Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sandbox vs. Railroading

One thing that most RPGers agree on is that Railroading is bad. Railroading is when the Gamesmaster has a pre-concieved notion of where the story of the game is *supposed* to go, and he railroads the Players into having their Characters go along for the ride. To do this he causes certain options which in the real world might be possible, to become impossible to the Player Characters, usually for a thinly disguised reason.

"Our Characters walk out of town and into the mountains to the West." say the hapless Players.

"Not so", says the Railroading GM. "The mountains are ... mmm ... blocked by a huge rushing river on the edge of town!", says the GM as he is furiously thinking, "damnit, they have to find the McMuffin before they go anywhere because otherwise the Princess will not be saved, and that's totally bad-story - I ... Must ... Stop ... Them ..."

And so it goes on. The Railroading makes the Players feel like they have no choices, and it ruins the fun for them. Afterall, they think their Characters should be able to do whatever comes to mind, and go where and do whatever their Characters want.

This however can lead to some pretty crappy stories in the end. Instead of finding the McMuffin (heh) they go to the great rushing river outside of town and then wander around until they find a goblin and then jump it, kill it, and takes it's stuff (a copper coin). The Gamesmaster, being miffed that his story has devolved from a Save-The-Princess tale to a Kill-The-Monster-Take-His-Stuff story. It's still a story. But it's a pretty crappy one, so far as stories go. If we wrote the story out ... it would be pretty dull. "And then, in the forth year of the King of Blahmoor, the Great and Mighty Adventurer's wandered aimlessly through the dungeon killing orcs and taking their stuff. Meanwhile the beautifull Princess Gwendolyn was left to die in the dark cold cave of the Ogre that kidnapped her two adventures ago that they forgot about when they saw an orc and then chased it to a dungeon and then went wandering around in there collecting trophies and ..."

So Railroading became the natural inclination of GMs who wanted something more from the story. They create a big world filled with amazing story material, and it's only fair, they think, that those stories get played out. Despite the Players.

Now the problem is that Players don't like being Railroaded (who does?), and so the solution that has been proposed is called Sandbox play, and it's highly prefered.

Sandbox is where the Players are given free reign to wander around the World at liberty. They can explore and discover whatever they want, and the Gamesmaster acts as unbiased observer and game Referee. And all is well with the World because the Players get to run around and kill things and take their stuff. Only the Gamesmaster finds this perturbing if he actually wants good stories to come out of his or her World.

The question is, how do you get the best of both? What techniques can be used to allow the Players freedom in your Worlds, and yet still wind up with stories that amount to something more than what the average dungeon crawl produces?

There are ways. But what are they? How do you handle it, oh Gamesmasters?

(Cross-Posted from the LRPGSW Yahoo Group)
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