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Railroading – It Encourages Nothing
Posted By Patrick Benson On September 8, 2009 @ 12:14 am In GMing Advice | 14 Comments
In a recent game that a friend ran we were railroaded as players. The game was a science fiction setting using Savage Worlds, and I and the one other player were both playing PCs who had arranged passage on a small starship. While the ship was docked at a space station the PCs were in private living quarters minding their own business. Panicked pounding on the door to the quarters followed by the captain of the starship entering and bleeding from a gunshot wound started the adventure. The captain handed the PCs a data crystal and said “Don’t let them get it!” then passed out.
What did our PCs do? Well being veteran gamers we knew how to handle such a situation. The PCs stuffed the captain in the shower stall and closed the bathroom door, after a quick first aid check to stabilize her of course. The PCs then hid the data crystal on the PC who is the party’s tank (if an NPC wants it they are going to have to fight for it!). Then the PCs start cleaning the blood up as best they can with whatever is available.
About five minutes of game time into this scene there is a knock on the door. Drat! What to do? My PC took a knife out and sliced the palm of his hand giving himself a nice fresh wound. With the captain hidden, and the data crystal buried in the pocket of a two-fisted ambidextrous combat machine, the PCs open the door to some lowly NPC thugs.
“I need medical attention!” screamed my PC. “Look at all of this blood! I’m feeling faint!”
The other PC started hamming it up as well, and we began to make our way to the door. Does the GM ask for a roll? Does the GM explain what the PCs will need to do to pull off this trick? No.
“We know he came in here. Give us the data crystal.” is all that an NPC says.
That was it. Straight to initiative. You could feel the energy leave the game.
Now I do not want to pick on my buddy who was GMing the game. He was probably trying to start the game with some action to get things going. He was just off of his game that day, and to his credit he warned that there would be railroading because he was not feeling his best about this game. He is a good GM, and I know that I have made these kinds of mistakes when I have run games for him. This is a really easy thing for any GM to do without noticing it.
But players notice everything it seems, and I noticed this.
The problem was not that the NPCs knew where the captain was. They obviously followed the blood trail to the door. The verisimilitude of the game world justified this explanation.
No. The problem was that the GM gave the players time to attempt something, and then did not give that attempt a chance to fail. Even if the GM had said “These guys are not idiots. You are going to have to roll very well to trick them.” that would be more acceptable. Even if the PCs had made it out of the door only to have the NPCs immediately find the captain and start a chase, or if the PCs had failed miserably with their plan and suffered a penalty in combat because of it, anything would have been better than to just ignore what the PCs had done in the game.
That tells the players one thing on how to play their PCs: Don’t bother. Don’t bother with spur of the moment crazy ideas. Don’t bother with one-in-a-million long shot attempts. Don’t bother going to extremes and to risk it all in an attempt to have an impact upon the game world.
Instead sit in your seat and wait for the train to arrive at the next station. The train is on the tracks. Try to enjoy the ride.
Keep this in mind when your players have their PCs attempt something in a game. It is not about whether or not those attempts are successful, but any attempt by the PCs to do something is telling you that the players want a chance at success no matter how slim it might be.
That’s my opinion on the matter. What is yours? Leave your comment below to share with others, and remember that the GM is a player too! Have fun with it!
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