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Author Topic: So...What is Railroading? (Using Illusionism Terminology)  (Read 8912 times)
Marco
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« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2002, 08:17:50 AM »

Quote from: Pale Fire
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??"

.. snip ..

This is my only concern with the definition.


I'm gonna come down on not-railroading. I *like* Ron's definition--however I think it needs some additional disclaimers:

The term railroading is used because it indicates that the story is "on rails" (i.e. not subject to change in direction). This is a breach of SC--but not, IMO, railroading. It can have another name or something.

More specifically, my decision has to do with with the GM *not* countermanding an attempt by the PC's to diverge from the plot-direction. A GM saving a life may well be a breach of SC--but unless the player was having the character attempt suicide I don't think it's the railroading type of breach.

How about this: the GM exerts Force in an obvious fashion to prevent PC action from interfering with the GM's story in a way that violates SC.

-Marco
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #16 on: December 02, 2002, 10:14:13 AM »

No, the overtness of the act can't be a determinant. I think it's still important for the GM tobe able to say, "Yeah, I was railroading the party, but they weren't aware."

I could see limiting it to matters that were strictly plot related, however. This is not going to be a an easy line to draw, though. One can argue that the color of the sky is part of plot. It's certainly simpler to just say any Force.

How about if we were to say: Railroading is the GM use of Force in a way that breaks the social contract, especially those parts that are related to how the plot develops.

Would that work? Again, this is a living term, and as such people aren't going to agree with our definition anyhow. Remember, even if we do hammer out something that everyone here agrees to, that people are still going to come in slinging the term around, and tell us that railroading refers to, oh, having an "objective" game world, for instance (I could see some pervy Narrativist possibly making such a claim).

Mike
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contracycle
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« Reply #17 on: December 02, 2002, 11:53:44 AM »

Hmm.  This example made me realise a reservation I have about the metaphor of railroading.  Under some circumstances, I would use just this sort of device because this is the scenic route.  Or because I'm carrying out some sort of exposition or avoiding some sort of exposition; anyway the point is that there can be quite a lot of latitude, but it can be very definately limited.  This is more like a canal, in that you can bump into either side but only go one way, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, I think the given scenario is railroading; this on the basis that the players might even enjoy a scene of dying in a ditch, but it aint going to happen today.  This encounter is plot-trivial, it is the illusion of a way out of the canal.
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Marco
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« Reply #18 on: December 02, 2002, 01:11:14 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
No, the overtness of the act can't be a determinant. I think it's still important for the GM tobe able to say, "Yeah, I was railroading the party, but they weren't aware."


Ohh--I'm going to do line by line!

Ok: I see what you're saying. I have some arguments but they may not wash:

1. If it's behind the curtain, isn't just illusionism? Is "Illusionism" by defnition 'within' the SC?
2. If no one knew, was it dysfunctional? If it's not dysfunction can it be railroading?

Quote

I could see limiting it to matters that were strictly plot related, however. This is not going to be a an easy line to draw, though. One can argue that the color of the sky is part of plot. It's certainly simpler to just say any Force.

How about if we were to say: Railroading is the GM use of Force in a way that breaks the social contract, especially those parts that are related to how the plot develops.

Would that work? Again, this is a living term, and as such people aren't going to agree with our definition anyhow. Remember, even if we do hammer out something that everyone here agrees to, that people are still going to come in slinging the term around, and tell us that railroading refers to, oh, having an "objective" game world, for instance (I could see some pervy Narrativist possibly making such a claim).

Mike


It's a good definition--more or less good enough for me (if you answer the above to my satisfaction). Maybe with an addition would be a note about the "rails" being enforced by the GM as a 'text-book' form of it.

New (related) Question:

If the GM, trying to keep a story going, makes 'deviation' *harder* but doesn't disallow it--is it railroading? If the PC's leave the path and run into the *maximum* number of Goblin Warriors allowed on a wandering monster roll (the GM fudges to try to force a party retreat) but doesn't go into the really-implausable zone (i.e. the number is 2d6, not 1d1000 and he doesn't do it multiple times) is it still railroading?

It doesn't really matter (under the Force definition the answer's yes) but the key point here is that if the GM has "rails" but the players can, with a bit of extra effort, jump them, as a phenomena it appears differently than stereotypical "200 guards show up and you're marched back to the village" railroading we've all heard about.

-Marco
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #19 on: December 02, 2002, 02:32:05 PM »

Quote from: Marco
1. If it's behind the curtain, isn't just illusionism? Is "Illusionism" by defnition 'within' the SC?
2. If no one knew, was it dysfunctional? If it's not dysfunction can it be railroading?
When the illusionism is consensual, yes, it's within the social contract ("We know that Marco fudges. That's OK with us.") In this case, it's not "railroading" by this definition. Or, perhaps some would say that it's "Functional Railroading". The idea is that, as the term is pejorative, it must only be applied to dysfunctional styles of play.

Quote

If the GM, trying to keep a story going, makes 'deviation' *harder* but doesn't disallow it--is it railroading? If the PC's leave the path and run into the *maximum* number of Goblin Warriors allowed on a wandering monster roll (the GM fudges to try to force a party retreat) but doesn't go into the really-implausable zone (i.e. the number is 2d6, not 1d1000 and he doesn't do it multiple times) is it still railroading?
A little?

Yes, this is railroading by the definition, if, and again this is important, if the group doesn't like that. If they are OK with it, then it doesn't deserve the pejorative. We can call it something else like Illusionism.

Quote
It doesn't really matter (under the Force definition the answer's yes) but the key point here is that if the GM has "rails" but the players can, with a bit of extra effort, jump them, as a phenomena it appears differently than stereotypical "200 guards show up and you're marched back to the village" railroading we've all heard about.
Even the attempt to channel is probably railroading, even if it fails. That's key that you've discovered this. Players often say stuff like, "The GM was trying to railroad us, but we dertiled his plot good." The point is that the GM has attempted to use Force in a manner to guide the plot.

Of course this means that the amount of Force used is important. Slight force will be seen less as against the social contract. And "failures" to railroad may or may not, ironically, be against the social contract.  

So that changes the definition slightly to: Railroading is an attempt (successful or not) to use Force in a manner that violates the Social Contract of play, especially when the use is meant to manipulate the plot.

Howzat?

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: December 02, 2002, 09:14:19 PM »

Hello,

Oh, you guys persist in making it harder than it is. Can you see that all these qualifiers express your particular take on what sort of railroading irks you, personally, most? Let the qualifiers take care of themselves, per person.

For instance, take a player who likes Gamist play, particularly the sort when, at the climax of the scenario, the GM puts aside his screen and rolls openly, to show that it's mano a mano, his  character-killer situation vs. four players who don't want their characters to die. I am using an actual person example; this is not a caricature but a fine and valid (and common!) way to play.

To him, it's "fuck the plot, real railroading is when the GM wimps out on killing us when we roll badly, or when he makes us step in his stupid trap even though we practiced all the right precautions."

My point: the definition of railroading cannot include a specific thing for the railroading to be about. That's going to be a Social Contract thing, and a GNS thing, and it'll be specific to that particular group.

Best,
Ron
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #21 on: December 02, 2002, 09:29:34 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
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

Maybe I wasn't making it clear: In this example player character survival isn't fixed (I'm assuming you mean "player character" and not "player" hehe), they can die. The mechanics are fudged to get the right colour of the scene.
(The GM is rear-constructing the plot, if that helps any). The GM isn't fudging the results to help the players survive (in fact the reason he's not doing the same to the PCs is simply because he knows that would make the breach of contract even bigger).

To clarify my position though: it's obvious that my example is "railroading" as defined by Ron's definition. What I was wondering about is if the definition isn't too general.

At least I would like to distinguish between if it's "railing" the plot or the just details of the scene (or something else). If everyone wants to stick with Ron's suggestion, then I suggest we add some subcategories to the "railroading" definition, or I suspect there's gonna be more than a little confusion knowing what is meant by the term.

I personally favour something along the lines of what Mike suggests, but then again I would like to limit railroading to when the GM steers the plot according to a pre-determined design.

Or in other words: "the GM exerts Force in such a way that breaks the Social Contract in order to promote a pre-loaded plot (or segment of one)"


Another observation on this particular example: As it happened, I was the only player who felt that this fudging of enemy wound results was against the social contract. The others didn't but they would have protested if their characters would have had to use the same rules. So in this case it was railroading to one player and not to the rest? Or do I interpret "social contract" wrong?

[edit: Oops! Crossposted with Ron.]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #22 on: December 02, 2002, 09:37:55 PM »

Hi Christoffer,

ONE
I'm assuming you've read my later post, now, which I think addresses your larger issue. To clarify, though: Railroading is a general thing, and Railroading-the-X is a fine way to specify.

"He railroaded the plot."
"He railroaded the puzzle/showdown."
"He railroaded the [whatever]."

Let the object take care of itself for the given situation. It'll be a Social Contract thing, necessarily, so it will be local.

TWO
Your example is most definitely about player-character survival. The bad guys go down faster than they ordinarily would, and thus the chance of a player-character being hurt or killed is lessened. You're making it harder than it is, again.

THREE
One last point: Social Contracts are not necessarily fragile, but they do depend on consensus (even if that requires compromise sometimes). When one person is upset in these terms, the Social Contract is indeed violated. I'd really like to avoid the notion that Social Contract has a GM on one side and the players-as-a-group on the other.

Best,
Ron
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Christoffer Lernö
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« Reply #23 on: December 02, 2002, 09:58:19 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
"He railroaded the plot."
"He railroaded the puzzle/showdown."
"He railroaded the [whatever]."

Ok, I can work with that. Maybe this usage (quoted above) was obvious for everyone else, but to me it was important to have it pointed out.

Just to make sure I get it: "He railroaded the puzzle" = "The GM used Force in a way that broke the social contract with that handling of the puzzle".

Good?
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #24 on: December 02, 2002, 10:42:37 PM »

notice a similarity in the use of the term railroading and the mainstream thing as seen in the Accessable? To who? thread. That is, just saying "mainstream" isn't particularly useful in many cases, so we have to specify what part of the mainstream we're talking about. JUst saying "railroading" is also not very useful unless we specify what is being railroaded and whether it's bad or not depends on the Social Contract and what is expected by the players.

This may be why RPG discussion is stymied all over the place. People can't talk about what they want because they don't know what they want. They don't even know what they expect from an RPG so they try it and walk away disappointed because it wasn't what they wanted, but they don't know what they want nor how to get it.

It seems to me that we can look at railroading more positively. Think of it as "fast-tracking" certain elelments of the game (or of play) so they will take care of themselves and the players can focus on and fiddle with the other elements.

Think of it like rides at an amusment park. You basically sit in the car in the Haunted House ride. All you can control is what you look at, but the ride goes somewhere You go by all of the exhibits before you are done. But you can't steer the Haunted House car. However, you can steer the bumper cars and go anywhere you want, within the confines of the ride. However, the ride doesn't go anywhere. All you do is bounce around for a few minutes and then that's it. I think that most people's problems with railroading comes from expectiung the wrong thing from the right ride. You shouldn't get on the haunted house and expect to be able to steer nor should you ride the bumper cars thinging it will go anywhere.

This is a simplistic analogy, but apt, I think.
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