Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Question Bomb: Merging the Railroad and the Sandbox?

Hello, I'm throwing out a "question bomb" for ya'll to respond to with thine opinions. Why call it a "bomb"? Because I hope to have an explosion of comments! Why am I doing this? Because I respect your opinion, that's why!

Here's the question: can one merge the techniques behind railroading and the sandbox style of roleplaying?

I will eventually share my own opinion, but I wanted to crowdsource this first.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

(NOTE: question bomb inspired by this post that I discovered while digging through the great Hack & Slash blog.)


  1. Even if the players have full autonomy in a session, the GM still has to summarize the various available adventure hooks from session to session. Hooks that are not pursued can change on their own over time... and resolution of hooks can drive the creation of new hooks. There is a lot of leeway for narrative there.

    Just as fast-playing combat tends to shift the focus away from the tactical level and to the strategic exploration level... so to can quickly resolved adventures/sorties fold the techniques of the railroad onto the sandbox. Simply shift them up to the campaign level rather ran the at the session level and you've got it.

  2. This is the closest I can get to:

  3. Yeah. You can have games that shift from one to the other as needed. My Emern game is like that - sometimes the PCs are wandering around the rainforests, and then all of a sudden they're wrapped up in a situation and need to resolve it before they can go back to wandering around. A good variety of tones and styles is actually better than monotony, even if individual tones and styles can be ranked against one another meaningfully.

  4. Thanks for the comments so far! The thought that occurs to me at the moment upon reading the comments thus far is...when do we all admit that railroading has some fuction in roleplaying?!

  5. I should qualify my last comment by stating that I might have a different definition of railroading than others...more details later...

  6. That -C is a smart guy.

    However, I think sandboxes and railroads are apples and oranges - a sandbox is a campaign style, and railroading is a technique (and not a campaign style). People conflate story or plot-driven gaming with railroad.

    For me, the railroad is when, no matter what the players do, the DM inflicts a predetermined choice on the action. "No matter what the players do, my BBEG is going to escape this fight because I need him to show up in a later scene". That's my definition of the railroad. So yes, it can happen in the sandbox.

    And the DM can occasionally take a stronger hand at the tiller through offering plot hooks in the sandbox, too. It only becomes a rail road when the players have no choice in the matter.