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Author Topic: How to avoid Railroading!  (Read 9853 times)
M. J. Young
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Posts: 2198


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« Reply #15 on: September 05, 2003, 11:04:34 PM »

Quote from: Michael Bjorklund
If there is 'no plot' from the outset we remove the directing from the GM and allow the players to be the driving force (even more than before) - at least if I have understood some of the very great ideas in here correctly ... please correct me if I am wrong!  Nevertheless the GM/GWE reacts to the players actions and thus some of the directing still is in the court of the GM, unless the players themselves also play the NPCs.

If I understand both you and Ron correctly, this sounds to me like what he calls "playing bass". The concept is that the referee, like the bass player in a jazz band, is there to hold things together and let the other players take center stage and decide where the song is going. I set up the beat, the key, the basic progression, but you all make the music. I do a lot of scenarios that way.

It's not the only way to avoid railroading; there are actually quite a few. I'm particularly fascinated by a style I've dubbed trailblazing. This allows the referee to create the plot he hopes will be played out by the players, but leaves the players free to do whatever they want, thus retaining full control of their characters. What makes it work is an element in the social contract through which the players are committed to having their characters find the clues and discover and play out the referee's intended plot--like reading a mystery, when you've committed yourself to trying to figure it out, sort of. It remains free and interactive in one sense, yet the players are in another sense following the referee's script by digging up his clues. Trailblazing works as long as all the players are committed to it, and is the model for most "competition modules" in which the players are trying to achieve the goals set by the module more efficiently than any other team of players.

I do that sometimes, but generally I prefer to create the starting situation and then interact with the players to see what they want to make out of it. In some ways that's tougher, because you have to create a lot of possible directions all of which will be interesting, rather than creating only one which you're assuming your players will follow.

--M. J. Young
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Michael Bjorklund
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Posts: 12


« Reply #16 on: September 06, 2003, 01:39:35 AM »

"Trailblazing" is an interesting concept, thanks.

Wonder if you're using any of the methods I suggested in my initial mail? I.e. the things about prepping a lot of different sequences, which becomes active if and when the players does this or that (minor rewrite of my first mail)?

This goes well in hand with 'scene framing', since the various scenes can be prepped before the players reaches any certain point in the GWE (Gaming World Environment). Thus they do not necessarily have to be dumped into a certain scene, instead it waits for their activiation of the scene for it to happen?

Comments and ideas?!
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Bankuei
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« Reply #17 on: September 06, 2003, 07:57:25 AM »

Hi Mike,

Another method which I find works exceedingly well is to set up a conflict, have a list of NPCs and motivations, and then drop player characters into scenes on the basis of "what would be interesting", ala reality TV, that is, you put characters together who you know will likely conflict or interact in a dramatic fashion.  This works very well for games like The Riddle of Steel where motivations are included in the mechanics, but can work for all games if you take the time to produce NPC motivations.

Chris
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Michael Bjorklund
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #18 on: September 06, 2003, 03:29:10 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei


Another method which I find works exceedingly well is to set up a conflict, have a list of NPCs and motivations, and then drop player characters into scenes on the basis of "what would be interesting", ala reality TV, that is, you put characters together who you know will likely conflict or interact in a dramatic fashion.  This works very well for games like The Riddle of Steel where motivations are included in the mechanics, but can work for all games if you take the time to produce NPC motivations.

Chris


Yo!
Interesting, definately interesting. though somewhat like I have done before, it seems to go a step further - I might be tempted to use that. Please feel free to elaborate!  

I am currently prepping three friends of mine who have never played in my campaign before, but who have extensive experiece from systems like D&D + Vampire + problaby more, to enter my Runequest campaign.  

They have been charged to decide on their character backgorunds after giving some of the GWE (Gaming World Environment) basics [system= Runequest ver. 3 but without magic, and in historical Europe without monsters (only humans), and have thus added some of the historical details and a few details on their area].  They have been asked to design their character via the narrativist approach rather than roll stats. So far so good.

Currently I am contemplating on how to best introduce them to system, GWE, mechanics and initial-plot-or-acctivity-to-engage-their-imagination (based on their character stories). Not that I am unhappy about my previous methods, but I have found what I have read about here at The Forge to be very inspiring, so I will probably use some of this actively.

And precisely the above method is what I most have in mind right now.  If I need to engage them in combat I will do so first on a combat level that is VERY EASY before they encounter anything strong. Otherwise I try to mostly use the narrativist approach and hope that they will play along.

As for the potential dangers in railroading within the method you suggest - any comments?

More suggestions and comments will be welcome:-)

All the best
Mike
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Bankuei
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« Reply #19 on: September 06, 2003, 03:54:53 PM »

Hi Mike,

Much elaboration to be found here:
http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/collists/waystoplay.html

Scenes are created on the spot, no preplanning, no plot to railroad players with.  The players reactions are left open, and you take the responses from that, figure out if any other reactions would happen by any NPCs(via motivations) and plug together the next scene.  It's Nar play, Scene framing + a couple of tools basically.

Quote
They have been asked to design their character via the narrativist approach rather than roll stats. So far so good.


Be careful, don't confuse writing up your character, freeforming it, etc, with narrativist play.  You can take "roll up everything, including homeland" ala RQ and still get narrativist play.  The Narrativism happens, or doesn't happen in play.  It's about Player Input and Theme.

Chris
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M. J. Young
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Posts: 2198


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« Reply #20 on: September 06, 2003, 06:50:52 PM »

Quote from: Michael Bjorklund
Wonder if you're using any of the methods I suggested in my initial mail? I.e. the things about prepping a lot of different sequences, which becomes active if and when the players does this or that (minor rewrite of my first mail)?
I think I've done most of the things you suggest, to one degree or another.

I write a lot of Multiverser scenarios, and many of those are for publication. Since the referee in Multiverser has very little power to push the player character into any particular story, I'm always giving thought to what to do if the player doesn't go where you want.

Multiverser worlds really break down into two types--what we call Multiverser worlds properly, and what we call Story worlds. The former type are just places where things are happening and the player character can find adventure within them. The latter are places where some specific thing is happening with which the referee hopes the player character will become involved. In the latter case, there are a number of tools offered to get him there.

Hooks and bait are the ones I use most often. You need to have some understanding of what motivates the characters (and even of what catches the players) so that you can lure them into the story you want them to pursue. There's nothing wrong with this, as far as I can see--the players are free to ignore the bait and do something else. I've had players do that to me. The question then is always, what do you do with this story now?

An example would be The Prisoner of Zenda. You probably know the book; Rudolf Rassendil travels to Zenda to see the coronation of his distant cousin King Rudolf of Ruritania (the fourth, I think). People react a bit oddly to him, and he doesn't understand why, until abruptly he encounters three men, one of them the king, the other two his top aids, and discovers that he looks exactly like the king. The king insists on an explanation, and offers something to explain their relationship, demanding then that Rassendil come have dinner with him and talk about family.

Now, I drop my player into the Rassendil role, and it's rather easy to arrange for him to meet the king (more on that in a moment). At that moment, the player is completely free to refuse to have dinner with the king--but his Aide de Camp General Sapt is standing there even now trying to figure out what sort of nefarious plot is going on here, and he's going to be suspicious of any lack of cooperation on the character's part. Then, when the king is drugged by the wine provided by Duke Michael (who is trying to usurp the throne), what happens if the character refuses to help save the throne by impersonating the king?

I don't ask that rhetorically; I ask it practically. This can become a story at any moment in which the character is arrested for treason against the king, and we can see where it goes from there. The story is filled with moments like that, places where the player could take it off the track and create a new story from that point forward. I follow the book only in as far as it tells me what the other characters are like, and what they are likely to do in response to the most obvious options. Depart from the script, and we'll find out where it goes--maybe the player character will treacherously kill everyone who knows he's not the king, marry the Princess Flavia, and rule Ruritania (the temptation Rassendil resisted). I'm not invested in where the story ends; only in where it starts.

The other technique I use quite a bit is illusionism. I don't use it to the point that it is objectionable, but I do use it. Illusionism is the technique of making it appear that a player's character choices matter when they actually don't.

I've previously offered the example of The Dancing Princess. At the beginning of that world/adventure, the player character finds himself in a field by a road, and I ask which way he goes. In nearly every case they take the road; some cross the fields. It doesn't matter to me in the least. Whichever way the player goes, that's the direction toward the city where the action is going to happen. He thinks he's choosing something, but he isn't.

The same thing applies to the Zenda moment when the character meets the king. In the book, it happens when he falls asleep in a wood that happens to be the royal game preserve, and they awaken him to question him. An astute player might decide not to enter the royal game preserve; that doesn't matter in the least. What matters is that the player character meets the king, and that really can happen just about anywhere. I've decided that's going to happen, so if I can't get the character to the king, I'll put the king wherever the character happens to be going.

I'm working on a scenario right now in playtest which uses a very strong illusionism streak. It's got a series of encounters that happen in a complex. The player has full freedom to travel in any direction within this complex desired (and it's a very large complex), and to map it--maps are provided for the referee. However, the encounters will all occur, and all in the order in which they're listed in the description. It doesn't matter where they occur, beyond the parameters required by the encounter, so I can put them pretty much anywhere the player character happens to be. The player thinks that his choices are controling what happens, but they aren't. The adventure is written much more like a movie storyboard, in which I know the order in which the events are going to occur but not how the hero will handle them.

The trick to making illusionism work without turning it into railroading is simple: take away from the player all the decisions that don't matter, and leave him all those that do. As I suggest in an old article, http://www.gamingoutpost.com/content/index.cfm?action=article&articleid=613&login=">Game Ideas Unlimited: Left or Right? (this is on Gaming Outpost, a subscriber site; it will hopefully appear on the Valdron Inc site in a couple weeks, but that site is currently down due to domain problems), when you get to the bottom of the stairs and have to decide which way to turn, and you have absolutely no information on which to base that decision, what difference does it make if you are taking a chance on what happens next, or if the referee is going to organize things such that whichever way you choose is the right way? When the decisions matter, the player should have control; when they don't matter (or worse, when the wrong choice when there's no clear indication of the right choice will completely derail play) illusionism is a great response.

I'm not sure how much of this is helpful, but I thought I'd offer it all the same.

--M. J. Young
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Michael Bjorklund
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #21 on: September 09, 2003, 08:40:03 PM »

Hi M.J.Young,

Will be back asap with a few comments to your excellent mail, but things are rather hectic at the moment.  Please be patient!

All the best
Mike
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Michael Bjorklund
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Posts: 12


« Reply #22 on: September 24, 2003, 04:48:58 AM »

Sorry about the delay!

"I write a lot of Multiverser scenarios, and many of those are for publication. Since the referee in Multiverser has very little power to push the player character into any particular story, I'm always giving thought to what to do if the player doesn't go where you want."

Don't know anything about 'Multiverser' ...  have I missed a link to material on this somewhere? Sounds interesting ...

"Multiverser worlds really break down into two types--what we call Multiverser worlds properly, and what we call Story worlds. ..."

Okay ...

"Hooks and bait are the ones I use most often. You need to have some understanding of what motivates the characters (and even of what catches the players) so that you can lure them into the story you want them to pursue. There's nothing wrong with this, as far as I can see--the players are free to ignore the bait and do something else. I've had players do that to me. The question then is always, what do you do with this story now?"

Agreed.  

"An example would be The Prisoner of Zenda. ... Now, I drop my player into the Rassendil role, ... Then, when the king is drugged by the wine provided by Duke Michael (who is trying to usurp the throne), what happens if the character refuses to help save the throne by impersonating the king?"

Great for scene framing! Also a correct question - shows good dynamicism in the universe. Makes it come alive.

"I don't ask that rhetorically; I ask it practically."

Precisely!

"... The story is filled with moments like that, places where the player could take it off the track and create a new story from that point forward. I follow the book only in as far as it tells me what the other characters are like, and what they are likely to do in response to the most obvious options. Depart from the script, and we'll find out where it goes--maybe the player character will treacherously kill everyone who knows he's not the king, marry the Princess Flavia, and rule Ruritania (the temptation Rassendil resisted). I'm not invested in where the story ends; only in where it starts."

And this is why being a GM is so exiting! One writes on dynamically evolving book/script/whatever and doesn't  know where it will end.

"The other technique I use quite a bit is illusionism. I don't use it to the point that it is objectionable, but I do use it. "

The material on The Forge on Illusionism is very good as with all other stuff here.

"I've previously offered the example of The Dancing Princess. At the beginning of that world/adventure, the player character finds himself in a field by a road, and I ask which way he goes. In nearly every case they take the road; some cross the fields. It doesn't matter to me in the least. Whichever way the player goes, that's the direction toward the city where the action is going to happen. He thinks he's choosing something, but he isn't."

I quite recognise this. However, I still try to allow for PC's to go towards the plot and then ignore it or to add to the plot or scene via their ideas and input. Quite often their thoughts about what this or that bad guy or location or scene or whatever is much more imaginative and interesting and rich and promising than what I originally had in mind that I simply ditch my own ideas and use what they are talking about, adapted on-the-fly to the plot.

"The same thing applies to the Zenda moment when the character meets the king. ... An astute player might decide not to enter the royal game preserve; that doesn't matter in the least. ...  I'll put the king wherever the character happens to be going."

Agreed.

"I'm working on a scenario right now in playtest which uses a very strong illusionism streak. It's got a series of encounters that happen in a complex. The player has full freedom to travel in any direction within this complex desired (and it's a very large complex), and to map it--maps are provided for the referee. However, the encounters will all occur, and all in the order in which they're listed in the description. It doesn't matter where they occur, beyond the parameters required by the encounter, so I can put them pretty much anywhere the player character happens to be. The player thinks that his choices are controling what happens, but they aren't. The adventure is written much more like a movie storyboard, in which I know the order in which the events are going to occur but not how the hero will handle them."

This sounds interesting - please feel free to mail me (us?) and tell how this worked out.

"The trick to making illusionism work without turning it into railroading is simple: take away from the player all the decisions that don't matter, and leave him all those that do. As I suggest in an old article, Game Ideas Unlimited: Left or Right? (this is on Gaming Outpost, a subscriber site; it will hopefully appear on the Valdron Inc site in a couple weeks, but that site is currently down due to domain problems), when you get to the bottom of the stairs and have to decide which way to turn, and you have absolutely no information on which to base that decision, what difference does it make if you are taking a chance on what happens next, or if the referee is going to organize things such that whichever way you choose is the right way? When the decisions matter, the player should have control; when they don't matter (or worse, when the wrong choice when there's no clear indication of the right choice will completely derail play) illusionism is a great response."

Agreed. However, sometimes it is also fun to have the players take the reigns and lead the plot whereever they want to go ... even when using the illusionist plot:-)

I'd like to read this article - is it visible for smoochers like me yet?

"I'm not sure how much of this is helpful, but I thought I'd offer it all the same. "

Hope that people can use these interesting thoughts!

All the best and more later
Mike
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #23 on: September 24, 2003, 08:43:03 PM »

Quote from: Michael 'Mike' Bjorklund
Don't know anything about 'Multiverser' ...  have I missed a link to material on this somewhere? Sounds interesting ...
We're still having domain name problems; I'm not sure what it's going to take to get the sites back up and running, and I'm not really in the loop on that. Meanwhile, there's some information about the books http://www.mjyoung.net/publish/">on my personal site, and you are certainly welcome to visit the http://www.gamingoutpost.com/forums/index.cfm?Action=ShowForum&ccurrentforum=83">official forum at Gaming Outpost, where there are several games in progress online. I'd be happy to answer any questions directly, as well.

Quote from: Quoting me, Mike then
"I'm working on a scenario right now in playtest which uses a very strong illusionism streak. It's got a series of encounters that happen in a complex. The player has full freedom to travel in any direction within this complex desired (and it's a very large complex), and to map it--maps are provided for the referee. However, the encounters will all occur, and all in the order in which they're listed in the description. It doesn't matter where they occur, beyond the parameters required by the encounter, so I can put them pretty much anywhere the player character happens to be. The player thinks that his choices are controling what happens, but they aren't. The adventure is written much more like a movie storyboard, in which I know the order in which the events are going to occur but not how the hero will handle them."

This sounds interesting - please feel free to mail me (us?) and tell how this worked out.
If you visit the forum, you can watch it unfold in the thread What Kelly Spies, starting about a week or so back (it's a long thread that includes her entry in this world and some prep time). I'd be glad to send you a beta copy of what I've got on it if you're that interested, but I'll need an e-mail address. You can reach me at MJYoung@mjyoung.net if you want.

Quote from: Again quoting me, Mike
"As I suggest in an old article, Game Ideas Unlimited: Left or Right? (this is on Gaming Outpost, a subscriber site; it will hopefully appear on the Valdron Inc site in a couple weeks, but that site is currently down due to domain problems), when you get to the bottom of the stairs and have to decide which way to turn, and you have absolutely no information on which to base that decision, what difference does it make if you are taking a chance on what happens next, or if the referee is going to organize things such that whichever way you choose is the right way? When the decisions matter, the player should have control; when they don't matter (or worse, when the wrong choice when there's no clear indication of the right choice will completely derail play) illusionism is a great response."

...I'd like to read this article - is it visible for smoochers like me yet?
It is sitting on our server waiting for the domain problems to be fixed. You can read it at Gaming Outpost for a $1 subscription by PayPal for one month membership (and I've got over a hundred articles there, and there are some worthwhile ones from other authors as well). I thought we'd have the domain problem fixed this week, but it doesn't look like that's happening, so I can't really predict availability.


--M. J. Young
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