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'I thought planning inspectors were impartial,' I said.
Bernard chuckled. 'Oh really Minister! So they are! Railway trains are impartial too. But if you lay down the lines for them, that's the way they go.

Yes, Minister

Basic Information

Railroading happens with the best of intentions. The GM has devised a plot; it's a beautiful plot, exquisite in it's complexity. And then the players have to go and do something stupid that wrecks it; they go into the forest instead of to the castle, they stab the old hermit instead of talking to him; they roll a critical failure right when they really needed a success.

So, the GM arbitirarily forces the group back onto his plot. "You can't enter the forest, it's impenetrable." "The hermit's a ninja, he jumps out of the way." "I didn't see that roll".

This sort of thing should be avoided. If the players feel that they are just puppets acting out the GM's story; or worse yet, simply observers watching the GMPC's getting the real action; they're not going to enjoy the game. If the players have no more choice as to what they do than a train on a railway does, then they're being Railroaded.

Extensive use of Schrodinger's gun can help to suppress this problem - if the PCs kill a plot critical NPC, someone else takes over that role; whichever direction they go in just happens to lead them to the planned encounter (much like the old story "The Appointment in Samarra").


Game and Story Use

  • Role-playing games are participatory storytelling; that means the players need to be able to shape the plot as well as the GM.
  • This is a significant problem with "plot" and "story arc" ideas when applied to roleplaying: player characters are not the same thing as characters in a novel, play or whatever and cannot be expected to follow a script in the same way. The tighter and better written the plot, the less likely they will conform to it and attempts to make them do so are likely to show up as railroading.
  • A better method would be for the GM to try anticipating different ways the players might react to a situation and craft contingency plans for each one.
    • He won't be able to anticipate everything.
      • No plan can be made fool-proof, because fools are so ingenious. Also, nothing is so stupid that some players won't try it.
      • Therefore, a good GM has to be able to think on his feet and improvise as the situation demands.
      • Also not to be overly invested in their "plot".
  • For fans of "that RPG" some of the "classics" contain some shocking railroading (A1-4: Scourge of the Slavelords depends on several infamous examples)
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