Railroads and RPGs  

Posted by GaelicVigil

Perhaps it's simply a popular concept of our times, but there has been a lot of moral relativism creeping into gaming recently.  The idea that there is no "right or wrong" way to run a game, just like there is no right or wrong way to define marriage or lying or cheating or working, etc and on and on.  Really, if nothing can be defined as black or white, right or wrong, anymore what's the point of human existence?  If measuring something no longer matters because nothing can be measured, then what are we doing here?  There can be no human progress if there is nothing we can judge as a starting point, a "control" point to progress against.

Anyway, I don't want to get into a philosophical rant today, I just want to rant about this idea that "railroad gaming" as it is called, is a valid system.

Recently I read a rather heated back-and-forth debate between a couple bloggers about what defines a railroad, sometimes known as "narrative" or "story",  game.  On the one side, the railroad apologist was trying to argue that because every RPG has "structure" to it, it means that they all really are railroads.  Prior to that I read what amounted to a sob story about playing nice with these kind of gamers because really they "are programmed to be passive" and just can't help themselves.  So as DMs, we should all just bend over and let our gamers sit back and be spoon fed Hollywood-style set games.  Poor things.

I'm sorry, but arguing with people like this is kind of like arguing with a 2 year old who doesn't want to eat his vegetables.  You just can't reason with immaturity and ignorance.

So let's make it simple.  The bottom line is that if you're running an RPG with a pre-planned script of any kind, you're no longer even running an RPG.  You can call it a theatre play in your living room, a skit, story time, or whatever else you want.  But it is not an RPG - precisely because my role is no longer a role at all, at least in the fullest meaning of the term, it is a prop in a stage performance.

You've probably heard this before: "But there is no right or best way to run an RPG as long as you're having fun.".  You can have fun doing a lot of things, but that doesn't make it an RPG.  There IS a right way to run an RPG and the right way is allowing your players to drive the narrative.  If the right way isn't "fun" for you, that's your problem.  Doesn't make it right or even the best though.  Just because I get straight Fs in school and had fun doing it doesn't make it right OR the best.  And seriously, what's so fun about spending your time making imaginary decisions that don't matter?

D&D was designed from the beginning to be a player/character driven game, the best modules were designed this way such as B2 and X2.  Decisions made in a game world should be in the hands of the players as long as those decisions with within its scope.  That means that if I'm running a fantasy world, my players should be able to make any decision they want within the laws and norms of that fantasy world.  If I'm dictating to them what they can and can't do, this isn't a world anymore, it's a set and this isn't an RPG.

This entry was posted on 4/02/2013 at 4/02/2013 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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