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

By Shamus Posted Monday May 14, 2007

Filed under: DM of the Rings 170 comments

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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170 thoughts on “DM of the Rings C:
Railroad Goes Ever on and on

  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.

    1. WJS says:

      Saying “D&D Worlds” is about the biggest generalisation you could make…

  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!

    1. WJS says:

      If you can’t use your action to shoot the bad guy, how about using it to shoot the ratling?

  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!

  65. Presence says:

    I draw a map, and NEVER ever give the players the map. That way they don’t know where the blank spots on the map are unless they are mapping themselves, in which case, its in their best interest to do the right thing, otherwise its alot of work with no payoff.

  66. Brickman says:

    You guys are so indirect. Make a whole map just to make sure they can’t surprise you? Keep the map secret and hope they can’t figure out your holes? It’s so much easier than that. Surround the map of whatever regions you want used (however big or small) with water (an ocean or sea, not a river or lake, by the way), and then make customs laws across the land saying that nobody except nobles and registered, state-sanctioned captains is allowed to travel by sea while carrying weapons and possibly a few other items players love but would be considered dangerous or likely to be dangerous by authorities. I’d like to see how many players are willing to leave behind all their gear just to leave the area you’ve mapped out, and hey, if they do, just send them a level-appropriate encounter before they can buy more and kill them. Make a loophole that a noble of sufficient rank is capable of granting you special permission of some form if you were actually planning on using some kind of aquatic travel.

    People will cry foul at impassable mountains or forests, but impassible is the default for bodies of water, and unless they have a fly spell with a really long duration nobody’s getting past.

    1. WJS says:

      That’s hardly that good of a solution. For starters, it won’t even work – if your players will complain about mountains, why wouldn’t they complain about oceans? In-universe, it doesn’t make sense either. The kind of oppressive government that would prohibit individual arms is hardly going to restrict itself to boats! Historically, disarmament has always concentrated on the cities first, and sea-goers have been the least restricted, being the most removed. I suppose one could make it an example of bureaucracy gone mad – i.e. an incredibly draconian reading of a prohibition on exporting arms.

  67. Amazon warrior says:

    “You guys are so indirect.”

    Oh, I don’t know, I’m quite a big fan of indirect.

  68. Rattastic says:

    Jen: “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!”

    I find this totally within the realm of my power (this is Aaron, home computer). GM is also referred to as the G.O.D. (Game Overall Director). That being said, who let one of my players (let alone my wife!) on here!

    On the mapping issue, I never really bothered with mapping. I hated doing it, and the idea of forcing my players to when i wouldn’t just sucked. For dungeons … well you gotta. Outside areas? Forget it. It’s like asking me to use a sledge on my toes one at a time. The upside is that there are no blank spots (or they are ALL blank spots if you’re a more positive person :P) Forced creativity rules.

  69. Zippy Wonderdog says:

    how about this for a plot device to stall wandering PCs?

    …you turn a corner and the scenary drops away, before you lies an infinite plain of ashphalt. Near to where you are you see a few trailers and some discarded props stacked against a shed. A couple of men are standing or sitting by the shed drinking what looks to be tea. A woman walks past you pushing a rack of clothes, she gives you a puzzled glance. Behind you, you hear the director yell “CUT!”.

  70. Keldin says:

    I had spent a whack of time prepping an adventure that I was sure my group of deviant players would balk at so I had poisoned their food with a custom made magical slow acting poison — if they put up a fuss I had the dialogue all set up where the evil nobleman was going to say “actually, I’ll be magically teleporting you a stopgap antidote every day based on your cooperation that I’ll be verifying via scry magic — if you don’t get the antidote you die a horrible death!”

    Well, when the trip was pitched to the characters, my one player says “well, he’s obviously set this up so lets just go along with it!” Totally killed my dramatic setup (I suppose you could say this was an example of roll-playing vs. role playing that went in the DMs “favor”, sort of!)

  71. Amazon warrior says:

    Hee hee! I like Zippy’s idea, too.

  72. Cake says:

    I love this show. Read the whole thing front to back tonight, including side comments. Given me a couple idears for my campaign as well…..

  73. Parzival says:

    So, nobody flashed on Scott Adam’s “Adventure” or Infocom’s “Zork” series? (Am I *that* old?)

    I kept thinking:

    >GO N
    YOU CAN’T GO THAT WAY.
    >S
    YOU CAN’T GO THAT WAY.
    >W
    YOU CAN’T GO THAT WAY.
    >LOOK
    YOU ARE IN A BIG OPEN FIELD. A PATH LEADS TO THE EAST.
    >NE
    YOU CAN’T GO THAT WAY.
    >YOU JUST SAID I WAS IN ‘A BIG OPEN FIELD!’ I SHOULD BE ABLE TO GO ANYWAY I WANT TO!
    I’M SORRY, I DID NOT UNDERSTAND THE WORD “YOU”
    (Mutters: “*Stupid computer game*”)
    >GO E
    YOU HAVE MOVED INTO A DARK PLACE. YOU HAVE BEEN EATEN BY A GRUE.
    YOU HAVE *DIED.*
    ************
    # OF ROOMS: 2
    ITEMS FOUND: 0
    TREASURE FOUND: 0
    SCORE: 0

    WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY AGAIN? Y/N?
    >

    :-)

  74. Tali Scott says:

    I love the comic, it’s hilarious as always. I especially would like to thank you for updating on time and reliably. People who make comics that take much less work are late for virtually every one once they achieve some amount of success. Thanks for your dedication.

  75. Alyc says:

    Oh, so very, very true! They get innovative at the most inconvenient times, but can’t think their way out of a wet, paper sack when you give them a puzzle. They’ll solve the simplest challenges with complicated rube-goldberg devices, and whine or wander off when you give them anything approaching an intricate puzzle.

    And they can’t ever follow the glaring neon signs that say “plot: this way!”

    GM’ing…it would be great fun if it weren’t for the players!

  76. Daniel says:

    Sor tof a plot device I used from time to time is the dreaded antiparty. A party of adventurers that is roughly the same level as the group who ar ein direct competition. Keep combat btween them down to minimum but have the occasional bar encounter etc wher ethey claim the loot will be theirs etc. In fights they fight a bit and run. Keep them around. Just another plot device for you.

    1. WJS says:

      That could potentially produce the situation where the players focus all their efforts on eliminating their rivals rather than completing the quests first though. Many players seem to be rather lacking in morals.

  77. Ron Willems says:

    I wish I could say that I like yesterday's comic, but unfortunately I can't; the comic itself is not being displayed at all. To make matters worse, the previous comics are no longer being displayed either. (Yesterday I used the same PC and everything was still working fine. This problem occurs for both firefox and internet explorer.)

    I hope this problem can be fixed.

    (P.s. I accidentally posted this comment for the wrong comic a few minutes ago as well.)

  78. Cimara says:

    Hi Shamus,

    I really love your comic! I’m a great Tolkien-fan, have often read his book, and I also like the films (in the longer versions!) very much. But I’m having real problems watching them for always your comic text keeps popping up in my head! grrrr, but I never had so much fun watching them!
    Just keep it up, guy, I’m looking forward to the next 100 strips!

  79. 100! By Grud have I really read 100 strips? Fantastic work keep it up.

    Hmmm. Starting to see aspects of myself in Gimli’s PC.

    I guess this is why I run city campaigns, and base encounters on events rather than locations. The PCs are still going to be attacked by werewolves at midnight, but they get to choose if it will be at home, the palace or on the road :)

  80. aryienne says:

    Kill your players (not the characters, the real players)…

    Just (nearly) joking. My solution usually is drawing a crude map, let the players choose their way and then detail their destiny. Like a restaurant… ;)

  81. thark says:

    You guys are so indirect. Make a whole map just to make sure they can't surprise you? Keep the map secret and hope they can't figure out your holes? It's so much easier than that.

    Yes. It is, in fact, much easier; much easier than the rather convoluted method described.

    Talk to them. As players, not as characters. Figure out where signals got mixed and sort it out.

    The “GMs are from Mars, players are from Venus” sort of attitude always amazes me. Especially when it comes from people who regularly sit on both sides on the screen and seem to think they go through some sort of mind transformation when switching sides. :-O

  82. superfluousk says:

    Just a suggestion that has worked for me in the past, you can create delay-related penalties to the plot, and make sure the players understand that if they don’t go to confront the evil wizard *now,* before he gets a foothold, then eventually he’ll come to them. With an army of 10,000 draconians and NO walls to hide behind…

    In a way, this was almost what happened in Lord of the Rings — Gandalf suspected the nature of the Ring back when Bilbo first got it, 50 years before the Fellowship began. He dawled around for half a century, while Sauron moved from Dol Guldur to Morder and began building up his power. Frodo would have had a clear road to Rivendell if he had left when he was supposed to — in July — but because he hung around until September, he was dodging Nazguls all the way. If the Fellowship had left earlier in the season, they could have made the pass of Caradhras and skipped the horrors of Moria entirely. If someone had gotten off their ass and kicked Grima out of Edoras earlier, Theoden wouldn’t have been left with 100,000 orcs on his doorstep and no defending troops. Double for Minas Tirith. “It is over-late to send for aid when you are already besieged,” as Beregond put it. And so on.

    So sure, let the heroes wander. Sure, they can go explore the empty tundra for a while, kill wolves and kobolds and collect copper pieces, but in the meantime, the enemy they’re not facing is getting stronger and stronger and the potential loot (as his forces ravage the countryside, smash precious artifacts, and destroy the economy) is shrinking.

    1. WJS says:

      This exactly. You shouldn’t need to contrive penalties for the players farting around instead of trying to thwart the big bad, just don’t have him sit on his hands waiting around for them. Usually, the player’s quest is trying to prevent something, so all you need to do is simply not have whatever villain they’re against hold up his plans waiting for them.
      Don’t cling to the idea that the players must be able to beat the bad guys either. If they putz around so long that the villain gains so much power they can no longer stop him, let him kill them. This reinforces that the villain is a real threat who is not going to go away on his own if they ignore him.

  83. Zaxares says:

    Zippy: That’s BRILLIANT! I’m SO using that next time my players insist on wandering away from the adventure. :D

    Although, I have to say that I’m still a fan of the good ol’ DM Railroad Express.

    DM: The barkeep mentions that the of Erewood three days is being harassed by a red dragon.
    Player: Sounds too dangerous. Any other news he can tell us?
    DM: There’s an ancient ruin four days north-east of here that’s been taken over by a red dragon.
    Player: Forget it. Let’s just head back to the last town.
    DM: On your way back to the city of Ironkeep, you are ambushed by a red dragon…

    Ahh, the memories.

  84. Zaxares says:

    *shudders at the amount of typos and missing words in his previous post*

    It really HAS been a long day…

  85. Raved Thrad says:

    Wow, the 100th DM of the Rings strip! Congrats, Shamus, and thanks for the hundred laughs!

  86. Ravs says:

    Great strip as usual, Shamus. But in the first frame, I think ‘marshaling’ should be spelt ‘marshalling’.

    Ravs

  87. Lars says:

    Not first. Whatever.

    I try to keep my players enough “on the run” that they have little choice but to go where I want them. Doesn’t always work, but I’ve found on occasion that I can improvise well enough that as long as I take notes, unknown areas can become some of the most interesting parts of the campaign. Outside of that, it helps if you can show them that not doing what they’re supposed to has dire consequences. Not tell them, show them. Once they’ve been responsible for the sacking of a major city, they might think deeper the next time.

    Or they might just be munchkins.

  88. Sevenhills says:

    I have had success with using no proper map for my campaign world. Just a not-to-scale diagram of boundaries, relative positions of cities, geographical features etc, which the players don’t even see. Makes it easy to locate your storylines wherever your players happen to be, and to accommodate their campaign interests more, if it’s not all set in stone. It works better if you’re all happy with a rambling, episodic campaign, of course.
    This is my first post after finding the comic through the RP Discuss LJ community recently. I’ve really been enjoying some of the discussions in the comments – though not as much as I love Shamus’s brilliant work on the comic itself of course.

  89. James says:

    Those are very pretty pictures!

    And a good 100. Congratulations!

  90. rosignol says:

    89th!

    ;-)

  91. Rick says:

    I never knew how hard railroading players was until I ran them through the Time of Troubles trilogy that mirrored the books and included the same characters. Ensuring Cyric survived was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do as they had him in their sights a few times. And getting them where they were supposed to go. And keeping Midnight alive, as an NPC she really didnt have a high priority in the party healing list.

  92. Dan Hemmens says:

    I go the exact opposite route to the “always have a map” crowd: I never have a map, I’ve just got really really good at improvising. The players can go wherever they want, and I’ll make up a plot based around their choices and interests.

  93. Andrew says:

    thark sez: “thark: The ‘GMs are from Mars, players are from Venus’ sort of attitude …”

    No, no, you got that backwards — the GM loves his storyline and the players want to kill it.

    *grin*

  94. Lifestealer says:

    People can have maps of the entire world? The only times I’ve had that is when the campaign is set on Earth, hence I have the maps available by starting up Google Earth-especially since those ones are normally modern-day with most of the world not being aware of the differences, so all the features are the same there. I normally have only a vague idea of the way the plot will be going though, which probably helps there as well.

  95. Scarlet Knight says:

    It is amazing how almost every DM starts as a player, then immediately forgets what players want the minute you put a screen in front of him…

  96. brassbaboon says:

    Is it really true that DMs and players have to reach across some sort of void to interact? I do both (play and DM) and I have never felt there was any sort of void. As a player I try my best to play my character according to their alignment, goals and history, and as a DM I try to create a world where the players can more or less choose to do what they want. But As in real life, there are usually fairly obvious choices for the party to follow.

    Probably the only time that I feel “railroaded” is when the DM is trying to “help me” but my character has no concept of there being a DM. The most recent example was just last week. Our party had rescued a group of children from becoming potential objects of human sacrifice, but had been unable to rescue all of the children at once. So my druid character was hot to go back down into the dungeon and rescue the last child. The DM wanted to reward the party for saving the children they DID save and so they asked the party to hang around to wait for a city elder (councilman or something). Now, the whole point to this was for the DM to give us some gifts that he felt we would need to be able to defeat the big boss, which is apparently our only remaining encounter. So he was hinting strongly that we should rest, meet with the councilman, get patted on the back, and then head back down to do the final battle.

    The problem was that my character could only think of the poor, terrified child who was most likely tied up on a slab of stone surrounded by undead and looking at a ceremonial dagger in preparation for her death and sacrifice.

    So my character was desperately trying to get the party to go back down and try to rescue the child, while the DM and the other players were saying “we need to rest and recover.”

    Well, they finally won out because I clearly could not go down alone, so my character grudgingly agreed to wait for the councilman.

    But the last straw was when the rest of the party decided to go shopping while they were waiting…. “Hey, we found these books down in the dungeon where they are about to sacrifice an innocent child, how much you think you could offer us for them?”

    I was being railroaded by my own party!

    The thing is, as a player I’m pretty sure that the “rescue the kid” segment of the plot is important enough that we could spend a week in the town partying, shopping and resting up and whenever we bothered to go back down in the dungeon, that poor little girl would still be lying on that slab with the dancing undead all around her. But that doesn’t make sense to my CHARACTER who is convinced that the leader of the evil clan must have some need for the sacrifice (perhaps to call up a powerful undead spirit) BECAUSE our party just wiped out most of his minions. So in my character’s head the likelihood of imminent death of the innocent child has greatly increased because of our actions, and to spend an evening chumming around with the town elders, shopping at the town mall and sleeping in the mayor’s guest rooms seems like fiddling while Rome burns.

    This is when playing a character can interfere with playing the game. And the DM is clearly frustrated with me for insisting that my character would not be happy about leaving the child to an uncertain fate while the party raked in a bunch of loot and pats on the back.

    1. WJS says:

      See, as I read that I place it on the DM. It sounds like he had no timeframe in mind for the cult. If he had the sacrifice scheduled for the full moon or equinox or some other fixed date, then it’s more reasonable to delay the mission. I’m not saying it would be perfectly acceptable, but at least you would know the kid wasn’t being killed while you were standing around talking.

      If there was no timeframe though (which is how I read the story), then for all you know the kid is indeed being gruesomely murdered while you argue about it, delay is only acceptable if you’re pretty sure you’ll fail without it, or to get the other kids out of there (you hardly want to take them back to the cultists, now do you?). Simply assigning a time to the sacrifice would have made that go so much more smoothly in my estimation.

  97. roxysteve says:

    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.

    H’mm, the “Traveller” maps are rediscovered again. Truly, there is nothing new.

    Anyway, this is only one way to go. A simpler one is to put your continent in an ocean, remove the discovery of the Lodestone and/or the sextant (in a bronze/iron age economy, the chronometer will take care of itself) and Bob’s your mother’s brother. Sea captain’s have no way of navigating beyond sight of the landmass. Even with a compass and a sextant, without the means of building a chronometer a fleet discovers new places by crashing into them (usually being lost with all hands as a result of the “discovery”). Wade the wikipedia for examples.

    What of Magical Pathfinding? – Have your magic source bound to the land and the effectiveness of the spells cast reduced exponentially as a function of the distance away from it. The magic decreases dramatically as the land recedes. Your party can continue but the spellcasters will certainly vote for a return to land tootsweet.

    If all else fails remember the old axiom: Five minutes after entering abyssal deep water is about optimum conditions for a leviathan attack on the ship.

    Steve.

  98. Wtrmute says:

    What I do is something that has already been put forward by several “pro” GMs: Prepare a bunch (say, a dozen or so) rumors and let the players hear them at the tavern, or on the town square. What they decide to follow, you flesh out. What they ignore, you keep under your hat and occasionally throw away. This way the “escaping players” problem solves itself. I usually do keep a couple of “generic” NPCs which I can name and use in a pinch to keep the story going.

    Well, it works reasonably well.

  99. moonglum says:

    as a note. if your campaigne looks like this comic, stop GM’ing. players hate to be rail roaded, if you can’t improve, then don’t run a game. If you get upset that players don’t “fallow: the script, stop tryign to run an interactive game…you are playing with yourself….stop makeign your friends watch.

    great comic by the way.

  100. Salen says:

    I’ve been in games like that, and been in others where the GM decided to make us work every place we went. We explored the tundra, ice fortresses, lakes, swamps, islands full of ebil golems, and an assassin run city that had a bunch of children hostages. Its amazing how much trouble we got ourselves in trouble for not a hell of a lot.

  101. Telas says:

    Hundredth?

    And me with nothing clever to say.

    *sigh*

  102. Steve the DM says:

    I don’t try to railroad my players at all. As a matter of fact, I let them choose whatever. It will actually get to the point where i am just sitting there waiting for them to tell me what they want to do. It just happens that whatever they choose is sometimes the one thing I didn’t plan on. This strip is hilarious and does resemble the campaign that am running in certain aspects and player/DM reactions, but not to the point where I am actually forcing the players to do stuff they really don’t want to. At times I believe a DM really does need to railroad the players if they are way off track just to get back to some sense of the overall storyline. If you don’t want a story/plot go play Doom, Dilabo, or the like.

  103. Dan Hemmens says:

    If you don't want a story/plot go play Doom, Dilabo, or the like.

    Conversely, if you do want a story/plot, go read a novel.

    There is a world of difference between “a game in which the DM does not railroad the players into following a predefined story arc” and “Diablo”

  104. Tola says:

    Remind me.

    Which way is it to Minas Tirith from Isengard?

    He could have sent them that way…granted, it means following Gandalf the Exposition, but it would have contented them.

  105. plucky says:

    Edoras is on the way to Minas Tirith from Isengard anyway…

  106. Steve the DM says:

    Conversely, if you do want a story/plot, go read a novel.

    There is a world of difference between “a game in which the DM does not railroad the players into following a predefined story arc” and “Diablo”

    I know the difference, I was being a smarty pants.

    It just seemed to me that some people here were really getting on DM’s who try to “steer” the players along a given story path. As a player, I’ve always enjoyed the game more for the story/plot than any actual “fighting action”. I also know there are many player’s who just want to kill everything in their path, if it’s not beneficial it’s there to be ignored and/or killed for the xp and the treasure. I try to get an equal measure of both without making my players do what I want. Unfortunately, with the designed storyline/plot you need to nudge the players back on track otherwise the adventure doesn’t get “completed.” I thought that the whole point of creating a campaign or an adventure was to have a story told with the players as the main characters. Without some type of storyline or plot how do you play the game? And if there is a storyline/plot a DM may need to, on occasion, force the players back onto the proper track. I do a lot of off the cuff DMing when needed, especially when my players get off what I had planned. But eventually I will need to get them back on track if they do not do it themselves. This is the inherit problem with end of the world plot. If the player’s don’t do what you think they will or should all your work goes down the drain.

    This is why I find this strip so amusing, because the reactions of the “players” are reflected by my players. I’m not saying this is a direct example of what is happening in my game. As a DM I know how frustrating it gets when the players go off on some tangent that you haven’t developed because you thought that they would follow something else that you had already developed well in advance. My players spend more time trying to railroad each other into doing what they want. (Some are quite good at it.)

  107. giant explosion says:

    Are you going to include gimlis and legolases drinking game? that would be hilarious!

  108. Scarlet Knight says:

    Does Salen earn a title as the 100th post? Perhaps Centurion of the Century? seems momentous to me…

  109. Madalch says:

    I remember one campaign, when I first started to play.

    Me: You’re crawling the dungeon. There is an intersection- you can go straight, or turn left.

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: Forty feet on, there’s another intersection- you can go straight, or turn right.

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: You come to a door. It’s locked, and you’re not a thief, nor have you found any keys.

    Him: I turn back.

    Me: You come to an intersection- turn right, or go straight?

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: Another intersection- turn left, or go straight?

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: You come to a large room. You’ve been here before.

    Him: I turn around.

    Me: You come to an intersection- turn right, or go straight?

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: Another intersection- turn left, or go straight?

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: You come to a locked door. You’ve been here before.

    Him: I turn around.

    Me: You come to an intersection- turn right, or go straight?

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: Another intersection- turn left, or go straight?

    Him: I go straight.

    Me: You come to a large room. You’ve been here before.

    (repeat twice)

    Him: THERE’S NOTHING IN THIS DUNGEON!!!!

    I reach over and map the damned thing for him, pointing out the roads not taken.

  110. Alasseo says:

    One way to deal is the Omnidirectional Plot Override(tm)-

    PLAYER: Let’s go South

    Interlude

    DM: After several days’ travel North…

    PLAYER: We were marching South

    DM: You were marching in a southerly direction, yes. So, After several day’s travel North…

  111. TotalPigeon says:

    Just read the whole thing. I don’t play D&D but I can imagine it playing out like this. Funny as hell. Nice one

  112. Lev Lafayette says:

    Nevertheless, the New Zealand scenery is pretty…

  113. brassbaboon says:

    Madalch:

    That’s sad….

    I once had a campaign with an enchanted maze. The party had a percentile chance of turning the OPPOSITE direction they thought they had turned at several key intersections. It was a sort of permanent misdirection spell. If they hit the percentile chance, they got a saving throw vs. spells to see if they were affected. If they failed their save, they turned the wrong way. After the second time they failed their save, they were so thoroughly lost they swore I was cheating. My brother was the party leader, and he took great pride in his mapping skills. In all the years I played with him I think this was the only time he ever lost his cool playing D&D with me.

    I thought it was pretty simple and pretty clever technique for the bad guy to protect his inner sanctum. A “true sight” spell or similar magic defeated the spell, so I thought it was a pretty reasonable game device.

    He was so angry I finally had to stop the game, pull him into another room and explain as DM to PLAYER what was going on. He agreed that it was completely reasonable, completely within the character of the character who had enchanted the maze, and overall a rather clever way to throw the party off. After that there were no more problems.

    But for a while there he was convinced that I was simply lying to them about the maze, and that it was physically impossible for it to be constructed as they were mapping it.

    They eventually managed to get through the maze, but it was by blind luck, not planning or mapping. In fact he threw his map away after awhile.

    I still think that was one of the more clever “traps” I’ve devised in my dungeons.

  114. Zozeer says:

    And how does one go about finding “key intersections” in a maze? I ask for posterity sake.

  115. brassbaboon says:

    A “key intersection” in a maze is one that breaks the path off into multiple long segments, or that’s how I view it. Intersections that lead to short dead ends, or that loop back upon themselves are not “key intersections”. The maze has to be fairly large to have many of these, but the maze in question was, in fact, fairly large. So there were several intersections in the maze that would lead you onto new paths for quite some time before looping back or dead ending.

    Of course the players had no idea which intersections were “key” and which were not. And it was important that not all intersections have the magical effect because when they noticed they were having trouble mapping, they immediately retraced several turns, and of course those were not enchanted intersections so it seemed their mapping was working. That’s why it was such a sneaky maze. By the time you realized that your map was showing an impossible result, it was very difficult to try to figure out where it went wrong.

  116. Pixy Misa says:

    I wish I could say that I like yesterday's comic, but unfortunately I can't; the comic itself is not being displayed at all. To make matters worse, the previous comics are no longer being displayed either. (Yesterday I used the same PC and everything was still working fine. This problem occurs for both firefox and internet explorer.)

    Anyone else having problems? I run the server that hosts the images for DMotR, so if I can identify the problem I can fix it. But right now I can’t see anything wrong.

    I’m here at least once a day, and Seamus has my email, so if you can’t see the pretty pictures, let us know.

  117. Pixy Misa says:

    Shamus. I knew that. :?

  118. DireDoomsayer says:

    For those of you who’ve read Lord of the Rings, Tolkien still did railroading first and best…

    In the “Fellowship of the Ring” the 4 hobbits travel through the Old Forest. However, each time they try to force their path North, the Forest forces them south and along the Withywindle River. Which brings them to their encounter with Old Man Willow who then continues the hobbits on the railroad tracks to Tom Bombadil…the uber-NPC who bails them out and sets them on the railroad to Bree to meet their next uber-NPC, Aragorn, who bails them out and sets them on the railroad to Rivendell…ad infinitum…

  119. DireDoomsayer says:

    Oops, so the Old Forest is just the means to the railroad end of DMTolkien… : )

  120. Dan Hemmens says:

    I know the difference, I was being a smarty pants.

    That’s the thing, though, you say you know the difference, but you perpetually compare “story” with “killing everything in your path” as if they’re the only possible goals in an RPG.

    I like story, but I like my stories to be collaborative.

    Unfortunately, with the designed storyline/plot you need to nudge the players back on track otherwise the adventure doesn't get “completed.”

    This is true if you have a designed storyline. Which is why I don’t have one. You don’t seem to think it’s possible to have a story that isn’t pre-written.

    I thought that the whole point of creating a campaign or an adventure was to have a story told with the players as the main characters. Without some type of storyline or plot how do you play the game?

    The problem is that “a story told with the players as the main characters” could mean one of two things.

    It could mean that the players are the protagonists in a genuine sense: the game is about the PCs, the choices they make, their lives, their goals, their decisions.

    Alternatively it could be like DMotR, where the Story is an entity by itself, and the players are the “main characters” in the sense that they are playing the roles of the main characters in a story that has already been written.

    This is the inherit problem with end of the world plot. If the player's don't do what you think they will or should all your work goes down the drain.

    That depends on how you look at it. You could say “all your work goes down the drain” or you could say “the game is taken in an interesting new direction.”

    I like the players to be the main characters of the story, and that means that the story is about what the characters do. If the world is ending, and the players want to go brothel crawling, then the story is about some people who go brothel crawling while the world ends.

  121. Parzival says:

    [quote] once had a campaign with an enchanted maze. The party had a percentile chance of turning the OPPOSITE direction they thought they had turned at several key intersections. It was a sort of permanent misdirection spell.[/quote]

    You could have given a big hint by simply saying: “YOU ARE IN A MAZE OF TWISTY PASSAGES, ALL ALIKE.”

    But then, that assumes your players are my age and would get the joke.

  122. Our DM spent about 2 weeks setting up a whole region of a continent for us to explore (we would create the areas on the fly and use existing material to add detail). We (the party) wound up jumping to an entirely different continent. Our ever fiendish DM used the oppertunity to throw us into one of his old gaming group’s map.

  123. Attorney At Chaos says:

    91 Rick Says: “I never knew how hard railroading players was until I ran them through the Time of Troubles trilogy that mirrored the books and included the same characters. Ensuring Cyric survived was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do as they had him in their sights a few times”

    As a player (with another group, of course) that was indeed one of the most frustrating dungeons I’ve ever been in. Some time after playing in it I bought it and read it. It has more railroading than any other published adventure I’ve ever seen. It’s not just railroading your direction – it’s railroading your timeline as well.

    I consider that a good dungeon should reward intelligent play and punish bad choices. That trilogy does essentially the opposite in many places. If the party has made intelligent choices so they are ahead of schedule – slam them with extra monsters, wreck their boat, have the Wild Magic effects totally screw them. In other words, play well and get punished. But if you’ve made bad choices and are behind the timeline – clear the way for them, omit encounters, teleport them where they need to go. In other words, play poorly and get rewarded.

    Try an ESP spell on Cyric when that would give the plot away? A smart move – but the DM will of necessity make a Wild Magic surge happen to thwart it. Play well, get punished. Players catch on that Cyric is being Protected by the DM? A test of wills may develop – the players may devote 100% of their effort to trying to kill the untouchable NPC.

  124. rosignol says:

    Anyone else having problems?

    Nope.

    —–

    Players catch on that Cyric is being Protected by the DM? A test of wills may develop – the players may devote 100% of their effort to trying to kill the untouchable NPC.

    Yep. I’ve done that. It was a sci-fi game, and the PCs had immense firepower at their disposal… we knew we weren’t going to kill the NPC short of sterilizing the planet. We were mainly trying to get the DM to take some action that would force him to admit to himself that we were on rails.

  125. Steve the DM says:

    I will define what I mean, for myself, by having a designed campaign/adventure. By this I mean that I have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Not all the details are written out, it is broad brush strokes. I don’t even have a time frame. The pc’s backgrounds are interwoven into what it is I have planned for the long haul of the campaign. With my own written out before the game adventures, I like to have all the NPCs/monsters worked out, maps drawn, and treasure already figured out. It makes my life much easier to do it that way. When in towns/cities/and other similar places, I have the outline done but let it go as it may. Beyond that, it is what the player’s do. There is plenty of room for the player’s to do what they want and I go with the flow. But I will nudge them back to the task at hand if it goes too far. (If I didn’t they would spend all their time drinking, fighting, and womanizing. Occasionally only going somewhere else to adventure when they have run out of rubes to con, money,or have been run out of town as bad influences if they didn’t end up in the brig or dead. That’s just something I’m not at all interested in DMing.) As a player, and a DM, if there is not some type of story/plot/something interesting going on, I am not interested.

    You don't seem to think it's possible to have a story that isn't pre-written.

    Not for me it isn’t. I need some idea as to what the players may or may not come across. I don’t use prewritten adventures in the sense of the ones that WOC, and other d20 companies, produce. As I told my friend when I was elected/conned to run this game: “It wasn’t even supposed to be D&D. We were supposed to be playing Champions or call of Cthulhu.”

    We’re all having fun in our group, that’s all that really matters.

  126. Madalch says:

    Brassbaboon:

    “I once had a campaign with an enchanted maze. The party had a percentile chance of turning the OPPOSITE direction they thought they had turned at several key intersections. It was a sort of permanent misdirection spell.”

    Ah, yes, enchanted mazes. I once ran a dungeon that had a slightly extraplanar maze- the doors that they found in the maze led to some pocket dimensions (chosen randomly each time a door was opened), and the tunnels of the maze itself would overlap, which drove the mappers mad.

    They were cleaning out the remains of an ancient, insane wizard, so what did they expect?

  127. Al Shiney says:

    To paraphrase the bane of talk radio hosts everywhere, “Long time reader, first time poster”.

    I haven’t read all the comments to this point, because I don’t have all day to do so. However, I felt it necessary to share that as a GM, my players have a different word for being railroaded … they call it a script. They enjoy themselves immensely by pointing out that any time I give them even the smallest “nudge” in a certain direction, I am doing so because (yell with me now) “It’s in the script!” … and hilarity ensues. They can be like that sometimes.

    Since several of them read this comic, I wonder if any of them will see my comment, posted late as it is. It will be interesting.

  128. Max says:

    This is exactly why DMs learn to ignore the whining of players, just like the parents of small children. If you run the game exactly the way they say they want you to, it will suck beyond all imagining and they will hate it.

  129. Browncoat says:

    I know we’ve moved weeks beyond this, and it’s doubtless that anyone save Shamus (and possibly the archeologists a thousand years from now searching through the rubble that DMotR will have become, if I am permitted that unpleasant thought) will ever see this, but I must ask:

    As of 128 comments, the tag at the top saying how many comments there are (e.g. “56 comments. Copious verbage”), says “There are now n+1 comments, where n is a rediculous number”). Now, I’ve added the 129th. Will it say n+2, or will the value of n suddenly have changed?

    Let’s find out!

    [clicks “Submit Comment”]

    [get message that he forgot to add the Anti-Spam word]

    Stink!

    [adds Anti-Spam word, reclicks “Submit Comments”, holding breath.]

  130. Browncoat says:

    Darn. n changed.

    Hey, 128 (or 129 for that matter) is a rediculous number. You may think it rediculously large, but I see nothing inherently amusing about the number itself.

  131. Shamus says:

    Actually, I just have a different message for every 20 comments. If this one hits 140, then I’ll add a funny message for 140+.

  132. TalismanF says:

    Doing my bit to get up to 140 comments. Found this site today, lost my morning, but it was worth it.

  133. Nathan says:

    So. You want 140 comments? well, here’s another to help with that. Oh, and by the way, has anyone seen my Monster Manual around anywhere?

  134. Plaguespawn says:

    Come on 140!

  135. NeedsToHeal says:

    Are we there yet?

  136. Ed the Higg says:

    No, I’m not just here to help “break the dice” again…. :D

    One of my solutions to player wanderlust is to let it happen. Players do resent being railroaded, but they’re usually pretty good about going where you want them to go if you impose a time limit and stick to it (my campaigns tend to be dynamic like that; Dally too long and you’ll find that the orcs actually did show up and sack the place that you were supposed to defend).

    So when I go to print my campaign’s world map (thank you, Campaign Cartographer 2), I make sure to stick a few extra places on the map…a temple out in the woods here, a lost village there, some ruins by the river, et cetera. I can flesh out these “mini dungeons” later, at my leisure.

    I also tend to knock together some Mini Dungeons beforehand with places that can be planted in any “blank spots” on the map. The Mini Dungeons only have a few rooms, a few monsters and a little treasure, but it’s enough of a discovery to make the players feel like they accomplished something. The players wander off the railroad to King Pompous’ castle and head north? I reward their curiosity with…*draws a random Mini Dungeon from a stack of 3×5 cards*…a haunted windmill. They might run into the same haunted windmill whether they head north into the plains, west into the OTHER plains, south into the hills or east into the forest (which, as it turns out, used to be a meadow with an old windmill on it before the forest grew over it). And if I draw a Mini Dungeon that doesn’t make sense for the terrain where the players just wandered (“A haunted windmill? In a soupy SWAMP?”), I can just draw again.

    Believe me, once you’ve satisfied the players’ wanderlust with some Mini Dungeons, a pouch of silver coins and a few cheap trinkets, they’re usually content enough to get back on the railroad where the BIG treasures await. ;-)

    1. WJS says:

      Actually, I would say that a windmill would fit into wet terrain better than a forest; in the time it takes for a forest to grow from plains, I would expect it to rot away completely. A windmill in wet terrain on the other hand? Holland! :P

  137. Midge says:

    The best way to prevent your characters from going whereever they want, but allow them some freedom while getting them to go in the right direction is plot out what level monsters are in the sorrounding terrain. If you make it obvious that certain areas are only accesible to certain levels while still making random treasure and encounters available they can buff themselves up along the way of the storyline. It’s not that hard to allow freedom while still having the rail road tracks in place.

    That is balance.

  138. Archgeek says:

    Blast, only 138… I wanted to see the 140 message. Little matter. ‘can’t wait for the Paths of the Dead.

  139. Nick says:

    I like to sometimes move cities around. “Wait a minute… Wasn’t that beautifully described hamlet with the insane mayor east of where we are?”

    “”oh sure NOW you pay attention to the damn game””

  140. Ellen says:

    (First-time commenter, but I really want to see a 140th comment…)

    Shamus is a comic genius. And many of the comments (this one excepted, clearly!) are as funny or interesting as the strip. :-)

  141. Cynder says:

    Woo, 100th strip! It’s taken me nearly a week to get this far XD

    LOL at Aragorn! He’s said “I hate this campaign” so much throughout this ‘holy epic story’ it’s not funny. Yet I laugh. Yet again. ;)

  142. nitefly says:

    Another classic example of the totally crap GM! Great fun.

  143. Morambar says:

    This kind of railroading is a tradition too venerable to ignore. Example: When the Age of the Internet allowed me to download an Atari 2600 and re-enjoy all my old favorites without the trouble of hooking up my 2600, Telegames, or either of the two Colecovisions with Atari adapters, I learned there was actually a 2600 version of TLotR (yes, really. ) It truly sucks, and is about as non-interactive as you can imagine; the few options you get in the dozen or so scenes (it only goes as far as Rivendell… ) are quickly reduced to one when all but the “right” one does nothing. Specific example: When you get to Bree you have the “option” of leaving N, S, E or W. Exploring three of these options gives you something like “you wander aimlessly in the wilderness until you finally backtrack the way you were supposed to go (jerk…. ) ” Then you finally go the right way: East….

    Moral: The correct direction is always EAST…!

    Morale: Sinking like a Star Destroyer into an event horizon; the players take 1D10 damage/round until 1D100 10 miles from the DM….

    FIRST! (This June…. )

  144. dlantoub says:

    Always consider in the situation of players exploring into the areas of the map marked “Here be Dragons” the inclusion of the ITT (Incredible Teleporting Town). Pick up the town you were going to use and drop it building for building a days march away from the players, divert rivers if you have to. Rename all the major npc’s and you have let the players explore without giving them any real freedom. Alternatively, actually let there be dragons.

  145. Moridin says:

    In the next campaign I’ll just have the players make map themselves, without giving them distance measured only by time. Since neither of them has ever been hiking(or anything like that, to my knowledge) I’ll be surprised if the map will have correct proportions since I have been hiking and I bloody(courtesy to WoT) well know that in easy forest the speed is maximum half of what it is in road, regardless of the condition of the road. So if they want to go off road, fine, they’ll take a long time to find a village unless they find another road. And neither off-road nor road route will go straight. I’ll have only key locations and places they have been already in place. If they go where I don’t expect them to, I’ll just have a list of random locations ready for them to stumble upon.

  146. Yrael says:

    n+2? please?

  147. Ghills says:

    The perfect solution to this is to never give directions. If you stop using directions for anything other than the local surroundings, you can move wherever they need to go into their path. And they don’t notice. :))

  148. Robin says:

    No matter how much freedom you like to give people, sometimes it’s good to get them to place X before place Y. It’s good to have the baron offer a reward for the return of his daughter before they rescue said daughter, for instance. And if a Mace of Disruption and a bunch of ghouls are both nearby, it matters which order the PCs find them in. Alternatively, I may want them to explore the maze *before* they find the Arrow of Direction.

    I favor a certain amount of self-serving mendacity disguised as unselfish and brutal honesty.

    “Guys, I designed this world, and I’m the only one who knows what your choices now will lead to. From where you are, the most obvious paths lead to:
    A. a kobold village with copper pieces that would have been a fun adventure when you were first and second level,
    B. A deadly swamp with quicksand and an Evil High Priest’s castle that will be a great adventure for you when you have about five more levels,
    C. A city of Stone Giants that will make a great adventure for you in ten levels, and
    D. A level-appropriate encounter with some really good loot, which could help you against an EHP and some giants.

    Do whatever you want — you’re the PCs. But I recommend that you go east.”

    (Then I have five levels’ time to design a swamp, and ten levels’ time to design a giant city.)

  149. Bercilac says:

    The answer is:
    Goblins are ahead of you.

    Go east? Oh, there’s a goblin village there.
    West? I meant THAT’S where the goblin village is.
    North? The mortar is just starting to dry as you stumble upon…

  150. James says:

    Wow, This comic is really great. I can’t decide which I prefer out of this and Darth and Droids, and that’s saying something.

  151. caradoc says:

    Who needs a map? I finally settled on a system where the game is played in a network of linked locations — just like the old Adventure game Colossal Cave. {Locations have minimaps.} When the players have finished a location, I tell them what their options are and off they go to the chosen new location. Easy to script, easy to play, and flexible enough to deal with most contingencies.

  152. Michael says:

    > You could have given a big hint by simply saying: “YOU ARE IN A MAZE OF TWISTY PASSAGES, ALL ALIKE.”

    No, you say, “You are all in a different maze of little twisty passages” :-).

    (original: You are in a little maze of twisty passages, all different.)

    As for railroading: Just have large impassible mountain ranges, and only one path from your starting town, that goes to the next city, and so on.

    After all, if you’re always in a crater, or in mountains, then there’s no railroading, just only one way to go.

    Err, no, that’s not dungeon siege, that’s not WoW, that’s not …

    > … plot out what level monsters are in the sorrounding terrain. If you make it obvious that certain areas are only accesible to certain levels …
    That sounds like WoW. Cross that line in the ground, and fog rolls in, and you have level 58 creatures wandering all over the place.

    > There are now n+1 comments, where n is a ridiculous number.
    It still says the same thing. When will that change?

  153. silver Harloe says:

    > Actually, I just have a different message for every 20 comments. If this one hits 140, then I'll add a funny message for 140+.

    awww. you should make 37 say “in a row?”

  154. Techan says:

    I find that as a DM, there is a skill to learning to railroad your players without actually forcing them down your rails.
    If the players start to decide to go somewhere you didn’t plan, and bypass your plot, you just have to find a way to entice them back into the plot. This boils down to knowing your players and knowing what motivates them. Dangle treasure for the loot fiends, monsters for the hack n’ slashers, character motivation for the hard core role players, etc. And if your players refuse to take your hints to go where the story is, then take the story to them. If possible, make the location of the evil dragon’s lair, or the town beset by plague, flexible, so no matter where they go, they end up there.
    Instead of leading the horse to water and making him drink, it’s more like feeding the horse tons of pretzels and not letting him have anything to drink and then leading him to water.

  155. Pingback: The End
  156. samwise says:

    Personally I find the solution to this is to just rearrange the map and not tell th plyers. they end up where you want them, even if distances and compass readings are off.

  157. We saved that can so that you can my individual favorites website list and are seeking at returning really speedily.

  158. Arkanabar says:

    I like for my players to have regular patrons, who tell them things like, “Go to X and do Y, and I will reward you with a shiny!” In Earthdawn, shinies include the True Names of powerful magical objects and other information about them, without which their powers cannot be used.

    And the message changes for comment 160!!

  159. Jamic says:

    Don’t mind me, I’m just passing here to keep the dice rolling.

    Oh, and to say that, when your players don’t go your way, the easiest answer is often to move your plot device on their way.

  160. Mr Compassionate says:

    In a campaign I once tried to leave town without the others and go somewhere else. The DM made it so a large dog blocked my path and when I tried to kill the angry dog it killed me. She f**king murdered a character because I tried to leave the rainroad! That was some bitter re-rolling.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’m guilty of this from my one and only time running a campaign of any respectable length. I’m actually guilty of teleporting a character to the location of the campaign to force them to participate when they refused (someone told me later that I should have said “roll up another character who would join the party for this adventure then” but in all fairness he was sore because I killed his previous character in a very heavy handed way.) and I was bad about overrevealing my process like “Oh you’re going that way, darn, those guys were supposed to get away.” or “I don’t have anything planned for that.”

      I was also bad about letting the campaign be Monty Haul then making really bad attempts to reign in the munchkins (I didn’t try talking to them and asking them to voluntarily depower their characters which they probably would have done, instead I made the campaign ridiculously hard to try to challenge the munchkins and murdered half my group in the process.)

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