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Author Topic: So...What is Railroading? (Using Illusionism Terminology)  (Read 14229 times)
Le Joueur
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« on: November 27, 2002, 11:35:39 AM »

Simple (highly emotionally charged, hot button issue, loaded) question:
    Given Illusionism terminology, what is Railroading?[/list:u]For the sake of argument, we'll assume that the Railroading in question is about 'story conscious' gaming.

    Is it "With Use of Force, Overt, Flexible, Consensual?"
    Because when you see the results of your characters' decisions resulting in what the gamemaster wanted, you've been Railroaded?

    Is it "With Use of Force, Covert, not Flexible, Consensual?"
    Because it
has to go a certain way, it goes right down 'the Railroad?'

Is it "With Use of Force, Covert, Flexible, Non-Consensual?"
    Because you don't have a choice 'where the Railroad leads?'

    Or maybe it isn't that pervasive.  Could it be Railroading only when the use of Force is Non-Consensual, no matter what?

    Perhaps its 'very common.'  Is any use of Force to be considered Railroading?

    Is there some variable not included in Illusionism's four, that flags play as Railroading.  I'm not sure, I need to collect opinions and watch some discussion.

    What do you think?

    Fang Langford

    Edited to thank Emily for the link I forgot.  Thanks!
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Emily Care
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« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2002, 11:54:09 AM »

Here's a link to the thread with the new terminology (Force, Covert etc.):
Illusionism: a new look and a new approach

I believe it's a Knights of the Dinner table issue that illustrated Railroading for me: The players try this and try that and keep ending up going the same way no matter what they do. They eventually get to see the map the gm is using and it consist of a single road down the middle, with the rest of the territory blacked out/ie non-existant.  This would be Force, Covert, Non-Flexible, Non-Consensual, and as such is an extreme case. And I've never actually experience this kind of play myself.  

Non-consensual play would seem to be railroading automatically.

As you said, Railroading is a hot-button term, that probably has as many meanings to people as "immersion" does. How it's done would vary depending on gm preference.

--Emily Care
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2002, 12:34:03 PM »

First, obviously this term has been forged by common usage. As such, I'm going to try to analyze it in terms of such usage. Then I'll give my own opinion the subject.

There seem to be three meanings of the term. They are all pejorative.

The first, and braodest, is applied by people who believe that any case of strong GM control is railroading. These people would apply the term 'Railroading' to any fairly Forceful GM play. Yeah, any of it. I would say to such a person that this only represented their personal preferences, but I can see how it applies thematically. I would only accept this as the definition, however, if we were able to relieve the term of it's automatically pejorative nature. Which I think can't happen. As such, I'd say that we should try to refrain from such broad use.

The second form is to say that Inflexible, Forceful play is Railroading. That when the GM has control, and is driving towards some particular goal, that this is railroading. I'd be a bit more likely to see this as a definition, though I still think it's a bad idea to refer to so broad a category in such a pejorative manner. Many still find these styles functional.

The third, and narrowest, refers to Forceful, Non-Consensual play styles. As this is usually dysfunctional, I can see using railroading as a term here here, perhaps, because of that fact.

Still, I'd personally like to constrain it even further to the more obviously dysfunctional styles like Force, Inflexible, Overt, Non-Consensual ("this happens despite whatever your character's do, and you will like it!"). Or even drop it from the lexicon.

The problem is that people will still continue to use the term. In general use, I think we can just assume that it stands for some subset of Forceful play that the user does not like.

Mike
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Marco
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« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2002, 01:13:43 PM »

I agree with Mike's last definition.

The key for me is Overt. If the players never know for sure, I'm not sure it can be said to be "railroading" -- i.e. there's "reasonable doubt."

The key is the standard of evidence that is required ("shadow of a doubt", "reasonable doubt", "GM confession?").  If I find the smoking gun of the map with one road, that's clear. If the GM has a "thug in an alley" weirdly beat up my super-hero for no clear reason, I may claim unfair GM intervention.

That's also the key (for me): the charge is that the GM is somehow "breaking the rules."

-Marco
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2002, 01:55:34 PM »

Quote from: Marco

That's also the key (for me): the charge is that the GM is somehow "breaking the rules."


Right. Railroading really does seem to imply dysfunction of the sort that indicates a breaking of the social contract. The idea that we are all creating together, only to find that the GM is doing it for us.

That's a good floating definition. Railroading is the GM using Force to control play on some level that's been assumed to be uncontrolled in teh social contract.

Mike
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2002, 02:22:58 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Railroading is the GM using Force to control play on some level that's been assumed to be uncontrolled in the social contract.

So it's the Consenual thing in common parley?  I'll buy that.  That means the answer to "Is 'Railroading' A Useful Term" is no.

Works for me, but I did like your analysis anyway; it really shakes the bugs out.

Fang Langford

p. s. I'm still on the fence about 'Force,' it has so many 'right' connotations, but I worry there may be some wrong ones I haven't thought of yet.  And I don't know about all the 'use the Force' jokes that are due.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2002, 10:36:13 PM »

Hi there,

Great thread. Thanks, Fang, for starting it, and to everyone so far.

As it happens, I think Mike's breakdown (with Emily's as a specifier) is a good basis for arriving at a pretty good definition for railroading.

How's this: the GM exerts Force in such a way that breaks the Social Contract. I strongly recommend that people review my definition that has acquired the name "Force" - it means something much more specific than mere GM "input" (which when all is said and done is a form of plain old player input). The Force in question may directly affect a player-character's actions ("You fall in love with the princess") or it may operate on the player-character's environment ("The gun jams"). In all cases of railroading, the difference between GM agenda and player input/authority is thrown into high relief (sooner or later) with the advantage going to the GM.

It's still primarily a Social Contract issue. To be railroading, such an act has to be unwelcome. However, I think the issue of the player's perception of the event at that very moment is not quite as important as I used to. I think that the Social Contract key is that the player dislikes the act whenever it becomes apparent, which may be completely out of game or perhaps it's in-game four sessions later.

Still musing on it all, though. Thanks again, folks.

Best,
Ron
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2002, 11:08:26 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
How's this: the GM exerts Force in such a way that breaks the Social Contract.


I think that this is a great definition!
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Andrew Martin
Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2002, 08:04:16 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
How's this: the GM exerts Force in such a way that breaks the Social Contract.

Sounds good at first but I have a concern.

What if the Social Contract being broken for other reasons that to steer the players? What if the GM exterts Force to make the story more flexible and this is actually breaking the Social Contract of the group?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2002, 10:30:35 AM »

Hi Christoffer,

That's a good question, and it's a relevant concern - it dovetails as well with some of Gareth's points in recent threads about the attractions of a Social Contract with high GM Force.

However, I recommend that everyone review what I originally presented as "GM-oomph" and which has been provisionally dubbed "Force." It is specifically about player-character decisions and actions being affected directly by the GM.

Also, I think this query would benefit greatly by an example, before we all interpret it variously and start debating at cross-purposes. Can you provide one? A real one, naming the game in question and describing both real-people statements and in-game events?

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2002, 05:26:08 PM »

Remember, Christoffer, that Flexible use of Force means simply that the GM is using his ability to "Make Story" after the fact. And some social contracts would be against this. And, as such, yes, it would be railroading.

Force means that the GM is in control of the course of events.  This neccessarily means that the players are not. But it doesn't mean that the GM is neccessarily taking the players somewhere they don't want to go, or even may have gone anyhow.

For example, Player A has his PC go down a road. The GM doesn't check the map, but has enounter Z happen anyway. When refering back to the text of the purchased adventure, it turns out that the player took the path that would have gotten there, anyhow.

Now, you say, what's the difference. Let's say that the GM does this openly, and does not refer to the text. Perhaps the player will note that the GM is controlling the events. In this case, the player may, if the social contract does not permit such GM control, call this play railroading. It does not matter that the outcome would have been the same if the player had been in control. The fact of the GMs use of Force when the contract forbade it makes it "railroading.

Note that this could be done flexibly as well (the example is inflexible). If the player notes the GM changing the world after the fact it's the same. Thus, in our example, if the player were aware that in the text that there was nothing down a certain path, and the GM makes something up down that path, then the player will be aware of Force being used.

The number of groups for whom this is not part of the social contract is vanishingly small, I'd say. Most would place this under the aegis of the general rule of GM fiat that says that it's OK for the GM to improvise things. There are some gamists who would object seeing it as an "illegal" change to the parameters of the challenge, however.

And the execution is, of course, critical. If the GMs encounter kills the entire party, just so that they can have a session in hell, that's likely to be seen as railroading by a lot of people. One of the Social Contract items that almost every game has is to assume that the GM is not just playing for his own amusement, but to amuse the rest of the group. As such, using GM force to rout the characters to certain death because the Pizza that Bob ordered has anchovies on it is almost always an example of violation of social contract.

Is that any more clear? See where it's going? It's like Ron put it. Any use of Force that breaks the Social Contract is going to be seen as railroading. No matter what the purpose.

Mike
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2002, 09:29:22 PM »

I guess an example is in order. I was originally gonna provide one but in the end I didn't.

Ok, playing Shadowrun we run into a shoot-out. Now the way the GM decides to play it is: "They are the heroes and this is just a quick scene so a decent hit (i.e. score a moderate wound) is enough to take out a bad guy". The player characters are using the normal wound system and notice how the bad guys die from the same thing that only hurts them a little. Now consider the situation where the social contract is to use the rules as written: "What? We're not using the rules of Shadowrun?! How can they die after only a moderate wound??"

A really bad example, but the only real example I could think of (the others were only theoretical). :)

To sum it up:
    1. The GM was improvising a scene
    2. The GM changed the results of actions "hurt" -> "killed" to make the scene come out protagonizing the characters
    3. This was in violation of social contract[/list:u]
    Is this railroading? In a sense the outcome is directed towards "success" but where "success" is pointing is not pre-determined by the GM. (The GM plans a player success, but failure is also permitted. The scene following the shoot-out is not decided on until the shoot-out scene is finished so the game isn't guided anywhere). Isn't this more like railroading without a road?

    If we were playing a inflexible game, this would CLEARLY be railroading, but is the label appropriate for flexible games?

    This is my only concern with the definition.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2002, 09:40:25 PM »

Hi Christoffer,

It looks like railroading to me, via the common route of fudging.  

But I have to say, either I'm missing something or you are still not providing the necessary information. You talk about the characters "running into" a shoot-out, and you talk about the GM having it pretty well in place that they will survive it, presumably so they can go do something else. But then you say the "outcome is not fixed," which to me directly contradicts everything you've said about the scene so far.

Best,
Ron
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2002, 09:53:13 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
You talk about the characters "running into" a shoot-out, and you talk about the GM having it pretty well in place that they will survive it, presumably so they can go do something else. But then you say the "outcome is not fixed," which to me directly contradicts everything you've said about the scene so far.

What goes through the GM's mind is something like "I need some action, let's set up a fight scene". To get the scene flowing the rule-fudging is set-up. Although this has the benefit of stacking the odds in the player's favour, it's mostly set-up to make the scene have the pace desired (anyone who has played AD&D knows how "exciting" it is to chip off a few hitpoints a round on a 50 HP monster).

You are right that the scene is created in an intentional manner, and the fudging reinforces the desired type of scene.

Something else is likely to happen after the scene (as it's not set up to be the climax), but what exactly that is isn't decided on. The only thing decided is: "the adventure should probably continue after this" (but if we die despite the odds stacked in our favour - we die).

So what I try to say is: The GM is fudging the rules to create the right atmosphere for the scene, not to guide the story. Is this still something we should (not "can", because of course we can!) label "railroading"?
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« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2002, 06:50:05 AM »

Hi Christoffer,

You're introducing some fog into the discussion by trying to distinguish between "add some atmosphere" vs. "guide the story." The story is whatever happens. If the GM is basically entering the scene with a planned outcome (which is to say, dictating what the characters do, in the sense of the scene as a whole) and breaking the Social Contract to get there, then it's railroading.

I want to emphasize that the outcome is the key. The game you've cited (Shadowrun) includes a fairly sizable chance that player-characters can die in combat. The Social Contract you've cited is to play by the rules, no matter what, which is to say, the players are willing to see their characters die "by the rules." The GM you've cited is breaking the Social Contract by introducing a scene for which the outcome - player survival - is fixed and by fudging the rules. It's railroading, man. No if's and's or but's.

Similarly, your concern with the following scene is irrelevant. It's only important insofar as the GM plans to get to it (planned or not), and therefore has no intention of letting the present scene "do" anything that will interfere with it.

Best,
Ron
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