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Author Topic: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes  (Read 307457 times)

Cthulhu

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7290 on: October 15, 2019, 09:49:01 pm »

There are a lot of different definitions of railroading, but I think there's only one correct one:  Railroading is denying meaningful choice to enforce a predetermined outcome.

Operating word being meaningful.  The choice to sell conjured frying pans is pushing the limits of the social contract, in my eyes.  Either there's a big disconnect in what we think D&D is about, in which case we need to discuss OOC, or you're deliberately fucking with me.  Either way, I'm not gonna just gonna play along.  That's the choice between playing D&D and not playing D&D.  As a more realistic example, the classic tavern scene is a trap.  If you're playing Lost Mines of Phandelver (i don't recommend you do), start at the goblin ambush.  If you're playing a dungeon crawl, start at the dungeon.  Everything before that is a waste of time.  There's only one outcome, assuming everybody wants to play D&D.   Pretending they have freedom when they don't is a good way to get your campaign all fucked up when they try to exercise freedom they don't actually have. 

It's a balancing act, since it's not always clear what's a meaningful choice and what isn't.  But basically the gameplay loop is "Players are in a situation where they have options that matter > They choose a course of action > You tell them what happens up to the point they have meaningful choices again."  In a combat that's obviously every turn, but if they're travelling overland and their choice is "take the north road" you may skip ahead a day or longer before something that matters happens. 

This doesn't preclude a story, but a story is something you create in-game with the players.  DM prep is about creating a situation, sketching out all the moving parts of what's going on, the NPCs and their relationships, their goals, the locations they pursue those goals and the resources they use to accomplish them, and then move those pieces in response to what the players do.  You don't write the story, the players write the story by interacting with the situation you've created.

Quote
A campaign is one as well, in my mind. If you, the GM, are pushing a pulling threads the whole time to make sure the party sees the final scene you have in your head, isn't that a railroad? Even if the players don't see it?

That is a railroad, but I don't do that.  I do envision possible ways a situation could go, but I never force them to happen, and often the the actual path the players take through my scenario is something I never even considered.
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Rolan7

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7291 on: October 15, 2019, 10:28:27 pm »

That seems like a time-effective way to play (if I understand correctly - I skimmed your post to save time) but my friends and I enjoy making meaningless choices as well.  Our relatively-recent adventures in Watersdeep have even encouraged that, as the city has a lot of fluffy lore that initially seemed pointless.

Like when our DM offered us a sidequest to acquire a certain tavern-manor, pausing the Dragon Heist.  We barely considered selling it after, ahem, fixing it up.  Instead we started beginning campaign segments by waking up at this home base, describing the drinks and songs we served to patrons.  Expressing meaningless creativity, fleshing out our characters.

Interacting with the neighbors, who the module creators gave a lot of details for.  One character started a romance with the NB elf druid, my bard preferred to dote over the noble we'd rescued earlier, and now enjoyed breakfast with his anthropologist friend.

Of course sometimes we decide to timeskip a trivial journey (aside from rolling exactly 1 random encounter (which turned out to be "a single non-aggressive owl" three times, almost in a row)).  And we teleport around the city without worrying about the specific roads we take...  Though other times we would remark on aspects of the city and ask about them.  Theorize even, sharing our own mental images of how it was all working.

We take a lot of RL time to get through modules, but of course things speed up within dungeons themselves.  We all coincidentally played NWoD instead for quite a while  :P  Where the powers either have room for creative license, or are uselessly incomplete, depending on perspective.  Imbalanced either way.

Jeez, I was going to describe how mechanically bad my upcoming vampire's bloodline (prestige class) is, but it's pretty offensively edgy too.  It's the one that needs to feed on drug-abusers, and the powers they unlock in return are... well, mostly meaningless but that's okay  ;)
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delphonso

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7292 on: October 15, 2019, 10:48:04 pm »

Interesting. I agree that false choices can be skipped. Like in Horde of the Dragon Queen - why do you walk up to the raided city when the scenario could easily be that you had stayed there for a night at the inn. Now you're in the middle of it instead of actively joining it.

I personally DM by having a starting point (an adventure hook, a mission request, an attack) and an end point (a reward, a face-off, a dramatic scene) in mind. I get some ideas for the middle but improv most of the meat and potatoes. My players sculpt the NPCs as much as I do, so their motivations might slightly change from session to session. It happens that my players go far enough off the rails that I have to cut the ending I had planned, but it's rare. I think the games I play are free enough that players can solve problems however they like (one party got to level 6 without killing a single monster or enemy), but not without direction. I might be too hands on, but the truly sandbox games I've played have been miserable.
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Jimmy

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7293 on: October 16, 2019, 05:01:21 am »

I often do NPCs on the fly too. As an example, my last city guard game had the players tracking down some criminals that had escaped prison. One was a half-elf local to the city, so one of my players decided they'd track down the criminal's family and see whether they knew where he was hiding.

Cue me being caught without any prepared material. So, time to improvise!

First step in any improvisation is to delay so you have time to plan. I do this by playing up the local geography. I've already researched a bit of the background of the city, and I know a few facts from the setting. So I describe the layout of this residential district by framing it with the local tax law that states that residents must pay road access taxes for any building that exits onto a street. Thus, the building they're seeking is buried in a maze of impromptu back alleys and pathways that the locals have created to avoid this paying this tax.

Since their mission is on a time limit, they don't want to spend hours searching for this address. I've already decided the weather is pouring rain this particular day, so when one of the players says they want to find a local child to lead them to the address, I immediately grab the opportunity for a pop culture reference. Cue a small boy running down the flooded street, yellow raincoat flapping behind him, as he follows his paper boat along the gutter, racing towards a drain that empties into the city sewers. Great way to pad a few more minutes of planning time while my players start referencing balloons, clowns, and various other movie quotes.

Eventually they get back on track, and by now I have a game plan. The child happily leads them to the address they seek, and the door is answered by an elven man. He leads them inside his tiny flat, a single common room with a bedroom screened by a hanging cloth. They chat with him, he warily answers their questions, and cue coughing coming from the adjacent bedroom. Their suspicions are aroused, thinking this might be their escaped convict. Instead, I have the man say his wife is sick with illness. He claims it's some form of curse that the local healers cannot cure, so he spends most of his day caring for his sick wife. He says he hasn't seen his son in many years, and my players confirm his words seem genuine with some decent Sense Motive checks.

At this point, they leave and go on with their investigation. I'm actually rather upset by this too, since I had a great story hook I'd developed. See, in my few minutes planning, I'd decided that the wife of this man, should the players insist on speaking with her, turn out to be his second wife after the mother of the escaped prisoner died. If they'd searched her room, they'd have had a chance to find a secret shrine to a god of assassins and poisoners, and potentially discovered this elven man was a serial killer that had married and poisoned numerous wives over his many hundreds of years of life.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
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Iduno

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7294 on: October 16, 2019, 08:43:05 am »

Quote
A campaign is one as well, in my mind. If you, the GM, are pushing a pulling threads the whole time to make sure the party sees the final scene you have in your head, isn't that a railroad? Even if the players don't see it?

That is a railroad, but I don't do that.  I do envision possible ways a situation could go, but I never force them to happen, and often the the actual path the players take through my scenario is something I never even considered.

I also don't pre-plan how the players will get through the adventure, or how it will end. I make sure I have some ideas of how they might, but I'm there for the story they tell me of how they solved the adventure. I love it when they come up with solutions I would never have considered. The story is a lot better if I don't see the twists coming.

As a GM, my job is to create a world (including some characters) that has a potential adventure in it to challenge them. It's their job to find a way through it. The ending is when they did what they came to do (grab a McGuffin, kidnap a princess from a dragon, or get rid of a bad guy), and get paid.


This doesn't preclude a story, but a story is something you create in-game with the players.  DM prep is about creating a situation, sketching out all the moving parts of what's going on, the NPCs and their relationships, their goals, the locations they pursue those goals and the resources they use to accomplish them, and then move those pieces in response to what the players do.  You don't write the story, the players write the story by interacting with the situation you've created.

This is the stuff.


First step in any improvisation is to delay so you have time to plan. I do this by playing up the local geography. I've already researched a bit of the background of the city, and I know a few facts from the setting.

I remember the time my players were trying to find some portion of the story I hadn't planned for (as you do sometimes), and started asking about the surrounding buildings. I surprised them by turnin on the TV/second monitor to show the map of the area they were in, so I could show them what all of the surrounding buildings were. So they didn't cause a distraction by bailing out of a helicopter before it crashed into just any building, it was the local Department of Transportation.

They did avoid going through the entryway I had spent time writing up to get the characterization of the company they were attacking correctly by hijacking a garbage truck, but that was more entertaining anyway.
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Mephisto

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7295 on: October 16, 2019, 09:07:15 am »

Railroads aren't bad if they're done well and everyone is on board and having fun.
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scriver

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7296 on: October 16, 2019, 09:27:12 am »

I think it's important to have the ability to wander the fuck off and enjoy a game about selling conjured fryingpans or something, but obviously people play games for different reasons! :P

My GM seems to have a plot in mind but has also told us that we're free to do whatever we want within the world. And that's fine by me.

If I were a GM and had spent X amount of hours to come up with an adventure for my fellow players I would feel disrespected if my players just ignored my plot hooks and decided to go do random stuff. I would feel as if I had spent the whole afternoon cooking up a dinner for them and then when they came over they'd just go "I feel like pizza. Let's go order pizza!"

Of course longer campaigns could (or should) have more downtime where you could just faff about so the pacing isn't just "the GM ropes you from scene to scene to scene to scene". So it's not like you can't combine the two. For example if you take the scenario in Cthulhu's response:
but if they're travelling overland and their choice is "take the north road" you may skip ahead a day or longer before something that matters happens.

If then a player pipes up with a "I want to hawk conjured frying pans to farmers along the way", then you could do that. It could make for a fun diversion along the way and add characterisation and roleplay.

So in conclusion, if I were to expand on the "railroad" metaphor I would say that railroading is when you're going on a trip from Kalmar to Gothenburg and the GM-train just takes you from station to station to station and then you're there. The more fun option to that would then be a road-tripping GM -- all in all you're still making the same journey, but you have input on where it travels. You can take the scenic route, stop by a flea market or tourist trap, bring a picnic, eat at a road dive, visit a friend who lives along the way for coffee, drive out on the byways for a bit "because the highway is so boring" and get lost and waste two hours trying to get back to where you were, and so on. But RPG-wise, unless you you determine you're doing an outright sandbox/open world game, there's the tacit social agreement to go along in the direction of what the GM throws at you.
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Telgin

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7297 on: October 16, 2019, 10:33:44 am »

Agreed.  I think railroading, really, is when the GM makes player choices and actions irrelevant.  In most games players need to accept that the GM will be providing some framing and direction, and that if they try to venture too far off of that they're wasting the GM's time and are likely to end up in the land of improvisation.

On the other hand, GMs have to accept that if they make player choice irrelevant, such as by forcing an encounter despite the players convincingly doing something to prevent it, then there isn't much point in having players and they should probably instead be writing a story.

As usual, there's give and take.
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Iduno

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7298 on: October 16, 2019, 11:44:05 am »

If I were a GM and had spent X amount of hours to come up with an adventure for my fellow players I would feel disrespected if my players just ignored my plot hooks and decided to go do random stuff. I would feel as if I had spent the whole afternoon cooking up a dinner for them and then when they came over they'd just go "I feel like pizza. Let's go order pizza!"

To take a metaphor too far, it can also be like spending all afternoon making a delicious chicken Parmesan for the players, even through they're various combinations of vegetarian and dairy allergic (lactose intolerant people would probably eat it anyway).

I've learned to avoid writing in any information I'm unlikely to use, and be willing to re-use set pieces that weren't encountered. Or at least put them on the internet for someone else to use. I mean, if you're going to force the players to interact with things for your entertainment, do it the easy way and just name your NPCs with puns that are stupid and also too specific.
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If you know who the people they're going to interact with are, and what their motivations are, you can pretty quickly come up with how they would react. Much easier than writing up a bunch of potential scenarios ahead of time.
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Put in a few set pieces that they're most likely to see, and do the rest in broad strokes.

I'm not sure how to measure how long my prep times were, because half of it was researching dumb stuff from the 80's, watching action/heist movies, and making up bad jokes. And I stopped researching when it stopped being entertaining to me. Except the one time where they were trying to get some information from an upper management type visiting from another city. Who had a body double. They got the real schedule of places she would visit with the times and the similar schedule for the body double, but I also created an altered schedule for when she went off the rails. That took like an hour of messing around in google maps figuring out travel times and interesting locations to visit. That was the second best run I came up with. After the one made from the idiot weaboo fighter's POV (I made one run based on each of the characters, to make sure they all got the spotlight to themselves). I had to set a maximum amount of time I researched any one topic as well as requiring half of my sources to be anime, to make sure I didn't understand things too well, which is a weird goal. It turned out great.


Edit: Now I'm getting ideas of a weekly community adventure-writing thing. Like, someone picks a system/setting and a news story, then a few people decide on how to run an adventure based on that story, and someone (or several people) run them as one-shots for their group(s). It's a bad idea, obviously, but that's never stopped anyone.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2019, 01:07:14 pm by Iduno »
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pikachu17

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7299 on: October 16, 2019, 02:58:59 pm »

Is there some fantasy proud warrior race/civilization that was started with a dragon attack? After all, all the strongest things are forged of dragonfire.
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Imic

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Re: Dungeons & Dragons / PNP games thread: The Barren Snowflake Wastes
« Reply #7300 on: October 16, 2019, 03:00:10 pm »

Is there some fantasy proud warrior race/civilization that was started with a dragon attack? After all, all the strongest things are forged of dragonfire.
Half-dragons.  ::)
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