“Railroading” is a dirty word in a tabletop RPG. Players come to the game with the expectation that they will have some input into the shape of the world besides rolling the dice to stab things. Computer games are delivered and mediated by an uncreative computer, and so we have to accept a certain degree of railroading. A good railroader will make the process natural: The player will be forced to do that which most people would choose to do of their own volition. As long as their actions make sense and fit with their goals, the lack of freedom is usually grudgingly tolerated. (Although we are always clamoring for more freedom whenever we can get it.)
A bad railroader will use their power over the player character to force the PC to do things they would never choose to do on their own. Their (mostly illusory) autonomy is negated so that their character can be conscripted in service of the plot. The player will be forced to ally themselves with people they want to kill, surrender when they would rather fight, show mercy when they would rather have vengeance, blunder into obvious traps, and listen to villainous diatribes rather than simply taking action. This is Fable 2. The game touts “choices with consequences”, but the choices you are allowed to make in-game are never germane to the plot. They’re usually artificially binary good / evil decisions that have no impact on the main story. You won’t be allowed to make any choices that deviate from your predetermined role as a clueless mute doormat.
|This is Rose, your doomed sister in Fable 2. Uh, the one on the right, that is.|
You and your sister are street urchins living in the squalor of Bowerstone Old Town. You are seven and your sister is twelve. (Rough guess.) A traveling swindler is selling “magic” items in the streets, one of which is a “wish-granting” box. A strange robed woman named Theresa is there, and convinces your sister to buy the box before leaving mysteriously. Your sister makes a wish and activates the box. It fizzles and disappears.
|Good evening Jeeves, my mute brother and I are here to see Lord Lucian so he can fill us with plot exposition and bullets.|
Then Lord Lucian concludes that both of you are heroes. (Supernaturally strong and durable people with the ability to use magic. Heroes are exceptionally rare.) He’s been reading a prophesy that there will be three heroes he needs for his plans, and a fourth that will stop him. Since you and your sister aren’t one of the three, he shoots you both. Sis dies, and you get blasted out of a window.
Theresa shows up, saves you, and then raises you in a gypsy camp for the next ten years.
|This is the magic box, with Rose’s wish – Castle Fairfax – looming large in the background.|
You do a little combat tutorial, and then you return to Bowerstone. Theresa takes you to the shore and points out into the ocean. Lord Lucian has begun building a huge tower. The Spire. One was supposedly built hundreds of years ago. A Spire is said to grant wishes. Last time, the Spire went off like a nuke and took the entire kingdom off the map. People have since assumed that the explosion was the result of the wish. Whoever made the wish wanted to wipe the world clean and start over, as it were.
Case in point: She knew the magic box was magic. She knew you and your sister were heroes. She knew what Lucian was up to. But… she let the two of you go to his castle anyway? She was willing to risk that both of you would die? Or did she know that you would survive? And if she could predict something as dicey as that, then why was she ever caught by surprise? (Unless we are to believe that all of your setbacks were also part of her plan. Which makes her just as evil as Lucian.)
She could have taken both of you back to the gypsy camp, right then and there. Then she would have had two heroes at her disposal, instead of one.
Theresa then directs you on a quest to round up these three other heroes. One is a huge warrior, another is a powerful magic user, and the last is an incredible marksman. (Strength, Skill, and Will (magic) are the three areas of leveling up you can do in the game. As the “fourth” Hero, all three types of power are available to you, as opposed to the other Heroes you meet, who are each focused on a single discipline.)
She points right at Lucian’s Spire, tells you where he is, and then tells you to go through fire, blood, and darkness in the opposite direction. She never even tries to excuse this course of action.
The first Hero you are to find is Hammer. I will leave her character archetype and her weapon of choice to your imagination. You journey to Oakfield. The bridge is out, and you must detour through a monster-infested cave and fight waves of bandits.
You finally reach Oakfield and do some other questing. Eventually you meet Hammer.
Lucian’s lackey shows up to kidnap her, but ends up killing her father instead. She kills the guy and joins your team.
Theresa then teleports in, and teleports away with Hammer.
To be continued…
Could Have Been Great
Here are four games that could have been much better with just a little more work.
There's a wonderful way to balance difficulty in RPGs, and designers try to prevent it. For some reason.
Trusting the System
How do you know the rules of the game are what the game claims? More importantly, how do the DEVELOPERS know?
Charging More for a Worse Product
No, game prices don't "need" to go up. That's not how supply and demand works. Instead, the publishers need to be smarter about where they spend their money.
The Game That Ruined Me
Be careful what you learn with your muscle-memory, because it will be very hard to un-learn it.