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Offline FenrisulfrTopic starter

Roleplaying Theory
« on: March 08, 2012, 04:59:36 AM »
I don't know how many of you that are interested in roleplaying theory. I find it useful, but it usually just focusing on a small part. But one of the problems is that there are a lot of different tastes in roleplaying style. Being forum based changes the problem a bit. The idea of open and closed settings was something I had not considered before, as it generally don't apply to a face to face game.

Exploratism is a phrase I have not seen elsewhere, so I made that one up in a discussion I had offline, and then used once before in an online discussion. So there might be a word for it, that is commonly used, but I am not aware of it. Escapism is a commonly used word for using games, books, movies or other media to forget the real world for a while. That is not while I roleplay, read, write, watch movies, etc; but usually to explore thoughts, ideas or a setting.

All the other concepts are from this or other discussions.

Open or closed setting? (from this thread very thread :-) )

Character, plot, or action (i.e. sex) driven?

Gamist, narrativist, or simulationist?

Escapism or exploratism?

Active or reactive players?

Avataring or puppetering?

GM-ruled, players have story power, or GM-less?

First, second, or third point of view?

One player, one character; or allowing multiple characters?

How to handle time... (been somewhat discussed on in this thread :-) )

Etc.

I find theory a good tool to understand why something work or not. It can also give me new ideas, or just make something clearer. I have always been a character driven sandboxy type of GM when running pen-and-paper games. But it is not until very recently I came in contact with the words "flag" and "bomb" to describe a process that I already somewhat used. Had I known them earlier, I had been able to better handle a reactive player in my game, by giving a "bomb" to react to.

Is there an interest to dive deeper into these concepts here?

There is another question that I have. Unless I'm also a player of the game, and want to offload the GM to increase the odds the game wills survive/take off from the ground, I wouldn't be interested in being a Co-GM. So I'm curious of what drives other to be a Co-GM; what is the motivations. :-)
« Last Edit: March 08, 2012, 03:00:48 PM by alxnjsh »

Online Thufir Hawat

Re: Re: GM Lounge - Bartenders Answer All Your Questions
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2012, 12:36:15 PM »
I don't know how many of you that are interested in roleplaying theory. I find it useful, but it usually just focusing on a small part. But one of the problems is that there are a lot of different tastes in roleplaying style. Being forum based changes the problem a bit. The idea of open and closed settings was something I had not considered before, as it generally don't apply to a face to face game.
Open and closed setting was kinda new to me as well, but generally, I'm interested in RP theory, as long as it feed back into the practice ;).

Quote
Exploratism is a phrase I have not seen elsewhere, so I made that one up in a discussion I had offline, and then used once before in an online discussion. So there might be a word for it, that is commonly used, but I am not aware of it. Escapism is a commonly used word for using games, books, movies or other media to forget the real world for a while. That is not while I roleplay, read, write, watch movies, etc; but usually to explore thoughts, ideas or a setting.
Exploratism is a fun word, but it seems too story-oriented. Guess we'll have to add "learnism" to the list ;D!

Quote
All the other concepts are from this or other discussions.

Open or closed setting? (from this thread very thread :-) )
Still ruminating on it.

Quote
Character, plot, or action (i.e. sex) driven?
Character-driven gets me enough plot and action without striving for them.

Quote
Gamist, narrativist, or simulationist?
You forgot "dramatist", which is a different approach, from the older RPGA Three-fold Model. So it's actually a Four-Fold Model.
Either way, I'm mostly simulationist with some narrativist and gamist leanings. Dramatism is pretty much antithetical to what I'm striving for.

Quote
Escapism or exploratism?
Learnism, but exploratism will do in a pinch >:)!

Quote
Active or reactive players?
Active, both as a player and a GM.

Quote
Avataring or puppetering?
Changes between games.

Quote
GM-ruled, players have story power, or GM-less?
I can play any of them. Good GM-ruled is awesome, bad GM-ruled motivates me to take over the game.

Quote
First, second, or third point of view?
Changes between games.

Quote
One player, one character; or allowing multiple characters?
One player, one character, although troupe-style is acceptable.

Quote
How to handle time... (been somewhat discussed on in this thread :-) )
Think I gave my opinion on it ;D.
Quote
Etc.
Etc.

Quote
I find theory a good tool to understand why something work or not. It can also give me new ideas, or just make something clearer. I have always been a character driven sandboxy type of GM when running pen-and-paper games. But it is not until very recently I came in contact with the words "flag" and "bomb" to describe a process that I already somewhat used. Had I known them earlier, I had been able to better handle a reactive player in my game, by giving a "bomb" to react to.

Quote
Is there an interest to dive deeper into these concepts here?
Don't know, I suspect you should provide more links to the terms you're using.

Quote
There is another question that I have. Unless I'm also a player of the game, and want to offload the GM to increase the odds the game wills survive/take off from the ground, I wouldn't be interested in being a Co-GM. So I'm curious of what drives other to be a Co-GM; what is the motivations. :-)
I've only done that twice. First was to off-load some work from the GM, the second we started with the idea to switch playing and GMing with another player. We simply both wanted to play in this setting we found cool ;D!
Other people might have different reasons, of course.

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Re: Re: GM Lounge - Bartenders Answer All Your Questions
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2012, 12:47:51 PM »
In my particular case, being  Co-GM (and this only ever applied to Online) is something that I find that helps in large group games. One GM typically handles half of hte work load, ie keeping up a wiki, or keeping up with who is active or inactive. Having two GMs in a game also helps even the odds on character acceptance in to a game. It gives players two people to go to or to choose from if they have an issue or question. In some cases the two GMs are in different time zones which can help in a forum like E where the players are also in different time zones, giving them easier and quicker access to answers that may need answered. I like having/being a Co-GM because unlike some, I don't write out combat very well. I don't prefer it. I love sandbox-romance-drama styled games that I don't need to toss bad guys at you and write out a long scene about how you slash at each other. I'm okay with small bits of it in one on ones but in groups I'd start to feel burdened by it. Long story short, my typical co-gm handles the combat. Like in the Classic X-Men game Lunar and I run.. he does all the combat writing. We plot together off the forum, I handle all the codings and keeping up with character sheets and activity levels. I'm more of a morale booster and I typically handle confrontations with other players, where as he doesn't. He doesn't prefer to be placed in that sort of situation unless he has to. So that's where I come in. While in nearly all of my games I also play a PC character or two, we both divide the number of NPCs we need to run. It helps so that one person isnt' handling it all. And in a game like Classic X-Men where you have upwards of 15-20 players to start, and anywhere from 3-5 NPCs to run at any given time, it helps to have someone to help pick up the slack.

That's just my experience, take it as you will. ;)

Offline FenrisulfrTopic starter

Re: Re: GM Lounge - Bartenders Answer All Your Questions
« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2012, 02:57:33 PM »
Open and closed setting was kinda new to me as well, but generally, I'm interested in RP theory, as long as it feed back into the practice ;).
Theory that can't be applied into practice is mental masturbation, and while this is a site for erotic writing, I think that kind is a bit to small of a niche ;D
Quote
Exploratism is a fun word, but it seems too story-oriented. Guess we'll have to add "learnism" to the list ;D!
Nah, "Exploratism" works for exploring concepts and simulationistic "What ifs" as well; which go well beyond story-oriented :-)

Quote
You forgot "dramatist", which is a different approach, from the older RPGA Three-fold Model. So it's actually a Four-Fold Model.
I have not heard of "dramatist" in this regard. How does dramatist differ from narrativist?

The list of questions do I find to be for each game and player style. I think everyone likes more than one way to play, but there are to many variations so there will be mismatch quite often. A war scenario can after all both be an action adventure, or the angst and terror of a soldier in the field. Expecting one and getting the other will mean disappointment. Both a simulationist and a gamist game can be rule heavy, but in two completely different ways.

But perhaps we should ask the bartender for a separate table thread for discussing theory :-)

Offline alxnjsh

Re: Re: GM Lounge - Bartenders Answer All Your Questions
« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2012, 03:01:21 PM »
But perhaps we should ask the bartender for a separate table thread for discussing theory :-)

Marvelous idea!

Online Thufir Hawat

Re: Re: GM Lounge - Bartenders Answer All Your Questions
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2012, 03:46:46 AM »
Theory that can't be applied into practice is mental masturbation, and while this is a site for erotic writing, I think that kind is a bit to small of a niche ;D
Yeah, that's why I only deal with theory that gives me useful feedback.

Quote
Nah, "Exploratism" works for exploring concepts and simulationistic "What ifs" as well; which go well beyond story-oriented :-)
Good, one less jargon term is always good news :P!

Quote
I have not heard of "dramatist" in this regard. How does dramatist differ from narrativist?
Oh man, take a cup of coffee, will ya? You're in for a lot of reading >:)!

So, before the Forge, there was the RGFA Three-fold model. It differed quite a bit obviously, in some rather important parts. (Obviously, because I wasn't there for the discussions that spawned it).
I'll try to explain, but I'm hiding the full explanation in a spoilerblock.

DSG vs. GSN models
The RGFA model is more of a "approach to play". It's how you decide "what happens" when you have to make a decision.
If you think "what would make for the best story", dramatist. Note, dramatist GMs often have a particular story they want to tell already in their mind, while narrativist GMs are supposed to let the story emerge naturally and only facilitate it. Hence the different approach to techniques like fudging and illusionism, which narrativists often consider "robbing players of real contribution to the story". And so do I >:).
If you think "what would really happen in this game world, given these circumstances (and what edge cases are possible given extremely unlikely results of the dice)", you're a simualtionist. Welcome to the club ;D!
If you think "what would make for a fair challenge", it's the gamist logic. Mind you, a "fair challenge" isn't always one that you can fight directly!
But we get into "combat as sport" and "combat as war" here, and this is completely unrelated to playstyles.

"dramatist": is the style which values how well the in-game action creates a satisfying storyline. Different kinds of stories may be viewed as satisfying, depending on individual tastes, varying from fanciful pulp action to believable character drama. It is the end result of the story which is important.
"gamist": is the style which values setting up a fair challenge for the players (as opposed to the PCs). The challenges may be tactical combat, intellectual mysteries, politics, or anything else. The players will try to solve the problems they are presented with, and in turn the GM will make these challenges solvable if they act intelligently within the contract.
"simulationist": is the style which values resolving in-game events based solely on game-world considerations, without allowing any meta-game concerns to affect the decision. Thus, a fully simulationist GM will not fudge results to save PCs or to save her plot, or even change facts unknown to the players. Such a GM may use meta-game considerations to decide meta-game issues like who is playing which character, whether to play out a conversation word for word, and so forth, but she will resolve actual in-game events based on what would "really" happen.

Clarifications:
A pure dramatist might run a gritty, low-key drama where the PCs are true-to-life characters who perhaps concentrate on their work. In this case, the dramatic story might be framed around how they relate to each other and the tension produced. Dramatist campaigns also include comedic campaigns, where the in-game action is tailored for humorous effect rather than classical "drama". The key is that in-game events are tailored based on how satisfying the storyline of the campaign is.

A gamist could run a mystery game where the PCs are challenged to find the killer based not just on physical clues, but also on the personalities and motivations of the suspects. Note that this is similar on the surface to a dramatic story, but the emphasis is on making it solvable yet challenging to the players. A purely dramatist mystery might make a better story, but a purely gamist mystery will be a fairer test of the player's wits.

Simulationism by definition is going to try to be "realistic" within the game-world, although it may have natural laws different than the real world. However, the players are not neccessarily obsessed with rules or physics. A simulationist game could just as well focus on political discussion between important figures, or rebels fighting a propaganda war to win over the masses.
A purely simulationist mystery would start with determining how the crime was carried out based only on in-game factors. The logical consequences of this might mean that the players can solve it easily, or that they can't solve it at all, or that they can only solve it by turning it over other authorities. An absolutely pure simulationist GM won't go back and change things to make the mystery work better for the PCs.


OTOH, the GSN has a bit different ideas. Most of all, it's defined as a "goal of play", what you want the game to produce.
Here's a working definition for comparison.

Gamism is expressed by competition among participants (the real people); it includes victory and loss conditions for characters, both short-term and long-term, that reflect on the people's actual play strategies. The listed elements provide an arena for the competition.

Simulationism is expressed by enhancing one or more of the listed elements in Set 1 above; in other words, Simulationism heightens and focuses Exploration as the priority of play. The players may be greatly concerned with the internal logic and experiential consistency of that Exploration.

Narrativism is expressed by the creation, via role-playing, of a story with a recognizable theme. The characters are formal protagonists in the classic Lit 101 sense, and the players are often considered co-authors. The listed elements provide the material for narrative conflict (again, in the specialized sense of literary analysis).

Link for both definitions I used.

The list of questions do I find to be for each game and player style. I think everyone likes more than one way to play, but there are to many variations so there will be mismatch quite often. A war scenario can after all both be an action adventure, or the angst and terror of a soldier in the field. Expecting one and getting the other will mean disappointment. Both a simulationist and a gamist game can be rule heavy, but in two completely different ways.

But perhaps we should ask the bartender for a separate table thread for discussing theory :-)

Offline FenrisulfrTopic starter

Re: Re: GM Lounge - Bartenders Answer All Your Questions
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2012, 07:41:38 AM »
If you think "what would make for the best story", dramatist. Note, dramatist GMs often have a particular story they want to tell already in their mind, while narrativist GMs are supposed to let the story emerge naturally and only facilitate it. Hence the different approach to techniques like fudging and illusionism, which narrativists often consider "robbing players of real contribution to the story". And so do I >:).
Just a short reply. I see that more of a railroading vs sandbox approach, and possible the level of player vs GM power, within the narrativist area. :-)

To what I can see, I find both to be pretty much the same theory and revolving if the story, the fair challenge, or being true to the possibilities of the setting, is the most important part.

But then I prefer to have separate smaller theories to explain different aspects than one big theory to try explain everything. :-)

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2012, 08:02:45 AM »
That brings up a mostly unrelated question to ponder - the nature of railroading. It's almost universally accepted as a bad thing, as the GM is removing player freedom and player agency from the world. Its natural polar opposite is sandbox, where there are only sideplots and subplots for the PCs to discover and explore at their leisure. But does the directed, linear plot have to be bad?

I think of one specific, personal example in a RL game I played just recently, based around the concept that the PCs would be prisoners in a city-sized extraplanar jail. Rather than start us off as prisoners, though, we played a 'prequel' session of sorts, a vignetta of our crimes that ended in a grand battle with infinite waves of soldiers coming out of portals to overpower and capture us. The outcome of the fight was a classic telegraphed railroad, but we knew and had agreed to it beforehand, and got our enjoyment out of seeing how much damage we could do before losing rather than having a hope of victory. So it is still railroading if the players purchased their train tickets and have comfy first-class seats right next to the dining car?

Offline FenrisulfrTopic starter

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2012, 09:51:12 AM »
But does the directed, linear plot have to be bad?
Not at all.

If the group of players (or single player) are reactive, a railroaded game might be the preferable way to play and a sandbox is option overload and paralyzing. However, a reactive player might thrive in a sandbox environment if they are together with a proactive player.

It is just different preferences and a question of compatibility. But then, there seems to always be twue wayists.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2012, 09:52:52 AM by Fenrisulfr »

Online Thufir Hawat

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2012, 05:21:43 PM »
That brings up a mostly unrelated question to ponder - the nature of railroading. It's almost universally accepted as a bad thing, as the GM is removing player freedom and player agency from the world. Its natural polar opposite is sandbox, where there are only sideplots and subplots for the PCs to discover and explore at their leisure. But does the directed, linear plot have to be bad?
Just wanted to note that a linear plot doesn't equal railroading ;)! You could have it and still have the players decide where the story goes at crucial moments of the plot. Then you create a linear sequence depending on their decision, and plan according to their actions.
Otherwise, as Fenrisulfr said, it might be preferable to some.


Just a short reply. I see that more of a railroading vs sandbox approach, and possible the level of player vs GM power, within the narrativist area. :-)

To what I can see, I find both to be pretty much the same theory and revolving if the story, the fair challenge, or being true to the possibilities of the setting, is the most important part.

But then I prefer to have separate smaller theories to explain different aspects than one big theory to try explain everything. :-)
I guess it's possible, but the narrativists I'm talking with on RPG.net are unanimous that there can be no railroading within the narrativist area ;D! As they had explained the Forge theory to me, narrativism is about the exploration of a theme, genre or mood, so I see how railroading would be highly counter-productive to that.

Offline FenrisulfrTopic starter

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2012, 08:43:23 AM »
Before diving back in, I will step back a bit and talk "theory about roleplay theory." :o

There are different reasons to participate in a thread about roleplaying theory. While I can thing of four, I'm sure there are more.

* A pure mental excercise, with often no other apparent use in mind. But the "use" can be to just widen once understanding and knowledge.

* To increase the understanding of different preferences and to understand how different tools and methods support those preferences. The goal is to increase the compatibility within the player group, and to know how to support the gameplay of said group.

* Self validation. Usually this will go together with painting ones own preference as good, and others as bad (twue wayism).

* The self validating reason generally leads to heated arguments, so they attract the trolls whom want to ignite or increase that heat.

I have personally a low tolerance for twue wayism; which in itself probably is an "I'm intolerant against intolerant people" statement.

I am personally from the second one. So if a discussion is to be useful to me, it need to support this:

* Identifying different preferences, without labeling any preference as good or bad.

* Categorizing those preferences in a way that support the ability to find compatible players/writing partners/whatyawannacallit, and to have something to use when discussing how well a particular tool support a preference.

* Identifying different tools.

* Finding what tools support a certain gameplay well, and what tools that doesn't.

So any discussion about what is good/bad,  right/wrong or any other binary pairing is not what I will bother participate in; however, how well something fits a particular preference, on a sliding scale, is something I find interesting.

Off course, roleplay theory of the kind I'm not interested in are welcome in this thread. I may have initiated this thread, but I don't own it. ;D

So where do I think that linear vs railroading fit into this?
Just wanted to note that a linear plot doesn't equal railroading ;)! You could have it and still have the players decide where the story goes at crucial moments of the plot. Then you create a linear sequence depending on their decision, and plan according to their actions.
Otherwise, as Fenrisulfr said, it might be preferable to some.

I guess it's possible, but the narrativists I'm talking with on RPG.net are unanimous that there can be no railroading within the narrativist area ;D! As they had explained the Forge theory to me, narrativism is about the exploration of a theme, genre or mood, so I see how railroading would be highly counter-productive to that.
I have seen some of those linear vs railroading discussions. In my not so humble opinion I find most of those discussions to be self validating arguments; "railroading is using bad methods and how others do it; linear is using good methods and how we do it." In the rest of the cases, it seems to be a "big theory model" where they try to name every possible combination. As I find neither useful, I have just ignored those and went on in other directions.

Quote
I guess it's possible, but the narrativists I'm talking with on RPG.net are unanimous that there can be no railroading within the narrativist area."
Now, either they refer to narrativism as "Story now" in this document in which linear gaming would clash. But if they are using the word narrativism to mean focusing on the story, then I can't do anything else but to disagree.

Now, there is also things in the middle. We have linear/railroad and sandbox/fishtank, but we can also have a lot of short linear stories that can be taken in any order. The name I have seen people use for this is theme park; you can go to any ride you want, but then you are on that ride until its completion.

Offline nonniemouse

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2012, 03:22:41 AM »
I'd highly recommend Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering for a quick read on some theory on roleplaying games.  I quite like their section on player types, which I think is a very important consideration when hosting a game.  It's also interesting to see what sort of player you are, even though you're in the GM's seat, since that may give you insight on how you natural adjudicate things, and whether there may a bias you need to be aware of.

Thufir Hawat mentioned linear plot and railroading being different, and I agree.  A plot can be linear in that the plot itself necessitates only one natural course of action from the party.  The players are driven from one scene to another by external forces.  A well thought out linear plot flows naturally and doesn't feel forced.  Railroading is when a GM pushes the players from an unexpected choice back toward the original plan.  Railroading is sort of like fudging the plot (rather than the dice) to make something happen.  If the players notice, you've lost a bit of the je ne sais quoi that makes roleplaying fun; done subtly, you can drive them toward more exciting and dramatic possibilities.

Offline FenrisulfrTopic starter

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2012, 03:48:12 AM »
I'd highly recommend Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering for a quick read on some theory on roleplaying games.  I quite like their section on player types, which I think is a very important consideration when hosting a game.  It's also interesting to see what sort of player you are, even though you're in the GM's seat, since that may give you insight on how you natural adjudicate things, and whether there may a bias you need to be aware of.
It was a while since I read that one. But to what I recall, it was quite okay. I guess I have to dig it out and reread it.

Quote
Thufir Hawat mentioned linear plot and railroading being different, and I agree.  A plot can be linear in that the plot itself necessitates only one natural course of action from the party.  The players are driven from one scene to another by external forces.  A well thought out linear plot flows naturally and doesn't feel forced.  Railroading is when a GM pushes the players from an unexpected choice back toward the original plan.  Railroading is sort of like fudging the plot (rather than the dice) to make something happen.  If the players notice, you've lost a bit of the je ne sais quoi that makes roleplaying fun; done subtly, you can drive them toward more exciting and dramatic possibilities.
I still can't see the need for a different name. To me it is the same thing, and as I said, then name "the good practice" once thing and "the bad things others do" something else. How is dividing between "linear plot" and "railroading" useful? How do you identify them and how do you apply it to improve your gaming?

For me, a more useful theory around "linear plots"/"Railroading" is to identify the mechanism, goals and tools, so you then can pick the right tool for the work. A dungeon tunnel with a cave-in behind them could otherwise be considered a "railroad"; the players can't go back or dig through the wall. But if it fit the plausibility of the setting, it isn't a poor technique. Having a red cabin in the forest, no matter which direction the players go in might be a bad GM technique; but not if it is combined with hints that there is something that is distorting their sense of direction or reality, so they are somehow tied to this location.

Quote
If the players notice, you've lost a bit of the je ne sais quoi that makes roleplaying fun; done subtly, you can drive them toward more exciting and dramatic possibilities.
This sums up all of the linear vs railroading I've seen. Skillful appliance -> "linear plot", poor appliance -> "railroading".

But I might be just thick headed. So a description of "linear plot" vs "railroading" that doesn't end up in GM skill or player taste (unless it is a "this is taste one and this is taste two, so both are equally good") would be appreciated. Otherwise, I guess we just have to agree to disagree.

Offline Deva

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2012, 08:11:40 AM »
Awww.. when I read roleplaying theory I expected something among the lines of

Roleplaying = Time x effort divided by GM factor X +innovation

Offline alxnjsh

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2012, 08:30:57 AM »
Awww.. when I read roleplaying theory I expected something among the lines of

Roleplaying = Time x effort divided by GM factor X +innovation

As a social scientist, the type of theory you are putting forth is linear and constrained. RP theory belongs in social science rather than chemical or physical science. Think of RP theory along the lines of the Theory of Evolution.  ::)

Offline FenrisulfrTopic starter

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #15 on: April 03, 2012, 08:43:17 AM »
Awww.. when I read roleplaying theory I expected something among the lines of

Roleplaying = Time x effort divided by GM factor X +innovation
My old notes from when I digged out the formulas behind the planetary system construction tables they had in Traveller 2300 would probably fit that type of roleplaying theory ;D

Offline Deva

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #16 on: April 03, 2012, 08:55:27 AM »
You should read old dragon magazines if you dig that stuff. in dragon 17 or so they had a tablet for X tons of metals a giant could throw X feet and other weeeeird stuff.

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Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #17 on: April 03, 2012, 10:58:27 AM »
I think a linear plot tends to encourage the players to move in one particular direction, because the story naturally leads that way, or it makes sense to go there.

With railroading, no matter what you say or do, no matter what you want to do, the plot moves in that direction (quite possibly against what your characters want to do).

Online Thufir Hawat

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #18 on: April 03, 2012, 01:16:43 PM »
I'd highly recommend Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering for a quick read on some theory on roleplaying games.  I quite like their section on player types, which I think is a very important consideration when hosting a game.  It's also interesting to see what sort of player you are, even though you're in the GM's seat, since that may give you insight on how you natural adjudicate things, and whether there may a bias you need to be aware of.
I quite like it as well.

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Thufir Hawat mentioned linear plot and railroading being different, and I agree.  A plot can be linear in that the plot itself necessitates only one natural course of action from the party.  The players are driven from one scene to another by external forces.
Basically, yes. Sometimes we get to be proactive; sometimes the NPCs react to our actions, no matter what we were planning for that day.

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A well thought out linear plot flows naturally and doesn't feel forced.
Let me re-state this.
A linear plot isn't forced. It's the result of random events and player choices.
Also, parts of your plots might be linear, while the critical junctures that connected them might still allow them to go different places. But after they make their choice of direction, they might have to move a certain distance linearly.
In a court-based RP, do you agree to betray a friend, or make an enemy out of a duke? That's the juncture. If you betray him, the guy will suffer for it, and you'd gain a favour from the Duke, go to next juncture.
If you refuse, trying to deal with what the duke has in store for people that anger him might well be linear. But it was your choice that lead to it.
Also, unlike railroading, you can break away from a linear plot. Just have the PC run away from court and go to the countryside for a couple years.

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Railroading is when a GM pushes the players from an unexpected choice back toward the original plan.
Exactly.

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Railroading is sort of like fudging the plot (rather than the dice) to make something happen.
Yeah, and I find them both about equally obnoxious ;).

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If the players notice, you've lost a bit of the je ne sais quoi that makes roleplaying fun;
Verismilitude and player involvement are the two notions you were looking for, I believe. If people realise their actions don't matter, they tend to stop caring. And forcing events no matter what generally means their actions only seemed to matter, especially if done all the time. And dont get me started at the attempts to do so hiddenly.

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done subtly, you can drive them toward more exciting and dramatic possibilities.
"Doing it subtly" is called illusionism, and no matter how subtle, this is the most obnoxious form of railroading I'm aware of.
Also, if your players are fine with being railroaded, you don't need to hide it. If they don't like it, trying to "be subtle", which to many people means hiding it, it can only drive the game towards an abrupt end at an almost random point down the line. See above why ;).
Hint, it can only work if you feel you can hide the truth from the other players/your co-authors, all the time. Sooner or later, someone is going to notice, purely by the law of statistics. Most experienced GMs I've discussed this stuff with seem to agree with this point.

I still can't see the need for a different name. To me it is the same thing, and as I said, then name "the good practice" once thing and "the bad things others do" something else. How is dividing between "linear plot" and "railroading" useful? How do you identify them and how do you apply it to improve your gaming?
See above. Linear plots aren't linear just because the GM decided so, it's because of external factors.
Actually, you just gave two rather good examples.
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A dungeon tunnel with a cave-in behind them could otherwise be considered a "railroad"; the players can't go back or dig through the wall. But if it fit the plausibility of the setting, it isn't a poor technique.
Having a red cabin in the forest, no matter which direction the players go in might be a bad GM technique; but not if it is combined with hints that there is something that is distorting their sense of direction or reality, so they are somehow tied to this location.
And now imagine the cave-in happened because of player actions, even if the result wasn't obvious beforehand. Or the malevolent force is acting because of your decisions.
Dealing with the dungeon doesn't become less linear. Dealing with the red cabin mistery is also linear. But you might have avoided them.
So, linear plot is like a labyrinth with more or less long corridors you need to walk. It's linear between junctures, unless you start bashing down walls.

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But I might be just thick headed. So a description of "linear plot" vs "railroading" that doesn't end up in GM skill or player taste (unless it is a "this is taste one and this is taste two, so both are equally good") would be appreciated. Otherwise, I guess we just have to agree to disagree.
Hope the above is good enough?
Personally, I must note, I'm not a fan of linear adventures, even. But I consider them a fully valid option for GMing, and one I might even enjoy.

Offline Cythieus

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2012, 07:44:17 PM »
Rail roading can aslo be when the GM ignores the players have done anything and acts as if it didn't happened to continue on plan. The thing is that I think sometimes you can have a need to push players, only in extreme circumstances where someone is being disruptive for the sake of it. This does happen some of the time.

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #20 on: April 04, 2012, 07:57:23 PM »

"Doing it subtly" is called illusionism, and no matter how subtle, this is the most obnoxious form of railroading I'm aware of.
Also, if your players are fine with being railroaded, you don't need to hide it. If they don't like it, trying to "be subtle", which to many people means hiding it, it can only drive the game towards an abrupt end at an almost random point down the line. See above why ;).
Hint, it can only work if you feel you can hide the truth from the other players/your co-authors, all the time. Sooner or later, someone is going to notice, purely by the law of statistics. Most experienced GMs I've discussed this stuff with seem to agree with this point.
See above. Linear plots aren't linear just because the GM decided so, it's because of external factors.
Actually, you just gave two rather good examples.And now imagine the cave-in happened because of player actions, even if the result wasn't obvious beforehand. Or the malevolent force is acting because of your decisions.
Dealing with the dungeon doesn't become less linear. Dealing with the red cabin mistery is also linear. But you might have avoided them.
So, linear plot is like a labyrinth with more or less long corridors you need to walk. It's linear between junctures, unless you start bashing down walls.
Hope the above is good enough?
Personally, I must note, I'm not a fan of linear adventures, even. But I consider them a fully valid option for GMing, and one I might even enjoy.

Why does shuffling plots around have to be bad GMing or railroading? If you prep a 'red cabin mystery', in your example for when the players go into the forest, is it railroading to have the players encounter the red cabin whether they go north, east, or south? Or does a 'good GM' have to prepare a Red Cabin in the north, a Blue Cabin in the east, and a Yellow Cabin in the south so that the players actually have an effect that it'd be impossible for them to be aware of without stealing the GM's notes?

Offline Cythieus

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #21 on: April 04, 2012, 08:28:44 PM »
I think that's my issue with the idea that railroading is bad: sometimes players are meant to do something and they shouldn't actually just wander outside of the constraints because freedom is there for them. A good example of this is Tomb of Horrors. What if you're running something like a module like Tomb Of Horrors and the players decide to not attempt to go to the tomb and decide instead to just go in some other way.

Some games aren't meant to be sandbox at all.

Online Thufir Hawat

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #22 on: April 06, 2012, 09:28:43 PM »
Why does shuffling plots around have to be bad GMing or railroading?
I said "a subset of railroading", because both make the players' choices meaningless ;). As for bad GMing, some people like being railroaded. It's bad GMing for me, subjectively.
Personally, I prefer railroad GMs to illusionists, but again, that's me. Please keep in mind that in this post, I'm only talking from my own name, about my opinion, and don't pretend it's universally valid!

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If you prep a 'red cabin mystery', in your example for when the players go into the forest, is it railroading to have the players encounter the red cabin whether they go north, east, or south?
First, it wasn't my example. I used what the poster had provided as an example ;).
Second, refer to that post. Is there an in-game reason they should end in the same location wherever they go, like a field of mental energy influencing their thoughts? If yes, good enough, if no, yes, it is railroading, just made worse by hiding it.
To put it in perspective, if I'm going to meet your "red cabin mystery" wherever I go, why do I have a choice to go east or west when it's north? Just tell me the road goes north, and passes by the red cabin. Yes, it's railroading, but at least it's not trying to hide it OOC.

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Or does a 'good GM' have to prepare a Red Cabin in the north, a Blue Cabin in the east, and a Yellow Cabin in the south so that the players actually have an effect that it'd be impossible for them to be aware of without stealing the GM's notes?
If the only difference is the colour, it's still illusionism, hence the question is meaningless.
Personally, I'd go with a red cabin north, a river crossing east, a bandit camp west and a trading caravan south. But that's just my way to run a game ;).

I think that's my issue with the idea that railroading is bad: sometimes players are meant to do something and they shouldn't actually just wander outside of the constraints because freedom is there for them.
Then tell them they're meant to do so. If they don't mind doing so, it's obviously not a problem. And if they mind, you know there is a problem, and can talk it out.
Railroading an unwilling group is an attempt to solve an out of game problem with an in-game solution. That usually fails.
Railroading a willing group means there's no out of game problem, hence why it's also known as participationism. It works, as long as the players are fine with it.

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A good example of this is Tomb of Horrors. What if you're running something like a module like Tomb Of Horrors and the players decide to not attempt to go to the tomb and decide instead to just go in some other way.
Have you decided you're going to play Tomb of Horrors? If they agreed to it, are they by any chance just going there to buy the sheep they might need to survive the Tomb ;D?
If they didn't know you want to play Tomb of Horrors, I'd take it as a strong hint they aren't interested in your module at all.

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Some games aren't meant to be sandbox at all.
I agree. That's why I make it a point to avoid them to the best of my abilities >:)!
I like sandbox games, I like character-driven stories, and I like combinations of those two. But honestly, I don't much care for the best examples of the other approaches. So I think I actually save time and frustration for both me and the GM that might be running them 8-)!

Online TheGlyphstone

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #23 on: April 06, 2012, 10:31:23 PM »

To put it in perspective, if I'm going to meet your "red cabin mystery" wherever I go, why do I have a choice to go east or west when it's north? Just tell me the road goes north, and passes by the red cabin. Yes, it's railroading, but at least it's not trying to hide it OOC.

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If the only difference is the colour, it's still illusionism, hence the question is meaningless.
Personally, I'd go with a red cabin north, a river crossing east, a bandit camp west and a trading caravan south. But that's just my way to run a game ;).

Because there are different things in those directions? The road doesn't end at the Red Cabin - there might be three different cities they could be going to visit, one to the north, east, and west. Whichever way they go will influence the story and plot, but along the way they'll encounter a Red Cabin and possibly its Mystery. You call it 'illusionism', I call it 'GM not doing unnecessary work'. Unless the players split up, there will only be one road travelled at a time, so you only need one encounter prepared that can be Schrodingered in wherever needed. If they skip the Red Cabin or turn around and decide to follow a different road instead - now you do need to create a Yellow Bandit Caravan or a Green River Crossing, because the player's actions have opened your box and fixed the location of the Red Cabin Mystery plot (and incidentally, the Red Cabin itself). Until they, they have no way of knowing the Red Cabin even exists in the forest IC or OOC, thus its location is irrelevant to the story or game until it becomes so.

Online Thufir Hawat

Re: Roleplaying Theory
« Reply #24 on: April 07, 2012, 04:17:49 AM »
Because there are different things in those directions? The road doesn't end at the Red Cabin - there might be three different cities they could be going to visit, one to the north, east, and west. Whichever way they go will influence the story and plot, but along the way they'll encounter a Red Cabin and possibly its Mystery.
Wait, so you're ready to create three different cities, but not a different mystery along the way?
Yeah, just put the cabin before the crossroad, then! Since you are creating it with the idea "players can't miss it", no need for giving them false choices.

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You call it 'illusionism', I call it 'GM not doing unnecessary work'.
You call it "the GM not doing unnecessary work", I call it "the illusionist GM being wedded to a particular plot"! Which is fine if that's what the group signed up for. And is an OOC problem if it wasn't mentioned before the game.
Besides, I'm completely sure the GM isn't doing more work if it's a pure sandbox. He might need to improvise more, but that actually means even less work he could need to do. Or he could ask them "fine, guys, I need to know now - where are you going next session?" After all, preparing four cities makes preparing 4 encounters pale in comparison.

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Unless the players split up, there will only be one road travelled at a time, so you only need one encounter prepared that can be Schrodingered in wherever needed.
Or I could decide there are 4 things to encounter, and flesh out only the one that's going to the city they're planning to visit. You could just ask them which notes to bring. Or in my case, as I'm improvising everything, my notes look like this/


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If they skip the Red Cabin or turn around and decide to follow a different road instead - now you do need to create a Yellow Bandit Caravan or a Green River Crossing, because the player's actions have opened your box and fixed the location of the Red Cabin Mystery plot (and incidentally, the Red Cabin itself).
Which is often a litmus test for illusionist GMs, yeah ;).

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Until they, they have no way of knowing the Red Cabin even exists in the forest IC or OOC, thus its location is irrelevant to the story or game until it becomes so.
What, no of the locals had told us there's a red cabin along the way? They didn't know? If you wrongly assume we didn't ask, you're also assuming I'm not in the group ;D!