Page 1247 - Separation Anxiety

16th Jul 2019, 6:00 AM in School Raze
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Separation Anxiety
Average Rating: 4 (1 votes)
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Author Notes:

Newbiespud 16th Jul 2019, 6:00 AM edit delete
I think we railroad a lot because we take a lot of cues from many other kinds of media, where it's much easier to railroad and ambush characters to create the drama and tension you need. Such has been the case when other media has always outnumbered compelling D&D stories.

With the resurgent overwhelming popularity of D&D content like Critical Role, there's a lot to examine when it comes to how campaign stories look from the outside versus how they feel from the players' perspective and the GM's perspective, and in what ways they're fundamentally different from the stories we craft in non-interactive mediums. But I digress.

I didn't play in a Spudventure this week, but GreatDinn had a fun one-shot idea: A Half-Giant, a Tiefling, a Dragonborn, and an Aasimar all quest to find the same deadbeat dad!
GreatDinn Presents: Children of Man (D&D 5e One-Shot): Video

Notice: Guest comic submissions are open! Guidelines here. Deadline: January 27th, 2023.



Digo 16th Jul 2019, 6:32 AM edit delete reply
A GM can definitely craft an excellent story without relying on railroads. Like any story book or movie, it's all a matter of how much effort you put into it. None of my most brilliant and fun campaigns ever worked out by me being a lazy bum with the story.

Now, on the other hoof, a good campaign also needs the players to invest themselves into the story. Build your character to want to answer that call to adventure. Make an effort to find something your PC will latch onto that keeps them in the flow. Can't find something? Work with your GM. Collaborate!
albedoequals1 16th Jul 2019, 6:36 AM edit delete reply
That one-shot premise implies that there was a giantess, dragoness and demon that actually took care of their children from a one-night stand, at least until they could feed themselves. Good for them, I guess. Being raised by a dragon would be pretty cool. The demon probably not so much. :p
Digo 16th Jul 2019, 7:37 AM edit delete reply
It's also possible these kids were abandoned and left as urchins on the street, an orphanage, or picked up and adopted by someone who cared.
Winged Cat 17th Jul 2019, 10:38 AM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
As the player of the dragonborn: the dragon was not present to raise her child. The dragonborn was raised an orphan, with her mother presumed dead (though the body was never found) and her father having skipped out.

She entirely agrees, it would have been cool to have been raised by a dragon - because then she would have had her mother in her life, instead of being all alone.

(Her intended boon, should she succeed at the quest she gained at the end, is to ask her uncle to let her live with him as family. The fact that her uncle is the king, and all that comes with being a member of the royal family, is secondary in importance to having a family...even if she is also considering measures to make sure she eventually gets the throne, and thus a kingdom as her hoard. But having a family, at least for a while, comes first.)
albedoequals1 17th Jul 2019, 12:35 PM edit delete reply
Aw, that's sad...
Kedamono 16th Jul 2019, 6:41 AM edit delete reply
Almost all adventures are railroads of one sort or another. "You've been ordered by the Duke..." "You're dropping out of hyperspace and pick up a distress signal..." "Joe's character's dad has sent him a message..."

Everyone of those are an acceptable way to start an adventure, and they all are railroads. Now, whether the players are allowed to derail those trains is up to the GM. As a GM, I found that I railroaded when I had a ending in mind and wanted it to happen. I've gotten better and I set up an ending if the PCs do nothing or fail, but otherwise, I let them come up with their own ending.
Digo 16th Jul 2019, 7:39 AM edit delete reply
I feel like 'railroad' and 'plot hook' are getting a bit mixed up here.
Guest 16th Jul 2019, 8:14 AM edit delete reply
You're mixing up railroad and plot, or railroad and premise.

Adventures need a premise in order to exist. Ex: there are murders along the road, and the Duke wants them investigated. The plot comes from how the PCs interract with that premise. It's also possible to start with some elements facilitating the premise (without it being railroading), for example "the PCs already know each others d work together".

Railroading comes when the DM has already decided what the plot was (and such the players are just here to do be the unpaid actors of that play). Railroading is when options or even opinions are forbidden because they don't fit what the DM has decided will happen. Railroading is when rolls, which would be the times the DM let go control and embrace random results, are discarded unless they do what the DM wants.

Exemple of this can go from "no matter which road you chose at the cross road you'll face the same enemy" (aka the Quantum Ogre) or "the evil NPC manages to escape even though the PCs' abilities should have prevented it" to even more extreme examples like the DM auto-killing characters who don't follow the rails.

The DM has all the control on the world, fundamentaly. Denying the players' choices to have impact is just being petty and refusing to give up control. I'm not saying that in-universe the PCs should be able to do anything, but they should be able to try anything and then face the consequences. Facing something impossible isn't railroading either as long as it makes sense.

In other words, railroading isn't "there's a chasm cutting the road to your destination" it's "you can't attempt to go accross the chasm, even if the Druid can turn into a Hawk then tie a rope on the other end. You have to go to X instead".

Railroading is how thinking dies. I'd honestly leave a table if the GM tried to railroad after being told to cut it out.
Kedamono 16th Jul 2019, 8:26 PM edit delete reply
it's a matter of definition. I've been playing and running games for a while, I started playing D&D in 1977.

To me, a "plot hook" is a one or two word sentence that the GM uses to see if his players are interested, and for the most part, it's improv time, as the GM just has some notes on important NPCs and the adventure may or may not have a deadline. I run these types of games all the time using Fate or Savage Worlds. The players decide what's important and follow their own lead.

When I use a quest giver of any sort, it's because I have a collection of scenarios for the PCs to interact with and move along the story. I rarely use setups like this, as they are fairly linear and not as fun for the players. Even if you can approach each scenario as you see fit, in whatever order you'd like, there are still tracks, you just get to decide which ones to follow.

When the GM has a story he wants to tell, they tend to railroad the players into following it. It's not fun for the players, and the GM will get frustrated as the players will want to ruin his beautiful story. That's Railroading.

Most published adventures have tracks and beautifully appointed cabins, but you're still on a railroad...
Digo 16th Jul 2019, 8:46 PM edit delete reply
By what you just said, it sounds to me that it's a matter of structure of the adventure, not definition, and thereby not all adventures are typically railroads.

The way I look at it, the main difference is one of choice. Does the Duke give the PCs freedom to accomplish the given task by their own methods, or even the ability to refuse? Can the PCs ignore the distress beacon? Are they allowed to investigate from their own ship and then come back later with help?
Guest 17th Jul 2019, 5:34 AM edit delete reply
Most published adventures are smart enough to work with "of course if the PCs do something not described here, change things as they fit" in mind.

If the PCs decide to murder the Duke's brother in the middle of the street because he's arresting someone suspected of a crime, then there will be consequences. A published adventure doesn't have to note "and the Duke will want them punished and hire someone else for the job".

Railroading would be either forbidding the option or let them do it and theb still force them on the job despite how little sense it makes.
Guest 16th Jul 2019, 8:41 AM edit delete reply
Something that makes it really hard for me t o sympathise with FiM's DM is that even with all what happened, they're still very much frustrated that their railroading doesn't work and keep trying it.

I mean, unless I'm a dunce (which I'd be ready to accept), given their comments and the episodes from which Spud can take the screenshots from , it sounds like they want to use the whole "separate the PCs to make them have their own personal trial" thing.


When last attempt was such an unpleasant experience for those players.

When they specifically started this one-shot as a palate-cleanser from said last attempt.

With brand-new PCs that have little development on which to base personal trials.

While using a system both DM and players are unfamiliar with.

Seems the DM has an harder time learning to let those ideas go than the cartoon's cast has learning "don't lie that everything is fine, just talk to the person if there's an issue".
Mr Wednesday 16th Jul 2019, 10:42 AM edit delete reply
@guest, I see where you’re coming from with this. This GM certainly has a problem with wanting their stuff to run according to a script.

In fairness, it is very difficult to un-learn habits and overcome your own storytelling instincts, even if you’ve gotten feedback about them.

I see three improvements here over the DiscorDM arc. One, the GM has taken the players’ response into account already. Two, I don’t think GM plans to take each player into a a separate room and make them play alone. Three, DiscorDM isn’t here (so the GM has more control over how hard they come after the PC’s.)
Theris 16th Jul 2019, 10:42 AM edit delete reply
Old habits die hard, I guess.

Besides, it really looks like just as the author is packing an entire season's worth of content in a single session, so is the DM doing the same with what was meant to be an entire campaign. The way he seems to describe what happened in previous sessions, how some NPC aren't really introduced, etc. Maybe by that point the PC were supposed to be properly fleshed out and he kind of... forgot to adapt the script?
Mr Wednesday 16th Jul 2019, 4:47 PM edit delete reply
One positive on the meta-level of this game is that the GM is reassuring the players with this session. Ultimately, he’s telling them that they’re going to beat Discord, because the world will still exist for these shenanigans to happen in years later. Better for morale than doing a prequel at this point.
Balrighty 16th Jul 2019, 10:05 AM edit delete reply
Getting flashbacks to the beginning of Star Trek Voyager here.
Matiekay_13 16th Jul 2019, 11:58 AM Beat the Railroads edit delete reply
My current DM has come up with a great way to avoid railroading us, while still getting those interesting plot hooks in:

Our PCs are an officially accredited Adventuring Group, part of the Adventuring Guild. At the beginning of the session, we pick a Quest posted to the Guild based on a brief summary, rough Challenge Rating, and expected reward. Quests range between standard murderhobo stuff, fetch quests, and intrigue, and we usually run up against groups tied to the underlying plot (there's an evil dragon or demon or something named Firewing who's rallying a bunch of Evil creatures, likely to push back against a Crusade against all evil which was set up in a previous campaign)
Story Time 16th Jul 2019, 2:05 PM Separated Again? edit delete reply
Separated 'again' by the DM... Any good story about how the DM do the same thing s/he did in a previous campaign? (Extra brownie points if the players catch the GM)
Jhn 17th Jul 2019, 12:41 AM edit delete reply
I've got some from a really good DM!

- Multilayer antagonists.
The ennemy, being a long run NPC or a one-session opponent, take deep as things goes, often in great timing making the group or some PCs reconsidered their views . It could lead sometimes to a redemption arc and nice treasons (in PCs side or in a bad guy group).
In a first campaign, I investigated a mysterious death and retrace it to my new girlfriend that was freshly vampirised. As a hunter descendant, I was about to deal with it and end her life, but before I could act my plan, she confesses on her own initiative the killing she did and her remorse. A bit further, another vampire lady was a terrible ennemy, with clearly bad intents and evil deeds, including several cold blood crimes. But she finally creates a link with a PC (that she sired) and turn her back to the big bad she brought back to life at mid-campaign. Still evil though, and my character was still hating her, but her antagonism was shifting.
In a second campaign, My character got a nemesys that was despicable in all the way she treated me. But, slowly, some things were off ("You didn't see it straight away 'cause she has a really accent and heavy make-up, but she's not chinese as the others triades members... The way she fights is more japanese, kendo-like.", "When she duels you, she throws herself at your sword like she didn't care, as long as she can get you", "I know you thought she has healing power, but the injury you did to her a few weeks ago isn't healed yet"). At the end, I discovered she was puppeted as I was by an horrible old acupuncturist and was kidnapped when she was a child. Still, I had to baet the crap out of her to get to the old hag. Later, we were more allied, but she had still intents to lead the triades. Slowly, I was realising that "Oh, she's more than a common ennemy. She'll get interesting as time goes."

- Huge unseen collateral consequences for the "event of the day".
The same two campaigns. In the first one, we had a nice laughable session with a custom monster that was freed and was making a magical effect on the town : women's orders are law. That was nice and fun. The girls in the group were abusing a bit the guys, doing insane shopping ("You give me this ferrari now. And one for her too. Which color do you want."). It was a good way to work on relationships with NPCs, like the PC that went straight to her laconic boyfriend who hide his centuries-long past to interrogate him, or how a NPC protected some guy from abuses of others girls or when the father of my character reveals his double-life at lunch casualy (a bit surprising, but I knew things would get ugly in there).
The chaos was flurrishing and the monster was eating men, so we prepared to kill it, but an unseen event changed the whole stakes of the session. The vamp chick (of the previous story) went to see another NPC (male) who knew where the body of the big bad she wanted to bring back to life where hidden. Before that, she was investigating and looking for leverage. Now she didn't really needed it. The end of the session was a double race to save the day (we were close to win it, but she got the body this time. The monster wasn't this lucky though).

And in second campaign, we had the session with a witch covent that went after us. Witches were killed in town lately and they believed it was us (vampire leaders). As we weren't able to find the culprit, they lost patience (and sanity to my opinion) and wanted to kill us by invoking a flea demon that would hunt every vampire in town (the demon didn't care about killing others in the way, like this bunch of witches that tried to control it). The session was about to survive the swarm, discover the invocation and end this demon.
All good, but at the end of the game, the DM narrated an off-scene. The fleas went to a dormant ancient vampire too on an island near the city. They killed the monks living there and broke the paving stones. The blood of the monks of dripping through the rifts. And we knew... We knew that whatever was down there was awakening and bad news. But during all the session, we really didn't see it coming
MechaDitz 17th Jul 2019, 11:17 PM edit delete reply
I'll admit, half the fun I've had playing an arcane caster has been derailing the intended plot/encounter design. Fortunately for me the GM is good about rolling with it and at this point just assumes the party is gonna throw curve balls. Though I don't think it's coincidence that we keep encountering Huge or bigger things after I threw the ice golem boss down a hole...