DM problem - low level PC killing people they shouldn't be able to ...

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EDIT:   As for "players are hired"  That was the one and only "players must do this" that I've set up so far.  And that was partially in response to the Session Zero question of "Why are you guys working together?   Will this work for you?"




After reading through it and typing most of my response I realized that was probably the root of it, but all the stuff I said still follows through anyways.  Have fun with your adventure .

On a small note there is an example of "splitting the party into two worlds" that exists in the form of the final encounter in the Battle Interactive from this year.  The only difference was that it was possible to jump from one side to the other by switching places with one of the other players. 
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I have a questions about sandbox vs Railroad.

I'm a fairly new DM, only about 2 years now.  I'm not comfortable with my improvisational skills and letting players have a completely open sandbox, where they can go wherever they want to and go on whatever adventure they'd like.  Frankly, I'm not sure I can whip up good encounters (combat or skill challenge) on the fly. 

As a DM, I'd like to run a game that has a story thread, not one that I've specifically designed, but one that the players add to and branch off where they'd prefer to go.    I don't get the point of a completely open sandbox, beause it seems aimless to me.  Players would go on random adventure after rndom adventure, levelling up just seem pointless.  It doesn't seem like there's a goal.  Now, if players let me know what their goals are, I'd love to craft some basic adventures that cater to the character's story. 



First of all, good on you for sticking to it for 2 years now.

There is nothing "random" or "aimless" about a properly run sandbox because the players will pursue the goals most valid to them. So long as the world is logical and reasonable enough, it can support this. In fact it requires less actual work to do a proper sandbox than it does to run a "story" that accounts for all possible branches a player could take.

I don't want to run a game on tight rails- where I have the player's destinies written out and they have to follow along where I tell them to.  I don't think ANYONE is advocating a game like that.    So what then, constitutes railroading? 



Railroading is the process of removing agency (the ability to make meaningful choices) from your players. For instance, if you, as DM, have decided the players are going to fight some goblins that are on a left path, but they take the right path you are railroading them if the goblins are "magically" now on the right path. You have invalidated their choice. Effectively, you could have just said "You fight some gobilns now" and the net effect is the same except without the illusion of choice and without wasting the time of everyone around the table by deceiving them.

What I aim for is a series of interconnected adventures within certain boundaries. 
Is it wrong for me to offer several options for adventures, letting the players choose which one sounds most fun to them?  This would be done with hooks, based on their character's history and how the player has said they'd like the character to play out. 



No. Why? This is what DMs seek to do. My world is made to encompass a world of fantasy where PCs can become involved in any number of things and, just as easily, disengage from those things just as one could do in real life. All these things have consequences.

If I have players who seem like they are just along for the ride, whose characters don't have any real motivation, even after prodding in character and away from the table, is it alright to give the party an adventure with guidelines, some wide rails? 



If someone is playing an "adventurer" without any motivations then they have not really crafted a character...they have a statblock. Work with them to help them get some goals and flesh out their character. As for your question...it's okay so long as, just in real life, the PCs can step away from said adventure and go do what they want at any given point.

What you will find is that many players are not actually used to having agency...they have grown up being spoon-fed stories and gameplay from video games (believe me, I've designed them) or watching narratives. Actually coming up with motivations and going about intelligently pursuing those goals is not immediately within everyones wheelhouse because it's totally new to them. Pretty much universally, however, when they realize they CAN do anything, players will quickly embrace it and see what they can do.

I have a general outline for where I'd like the campaign to go.  It's short, so I'll post it here. 
Set in Eberron.  Heroic tier- palyers are hired to complete the Seekers of the Ashen Crown module.  This is modified to tie in better with later points.  Once that module is done, player may go on to return the crown to the Goblins or the Elves.  They may be hired to search for a hidden Creation Forge in the Mournland.  A recurring theme is the return of the Goblin nation and aberrants reappearing.  Depending on who gets the Ashen Crown, the Last War may be restarted.  May end heroic tier with a fight against a reincarnated/warforged Dragon.  Paragon tier- hints of a Lord of Dust trying to return to this plane.  Players may search out the pieces of an eldritch machine that would re-bind the creature, thus saving the world. It's a re-vamp of Against the Giants, with far less Giants. 

Is this outline a campaign on rails?  Note that, if the players and characters aren't interested, we drop it and move on to something else, something that hopefully the players are interested in.



This is rail-work. You're doing self-defeating labor here. You are wasting effort. So the players get the crown...then decide not to return it to either the Goblins or the Elves. They keep it. Or sell it. Or destroy it. Or any other number of things.

Essentially, you have put a lot of thought into a house of cards. Like a player without a PC that has no motivation, your campaign outline is entirely story points and narrative. It does not talk about PEOPLE or motivations or factions or anything like that. Think of a campaign outline as a slice of "now" of your campaign. Take that "Now" and look it over. Who is there? What are they doing? Why? Where? For what purpose? To what end? Etc. Etc.

It is all these things that allow you to build a world for your players to interact with that is meaningful. As DM you need not obsess over the movement of the clock-hands, you need to crack the clock open and put the gears in place. Then let them start turning and see where your players start putting in monkey wrenches. Work smarter, not harder.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

^.  See what I meant about Ichoice being unpopular around these parts?  Offhandedly throwing it away as a useful option and giving it as a definition of railroading.  How quaint.
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
^.  See what I meant about Ichoice being unpopular around these parts?  Offhandedly throwing it away as a useful option and giving it as a definition of railroading.  How quaint.



Considering it IS a definition of railroading...well...it kinda does it itself.

After all, it's lying to the players.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

^.  See what I meant about Ichoice being unpopular around these parts?  Offhandedly throwing it away as a useful option and giving it as a definition of railroading.  How quaint.



Considering it IS a definition of railroading...well...it kinda does it itself.

After all, it's lying to the players.



Of course it is!  How did I not see this before?  My life is full of happiness and sunflowers now that I have come around to your way of thinking...

Oh, wait no I'm still going with "there are lots of ways to play and run the game, run the game that is fun for your players as priority #1 and fun for you as priority #2".
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
^.  See what I meant about Ichoice being unpopular around these parts?  Offhandedly throwing it away as a useful option and giving it as a definition of railroading.  How quaint.



Considering it IS a definition of railroading...well...it kinda does it itself.

After all, it's lying to the players.



Of course it is!  How did I not see this before?  My life is full of happiness and sunflowers now that I have come around to your way of thinking...

Oh, wait no I'm still going with "there are lots of ways to play and run the game, run the game that is fun for your players as priority #1 and fun for you as priority #2".



Sure. If you have the most fun crafting an illusion of your players having full agency while you play magician-switch with them then more power to you.

If/When that illusion is broken, however, things might not be so peachy.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

^.  See what I meant about Ichoice being unpopular around these parts?  Offhandedly throwing it away as a useful option and giving it as a definition of railroading.  How quaint.



Considering it IS a definition of railroading...well...it kinda does it itself.

After all, it's lying to the players.



Of course it is!  How did I not see this before?  My life is full of happiness and sunflowers now that I have come around to your way of thinking...

Oh, wait no I'm still going with "there are lots of ways to play and run the game, run the game that is fun for your players as priority #1 and fun for you as priority #2".



Sure. If you have the most fun crafting an illusion of your players having full agency while you play magician-switch with them then more power to you.

If/When that illusion is broken, however, things might not be so peachy.



Man that would be a huge problem if my players didn't already know about me using Ichoice on an occaisonal basis... oh wait no they actually know and think it works well.  Hmm.. well there goes that idea.

I've never advocated for taking agency away from the players on a large scale.  Just making encounters / props / elements you want your players to interact with mutable to the point where they will get the chance to see things in the gameplay.  I don't use it for every encounter, every session or even every level of play.  Its just a tool to help incorporate things from the world into the PC's path. 
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
Man that would be a huge problem if my players didn't already know about me using Ichoice on an occaisonal basis... oh wait no they actually know and think it works well.  Hmm.. well there goes that idea.

I've never advocated for taking agency away from the players on a large scale.  Just making encounters / props / elements you want your players to interact with mutable to the point where they will get the chance to see things in the gameplay.  I don't use it for every encounter, every session or even every level of play.  Its just a tool to help incorporate things from the world into the PC's path. 



Crutch. The word you're looking for is "crutch". It is more precise than saying "tool".

What your post boils down to is that sometimes your players are going to damn well see what you lovingly expertly crafted and come hell or high water, regardless what they choose, they're going to damn well get to that point to experience it.

Railroading.

Gotcha. I understand.

I also understand it makes you feel "dirty" to realize that or to have it put in plain language...but it is what it is. You use the illusion of choice to have your players run into something you have "scripted". That is a textbook example of railroading.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Yes, that is true. Railroading has negative sense about it so the people that like to do railroading dont want to call it this! iChoice make it sounds like an Apple product, more cooler. Like people wait in line for it for days.

What your post boils down to is that sometimes your players are going to damn well see what you lovingly expertly crafted and come hell or high water, regardless what they choose, they're going to damn well get to that point to experience it.

Railroading.

Gotcha. I understand.

I also understand it makes you feel "dirty" to realize that or to have it put in plain language...but it is what it is. You use the illusion of choice to have your players run into something you have "scripted". That is a textbook example of railroading.



Which would be a great example if the players were forced through encounters /set pieces and information instead of merely introduced to them.  It would also make LOADS of sense of I didn't build these set pieces (after the first level or two) completely around what the players want to see.

You are right, I want the players to be able to interact with the encounter that I built to further their objectives for their PC.  Now, whether they choose to do it or not is entirely up to them, but where the encounter actually is in the game world / storyline is the Illusion.

I'd give an example of good vs bad Ichoice if I thought anyone wouldn't both label them as bad without giving thought either way .
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
Yes, that is true. Railroading has negative sense about it so the people that like to do railroading dont want to call it this! iChoice make it sounds like an Apple product, more cooler. Like people wait in line for it for days.



You are right.  Railroading is PC and Ichoice is Apple.  So they aren't at all the same thing?
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here

What your post boils down to is that sometimes your players are going to damn well see what you lovingly expertly crafted and come hell or high water, regardless what they choose, they're going to damn well get to that point to experience it.

Railroading.

Gotcha. I understand.

I also understand it makes you feel "dirty" to realize that or to have it put in plain language...but it is what it is. You use the illusion of choice to have your players run into something you have "scripted". That is a textbook example of railroading.



Which would be a great example if the players were forced through encounters /set pieces and information instead of merely introduced to them.  It would also make LOADS of sense of I didn't build these set pieces (after the first level or two) completely around what the players want to see.

You are right, I want the players to be able to interact with the encounter that I built to further their objectives for their PC.  Now, whether they choose to do it or not is entirely up to them, but where the encounter actually is in the game world / storyline is the Illusion.

I'd give an example of good vs bad Ichoice if I thought anyone wouldn't both label them as bad without giving thought either way .



If at any point, a choice presented to me doesn't actually matter, then it's bad. Since that is the nature of railroading (iChoice) then yes it's inherently bad.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

The vast majority of choices that a player makes during a campaign don't actually matter.
Back to Basics - A Guide to Basic Attacks You might be playing DnD wrong if... "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein
The vast majority of choices that a player makes during a campaign don't actually matter.



Holy crap that's a bad campaign then

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

The vast majority of choices that a player makes during a campaign don't actually matter.



Holy crap that's a bad campaign then



Because choosing to move to square A to attack an enemy monster makes such a differrence compared to moving to square B, one square to the north of A.

The vast majority of decisions are not plot-changing. 
Back to Basics - A Guide to Basic Attacks You might be playing DnD wrong if... "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein
The vast majority of choices that a player makes during a campaign don't actually matter.



Holy crap that's a bad campaign then



Because choosing to move to square A to attack an enemy monster makes such a differrence compared to moving to square B, one square to the north of A.

The vast majority of decisions are not plot-changing. 



And if you make square A or B only have something if they step in A or B then you are doing it wrong too. It must be in either A or B, but there is never any reason to have it not decided until the player acts.... /sarcasm
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here

What your post boils down to is that sometimes your players are going to damn well see what you lovingly expertly crafted and come hell or high water, regardless what they choose, they're going to damn well get to that point to experience it.

Railroading.

Gotcha. I understand.

I also understand it makes you feel "dirty" to realize that or to have it put in plain language...but it is what it is. You use the illusion of choice to have your players run into something you have "scripted". That is a textbook example of railroading.



Which would be a great example if the players were forced through encounters /set pieces and information instead of merely introduced to them.  It would also make LOADS of sense of I didn't build these set pieces (after the first level or two) completely around what the players want to see.

You are right, I want the players to be able to interact with the encounter that I built to further their objectives for their PC.  Now, whether they choose to do it or not is entirely up to them, but where the encounter actually is in the game world / storyline is the Illusion.

I'd give an example of good vs bad Ichoice if I thought anyone wouldn't both label them as bad without giving thought either way .



If at any point, a choice presented to me doesn't actually matter, then it's bad. Since that is the nature of railroading (iChoice) then yes it's inherently bad.



Also, who said the choice didn't matter?  Your choice sets a lot of things in place.  For instance there should be adifference between encounter the goblin patrol in the north pass as opposed to the south pass.  If they get GP North it is returning from looting a town they recently hit, if they get GP South it is on the way to scout a town they are about to hit or some such thing.
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
The vast majority of choices that a player makes during a campaign don't actually matter.



Holy crap that's a bad campaign then



Because choosing to move to square A to attack an enemy monster makes such a differrence compared to moving to square B, one square to the north of A.

The vast majority of decisions are not plot-changing. 



Wow. How telling is it that you immediately default to speaking about roleplaying purely in combat terms? You've completely missed the point.

Also those aren't choices. There are statistically optimal tactics in combat. It can ALL be boiled down to numbers, placement, probability and other known quantities. Hence, those sort of things in combat are NOT choices...they are strategic decisions based on the skill level of the person playing. It is not a "choice" for a character.

EDIT: I'll also add that even a decision made in combat has IMMEDIATE repercussions that matter. I mean that is painfully obvious. If you move to target A and attack Target A then you do not do damage to Target B. That is immediate, proveable consequences.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Also, who said the choice didn't matter?  Your choice sets a lot of things in place.  For instance there should be adifference between encounter the goblin patrol in the north pass as opposed to the south pass.  If they get GP North it is returning from looting a town they recently hit, if they get GP South it is on the way to scout a town they are about to hit or some such thing.



Those are two different things and therefore not magician-switch.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

The most simple answer is just make another NPC. They got lucky, they kill it, big deal. 
Except that is the example of Ichoice.  They will encounter a Goblin Patrol either way and not both.  The encounter mutates to match what the players pick.  That is the Ichoice I've been discussing this entire time.
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
The most simple answer is just make another NPC. They got lucky, they kill it, big deal. 



Big bad evil dudes never do that!

I mean you don't just replace Darth Maul with Darth Tyranus I mean General Grievous I mean Darth Vader I mean Executor Sedriss I mean...oh wait...

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Except that is the example of Ichoice.  They will encounter a Goblin Patrol either way and not both.  The encounter mutates to match what the players pick.  That is the Ichoice I've been discussing this entire time.



Did you arbitrarily DECIDE what they run into? Or was it already in place? If it is in place then it is not iChoice because options have outcomes. However, you COULD still be railroading by setting up identical encounters that cannot be avoided.

If the players are able to make decisions and actually impact what they run into and how they run into it then that is neither iChoice nor railroading.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Except that is the example of Ichoice.  They will encounter a Goblin Patrol either way and not both.  The encounter mutates to match what the players pick.  That is the Ichoice I've been discussing this entire time.



Did you arbitrarily DECIDE what they run into? Or was it already in place? If it is in place then it is not iChoice because options have outcomes. However, you COULD still be railroading by setting up identical encounters that cannot be avoided.

If the players are able to make decisions and actually impact what they run into and how they run into it then that is neither iChoice nor railroading.



OK, lets get to a more detailed example.

My campaign begins in a small town where there is a great storm and everyone has to seek shelter.  They players have lots of options, but that isn't relevant.

What is relevant is that after the storm passes the players have some hooks from the cave (which they can go with or not), have some quest hooks from background (same) and have the area changed by the storm to explore.

Now, I want for them to this encounter:

Show

Nouns changed because they aren't actually Velocirators, but the important part is that they are smart pack hunters.  I picked Velociraptor to make it close enough but obviously not what I was using.

4x Velociraptor
1x Injured Velociraptor

Setup: The raptors use one of their members injured by the storm as bait to attract something larger to themselves so they pack can take it down.  They know there are creatures on the road (travelers) and other large scavengers (creatures in the nearby jungle) who might be fooled into lowering their guard around the injured raptor.

The Injured raptor is in the middle of the path with a piece of corrupted mithril imbedded in his side.  The other raptors are hidden off the side of the road.  The injured raptor has been hurt because a nearby mithril vein exploded through the ground into the cave they were using to hide from the storm.


Now there are 3 major roads and a well-traveled path all leading away from the town.  Should the PCs choose to leave through any of these methods, or encounter part of the path/road near town they will see the injured raptor.  Which path the raptor is on has nothing to do with anything except for which path the PCs chose to take.  The piece of mithral embedded in the creature's side is a very valuable piece for one of the plotlines should they choose to go that route.

Now if the PCs select the north road the hidden raptors will be half on one side of the road, half on the other.  One side is tall grass, the other is wooded.  The creatures in the wooded side have the advantage of having better cover unless the characters approach from the woods.

If they PCs choose the well-traveled path to the NE both sides are wooded.  The raptors have a better chance at avoiding detection.

If the PCs choose the eastern road, the encounter is basically the North Road but reversed.

If the PCs choose the south road, both sides are tall grass and it is easier to spot the creatures.

Now the PCs may decide to follow something else and head into a cave system.  They won't encounter this fight that way.  Or take a boat West.  They won't encounter this fight that way.

The PCs may choose to see this as a threat best left avoided and go around it.  They may catch on very quickly or slowly to what is going on.  They may take note of the creature that was injured at the start of the battle and acting oddly or they may not.  THAT part is up to the players.  WHERE the encounter is, or whether they get to see it or not isn't part of the deal.  They went down a road, they can choose to interact with this.

Edit:

The point is All roads lead to this encounter.  Now, encounter doesn't mean fight necessarily.  I've run this campaign 8 times so far.  6 times groups have gone to this encounter, 4 times they have fought it.  Once they killed the injured from a distance and waited and the pack left.  Once they treated the wounded and calmed the animals to make friends.  Twice the group got the jump, twice the creatures got the jump.
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..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />OK, lets get to a more detailed example.

My campaign begins in a small town where there is a great storm and everyone has to seek shelter.  They players have lots of options, but that isn't relevant.

What is relevant is that after the storm passes the players have some hooks from the cave (which they can go with or not), have some quest hooks from background (same) and have the area changed by the storm to explore.

Now, I want for them to this encounter:



First red light. You WANT something. A DM should not want when it comes to the events of the game itself. It is not their place to want. That is the path to laying tracks.

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Nouns changed because they aren't actually Velocirators, but the important part is that they are smart pack hunters.  I picked Velociraptor to make it close enough but obviously not what I was using.

4x Velociraptor
1x Injured Velociraptor

Setup: The raptors use one of their members injured by the storm as bait to attract something larger to themselves so they pack can take it down.  They know there are creatures on the road (travelers) and other large scavengers (creatures in the nearby jungle) who might be fooled into lowering their guard around the injured raptor.

The Injured raptor is in the middle of the path with a piece of corrupted mithril imbedded in his side.  The other raptors are hidden off the side of the road.  The injured raptor has been hurt because a nearby mithril vein exploded through the ground into the cave they were using to hide from the storm.


Now there are 3 major roads and a well-traveled path all leading away from the town.  Should the PCs choose to leave through any of these methods, or encounter part of the path/road near town they will see the injured raptor.  Which path the raptor is on has nothing to do with anything except for which path the PCs chose to take.  The piece of mithral embedded in the creature's side is a very valuable piece for one of the plotlines should they choose to go that route.

Now if the PCs select the north road the hidden raptors will be half on one side of the road, half on the other.  One side is tall grass, the other is wooded.  The creatures in the wooded side have the advantage of having better cover unless the characters approach from the woods.

If they PCs choose the well-traveled path to the NE both sides are wooded.  The raptors have a better chance at avoiding detection.

If the PCs choose the eastern road, the encounter is basically the North Road but reversed.

If the PCs choose the south road, both sides are tall grass and it is easier to spot the creatures.

Now the PCs may decide to follow something else and head into a cave system.  They won't encounter this fight that way.  Or take a boat West.  They won't encounter this fight that way.

The PCs may choose to see this as a threat best left avoided and go around it.  They may catch on very quickly or slowly to what is going on.  They may take note of the creature that was injured at the start of the battle and acting oddly or they may not.  THAT part is up to the players.  WHERE the encounter is, or whether they get to see it or not isn't part of the deal.  They went down a road, they can choose to interact with this.



What is up to the players? Door 1, 2 or 3? What does it matter. Why give them the choice? Just tell them "There is one road out" in the first place? Because really there IS only one road.

Edit:

The point is All roads lead to this encounter.  Now, encounter doesn't mean fight necessarily.  I've run this campaign 8 times so far.  6 times groups have gone to this encounter, 4 times they have fought it.  Once they killed the injured from a distance and waited and the pack left.  Once they treated the wounded and calmed the animals to make friends.  Twice the group got the jump, twice the creatures got the jump.



What did the other 2 do? Why did they not get to this encounter?

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

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First red light. You WANT something. A DM should not want when it comes to the events of the game itself. It is not their place to want. That is the path to laying tracks.



Yes, I want to give them quest hooks that they can choose whether to take, ignore or incorporate into their current way of playing.  Me wanting to make the game interesting and varied for my players is nothing I'm going to deny or apologize for.




What is up to the players? Door 1, 2 or 3? What does it matter. Why give them the choice? Just tell them "There is one road out" in the first place? Because really there IS only one road.



Except there isn't one road, there are 4.  And what matters is how things get effected by what happens later on down the line.  The mithral is something they can use on the first leg of their journey wherever they may go, or keep it, or use it, or never find it at all.


What did the other 2 do? Why did they not get to this encounter?



One group took the boat west and came back to this area much later and the last group took a romp through the cave system, didn't go through any of the paths and went on to do other things.

G1 in this case came back to the town much later and someone from town had found the raptor and been killed, it just added fluff for the town.  They decided the other things they were doing were more important and left that one alone.

G2 never went back to the town and only used the road much later down the line to a point where the conditions (they take a road soon after the storm passes) was no longer true.
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Yes, I want to give them quest hooks that they can choose whether to take, ignore or incorporate into their current way of playing.  Me wanting to make the game interesting and varied for my players is nothing I'm going to deny or apologize for.



Hahah.


Except there isn't one road, there are 4.  And what matters is how things get effected by what happens later on down the line.  The mithral is something they can use on the first leg of their journey wherever they may go, or keep it, or use it, or never find it at all.



The quantum-mithral that is ALWAYS exactly where they go huh? That is some really magical mithral able to be in multiple places at once yet at none of those places. Wait does that make it Schrodinger's Mithral? If they never NEED to find it at all, why have it be quantum mithral?

One group took the boat west and came back to this area much later and the last group took a romp through the cave system, didn't go through any of the paths and went on to do other things.

G1 in this case came back to the town much later and someone from town had found the raptor and been killed, it just added fluff for the town.  They decided the other things they were doing were more important and left that one alone.

G2 never went back to the town and only used the road much later down the line to a point where the conditions (they take a road soon after the storm passes) was no longer true.



So if has no negative impact for those that don't find it, why keep it as quantum mithral? Why not have something different at each road?

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.



First red light. You WANT something. A DM should not want when it comes to the events of the game itself. It is not their place to want. That is the path to laying tracks.



Yes, I want to give them quest hooks that they can choose whether to take, ignore or incorporate into their current way of playing.  Me wanting to make the game interesting and varied for my players is nothing I'm going to deny or apologize for.

Except there isn't any real variety.  Just the illusion of variety.

You kill for sport, you kill for honor, you kill for money.  None of them change the fact that you kill.




What is up to the players? Door 1, 2 or 3? What does it matter. Why give them the choice? Just tell them "There is one road out" in the first place? Because really there IS only one road.



Except there isn't one road, there are 4.  And what matters is how things get effected by what happens later on down the line.  The mithral is something they can use on the first leg of their journey wherever they may go, or keep it, or use it, or never find it at all.

In other words, "I wouldn't want all these stats to have gone to waste because they chose a different path, but to compensate for their choices I'll tweak up the encounters a bit so it'll seem different."

I think I used to suggest stuff like this before, but I don't really see the point nowadays.  It's just like how WotC suggested as the "right" way of railroading -- as you're setting new tracks for the players to tread, although the encounters and the destination are still the same -- and I do believe I kinda got dissed at that article myself.  Pre-planning stuff is fine, but you should always be prepared to throw all the plans aside and run everything free style, because players will always (accidentally or intentionally) end up doing stuff that isn't expected.

What did the other 2 do? Why did they not get to this encounter?



One group took the boat west and came back to this area much later and the last group took a romp through the cave system, didn't go through any of the paths and went on to do other things.

G1 in this case came back to the town much later and someone from town had found the raptor and been killed, it just added fluff for the town.  They decided the other things they were doing were more important and left that one alone.

G2 never went back to the town and only used the road much later down the line to a point where the conditions (they take a road soon after the storm passes) was no longer true.

In other words, iChoice was subverted? I think that should be a sign that they're prolly not always satisified with the lack of real choices you're giving them, so they end up creating their own choices.
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As far as the quantum metal goes here is the deal:

Whether or not they encounter the metal is not the part I want to know.  It is what they do with it if they find it.  So where/why/how/who was carrying etc will all change that answer, but the core question remains the same.

No negative impact?  It killed a villager and they were out a good chunk of money and some other stuff.

Why not have something different on each road?  That hurts the underlying question for one.  But more importantly it is much simpler and easier to build one encounter rather than 4. Edit: I believe you said above at one point "work smart, not hard".
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I dont think I have enough english to explain this, maybe someone else can do it. The things you are doing Matyr are extra work plus illusions for no good reasons. You can change all of that style, give less work to yourself, and better choices for your players another way. Yagamifire talks about building a world which is okay but a lot of work. You can do it a lot smaller with same style and have all choices matter and game more exciting. I would tell more but I am no good with english.
The vast majority of choices that a player makes during a campaign don't actually matter.



Holy crap that's a bad campaign then



Because choosing to move to square A to attack an enemy monster makes such a differrence compared to moving to square B, one square to the north of A.

The vast majority of decisions are not plot-changing. 



Wow. How telling is it that you immediately default to speaking about roleplaying purely in combat terms? You've completely missed the point.

Also those aren't choices. There are statistically optimal tactics in combat. It can ALL be boiled down to numbers, placement, probability and other known quantities. Hence, those sort of things in combat are NOT choices...they are strategic decisions based on the skill level of the person playing. It is not a "choice" for a character.

EDIT: I'll also add that even a decision made in combat has IMMEDIATE repercussions that matter. I mean that is painfully obvious. If you move to target A and attack Target A then you do not do damage to Target B. That is immediate, proveable consequences.



Ok, a more roleplaying example (of course you were the one to separate roleplaying and combat, clearly the two are never amalgimated...). 

The PCs go into a pub. The barman asks what they want to drink. It makes no difference if they order ale or wine or water or the blood of a thousand virgins (given the right campaign).

Player decisions only get the weight that you give to them.

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Except there isn't any real variety.  Just the illusion of variety.

You kill for sport, you kill for honor, you kill for money.  None of them change the fact that you kill.



Except there is variety there.  Why you kill should be extremely important to the game.


In other words, iChoice was subverted? I think that should be a sign that they're prolly not always satisified with the lack of real choices you're giving them, so they end up creating their own choices.



If by subverted you mean they went outside of the reasonable perameters for them to engage in the Ichoice, then yes.  But that also means they had something they really wanted to do going on, so it doesn't matter what side stuff I have for them to explore because they have something they want to do that is independent of it. 
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..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />Ok, a more roleplaying example (of course you were the one to separate roleplaying and combat, clearly the two are never amalgimated...).



Of course they are. Focus on one over the other in this example is silly, however.

The PCs go into a pub. The barman asks what they want to drink. It makes no difference if they order ale or wine or water or the blood of a thousand virgins (given the right campaign).

Player decisions only get the weight that you give to them.




One of my players, Walter, ALWAYS tries to order Daktar (Hobgoblin) wine at bars because when he met and befriended a group of hobgoblins in game he drank with them and my description of wine apparently sounded delicious to the player so he decided his character really liked it. Kinda funny considering I've never had alcohol but apparently I can describe a yummy wine. Go figure.

So yes, his decision about what to order is VERY important to him because it has to do with his character and his characters preferences.

Also, I can disprove that even more simply: All those things might cost different amounts. Hence the choice matters to their pocketbook.

Man, these are softball lobs over the plate...keep 'em coming!

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

As far as the quantum metal goes here is the deal:

Whether or not they encounter the metal is not the part I want to know.  It is what they do with it if they find it.  So where/why/how/who was carrying etc will all change that answer, but the core question remains the same.



You want to know? Again, you seem to WANT a lot.

No negative impact?  It killed a villager and they were out a good chunk of money and some other stuff.



They might not care about the villager and in the same amount of time they may have earned just as much or more money doing something else.

Why not have something different on each road?  That hurts the underlying question for one.  But more importantly it is much simpler and easier to build one encounter rather than 4. Edit: I believe you said above at one point "work smart, not hard".



Underlying question? Ah the one you WANT them to answer?

And simpler & easier? Yes, crutches are. It IS simpler and easier to railroad your players. I agree. Never disagreed with that one. It is definitely easier.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

 One of my players, Walter, ALWAYS tries to order Daktar (Hobgoblin) wine at bars because when he met and befriended a group of hobgoblins in game he drank with them and my description of wine apparently sounded delicious to the player so he decided his character really liked it. Kinda funny considering I've never had alcohol but apparently I can describe a yummy wine. Go figure.

So yes, his decision about what to order is VERY important to him because it has to do with his character and his characters preferences.



So it's important to him. In the grand scheme of things it makes no difference to the plot unless you make it do so. For example if the barman's daughter had just been kidnapped by hobgoblins, such a request might start a tavern brawl. But usually, it will make no real difference; either he will get his preferred drink of choice or he will be told that they don't serve it. Tough cookies. Player decisions only matter if you make them matter, as I said before but not every decisions has to effect the plot of any given session, let alone the whole campaign.

Also, I can disprove that even more simply: All those things might cost different amounts. Hence the choice matters to their pocketbook.



After level one such payment are rediculously small (as in talking copper and silver pieces). Forcing players to keep track of such demoninations is bordering on asinine. 

Man, these are softball lobs over the plate...keep 'em coming!



I assume this is some American referrence, I could not possibly comment.


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Underlying question? Ah the one you WANT them to answer?

And simpler & easier? Yes, crutches are. It IS simpler and easier to railroad your players. I agree. Never disagreed with that one. It is definitely easier.



Yes, as the DM of the game I am interested in seeing the decisions of my players.  I would like to see how they react to my prompts and prompts they supply.  It is what makes DMing fun.

Railroad them into what I want: Easy
Use Ichoice to introduce them to things from their background / things in the world / Extra points where Im curious what they will do: Medium
Let them go anywhere and adjust to everything on the fly: Hard.

Can you make a perfectly balanced, seat of your chair, mechanically full fight on the fly?  Yes.  Should you have to do that every time (and then watch it fall flat if you do it poorly, or have to mcguffin them out of there should they fall flat)?  Nope.

What you call a crutch, I call a tool.  Sorry you don't like how my game is run
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..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />So it's important to him. In the grand scheme of things it makes no difference to the plot unless you make it do so. For example if the barman's daughter had just been kidnapped by hobgoblins, such a request might start a tavern brawl. But usually, it will make no real difference; either he will get his preferred drink of choice or he will be told that they don't serve it. Tough cookies. Player decisions only matter if you make them matter, as I said before but not every decisions has to effect the plot of any given session, let alone the whole campaign.



In the grand scheme of things your plot is better left in a novel especially if the players don't care.

Player choice ALWAYS matters. Your obsession with a 'plot' you are creating is the only way it wouldn't. Stop worrying about plot. It is not YOUR plot. It is the players story.

After level one such payment are rediculously small (as in talking copper and silver pieces). Forcing players to keep track of such demoninations is bordering on asinine.



Oh my! Am I playing wrong?!

..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" class="mceContentBody " contenteditable="true" />

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" class="mceContentBody " contenteditable="true" />Yes, as the DM of the game I am interested in seeing the decisions of my players.  I would like to see how they react to my prompts and prompts they supply.  It is what makes DMing fun.



The decisions relevant to you. The things you care about. The stops on the railroad. Choo choo. Gotcha.

Railroad them into what I want: Easy



Just do this then.

Use Ichoice to introduce them to things from their background / things in the world / Extra points where Im curious what they will do: Medium



So...still railroad them but lie to them about railroading them. Okay.

Let them go anywhere and adjust to everything on the fly: Hard.



Unless you develop a skill and tool set that lets you do this instead of the skillset of deception and railroading.

Can you make a perfectly balanced, seat of your chair, mechanically full fight on the fly?  Yes.  Should you have to do that every time (and then watch it fall flat if you do it poorly, or have to mcguffin them out of there should they fall flat)?  Nope.



Why should I obsesss over perfect mechanical balance?

What you call a crutch, I call a tool.  Sorry you don't like how my game is run



It's okay. I'm not playing in it.

I just call out railroading when I see it.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

If by subverted you mean they went outside of the reasonable perameters for them to engage in the Ichoice, then yes.  But that also means they had something they really wanted to do going on, so it doesn't matter what side stuff I have for them to explore because they have something they want to do that is independent of it. 

So... why haven't you been catering to them from the start, then?
In the grand scheme of things your plot is better left in a novel especially if the players don't care.

Player choice ALWAYS matters. Your obsession with a 'plot' you are creating is the only way it wouldn't. Stop worrying about plot. It is not YOUR plot. It is the players story.

This, people, is the main reason why we're having this debate in the first place.  What we perceive as the "right" way of DMing is that even though the DM is the narrator, he's not supposed to be narrating what he wants, but rather what his players want.  Now if it just so happens that his players want him to narrate his story then all the better, but the default assumption should be that this is false.

Yes, as the DM of the game I am interested in seeing the decisions of my players.  I would like to see how they react to my prompts and prompts they supply.  It is what makes DMing fun.

Good for you.

Railroad them into what I want: Easy
Use Ichoice to introduce them to things from their background / things in the world / Extra points where Im curious what they will do: Medium
Let them go anywhere and adjust to everything on the fly: Hard.

Strangely, I find that, as a DM, I enjoy what you consider "hard" as the most enjoyable and the most rewarding.  Is that because I'm masochistic, or is it because I find it exciting to actually look forward to what the players do next?

Can you make a perfectly balanced, seat of your chair, mechanically full fight on the fly?  Yes.  Should you have to do that every time (and then watch it fall flat if you do it poorly, or have to mcguffin them out of there should they fall flat)?  Nope.

I fail to see how you can repeatedly make perfect fights and then suddenly fail at it.  You set about the definition of the "perfect" fight and then it gets destroyed because of... poor performance? DM fiat?  If that was the case, then the first run of the fight would've ended up with poor performance or forcing the DM to pull a deus ex machina, with the next fights actually improving in chances for the PCs to win because the players would now know what you regularly pull off and how to do it.

Personally as a player if a DM outright told me that all the options I had were virtually the same but with tiny yet (supposedly significant) differences, I'd eventually try my best to create a scenario where the DM had no choice but to change the story significantly enough.  Not because I dislike the DM's story per se, but frankly I already have computer RPGs that give me that experience.  I play because I want a more organic sort of story development, where my character's story actually matters.

Heck, that's kinda why I'm sad nobody's DMing 13th Age for me

EDIT: I suppose it's my experiences with Living Forgotten Realms (both good and bad) that makes me really dislike railroading (regardless of name).  It's a "safe" way of doing things yes, but it's... I dunno, amateurish? Unprofessional? Too computer-RPG-like? Dishonest? In any case, I've done my railroading before, and I'm kinda forced to continue railroading a bit with the Epic LFR group I'm DMing, but in all honesty I dislike railroading, and if it were only possible to go MYRE at Epic I would've done so. Then again, 13th Age gives me something to look forward to whenever I DM it
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
For every DM that advocates removal or decrease of player agency, there is one more reason for all of the players that have posted about DMs taking away their ability to play the game to be worried. I would respond to the last few posts, but Yagami and Chaosfang both have said what I would, either just as good or better. It wasn't too long ago that I thought rail-roading DMs where more or less a myth.
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