Railroading: is it good or not?

I was having a discussion the other day with a couple of my friends about GMing, and we got onto the subject of Railroading our players. Having just finished a Mutants and Mastminds campaign (which, by the way, was so chaotic due to our newer players not grasping the concept of SuperHeroes, even I couldn’t keep up) and were wondering whether doing such a thing would be more beneficial for us or tedious for our players.

For those who aren’t sure what Railroading is, the process is basically when a GM forces their players down a specific path so that the plot could move along. This can be done cleverly using ingame terms or effects, or simply saying to the players ‘no’.

Personally, I can see how Railroading would be good if your players are likely to get out of hand, especially in games like Dark Heresy where being idiotic and random can get you killed (most likely by the Inquisitor you work with). However, railroading can be restrictive for players, making the game boring because you technically don’t get a say in the matter. This makes the roleplaying side of the game quite difficult too, because you’ve got the GM sitting accross the table, telling you what to say.

Personally, I write out my campaign then read through it once more in order to add a series of loop holes, so if the players choose one path, I can simply follow it until it gets back on track. This allows the game to be a bit more free without the players realising that they are following the plot the whole time. Anything that I haven’t prepared for, I improvise. If what the players want to do is too controversial, that’s the only point where I turn around and say ‘no’.

So, what do you think? Does Railroading help or hinder RPGs?

There is always the possibility of “railroading” in an RPG because, in most cases, the scenarios are written in advance. No GM can plan for EVERYTHING, and players can be very inventive (then again, figuring out what to do is part of the game.) Personally, as a player, I don’t mind either way as long as my goals are met- if I’m playing something simple, say, a superhero game, I would expect to get to fight supervillains at some point, and not much more, for example. But if the game were, say, an espionage one, where investigating the causes of political corruption is part of the adventure, I would expect the reasons to be believable. A good GM knows when to shepherd his players along, and when to give them freedom. It can be hard sometimes, yes, but there are many good articles and books on how to do it. As long as the basic rule (that everyone, including the GM, is having fun) is followed, any game can work.

I guess you’re right. However, knowing what your players are like usually helps. I know that most of the people I play with do random stuff nearly all the time, and will tend to fight NPCs with no reason behind it, or willingly kill each other to get ahead. Don’t you just love the Xbox generation? :slight_smile:

Oh yeah, I’m gonna see if people on the site are interested in a game of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, as like a Halloween thing. the interest thread should be up by now.

Back on topic, if you’re running a game for other players that you don’t really know, then it’s always worth thinking about the more common possibilities. Maybe put yourself in the position of the player, and think up as many ways to go with this situation that’s relavent to the game. of course this can be time consuming.

I feel that it’s a good idea to be prepared. But you do have a point when you say a good GM knows when to sheperd the players.

I don’t think railroading is a good thing. In the last D&D campaign I was in, we were in a detective agency, so obviously there is an incentive for us to perform our jobs. However, we also did things like start our own wine business (turns out PCs are pretty damned rich), create a training ground full of traps (with promise of prizes to “winners,” which weren’t very common), and other such things. The thing is, as a GM you have to provide plot hooks. But if your characters provide their own, then it’s just as good to run with it. We had a lot of fun for a whole session just thinking of traps and creating the building.

I wouldn’t say that you should generally say, “No” to your players unless it’s a ridiculous game-breaking thing, however. I think it’s much more prudent to go “Yes, but,” or “Maybe if…” or other such things. Conditionals can make a player seem that they’re getting what they want, while still screwing them over in the long run. Err… not that you want to do that to your players. cough <_<;

I usually insert an NPC or two to do my railroading for me, but they have to be likable or the players won’t follow very well. Just somebody to add a tie back to the plot when necessary, even though they support the weird tangents. Romantic interests work really well (but writing romance for a campaign is quite difficult and one must know their players well), but the best way is to latch onto a character that the players develop a good camaraderie with and give them a direct motivational tie-in to the plot.

This lets the players stray as much as they want, but with a constant reminder that they need to continue chasing after Villain X, Mystery Y, or Artifact Z at the end of the day.

I’ve never encountered the DM just saying NO version of railroading until I read your post and until now the thought of it ever being done never crossed my mind. A lot of the games I play tend to end up with far too much freedom granted to the players however. The thought “Nothings happening, where are the freaking rails let’s get this show on the road.” has crossed my mind more than once. This is mostly a reaction to one of the players who often gms pretty much never using time skips ever and forcing us to roleplay out the entire day to day lives of our characters. He seems to be annoyed that we often do really mundane and boring things in our off hours. We actually managed to force a time skip during the current scenario by being really really boring during the first few days of a several week period while we waited for a shuttle to make it to Ganymede and back so the plot could continue.

As with most things, there must be a fine balance. Too little guidance from the GM is likely to get the game stalled, or possibly even get the players killed. Too much guidance is likely to get the players irritated. What constitutes “too little” or “too much,” however, depends on the game, the GM, and the group of players. Personally, as both a GM and a player, I prefer more freedom. There’s a scenario in mind, but the players may find a much different way to complete the scenario than you had in mind, which I think is okay, although it often means requiring more improvisation on the GM’s part. The GM’s role is to help keep the players on track in case they get lost, bored, or seriously out of control. As much as possible, however, I think it’s best to insert this guidance into the game - have an NPC show up to give a hint to the lost or bored PCs, or have powerful NPCs crack down on the PCs who have gotten out out of control.

I think a useful analogy is a highway rather than a railroad. On a highway, you can change lanes, and you can get off on different exits, but if you start driving on the shoulder or off the road entirely, there’s going to be consequences.