TSR ones, and a great number of people were aggravated/pissed off/left the game when the Dragonlance modules ushered in the railroading style for a much larger group of players - and was seen as 'licensing' it as well.
I've never even seen the Dragonlance modules. So I'll have to take your word. But nobody I've ever known saw them either, so none of us left D&D because of that. We all left way earlier than that. Though I think it's more for a desire to get away from gamism than anything else.

[quote}IIRC you've been around a while too Mike and while I accept that other people had very dysfunctional early experiences with the game, I also think that anyone who came into D&D after '84 and in some cases a little earlier may derive very misleading assumptions about what a substantial percentage of early play was like based on the text of later supplements and rulebooks.
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Wow you make a lot of assumptions. First, I didn't have a dysfunctional experience with D&D. I liked it a lot. I liked linear adventures.

Second, I've been playing RPGs since 1976, and started playing Basic Blue Book D&D in 1977. So the condescending, "I played before you so I know what it was really like" can just stop. I even got a white box edition, and played a bit of that. I know the sort of open play that you're talking about. Ron and I and others have discussed it here and lauded it quite a bit. I played that way myself a lot before some modules showed me other ways to play.

All I've said is that modules have lots of subtext on how to run them, and some of that is what informs players of how to railroad. Note that you simply assumed that we had to be talking about the "pastels" (which seems damn Freudian to me), when I was thinking particularly of my old punching bag, CoC modules. Which are so straightjacketed in most cases that they read like scripts. And Traveller modules which introduce plot play, but assume but one possible plot. Etc.

So, I dunno, how about a bit less defensiveness about something that's not even under attack.

Mike
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Sean
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« Reply #39 on: October 05, 2005, 12:37:40 PM »

Y'know, Mike, I'm pretty sure you're the one being defensive here, since all the points you bring up "against" my post I agree with and at least indirectly acknowledge in the post you're responding to. We seem to agree on most of the substantive issues here, in fact, so why the line-by-line response cattiness? It's a drag. Surely you have better things to do with your time then to project a subtext that isn't there into my posts.
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NN
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« Reply #40 on: October 05, 2005, 01:34:08 PM »

Mike isnt claiming that these old modules were all railroads, but rather that as written their challenges are often narrow in scope. Yes, you can play D3 as a political thriller but whats there in black and white is a big roster of drow to hack up. One would think that if "the point" of D3 was to..I dunno, cunningly cut a deal with the anti-Llolth Drow faction...there'd be pages and pages of support for how to run that.

Ive always been puzzled by the disconnection in AD&D between the DMG and the modules. The former is full of Sim-ish stuff about noble titles and sages and the cost of mercenaries and castle building and treasure-rationing, the word "milieu" crops up every paragraph, etc.  And yet the "classic" modules to support this are nearly all Tournament adventures. Or wannabe tournaments.
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Sean
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« Reply #41 on: October 05, 2005, 01:47:53 PM »

Hi, NN -

I accept that my play of D3 was highly nonstandard, but it's a tangent to the discussion at hand. Mike seemed to me to be claiming, based on several earlier posts, that the implicit model of the classic dungeon crawl was a kind of disguised railroad. I queried him about that, and he either retracted the claim or else never made it in the first place.

The only relevance it has is that when you have a 'sandbox' perspective on adventures, it's much more natural to take them in different directions. It was rather common, in my experience, for people to try novel things (the kind of thing Mike seemed to be suggesting e.g. G1 ruled out, though apparently he just meant that that was one way of reading the module that was partly supported by the text) in older adventures, and for the adventures to go in weird, bizarre, and unexpected directions only loosely supported by the text (that's trivial, actually, given the style, which in turn opens questions about 'support'); but later on there really was a concerted effort, embodied in post-Dragonlance modules and much of the published 2e material, to encourage a railroaded 'story' style of play as the norm. My subsidiary point, which was not addressed to MIke, is that it's a mistake to project that style back into the early history of the game, because while one could find examples of it from the beginning, I don't think it was especially the norm until later on.

As a historical note the 'classic' adventures were mostly, but not all, tournament adventures. This was a major stage in the development of D&D, the development of tournament play, which played an important role in the way many players (and I think Gygax) perceived the game.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #42 on: October 05, 2005, 02:03:23 PM »

If I point out that you keep putting words in my mouth, and avoiding the points I made, will I get accused of being defensive again? Well, I am being defensive, as a matter of fact. You keep attributing arguments to me that I've not made. I don't get to try to correct that?

Why should I address a point you made in refutation to mine, when in fact, I never made the point in the first place?

No matter what I do here, you seem determined to make my arguments into something they're not. I said that modules teach various play methods (note, various, not railroading), and that the Hackmaster modules are only slightly exaggerating in their extrapolation of the subtextual indications in these directions. If you have some problem with one of my actual arguments, please continue to include me, Sean. Otherwise, just make your points without reference to mine.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #43 on: October 05, 2005, 04:29:58 PM »

All right, thread's closed. As usual people are hugging their personal D&D experiences so close to their own hearts that the thread topic seems to have been lost.

Best,
Ron
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