First off I had a good time. We spent most of the night creating characters, we didn’t really know anything about where we where or what we were doing, other than The GMs wife is playing a Can-Canning rogue. The game is based on Star Wars Saga-Edition so even that doesn’t mean much since there is no rogue in that game it was fairly evenly divided up between the Scout, the Scoundrel, and the Noble. She ended up going with scout the more stealth based of the three.
So we have the Can-Can dancer, a Slave bouncer, and my character the Faithful Sharpshooter. We where at the bar (The GM didn’t account for one of the characters to be a teetotaler) The sheriff walks in and is promptly shotgunned in the face by the only other patrons in the place at the moment. After a short battle the bandits where dead and only we three and the bartender remained. We went down to the jail to report the happenings to the deputies when we where asked to go investigate a train robbery that was supposed to happen that day. Being obliging sorts we obliged. And this is where the rails began to show (no pun intended).
Shortly after arriving at the train it became clear that we where supposed to miss the train and go riding off after it. That didn’t seem optimal and there was no reason for us to intentionally do that, when we where not provided with a solid reason why we could not be on the train. After getting on the train we did what people do and took our seats. I suppose we could have tried to figure out who intended to rob the train before it happened but every time the bandits had been described thus far they where just described as regular folk, and getting into character a bit more than I probably should have I just assumed that when the time came for me to do what I was supposed to do the correct course of action would become apparent. And eventually it did. We heard gun shots and went to investigate. When we got there we found some folks in a gun fight with a few soldiers. I was about to Search My Feelings, (remember we are playing star wars with a western skin on it) when the gm referred to the people fighting the soldiers as the bad guys. This fire fight was somewhat brutal mostly due to the terrain involved. We eventually came out on top and it was abundantly clear that of the three groups involved we where the superior. The Dancer and the Slave surrendered to the soldiers and the sharpshooter went back to take his seat. It turns out that surrendering to the soldiers and giving them our weapons was what the GM wanted us to do. I playing the sharpshooter didn’t see any reason to do that what-so-ever. After one of the soldiers followed me back to my seat and tried to get me to give up my weapon in the most unconvincing manner possible we had one of those moments in a game that was so absurd that it could only possibly work because it’s cool and the dice gods like that. The Solder drew on me and fired missing, so in response I drew my knife and with some awesome die rolls disarmed him and we walked to the rear in a more civilized fashion.
Now for my discussion of railroading players. The rails for the story are a bit too obvious for my tastes, aside from the fact that we are literally on a train at the moment. Not that I’m against railroading, I think it is the basic GM technique that allows a game to run smoothly, and without it you end up in a mire of unforeseen circumstances, wondering how you will ever get back to tell your story. That said players need at least the illusion of choice. Rather than shoe-horning them into a clearly suboptimal choice make the course of action you want them to take the best available. Let’s go back to the getting on the train scene. Our GM could very easily have gotten the scene he wanted without it feeling like it was just him saying “No, you have to miss the train,” without him being able to back it up with any real reason why we have to miss the train.
Here is what happened in detail we have three characters who attempt three different things, all apparently wrong. We arrive at the station and the train is getting ready to leave. I choose to get on the train, the Dancer chooses to buy a ticket, and the Slave who arrived shortly after us has to run to catch the train. I was met by someone telling me that I couldn’t get on without a ticket but the train is leaving this minute if I go to buy a ticket I will miss the train. So I pay the conductor, I have no intention of stealing a train ride. The Dancer runs and jumps onto the back of the train as it pulls away from the platform, and the slave has to run to catch the train and jumps onto the back.
The GM wanted for us to have to ride our horses to the train and jump onto it, which I agree would have been a cool scene. All that would have been necessary for that to happen is for us to have arrived at the train station in time to see the train pull past the water tower as it left the station. At that point if we want on that train we gotta go get it. and it doesn’t feel like we where screwed out of a choice because no choice was ever presented to us there was only one feasible course of action.
There is also the illusion of choice, I use this a lot. You stay up all night planning out an awesome encounter, it’s gonna rock the players are going to have a blast, then they choose not to go down the road that leads to your encounter or choose not to go in the room that it’s in. Simple solution, just put it somewhere else. The players don’t know where it was originally and most often it’s fine to just do it a bit later or in a different place. I once spent three days writing a dungeon it was going to be super awesome, the people I play with always go left when presented with a choice. My dungeon had one such choice in it at the very beginning, they could go left through my super awesome dungeon with neat and interesting encounters or they could go right directly to the end of the dungeon get the McGuffin and be on their way, on this one occasion they went right. Unfortunately it did not occur to me to just flip the dungeon over, it was a learning experience, we all have them.
Oh, we did also play Rise of the Runelords on Monday. We are missing our Fighter and the Bard, they went to GenCon the bard works for a bead store with a booth there, and the fighter is married to her. The fighter had to go because something came up with the rogues real life job and she was unable to attend. Which meant in theory we still had a balanced party until the rogue called and said she had a headache and wasn’t coming. We did the boar hunt, then dealt with the goblin in the closet. I had forgotten that that’s when you go to the glassworks. we made it through the first main room in the glass works before the GM called the game, which I am super glad of because I have no desire to do the rest of this portion of the adventure with less than four people. I suppose that’s not true, entirely, if we are still down a player this monday I will still go and do the rest of the glassworks.