Friday, April 20, 2012

Railroading your party: A Response to Aaron's Comments

Well, well quite a fury of opinions and assumptions about my playstyle. As any who read my blog regularly know, I dont shy away from my personal shortcomings, my gaming struggles or my own emotions. Nor the emotions of others who might take issue with my writings. But I must say Aaron is the first to be so open about it calling me on them all. Thank you Aaron for giving me the chance to rebut and explain myself.

First of all it is awfully hard to communicate the full depth of a gaming session and all of its nuances in writing. Let alone a whole campaign. There is simply too much going on to adequately cover it all. And my writing style is rooted alot more in my own emotional experience of play than in in objective occurrences. So allow me first to try and clearly define how this campaign developed:
  1. Setting is the Inner Sea Region in PF
  2. First adventure was a low level DCC adventure Into Wildsgate--which is basically an assault on a Goblin stronghold
  3. No other assumption were made at that time
  4. The PCs actually spent several sessions getting involved in intrigue related to Lady Aborn and Sergio (the keep "moneylender"/thief)
  5. They do not know that Lady Aborn is at the root of the missing royal "artifacts" now hidden in the Goblin Spires
  6. At this point I didn't even know if they were going to get to the Spires--but they did manage to suffer a nightime ambush, get arrested, put on trial, accused of murder, acquitted on a fluke and eventually get pulled into investigation of a goblin raid to prove their innocence
  7. Eventually they end up in the spires and blow themselves up--long story, but it was a TPK
  8. At this point I am NOT playing Mr. Nicey Nice, this is hard core old school and they had suffered 6 PC deaths and now one TPK
  9. The campaign resumes with new 1st level PCs to the west of the above occurrence near an old abandoned temple
  10. The PCs choose to investigate and suffer more losses
  11. In the process they find from a local diviner that trouble is still brewing in the East near the spires and things have gotten much worse since an explosion has occurred in the spires
  12. Many of the players hold a mighty grudge against Lady Aborn and Sergio and head back east to try and confront her.
  13. They end up investigating the Barrow Mounds on the way as a local village has reported deaths near their town cemetery and are afraid to go near there
  14. By now I had made contingency plans for Lady Aborn, and had her contacted by an Ogre Mage who was heading the Goblins (a current thorn in her side)
  15. The idea for the link to the Drow came from the fact that we had several players playing Drow, and my inordinate love of Q1
  16. I was not planning on any of this "having" to happen, just that I be prepared with a background should they choose to head in that direction
  17. It was about this time that I had decided to start playing "softer". I could go into this more, but if you read my past posts you might get an idea of why I chose to do this.
So, I wasn't railroading at all in my opinion. If my players had chosen to take another route they most certainly could have. I didn't "want" them down there with the Drow because I knew they weren't ready for it. I KNEW they would die. And given their play style (again see previous posts) I knew they would require me to save them, or soften things up so much that I might as well line the cave walls with marshmallows.

And yes, Aaron I was born in the day when DM -VS- Player was the tone of gaming. Adversarial gaming was the norm, and it's how I was brought into gaming. As they say in Hackmaster "Wimps need not apply". I encountered death in adventures at every turn. And as a GM I saw many of the PCs in my dungeons fall. But me and my gaming friends of yore are all still avid adversarial gamers. If you really wonder how I feel about this check out my post here. If you take the time to read this you might understand a bit more of how I feel and how I play--even if you don't agree.

I'm not saying that such play style is every one's cup of tea. I think I made it clear in my post that Pathfinder and 4e foster a different playstyle altogether. And hence why I say Pathfinder is dead _to me_. It serves me no purpose to play a game that I have little interest in or does not play how I want and like to play. And forgive me for making assumptions here, but I find it very likely that you have either taken offense that I am talking about Pathfinder or that you have had bad experiences with my style of play. Either way taking it out on me doesn't do your argument any good.

You see, I'm in a very unique position. I teach Junior High School (8th and 9th grade), and have run the gaming club for almost 5 years now. I play with young kids, 13 to 16, many of whom have never gamed before. Realizing this is an open club I always try to be accepting of different ability levels and the gaming desires of those in the club. It is always hard to decide on a game to play, and even moreso a style of play that caters to everyone. I proudly say I have run almost 120 kids through our gaming club, and introduced gaming to over 60 new gamers in the five years I've been playing. Though many move on to other interests with time, a core group gets the gaming bug and continues to game to this day. I would put that number around 30.

I will readily admit that this year I've been challenged like never before. Pathfinder was not my game of choice, but I relented. I game old school no matter what I play, so I struggled this year in trying to adapt my playstyle to the PF mechanic. Eventually I changed my playstyle to try and support what my players seemed to want and often kept demanding--at times quite rudely I might say. I have never faced this before, and if pressed I would admit that this group of gamers has been more irascible than those we've had in the past. A few club members have even told me they felt so.

In the end this hobby means a lot to me. It hits very near to my heart, and I've struggled in the role of teacher while at the same time being a fellow gamer to those in my club. Remaining detached has not been as easy as it is in the classroom where I'm not so attached to the subject matter. I'm sure you've gamed with people you don't like, or who have rubbed you the wrong way. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky. I have been putting up with it all year. I have stepped out from behind the screen, let others GM, changed approaches, tried a different system, and at the last changed the very foundation of my gaming ethos. Nothing worked. They still died, and they still played in a way I personally think is ludicrous. You'd really have to be here to understand.

To give you an idea: all of this group plays at home whenever they can. I have heard them talking about their games and some of their characters. One player has a favorite character who is now the figure of death in his world. He looks like the grim reaper, complete with skull head--no idea how he got it--a magical scythe that causes death and well you get the idea. Another player has built a city with clones of himself to the tune of 10 million--at least that's what he said. He created all these PCs with the same name, same character sheet, same stats, etc. (don't really know if he has 10 million or not) and they built the city, castles, forges, etc. etc. churning out magical items, minting gold coins with gold from who knows where and again you get the idea. Another player has a favorite PC he uses in his non-club games who is styled after Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. He has a magical spear headed chain that allows him to pull someone hear him and then he ribs their heart out. No idea how he manages that last feat--maybe it's a magical power of the spear. I could go on, but ... you get the idea. And the thing is these guys have been gaming for 8 months. I have been gaming for 32 years and my highest level character is an 11th level wizard with 28 hitpoints.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not envious. I'm damn proud of that Wizard. I can appreciate the creativity of GM supported Monty Haul characters as this post of mine goes to show. But as a playstyle for regular gaming--sorry it's not my cup of tea.

It was in realizing, letting Pathfinder loose in all of it's crazy madness that this game is actually a part of the problem. You can think what you want about that, but for me it's what I see.

And as for being a farmer who is afraid of everything--I think it was Bilbo who was a humble gardener (well Sam did most of his gardening) that was afraid of just about everything. Being an ordinary guy and overcoming impossible odds is exactly the kind of fantasy I like. Personally it's what I think fantasy is about. Just ask Taran PigKeeper from Lloyd Alexander's Pyrdain chronicles if you question it.

Which is why I hope you stay tuned. I'm hopefully going to finish my entry on "Hackmaster: A History" this evening and maybe that will explain where I'm coming from. It's certainly the land I call home in my heart. Thanks again for stopping by Aaron. Hope to hear from you again soon.


Greylond said...

heh, "Welcome to HackMaster" aka 'The Darkside'... ;)

Totally agree.

Chris said...

Hey Greylond, yep it's time to embrace my destiny :) Thanks again for stopping by, always glad to hear from you.

Greylond said...

Heh, no problem. Mind if I plug my new blog about my new HM Campaign?

Learn To Hack: Frandor's Keep

Michael said...

To be fair... Taran was only an "assistant" pigkeeper...

I enjoyed reading this. I am someone who started gaming with the Moldvay basic set of D&D in 1983 and I've shared many a character death with my groups as both a player and a DM.

Adversarial is not a word I like to use in my gaming vocabulary. I think that adversarial gaming is different from old school hardcore gaming. I don't know that just because the DM doesn't cater to the players is the same thing as adversarial play. I assume you are all still there to have a good time and just play a great game together (the important word being together) so I wonder if the term adversarial is not part of where communication breakdowns occur?

The NPCs and monsters are adversarial to the characters but are you really adversarial to the players?

Just a thought I've had as I've been exploring some of the same issues and ideas.

Chris said...

Yeah Mike, I agree. I use the word rather carelessly, when of course I am not out to get my players. I am out to craft challenges that will test the limits of their play. But as Brendan said I too like the title of referee. It implies a level of impartiality that all gms should strive for IMO.

To return to my mushrooms, they were what they were. You touch them they are going to spray out some potent sleep powder. You better not touch them. I am not going to change that fact for you. I'm impartial--at leat I should be :)

Chris said...

And thanks for the link Greylond! I'll also put it in my links section.

Expect comments from me soon.

yeoman said...

An interesting series of blogs Chris. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have been a long-time player of D&D since '81 in fact.

I DM PF for my group, it is their game of choice. I have had mixed experiences with a previous group which I found difficult to engage with. Why? Because PF, 3.5 and other systems of its ilk present so many options that those inclined to a more 'superhero' gaming style find plenty of ammunition to create such characters that confidently stride the world taking down all in their path without fear. I believe that this is a result of any rules-heavy system.

It is not inevitable though. my current group are almost all mature players of about my age, but with a totally different outlook. For them the PF rules provide a system which they find highly adaptable, and with myriad choices, but it does not change their gaming style. They still know that their choices have consequences, and behave accordingly. Not for them the decision to press-on regardless of the odds, or take unwarranted risks.

Neither am I convinced that the sort of play outlined in the articles is inherent to modern gaming. I clearly recall being bored senseless at school in the 80's with stories of this person's invincible fighter at 100th level, that magic user killing gods before breakfast etc. Ever was it thus. Is it more prevalent? That I cannot say.

In short I don't think the system is to blame. It will perhaps provide a platform that will enable some players to gain a greater sense of confidence in their character with far more tools for them to use than they had before, but it does not necessitate this style. I DM AD&D and PF. The latter provides the PCs with a greater wealth of resources for sure, but then so do the monsters. My preference for the former has more to do with the amount of rules to master than with what it does to the game.

With respect to your response Chris, I do not think the players were being rail-roaded, as Aaron suggests, but I do think that you were playing on different pages which meant that your expectations and their aspirations were not going to meet..... The fault lies with neither party, but it is sad to see how this causes such disillusion in you.


D&D 5e Official Alternate Classes

The Classic 4: Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User and Thief This started with one of my players wanting to play the new Blood Hunter class. I...