Off The Tracks

I have a bit of an issue. It appears that some don’t care for my style as a game-master of tabletop role-playing games. I’ve been said to “Railroad” my players through their adventures, which generally isn’t the case, but the simple fact they feel that way is a real problem.

So, what should I do about this? Well, I’ve actually been dealing with this already, by constantly asking the players what they want to do, how they would like to handle an issue, and making it clear that I’m leaving the story completely open, so they can do as they wish.

I’ve actually been doing this all along, but apparently some people don’t see it that way, so… I guess I need to do something more?

Well, it pains me to say this, but I think we might just be changing up some things with our actual-play roleplaying podcast, “Knights of the Tabletop”. You won’t hear the results of this until next year, when Season 2 actually starts, but it’s coming. So what is “It”?

I think we’re going fully Story-mode.

To that end, I believe it might be best to set aside the planned game for Season 2 (Feng Shui 2), and instead go with something a bit more story-driven. Something more roleplaying-focused. Something that is 100% driven by the players choices.

Something Powered by the Apocalypse.

Specifically, I’m thinking of running “Dungeon World”.

If you have listened to our April KOTT shows, where we played “Monster of the Week”, then you’ve heard a game that is Powered by the Apocalypse. MotW’s core rules are built off of the bones of “Apocalypse World”, which many games use for their engine. They are collectively “Powered by the Apocalypse”, and while not completely cross-platform compatible, they are all fairly straightforward and easy to pick up and play, if you’ve ever played any other PbtA-based game.

Anyway, one of the best features of PbtA games is that they are driven by player choices. The Game-Master doesn’t roll any dice, and just tosses an initial problem or conflict out to the players to deal with, and lets them go about roleplaying through it. Characters don’t fail in the classic sense most of the time, as “failure” more often than not simply means they succeeded, but with a complication, that keeps things interesting.

It’s kind of hard to railroad a game, when the players are making all of the choices. Hell, you can even play some PbtA games completely headless, with the group of players working around a set issue/conflict without a GM present at all!

Regardless, I have been really jazzed about PbtA since I ran Monster of the Week, and now I have several more games that are also Powered by the Apocalypse on the way. Specifically, the aforementioned “Dungeon World”, as well as “Mythos World” (Lovecraftian Horror), and “Uncharted Worlds” (Sci-Fi). I would have just bought DW, because that’s what I’d like to run for my group, but I’m a sucker for Lovecraft, and Sci-Fi, as well.

That all said, it isn’t like I don’t want to play “Feng Shui 2”, believe me, I do! It’s my favorite game, actually. But PbtA games would be much easier to deal with in our current manner of recording the podcast, which is online, over Discord. Plus it is much easier to learn and play in general, so…

… if that doesn’t solve this alleged Railroading, then nothing will.

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2 thoughts on “Off The Tracks

  1. I don’t think the ‘railroading’ is so much that they’re being forced into decisions they don’t want to make, I think it has more to do with how it’s recorded. IE: You record with ‘built in’ breaks and time limits. I realize that this makes it easier for you to have a stopping point because your show has a time limit, and editing is much easier when there is a clear place to ‘take a break’. Honestly, I think some of this problem could be relieved by just recording y’all’s usual gaming sessions, and editing for breaks later. That way you’re not feeling anxious about running out of time. You’re just gaming like usual. Record the whole thing, just the way you play it out, take it home, and when you have time edit in the breaks so you can put it up in podcast sizes. Or…just put the whole thing up. Warn people that they’re long ahead of time, and only edit out bodily functions nobody wants to hear. Critical Roll’s podcasts are all four or five hours long, and people just know that, and stop and listen to them any way.

  2. Yes, but here’s the thing: We aren’t Critical Role.

    CR is a huge video podcast, with a rabid fanbase. We don’t have that. I’ve been making podcasts for years, and what works for small shows (as most are) is to match what most people’s commute time is – roughly 30-45 minutes. We do shows the size they are, because to go longer drives listeners away, for the most part.

    But that’s neither here nor there.

    As to the main point, we all agreed to do our show this way, as it makes it inclusive to all parties. You’re right: I could record one big session, then take it home and slice it up as needed. That would actually be easier for me in some ways, since I would just be editing a large file, adding intros and outros as needed, then exporting as weekly episodes.

    But that would reduce the players to merely Cast, though. Their interaction with the listeners, at the start and end of every show would be gone. This is supposed to be a collaborative show, and that would mess that up significantly.

    As for the built-in breaks, yes, we have that by design, and it works. But it isn’t forcing anyone to do anything in any given time-frame. I write out ideas for each segment, basic plot-points that the players may or may not encounter during their adventure. If they choose to do something else, I play it by ear until the Dragon alarm goes off. At that point, we either call a break at that point (if there is nothing pressing going on), or if there is say a fight underway, we stop at the end of that initiative round. Either way, we pick up immediately after that point with the next session.

    The only exception to this is for the final session, where we go as long as is needed, to finish the story out. If we can do that one in 30-45 minutes, great. If not, well, it’s only once a month, so…

    Important point: Routinely, they use up all of the plot-points for the 1st and 2nd sessions, all in the 1st, causing me to scramble to come up with ideas for the rest of the sessions.

    The point is, I’m not pushing anyone to do anything. I’m not pushing them to do anything in a given time-frame, either. If people still feel that way, after I’ve literally bent over backwards to accommodate people, and try to provide a fun experience, then I really don’t know what to say.

    This isn’t my show. It was Beoulus’ baby at the start,, but I believe both of us would agree this is our show, as in it belongs to all of us, not just to any one of us. I just facilitate making it a podcast, and got tapped to be the DM out of convenience towards that end. If someone else would like to run the game, that’s fine. If someone else wants to record and edit this thing, that’s fine, too.

    Oh, no! Don’t make me have to do less work!

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