Abraham Lincoln

Episode 30: Ring-Tailed and Fructivorous

March 15th, 2013 | Robin

In our latest venture into the Gaming Hut, we consider the classic sandbox versus railroad opposition. Useful dichotomy, or intellectual black hole that swallows all other argument?

From there we gain access to the Tradecraft Hut, to examine the wartime disinformation career of thriller novelist Dennis Wheatley.

In Ask Ken and Robin, Craig Maloney prompts us to mull the role of mini-games in roleplaying design.

And finally, with such matters back in the news, we tap the Consulting Occultist for a 101 class on lost continents, from Atlantis to Hyperborea and beyond.

11 Responses to “Episode 30: Ring-Tailed and Fructivorous”

  1. Michael Cule says:

    The earliest example of railroading I remember was back in the late 70s when a bunch of us in Nottingham were assaulting, what was it called? the Judges Guild temple-on-a-moor… Anyway, we had managed to clear out the central area on the first level and the GM Slim really, really wanted us to go down the steps and into the lower levels where the really hideous stuff and the majority of the treasure was.

    But we had enough cash and XPs to level up. Going down the hole would be just dumb. So we blocked the exits to the dungeon levels with everything we could find and prepared to make our exit. Slim the GM said: “But you’re ruining my scenario!” We told him what he could do with his scenario. “But there’s lots and lots of treasure!” Got enough for now, we said. Slim muttered something uncomplimentary and said: “Right! Despite all your precautions…” and had the assembled hordes from the lower depths burst through our barricades as if they were tissue paper and got us into the Big Fight.

    Ever since I have tried to avoid ‘Despite all your precautions’ moments but must confess to having done so once or twice.

    Nowadays, my preparation for the game consists of listing the various things I’m going to throw at the party in roughly the order I expect them to encounter them and then writing, after about two pages of notes, ‘From here on improvise’. Often I’ll have material left over that I can use later.

    I find it easier to be open to the possibilities like this with a more simulationist system like GURPS. I don’t have to worry about what genre requires or what the story requires. There isn’t a story until the players make it. I can just say in response to their ideas “Well, yes that might work. Roll against this…” or “Not in my universe: you have the wrong end of the stick because…”

    I’m never so proud of my players when they come up with something that I’d never have anticipated.

  2. Tony says:

    I thought the name “Dennis Wheatley” sounded familiar when I read the show notes, and for good reason – I have two of his 1930s murder mystery game books: “Who Killed Robert Prentice” and “The Marlinsay Massacre”. I inherited them from my grandparents, and the covers are a little tattered these days but all the clues (hair samples, train ticket stubs etc.) are still intact. They are quite intricate and must have been a nightmare for the printers to produce with all of the different sized pages for letters etc., and the little wax paper envelopes with clues in them.

  3. So if one wanted to get started reading Mr. Wheatley, is there a selected bibliography Ken would recommend?

    • Kenneth Hite says:

      I’d say read The Devil Rides Out, and if you like that, you’ll like Wheatley. I can’t, off the top of my head, remember which one it is in which we discover that Communism is a literally Satanic plot, but that’s another good one.

  4. GB Steve says:

    There’s a Wheatley website which recommends Phil Baker’s The Devil is a Gentleman. Baker also wrote a great Austin Osman Spare biography so he has his occult chops. Baker did a talk about his book on Thursday which I sadly missed due to a cold.

  5. GB Steve says:

    This Wheatley-Crowley-Fleming-Turing actions and their consequences game. I want it!

  6. CBrinton says:

    Matthew Coniam, an English blogger, has since 2009 been posting “The Dennis Wheatley Project.” He is “endeavouring to read every novel Dennis Wheatley ever wrote, in the order in which he wrote them.” He’s gotten as far as the novel Contraband, published in 1936.

    Intro post here:

  7. widderslainte says:

    Great podcast as always, but gah! You get fireball at 5th level. It was bugging me like Greedo shooting first.

  8. Lisa Padol says:

    Railroading can be good or bad. What I don’t like is when the choices my character makes don’t matter. Oscar Rios, one of my favorite Call of Cthulhu GMs, once said, “I write railroads. Sometimes, I put a sandbox on a railroad, but mostly, I write railroads.” And, to the degree that there’s a mystery to be solved, and he’ll make sure we have what we need to do that, this is perfectly true. But, his scenarios tend to have at least one difficult decision. It may or may not be tactical, but there are generally emotional and moral implications.

    Oddly, I don’t think of “sandbox” as intrinsically “good”. Maybe it’s just that one can miss all the dinosaurs if one picks the wrong spots to dig in.

    I’m not sure how much I railroad and how much I script. Scripting is always something I’m prepared to ditch, and I find that the more I script, the easier it is to improvise when (definitely not if) the players take the game somewhere I hadn’t anticipated.

    And, if I have to get the group to stay on plot in my current campaign, Kerberos Club Fate Edition, the system gives me a tool, i.e., the Fate point. This works because the players allow it to work, and we’ve had some amusing negotiations. (“No, I will not let you raid the lair of the villains all by yourself at 2 in the morning. What? Okay, yes, if you bring the others along, then you can raid it at 2 in the morning.”)

    But, the agency / railroading question is often three sided, which is why, as a GM, I get ticked when a scenario author assumes certain things Will Happen. This is why the Call of Cthulhu campaign At Your Door won my heart. At the beginning, the Investigators are supposed to take something from Point A to Point B. There is trouble en route, and the authors consider several possible responses. All but one lead to The Inevitable Happens. The remaining option has the authors say, “If they succeed in this, then the inevitable does not happen. Go instead to this other section.”

    Sure, there are probably other options the authors don’t consider, but it’s enough that they do agree that, yes, it is possible for the players to do something unforeseen, and it is not the end of the world or the scenario if they do, and the authors can danged well give the GM guidelines for this situation. I know authors can’t take every option into account, but blithely assuming that the group Must do something takes agency from both players and GM.

  9. Nina says:

    Hello Ken and Robin, I cannot get this episode to play or download: “file not found”. I love your show and have listened to every episode over the last few weeks – excpet this one. Could you point me to a place where I can find the file?

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