Saturday was the “Day of Fudge” and overall it was a great experience. You can check out my personal blog for more details if you are interested, but I want to focus on one particular moment of my game. Maybe you can relate to it as a GM yourself.
My game was a four hour one-shot held at my local game shop. The premise was that the players were everyday people enjoying a small town Fourth of July celebration when a flying saucer landed. Then Martians came out and disintegrated the Mayor. From there things just spun out of control into a delightful dark comedy.
After over an hour of playing the game the five PCs had not come together into a single group. There were two pairs of PCs, and the fifth PC was alone. Through a series of events this lone PC was doused with gasoline, and when I asked the player what the PC wanted to do he said “Go to his house and change into some new clothes.”
I responded with “Okay, well your home is on the other side of the high school football field. A flying saucer has landed in the field illuminating the area, and you can see the silhouette of these two PCs.” I then gestured to two of the players at the table. This was all based on events that had taken place in the game.
And that is when one of the players said…
“And you see railroad tracks leading to them!”
To which the other player responded “Tell me about it!” Now these comments were made in a friendly and joking manner, but I was a bit shocked by these remarks.
When I GM I work off of the players’ suggestions to build the scenes with, so how did this scene come into existence?
- Two PCs went to the football field to pursue their own agendas.
- One PC wanted to go home and change his clothes.
- The GM arranged the coincidence that the path for one PC to reach his agenda was going to cross with the path of the other two PCs.
I firmly believe that what I did was not railroading. The players made choices, and I did not negate those choices. I also made it clear that I would have no problem if the PCs did not come together as a single group (they did at one point, but then separated again long before the end of the game). Railroading is when the players are forced to follow the GM’s plot, and I had no pre-determined plot.
In short — “railroading” my ass.
But what do you think?
I was obviously arranging the scene to make it awfully convenient for the PCs to come together. I would not have forced the PCs to meet and form a single group, but did the players understand this before I explained it to them? When is it railroading? Where is that line, and when is it crossed?
You know how I feel, and those of you who have interacted with me before know that I am going to defend my position in the comments section below. I want to hear what you think regardless if you agree or disagree with me. What is your definition of railroading? How can it be avoided? Should it always be avoided?
So share with all of us your analysis of the situation, and any stories you might have about railroading (or railroading accusations) in other games as well. Leave a comment below and let’s see if together we can find the point at which good GMing stops and railroading begins.