DM of the Rings C:
Railroad Goes Ever on and on

By Shamus
on May 14, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings

Lets go somewhere different.
The relationship between pizza and railroading.

While planning your gameworld, it should be noted that no matter what you do, the players are going to route around those aspects of the world into which you have poured the most detail and filled with the most interesting characters. They will skip right past those locations and insist on exploring the blank areas of the map.

Then they will grumble about the threadbare nature of the campaign.

If you prevent them from doing this, they will accuse you of railroading them.

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A Hundred!20202010Many comments. 170, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

1 2 3

  1. Rupert says:

    Can I say First? Surely not.

    Hilarious as usual, I’m one of the likely many non-posters who have read the entire thing.

    Wonder if I’ll be first when I press this button?

  2. Robert says:

    Players suck.

    But DMOTR rules all. ;)

  3. thexplodingnome says:

    hahaha! first!

    beautiful symbiosis…teehee. Love it.

  4. luxangelus says:

    Ok 3rd and now 4th

  5. Steve the DM says:

    Wow, this is almost the same thing my players did recently. It’s scary how this mirrors the current campaign I’m running. This also gives me something to laugh about 3x’s a week. Keep up the great work.

  6. Lynx says:

    I find myself looking at “No Comments” and having nothing to say.

    Ah well, it’s probably too late. One of the regulars would have gotten to it as I am typing this.

    Anyway, I find it is best, when DM’ing, to follow Eddings’ advice: Always have a map. :)

  7. thexplodingnome says:

    Bullocks. I knew I shouldn’t have played this game.

  8. luxangelus says:

    3rd 5th and 6th

  9. Merry says:

    It is amazing how many rangers and mountain-able characters you get, after you had a campaign full of impassable mountains and impenetrable forests…

    I usually intertwine some “interesting” fights with beasts (and beasts dont have any loot/gold, usually) and make sure they find out that they just took the long route (The wandering beer salesman is exactly the same, and he had to haul around a big barrel of liquid with an aged donkey – he must have overtaken them by taking the road…)

  10. Sewerman says:

    Hey, did anyone else note that this is episode E/m^2 ??

  11. DocTwisted says:

    Uhm… tenth?

    This is great, at least the DM was being more subtle than “You’re too tired to find another place to camp but not tired enough to scale the plateau.”

    As a PC, at this point I’d start digging to find the railroad tracks and rip ’em up.

  12. Sewerman says:

    No wonder I failed physics :)

    Okay, the square root of E/m

  13. luxangelus says:

    Ok 3rd 5th and 9th and now n-th
    When I GM I usualy let my players go to all the places they would like too and make those places boring as hell. South fishing village. North mountains goats, snow… East desert, oasis, sand… West aaa the capital. The king is expe…
    They are free to explore every bit of land on the planet. They can become fishermen or beduins or explorers but unless they go to the city they only get nice landscape and I never push them to go where I want them to go, I just let them agree to that on thir own.

  14. Telas says:

    D&D players (myself included) are proof of the aphorism, “None of us is as stupid as all of us.”

  15. Nathan says:

    Great comic! I like the players will to do what they want.

  16. Des says:

    Awsome, I was reading the one before it when it was posted. As always if the Dm doesn’t want the players to go there, there’s mountains in the way which end up funneling the players striaght were the Dm wants them to go.

  17. Mikko says:

    My players have learned they _can_ explore uncharted places (uncharted my the GM, that is), but that comes with a price.

    And the price is a hiatus of several months when I map & populate the new lands.

  18. Donna says:

    Shamus,

    I love your site. I was introduced to it by a friend, and now I live for my 3 days a week that I KNOW I’ll get a laugh.

    I have found it is MUCH harder to watch the movies. My children love to watch them with me, and they have no idea why mom breaks out in hysterical laughter during serious scenes now.

    Keep up the good work!

  19. -Chipper says:

    The players’ constant repetition of “I hate this campaign” with the very occasional “I love this campaign” thrown in is exactly how most golfers feel about golf.

  20. AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    One of the best yet, a truly fitting 100!

    Keep ’em coming :D

    (is it just me, or do all my comment end in a grin-face?)

    :D

  21. Clyde says:

    XXIst! Actually, I should wait a while so I could be Cth to match the comic’s number.

    Congrats on reaching #100, Shamus! :-)

  22. Aaron says:

    Ahh the derailed party (who derailed themselves). I’ve always attempted to just create on the fly with parties who won’t follow the story. Mind you, I’ve always done it in games where I could. LoTR isn’t exactly like that.

    I do fully support the pizza requirement though. I’ll run just about any game for enough pizza.

  23. Cenobite says:

    And for all of you GMs who have actually experienced what today’s comic is all about…

    …a small piece of practical advice (which I probably should have posted under the “advice to a neophyte GM” entry, but oh well):

    DON’T simply draw a flat 2-D map of the terrain. Your players will immediately wonder what’s beyond the square (or rectangular) borders.

    DO draw an entire globe instead.

    If it helps, you can map it to the d20. Draw your maps in the shapes of equilateral triangles. Use the scale of continents and oceans, not towns. Draw 20 of these maps and make sure the sides connect properly. Congratulations, you have just finished mapping out the entire planet.

    In all my years of running campaigns, this is the BEST method for killing the party’s urge for wanderlust.

  24. Vegedus says:

    Plot exposition! This is a great strip! We dvelve further into the personas, the motives, the goals of the people “playing” and running the game. We still don’t know why the players puts up with the DM though. On another note:

    “Then they will grumble about the threadbare nature of the campaign.

    If you prevent them from doing this, they will accuse you of railroading them.”

    I’m gonna be a DM again later this year, and I’ve yet to topple this problem. When I thought out a plot, a questline, while my players didn’t explicitly accuse me of railroading, it always felt fake, when I pushed them in the right directions.
    When I opened up the game, gave some pointers, but no pushing, they were unmotivated and incoherent (the party split a couple of times, loners dying left and right).
    I figure the answer lies in a sort of balance, but damn, where can you buy one of those?

  25. Lynx says:

    Cenobite sez: “DO draw an entire globe instead.”

    Aye, but what if your gameworld is a Ringworld? Or an O’Neil cylinder?

    :P

  26. JD Wiker says:

    Ah, the curse of railroading. In my group, in the Long-Ago, it was called “scripting,” and I got stuck with that label for making the mistake of running DL1: Dragons of Despair. (There’s a bit at the beginning that advises the DM to just throw more and more draconians at the party until they give up all hope of independent initiative and just go to the damned dungeon.) For *years* afterward, I had to design encounters for every possible decision the players could make, no matter what game system.

    At least that experience taught me how to come up with encounters on the fly. (In fact, some of my most memorable sessions have taken place “off the map,” with the players none the wiser that what happened that evening wasn’t planned well in advance.)

    JD

  27. brassbaboon says:

    Railroading and scripting… I do a lot of both, but I don’t actually recall being accused of it very much. Once or twice, but only in a good-natured way.

    Of course this is precisely why so many campaigns are done in dungeons. It constrains the players’ options quite nicely. It’s when you get into the open air that it gets hard to herd the party.

    When I really want the party to do something specific, I try to create the proper incentives. Sometimes that’s just a reward offered by the king. Other times it’s a grudge that a NPC has against a PC. Currently it’s a captured NPC brother of a PC.

    Usually though my players seem to want to follow the guidelines I’ve set up. They know that’s where the fun stuff is and that’s where they’ll find both adventure and loot. Every now and then they go off in a new direction without my explicit prodding, but somehow it all seems to end up tying back into the main story. Not sure how that happens, but it seems to work out. ;)

  28. Scarlet Knight says:

    I guess the trick is creating floating encounters. No matter what forest the players went to, the ents would be in THAT one (all forests are enchanted anyway). No matter which route they take, the goblins on the worgs just HAPPEN to be passing through. All random tradesman all just “seem” to be heading where the DM wants the players to go. (“West? Just came from thar’. Ain’t nuthin’ but fahm’s. Ye can head thar’ if ye like. Me? Ah’m headed to tha’ capital, meself. Plenty o’ money ta be had thar’.”)

  29. corwin says:

    Cenobite: Doesn’t that make them want to explore off-planet? :D

    Great stuff, Shamus. This goes well with the advice you gave on Fear the Boot about hiding the railroading. Things like if you need them to visit several places in order, move the next place in the sequence to wherever it is the players decide to go.

  30. AndiN says:

    @Steve the DM:
    “Wow, this is almost the same thing my players did recently. It’s scary how this mirrors the current campaign I’m running.”

    It’s because Shamus has surveillance equipment at your house. Just keep your game running so the rest of us can enjoy this comic. ;-)

    @Cenobite:
    “DON’T simply draw a flat 2-D map of the terrain. Your players will immediately wonder what’s beyond the square (or rectangular) borders.

    DO draw an entire globe instead.”

    That’s a fantastic idea! I do 3D computer graphics, so I could actually model and texture a globe like that. I just play RPGs, but my husband GMs, so that might be handy for him.

    Of course, only one player in our group is as quick-witted as him, so it’s a rare gaming session that he can’t come up with a solution to any curve we throw him. He’s known for creating entire scenarios on the fly because we players have latched onto some inconsequential tangent…

    @Shamus:
    Awesome strip as always! “Yes, it’s a beautiful symbiosis” will have me chuckling all day! :-)

  31. The Pancakes says:

    Oh, Shamus! You’ve outdone yourself this time. Truly one of your best!

  32. Wraithshadow says:

    Ah, you see- he could’ve avoided this so easily.

    “We don’t want to go back there.”

    “It’s on the way to a big city.”

    “So?”

    “There’s shops, a smithy capable of fixing your sword, and plenty of girls.”

    “To Edoras!”

  33. SteveDJ says:

    Perhaps the players gave in too quickly? They should have keep pushing: How’s about NW? SE? NNE? Soon, maybe they could even have the DM saying “I hate this campaign”. :)

  34. thark says:

    “OK, guys. I have this town. There are things going on there, there are (hopefully) interesting NPCs, there’s stuff for you to do and get engaged in.

    “If you decide to have no ties to it, not care about what happens there, and leave at a moment’s whim, you will find that there is nothing going on outside and you and your character will both be royally bored.”

    Seems to work for me. But then, I have reasonable players who realize that gaming is a collaborative effort and part of having fun is striving to entertain themselves and each other.

    If you have players poking at the white spots or wandering off the edges Just Because They Can–when there’s apparently nothing going on there–the problem isn’t the existence white spots or the edges, it’s that you have players more commited to being contrary than to having fun, and there is no bloody way you’re going to have fun unless that’s what everyone’s commited to it.

    This is more a comment on some of the comments than on the comic–the epynomous DM of the Rings is just as problematic as his players. After all, it’s not like there’s something interesting going on INSIDE the map either.

  35. Shandrunn says:

    Running a game by forum posts, I have the advantage of generating everything in response to what the players do without them noticing. So if they go in direction X, I’ll have something interesting pop up on the map where a blank space was moments before.

  36. Having reasonable players who understand that the game happens in dungeons or similarly contained locales helps. And regarding allowing PCs to wander to the most boring places – I recently allowed my PCs to explore a whole town and they finally just asked that I skip the extra stuff and get to the action. That was a good moment.

  37. Glaucan says:

    LOL, I created a world my players can explore without a storyline (I make it week by week) and they are scared exploring unknown lands -_-‘

    Players are never happy ;-)

    Great job ! I Love this campaign

  38. Godfather Punk says:

    Gimli “I could go for a dungeon, myself.”

    What are the odds he’ll eat these words in a not to distant future?

  39. Oona says:

    Ah, the curse of railroading. In my group, in the Long-Ago, it was called “scripting,” and I got stuck with that label for making the mistake of running DL1: Dragons of Despair. (There’s a bit at the beginning that advises the DM to just throw more and more draconians at the party until they give up all hope of independent initiative and just go to the damned dungeon.) For *years* afterward, I had to design encounters for every possible decision the players could make, no matter what game system.

    >Wow, another DL player! I’m currently running a Dragonlance campaign myself. Those old modules were definately, um, let’s say, narrowly constructed. My main remedy to that sort of thing is to be so familiar with the campaign world as to be able to make things up on the fly.

  40. ***Self interested ad alert***

    This is why Wilderlands of High Fantasy is perfect to solve this problem. Nearly every hex is filled with interesting detail.

    http://www.necromancergames.com/previews/jg_wl.html
    http://www.necromancergames.com/pdf/lenap/lenap.pdf
    http://www.necromancergames.com/pdf/lenap/lenap_map.jpg

    Enjoy

  41. txknight says:

    Another good one Shamus. :-)

    I usually don’t have too much problem with players choosing a different path. But even when they do, I don’t fret too much. I keep things open-ended any ways. Worst come to worst I tell them you “see a big bar that is growing larger with the words ‘Loading…’ writen underneath”. :-) I then tell them to take a break while I whip together a new story or encounter.

  42. Woerlan says:

    Players fully expect there to be something exciting within a half-day’s ride from wherever they are at the moment. In most fantasy worlds(Middle Earth included), the world is 99% mundane, and the 1% “interesting” portion is as far from civilization as possible. DnD worlds on the other hand, are just filled with dungeons and tombs and ancient ruins, large and small, that no one bothers to clean up, that spontaneously respawns with monsters sans a viable ecosystem, has hidden treasure that re-appears whenever a new group enters, and has the inevitable mysterious individual in the nearby town who JUST HAPPENS to know about said “lost location.” You gotta love it when players from one genre transitions to another.

    Culture shock on the kitchen table.

  43. Acyn says:

    FIRST!

    (time poster)

    As always a brilliant comic and a great 100th episode.
    I came late to the party, so I got to read the first 50 all at once, but now have to wait 2-5 days per strip. What’s up with that?

    Anyway, SteveDJ’s idea of calling out more directions reminded me of last nights Simpsons.
    Corn. Corn. Coven of witches. Amateur production of “Our Town” More Corn. I’m getting dizzy…..

    Or the DM could use a trick that’s been used all too often on me and other players over the years to get the game moving again. Make it personal. “You notice your saddlebag is missing. You see some unfamiliar tracks heading *that* way.”

    Personally, the ONE moment I’m waiting for in RotK is if Sam and Frodo are brought back….

    “Line inspection!”

    Either that, or how the players deal with all 11 endings the DM/movie has planned for them.

    “The ring is destroyed.”
    “Oh, and Saurons armies disappear.”
    “Oh, and Frodo and Sam are rescued.”
    “Oh, and Eragon is crowned king.”
    “Oh, annd the Hobbits return to the Shire.”
    “Oh, and Frodo finishes the book.”
    “Oh, and…..”

    Can’t wait for 101. Thanks for the laughs.

  44. Aaron says:

    Scripting. The moment i saw that what did I think of?

    BOXED TEXT.

    This is the bane of all players. The savior of all GMs. You’re in the middle of boxed text and a player goes “Oh can i …!!!” and you immediatly reply with “NO! IT’S BOXED TEXT!” and continue on like nothing happened. Not only will this get you dirty look, it will also give you the great satisfaction of dragging the players kicking and screaming into the nether that is your plot line mwahahahahaha…

    Ahem…

    :D

  45. mom says:

    Vegadus says:I figure the answer lies in a sort of balance, but damn, where can you buy one of those?

    Where? Reality, but no free pizza there

  46. theonlymegumegu says:

    “They will skip right past those locations and insist on exploring the blank areas of the map.”

    I love my long time DM for not having a game world that has blank areas. He just creates a world and we can go anywhere and do anything. It’s great, it’s like the world is really alive. His game world is just ready for people to be in it, somehow, no matter what they do.

  47. angel says:

    >40 Robert Conley Says:
    >***Self interested ad alert***
    >
    >This is why Wilderlands of High Fantasy is perfect to solve this problem. Nearly every hex is filled with interesting detail.

  48. angel says:

    >40 Robert Conley Says:
    >***Self interested ad alert***
    >
    >This is why Wilderlands of High Fantasy is perfect to solve this problem.
    >Nearly every hex is filled with interesting detail.

    Neat :)
    Me and a few friends (hoping to recruit more) have set out to do something which I suspect is vaguely similar for a scifi setting … writing up descriptions of the society, geography, history and economy of as many planets as possible, and (hopefully) a couple of side-quests for every planet in the directory. The theory being that if the players have trouble with the plot clues, they can just pick a planet of the list (which I can give them indexed by tech level, climate, population, age or name), and then give them 2 weeks to get their noses into whatever they fancy before whoever is chasing them turns up.
    So far we’ve got a couple of dozen planets planned out, but only 4 or 5 have enough sidequests (and most of them still need uploading to the wiki). But … its very nice to have a world planned out, so the GM can have the option of not having to create plot on the fly if players take a detour.

    In a fantasy setting, I never seem to run out of inspiration for random events, though.

  49. mom says:

    PS Great title for this strip. And who thought you’d ever be publishing DMoR C. If this was advertised as “special 100th strip” strip, it would have totally lived up to the hype

  50. Cenobite says:

    @ Lynx:

    “Aye, but what if your gameworld is a Ringworld? Or an O’Neil cylinder?”

    Well then all you’d need is a rectangular map that connects to itself on two sides. Dur! :)

    @ corwin:

    “Doesn’t that make them want to explore off-planet?”

    Indeed, I admit that my approach does have this one fatal flaw. But there is a self-correcting remedy. Does anyone actually want the DM to break out Spelljammer???!??!?!? :)

    @ AndiN: Thank you!

    @ Aaron: Boxed text! Brilliant! I am so stealing that one.

  51. ChristianTheDane says:

    “I hate this campaign” is becoming somewhat of a catchphrase :D

    Great one as always.

  52. Lil'German says:

    If you don’t want to railroad them AND don’t want to waste Time creating towns, persons etc that won’t ever be needed, just make it more random based.
    create ten or twenty rough outlines for towns and when they enter the next city on the map just roll dice to look which of the 20 random cities it would be, than you have at least things like “there’s a blacksmiths shop at the far end of the main street flanked by a brothel and the local church of god xyz respective.
    and so on. the blacksmiths would have a slot for a random craftsman and the actions of that rcm would have the possibility of a hint on the Quest and so on and so on.
    No railroad but much more luck/randomness.
    And in the end not really so much more to prepare, just less to plan in advance where which part will turn up in the end.

  53. Aaron says:

    Cenobite: It’s only theft if you STEAL it. We’ve called it boxed text for years, so it’s gotta be public domain at this point ;)

  54. Scarlet Knight says:

    “Vegadus says:I figure the answer lies in a sort of balance, but damn, where can you buy one of those?”

    “Apothecaries R Us” ? They have a branch back at Edoras….

  55. Richard says:

    The trick is to not show them *your* map. Show them a map with lots of detail in the areas you don’t care about, and an inviting blank space where you want them to adventure.

  56. Jen says:

    This is Aaron’s wife, and I would like to state for the record that he TOTALLY abuses boxed text. He may remember a certain game of L5R in which we’d totally spanked this group of bad guys (or something, I don’t know the details … typical) and he let this punk Ratling finish it off and steal our glory. All of us were trying to interrupt with something like, “Wait a minute, I want to shoot an arr–” and he just grinned. “BOXED TEXT!!!”

    Shenanigans!

  57. Dez says:

    “I hate this campaign.” LOL!

    Congrats on the 100!!

    D!

  58. Myxx says:

    Congrats on #100!

  59. Destroy Gundam says:

    “I hate this campaign” seems to have become their motto. And congratulations on the 100th comic. This is pure comedy gold.

  60. Eomer32 says:

    Woo hoo! Number 100!

    Congratulations! I’ve been lurking on this site waiting feverishly for the next strip ever since I saw a bit about this on G4’s “Attack of the Show.” Shamus, you are simply, THE MAN!

  61. Nogard Codesmith says:

    HAH! this one is gold! makes my top 10 list

  62. Marmot says:

    The title cracked me up like never before :)

  63. Amazon warrior says:

    It occurs to me that this “Ooh, look! A blank area. What’s over there?” attitude is heavily reinforced by most cRPGs (and indeed, most other computer games where you have a map to rove around on). After all, when you look at a map on one of those, anything you can see you already know about. The blank spaces, however, are terra incognita. Why, there could be anything there! New gribbles, more treasure, a possible solution to the irritating side-quest you’ve just been given by that loser NPC in the last town, new and more irritating side-quests, whatever. No wonder players head directly to the unmapped areas. I know I would! :D

    This is probably a good argument for the DM being the only person who knows the full extent of the map, and releasing area information on a need-to-know basis. That way, the whole place is a blank area, and players can be led by the nose to wherever the DM wants them to go… >:)

  64. Amazon warrior says:

    Oh and because I haven’t mentioned it yet, awesome comic, I told all my (RP) friends, and congrats on #100!

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