A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.


Dark Sun Railroads

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 23, 2015

Tagged: darksun 2e railroads

No matter how well they do, at some point the PCs are discovered, captured, and brought before Hamanu. – Dragon’s Crown, pg. 33

Oh, the railroad. At some point adventures from TSR transitioned from open-ended affairs to highly structured stories. Some people place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Tracey and Laura Hickman, though this seems a bit unfair. With all the tournament modules that came out in the late 70s and early 80s, it seems like there was always an element of highly structured play available as part of the experience of D&D.

I don’t think railroad games are inherently terrible, but making players play the railroad portions out is definitely stupid. If the adventure you are playing only makes sense if certain situations happen you are probably better off being upfront about that and simply narrating what needs to take place. Otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time.

Freedom, another Dark Sun adventure is even worse when it comes to railroading.

Because the PCs must be captured, the Part One encounters are unfair. One or more PCs will be prisoners after each encounter. No player actions short of the miraculous will save the PCs from eventual capture, arrest, or enslavement.

Why not just start the adventure with the players captured? I can see how organically you could slowly end up sending the PCs to the slave pits: it’s a harsh setting after all. Something about the way this is presented seems obnoxious. But look, there are even dumber examples of railroading in the adventure:

For the purposes of Freedom, you do not want the PCs to escape unless a specific encounter calls for escape. The players, on the other hand, will certainly try to escape. All their attempts should fail. Still the players must believe they had a fair chance to succeed. The following tactics let you program fair failure for the PCs, both thwarting and rewarding their escape attempts. – Freedom, part 2 introduction

Who green lit this module? Freedom is such a spectacularly bad adventure.

I found City by the Silt Sea refreshing because it felt different than most of the other 90s-era D&D books I had read. There are probably lots of modules like this one, though it feels like at the time they were few and far between.

Though the adventure is presented in a particular order, each encounter is designed to stand alone. Like building blocks they form an interesting whole while piled together, but how you stack them is left to each DM. – City by the Silt Sea, pg 5

There has been lots written about railroads in the OSR blogosphere. Most recently, Justin Alexander covered this topic quite well: The Railroading Manifesto.