The Alexandrian

I just got done running the most heavily railroaded session in probably my last 15 years of gaming, including heavily forced scene transitions and huge dollops of illusionism.

(Context: It was a dream sequence being experienced by a comatose PC. They were taken through a highlight reel of their memories — both the ones they’ve experienced and the ones their amnesiac character has forgotten — with the other players jumping in to play current and former versions of themselves in a kaleidoscopic dreamscape.)

I bring this up because I think it’s given me a fresh appreciation for why combat encounters — particularly those in “delve format” adventures — have become so overwrought in the past 10 years: It’s because, in a culture of “storytelling” GMs with railroaded plots, the combat encounters are the only place where players can actually experience freedom; where their choices actually matter.

So you get a large class of players who are primarily focused on the combat encounters because that’s where they’re actually allowed to experience the true joy of roleplaying games (and, therefore, that’s where they have fun). And to cater to those desires, adventure design (and then game design) focuses more and more on making those encounters really exciting.

But then, as that cycle degrades into itself, we end up with a situation where the tail is wagging the dog: Where the railroaded plot that strings together the combat encounters becomes thinner and thinner as more and more effort is put into propping up the combat encounter tent poles.

(Insert obligatory references to the Don’t Prep Plots and Node-Based Scenario Design.)

2 Responses to “Thought of the Day – Encounters and Railroading”

  1. Snarls-at-Fleas says:

    “in a culture of “storytelling” GMs with railroaded plots, the combat encounters are the only place where players can actually experience freedom; where their choices actually matter.

    So you get a large class of players who are primarily focused on the combat encounters because that’s where they’re actually allowed to experience the true joy of roleplaying games”
    QFT! Well said.

  2. Jan says:

    Very interesting view on “rpg history”. If you take a look at D&D, it fits more than well. After 4e was totally combat-focused the attention story and storytellers as players and GMs) got, was few and far in between. Now the pendulum swings back and 5e ist getting much less combat elements and leaves more room for story elements thus maybe anoying tactical players, as I am, for the time being at least.

    Interestingly there is not such trend or pendulum thing in German rpgs. They are keeping a fairly middle ground with a tendency to story the last years. Maybe this all is an effect strongly related to D&D and affects only gaming groups strongly tied to it?

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