Thread: Rules Only: Rails vs. Sandbox/Freeform
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Old July 21st, 2017, 12:42 AM
Lycanorukke Lycanorukke is offline
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I would say that there is a range from the hard railroad and the infinite sandbox.

Hard Rails:
Linear, rigid and inflexible but simple to create and run for the GM. However PC's tend to dislike these and before long expect them to hit the accelerator and derail the plot train. I hate these - the PC's are not players, they are mannequins made to dance for the GM.

Concealed Rails:
In this case the GM makes an effort to 'hide' the rails. The plot is still very linear but instead of driving the PC's down a linear corridor they are driven through a series of rooms - the scope is still narrow but they can wander a bit in each room/plot point. Not quite as easy to run as 'Hard rails', but less likely for PC's to derail it. However by the same token the PC's may wander around so much they never find the door to the next 'room'. This is where the 'Three Clue Rule' comes in to keep them in roughly the right direction. This is roughly where RPG computer games sit - a linear plot but with 'side quests' and fluff to hide the purely A->B->C plot.

My personal favourite, and used in MT. A much looser form of 'Concealed Rails'. The advance the plot the PC's need to go through 'Nodes' but how they get to the nodes is entirely up to them. And it is entirely possible for them to skip entire 'nodes' by cleverness or luck. More work required by the GM as each node has to link to other nodes in a coherent way. Again the 'Three Clue Rule' comes into effect, and if the players get distracted they could jump out of the boundaries your nodes cover. Essay on 'Node Based' play here.

Open World:
No limits for the PC's and a prematurely grey GM. Depending on how long their 'legs' are the PC's could go anywhere which means the things the GM has to cover increases expodentially. Unless the PC's have some sort of meta-goal they could easily get bored and simply drift from place to place. Also it is very hard to make detailed or memorable events as the GM can't detail anything too much as it has to be able to slot into anywhere. The game world becomes 'A mile wide but an inch deep'.

Of course bit can be mixed and matched - a sub plot may be 'concealed rails' placed inside a 'Node based game', and where the line is drawn between each 'stage' is very grey. But the extremes I would call no-go areas - Hard Rails annoy the PC's while Open world annoys the GM.
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