Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Tao of Sandbox; the Te of Railroad

If the DM has conceived of a series of events - any series of events - which have not been directly brought into play by virtue of the players initiating action, then that game is NOT a sandbox, it is a railroad.  If the DM has been anything except the "manager of the sandbox" ... if the DM has determined that a given set of events ought to occur because that DM wishes to be creative, or wishes to act as a "player" of the game, because that DM wants to insert his or her own ideas, then that game is NOT a sandbox.

When I run a game, my attempt is to bring the context of a full world to the players, to the best of my ability.  That includes NPCs who want to use the PCs to their own ends.  That includes having wizards who might have created unique un-dead.  It includes ordering the interests of gods and city-states, and, occasionally, things happen like earthquakes and floods.  The world moves whether or not the PCs move with it.  

Opportunities can be squandered.  The PCs can be sitting in a tavern somewhere, drinking fine ale, when events catch up to them....and those events can be natural or unnatural.  The world doesn't sit still, no matter how much you might wish it to.

And, I am sorry, but this is a sandbox, and no one - no matter how smart or how well-meaning - gets to change the meaning of that to fit their own mantra.  That is what it meant when I first heard the term in the 1980s; this is what it still means now.  

See, in my world the GM is not a slave to the players, and the players are not slaves to the GM.  It may be radical, but I am not playing these games to escape life, or to escape a sense of powerlessness.  I like my job, love my family, and have, overall, a pretty damn good life.  The real world doesn't make me feel powerless, so I don't need the game to help me escape that feeling.  From either side of the screen.

I play these games to explore.  I am interested in making the world tick, and I am interested in what the players do.  I am interested in both their actions and their reactions.  I am interested in their creativity.

This works because, not surprisingly, this is also what I am interested in as a player - I have no desire to play in a world that does not similarly breathe.  And this, to me, is part of managing a sandbox.  An important part.

Frankly, if I tell the players that I am willing to run whatever sort of game they want, but I don't do this work, then I am full of shit.  

If they want to explore the world of crime, but there are no other, bigger fish in the pond when they enter it, I have failed them.  If the fish, big and small, do not have plans of their own, then I have failed them.  If the wizards who knew where stuff was, and who were willing to pay to get it, which got mentioned in the opening module, are not still out there - and they do not hire someone else to get those same items (some of which the PCs might now have), I have failed them.  If the various gods and powers can be taken for granted because they do not pursue their own interests, then I have failed them.

It is not my goal to fail my players.

While I agree that it is wasted effort to plan the world too far ahead (and by this I mean, what occurs in the world without the PCs involving themselves in it in some way), this is not because I will force the players to some specific action to make my work worthwhile, but because I know I will not, and thus make the work wasted.

I'll tell you how I got introduced to the word "railroad", as it applies to role-playing games:  DragonLance.  No big surprise there, I imagine.  But the term did not apply to how a scenario started, it applied to how the scenario played thereafter.  and that's important because no one - no matter how smart or how well-meaning - gets to change the meaning of that to fit their own mantra either.  This is what it meant when I first heard the term in the 1980s; this is what it means now.  There's no coincidence in that; I first heard the term "sandbox" in opposition to the word "railroad" in the context of discussing these modules.

An interesting thing about modules:  The first module I ever used was Gary Gygax's The Keep on the Borderlands.  I have used it many times since, and it is still the best module TSR ever produced in my opinion.  There are, of course, things I didn't like about it at the time....particularly the idea that the DM should steer the PCs back if they go too close to the edge of the map.   Time has mellowed me on this somewhat - there's nothing wrong with the GM providing this kind of context, provided that they do not follow it up by forcing the PCs back to their story, or merely cause the world to end at the map's edge.

Growing up, I wasn't wealthy.  Far from it.  Buying gaming material was rare.  Originally, I ran games from copies of the books owned by my friend Keith, and laboriously hand-copied by myself.  When I ran modules - including White Plume Mountain, the A-Series modules, and Ravenloft - it was because the players involved bought them and asked me to run them.  Nobody in their right mind would consider this railroading.  What railroading meant, in that context, was to disallow solutions that were not foreseen by the module's writers, or to force events in the module to occur as the writer had envisioned.  For us, modules were frameworks only.  They were meant to be bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated.

White Plume Mountain came out in 1979.  Players have been asking to explore it for over 30 years.  Can it be used to railroad?  Sure.  I had a DM do that to me, once - my first experience with the module, actually, and before I read/ran it myself - but only because he was inexperienced and didn't understand yet how to run the game.  I have encountered remarkably few "Bad DMs" in over 30 years of gaming.  Lots who were inexperienced, sure, but that isn't the same thing. 

It is easy to say "Don't use modules; use these tools instead, no matter how long it takes", but the tools offered - books on history and speleology - aren't really doing it right either.  No.  If you want to run the game, you'll need to explore caves, head out to jungles, and walk in the Arctic   until you've wrestled a polar bear and fought for your life, you are not really doing it right.  Because either indirect experience has value, or it does not.

My own adventure, The Thing in the Chimney, starts with the PCs awakening in the Great Hall of the Cinderclaws' lair.  Is this railroading?  By some lights no doubt it is, but it was written to follow-up an in-game situation where the PCs consigned themselves to Fate and leapt between worlds.  Player choices led to the adventure, but they did not need to lead to that specific adventure or that specific location.

To my mind, it doesn't always matter where you start, but it does always matter what agency you have to affect things once you have started.  You have to start somewhere.  

The funny thing is, if you read the linked-to "opening module", you will note that the PCs are explicitly started somewhere, and even if we are not told where the players are presumed to know, because they are told that they can go elsewhere if they do not like it. But, if you read this post, and agree with its basic premise, that would make the opening module a railroad.  Because it is a black and white, on and off switch, as defined by Alexis.  And that opening irrevocably flipped the switch to "railroad".

But you are running your game wrong.  Papa knows best.

Back when I was writing RCFG, I wrote this as part of the introduction:
While the GM has absolute authority to determine what the game milieu is, one of the common player goals of RCFG is to influence what the game milieu will be.  In other words, while the GM determines the past and present of the game world, the future is created through the collaborative effort of the players (via their characters’ actions) and the GM (by determining what the effects of those actions are on the game milieu, as well as what effect various non-player characters, monsters, and natural – or supernatural – occurrences will have). 
This distinction cannot be overstressed – It is the GM’s job to provide context and consequences for player character decisions; it is not the GM’s job to force the player characters down a narrow “plot”!  The GM who grasps (and follows) the philosophy behind this game avoids falling in love with the milieu as it is.  Instead, he or she is eager to see just how the players will attempt to change it!  It is the success, or failure, of these attempts that RCFG is about.
While role-playing games are cooperative efforts with no real “winners” or “losers” (so long as everyone is enjoying the game, anyway), leaving a lasting mark on the campaign world is often the closest to “winning” that one can get!
A gaming group may devise another social contract if desired.  Usually, though, a GM who consistently attempts to railroad player characters, who is unwilling to accept player decisions related to their characters, or who consistently undermines (rather than challenges) the goals of players and characters alike is more hindrance than asset to a gaming group.  If talking about the problem doesn’t help, the group is encouraged to seek a replacement for such a problem GM.
The funny thing is, I still hold this to be true.  

Nobody is beholden to me when I sit down to play, and I am beholden to nobody else.  It doesn't matter which side of the screen I am on.  I have lots of hobbies.  I have lots of things to do.  I make time for this hobby because I am passionate about it, but my sitting at your table while you GM does not mean in any way that I have ceded all power to you.  

We are sharing power, working together to make this game work.  True, you hold one type of power, and I another, but that is because we hold the power required to meet our roles in the game.  And, if you do not meet yours, or you attempt to usurp mine, our game will be short-lived indeed.

I expect that you will not interject your ideas into my actions, but I also damn well expect that you will interject your ideas into the world you present, its NPCs, its gods, and its monsters.  Do your best to make the world alive, vibrant, and as deep as you can.  Do your best to tempt me from my goals, because the world is like that.  Allow NPCs, gods, and monsters to attempt to subjugate me.  Then allow NPCs, gods, and monsters to seek entry to my service, because that's what happens in a living world.

The game is not just the player's actions, or just the GM's adjudications, it is the back-and-forth between the two.  If the GM is unwilling to do his part, for whatever reason, the game is less than it could be.  If the GM is unwilling to do prep work until you tell him what to do, and then you either have to play while he flies by the seat of his pants or until he does the work, the game is less than it could be.  If there are not enough things going on in the world to tempt you away from your goals (successfully or not...you need not give in to temptation) then the game is less than it could be.

Also in that intro, I had included a quote from H.G. Wells, from The History of Mr. Polly:
If the world does not please you you can change it.  Determine to alter it at any price, and you can change it altogether.  You may change it to something sinister and angry, to something appalling, but it may be you will change it to something brighter, something more agreeable, and at the worst something much more interesting.
When I read Alexis' post on definitions, I cannot help but be struck by his reference to redefining rape.  In that bit, he notes that people try to redefine rape both to claim that it does not exist (and this has direct bearing to the series of blog posts in response to -C, and some recent back and forth on Really Bad Eggs with "Socrates is Mortal")  and that rape means whatever they don't like.  Alexis' redefinition of sandbox and railroad seem much akin to this sort of redefinition of consent and rape.  In all of these cases, there is an attempt to shut down the conversation on the basis of you're using words wrong and if you don't accept my definition, it's because you just don't get it; you're part of the problem.

Here's something else that all of these positions have in common:  Everyone is wrong but me.

Are you buying this shit?  Because I am not.  

Present me with a world.  If I want to change it, I will.


  1. It seems to me that Alexis actually agrees with you on most of your points but he is talking past you and addressing issues that either don't exist or that you're not defending. His primary objection to using modules doesn't seem to be his stated reason (they reduce player action) but rather his unstated one (the way -I- do things is better and more realistic and therefore more suitable).

    I've never used a module, probably for the same reasons he hasn't—I don't want things that don't "belong" muddying my setting and I feel like if I'm going to take the time to address those elements I might as well write my own adventures, dungeons, etc. But I would never deny the usefulness of modules to another man who DID want to run them, or who's setting more readily accepted them.

    I'm not certain if its the "you wake up without your gear in an alleyway" that he's arguing with (I think —C might take offense to that idea too, since there only "agency" involved there is letting your PCs drink heavily or not) but from the tenor of his ripostes it certainly appears to be an attack not on the railroading (or not) of modules but rather their very existence which offends him as somehow lazy or unoriginal.

    Of course, cogitating on the mental state of another independent actor on the internet is probably not a fruitful enterprise...

    1. It seems like that to me as well.

      As far as -C goes, though, the argument that being able to choose your combat stance means something is not a railroad suggests that an argument that being rolled when drunk IS a railroad is inconsistent.

      And I am not at all certain that being rolled when drunk IS railroading; it would depend upon why it happened, IMHO. Being rolled when drunk to force you onto Mission X is railroading; being rolled when drunk 'cause that's just some bad shit that happened is not. But that being forced onto Mission X might be the /players/ being railroaded (if the events are unconnected) or it might be the /characters/ being railroaded (if orchestrated by an NPC to leverage the PCs). In the second case, precautions by the PCs should be able to prevent the event from occurring, or turn the tables on the NPC.

      (Of course, it is possible for the GM to railroad /both/ players and PCs!)

      I personally don't care whether or not you, Alexis, or another other GM uses modules or not. If I was a better/wiser man, I probably wouldn't care if the arguments being used made no sense, either. But, sadly, I am not a better/wiser man, and I do care quite a bit more about HOW we talk about this stuff than what any one person's conclusions may actually be.

    2. I agree on those points—when PCs relinquish control of their situation, they'll be taken advantage of. I don't necessarily feel the need to telegraph every potentiality (as -C seems to in order to make sure the game is "fair") nor do I feel poorly if events outside the player's control affects their PCs adversely (such as a storm which sinks the ship they're traveling on with no chance to avoid it; they chose to be on a ship and knew it was a potential hazard, etc.)

      My goal is to provide the fabled living world that sometimes works with player consent and sometimes works without it. Sometimes things beyond their control happen to them, and while they can always attempt to do something about it (and there are no limits on what they TRY to do) they can't necessarily succeed. If they're trapped in a dungeon with doors of magic-woven steel and their wizard doesn't know dispel magic, they may not be able to escape. Sure, they can try tunneling through hundreds of feet of solid rock with their hands, but that's just going to give them bloody fingers.

    3. Our goals are similar, if not the same. I truly do not care if the PCs are masterless wolf-heads or seek patronage. I do not care if they work together or slay each other over some trinket. All I have to do is supply context and consequence.

      Well, and some odd shaped dice, because we are playing DCC and not all of the players own a 24-sided die!

      From what I am reading on TTOD&D, what I am saying is self-aggrandizing, emotional, difficult to understand, and some attempt to cover my railroading behaviour.

      Well, from Alexis' definition, I AM a railroader. If two countries go to war, and you are in either of those countries, or on the border between, you WILL have to deal with it. Possibly by taking sides, possibly by attempting to avoid it, possibly by buggering out of dodge.

      Likewise, if I designed a location in the milieu with said magic doors, I would not design it on the basis of player convenience, but rather on the basis of what fit into the milieu. What I would do is ensure that the location has a proper "footprint" in the milieu so that players had enough context to make choices thereby.

    4. The terminology of the "footprint" is one that I find particularly interesting, as it lends itself to easy and simple comprehension while also providing an excellent shorthand. I found the same with Black Vulmea's use of the word "texture" to describe the nitty-gritty of a setting, since it's stuff player's can "grab on to" for their characters. The presence of a suitable footprint is undeniably required, I think, for all sites of adventure as well as all organizations, etc. The more I think about it, the more I love it as a term, since should the PCs wish to find information about a particular thing (let's say the magically sealed dungeon in this case), their ability to do so is dependent on the footprint the thing leaves on the setting (ancient records, modern scholars, a guy who once went up there and found it locked).

      Also—I truly think that Alexis is ok with the consequences half of the war scenario. I think you two are talking past each other in the case of what is and is not a railroad; Dealing with the war however you like? Not a railroad. Getting press-ganged into a unit? Not a railroad (unless the DM explicitly tells you "Nothing you can ever think of to do to leave will work"). As long as the PCs can TRY another course of action (successful or not), the railroad has been avoided. At least, that's my understanding and the understanding I took away from the conversation with Alexis.

    5. An interesting exchange you are having with Alexis over at TTOD&D.

      Are you sure, though, that you've never used a "module" in the sense Alexis means it? "The DM has spent time and effort creating the 'module.'" implies that any setting design you may do is a "module".

      Maybe its my own limitations, but I've watched his videos on map making, and designing areas, and I have a hard time seeing the difference between the time and effort that he invests there, and the time and effort he fears another might expend elsewhere. Yes, I see that he uses dice and tables to try to limit his direct involvement with planning, but thinking that this isn't presenting something for the players to react to is self-delusional, AFAICT.

      Certainly, he didn't want to answer questions about how his map-making avoided the same problems he raised, and equally certainly he got aggressive when I asked. To me, that suggests the questions struck close to home.

      But, again, that could just be my own blinders/limitations.

    6. I didn't want to open the can of worms about designing a "module." I certainly have made notes that resemble what I think of as an ideal module, but I feel that the fact that I've stressed a thousand times to my friends that they don't have to worry about skipping dungeons or whatever negates the burden of use that he feels may result.

      I take pride in designing 10x more adventures and interactions and NPCs and dungeons than ever get seen by the PCs. I can always leave them there/alter them for future parties that go to that region... and those hidden adventurers that are never explored, or that turn into mush after X weeks (other adventurers kill the goblins, the war explodes into reality, whatever) are what make the setting ALIVE to me. And I think, for my players as well.

    7. I hear you.

      For what it's worth, I started playing D&D in 1979, when I was 13, less than 40 miles from Lake Geneva. I'll be 47 this August. The way I use these terms is no different than the way they were used when I was first exposed to them.

      Maybe they used them differently a couple of years later, wherever Alexis started. I've no way of knowing that.

  2. "Everyone is wrong but me."

    It's ironic that this is exactly the position you took on Really Bad Eggs.

    Just because Alexis is wrong, that doesn't make you right.

    1. I am no less able to call you on your bullshit here than on RBE, SiM.

      Really and truly, pointing out that your "logic" relies upon false assumptions and fallacious reasoning, and that you are apparently aware of this but muddying the waters anyway, only points out that you are a weed. It doesn't even mean that your conclusions are wrong, only that there is no reason to trust your conclusions because of how they are derived.

      Which is cool because (1) I am not arguing that most people don't understand this, so I can hardly be arguing that everyone is wrong but me (to the contrary, I argue that most get this, and a few weeds try to confuse the issue), and (2) in many cases, I am not even arguing that I am "right", except insofar as what I want from a game, what I do to get it, and why I think the action leads to a fulfilment of the stated desire.

      So, again, you suffer from not having Plato write your dialogue or mine, and from not being Socrates. I am not flummoxed, and, again, I think most people learned how to see past this kind of shit in high school.

      Best of luck with it, though.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Socrates, reword your response if you want it to stand. Presentation, not substance, is the issue here.

      Having to make a childishly simple example of how a setting could railroad was not done in order to create an example of a game people would flock to play; it was done to demonstrate that setting could railroad. That people actually DO play "North-Going Zax" is besides the point (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Rail_shooters). That people argue that "North-Going Zax" is NOT a railroad is also besides the point (http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.ca/2013/02/on-theory-defined-railroad.html).

    2. Actually, that's not completely true. Presentation that lacks substance is the issue. I don't care if you disagree with me, but your disagreement must contain more than pure vitriol if you want to make it here.

    3. I agree that your examples of a setting that is a railroad is childishly simple. It is also inappropriate. You used a simple video shooter game as your example of a railroaded RPG setting. You might as well have chosen an amusement park roller coaster ride. While both run on rails, neither is remotely close to being an RPG.

      In addition, you are too fond making fun of screen names, a practice that your control of your blog allows you to dish out without having to accept.

    4. SiM, I used a more complex example first, but you wanted to equivocate. Actually, you wanted to attempt to invoke the continuum fallacy as though doing so led to rational conclusions. Just as you are trying to play games now.

      So I chose a much simple example to demonstrate clearly that it can be done.

      You find that "inappropriate", but your reasoning here is faulty. That a setting can railroad is all that was being demonstrated, not that you, I, or anyone else would want to play in such a setting.

      As a final note, given your "logic", your screen name is just plain ironic. If that offends you, you can change your screen name, change your behviour, or consider not reading this blog.

    5. If you think a simple computer game is the equivalent of a tabletop game then our POV is too different on this topic for useful communication. As for screen names, I guess this is one of the days when you are being a dick.

    6. SiM, you are still trying to equivocate, although I appreciate that you are attempting to do so with better grace. NGZ is an rpg. Frankly, it is a dumbed-down version of an rpg that I have seen played (and been invited to play!) in the real world. If you have never seen a GM create a setting that is essentially NGZ, then you are lucky.

      You are right, though, about one thing. Given an option, or a better understanding of what rpgs can be, few would choose to play NGZ. That NGZ sucks, though, is irrelevant when it is used as a counter to an argument that setting /cannot/ railroad. This is partly because, obviously, it demonstrates that setting /can/ railroad.

      More importantly, though, is this: If you disqualify all railroads that suck as usable examples of railroading, and you believe (as I do) that all railroads suck, the only conclusion available is that railroads do not exist. And that is clearly an erroneous conclusion.

      As for screen names: I am so far from perfect that I cannot see perfect from where I am standing. But, when you try to disprove someone with fallacious logic, you name the fallacy, you know the person knows you are relying on fallacious logic, and you still try to prove the point using the same fallacy you just identified.....and you call yourself Socrates Is Mortal? Man, I'm only human. And you are attempting to use the Socratic Method? And you are claiming that your conclusion is a necessary consequence of logic?

      Hell, Mr. Spock wouldn't have been able to resist.

    7. I'm not equivocating. You are using a definition of an RPG that makes no sense to me. Zax is not more than is a ride on a roller coaster, a film, or a 20 minute nap. Please explain how the following is a roleplaying game?

      "a north-going Zax and a south-going Zax meet face to face. Because they stubbornly refuse to move east, west, or any direction except their respective headings around each other, the two Zax become stuck. The Zax stand so long that eventually a highway overpass is built around them, and the story ends with the Zax still standing there "unbudged in their tracks."

    8. SiM, you are, once more, and for the last time (unless you do it elsewhere) trying to create a straw man to burn.

      From our previous conversation, wherein you identified the prat-like behaviour you were engaging in, I strongly suspect that you know this. You are also changing the parameters of the setting.

      "Some guy kills a dragon" =/= a role-playing game, but many role-playing game includes some guy killing a dragon. This sort of bullshit may not be beneath you, but it isn't appropriate here.

      If you wow 'em at home with your crap, good on ya.

    9. The quote is from the Seuss story that you chose. When you claimed that a setting based on that story can be a railroad.

      I don't think a North/South Zax game, or Duck Hunt, or lots of things are roleplaying games. You are claiming they are (well that Zax is) but aren't providing anything except your assertion that these sorts of things are in fact roleplaying games. But let's set that aside because even if you were right about this (and you are not) it doesn't help your point that the setting is a railroad.

      Let us suppose North/South Zax is a roleplaying game. Then either a player agrees to play the game or they don't agree to play. In the latter case there is no railroad because there is no player, there is no game, therefore there is no railroading. Are you clear so far?

      So let's suppose the someone agrees to play a game where they are either a character that can only travel north or a character who can only travel south. Your claim is that they are being railroaded because they are limited in what they can do in the game. If that is true, then every RPG is a railroad setting because every RPG limits what you can do in the game e.g. your hit points are limited, the number of type of spells you can cast are limited, your species may be limited, RPGs have lots of setting limitations on what a player character can be and do. Therefore if you are right that a limitation on what a player character can be and do is a railroad, then every RPG is a railroad and railroad is a useless term. Which seems a pretty silly point for you to make, since you want to rail against the railroad.

      Let's suppose then that the player agreed to play a game where they are either a character that can only travel north or a character who can only travel south. But somehow they didn't know that was what the setting was and what they were agreeing to. Then the player responses is either (a) "Huh, really? That's all I can do in this game. Well that doesn't sound fun." or (b) "Oh, OK. I didn't realize that. Well that's OK then. I enjoy games that others find mind numbingly dull. Carry on."

      In the latter case, (b), there is no railroad since the player is agreeing to play a Zax who only goes North or South as the case may be.

      In the former case, (a), there is no agreement as to what game they were playing. The lack of agreement does not require the GM to accede to let the player do whatever he or she wants to do in the game. And refusing to change the game to allow Zax's player to go East or West doesn’t make the game a railroad anymore than does telling a player that "No you can't play the DC superhero Superman in this gritty Call of Cthulhu game set in 1920. Go find a superhero game to play if that's what you want." The problem of players not wanting to play Zax is solved by them not playing Zax but playing something else that they do what to play, not by them whining that Zax is a railroad and their GM is a meanie.

    10. /Your claim is that they are being railroaded because they are limited in what they can do in the game. If that is true, then every RPG is a railroad setting because every RPG limits what you can do in the game/

      No; the type of limitation matters.

      Any reasoning that relies upon the idea that any limitation must be the same as any other limitation, regardless of what is being limited or to what degree is fallacious.

      But, at least you seem to be trying to engage with the actual argument.

      Try again.

    11. And....you're done, "Socrates".

      Like I said before, you are not Socrates, Plato is not here to make sure other people don't call you on your bullshit, and you can take your crap elsewhere.

      What I recommend is that you go on some other blog, or forum, and boast about how you won the argument. I'm sure that'll impress someone.

      Best of luck. Future posts here by you will be deleted unread.

  4. I basically agree with you, particularly about settings being evolving, interactive worlds where encounters are not necessarily frozen in stasis, waiting for PCs to stumble on them. I think that some of TTOD&D's definitions are too strict for my liking.
    But towards the end of the post things got rather uncomfortable. One thing I've learnt since dabbling in the blogosphere is not to take anyone's blog (including my own) too seriously. If you think someone is telling other RPGers that they are playing D&D wrong, let him. It is not up to us to prove him wrong, and most people reading his blog will either have minds of their own, or will agree with anything he says.
    I have not been a regular follower of TTOD&D because when other blogs have linked to posts there, I have disagreed with some aspect. So I don't bother following it. Life is too short to spend correcting other people's mistakes.

    1. Well, if you have a good argument about why I am wrong, I hope you will share it with me. Even if I disagree with you, mulling over a good argument helps me to reconsider where I am now, and to grow.

      The posts related to -C's and Alexis' posts aren't going to "correct" their thinking, but they are a way of thinking aloud about their arguments. And, with any luck, continuing a conversation in a more equitable manner, where it had turned sour at the source.

      Part of the reason why I read TTOD&D is not because I agree with everything Alexis says, but because many of his posts make me think and reconsider. Even if that reconsideration reinforces an earlier position (and it doesn't always do so), I think it worthwhile.

      YMMV though!

  5. It's curious to me that Alexis would presume to give anyone grief for "railroading". My limited experience with his online game was that it was very highly scripted, primarily by NPC's. Everything I was either NPC's doing something that we were unable to stop, or powerful NPC's giving orders, with the strong implication that it would be unwise for us not to carry them out. Not much agency there.

    Myself, I do things your way. Throwing hooks and unexpected events makes things interesting, and it's technically railroading unless you are forcing actions on the characters.

    1. I think (hope) you mean, its technically NOT railroading unless you are forcing actions on the characters! lol

    2. Yes, absolutely. Not railroading unless you are forcing actions.

  6. I don't know why some of our fellow game geeks seek to make our wonderful pass-time an arena for nasty argument, ravencrowking! There are those that needlessly complicate things, aren't there?!

    Come now, folks. We all know, deep down, that a sandbox is a state of mind, a type of play, that unfolds organically between GM and his/her players if they are in that magical roleplaying "zone" we've all experienced at some point. Look, it's an interaction of the GM's prep and his ability to think on the fly when players inevitably go in their own direction. For some groups it's a rare thing, for others it happens most of the time. It depends on the delicate interplay of the unique individuals at any particular table at any time out there in gamerland.

    A good GM will give players options/plot hooks/choices/paths/whatever you want to call them. A good GM will be open to the unexpected directions that players will take when they choose which hooks to follow. A good GM can make any module into a sandbox.

    Good players will trust their GM, if that GM is doing right by them and giving them lots of options to choose from. Good players will give them GM benefit of the doubt when it comes to the hard work of GMing.

    If things aren't working out in a group, and the sandbox style you love suffers, then find another group, right? Sometimes this is easier said than done, but given perseverance, roleplaying hope springs eternal.

    Come on, folks, this is all pretty much self evident and, with decades of roleplaying experience under our belts, it's become a sort of RPG common sense. For most of us, at least. But there are those that, for some reason, just like to argue for the sake of argument.

  7. Interestingly enough, if you look at a more recent post (http://tao-dnd.blogspot.ca/2013/05/that-which-is-not-that-which-is.html) I guess that the problem is that, once again, we all don't understand that Alexis never said that which Alexis said.

    Colour me unimpressed.