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Railroading, fudging, and cheating

DMs who like linear campaigns are always super eager to discuss semantics and be like “that is actually not the definition of railroading, this is not railroading in that sense of the word, this is only a linear campaign”.

And I, who really dislike linear campaigns of all kinds, am like “uh what a distraction. I wish I hadn’t called it ‘railroading’ because some people get really hung up on how it’s much more important that the stuff they’re doing is not called a particular taboo word that everyone knows is bad, than addressing what they’re actually doing and changing their campaign structures.”

Same goes for fudging. “No actually I’m not fudging the dice, how dare you?! I’m only… tweaking monster stats, behavior, and amounts on the fly…”

And cheating. “Well actually the DM can’t cheat since it says in the DMG that…”

I’ve learned that it’s better to steer clear of these discussions and doubly important to avoid their particular “hot” words. If they don’t wanna call it railroading, fudging, or cheating—I have no reason to get hung up on that.

It’s been better for me to:

  1. Give people tools instead of scolding them. Be like “Here’s one way to run a game awesomely, one of many ways”. The tools can include some restrictions—restrictions can be fun, but they should also come with methods and structures that make following those restrictions possible. If you wanna become vegetarian, step one is to learn to cook or get meals with plants, not to learn to hate yourself even more than you already do.

  2. When seeking advice for my own game, and people are like “Oh, I would just solve that situation by [method that’s totally cheating]”, I’d rather be humble and say that it’s our own kooky and peculiar table social contract that clashes with that method, instead of saying that the person and everyone else is doing D&D wrong.

I mean, between you and me, we both know that these primitive screwheads are completely out to sea, but just saying how wrong they are helps no-one.

Calling a linear game a “railroad” is like when someone calls a correctional facility a “prison”. Using the older and more common name takes away all the freedom the name change gave the pri– I mean, gave the residents.

Even in the nineties when railr– when linear games was the dominant way of playing, when most groups played that way, it was very important to keep that a secret. You’d think since it was the normal setup for more than a decade and a half, it would be analyzed and taught and the name reclaimed but instead the name just got even more demonized and GMs were quick to assure their players the game wasn’t linear at all.

Then in the mid 00s where play styles started getting more analyzed and creative agenda more explicit and formalized, you’d think “railroading” would see a renaissance and revival given that it had so many fans out there (being the most common way to play and all) but it kept being swept under the rug and kept as “the unspoken playstyle”. Threefold, GNS, all ignored it. All other playstyles were analyzed to bits, got given tools, workshopped, improved, new mechanics, a language to talk about them, but railroading just got even more taboo. Until finally! The solution! A new name, a fresh cost of paint, and the passengers were, after all these years, finally free to go wherever they wanted (as long as it’s forward).