Game Specter 8 – Railroading, Sandboxing, and Subplotting

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I didn’t know what to title this column, so all of those things might not be contained in this tome of knowledge, but I wanted to give an idea of what was contained within… so let’s just all not really pay attention to that and move on with the column, shall we?

As a game master, or GM, I create a wonderful story that I want my players to interact with to reach the final destination. Using the old saying, though, that story “doesn’t survive first contact with the players.” Normally, that’s true. What I’ve discovered through two decades of playing is that if the players aren’t involved in creating the scenario then you really don’t know what they’re after when they want to play. That’s where a system like Fate is good to use.

Stealing a page out of Fate, I am going to run through a way to get the story I want to tell out with including what the players want from the game. I’m going to use the scenario of World of Darkness.

I, the GM, have come up with the idea of a power grab for the city of Mount Frost, controlled by the Invictus Prince and barely holding on to power. There are three players that will be playing and the first one wants to see combat… well, that turns me off but he lets me know that he just wants to make sure that is SOME combat, not loaded with combat. Okay, I can handle that… the political power grab will be a bloody coup attempt now, rather than just political machinations going on behind the scenes. The second player states they would like to be able to rise through the ranks a little… okay, well, then that means that the players are actually probably the driving force behind the coup OR they’re the ones tasked with taking out the old Prince. I can handle that AND it still gives the combat and political intrigue the first two of us want. The third player states that he wants to be seeing a spy thriller theme, something that will really get everyone’s blood pumping. That one is a little tougher, but I go with the theory that there is a third faction involved in what I had originally envisioned as a faction vs. faction.

So, from the scenario above, the Invictus Prince of Mount Frost is tenuously holding on to power as the Carthian Movement have hired the players to start taking down the Prince’s infrastructure for an easier coup. Cornered with the idea that their personal secrets will be brought out into the open, the Ordo Dracul have entered the picture and have manipulated the players into taking down the Prince AND the Carthian Movement… so the players are either double agents or playing all three sides. Could that work?

One of the things I’ve had a problem with in the past is creating a sandbox world for the players to play in. I don’t want to railroad them on an adventure but when my players want to sandbox, they almost completely forget about what the plot was in the first place doing their own thing. I’d like to tell a story. This almost always leads to me trying to subplot their sandbox adventures while hooking them constantly back into the main plot. The above scenario, the fictional meeting of the minds to plot out the game, would keep everyone interested from the get go… so I’ll actually be trying that when I give Bob and company their Vampire adventure…

Aren’t I a nice guy?

Game on.