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

By Shamus
on Monday May 14, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


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.

Comments (170)

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  1. 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]


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

  2. 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.

  3. 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+.

  4. TalismanF says:

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

  5. 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?

  6. Plaguespawn says:

    Come on 140!

  7. NeedsToHeal says:

    Are we there yet?

  8. 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. ;-)

    • 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

  9. 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.

  10. Archgeek says:

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

  11. 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””

  12. 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. :-)

  13. 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. ;)

  14. nitefly says:

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

  15. 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…. )

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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. :))

  19. 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.)

  20. 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…

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

  24. 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?”

  25. […] with it have led me to believe the DM will require a skill known as "railroading." Eg: DM of the Rings C:Railroad Goes Ever on and on – Twenty Sided Quote   + Reply to Thread « Previous Thread | Next […]

  26. 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.

  27. The End says:

    […] I don’t need to think or to work out on my own how to get from A to B, I just follow the huge railroad tracks from the exclamation mark to the zone marked on the map to the glittery sparkle things and then […]

  28. […] on my phone yet, but I had to retort. DM of the Rings C:Railroad Goes Ever on and on – Twenty Sided LOL __________________ Playing: d20 Modern, D&D, PF and […]

  29. 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.

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

  31. 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!!

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

    • 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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3 Trackbacks

  1. […] with it have led me to believe the DM will require a skill known as "railroading." Eg: DM of the Rings C:Railroad Goes Ever on and on – Twenty Sided Quote   + Reply to Thread « Previous Thread | Next […]

  2. By The End on Sunday Apr 3, 2011 at 4:17 am

    […] I don’t need to think or to work out on my own how to get from A to B, I just follow the huge railroad tracks from the exclamation mark to the zone marked on the map to the glittery sparkle things and then […]

  3. […] on my phone yet, but I had to retort. DM of the Rings C:Railroad Goes Ever on and on – Twenty Sided LOL __________________ Playing: d20 Modern, D&D, PF and […]

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