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Author Topic: Anatomy of a Railroad  (Read 24954 times)
Nev the Deranged
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Posts: 741

Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #15 on: September 30, 2005, 06:20:11 AM »

RE: Valamir's post above:

 I don't think what you describe is necessarily dysfunctional. It actually sounds kind of like fun. Heavy flavor text to keep the mood, yes. But also because in a GM vs PCs type game, the detail of the descriptions becomes part of the currency of the game, in that it is used strategically by both GM and PCs. And we had a lot of fun with that kind of thing back in the day, even when playing Freeform. Heck, *especially* when playing FF. That level of detail became the field on which to maneuver, in the sense that:

 The GM describes the surroundings and situation. Usually having one or two possible "escape routes" or "solutions" to the situation in mind, but open to other possibilities.

 The players take the GMs description and try to figure out a solution to the current dilemma using whatever is at hand.

 The "game" exists in the negotiation between the players and GM about what actions are possible given the description given.

 The difference that makes this not necessarily "railroading" or dysfunctional is that the players were allowed a limited measure of Director stance, at the GM's discretion, generally phrased as questions: "So, does the porticullis have a rope or a chain holding it up?", where the GM, if he hadn't already determined that, might be interested to know where the player is going with it, and make the decision based as much on his interest in the player's ideas as on his own.

 Yes it was competition between the two sides, but it was also an excercize in imagination, and there was a lot of respect accorded to both figuring out the way to squeeze through the GM-created situations, and especially doing so in imaginative, unexpected, and cool ways.

 I guess it was pure Gamism, in that the joy of the game, while based on niggling details, was really about "Dude! luring the dragon through the gate with the smell of cooking goblin meat and then dropping the porticullis on him was AWESOME!"

 Okay, I'm gonna stop now, cuz I think I've made whatever point I was after... I really should have slept a couple more hours >.<
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Luke
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« Reply #16 on: September 30, 2005, 06:20:26 AM »

[Someday, I will make a documentary by videotaping a gaming session, and putting that in half the screen opposite a group of male monkeys in their native habitat.  Watch the dominance games play out on both sides parallel to each other.

I was wondering if you could be more condescending in your next post? This is an excellent example, but I think if you try harder you can do it!

;)

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Valamir
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« Reply #17 on: September 30, 2005, 06:59:28 AM »

Quote from: Arturo G
It was a real pitty that we didn't discover other kind of games on those times.

I'm actually glad we didn't.  We never would have given them a chance.  The 12-14 year old me would have considered Dogs in the Vineyard to be a complete and utter piece of shite and would have cited the lack of rules for differentiating between single and double action revolvers to be proof of what a cop out design it was.  Hard core setting and genre emulation was pretty much what everyone I knew was doing, whether the game was AD&D, Top Secret S.I., Pendragon, or Twilight 2000.  What we were emulating changed and we considered it a mark of "good" roleplaying to change the techniques we'd use to get there (our Pendragon play was 180d different from our AD&D play) but that hyper detailed emulation of setting was still the entire purpose.


Quote from: Nev the Deranged
I don't think what you describe is necessarily dysfunctional. It actually sounds kind of like fun.

It was loads of fun.  But it was also a huge source of frustration and friction between the players.  The pressure to get the details right, the one upsmanship on being called out when you didn't.  The literally HOURS spent arguing things like how far a man can jump or whether a horse would really shy away from stepping on a fallen man.  The disappointment when the other players couldn't figure out the mystery and they blamed poor GM prep and delivery.

The guys I played with were without a doubt my very best friends (outside of gaming as well) but on more than one occassion we nearly stopped being friends over arguements about games.  Some gaming moments that even today rank among the all time greatest gaming moments ever for me.  And some gaming moments that literally can only be described using words like "spiteful" and "betrayal of human trust". Its a very stress inducing way to play. 


Quote from: abzu
I was wondering if you could be more condescending in your next post? This is an excellent example, but I think if you try harder you can do it!

;)

Accurate though.  Jumping up and down, pounding the table, trying to talk each other down, wild gesticulating.   We never flung dung...but miniatures, d20s, and pink rubber erasers nearly put out a few eyes
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Callan S.
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« Reply #18 on: September 30, 2005, 02:20:26 PM »

Hi Luke,

Just looking past the use of stick and berating ourselves over it for a moment, let's talk about carrot. How much mutual appreciation of tactics was shown at the table? Even for the small stuff - like "Hey, that party order turned out to be a good idea?". Was appreciation passed between players? Was appreciation passed from the GM to players? And just as importantly, was appreciation passed from players to GM?


Hi Ralph,

And the bitter fights were tinged with the very strong sense that you lost everything if you lost the arguement, right? Well, mine were. No matter how much death defying you did, when the arguement came up it was like putting all the money you just won from that death defying on one gamble. Which naturally fueled arguement to extremes. Way off?

It's funny, all that death defying gets you a certain respect currency. But it's nothing in comparison to the currency that's involved in a real life person to person face off.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #19 on: September 30, 2005, 02:49:19 PM »

Someday, I will make a documentary by videotaping a gaming session, and putting that in half the screen opposite a group of male monkeys in their native habitat.  Watch the dominance games play out on both sides parallel to each other.

I was wondering if you could be more condescending in your next post? This is an excellent example, but I think if you try harder you can do it! ;)

In order to be more perjorative, I'd have to talk about my own adolescent gaming experiences, as I know the embarassing details of those better. ;)

At root, railroading is a whole lot about control, and control struggle + adolescents = a incredibly chaotic and potentially painful learning experience.  I mean, consider how the same applies to dating.
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droog
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Posts: 263


« Reply #20 on: September 30, 2005, 03:01:12 PM »

But it's nothing in comparison to the currency that's involved in a real life person to person face off.
That system needs a second edition.

There was an altercation in my RQ group one unforgettable day over whether a crossbow could be carried around cocked and loaded. That ended with the player abusing the entire group and storming out. Years earlier, one of my D&D players kicked in a screen door over...what? Damned if I remember.

I guess the question to what extent this is all related directly to the railroading. How much of this sort of behaviour represents an attempt to take control of some--any--aspect of the SIS in the face of the train?
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AKA Jeff Zahari
Valamir
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« Reply #21 on: September 30, 2005, 09:35:57 PM »

A valiant attempt to drag the discussion back to topic Droog.

I actually think that Rules Lawyering is a direct response to the railroad.  At least in retrospect that's how it evolved in our play.

Originally our play was very much what usenet folks would recognize as Sim.  Go any where, do anything, the GM is entirely the neutral referee who responds to the PCs free choices.  But as we began to assign more and more value to the mood and "realism" establishing narration described above it became more and more impossible to prepare material to the level of depth required to make the game "good" that could cover all possible contingencies.

That's where the Illusionism started for us originally, simply a survival tactic for the GM to use basic techniques like "Roads to Rome" to limit the amount of the world that he'd actually have to prep to a manageable (for kids on summer vacation with nothing better to do) size.

Shortly thereafter is where the one upsmanship between DMs started to see who could have the coolest stories, most detailed backstory, biggest surprise twist, most memorable scene, etc.  From there the arena kept getting smaller and smaller and tighter and tighter as adventures became a way primarily to show case the DMs adventure design talent and less about actually playing the adventure.  The ultimate result was linear adventure design on very narrow rails that worked like one of those fun house rides where the car may loop around and rotate on a very convoluted track, but none-the-less the track was specifically laid out to take you point by point to where all the cool stuff was to see.

At that point the ONLY influence players had in the game was tactics in combat which in AD&D 1e when not actually moving minis around on a battle mat was very limited (basically what weapon to use, which monster to swing at, and when to drink the heal potion).  That's when the rules lawering started.  I can get the game to move in the direction I want if I can show that the direction you want is illegal.
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Chris Geisel
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Posts: 55


« Reply #22 on: October 01, 2005, 10:20:53 AM »

At that point the ONLY influence players had in the game was tactics in combat which in AD&D 1e when not actually moving minis around on a battle mat was very limited (basically what weapon to use, which monster to swing at, and when to drink the heal potion).  That's when the rules lawering started.  I can get the game to move in the direction I want if I can show that the direction you want is illegal.

This exactly describes my AD&D group when I was younger. Exactly. Except I think that the arguments were partly rules lawyering, partly a discussion of "realism" and how the GM should rule on various tactical situations where the rules were silent, which might've been an outgrowth of the Sim priorities that were our starting point.

We spent hours debating things like how to adjudicate stabbing someone in the back, in the absence of a "backstab" class ability. Hours. And when I say debating, I mean low-intensity bullying. With the GM's "rule zero" and the players' "we'll just stop playing" as the final, nuclear options to any conflict. Brinkmanship at its finest.

We also used to discuss things like how to use the AD&D weapons vs armor table (which we all agreed was a desirable level of "realism") without slowing our combats down further. (Wow, this leads me to all kinds of questions about Sim play, and how it's accomplished without the kind of dysfunction present in my old AD&D games.)
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Chris Geisel
Callan S.
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« Reply #23 on: October 01, 2005, 03:48:01 PM »

Ralph, great account! So you couldn't just agree to enjoy participationism, because there was a competitive element to session design that asked for judgement?

So the question was always "Do you like this game I made?". It never became a different question "Would you like to try out a different game type (participationism), something you might ordinarily think you wouldn't like"

While at the same time, game design necessitated some restriction (mapping everything is just impossible). Initially the GM's discover this is a great tool to help them 'win' the game design competition. However, over time and more extensive use this gets some amount of negative feedback.

In responce, the GM adds more cool stuff so as to get a good rating. This requires more restriction so that stuff is actually experienced. This earns further negative feedback. And so on, in a classic deathspiral.

Way off? The GM trying to win the game of 'make the players/my friends happy'. But if players are allowed to wander off the prepared areas, they wont find anything that makes them happy. Worse, even though they were the ones who decided to wander off 'the map', they get to call that as the GM's fault and give him a bad rating.

On the opposing side, the players want freedom AND engaging content. Essentially two mutually exclusive goals.

I think I've played that game a few times.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #24 on: October 02, 2005, 11:17:19 AM »

....as we began to assign more and more value to the mood and "realism" establishing narration described above it became more and more impossible to prepare material to the level of depth required to make the game "good" that could cover all possible contingencies.That's where the Illusionism started for us....

Now, is this the most common process by which old-school "wander 'round the dungeon" D&D (which was pretty functional and fun a lot of the time) turned into "I am Gamemaster, I have Story!" railroading (not so functional)? I get the feeling that, as Mike said, restricting the players' options starts as a way of managing workload when you want to describe an entire world but you're fixated on replicating the predefined, detailed descriptions of every room in the "box text" of a published module.  Big caveat: My own D&D experience is actually limited, so you grognards are going to have to reality-check this theory.
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Nev the Deranged
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Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #25 on: October 02, 2005, 05:55:32 PM »

On the opposing side, the players want freedom AND engaging content. Essentially two mutually exclusive goals.

 Uh... no, no, and also, no.

 All of the most engaging games we played were freeform, with no maps, lists of treasure, or monster stats. It is entirely possible to build a story around the actions of the players just the way Ron & Company champion. We did it all the time... before D&D came along and taught us "how to play".

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Josh Roby
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« Reply #26 on: October 03, 2005, 01:22:00 PM »

Now, is this the most common process by which old-school "wander 'round the dungeon" D&D (which was pretty functional and fun a lot of the time) turned into "I am Gamemaster, I have Story!" railroading (not so functional)?

My group picked up railroading directly from adventure supplements and tradition -- that is, we played the same adventure supplement so many times over, that we slowly accrued the 'right' way to go about playing it.  We saved those hostages in the country schoolhouse from the mutant farm animals so many times...

Later, when we started creating our own adventures, they were linear like the battle-worn supplements we were so used to.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #27 on: October 03, 2005, 02:00:35 PM »

Good point. I think that the module as instructional tool has been overlooked in many cases as the culprit in creating methods of play.

Mike
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Sean
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« Reply #28 on: October 03, 2005, 03:31:39 PM »

There's no single cause for railroading. It can be a desire for story, or a lack of creativity, or an adolescent power trip, or lots of other things.

Old-school gaming as I experienced it was not railroady though. You had a map, some encounters, some random encounter tables, and, if you were good, notes on the personalities of a few NPCs so you could do some social interactions that led somewhere interesting. It's very much a 'jazz' GMing form but without the 'Narrativist' content - it's all about mutual response between the players. The dungeon is a living entity, responding to what the players do, and they try to grok its whole structure and complexity and outthink it before it gets them.

Trying to run with dungeon geomorphs and a monster & treasure assortment, and nothing else prepared, is a good way to learn how to do this even today. The trick to making it good is that when the players decide to talk to the blink dogs instead of fighting them, or come up with some interesting theory about the trap and who put it there, or whatever, you find a way to work it into the adventure, so that they can create meaning out of the random events that initially constitute the dungeon.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #29 on: October 03, 2005, 07:34:59 PM »

Quote
Now, is this the most common process by which old-school "wander 'round the dungeon" D&D (which was pretty functional and fun a lot of the time) turned into "I am Gamemaster, I have Story!" railroading (not so functional)?
I think the root cause is that "riffing off nothing" can not be sustained. Sure, in the initial stages you can riff off the most basic player actions to make all sorts of cool stuff. But that enthusiam for anything roleplay is soon used up.

That's what I was stabbing at in the 'complete games' thread. When you run low on riffing enthusiasm, if system doesn't keep the game flowing regardless, as GM you start to rely on force techniques to get players to where you do have some enthusiasm left.


Hi Nev,

Freeform usually has even more rules involved than book play. They just aren't printed. By freedom I wasn't refering to freeform, I was refering to a lack of creative restriction. Creative focus comes from restriction rather than from being able to do anything you want.
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Philosopher Gamer
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