Tuesday, 30 November 2010


"Railroading is a pejorative term for a game in which something is accomplished."
Kenneth Hite, Dragonmeet 2010

I suppose it is these days. And yet I still use it. And I use it to mean this:

The GM pushing the players and their characters through a plot that they would otherwise leave.

By this meaning, a plot can be linear of "on rails" without being railroaded, since as SteveD puts it, "Nobody minds the railroad if the view from the carriages is pretty and the destination is Awesome Town." It's a question of whether the GM is dragging you along.

I've been guilty of this... and equally guilty of being entirely reactive and leading to the common joke around our table where the PCs' action is "we wait for external stimuli".


  1. Sometimes you need a pejorative term. Ken's got a point: "railroad" is used a lot to describe scenarios with structure or obvious goals.

    Something I see a lot, but which always gets left out of these discussions, is that the actions of player characters are not one hundred percent universally surprising.

    "Your players will surprise you," says every GM guide ever. Yeah, sure, they will. Once you've gamed with a player or a character a bit, though, you know pretty well what they're into and how they approach things. If I know you like delicious peanut butter, and I make a castle out of delicious peanut butter, well, then I know you're going to want that castle.

    If I were the Lord your God, well, that might raise troublesome questions of free will. As, however, the friend whose coffee table you're sitting at, I think it's okay.

  2. Generally if players really surprise me, it's by doing things that I cannot understand their motivations for at all. At which point I ask. Or at least look confused. It's nice to be presented with Option A, ptin B or Option C and be able to go for Option X, but I try to make A, B and C somewhat logical courses of action.

    Ooh, "courses of action" as a non-pejorative term.