Railroading for Fun and Profit: Part 2

January 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm (Games)

How to railroad effectively?

The key to railroading is communication. Your players are smart, fun loving people and they want to have fun in your game, they are not mind readers. If what you have prepared for the game is straightforward adventure, tell them that.

Make sure when choosing or planning your adventure that the session ahead has things that will interest each of your players. When those elements come up, give that player solid eye contact, remind them of the things in their character’s past that make this element important. If the player is not picking up on your clues, outright tell them what you were hoping their reaction would be and get a quick response as to why they didn’t bite. Doing this regularly will help your players understand to expect it in the future.

If the adventure makes it possible for the party to find a vital clue or item to complete the adventure, make sure you change that. If getting the McGuffin is based on a skill check don’t make failure mean that they don’t get the item but rather, they get it and something bad happens as well. Most modules will have in them an ample supply of things that can go wrong in any given room, steal from there. Have a trap go off, have a monster attack, make them sacrifice an item they treasure to get hold of the McGuffin, make that failure matter but don’t make it stop the adventure.

What not to do when you are railroading?

The most obvious bad habit of railroading GMs is to just keep blocking your players for no good reason until they go in the direction you want. This is where communication can help you a lot. If your players are headed off in a direction you aren’t prepared for step out of the game for a while and ask them why they are headed in that direction. If they are going that way to achieve some character goal that might be a whole adventure you should ask them if they will wait to pursue that in another session so that you have time to make that thing awesome. If they are going in that direction because they think that the clues you gave them are leading that way you should consider if you can put the rest of what you had planned in that direction. It might not be possible to do that so you may want to put a more obvious clue where they are headed, back to where you planned your adventure or just be honest with them that they got the wrong impression and point them in the right direction. Do not, do not, do not, let them explore the wrong direction and keep giving them nothing! All that will do is frustrate them and you.

When shouldn’t I railroad?

There are plenty of games out there where railroading is a terrible idea. Even in games where railroading is a viable option it may not be the right option for your group. If your game is running smoothly and your players are having fun the way you are running the game, Do Not Railroad! I can’t say this strongly enough. If what you are doing works, ignore all of this and keep being awesome. If you are looking for a new way to help focus your games and you try this and your group hates it, Do Not Railroad! Don’t keep pushing in a direction your players aren’t having fun in. Don’t railroad if it doesn’t sound like fun to you either. Remember even though you are the GM this is a game for you too, and life is too short for bad games.

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