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Author Topic: (when) Improv is railroading  (Read 1368 times)

Eric Diaz

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(when) Improv is railroading
« on: January 11, 2022, 03:16:34 PM »
After many thoughts and corrections, I re-wrtoe the entire thing:
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After many thoughts and corrections, I re-wrote the entire thing. I changed the OP too. thanks for all the answers; I'd love feedback about the corrections too.

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I tried to make this point a while ago. Will not link it here because I am not sure I was clear enough, so I'll try again from a different angle.

Here is the idea: sometimes, improvisation (i.e., coming up with things on the fly) leads to railroading (or quantum ogres and similar things), and sticking to pre-written material (settings, mechanics, etc.) is a good defense against this.

Let's define some terms before we begin. This is the best/oldest definitions I could find, and they seem decent enough:

Improvisation: the art or act of improvising, or of composing, uttering, executing, or arranging anything without previous preparation (source).
Railroading: Railroads happen when the GM negates a player’s choice in order to enforce a preconceived outcome (source).
Illusionism: A term for styles where the GM has control over the storyline, by a variety of means, and the players do not recognize this control (adapted from this source).

It is easy to see how closely related railroading and illusionism are.

One of the main problems of railroading and illusionism is removing agency from players. Not only do their choices cease to matter, but also they are tricked into believing that they do. To use someone else's analogy, is like letting your little brother play Street Fighter with you, but giving him a joystick that is not connected to the game.

I decided to write this after watching a video from a popular creator (whom I like) with these kinds of advice:

1. "If the players mention they suspect an innocent person, maybe you can decide that now HE is the culprit!"
2. "Fudge your die rolls or HP if the encounter proves too difficult".
3. "If a player rolls very well when searching for something that isn't there, maybe it is!"
4. "If the players are talking too much, throw an encounter at them".

Also, to sum it up, something to the effect of "never let the players see behind the curtain" - which sounds related to illusionism.

Now, if that is what rocks your boat, fine. I just want to add that this is not the only style of play and is, in fact, anathema to another style which sees illusionism and railroading as things to avoid.

Let's analyze the advice above.

Advice 1 is the classic example of "improv". But it completely devalues any mystery, any clues you throw at the PCs. You may argue that this is not railroading because the GM hadn't conceived an outcome beforehand - the DM thought the culprit was A, but when the PCs accused B he changed. However, in this case, the outcome enforced by the GM is the PCs find the right culprit; he is negating the player's choice of accusing the wrong person!

Number 2 will make the players believe they can win any encounter, or worse, they can win any encounter if you let them. It removes player agency. Again, the outcome the GM is forcing is "the PCs win the next battle".

Numbers 3 and 4, again, make the setting feel artificial - as if responding to what players, not PCs, do. Notice that number 3 is a thing that could happen in Dungeon World, for example (IIRC), but DW at least assign consequences for failing your search roll - otherwise, everyone would be searching for treasure everywhere.

Number 4 deserves a caveat: IF the PCs are in a dungeon where you roll for random encounters every 30 minutes, and the players talk for 30 minutes in-character, you should obviously ROLL for random encounters. Likewise, if someone would hear them, etc.

It is not illusionism if the players know

It is not illusionism if there is no illusion. If your players know that fudging dice and HP is the DM's prerogative in this campaign, or that you'll decide whodunnit is as you go, or that a good dice roll will let you find treasure where anywhere, this is not illusionism, it is a style of play.

This is a very important distinction because, as we'll see, DMs must make things up as they go in both styles.

Some different advice

Let me try some alternative advice to the "man behind the curtain" method described above.

- The GM must present an internally coherent setting for the PCs to interact and explore.
- The GM must believe in the authenticity of the setting as much as the players.
- The GM should not alter the realities of the setting (at least not DURING PLAY) to accommodate, entertain, defy, reward or punish players, but only because of things that happen WITHIN the setting. In other words, the setting is defined by PCs and NPCs and not about GM and players.

Another tips I mentioned before that might be related:

- Let the dice push you out of your comfort zone. Your PCs all failed their saving throws - now what? Your important NPC was killed before he could start his plan - what happens now?
- Expect the unexpected from your players. Do not expect them to follow a predictable path, or always find the right culprit, or only pick fights they can win, etc.

How to AVOID illusionism?

Let's say you and I prefer the same style of play - how to avoid illusionism, railroading, etc.?

Well, one idea is use a published adventure, or write your own.

If you follow it to the letter, without improvising, you cannot execute any of the four advices mentioned above.

(BTW, having a plot telling you what happens if the PCs fail or do nothing will help you tremendously. It will relieve you of the temptation of enforcing the preconceived notion that the must win).

Of course, if your PCs stray from the course, you must improvise. However, do NOT improvise a reason to force than back into the adventure. That is exactly what railroading is. Just think of the logical consequences of their choices.

And what if they enter a random town, far from the original adventure site? Well, then you improvise, but it is ALSO okay to say "I hadn't prepared this, let's take a small break". Remember, it is NOT illusionism when they know you're making things up on the fly.

When to improvise, then?

You often need to improvise to find out how the NPCs reacts to the PCs. How the events unfold. You NEED some improv to run RPGs.

You also need to improvise to find out things about the setting you hadn't established before. But when you do so, answer your own questions using the setting's internal logic, not the necessities of the players or the "plot".

For example, the player asks, "can I full plate armor in this town?".

Ask yourself "how big is this town?", not "how bad does the PC need this for the next adventure".

You do not change inanimate things and past events because the PCs had an idea, desire, or particular die roll (unless, again, the PC could change the world in such way with his or her actions).

You also improvise anything that players expect you to improvise, of course - what is the blacksmith's name? But you do not improvise when the answer should be found in the setting - "is there a blacksmith in this town"? When the players ask you that, they do not expect you to be creative, but to give your honest assessment of what you be expected in the setting.

You can also improvise (or, at least, create) anything when your players expect you to do so. For example, between sessions. Or when you ask for a 5 minute break. Or when they break into a random house. Etc.

Oracles and random tables

These are not improvisation. They require previous preparation. If you have a table for random encounters, and you get a dragon encounter, throwing a dragon against your players from nowhere is not improvisation.

But what if these tables are more like oracles? "17 - an ally is revealed as a traitor". Still not improvisation while you roll, but you'll have to interpret the result to the best of your ability - which does require some improvisation. Again, just let the players know that this is the kind of game you're playing - an ally can betray them at random. If there is a transparent mechanic for that (e.g., morale rules), it is not improvisation.

But I LIKE fudging HP!

Again, if that's your preference, that's fine. I'd advice you be transparent about this - let your players know that fudging dice and HP is your prerogative, or that you'll decide whodunnit is as you go. If everyone is on the same page, that's okay (just not my preferred style).

I'd argue, however, that it is useful to let people know both styles exist - at least so people can try both ways and see what they prefer.
---
Original text:
I tried to make this point a while ago in my blog. Will not link it here because I am not sure I was clear enough (probably not, got a lot of flak on reddit), so I'll try again from a different angle.

This time, I'd like to discuss this before publishing. I'm very one to adverse opinions on this

Here is the idea: sometimes, improvisation (of places, NPCs, events, etc.) leads to railroading (or quantum ogres and similar things), and sticking to a published (or pre-written) material is a great defense against this.

Why?

Let's start with three propositions.

- The GM must present an internally coherent setting for the PCs to interact and explore.
- The GM must believe in the authenticity of the setting as much as the players.
- The GM should not alter the realities of the setting (at least not DURING PLAY) to accommodate, entertain, defy, reward or punish players, but only because of things that happen WITHIN the setting. In other words, the setting is defined by PCs and NPCs and not about GM and players.

I have just watched a video from a popular creator (whom I like) with these kinds of advice:

1. "If the players mention they suspect an innocent person, maybe you can decide that now HE is the culprit!"
2. "Fudge your die rolls or HP if the encounter proves too difficult".
3. "If a player rolls very well when searching for something that isn't there, maybe it is!"
4. "If the players are talking too much, throw an encounter at them".

Now, I can see this might be cool for some styles of play, but it shouldn't be "general D&D advice" IMO.

Number 1 is the classic example of "improv". But it completely devalues any mystery, any clues you throw at the PCs.

Number 2 will make the players believe they can win any encounter, or worse, they can win any encounter if you let them. It removes player agency.

Numbers 3 and 4, again, make the setting feel artificial - as if responding to what players, not PCs, do. Notice that number 3 is a thing that could happen in Dungeon World, for example (IIRC), but DW at least assign consequences for failing your search roll - otherwise, everyone would be searching for treasure everywhere.

Number 4 deserves a caveat: IF the PCs are in a dungeon where you roll for random encounters every 30 minutes, and the players talk for 30 minutes in-character, you should obviously ROLL for random encounters. Likewise, if someone would hear them, etc.

How to AVOID all these things? Use a published adventure, or write your own.

If you follow it to the letter, without improvising, you cannot execute any of the four advices mentioned above.

(BTW, having a plot telling you what happens if the PCs do nothing will help you tremendously)

When to improvise, then?

You often need to improvise to find out how the NPCs reacts to the PCs.

You also need to improvise to find out things about the setting you hadn't established before. But when you do so, answer your own questions using the setting's internal logic, not the necessities of the players or the "plot".

For example, the player asks, "can I full plate armor in this town?".

Ask yourself "how big is this town?", not "how bad does the PC need this for the next adventure".

You do not change inanimate things and past events because the PCs had an idea, desire, or particular die roll (unless, again, the PC could change the world in such way with his or her actions).

This is not the ONLY way to play RPGs, mind you; if you like to see the DM as some kind of entertainer, for example, adding stuff on the fly can be great (I'd still be honest about it with my players when the campaign starts).

I'd argue, however, that the way I'm defending above is the traditional way of playing RPGs (DM as referee), and that it is useful to make this distinction if you are  advocating the contrary - at least so people can try both ways and see what they prefer.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2022, 12:56:20 PM by Eric Diaz »
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rytrasmi

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2022, 05:23:20 PM »
I generally agree with this. Thank you for sharing it. It helped me solidify some of my own thoughts, which I will ramble through below.

I'm a firm believer in having concrete locations, things, and people. Olaf the barbarian hangs out at the tavern every day for the past 5 years, so he does not suddenly show up in the dungeon to bail out the PCs if they're getting slaughtered. Players can see through that and know you've taken their agency away. The right to make decisions means the right to decide something dumb that gets you killed. Don't mess with that, not even a little.

I've tried advice 1-4 in the past and I think they're mileposts on the journey to becoming a good a passable GM. I don't use them now because I learned there are better ways. Like you say, run written material. That's a good way. There are other techniques, too.

I'll use advice #3 (searching) to make a point. The problem with unlimited improv is that the GM is not as clever as he thinks he is. Nobody is as smart as they think in the moment. It's human nature to think a brain fart is the best thing ever. If the item is suddenly found in a place where it was not possible to find before, you might get away with it...Or you might get burned. A player may notice that the sudden materialization of the item is inconsistent with some feature of the place or the item or with some past event.

And they might not notice an inconsistency until after the session. What the improv crowd fails to appreciate is that most players think about the adventure between sessions. They will notice the cracks eventually. There are always cracks, but you the GM don't need to make more just for fun.

I agree with your propositions. However, there's one big exception for me: NPCs. I will use NPCs to drop clues if I think the players are getting too frustrated. I will have NPCs to agree to be hired if I suspect there's a heavy combat coming up. There's a lot of flexibility with NPCs as long as their character is portrayed consistently. The barmaid is not normally going to pick up a sword, but she might share some gossip about a missing item. So, I will alter in-game what I planned an NPC to say if it will help keep the game moving. I justify this as 1) I cannot plan for every possible dialog, 2) NPCs are people and people are unpredictable, and 3) NPCs react to the world too, and if they see the PCs getting frustrated they might offer to help or they might remember something they'd long forgotten. I think this is a valid exception because it forces the GM to think within the fiction. It's not a pure meta solution like advice 1-4 because there needs to be an NPC with the right character to take a certain action that seems plausible. Olaf the drunk won't barge in and save the day, but he might suggest the barmaid knows more than she's letting on.

So I guess my improv is via NPCs and not via meta-tinkering with the physical world. At least that's my goal.

As for your plate example, I agree. How big is the town is the right question, as opposed to meta-concerns about helping the players. Give the players a chance to exercise their creativity! I will allow a player to justify why a small farming village might have a suit of plate armor laying around and perhaps, put it to a roll. Luck is a good meta mechanic for this. Give me a creative or at least plausible reason, and I'll let you test luck. Give me a really interesting or compelling reason and I'll give you a bonus to the roll. You can't plan for everything after all.

Anyway, just some random thoughts!












S'mon

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2022, 05:25:24 PM »
Railroading is forcing people down a track they don't want to go. The stuff you discuss is mostly bad practice, and may be used to railroad, but is not railroading per se.

Wrath of God

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2022, 05:43:22 PM »
The answer is... no.
Railroading has quite clear definition. It's something you do against players. Limiting their agency, their rights - whatever rights given game gives them.

Setting. Setting has no rights. Sure it should be consistent, but consistency can be kept both by meticulous planning and by improvisation. One of my two favourite settings are Middle-Earth and Witcher, first very much planned out with map and everything, another invented as it went just avoiding contradictions with things previously estabilished.

So "internally coherent" matters mostly as long as it's player-facing. If you change own plans, without breaking sense of consistency in players... that does not matter.
Not every trickery against game mechanics or setting is railroading, as long as your are not forcibly pushing players in one direction all the time.

Especially changing shit in setting because players accidentaly invented something that's cooler than your original vision is methodologically opposite of railroading.

Quote
I'd argue, however, that the way I'm defending above is the traditional way of playing RPGs (DM as referee), and that it is useful to make this distinction if you are  advocating the contrary - at least so people can try both ways and see what they prefer.

I'd call it rather classic/old-school playing than traditional, as trad is used nowadays mostly for more DM as master of narrative style that came with games like Call of Cthulhu and simmilar ones, post D&D (and is way more prone to railroading I'd say).


Quote
As for your plate example, I agree. How big is the town is the right question, as opposed to meta-concerns about helping the players. Give the players a chance to exercise their creativity! I will allow a player to justify why a small farming village might have a suit of plate armor laying around and perhaps, put it to a roll. Luck is a good meta mechanic for this. Give me a creative or at least plausible reason, and I'll let you test luck. Give me a really interesting or compelling reason and I'll give you a bonus to the roll. You can't plan for everything after all.

If we wanna delve deep enough into rigid simulation area - suits of plate are personal and not easily exchangeable ;)
« Last Edit: January 11, 2022, 05:57:53 PM by Wrath of God »
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Vidgrip

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2022, 06:15:36 PM »
Your last sentences suggests labeling your preferred play style as "traditional" play. I don't see that as warranted. DM's have been fudging die rolls and doing story-gamey things from the beginning. There is nothing wrong with people giving advice and nobody is going to label their advice as "unconventional" just because it is contrary to your (or my) advice.
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Eric Diaz

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2022, 07:22:05 PM »
I'm glad I posted this here. already have some great responses and fair criticisms to my initial post.

Let's see...

1 - NPCs, yeah, what @rytrasmi said makes sense. Makes me wonder if there are other instances where some kind of "deus ex machina" is acceptable.

2 - Railroading - you guys are right, railroading is not the term I'm looking for, But railroading is and agency-stealer like the examples I mention. Is agency-stealer a better name? Or maybe illusionism (another railroad tool)?

3 - "Traditional" - okay, dice fudging etc. is as old as the hobby, so I cannot call this traditional. It is fair to say, however, that my advice is as good as the 1-4 advice and maybe we should make clear that are multiple ways to do this - or at least that many people think dice-fudging is akin to cheating and you shpuld be honest to your players?
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Lunamancer

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2022, 07:23:35 PM »
Here is the idea: sometimes, improvisation (of places, NPCs, events, etc.) leads to railroading (or quantum ogres and similar things), and sticking to a published (or pre-written) material is a great defense against this.

Sometimes, sure. You can do most anything with mal-intent and weaponize perfectly good and sound advise. Not that I'm necessarily equating railroading with mal-intent. But if you can understand how intent can twist things, then you really have to disentangle the intent from the general idea in order to evaluate the idea properly. Surely when using pre-written material there is at least the temptation of railroading to ensure players will actually engage the pre-written material. So that idea is also susceptible to hijacking.

Quote
- The GM must present an internally coherent setting for the PCs to interact and explore.
- The GM must believe in the authenticity of the setting as much as the players.
- The GM should not alter the realities of the setting (at least not DURING PLAY) to accommodate, entertain, defy, reward or punish players, but only because of things that happen WITHIN the setting. In other words, the setting is defined by PCs and NPCs and not about GM and players.

So here's the thing. I don't entirely disagree. You certainly worded this carefully that I'm not going to outright object. When you say to accommodate, entertain, etc, you seem to still allow changes during play for the sake of fidelity to the setting. The part I would challenge is the barrier between before play and during play.

If I do world building (building a world that's fun) 2 months before we even start play, that's kosher.
If I write up an adventure (an adventure that's fun) 2 months into the campaign but the week before we play it, that's kosher.
If I've had a hectic week and I'm up late the night before hammering out the adventure, that's kosher.
If I'm so exhausted, I fall asleep in my lonely writers garret and slap a few last things together the morning of, that's kosher.
If I have some last minute ideas that I start to jot down on location at the game table right before the appointed start time, that's kosher.
If some player cross-talk makes me realize I forgot something in my adventure design and I add it in before Johnny Come Lately arrives and we actually begin play, that's kosher.

If half way through the session, we have a piss and pizza break, and during that time I jot down a few more ideas for the rest of the session, I think most people would say that's still kosher.

So why is it that if inspiration strikes me during hour one, when you're fighting kobolds, that the hour-four big bad evil ogre's ring of fire resistance should actually be a nipple ring, that that's a no no just because it's during play?

Yeah. I get how if the kobold fight is a one-sided masochistic pounding and I suddenly have one of them chug a Potion of Invulnerability just to make the fight interesting, that that could be bad. Because it might have been a one-sided masochistic pounding on account of a clever plan and wise player choices. And I should honor that. But if that's really what's at issue, why can't that be the metric? Why does it have to be BZZZT!! Pencils down on adventure design the second "You all meet at a tavern" gets uttered and the dwarf squeezes his first fistful of serving wench ass?

Quote
2. "Fudge your die rolls or HP if the encounter proves too difficult".

[. . .]

Number 2 will make the players believe they can win any encounter, or worse, they can win any encounter if you let them. It removes player agency.

Revisiting my previous argument, we mostly consider it acceptable for GMs to "balance" encounters when writing before hand. Even if they want to calibrate the balance to easy, average, hard, and run-away! What if the GM makes an error in planning and only discovers that error in real time during play? Is it wrong to correct errors?

I agree that if you're always fudging to save players asses, they will eventually discover the pattern and you can kiss sense of danger goodbye. Or that if you're always fudging to keep funneling them down your follow-the-line story path, they will eventually discover the pattern and you can kiss any sense or feeling of player agency goodbye. But what if you're fudging for the sake of fidelity to the game world? What possible pattern might players discover then? That every time something weird comes up, the outcome always seems to make total sense consistent with the world? I think I'll be okay leaving that arrow sticking in me.


As some parting food for thought, I'd like to gripe about Quantum Ogres for a second.

The thing about quantum ogres and similar things is, I think they may be red herrings. Like the example itself is fundamentally bogus. You're in a chamber with 3 doors. There's an ogre behind one of those doors. Whichever one the players pick, the GM puts the ogre there. Sounds railroady. Same situation. Only there's not any monster behind any of the doors. But by the time you get any of the doors open, you're due for a wandering monster check. No matter which door you choose, I'm going to roll the same dice to determine if and what you encounter. And the results are independent of your choice. If the rolls are going to come out, yes wandering monster, and it's an ogre, it's going to be identical to the quantum ogre.

I think the wandering monster check is clearly within the bounds of acceptable for most old school gamers. And I'd agree that the "quantum ogre" is out of bounds for most of the same. So what's the difference between the two? It's not the quantum part. And it's not the ogre part. Maybe it's the part where it negates players choice. But if that's our metric, I'd argue that at least with the quantum ogre, you could possibly listen at each door for the ogre before opening it. If the GM is being reasonable, the quantum ogre collapses the instant you hear the ogre. And then you can have your player agency in choice. Not so much with the wandering monster since the ogre actually isn't behind any of the doors. And yet the wandering monster still has more old school bonafides than the quantum ogre.

It may have more to do with replay value of the scenario. Or rather the quantum value of the scenario since it need not literally be replayed. But if you were to replay it and choose a different door next time, under the quantum ogre it's still an ogre. Under wandering monsters, it might be goblins next time. Or no monster at all. And I think that's where it has more legitimacy.

And just to really bunch up some panties, I think this "quantum adventure" idea is also why RPGs have certain distinct advantages in story telling over and above traditional written stories. Because you can take a played out story, like a knight in shining armor slaying a dragon and rescuing the princess from the tower and make it interesting again. Because there's a parallel version of the story where the dragon eats the knight, forces the princess to marry him, and rules over the kingdom for a thousand years. And because we know this is a game and has certain dice and mechanics, we know it could go either way. No ending is guaranteed. If we played the adventure out again, it would likely be different the second time. We don't have to do anything clever to spruce up the story or add new twists or try and foreshadow things.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2022, 07:26:51 PM by Lunamancer »

Eric Diaz

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2022, 07:24:28 PM »
Especially changing shit in setting because players accidentaly invented something that's cooler than your original vision is methodologically opposite of railroading.

Great post overall.

I'm curious about this specific part - what do you mean?

Also, do you disagree with my "culprit" example being similar to railroading, or are you thin king of some other situation?
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Eric Diaz

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2022, 07:29:16 PM »
So why is it that if inspiration strikes me during hour one, when you're fighting kobolds, that the big bad evil ogre's ring of fire resistance should actually be a nipple ring, that that's a no no just because it's during play?

Yeah. I get how if the kobold fight is a one-sided masochistic pounding and I suddenly have one of them chug a Potion of Invulnerability just to make the fight interesting, that that could be bad. Because it might have been a one-sided masochistic pounding on account of a clever plan and wise player choices. And I should honor that. But if that's really what's at issue, why can't that be the metric? Why does it have to be BZZZT!! Pencils down on adventure design the second "You all meet at a tavern" gets uttered and the dwarf squeezes his first fistful of serving wench ass?

This is a great point. I thought of adding that to the post. Yes, if you change the adventure 2 minutes before starting the game is okay. Why do I think changing mid-fight is bad?

Well, I think it has to do with fairness and agency. The PCs chose to fight a kobold. Let them fight. The PCs killed the big bad with a single hit. It is okay, let it go.

The nipple ring example is cosmetic, I think and I'd call it "kosher".

(about the ogre and the doors bit, I wrote about that a while ago too, and I agree that "the quantum ogre collapses the instant you hear the ogre". Otherwise, the choice between 3 identical doors is inconsequential)

https://methodsetmadness.blogspot.com/2020/10/railroads-and-some-sandboxes.html
« Last Edit: January 11, 2022, 07:32:12 PM by Eric Diaz »
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Wrath of God

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2022, 07:42:36 PM »
Quote
2 - Railroading - you guys are right, railroading is not the term I'm looking for, But railroading is and agency-stealer like the examples I mention. Is agency-stealer a better name? Or maybe illusionism (another railroad tool)?

Illusionism is proper term, alas illusionism does not need to be railroady. It may be inventing shit as it goes, which is opposite of railroad (where GM has some clear pre-written story and is trying to push players in). Illusionism may be used to cover up railroad, but it may be just way GM rolls. Inventing things as it goes.
I'd compare it to you know fantasy writers who are doing a lot of pre-planning map, and so on, and Andrzej Sapkowski author of Witcher, who said clearly he consider worldbuilding to be some dorky neurosis, he invent shit as he writes, and just keep checks about not contradicting earlier stances.

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Great post overall.

I'm curious about this specific part - what do you mean?

Also, do you disagree with my "culprit" example being similar to railroading, or are you thin king of some other situation?

I mean generally railroading is when GM is trying to force players to go specific way on the rope.
When GM is running things loose, and there is culprit, and he changes mind because he likes players idea better, that's like opposite.
Of course principle of illusionism here need to be considered - can I weave illusion that it was culprit B from the very beginning not the culprit A.
Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. Bit like with film clue, sometimes you can have a film with 3 different endings.

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Svenhelgrim

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2022, 07:52:34 PM »
There is a saying I learned while I was in the military: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” I have found similar experiences in RPG’s.

Years ago when I first started DM’ing, I would run published adventures.  My players would often be difficult and try to circumvent the adventure, or outright refuse to go on the quest, opting to do other things.  Oftimes they would come up with solutions to puzzles and problems that the pre-written adventure never took into account.

That is how I learned to improvise.  If my players did not want to do the adventure, I would draw upon my knowledge of stories, books, mythology, and most importantly, the numerous published adventures I had read.  My players seemed immune to “hooks” so When they would walk away from the Caves of Chaos, they would stumble upon the Moathouse from Village of Hommlet?  Didn’t care about the ravaging Slave Lords? The Vanishing Tower (from the Elric Books) appeared in front of them.  The players don’t want to leave the tavern, to explore the Haunted mansion? The Innieeper poisons them and they get shanghai’d on the ship from Sinister Secret Of Saltmarsh. 

As time wore on, I found more cooperative players to game with, but my style had solidified, and now any adventure I run is patchwork of every book, movie, or module I have ever seen/read.

As for the “No fudging” rule.  I never fudge die rolls, and if I ever did, I would never admit to it.

Quantum Ogres are never an issue since I can grab an encounter from any other module.

Mixing things from modules and books ensures that people who have read the matereal before, get a familiar feeling, but never the same experience twice. 

SirFrog

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2022, 08:28:49 PM »
I prefer to use two terms to describe my DM’g style: 1) Schrodinger’s Goblin and 2) Object Oriented Roleplaying

1) Schrodinger’s Goblin is an paradox. I have no idea if there is a goblin behind the door until the players open it. It doesn’t matter if it was planned to be there or not. The players don’t care either, because until it happens it didn’t exist before hand. Just because something is planned or unplanned doesn’t make it valid or invalid. You are not cheating the players if they don’t know. I am not cheating myself as DM.

2) Object Oriented Roleplaying is exactly what it sounds like. When required a process is run by me that determines what the output in the game is. The process doesn’t matter, it’s a black box for all intents and purposes. It could be a random table, an encounter pulled from another module, or made up on the spot.

Bottom Line: improv or planned doesn’t really matter.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2022, 08:30:28 PM by SirFrog »

Ratman_tf

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2022, 08:34:58 PM »
1. "If the players mention they suspect an innocent person, maybe you can decide that now HE is the culprit!"
2. "Fudge your die rolls or HP if the encounter proves too difficult".
3. "If a player rolls very well when searching for something that isn't there, maybe it is!"

If the situation's details can be changed mid-game, then the DM runs the risk of details being arbitrary.
The risk is, if players cannot rely on thing X being thing X, no matter what "feels" right for the moment, then they cannot make decisions about X.

A decision to say, attack a Dragon, should be based on things like how powerful the party is, what weaknesses the dragon has, whether the characters have found out those weaknesses, the terrain, the situation (Blefargon is weakest during a full moon...)
Stuff like that can be tossed out the window if the DM changes the encounter mid-game. Just charge the dragon, and the GM will fudge it out allright for you.

Having said that...

Running the world as simulation is a lot of stuff to keep track of for one person. Sometimes fudging is warranted. But a DM should know full well what they're doing, and why it's not a great idea to fudge too often.

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4. "If the players are talking too much, throw an encounter at them".

I am fond of tossing an encounter out during a dull moment though... :D
« Last Edit: January 11, 2022, 08:40:26 PM by Ratman_tf »
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Eric Diaz

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2022, 08:43:10 PM »
I'm trying hard to find a term for this, and illusionism is better than railroad (i.e., you give your players the illusion that you already know who is the culprit, but you making things up on the spot).

However, the definitions I find of illusionism are things like "A term for styles where the GM has tight control over the storyline, by a variety of means, and the players do not recognize this control." Well, "tight control" does not quite describe improv, maybe the opposite. However, the GM has CONTROL of the outcome (who is the culprit?)  and the players do not recognize this control.

Now, fudging die and HP is flat-out railroading IMO: "Railroads happen when the GM negates a player’s choice in order to enforce a preconceived outcome". The GM negates the player choice (let's face this risk!) and enforces a preconceived outcome (the PCs win this fight regardless of HP and bad dice rolls).

Finding Schrodinger stuff? Well, paradoxically I think it does negate the choice of the PC to search in a place that has nothing hidden. The player chose to search the kitchen instead of the library, the book he is looking for should NOY be there, period.

EDIT: but the earliest definitions of illusionism I can find confuse that with railroading, e.g.:

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I [was] wondering, however, about narrativism in general, refereeing a great story, and I've sort of come to the conclusion that a great referee is a great illusionist.

I prepare the bare bones of a dramatic plot and we start gaming. If the players start screwing around and avoiding my plot I don't often indulge them and create an entire new plot on the fly. I twist, I deceive, I back-track and lie - I create the illusion that what they're doing is all part of the plot, and *wrap the plot around them*. All referees do it. They have to.

So what I try to do in advance is to create this illusion of total free choice in advance of the campaign. In a scenario, I work hard to pull, push and cajole the players into reaching the goal of the plot, but this is often an easy task.

Harder, is to give the players the feeling that they are forging ahead through their character's lives in any direction they choose. Most referees (myself included) present and play one scenario after another in a linear fashion. The players go along with the scenario and play to its conclusion.
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« Last Edit: January 11, 2022, 08:49:57 PM by Eric Diaz »
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Omega

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Re: Improv is railroading
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2022, 09:08:29 PM »
The answer is... no.
Railroading has quite clear definition. It's something you do against players. Limiting their agency, their rights - whatever rights given game gives them.


Actually Railroading can and is performed by players as well on the DM. This came up a year or two ago along the lines of a player declaring they find a shotgun behind a bar. Not roll for to see if anythings there, or the DM saying anything. The player just poofed it into existence. That is a player railroading the DM.

And I've seen far far far far too much of where one player forces an action on another players character.

What I've seen all too often is that its the IC fanatics and storygamers that cause the most trouble with these stunts.