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jimikat
07-02-2011, 03:08 AM
I am a very story driven player, and that is flowing into the campaign that I am currently writing. The campaign is very politically driven initially, with further plans for more "save the world" (or in this case, island) type stuff. When I sit down to plan out a module, I get into novel mode, and I fear this will easily lead to railroading.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to keep a story driven campaign (which is heavily fleshed out with NPCs, due to the political nature of the campaign) from railroading? Have you had any experience with a game that left too little free will?

Malruhn
07-03-2011, 12:49 AM
Yes, I've played in disasters that were railroaded from the words, "Roll up your character"... and to be honest, I've even DMed some of them when I was younger and less experienced.

When I set up my world for a new campaign arc, I figure out what all is happening in the world (like real life stuff). For ease of examples, I will use (some) real life (with historical inaccuracies) to demonstrate. Campaign starts on January 1st.

Jan 1 - campaign starts
Jan 15 - Large oil field is found in wilderness near the frozen north.
Jan 22 - Princess Di is married to the ugly Prince Charles. Ceremony in Landon, week of holiday celebration kingdom-wide.
Feb 15 - Tax collector and his guards are slain in PC's hometown. Goblins killed them, but set it up to look like Red Ring assassins
Mar 10 - Huge earthquake and tsunami devastates Nippon. Huge magical experiment goes haywire and residual magic makes people sick for miles around.
Apr 20 - Large oil geyser blows up off of fertile fishing grounds in southern US. Millions of gallons spilled, starvation feared.
Jul 10 - Explorer comes back from trip far to the west - where he claims that he found a new route to India. LOADS of merchants and explorers want to set up missions!!
Nov 23 - President Kennedy shot as his processional heads through Dallas. Shooter is part of Order of the Red Ring.

This is just a quick example of what I do - and some of it MAY be of interest to the players - other stuff will just be mentioned when they go to an inn. Can you imagine a stupid stop in London to find out that there is going to be the biggest wedding in centuries tomorrow? If the players are in London, are they going to care that Japan got hit by an earthquake?

Just write out an outline of stuff that MUST happen, no matter what actions the players take. Then, as the campaign arc progresses, you can refer back to it to see if anything changes. If Mata Hari and Boris Yeltzen are supposed to meet on June 15th to discuss invading Florida - but the players met with Yeltzen on June 1st and got him to change his mind, then the meeting will go much differently!! If the players are in a book depository in Dallas in late November, they may be able to stop the assassination... or they may be witnesses.

I know the temptation of wanting players to follow the story - but do your best to not do it. One thing I found was to purposely prepare NOTHING for a gaming session, then just tell the players that nothing is prepared and that THEY have to decide what to do that session. Oh, I guarantee that I totally SUCKS to be on the spot like that, but it will help get you out of the railroading mindset.

Good luck!!

jimikat
07-03-2011, 10:51 AM
Thank you so much for the great advice! That helped a lot. Going to a session unprepared terrifies me- I am not very good at thinking on my feet, which means it is probably something I should definitely do, haha.
Thanks!

Sascha
07-03-2011, 01:55 PM
"Sin" is such a strong term, for something so relative ;) Frankly, if the rest of the group is into it, it doesn't matter if you're putting them on the Midnight Train to Anywhere. Or, in the words of rpg.net's SteveD, "No one cares about the railroad if the scenery is nice and the destination is Awesometown." Depending on the players involved, you don't even need to hide the tracks.

That said, as a GM, I try not to do this. A technique I've learned (and am still mastering) is to go in prepared with everything that'll happen, should the players not get involved, and a contingency plan (or three) for when someone tosses the simian-themed tool in the works. When the players do stick their noses in the NPC's business, they can react appropriately (including being flustered and sloppy, with no good backup plan - "Kill them a lot" works just as well as a Machiavellian scheme, for spurring action).

Ultimately, I'm of the GM style that says there is no story until after the session anyway, so you can't write the middle and end beforehand. Doesn't work for everyone, but I enjoy it.

Malruhn
07-03-2011, 02:58 PM
Sascha has some GREAT advice!!

To clarify (since it was VERY late last night when I wrote that), I do stuff similar to Sascha - I write a short narrative (usually as an outline) of what WILL happen if the characters do NOTHING. Then I introduce the characters... and they are SURE to screw things up.

Look at ANY movie, TV show or book - and it works the same way. The bad guys set up a plan for (insert theme here: world domination, virgin sacrifice, whatever), and then the hero comes in and tries to screw it up. From there, it's just "catch-up" for the bad guys, trying to keep to the schedule and finish whatever project they had planned - AND stopping those meddling kids (and that darned dog!).

Once you get good at the planning for single-layer adventures (the bandits set up the ambush and looting of a wagon train), then you can get into multiple layers. Using standard conspiracy theories, try this one on for size:

The Illuminati want to take over the world. To help them, they set up the Priory of Zion as a cover agency, who then sets up the Knights Templar and the Freemasons as other cover agencies. The KT's and Masons don't know that they are working toward the same goals. The Masons set up the Rotary Club, while the KT's set up the Knights of Columbus and the Kiwanis. The Rotary Club sets up the Boy Scouts of America to set up new members. NOW... everyone has their missions and nobody knows that they are working together (actually, some see them as working AGAINST each other!!), and we get our plans.

The Illuminati needs a virgin princess to sacrifice to the Bilderberg Group on Halloween this year - so they get the Priory to set that part up. To get the virgin, they need to "pay" her father by eliminating his rival in Zimbabwe, so the Priory asks the KT's to do this. At the same time, they get the KT to protect the princess's honor, so the KT's tell the Knights of Columbus that they need to make sure that the princess in question is kept from engaging in slap-and-tickle sessions with her boyfriend, so they infiltrate the Church to keep their fingers around her throat. At the same time, the Freemasons are told to start a misinformation program against the Church for being too involved. They get the Rotary club to start spreading rumors. Eventually, it comes down to the Boy Scouts that need to set up an Eagle Scout project that will overload the local dog-pound with lots of extra strays to begin to funnel money to help the cause.

Enter the party...

And they see that there are lots of boys out finding lost dogs - or capturing legal dogs and CLAIMING that they are lost. And things have begun.

Oh - and NO!! You don't have to be so involved!! Sascha's comment about Machiavellian schemes is what the above scenario showed. For a regular scheme, just get an evil Duke that wants to become king who hires TWO sets of assassins to kill him (and don't tell them that there's another), and you are golden!

Just like in Austin Powers' - Goldmember, you can have TWO golden keys, so one can be captured and the villain can look all dejected - only to unzip and take out the replacement at the proper time.

jimikat
07-03-2011, 04:09 PM
You guys are amazing! Thanks for all your help. I have only been playing D&D for a few months, with people (and a DM) who have been playing for the same amount of time. Since I don't have experience on my side to draw from, I really appreciate your willingness to lend your own.

CountChocula
07-03-2011, 05:01 PM
I am a very story driven player, and that is flowing into the campaign that I am currently writing. The campaign is very politically driven initially, with further plans for more "save the world" (or in this case, island) type stuff. When I sit down to plan out a module, I get into novel mode, and I fear this will easily lead to railroading.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to keep a story driven campaign (which is heavily fleshed out with NPCs, due to the political nature of the campaign) from railroading? Have you had any experience with a game that left too little free will?

I also lean toward more story-driven campaigns, and for me a huge part of the fun is weaving the dramatic story into the actions and choices made by the PCs. They will invariably choose to do things you had not anticipated, or travel to someplace far away from where you have planned the next clue or element of your story.

I wouldn't have it any other way, because that is the part that I enjoy as a DM, not knowing what the players will do next.

There are always going to be occasions when you need to modify your earlier plan on the fly, or make use of a compelling NPC to draw them back in to the story.

At least IMO that is a lot more satisfying than saying, "Hey guys, the adventure I planned this week is in the cave on the left, so don't go into the cave on the right."

Sascha
07-03-2011, 05:40 PM
^_^

nijineko
07-03-2011, 06:09 PM
i tend towards generating lots of background between sessions. that way, no matter what the pcs do, i have an idea of how the various interlocking parts will react to being fudged one way or the other.

i can attest that if the scenery is nice enough, the pcs don't mind there being only one route to go. one of my current groups is trying to get to a specific point, and where they are in the world happens to leave them with only one path... but there are a number of anomalies and oddities present which are keeping them entertained trying to figure out.

Sascha
07-03-2011, 06:16 PM
At least IMO that is a lot more satisfying than saying, "Hey guys, the adventure I planned this week is in the cave on the left, so don't go into the cave on the right."
You *can* skirt this little conundrum by avoiding the choice altogether, and start in media res. (Doesn't always work as planned, but what does? :P)

magic-rhyme
07-11-2011, 03:11 PM
I am a very story driven player, and that is flowing into the campaign that I am currently writing. The campaign is very politically driven initially, with further plans for more "save the world" (or in this case, island) type stuff. When I sit down to plan out a module, I get into novel mode, and I fear this will easily lead to railroading.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to keep a story driven campaign (which is heavily fleshed out with NPCs, due to the political nature of the campaign) from railroading? Have you had any experience with a game that left too little free will?

Have you asked your players about how much or how little railroading they want?

You would be surprised how many players want the option of railroading. They don't object to railroading so long as they get to ask for it -- in other words, so long as it remains an option not a conscription.

For political campaigns, especially, players often prefer having a plot train they can board once in a while whenever they feel particularly lost. Usually, the best way to arrange this is to have several Contacts (mentors, friends in high places or in strategic organizations, etc.) to whom the players can go when they have decided that they want a little plot train assistance.

Conscriptive railroading occurs when you have fallen in love with one possible result or one possible means to a result. To avoid that, detail for yourself a world in which you can easily improvise on a moment's notice in response to players' actions, and make sure you are as comfortable with the world ending or with the bad guys winning as you are with the world being saved and the good guys winning.

However, make sure your players are truly interested in such a "save the world" campaign before you do anything else. After all, one of the major causes of conscriptive railroading occurs when a game master has plugged away for months on a brilliant politically-driven campaign only to discover that his players really lack the interest (or lack the basic skills) for a politically-driven campaign, even a brilliant one.

kirksmithicus
07-17-2011, 02:04 AM
I keep a list of factions and NPC's and what their goals are, short term and long term. I then just make a judgement call on what they would do in situation x. It can lead to some interesting games.

I would have to agree with magic, that some players actually want to be railroaded. Though they might do it for different reasons, some because they need the auto pilot, or if lost. Though I had a player who liked being railroaded because it absolved the PC of any responsibility for their in-game actions, no matter how asinine or counter productive, because he knew the plot must continue. He spent a good deal of time whining and complaining about being railroaded. When we switched to a sandbox game, he quit playing as soon as he realized in-game actions had in-game consequences that were not scripted. There was no over arching plot to be followed and so we instead followed (since we had time and no direction) out the consequences of his in-game shenanigans.

I'm really into running a sandbox type of game right now. Players are given possible plot hooks, they are free to take which ever one they desire, or they can come up with their own. However, I used to like to run highly scripted plot driven games with a lot of intrigue.

My lessons learned from both types of games are...

Most players don't like coming up with backgrounds for their character, other than something really basic and vague. So let them bounce around from job to job, and let them get a feel for their characters and the world for the first few levels. Get the background later after they have really started to like their characters.

Most players don't like having any explicit goals right off the bat either. Though eventually they will latch onto something, and make it a goal.

Unless your players REALLY, REALLY, REALLY love the intrigue stuff, keep it simple and rather obvious. but always throw in some twists. Your players won't get into the game if they don't know what's going on. As a DM I was (still am) always keeping to much information to myself. What I think should be rather obvious always seems to be something they miss. So whatever it takes, a tip off from a mysterious NPC, a patron, or a mundane perception check to have the character pick up on something the players didn't.

Figure out the objective. Then let the players figure out how to get there. Your job as DM is to give them obstacles to overcome before they can achieve that objective. Basically, this leaves you to script out the major events and encounters that will follow based on their actions. Throw in minor and story appropriate encounters along the way, especially if you need some time to think about a bigger encounter.

EX: The kingdom is invaded by it's neighbor. The PC's eventually figure out that a high ranking Baron is working for the enemy and plans to betray the King during a battle and take the throne for himself.

It's not your problem how they stop the Barons plot and take him out. Not yet anyway, but running up and stabbing him outright isn't going to work, even though they might try it. Which, will get them beaten or killed by the Baron's or the King's soldier and thrown in the dungeon. Now they have to escape, save the King and clear their names. Otherwise, the Baron has to communicate with the enemy somehow, shadow his men, eaves drop on their conversation at the tavern, and watch for clandestine couriers.

The more epic you make the goal, the harder it should be to achieve. If you want epic save-the-world stuff, save it for the end of the campaign. Otherwise, everything that comes after it seems lesser in comparison.

Sascha
07-17-2011, 05:18 AM
What I think should be rather obvious always seems to be something they miss. So whatever it takes, a tip off from a mysterious NPC, a patron, or a mundane perception check to have the character pick up on something the players didn't.
Agree. "Obvious" is relative to the bigger picture; it's easier for the person who knows the solution to see the clues that lead to it. Though I'd say skip any involvement of chance here: if the players are missing vital information, just give it to them. A potential problem with things like perception checks is they can fail on you. (If you're setting the difficulty so low as to be failproof, I'd just drop the pretense of the roll entirely. But that's me :p)

tesral
07-20-2011, 06:46 AM
There is the linear plot and then there is Railroading. AISI "Railroading" is when the GM has determined how things will happen and in what order and it will not deviate from that. All the players are doing is pulling the switches to make it happen. It is on rails and will not deviate. The players cannot move the plot off the rails, cannot take detours or find shortcuts. They will progress from scene to scene in an orderly fashion.

A linear plot goes from A to B to C and so forth, but the player actions are not preordained. The solution is not built in. The GM is flexible enough that the players do not have to ride the rails to accomplish the goals. They can take detours, find shortcuts. Solutions are not one way only.

That is the difference between the perfectly acceptable linear plot and the Railroad.

CountChocula
07-23-2011, 03:02 AM
Have you asked your players about how much or how little railroading they want?

You would be surprised how many players want the option of railroading. They don't object to railroading so long as they get to ask for it -- in other words, so long as it remains an option not a conscription.

For political campaigns, especially, players often prefer having a plot train they can board once in a while whenever they feel particularly lost. Usually, the best way to arrange this is to have several Contacts (mentors, friends in high places or in strategic organizations, etc.) to whom the players can go when they have decided that they want a little plot train assistance.

Conscriptive railroading occurs when you have fallen in love with one possible result or one possible means to a result. To avoid that, detail for yourself a world in which you can easily improvise on a moment's notice in response to players' actions, and make sure you are as comfortable with the world ending or with the bad guys winning as you are with the world being saved and the good guys winning.

However, make sure your players are truly interested in such a "save the world" campaign before you do anything else. After all, one of the major causes of conscriptive railroading occurs when a game master has plugged away for months on a brilliant politically-driven campaign only to discover that his players really lack the interest (or lack the basic skills) for a politically-driven campaign, even a brilliant one.

Can we clarify what we are referring to by "railroading"

How about when the player doesn't know that they were "railroaded"?

For example, let's say you are simply correcting a problem with your pre-planned adventure on the fly to make it mesh better with the flow of the unfolding narrative of the player choices.

I think this kind of "railroading" is essential for any kind of story driven campaign, or even perhaps essential for any kind of meaningful game other than a tabletop battle simulation.

Sascha
07-23-2011, 12:54 PM
I took it to mean the game is entirely on the 'story' side with no PC agency to impact events. That is, regardless of what the characters do, or how successful they are at it, Scene A always leads to Scene B, Scene B always leads to Scene C, and so forth; each of the scenes were written out before the game, and didn't take PC action into consideration. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, only without the forking plot points.

And, it's been addressed that acceptance letting the GM steer the story, based on prewritten plot points, is a variable thing. What works for your group doesn't necessarily translate to another. Some players want total agency in creating the story; others will wait patiently for the GM to tell them where to go. And everything in between.

If an RPG is an amusement park, the railroad game is like a roller coaster. Another, more player-driven game could be the bumper cars. (The best analogy I can come up with for a full-on sandbox is the park, itself; I hesitate to use that, given that I've already likened the hobby as a whole to the park, and don't want to draw parallels to sandboxing as the ultimate expression of the hobby. Of course, this just means I need to visit more amusement parks. It's for Science~)

Etarnon
04-18-2012, 05:39 AM
I run it like this:

I don't think of the campaign as "that cool story, how like a cool novel."

The campaign is in fact, DM choices for the world, and player choices for the characters.

Yyou might want the dire were ancient dragon of awesome purpleness slain so that they can get the +3 sword of halflingbane which is used after the epic flood scours the plains of demonic winds until the STOP.

Make the Dragon, make the sword. Don't force it. If they go for it, they do. Give them compelling reasons to do so, beyond "That's tonight's adventure, take it or screw off."

If you like, for gear, or even some encounters, you can use magician's force, meaning they find a magic sword, wow, it's the +3 halflingslayer. No matter where it is.

Write adventures like this:

As a PC, You know where you are going, you have a goal. It is worthy, and you are seeking it, you just do not know what will stop you along the way, be it combat or skill challenges, cliffs, pits, enemies, friends who betrayed you, whatever.

But do not pre-plan how that comes out. If they get halfwaythrough the dungeon, and quit the adenture only half done, and start walking out home, fine. Do not worry that they did not attempt the vile filth that is the sexy succubus queens lair of ardor.

Do not live for any of your encounters. Figure out who else would step in there like ants and carry everything off, now that the door has been busted down and half looted the place.

DO NOT have them rest up and go back for session # 2 without it being changed up some.

The world moves on. Chambers collapse or flood. The moon is out of phase and the portal closes for 500 years...a different band of mercenary adventurers cleans out that castle while the party rests up.

Now they can figure out who has what they wanted in the first place from bribes in town, or intimidating the locals. Then they can fight, bargain, kidnap, whatever to get it.. but yet more plot twists.. the guy leading the mercs is the Duke's brother in law. The duke has given charter to your father's land. let the players figure it out. Who do they want to make as enemies? Can they arrange to pay off the duke to look the other way?

Essentially you want CHALLENGES, and PLOT TWISTS, not LET'S RUSH TO THE COOL OUTCOME.

In this way, any PC in my games can die but the stories go on.

Develop lots of background. I do weather charts. Oh,a hurricane hits that town...food is triple or more cost, but there is work cleaning debris. Turns out while cleaning up wrecked hovels screaming is heard. Some undead washed out of a crypt are loose and snacking on passerby. Look who gets to be heroes. Now they have saved one of the Duke's mistresses who was trapped in the town. She needs what? A ride to the palace? What an oppportunity.

But figure out a way to make that more complicated. The Duchess is at court. Uh oh. But maybe the girl has secrets. Now it's a game of intrigue.

Then, check it out. A year into this read your campaign logs.. because you keep one, right? that's your cool story.

You are a director of a TV show, where the actors choose the plot week to week. Much else beyond, and you are playing with human trains.

Luck, welcome to the life.

Simetradon
05-14-2012, 09:30 PM
For the past 20 years, I've been railroading every game I've run, and I've never had a complaint. It all depends upon the presentation.

Malruhn
05-15-2012, 09:30 PM
It must be your group. I wouldn't last more than a single session. If I wanted to be railroaded, I'd read a book or watch a movie.

BUT - like they have said for years, different strokes for different folks.

Simetradon
05-16-2012, 01:20 AM
It's been a number of groups over the years. Probably about 250 players in total.

cplmac
05-16-2012, 07:40 AM
I usually run games/campaigns that have a starting point and a definate ending point. For the party to be completely successful, they need to get to the ending point. I do however have everything sketched out so that if they want to go on a side trek over the mountain instead of just following the path/road, they can and will have various things to "encounter" along their chosen route.

I have found that if you allow the party to decide what direction they wish to go, they tend to enjoy the game more and gives them a sense of having controll over their characters. If that means that they don't go in and investigate the cave over there and miss out on finding the +3 sword after fighting a hard battle with a horde of creatures, they can. Maybe they weren't in that good of shape from a previous battle and are trying to avoid more fighting until they have gotten to heal more. Better to let them choose to not have an encounter and have the game continue on as opposed to force them into the cave and have most if not all of the characters get killed because they were in shape for that large battle.

That said, there are some instances where you may have to "force" the party into a particular encounter. I have had this before when there was a need to have a new character introduced to the party. In this instance, I had to have the party go a certain way. I was still able to have the party "decide" to go in that direction by leaving a trail for them to follow. Since they were looking for signs of a group of Drow, I simply left a trail of blood lead into the woods from where there was obviously an ambush of a group of wagons that were travelling the road. Once they "took the bait" and started following the trail of blood, my railroading of the party was now finished.

magic-rhyme
06-26-2012, 06:57 PM
acceptance letting the GM steer the story, based on prewritten plot points, is a variable thing. What works for your group doesn't necessarily translate to another.

That is why one of the first things I do with a new group is discuss my philosophy of plot-training and ask for their input.

Too many people posting on this topic here and at other gaming forums miss a crucial difference between the capital-E Evil Bad Phooey Yucky Icky Wicked!Wicked!Wicked! plot-training that some people mistake for the only kind of plot-training and the sort of plot-training that players often want in those gaming groups who actually trust and respect their GM and know he/she will trust and respect them.

The capital-E Evil plot-training does involve "letting" the GM "steer" the story and "ignore" player input.

HOWEVER, the desireable (admittedly uncommon) plot-training instead involves "SHANGHAI-ING" the GM into briefly "GUIDING" the plotline (sort of like the GM is an enslaved genie obeying the order to magically further the plotline at the players' convenience!) at the players' "command". In effect, the GM becomes like those Clue Buttons some computer games provide for when the player feels lost, or perhaps like a living Cheat Sheet for when the players decide they could use some quick help.

The critical difference is that when and if (and for how long) they board the plot-train is entirely under the players' control.

In conventionally structured campaigns, players have no real need for the Agency and Control to invoke GM plot-training at will. However, in sandbox campaigns with players who prefer a solid plotline as part of their gaming experience, the Agency and Control to invoke GM plot-training provides them a necessary resource should they get lost, acting not unlike a compass or the stars at night when used by sailors lost in a blank ocean with no land marks anywhere around.

In that spirit, although I have seen a few random individuals object to even the whiff of plot-training with a vehement hatred reserved in healthier individuals for puppy-torturers and baby seal clubbings, the majority of people (several hundred players just in my own GMing and player experiences over the decades) have found they prefer the Agency and Control that comes from being allowed to order the GM to start up a plot-train when they want it and to order the GM the let them off said plot-train whenever they want it.

Personally, I wish there were another term than railroading or plot-train for this, as I think some people go vitriolically psychopathic the moment they see either term without bothering to find out which of the two definitions is involved, the capital-E Evil one or the one involving player Agency and Control.

magic-rhyme
06-26-2012, 07:04 PM
What I think should be rather obvious always seems to be something they miss. So whatever it takes, a tip off from a mysterious NPC, a patron, or a mundane perception check to have the character pick up on something the players didn't.

In the end, isn't this just the same as plot-training (at least the positive definition)? In all my years, most of the players I've known would argue that it is.




If I wanted to be railroaded, I'd read a book or watch a movie.

Perhaps you know only the negative definition of railroading? The positive definition of railroading could never be compared to watching a movie or reading a book!

Or are you saying instead that your group would rebel against any GM who ever allowed a mysterious NPC to provide a tip or an NPC patron to volunteer advice or an NPC seer to provide a prophesy? Would your group berate any GM who called for a perception check as having violated the player's agency because he/she did not wait until the player volunteered to make a perception check without being railroaded into making one by the GM? (This last one I actually heard a player say to a GM at a convention. The group consensus was that we hoped he was trolling but suspected he was simply that terrified of any possible railroading.)