Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I've Been Chuckin' On The Railroad

Crazy train?
I've been hip-deep in the OSR for quite a while now and it has colored my thinking somewhat.  Actually, I like to think of it more as opening my mind to concepts I should have gotten long ago.  Things like simpler is better, the DM/GM can make stuff up, players should try stuff even if they don't have a skill for it, etc.

One of the most prevalent concepts is the Railroad, which is looked down upon as a Bad Thing.  The Sign of a Bad/Weak GM.  For the most part I agree with that but I am of the opinion that it needs to happen occasionally.  Lemme 'splain:

The DM writes up a plotline (or several).  His players show up and they all start playing.  Let's say the DM has Plot A, B and C.  The players (assuming they won't choose the non-existent Plot D) don't know what to do.  The DM gives them suggestions, so finally they choose, say, Plot B.  Okay, they took it, they're in the plot.  Now, they are perfectly within their rights to do whatever they want in the plot (even back out of it).  BUT, the Plot Will Move On Without Them.  This is a living world.  It rotates and folks do what they're gonna do.

Now some players are going to cry "Hey!  The caliph says he's going to cut off our heads if we don't kill the monster/we can't get out of the garden until we defeat the Big Bad/etc.  You're trying to railroad us into where you want to go or what to do!"

No, I'm not.  You're in the plot.  Don't go kill the monster.  It's up to you.  I'm not putting a knife in your character's back and telling him to go fight it.  But, like I said, it's a living world and actions have consequences.  Like in life, you made a choice, you deal with the fallout.  Also like in life, sometimes the choices suck but you pick one and keep going.

Anyway, that's how I feel about railroading.  I never like to do it, but sometimes you have to give the PCs a nudge.  JUST a nudge.

I started thinking about this because I recently got a copy of a game I had long ago - the Dream Park RPG, based on the Nivens/Barnes stories, produced by R. Talsorian Games.  It's always been one of my favorites, even though I only played it once.  The reason being, it taught me how to write RPG adventures.  
In the back of the book they have a section where it shows how to write sessions in Beats.  The Hook, alternate with Cliffhangers and Developments, lead up to the Climax and Resolution.  Simple.  "I can do this!", I thought.  And I did.

However, now looking back after all these years, I'm wondering; is it a railroad?  I look at the sample beat chart and think "sure looks like you're leading them by the nose, doesn't it?"

After some thought, I came to the conclusion that my desire to give the PCs free will still applies.  The mere nature of the game (they play players who are players in a VR adventure) assumes they're gonna go with the plot.  What they do once they get in it is their decision, for good or ill.  I then realized it's always been that way.

So once again, the Principle of Fun wins out.  Why else would we play?


Brian Russell said...

I for one think the "railroad" can be further broken down into subgroups. One involves the "gentleman's agreement" that the DM has invested his time/money on this adventure for tonight. When the old man says that he needs your help, I suggest you help him. I have no real problem with this, especially in the eta of limited game time. What goes too far is the Lizardspear "this NPC MUST survive" style of module.

Smokestack Jones said...

I couldn't agree more.

Zak S said...

quite simply, a "living world" is not and can't be a railroad.

If the Caliph is going to issue orders to cut off the PCs heads if they don't go find a monster that's NOT a railroad.

If the Caliph is going to issue orders to cut off the PCs heads if they don't go find a monster
_and those orders will autpmatically succeed_
that's a railroad.