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Author Topic: [d20 Fantasy] Bangs don't always stop the Railroad  (Read 15358 times)
Chris Geisel
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« Reply #15 on: July 01, 2005, 10:11:25 AM »

What is the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast? I've seen that term used before but never understood it.
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Chris Geisel
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #16 on: July 01, 2005, 10:18:15 AM »

From the Glossary:

Quote
Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, the
"The GM is the author of the story and the players direct the actions of the protagonists." Widely repeated across many role-playing texts. Neither sub-clause in the sentence is possible in the presence of the other. See Narrativism: Story Now.


The disfunctional way the Impossible Thing often manifests is "I, the GM, have this really cool story! And you guys, the players, get to be the heroes! You can do anything you... uh, wait, you can't do that, that messes with my story. Oh, not that either. Or that. Uh, or that. No, I'm not going to tell you what to do, that would be taking away your freedom to -- no! Don't do that! What do you mean, you don't know what to do? Do I have to spell everything out? Fine, fine, an old man comes up to you in the tavern and tells you about this prophecy...."
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #17 on: July 01, 2005, 11:14:32 AM »

Oh, and there's this recent essay on the Impossible Thing, too.
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Chris Geisel
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« Reply #18 on: July 01, 2005, 01:01:19 PM »

That does sound like, well, all of the games I've run (except possibly a TSOY game I ran). And all the games I've played in, too.

Where to go from here? I'm at a bit of a loss, now that I'm seeing my current game in this light.
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Chris Geisel
Brand_Robins
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« Reply #19 on: July 01, 2005, 01:12:11 PM »

1. You can admit that you like Illustionist play and make it functional by accepting it with your group. It's only a problem if people don't want it. A lot of players actually like Illusionist play over other types of play, even if they don't realize it until after they've played other types.

2. Do the harder road and learn to run in a different way. Ditch the thing and don't make up a story -- let the players do that. The threads that others linked above about bangs and relationship maps are good places to start reading about how to do this. It won't be easy, as you have to change your own assumptions, but you can do it, others have. As part of this I'd also look heavily at your TSOY game and why it wasn't this way, what you did there, and what you liked about it.

3. Make someone else run for you and do it that way. Support them by being a proactive player with good kickers and strong drive to help form and guide the story through the actions of your character.

4. Continue to play the way you are. Once again, it's only a problem if you and/or your players are unhappy. (Of course, it sounds like you are -- but why? Because you think this other thing would be better, or because you actually have real problems with what is going on now?)

5. Quit playing for a short time and come back to it fresh.
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- Brand Robins
Valamir
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« Reply #20 on: July 01, 2005, 01:29:35 PM »

Brand's spot on.

The only thing wrong with "traditional" GM-centric illusionist play is a) promoting it as the "right" way to roleplay, or b) doing it because you don't know of any other alternative and think that's "just how its done".

On the other hand, if one knows exactly what Illusionism is (which includes being willing to call a spade a spade and not try and claim the Impossible Thing is actually happening), how to use it well, and how to foster the enjoyment of everyone at the table, then it becomes a play technique as valid as any other.

Illusionism is only "bad" when one claims not to use but really is.

I applaud your efforts to spread your GMing wings and try out some other techniques whole-heartedly but don't make yourself feel guilty in the process.  When all is said and done, after you've got some experience with other techniques you might say "man this is great" and never look back, or you might say "you know, that old way I used to GM had some merits after all".  Either way, doing it with eyes-wide-open is infinitely better than doing it out of force of habit.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #21 on: July 01, 2005, 01:50:23 PM »

I haven't GM'd for years (well, except for playing lots of Capes, where everyone has GM powers to introduce characters, plots, story elements et al), but, y'know, from my experience as a GM long before the Forge even existed, it's actually less work not to railroad.

Remember the dungeon? You've got a map-o-stuff, the players go in, they wander around, they follow the paths they think are interesting, they ignore the ones they don't, they pick the fights they think they can win, they hold off on the ones they don't, maybe the GM decides that the Orcs in Cave A hear about how the party wiped out Cave B and go ally with the goblins in Cave C, etc.

"A dungeon? But that's so pedestrian! I want a Story!"

Let go.

I'm not saying, "just run dungeon crawls." Not at all; in fact, I've never run one in my life (and hardly played in any, either). What worked for me, though, is what you might call a "dungeon without walls": The GM sketches out a world with a bunch of different non-player characters/groups/organizations/societies that offer various threats and opportunities -- the "monsters" and "treasures"-- and a bunch of different locations/cities/planets -- the "rooms" -- all of which are connected to some degree, at least by geography -- the "corridors" -- and ideally by various alliances, emnities, and conflicts of interest -- that's the equivalent of "the Orcs in Cave A hate the Trolls in Cave B but will ally with the Goblins in C in face of a strong threat, and will sell magic items to a Chaotic Evil party."

The high-powered Forge way to do this is called a "relationship map" (a Ron Edwards technique), which basically means you place all the major characters on a sheet of paper and start drawing lines of relationship among them (the trick is what is worth drawing a line for; much discussion in various Forge threads). If you're really sophisticated, the whole setting will keep posing particular moral questions the players will have to address (Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard has a brilliant technique for this kind of design), which is where your Story will come from: not a linear series of events you mapped out in advance, but an assortment of dilemmas you posed for the players which they, not you, decide how to deal with.

Anyway, however you do it exactly, you, the GM, create a setting with a bunch of stuff you think is interesting.

Then you show the players. Everything? Not every single thing everything in all the details, especially since (a) you may have written way too much for them to wade through and (b) you don't actually have to have made up the details yet. But you show them everything important. E.g. if you were doing Star Wars, you would tell them about the Death Star; you probably should even tell them the Death Star has a secret weak point. The players should know the major locations, the major factions, the major NPCs, even the fact that, say, there's a Secret Evil Conspiracy to take over Faerieland.

And then you stop.

Because now the players take over. Whatever they want to do, wherever they want to go, you run with it. It's like that old dungeon: If they turn left instead of right, you don't force them back in the order direction, you run witheir choice and they end up in a totally different place.

So if they want to take down the Secret Evil Conspiracy, you figure out how the conspirators react; if they want to ignore the conspiracy and go hunt unicorns to make banjo strings from their guts, you figure out how people react to that. If you offer them the Death Star, and they say, gee that's scary, let's smuggle spice for Jabba, you put all your Death Star stuff in a back drawer and put your smuggler stuff on the table -- and probably start making up more smuggler stuff, fast.

"But I'll have prepped all sorts of stuff that the players won't ever see!"

Yup. You will inevitably create things that never come into play, because if you're presenting people with multiple choices, then by definition, you have to give them more choices than they can possibly take. They may never, ever get to the location or villain or whatever you found so interesting. You know what? That means it wasn't interesting to them.

Now, the way to keep from going blind and mad is to sketch out everything, but not go into too much detail until you see what the players want to do -- which means, in practice, you'll have to make a lot of stuff up on the fly. Rules-heavy systems aren't so good for this, and the improvization is demanding, but it's still a lot less work than exhaustively plotting every room, character, and clue in advance.

In fact, the way to make this even easier (though I personally didn't do enough of it as GM because I loved to write elaborate world backgrounds) is to enlist the players as co-authors from the get-go:

Quote
GM: "I'd like to GM a fantasy game, only with a vast empire ruled by dragons, what do you think?"
Player A: "Okay, fine, but no quests or prophecies, I want to be a low-level crook trying to get by."
Player B: "Yeah, half-dragon crooks! With Kewl Powerz!"
Player C: "And because the PCs are half-dragons, they are always caught in the middle, seen by the humans as being tools of the Dragon-Emperor but seen by the dragon aristocrats as tainted half-bloods."
GM: "Half-dragons? Huh, I hadn't thought of that..."


Because this way, they not only give you a good idea of what they want before you start prepping anything, they actually help you prep it.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #22 on: July 01, 2005, 05:34:35 PM »

Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
So if they want to take down the Secret Evil Conspiracy, you figure out how the conspirators react; if they want to ignore the conspiracy and go hunt unicorns to make banjo strings from their guts, you figure out how people react to that.

You might also want to ask the players, how they think the conspirators/people react. This isn't just for game input reasons, it's also for co-GM'ing reasons. If players just do stuff and then leave it to you 'to make it exciting' then you'll hit such a brickwall. The player should have some intent for the game, just like a GM, when they propose some course of action. Then you act like a co-GM who fills in the blanks of their intent. When they don't have an intent and just do stuff to see what happens...it'll be you providing everything and trying to string it along to some game intent of your own devising (ie, it's still illusionism).

Illusionism isn't just GM generated. It also comes from players who have never thought about performing GM'ing responsibilities even as they play and instead think that what they want will magically come from the GM. When what the GM will produce is purely the GM's story (and if the GM doesn't produce a story, there is no story...the players wont make one because their not taking on GM duties). Even if you want players to control the story, if they don't and as GM you are controlling it, they've made it an illusionist game.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Chris Geisel
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« Reply #23 on: July 02, 2005, 12:00:53 AM »

Okay, I meant "where do I go from here" in the lower-case, what to do next Tuesday with my current game, and you all answered the upper-case version of that question. Not that I mind; although I know something about r-maps some of the other techniques discussed here on the Forge, reading your responses was helpful. (I didn't realize there was a glossary of these terms until this thread... that would've been useful when I first came here). I've just never tried to use any of the stuff I've read about here until now.

I don't like Illusionism. I don't like it as a GM because it's a lot of work with few surprises. I don't like it as a player because I chafe when I can't contribute to the story, probably because I'm used to being a GM who is controlling the story. I also have issues with the whole "roll dice in secret"/GM knows best philosophy, where GMs are encouraged to fudge resolution in accordance with their judgement of what's best for the players.

I've got plenty to think about with regard to Where Do I Go From Here, in the larger sense. In the sense of What Am I Going to Run Tuesday, would you guys be willing to help me take a look at what I've got to work with in my current game, and suggest some Bangs for next session?
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Chris Geisel
Brand_Robins
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« Reply #24 on: July 02, 2005, 11:53:31 AM »

I can try. I'm not always good at coming up with bangs for other groups, but I'll do as I can.
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- Brand Robins
Callan S.
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« Reply #25 on: July 02, 2005, 03:47:59 PM »

Quote from: Chris Geisel
Okay, I meant "where do I go from here" in the lower-case, what to do next Tuesday with my current game, and you all answered the upper-case version of that question.

I just see lower case. They aren't ideas that you save up for that one super amazing game you intend to run one day in the far future. They're all next Tuesday ideas.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #26 on: July 03, 2005, 09:45:09 AM »

What Callan said. Although, yeah, okay, I did phrase my advice as "here's a way to handle an entire campaign," but it can be scaled down for a single session too:



1. Come up with a bunch of ideas the way you usually do, but don't flesh 'em out.

2. Ask everybody beforehand (e.g. over email), "Hey, I've got these three (or four, or whatever) ideas for next time, whaddya think?"

3. Go with the one they seem most excited about -- or, better yet, combine the two (or three, or whatever) they seem excited about.  [EDIT: this is why it's hard for us to come up with Bangs for your group, because while we're happy to look at your ideas, we're not able to see/read how your players react, and that is actually more important than the initial idea]. Flesh things out a bit, but...

4. The key step -- the "let it go" step: Don't have a "plot," as in "a sequence of things that's going to happen." Don't even have alternative branching plots. Don't even have a really cool climactic scene in mind, because if you do, you'll probably fall in love with it and start nudging your players towards making it happen.

5. Instead, just have a bunch of threats, opportunities, and, above all, really dynamic NPCs who will respond to whatever the players do.

6. Then pick up on whatever your players seem interested in and run with that part of the scenario, discarding the rest.



Tricky bit: If your NPCs are really active, how do you keep from railroading through them?
 - One way is to make sure the NPCs will not do the same thing no matter what the PCs do, but rather respond very differently to different PC actions. E.g. the Big Villain shouldn't always respond to any stimulus by trying to have the good guys killed (so they can capture the assassins, interrogate them to find the villain's lair, go to lair, etc. -- you've seen that plot before, haven't you?): Maybe he'll try to kill them if they attack his pet Monster A, but offer to help if they want to tangle with his rival Sorcerer B. That kinda stuff.
- Another way is to make sure the NPCs all want different things from the players. E.g. not everyone should be out to kill the party; it's more interesting if some NPCs want the party's help -- especially interesting if two NPCs each want the party's help against each other and will seek revenge if thwarted, because then, Bang!, the players have got to choose. (Note that if the players can say "ignore 'em both and keep on doing what we were doing," it's not a Bang; but a good Bang would probably allow the choice "run like hell from 'em both and hope they don't find us," because then the players are giving up other things they care about).

It all boils down to the idea of Bangs: (a) the players should have to make a choice -- the situation should be so explosive that even "sit here and wait" should be a choice, with all sorts of consequences coming down on the players' heads -- but (b) there should be no clear obvious choice -- especially not in your mind, because if you as GM have one in mind, your players will probably read you well enough to guess it instead of doing their own thing!

Most players have been railroaded often enough, and think it natural enough, that they'll look for any cues from you about what's the "right" way to do things. So you need to avoid giving those cues (although, even you don't, they'll probably think they were just responding to your cues when they were really thinking for themselves; see this old post for an example). Instead, you as GM need to be super-attentive to the cues the players give you about what they find interesting, so you can start giving them more of that. E.g. if they stop in an inn to buy food, and you make up some random innkeeper character off the cuff, but they start laughing at the dialogue you give this NPC and roleplaying a long conversation with him, you need to pick up on that interest and start inventing a family life and maybe some Orc problems for the guy.

Again, Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard has really excellent scenario-creation guidelines that are worth looking at. As in, I recommend you buy it. As in, now. As in, http://www.lumpley.com/dogsources.html.

For the longer run, other instructive games (not all of which I've played, mind you, so grain of salt suggested) are Matt Wilson's Prime Time Adventures, which has great advice on co-creating campaigns and adventures (and almost no other mechanics at all, really); Ron Edward's Trollbabe, which is streamlined and 100% designed to produce the kind of play we're talking about, including rules that let the player narrate new facts into the plot all the time; Ralph Mazza's Mike Holmes's Universalis, which gives everyone GM powers so railroading is just impossible; and Tony Lower-Basch's Capes (full disclosure: Was playtester. Get free pizza from Tony all the time), which gives everyone GM powers and makes it impossible not only to railroad but to protect any kind of plot if the other players aren't sold on it.
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Kerstin Schmidt
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« Reply #27 on: July 03, 2005, 11:38:47 AM »

Ok, you want to wrap up the game next session, so you don't have time for complications, building up conflict or anything.  You need to give your players options for cutting right to the chase.  

Currently from your players' point of view the characters are kinda out of options. They have lost the elves' trail, the orc shaman has suppressed their scuffle with the rival orcs, and now they are threatened with being eaten if they don't bring back the elves that they've already failed to find.

So you want to give them options, some ideas below.  Before I go into detail though, one thing is vital:  you need to make sure that the players realise they are going to be presented with various options, or they will likely jump on the first one presented and treat it as the "plot hook" they are supposed to follow.  And you say you don't want that.  

So don't try to spring the options on them IC one by one.  Instead, tell the players before the start of the session that you'll be presenting some choices and they are free to take the one they like best.  Then give them something like the following:

"You're hunched around your little fire discussing your options in low tones, away from the rest of the clan.  Here's what you've heard about since we ended last session:  NPC X has slunk up to PC A and told him.... ;  PC B has been approached by NPC Y offering..." etc.  
You might consider telling the players in clear words that all the options are genuine and they are free to choose. How far they'll trust you with that is their problem (and if they are anything like a veteran D&D group I used to GM for, they won't trust you very far at first),  but at least you'll have done all you could to let them know.  


Now here are some ideas, based on what you've written on your scenario ideas and play so far.  Mind you,  the players need to get all the info right as play starts or they'll start running after the first perceived "plot hook".  

Oh, and one more thing:  the following are only examples, meant to spark imagination. Use them if you like them, throw them if you don't.  You're certain to be able to come up with better ideas than I could.  As everyone else has said it's your group, and even though you haven't known them all that long you know tons more about their preferences than we do here.


- PC A is approached by NPC X who says he can lead them to the elves, if they then back him in his upcoming challenge of the clan bully NPC Q, a dangerous opponent.  

- PC B  is offered help by NPC Y and his gang to wipe out the rival group. Obviously if there's only one group left to hunt elves, the shaman will think twice about eating his last remaining elite hunters...

- PC C gets talked to by Z who wants C to make sure he and his buddies stay sober in the big drinking bout tonight. Apparently there's a *gulp* plan to overthrow the evil but scary shaman.  

Let the players hash out what they want to do.  Note why (for future reference, next time you GM for them you'll have a better idea of how they think). Are they thinking things through tactically, evaluating risks? Are they thinking about what's going to make them look coolest?  Going back to the elf-hunt because that was the original mission, or because they want a second chance? Going after the shaman because they hate him most?  Or what.


Then respect whatever option the players go for and play through it.  Cut straight to them finding the elves / ambushing the rivals / seeing the shaman totter (seemingly?) drunk to bed.  

If you have enough session time left at that point, you could consider complicating things a bit.  I'll just give you some thoughts for each option above.  Note that this makes things into a bit of a flowchart again and you don't normally want too much of that, you want to base your prep around the characters and not around specific events that happen.  

In this case however I don't know anything about the characters, so I'm working with what you say you've planned and introduced in play - and for a wrapup session it won't matter all that much.  

If PCs have gone after elves:  
- The elves are tracked down, but instead of hurling themselves desperately at their hunters, making a last stand or scattering to give some of them a chance ot get away, they try to talk.  They have stolen some easily breakable orcish McGuffin and are willing to give it up if the hunters let them go.  
(This could be the shaman's staff of power, but _only_ if the players have been quite keen to go after the shaman anyway. Don't do this if the players have shrugged the shaman option aside. You want to respect their choices, remember.)

Make clear that there is a real choice here:  the elves are likely to be able to escape if a deal is agreed - perhaps there's a magic escape portal close by only the hunters have intercepted the elves before they got to it.  If the hunters start killing OTOH, the elves could break the McGuffin and destroy its power.

And let things develop from there.  Of course if the players come up with a nifty trick to get both the McGuffin and the pesky elveses, more power to them.  
And whatever happens once they get back, with/without elves and/or McGuffin, see how they choose to approach the shaman, for example.  Make nice? Use his own staff against him?  Give him his staff back if he accepts them as their new elite guard? Tells you lots about how the players want to see their characters and what they like to see in play.


If PCs fight rivals:
- Whether they win or lose, they find some proof that the rivals have been dealing with the elves.  It might turn out that some of the rivals are elf reincarnations!
- One reincarnation might point to a PC and cry out, "But you are one, too!" At which point you might want to ask the player what he considers more fun:  his PC actually being a reincarnation, or the other orc trying a desperate but hollow bluff?  

And again let things develop from there. Etc.


If PCs go after shaman:  
I'm getting lazy.  Now you make something up. :-)


Does that help at all?
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Chris Geisel
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« Reply #28 on: July 03, 2005, 01:36:00 PM »

That old post by Ron was a great read, thanks for pointing me there. Because I never really checked out the Glossary until now, I've always avoided the GNS forum because so much of the vocabulary and ideas seemed like a thieves cant. Now is probably a good time for me to digest the Glossary and try to figure out the framework for many of the discussions here.

Sydney, your post was the shove I needed to buy Dogs off the Forge bookshelf. Done, paypaled, please allow twenty-four hours. Rockin.

Kerstin's given me an idea of how to set up some explosive situations, so I think I have a handle on Sydney's Step 1. If there are dissenting opinions about whether Kerstin's ideas are the right starting point, please sound off. Originally I was going to start by posing more open-ended ideas to my players, such as "power struggle" vs "elf hunt", but Kerstin glommed on to my need for a speedy entry and resolution of the game.

Assuming they are, next up is Step 2. However, I strongly suspect that when I pose these ideas to the group, the general response will be that these choices are up to me, the DM. I bet the most common response will be variations of "these all sound good". Any thoughts about how to approach the rest of the group? Or how to proceed if I don't get much feedback?
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Chris Geisel
Callan S.
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« Reply #29 on: July 03, 2005, 05:05:41 PM »

Quote from: Chris Geisel
Assuming they are, next up is Step 2. However, I strongly suspect that when I pose these ideas to the group, the general response will be that these choices are up to me, the DM. I bet the most common response will be variations of "these all sound good". Any thoughts about how to approach the rest of the group? Or how to proceed if I don't get much feedback?

Yeah, I've had the same sort of thing in the past (I think it helps lead to illusionism as I said before).

Think about the problem now: Putting myself in their position, I've had idea proposals made to me and I've gone blank on it myself. This is because -

A: If I agree to an idea, I'm essentially locked in to it if we play by the old methods. It's sort of like getting to choose the type of cage your to step into...getting that choice doesn't stop it from being a cage.

B: Rather than agree to anything, I could instead go passive agressive, saying that anything the GM wants to do is fine (note how this leaves responsiblity on the GM's shoulders, for how fun the game is?) and not give any input myself (giving input would be agreeing to something, which leads to A). Or I'd not commit to anything at all.
Note: Well, to give myself some credit, what I'd sometimes do in these situations is say 'Oh, option B would be cool...if this and this and this happened'. I'd try to add to it, but usually the GM would then go blank and not commit...because he fears being locked into doing these things in just the same way I do.

Responce A is based on not knowing any other way of handling it, a by product of the impossible thing before breakfast, where supposedly only the GM controls the story. Anything is a cage, if someone else exclusively controls the door.

All I can think of is emphasise that the ideas are just something to springboard off from and that at any time in game they can just be ditched and forgotten about. Really emphasise this! Give examples like "Well, we could be half way through a dungeon and then just say 'screw it' and leave the whole thing". Though it sort of gives you palpatations as GM, thinking that at any moment they might flee the prepped material you have, thus leaving you naked and thinking 'what do I do next?'. But that's why I was emphasising how players need to think as a GM as well...it shouldn't just be up to you to make something amazing happen next, when they abandon your prepped material. They should help steer the game in a cool direction and propose cool stuff they want to get into. Then you fill in the blanks (and if it's too hard to fill in some blanks, again the players are obliged to assist you (I think)).
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Philosopher Gamer
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