From Author to Gamer: Railroading

Railroading. The notion that the GM should drive the adventure along a set path provokes some of the strongest emotions I have yet to come across in RPG players. Especially when I say I’m all for it.

I’ve had a number of debates with my GM, Tracy, about this and his stance on the subject is honorably emphatic. He just won’t do it. He has too much respect for his players, too much respect for the characters they want to develop, too much respect for the roles they want to play. That is, after all, what it’s called right? A role playing game?

And I get that. Tracy’s stance on his players’ freedom is very similar to my stance on my characters’ freedom. I hate boxing them in, forcing them to make decisions, foisting opinions on them. It’s bad writing and it doesn’t read well. In fact the reader usually comes away feeling cheated. I try my hardest to stay out of my characters’ way and let their natural choices lead them where they need to go.

And yet…and yet I don’t do that entirely. I have a story to tell, man! I can’t just let them roam around and discuss the weather. I’d wind up with four hundred pages of people buying canned soup.

So what do I do? I railroad them.

Only I don’t let anyone see me doing it. And I think that’s what I’m actually arguing for in gaming, because railroading isn’t a switch you turn on and off, it’s a skill. Hell, it’s an art. Railroading, when done well, doesn’t even seem to exist. It appears as strong motivators and situations that have no exit except the one leading to  where your characters need to be, or hated enemies that keep your characters on the hunt. Not blunt locked doors. Railroading, as I see it, can be all about using your players’ characters and the motivators they’ve built in, and it can lead to a satisfying overall story arc which I’m all for.

In theory, anyway.

I have yet to run a game, but when I do I hope to lead my players exactly where I want them…without them ever realizing it.

I’m Joseph Devon and this is my game.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Joseph Devon is the author of Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions . Think X-men meets Pulp Fiction meets The Wire meets The Seven Samurai. And some other stuff as well.


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About Joseph Devon

Joseph Devon is the author of Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions . Think X-men meets Pulp Fiction meets The Wire meets The Seven Samurai. And some other stuff as well.
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