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Author Topic: Campaign Modules: Automatic Railroading?  (Read 1567 times)
oculusverit
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Posts: 27


« on: September 22, 2010, 10:04:21 AM »

So this is based on an experience with a couple of years of age, but it's pretty relevant to me now.

White Wolf just published a campaign module that I wrote for them for Werewolf: the Foresaken. I hadn't thought about it in a few years--by the way, this does count as Actual Play since I'll be referencing not just the writing but mostly the actual experience of playtesting the module before I submitted it.

I remember being pretty happy with the module when I wrote it, and the GM (Storyteller) that I had run it during the playtest gave it rave reviews. Also, the actual experience of play was reported as being a lot of fun by the participants, so it was a positive experience for them.

However, now that I'm reading over the module myself, and now that I've in the meantime learned a bit more about play styles and role-playing theory and what-have-you... I've noticed far too many illusionist (a.k.a., railroading) statements that I've made. When I read myself writing things like, "Don't let them stray too far from the story", I feel a bit ashamed of myself. I'm putting the unproven fun of the "story" ahead of the choices that the players should be able to make.

Now, from the actual play experience, I do recall that at one point the players definitely went "off the rails". I had written in that one of the main bad guys gets away from one scene, in order to lead the characters on a merry chase to a final showdown in an underground parking lot. In the actual play of this scene, the players decided that the bad guy MUST NOT get away. They cut off his escape routes and forced the battle in the "wrong" place, where they had the distinct advantage. The GM adjusted and went off the plans laid out in my writing, and this resulted in some very memorable play which definitely added to the fun of the game. The players then dutifully went back onto the "rails" of the story and went to the other climactic showdown, enjoying themselves the entire time.

I suppose my question is as follows, based on this experience: based on the fact that the players all knew they were playtesting a campaign module, can such a module provide functional play? Or is it always too restricting to provide true simulationist freedom of movement?

--Kinch
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Kinch
masqueradeball
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« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2010, 12:22:14 PM »

It depends on the contents of the module... there was an old Werewolf "module" about Pentex (sorry i can't remember the name) that consisted entirely of a setting and then a time table of events with a lot of hooks for what the players might do in the setting/around the time table. Seems pretty complete and functional, but devoid of instructions for the players, just information for the ST to include and build off of within the context of the game.
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oculusverit
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Posts: 27


« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2010, 12:44:31 PM »

So since all of the players involved in playing a campaign module know that this is a module being run by the GM, whether it's "Tomb of Horrors" or some other dungeon delve, or a written SAS adventure--would this count as Participationism?
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Kinch
Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2010, 02:01:03 PM »

If they all know they aren't going to chance/have any means to change what's really important about the game session (they get to change small fry ephemeral stuff), but are cool with that and decide to turn up to the session anyway, it's participationism. Which is functional (and is probably a good brainstorming environment for writing games where players do change what's important about the game session).

Your 'cut off the bad guy' almost breaks free - but in the end, the important thing was they get to the end boss, and they did. Pushing on the GM so as to break the 'clue chain' was kind of ephemeral, if perhaps anarchistic as it broke the basic structure of the participationism. But then they just go along with going to the end boss anyway. Sort of a bonsai anarchy. Along with the fun of being told a story by someone, probably quite fun to buck the system, without breaking it entirely.
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2010, 09:24:16 PM »

?? I feel like I missed some part of this conversation?
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arithine
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« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2010, 08:06:16 PM »

Seems to me that what your asking is "were the players fine with going by the rails because they knew it had defined points, or rails." I would say so, but I always felt that the most fun for both the player and the DM is when the unexpected happens, either the players take the story in a whole new direction and you have to improvise, or you through in a major plot twist no one was expecting. RPGs are not just about the players fun but the GM as well and it is best to keep things loose enough to have some surprises both ways.
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Caldis
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Posts: 392


« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2010, 07:53:08 AM »


The Rails only exist if the players are on them.  Something like the Tomb of Horrors is a well defined location but if you play it without any preconceived plotline then there are no rails only setting for what happens.  They might all die, they might find a swack of treasure at the end or they may run away screaming.   The same is true of any other Campaign Module, if their is an expected path and if your game follows it then you've boarded the train. 
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oculusverit
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Posts: 27


« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2010, 03:37:22 PM »

My original question was indeed, "can a campaign module ever provide functional play, or does it restrict Sim freedom of movement [a.k.a., of exploration]?" I added the item in the brackets to clarify my meaning with that last question. So basically a two-parter.

The original response I got from masqueradeball seemed to be that "If it's just a campaign setting, then it's functional." From this response, I thought what that answered implied was that "If it's a module with a story, then it's railroading or GM Force or non-functional illusionism or some other form of non-functional play." My apologies if I misunderstood this, but that's how I'm reading it.

I therefore was asking if a functional method for this type of play would be to make it Participationism, and if making it so would make it functional? (That was my meaning, anyway, apologies for not explaining myself well).

My next question would be then, based on all of these responses--does full-on Participationism mean that the GM should react to their actions in Sim style ("You cover the exits and force the fight here? OK!") or that the GM should disclose ("OK, guys, if you decide to close off the exits the scenes won't go the way they're supposed to, could we let him get away please?"). Which type of play is more functional with this?
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Kinch
Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2010, 06:00:21 PM »

I would think with the former, with a genuinely participationist group, after having 'disrupted things' they will look to the GM for the cues as to 'Okay, where do we go now to get back on track. Give us some cues and well follow them exactly'. That's actually how I read your example. They kicked up a stink, and after having had their fun, went with the GM's flow. I'm pretty sure I've played that way not a few times.

So both your examples work with a group who might go crazy for a bit, but then actively try and find the rails to plant themselves on again (or atleast allow themselves to drift with the current, which the GM is sending in the right direction).

It's not so much what you should be doing as GM, but what the players are prepared to do and are indeed doing.
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #9 on: October 01, 2010, 11:48:39 PM »

Heres the thing with Exploration... can be functional and limited, the question is simply this: what are we exploring. If we approach D&D, for instance, as SIM, with an emphasis on Exploration of System, than the trapping of a "story" provided a module are simply a place in which to do the exploring and the same can be true about Exploration of Character or any other things... You could say to the players, look, you'll be taking these characters you created through these events and I'm going to use force to keep you within this safety zone, lets see how that would make your characters feel, or how it changes them, etc... All RP requires "participation" on some level, so saying, participate with the contents of this module still leaves lots of room open for other types of Exploration.
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Moganhio
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Posts: 32


« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2010, 12:05:43 AM »

I like to improvise. I like to give players some freedom. And it's really hard to do.

I'm talking about 'mission' oriented systems, RPGs where rules focus in finding out anything, no matter what. Most of games out there are this way. WoD (new and old one) included, despite the 'storytelling game' slogan. In these games, players use to think strategically. And usually they do it better than GM (several people thinking together use to be cleverer than one person who has to focus in lots of characters, rules, atmposphere and so). So improvising, if you're playing those traditional systems, becomes a bloody hard task to do, where probably you're doing too many mistakes when improvising the plot/mission. Railroading and previous preparation is almost essential.

I think this is one of the main reasons that mainstream is focused in this kind of 'mission and tasks' oriented games. As long as they need some railroading in order to make it playable, that gives companies the chance of publish (and sell) heaps of books containing, basically, prepared railroading.

On the other side, narrativism fits incredibly well with improvising. From my point of view that is the reason because narrativist games usually only have one core rules with setting and... that's all. Actually, nothing more is needed, and a big company can't survive with just a book. So narrativism stays as a indie/hippie/crazy thing.

I think a nice middle point is biting from both worlds. Missions are a good resource, because they give players a clear goal. Though usually missions miss the chance of dealing with a theme. You know, the fruitful void, if you want the game to deal with something, avoid it. And make goals in the story a way to deal with it without naming it. But this is not well implemented in traditional games. In WoD theme uses to be always the same: 'world is screwed and vampires are always having problems with their little bad boy. And, well, euuh, that's all'.

And the other world, narrativism, can give some freedom to players and allow them to develop character, subplots and conflicts. When I play, I try to use railroading (up to a point) in the mission, but giving players some chances to develop characters and private conflicts as a parallel plot. So they can feel that the world is not just a railroad. And those private conflicts can slowly scalate and give the chance to prepare some missions related to it. But the question here is: 'system matters'. And when the system is not giving to you some devices to deal with sandbox character's conflicts and improvised plots twists, you suddenly realize that the whole bunch of rules is useless. And that happens with most of current games. WoD again, included.
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oculusverit
Member

Posts: 27


« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2010, 06:04:11 AM »

From what everyone is saying, and masqueradeball especially for my point that follows, it sounds like most of Sim Exploration occurs in the gaps. I always forget that Simulationism can explore all these different facets, and that thus "story" is meaningless in a Sim session anyway.

Since I'm looking at this from three different (but hopefully interactive, ultimately) perspectives--player, GM, module writer, I'd like to know what opportunities are being missed. For that, I have to know what the point of them is in the first place.

What I'm reading from all this is that a written campaign module can provide a pre-determined "setting" or rails that can be used to take the focus off the need for "story" by Sim players, leaving room for Exploration to happen in other places like Character or System. If so, players going "off the rails" may not matter as long as that fundamental Exploration gets to happen in the way that fits the player's agendas.

--Kinch
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Kinch
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