Once I’d gotten around to clarifying my point, yesterday’s discussion on railroading yielded a lot of interesting comments and suggestions. A few people copped out and refused to consider the hyothetical situation presented with reasons why the DM shouldn’t ever BE in such a spot or how they would avoid the situation by having the bad guy escape. This is why they are called hypothetical situations. Sheesh. The point wasn’t to argue about game mechanics or playing styles, or the appropriate strength for the antagonist in a game, but to illustrate a situation where altering the unknown portions of the gameworld was preferable to letting the story run into the ground or lose momentum
A few other people joined in with posts at their own blogs: Catalyst had interesting things to say. Big City, Bright Lights jumped in with some interesting thoughts
which were diminished by stooping to petty insults.
Also, while not directly a response to my post, this post at New Media Matters has a lot of related thoughts on the subject. (Also, NMM looks like a brand-new blog, and there are already a lot of great posts there.)
A couple of people took reflexive and almost irrational offsense at my suggestion, and some were even insulting. You’d think I was barging in and telling them how to run their game or something. I have bite marks all over my ankles now.
However, many people took the time to form an interesting answer and proposed a few other ways of dealing with events that threaten to take the excitement out of the plot of the game. My point, which some agreed with, was that changes to the storyline were justified in order to save the plot from a bad (that is, uninteresting) turn. Nobody wants to see a great story end with a shrug due to some unforseen actions on the part of the players or lack of foresight on the part of the DM, although nearly everyone has different ideas on what sorts of actions are the best and show the most respect to player freedom. As lots of people said: It depends on the game you’re playing. I know if I saved my bad guy by having him teleport away my players would feel robbed, but if I were to reveal that they had just slain the antagonist’s second, they would feel like they are working to uncover a real conspiracy. Other people made it clear that the opposite was true in their groups, and that having the adversary teleport away was the best device to heighten tension. Cool. Know your players and give them what they want.
In any case, my point was that the DM should work towards making a thrilling tale, even if it means altering the undiscovered aspects of the gameworld. The point isn’t to follow the predetermined path, but to follow whatever route looks to be most exciting for your players. I’m willing to make whatever changes, retcon or no, planned or no, to achieve that end. If that means re-arranging the bad guy org chart, so be it. If that means altering his loot, or adding clues, inventing new NPCs, or changing the alliances of NPCs, fine. Really: If I was making it up as I go, I would make it up to be as dramatic as possible, right? So, I’m making it up as I go, but I’m using my initial plot arc as a framework. In act 3 they are going to fight somebody huge in a big way when the stakes are high. If they lower the stakes or kill the big bad, I’ll alter things to return the plot to my act 3 ideal. I don’t think this is being inflexible at all. I think this is going in with a plan, and being adaptable from there.
I’m not saying my way is best, but it works for us so far and we’ve enjoyed our games. For the curious, I have many examples of changes I made to an evolving storyline in our D&D campaign, which is full of DM notes which detail changes to the world. That plot was designed to build to a climax in act 3, which it did. There are a few examples in there of when I did and did not alter the world to suit the plot.
Update: Locri responds here. If I’d read the word “inexperienced” instead of “immature” – which is what he was really saying – it wouldn’t have phased me. No big deal. It’s nice that Locri took the time to respond and smooth things out.
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