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Talia Invierno
Carried over from the discussion over what constitutes railroading, add a new question:

Independent of terminology, is plot structure a desirable thing for playing Shadowrun? (Add also in here that if yes: what level of GM manipulation is acceptable to keep characters on-plot?)
Kagetenshi
Yes, and no level.

~J
Taran
Yes, and none.
toturi
Yes, and minimal GM manipulation within canon rules.

For example, if the plot calls for a gang to jump the team from ambush and capture them, but the GM knows that should the gang jump the team as written, the team is going to win instead. The GM could use the canon NPC rules to adjust the "level" of the gangers. While this rule really grates on my teeth, I can accept this level of GM manipulation.
Dawnshadow
Yes. GM manipulation? Shouldn't be required.
Fox1

You'd have to define plot structure for me before I can really answer the question.

Talia Invierno
Okay, ???? Please, someone, explain to me how the two answers everyone who has posted thus far (except for Fox1, whose post I didn't see before) don't completely contradict each other.

Edit: As to what is plot structure: what do you see it as being? How much structure do you see as necessary before plot ceases to exist?
toturi
A plotline is desirable, but it does not mean that you must stick with it. You can have a plot, but that plot can change with the players' decisions and actions.
Dawnshadow
A plot that gets top marks doesn't require GM manipululation to follow -- it's keyed properly to the players and their characters such that the GM doesn't need to manipulate events -- the two courses are the same. Of course, that's scoring something like 95% or better...

GM Manipulation, to my mind, is the GM retweaking stuff so that the courses of action chosen by players all leads back to the original plot. It's something I permit (even encourage), but don't think should be necessairy if the plot is good enough to begin with.



As for structure? I think we've discussed this before Talia. Except I can't seem to remember how I described it other than "web-based". Blast. I think it was in one of your threads about plot oriented or environment oriented.
Slump
In my personal opinion, a plotline consists of two things.

Events and Places.

Now, having events and places are a great thing, because if you don't have them, you just have some very heavily armed and armored people sitting around in a blank white room.

Requiring events at places, or requiring that certain events happen, and certain places must be visited, well ... that's railroading.

The difference between 'good plot' and 'railroading' is that one little word: required. If your plot won't work unless this happens in exactly a certain way, it's probably not a good plot for an RPG.
hyzmarca
The important thing about a major plot is that it should continue on its own even if the players choose not to follow it. When this is the case, the GM has many oppertunities to draw the players in without forcing any particular decision. Furthermore, the players should have the opportunity to do things that are not in the best interests of the metaplot.

If you are running Harlequin's Back and the players refuse to tak ethe job from Harly there is no reason why Darke can't offer them a job. If they refuse both offers it stands to reason that a few minor Horrors might appear in Seattle making the news and potentially inviting player curriosity. If they still refuse then let Harly hire some other runners to do his dirty work and have it all blow over without the ploayers knowing what is going on but make many of their job offers involve the minor Horrors that were able to break through because of their apathy for some time afterwards.

Or, the players could decided to side with the Horrors and destroy the world. There is no harm in that. The campaign would probably end righ tthere if they win but they should have the opportunity to do so.
Talia Invierno
Dawnshadow: "web-based" link

For everyone, let's try it a slightly different way. What do people understand by "GM manipulation"?
Dawnshadow
Many thanks for the link Talia.
Sabosect
QUOTE (Slump)
The difference between 'good plot' and 'railroading' is that one little word: required. If your plot won't work unless this happens in exactly a certain way, it's probably not a good plot for an RPG.

Actually, I find this to be perfectly false. In fact, some of the best campaigns I have seen that are not railroaded have those requirements. The difference between railroading and plot is how you handle it.

If your run has a requirement that the players do X action by Y time and you simply leave it up to the players and luck to see if they can accomplish it, then that is a challenge. If you set it up so that they cannot help but be there to do the action or they simply die, then it's railroading.
Glyph
The difference between a plot and railroading is that a plot sets the characters into a story, where their actions can affect how the story unfolds. There's nothing wrong with that. Railroading is when the characters are put into the story without having any real choices, or any real opportunities to change how the story unfolds.

If you have the bad guys set up an ambush for the PCs, that's a plot. Maybe the PCs will be smart and avoid the ambush, or maybe they will get lucky and take out their attackers with minimal fuss. Or maybe they will get unlucky and wind up seriously hurt because of overconfidence or poor dice rolls.

If you have the bad guys ambush the PCs, and adjust the NPC stats on the fly or have others show up, because your story requires that the PCs be captured and taken to the bad guy fortress, then that's railroading. No matter how the characters plan or what they do, they will wind up being captured. Railroading is bad because the players trust in the GM as a fair arbiter is eroded, and they become less interested in the game when they realize that things are going to happen a certain way no matter what they do.
Fortune
Well said Glyph.
eidolon
Voted "yes, with provisions". And another kudos to Glyph.
hahnsoo
I think most people have to admit, though, that every GM railroads occasionally. There's a limit to the game-processing power that a GM can have, and sometimes the next logical step in the plot becomes the only step simply because we're all only human. Although this does remind me of the time when I was "literally" railroading the players because on this particular shadowrun, I put them on a monorail. They had no choice but to complete the run and wait until the monorail came to a full and complete stop. smile.gif
Supercilious
Murder On the Downtown Express.
Kagetenshi
QUOTE (hahnsoo)
I think most people have to admit, though, that every GM railroads occasionally.

This is true. Likewise, nearly everyone lies occasionally, or makes a promise that they break or can't hold up. As long as it's kept to a minimum and doesn't cause serious issues it's usually not worth stressing out about.

That doesn't make it acceptable.

~J
coolgrafix
QUOTE (Glyph @ Sep 15 2005, 11:37 PM)
The difference between a plot and railroading is that a plot sets the characters into a story, where their actions can affect how the story unfolds.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Railroading is when the characters are put into the story without having any real choices, or any real opportunities to change how the story unfolds.

Sometimes "railroading" is the only way to setup a plot point.

Witness the PC's capture in the original Harlequin adventure. Their capture is not only a forgone conclusion, but a plot necessity IIRC. When I played it way back when I remember being depressed and furious while various party members were being given the Marathon Man torture treatment. But the plot provided a hook to get out of the fix (the orc kid at the safehouse) and all worked out well.
Conskill
Part of this debate, I think, boils down to whether you as a GM have a strong bias towards the RP or the G. I see my job as a GM as mainly a story-teller. My opinion is biased toward that.

At the risk of being hopelessly cynical: PC freedom and the well-maintained illusion of PC freedom is perceived by the PC as the same thing. GM manipulation and railroading on any level, so long as it remains invisible, is peachy. If you do it right, the only one who's sleep it's going to trouble is yours; and if it does that, you really need to take a step back from the table.

As a matter of preferance, I prefer to give my players all the freedom in the world. I consider myself skilled in GMing by the seat of my pants and skilled at anticipating how my group is going to react. More times than not can work with anything they throw at me. However, I am certainly not above adjusting things on the fly if I feel the need is there. I won't deny myself the ability to hammer in some loose nails just because some GMs use the same tool to break their players' skulls.

I can certainly imagine that my opinion would be different if I came at SR from the opposite angle, running it mainly as a tactical wargame and crime simulator. Stories don't need to be strictly democratic, but games need to be fair.
hahnsoo
I don't think that it is polarized between "tactical combat/crime wargame" and "storytelling from a GM's perspective". I think it's more of a clash between GM autonomy and player autonomy, especially if you are building off a roleplaying model of "GM as storyteller". A GM can do whatever he/she likes, but is subject to the enjoyment of the players (after all, players who don't enjoy a game aren't going to play the game). A player can do whatever he/she likes, but it subject to the whim and rules given by the GM (who is given both the responsibility and the authority of portraying the setting and environment). The median ground is the game system, the consensus of rules that both parties choose to follow in order to provide both parties with an equal ground to negotiate.

The objection to "railroading" is not the fact that people want to play a tactical wargame... this is a conclusion that may be based off of personal bias toward one's own definition of roleplaying ("I can't imagine that roleplaying is something other than what we are playing right now, and everyone else who doesn't follow what our group does must not be roleplaying"). The fact is, "railroading" simply means that the GM is asserting control over the player's autonomy. It is an expression of the GM's power, and as power often goes, it can degrade the players' collective trust in the GM and the players' enjoyment of the game overall. This doesn't necessarily happen, but if such railroading occurs without consent, then someone is probably going to be disappointed.

Personally, I think of the "GM as a storyteller" paradigm as an incomplete picture. Roleplaying CAN be storytelling with a single prime narrator and mover (and indeed, many games are like this, and some RPG books encourage this), but it also CAN be collaborative storytelling, a tapestry from different threads woven by all the participating and consenting members (again, some RPG books encourage this POV as well). After all, if the players wanted to be passively entertained, they could watch TV or movies or read a book... roleplaying is an active affair, and many people play roleplaying games because it gives them an active and fluid role in the game dynamic. In our games, we never Rule Zero (though we are rarely in a position where Rule Zero would matter), all dice rolls are exposed to all players (with no opportunities to fudge dicerolls, but leeway given to the GM to interpret the results of dice rolls), and GM duties are rotated between the players in the group. I think we take the "group consensus" paradigm of roleplaying to an extreme (possibly unhealthy), but every group has their own comfort zone for the individual's autonomy. Moreso, there is no "wrong" way to roleplay (socially unacceptable, perhaps, and sometimes rather creepy), and the different ways to roleplay exist beyond the simple axis of "wargame vs. roleplaying" or "rollplaying vs. roleplaying".
Conskill
To be honest, I do have trouble seeing it as a player autonomy issue, because I have trouble thinking of player autonomy as something that truly exists, simply due to the nature of the medium.

What happens when GM autonomy and player autonomy clashes? Within the context of the session, it's not a contest. Since the GM is the one that is creating the environment, it's impossible to act outside the intent of the GM. However, a nice GM usually includes "modifing the chain of events to account for player actions" within his intent. Unless it's established within the group's structure, there is no constitution that gurantees that the GM will resolve any action the player wishes to accomplish, but it is a very common privilage for a GM to grant.

If there is a real clash between what the GM wants and the player wants (to use an exaggerated example: if the player wants to roleplay through a sex scene, but the GM considers that entirely outside the bounds of good taste), the only end I can see to that is one of them walks away from the game.
Mercer
When I design a game, the overall plot generally looks something like 1) Who are the npcs (opposition, allies, and other affected parties), 2) What do they want to accomplish, and 3) What other independent events will alter this?

If there were no players, it'd be a short story and I could plot it exactly how I wanted to, right down to who lives and who dies. But the players, their actions, decisions and dice, are going to monkey wrench just about everything. If the opposition is moving towards its stated goal and half its number gets wiped out by the pcs, thats going to change what they do from then on.

I can't plot a game that is set up for the pcs to be hired to protect the MacGuffin, have it stolen from them and they have to hit the people that stole it to steal it back. If I design those three encounters and those three only, what happens when the pc's kill off all the people coming in to steal it? What if they throw the MacGuffin in the back of their car and take off driving cross-country? What if they decide instead of recovering the lost item they'll simply burn the building down to hide the evidence of the theft? Or if instead of recovering it from the thieves they'll make a counterfeit and try to pass that off as the original?

My point is only that once the pc's start doing things, you start off the map. If you force them to go through the planned encounters (say, the item gets stolen no matter how well they protect it, and the only way to not get killed is to steal it back), then you take away the free will. All a player has is his character. And if what he decides that character will do doesn't have any effect on the course of the plot, then all he's really there for is combat, because thats all he can affect (unless combats are pre-decided, and then you might as well be telling a story and let the group save on a couple hundred bucks worth of game books and dice.)
hahnsoo
QUOTE (Conskill @ Sep 16 2005, 06:06 AM)
To be honest, I do have trouble seeing it as a player autonomy issue, because I have trouble thinking of player autonomy as something that truly exists, simply due to the nature of the medium.

What happens when GM autonomy and player autonomy clashes? Within the context of the session, it's not a contest. Since the GM is the one that is creating the environment, it's impossible to act outside the intent of the GM. However, a nice GM usually includes "modifing the chain of events to account for player actions" within his intent. Unless it's established within the group's structure, there is no constitution that gurantees that the GM will resolve any action the player wishes to accomplish, but it is a very common privilage for a GM to grant.

If there is a real clash between what the GM wants and the player wants (to use an exaggerated example: if the player wants to roleplay through a sex scene, but the GM considers that entirely outside the bounds of good taste), the only end I can see to that is one of them walks away from the game.

It is not in the "nature of the medium", it is simply your particular point of view as to how an RPG should be played and what "roleplaying" is. You see it as the GM having all the cards and having absolute power. This is effectively the thrust of "Rule Zero". When such a conflict between player autonomy and GM autonomy exists in such an environment, then indeed, the only way to resolve such conflicts is someone walking away from the game, which is the main disadvantage of using Rule Zero and absolutes in general.

I see roleplaying games, especially in my gaming group, as a group effort, a consensus between consenting players in the group (all of whom fill the role of GM in our games, based on a weekly rotation). We use the medium of the game mechanic to resolve challenges and conflicts in-game (how do you determine whether or not a player's or NPC's action succeeds? You roll the dice), and negotiation and discussion when dealing with conflicts out-of-character (how do you deal with someone being upset at a result? You talk about it). It's not a better or worse game, but it certainly rides more on the mechanics of the system (since we don't fudge dice rolls... something that can be frought with peril given the vagarities of dice-rolling) while at the same time sidestepping most of the power issues that come up between player and GM conflicts (since everyone has an equal say in the discussion).

Consent is the important aspect of this, because players and GMs both consent to playing a certain type of game. Players will only consent to play the game if they know they are going to have fun, whether consenting to the GM being the primary storyteller or consenting to work collaboratively or consenting to just roll dice and have fun hacking and slashing, and GMs consent to playing/providing a certain type of game. If a player wants to roleplay a sex scene, and the GM does not want to, there is clearly a miscommunication as to what sort of game both parties are consenting to. While such things aren't typically laid out in writing and absolutes, most folks come together in a gaming group to play a particular kind of game, with certain mechanics (we're playing SR4), certain social customs (who's buying the pizza), and certain expectations (sex scenes are verboten).
Sicarius
My style is to set the table, and let the characters eat at it. fill it with interesting and exciting NPCs, and let the characters interact as they will. They'll get job offers, but they don't have to take them. If they want to spend their time going to the cafe, and drinking soy-latte and filling out crossword puzzles in 2063, than I'll let them. My enjoyment comes from seeing what they do in the world i've presented them.

But then, i have players who are used to a free form style. so they provide alot of their own motivations.
Mercer
Sic reminded me of another point. If you have unmotivated or unimaginative players, its not so much about railroading them as dragging them along. Creative players, on the other hand, tend to provide their own steam, and as a gm the challenge there is to keep up. Like anything, its a two-way street. If a gm rewards player creativity (not so much by handing out goodies for it, but by making the decisions they make matter in the story) then it makes the players more interested in being creative, and so on.
Fox1
QUOTE (hahnsoo)
The objection to "railroading" is not the fact that people want to play a tactical wargame... this is a conclusion that may be based off of personal bias toward one's own definition of roleplaying ("I can't imagine that roleplaying is something other than what we are playing right now, and everyone else who doesn't follow what our group does must not be roleplaying"). The fact is, "railroading" simply means that the GM is asserting control over the player's autonomy. It is an expression of the GM's power, and as power often goes, it can degrade the players' collective trust in the GM and the players' enjoyment of the game overall. This doesn't necessarily happen, but if such railroading occurs without consent, then someone is probably going to be disappointed.

Best post on this subject in this thread so far.


I'm going to pass on voting in the poll, I just don't think the question relates to the subject we're talking about.
nezumi
As long as the GM is willing to throw (or more precisely, willing to let the players throw) the plot out the window, you can run a plot without railroading.

Kinda a bummer, I think if that 'provision' was stated in the original survey, we'd get much clearer results. 'Yes with provisions', 'No with provisions' and 'sometimes' probably have an awful lot of crossover.
Dawnshadow
Mercer has a really good explanation for what I think the overall plot would be like -- a little incomplete, to my mind, but a very good explanation.

Any plot I come up with is typically three parts.

1) This is what I think Mercer is missing in his. A bunch of events that PCs can do which have consequences that could alter the results. (If it were to be Shadowrun, these would be the runs). These are in no particular order and can be avoided or done.. although there IS a time element to some. If something is going to happen at x location, y time, and the players want to be there for it.. they have to set their schedules, because I won't force it. If they want to add to the list, they can and it will be factored in. Success or failure at any point will have appropriate (determined at time of completion) results in the other plotline. It doesn't even have to be used, although it can be. I find it a good exercise just because it gets the mind working and gives you a bunch of adventures, twists, or monkey wrenches to throw in events -- if they make sense. Having the bad guys show up while the PCs are trying to liberate a particular item.. because the other side wanted the item too? As long as it's not an overused trick, much more fun.

2) A bunch of NPCs, as rich as I can make them. Some good, some bad, some innocent, some not. All with their own motivations, all growing and developing over the course of the game.

3) A plotline that interacts with the plot the players are writing. It proceeds at it's own pace, independent except for any intersections with player actions. Never had an NPC plotline conclude when the PCs decided not to be there.. but that comes down to motivation. The seeds always include enough PC backstory to make the players really motivated. This particular plotline could be anything from one single massive plot to a three or four plots that are all interwoven and look like one single massive plot. Or more, although that starts making my head hurt if they're all long-running.


As for railroading: any time the players are expected to choose to do something that they have no motivation to, because that's the only way the plot can advance-- railroading. Any time the players are given a BIG chunk of motivation to do one thing, and no motivation (or motivation not) to do something, that is not railroading. That's something that just happens. Sometimes there is one really obviously good choice. "Do I take the boat that's sitting right there with no leaks and a paddle, swim across the river that's got a bunch of little fish, slightly reddish water, and thigh bones on the banks, turn around and fight the 50 spirit-demons?, or try and climb the trees that have no branches closer than 6 metres/20 feet"
PlainWhiteSocks
QUOTE (Dawnshadow)
As for railroading: any time the players are expected to choose to do something that they have no motivation to, because that's the only way the plot can advance-- railroading. Any time the players are given a BIG chunk of motivation to do one thing, and no motivation (or motivation not) to do something, that is not railroading. That's something that just happens. Sometimes there is one really obviously good choice. "Do I take the boat that's sitting right there with no leaks and a paddle, swim across the river that's got a bunch of little fish, slightly reddish water, and thigh bones on the banks, turn around and fight the 50 spirit-demons?, or try and climb the trees that have no branches closer than 6 metres/20 feet"

I've seen brilliant examples of this employed at a convention. In fact Iím of the opinion that circumstances at a convention dictate this kind of motivation/plot structure. The GM doesnít know the players or the characters, and usually has a set-in-stone time limit for the game. Likewise the players might not know each other or the GM. Plot painting with broad strokes with little player control becomes the order for the day at the beginning of the game to get everyone working together, and move the storyline along. After the initial setup is pitched then the players are (in a well run game) basically free to do as the see fit.

For me itís like contrasting a short story and a novel. I find plenty of truly great examples of superior stories in both mediums, although the structure and base assumptions are sometimes radically different in scope.
Jrayjoker
Voted "Yes, with provisions."

I like to have events that will occur, NPCs that will be used, and goals lined up in my head, but how the characters get from A to Z is their own business. My job is to provide them with the clues and information that lead them to the events and people I need to drive the plot. If they go another direction entirely, it is my job to make that part of the story as well.
Fox1
QUOTE (PlainWhiteSocks)
For me itís like contrasting a short story and a novel. I find plenty of truly great examples of superior stories in both mediums, although the structure and base assumptions are sometimes radically different in scope.


Railroading is not necessary a bad thing in and of itself.

toturi
QUOTE (Fox1)
Railroading is not necessary a bad thing in and of itself.

No, it isn't. But if railroading detracts from the fun of the game, then it does.
Kagetenshi
QUOTE (Fox1 @ Sep 16 2005, 11:12 AM)
Railroading is not necessary a bad thing in and of itself.

Yes, yes it is. It may be a bad thing that can result in an overall good situation on occasions, but never lose sight of the fact that it is a bad thing.

~J
Fox1
QUOTE (Kagetenshi @ Sep 16 2005, 11:33 AM)
QUOTE (Fox1 @ Sep 16 2005, 11:12 AM)
Railroading is not necessary a bad thing in and of itself.

Yes, yes it is. It may be a bad thing that can result in an overall good situation on occasions, but never lose sight of the fact that it is a bad thing.

~J


I'm going to have to stay with my statement.

Railroading is like that which it takes its name from, it is a tool. A tool used to get from point A to point B in a predetermined and efficent manner.

It just happens to be tool that is easily abused.

Used in small sections it can be fun for both the players and the GM. Allowing the GM to show off if desired, or bring important background points to the front. The players meanwhile can have a bit of an out of control thrill, like riding a rollercoaster.

The most key question up front is can the player decide to take the train or not without damage to their own concept and world view. Generally problems arise when the answer to this is no, and a good time is to be hand when the answer is yes.
Clyde
You're wrong on that one Kage. Railroading is bad only when the devices used are objectionable to the players. Different people have different tolerances for this. Some players want an incredibly freeform game, where they can interact with interesting NPCs, lay down their own schemes and plot their own runs. They don't want the least little bit of GM interference. Others might be more interested in just going along and resolving any little puzzles and fights that come in their way - maybe especially if everybody's pretty tired and not up to a lot of investigation and decision making. Ultimately, I think most players are a bit in between. They want the freedom to make choices, but they don't want to have to make *every* choice and they don't want a game world that will let them get away with taking over Ares if that's what somebody wants that night.
booklord
Three types of railroading.....

1) Capturing the characters or setting up an event they are present for but have no power to prevent. The worst example I can think of is in the Arcology adventure
[ Spoiler ]
IMHO these situations should be avoided if possible. The adventure becomes like a roller coaster ride. The players lose the ability to deviate from the pre-defined path. In such cases I as a GM often feel uncomfortable putting characters in real danger. Players get a lot more resentful over character deaths if they happened during this sort of railroading.

2) You grab something of value to the characters and hold it hostage or do something to the runners which would force them to do something. ( ritual magical links or cranial cortex bombs are big for this ) This is a touchy one, and it often backfires. Players often believe that an NPC underhanded enough to blackmail them into cooperation isn't trustworthy enough to let go of their influence once the job is complete. I ran an adventure once where Karl Brackhaven of the Seattle humanist Policlub hired the runners and then betrayed and blackmailed them. When the smoke cleared ( the players used explosives ) Karl was dead along with much of the Seattle Humanist Policlub leadership, A major race riot was raging in Seattle, and Kenneth Brackhaven and the humanist policlub was a major enemy of every character. At the end of the next session the players had to leave Seattle because the price on their heads was too high.


3) There is only one good option. This is in my mind the least troublesome. If the Johnson tells the runners that there will a security lapse at such and such time then the players are essentially railroaded into performing the run at that time. They've still got free will though and they could choose another path.
Mercer
QUOTE (Dawnshadow @ Sep 16 2005, 02:22 PM)
1) This is what I think Mercer is missing in his. A bunch of events that PCs can do which have consequences that could alter the results. (If it were to be Shadowrun, these would be the runs).

This is true for designing campaigns, where the game is going to be run more long term and will incorporate various plotlines and stories. I tend to run mini-series style games, like action-adventure movies with 4-5 sessions and a reasonably well-defined start and end point (i.e. the run begins with a phone call and ends with a pc being handed a credstick). So these are basically single run adventures; or single, related or linked run adventures, of a defined scope.

To me, the central point in the term "railroading" is that its one track. Trains don't have the luxury of taking backroads. When a gm railroads, he's pretty much taking the pc's from Point A to Point B the way he's decided, and they don't get a vote. For me as a gm, the fun is seeing how players decide to do things, and then seeing if those things succeed or fail. Generally players have fun succeeding or failing (at least, this has been my experience with my group) as long as the proceedings are fair and interesting. When a gm is trying to crowbar a scenario to a specific outcome and the players are resisting, thats when a lot of frustration builds up which is less fun for everybody.

Edit for grammar. and sppeling.
Snow_Fox
It is usually how i run an adventure when I GM. I set up a place and a serries of events and drop the players in it. It is NOT set in stone but if the player's do not affect it, then at time A, so and so will happen. at time B such and such will happen etc. If the players stall for getting ideas it keeps things moving. Of course if they will try to sit back and let things move along then they lose the initiative and the opposition WILL get heavier. Wait too long and you miss the target, or if your are protecting something, you may lose that!
Dog
I agree with what Mercer said earlier about unimaginative players, and I'll throw in unexperienced as well. Sometimes they need to be shown the game world a little.

My opinion is that a well-prepared plot is very useful for the purposes of creating a good story, which (I hope) will mean more fun for the players. However, a GM must anticipate a lot of choices and prepare for them. So if you want your characters to feel that they matter, you will actually have several "plots" branching from key events.

Further to that, a good GM has to be ready to discard his plot ideas in a second if a player does something completely unanticipated. Sucks, yeah, but toss those pages into the "maybe I'll use them another time" pile. One should avoid that pesky GM pride that makes us say "I wrote a good story and by damn you're not going to screw it up!"

So you need preperation and improvisation, I guess. I don't think you can realistically 'choose' one or the other. If a GM lacks one, he or she is a GM that's lacking.

These days, my group tends to convene after games to discuss as a group: a) what the characters are likely to do next game, so the GM can prepare; and b) what the players think of the story and speculation about what's going on that the characters might not know.
M.A.L.E-man
No scenario, no matter how well planned, and despite all possibilities considered, has ever survived the initial collision with a group of well-intentioned, over-clever, thoughtful players.
Mercer
Or morons. They can straight screw up a scenario as fast as anybody. Generally its either end of the intelligence extreme thats impossible for a gm to plan for.
Snow_Fox
The planning of players or the lack of iut is what helps keep it moving.
Earthwalker
I use a plot stucture of how I exspect a run to go. I include a few other things and information I am giving certain players about whatever there particular interests are. Of course things dont often run to the plot and thats all well and good. I also think some GM manipulation is ok to get the players back onto the plot.

Is this railroading ?

I exspected the characters to run against corp Y for some information and they decided not to. All clues point to this corp but the players just dont want to risk it. Now after trying for a while to get the information another way and failing. The players pretty much give up and sit there going over there own self defeating plans. So after waiting and waiting I have a NPC contact of one of the PCs give part of the information that Corporation Y has, enuff to move the players on with the plot. Of course the Karma award is adjusted slightly.
toturi
QUOTE (Earthwalker)
Is this railroading ?

I exspected the characters to run against corp Y for some information and they decided not to. All clues point to this corp but the players just dont want to risk it. Now after trying for a while to get the information another way and failing. The players pretty much give up and sit there going over there own self defeating plans. So after waiting and waiting I have a NPC contact of one of the PCs give part of the information that Corporation Y has, enuff to move the players on with the plot. Of course the Karma award is adjusted slightly.

Hmmmm. Why would these plans be self-defeating? Unless these plans were conceived by the players to fail, I doubt any plan would be self-defeating. Unless the GM did not like them and decided that they were self defeating. In which case, the GM would be railroading. Of course, the GM does not get any karma anyway, so no game mechanic can stop him from cramming his pet plot down the players throats.
Earthwalker
By self defeating its the open forum of the planning session where one player comes up with a plan. And in turn the others say why it wont work. Then the next player states a plan and again the other players state why it wont work. This isnt always the case but it has happened with me and so I have about 2 hours of the players just defeating themselves. Until they get to a point where they think they cant succeed, no action by the GM. Which of course could be a problem in itself.
toturi
Then why didn't say that the contact that gave them the information was unreliable? Or why if they followed the information given they won't succeed?
Earthwalker
I guess it all depends. If the players got that stymied then I would call it a night and see if they do better the next week. After speaking to them ooc, if they are happy with what is going on. Of course it usually doesnít get that bad.

If they donít take the information and try something else then we play whatever else they try. Of course if the information they need is only in a few places and they canít come up with an idea of how to get it then, there isnít much a GM can do.
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