This time I don't know that I can do any better than Hack & Slash has done on expounding the problem of the quantum ogre. Quantum Ogre is a really sexy term for an age old gaming argument. Railroading. To drive those players down the track, or let the train steer wildly into the sandbox of your campaign? That is the question. Of course that is misleading and more than a little sarcastic.
What the exchange of Hack & Slash's various articles do is very clearly and thoroughly discuss the issue. To tell the truth I am not sure which side I come down upon. I think either side is a slippery slope, but I need more time to process it to develop a well reasoned opinion.
For now, I recommend these articles wholeheartedly. Particularly the ones under the Quantum Ogre section of course. I tend to fall somewhere in between in my GMing. I like to preach the let the dice fall where they may rhetoric, but I have cheated on dice. And usually in the player's favor. When it hasn't been in the player's favor it has been to further the story along, or very rarely to teach a lesson. I know, I know--how dare I? And I dare to do so hardly ever, but I'm not going to lie and say I have never done it. For me the story that is developing out the play is what keeps us coming back to the table session after session. Not my story, but the story. One of the reasons I love gaming is that you never quite know what is going to happen.
I'll also admit something else. I love commercial modules. Not just commercial ones, but premade modules. I love reading them and I love DMing them. Now, don't get me wrong--some of them suck. I should restate that and say that I love the really good ones. But pre-made modules are extremely handy and as a DM I can use time-saving whenever I can get it. I have run my own adventures too, I just happen to love modules.
But, it is important to make clear--I have never run a module all the way through. At least not like it was intended. To me a module is a starting point. I'm not exactly sandboxy with it, but more like as a base, a foundation for whatever comes next. I have had players ditch the hook entirely or swallow it hook line and sinker--but we still never end up using the whole module. My module adventure sessions are filled with new traps, new monsters, changed architecture, off label NPCs and the like. I'm not quite sure why this happens this way, but it does.
Without a whole lot of pre-reasoning about it, I'll say that for me GMing is an art. It is something that has always seemed to come naturally to me. I know that some who have read my preferred approaches have labelled me as an adversarial or even a killer GM. But I have never had a problem keeping players at my table. The adversarial thing is more like an assumed alias than the real thing. I have had a tough time making time to game, but never keeping players engaged and excited. Oh sure we have had dull moments occasionally. But that is just a sign to up my game, and pretty soon things are rolling again.
The really funny thing I found about reading Hack & Slash Master's articles about how to fix the quantum ogre problem is that I already do most of what he suggested. In fact, as I was reading much of it I was saying to myself, "Of course! this is just common sense. Don't all GMs do something like this?"
I'm not perfect, and nor am I some kind of a GMing guru, but the issue kind of seems like a non-issue for me because I have never seemed to have the issue. But then again, maybe I'm missing something. It'll be interesting to see how my new group feels after a few months with me at the helm. I'm up for some constructive feedback--especially since I'll be running a new system.
Anywho, give the articles a read, and let me know what you think. I'll plan on reasoning this out a bit and perhaps making a more intelligent response soon. Instead of the rambling stream of consciousness type entries I'm so used to.