EDIT: Apologies, this should have posted earlier in the day! Looks like the blogging software decided to take a break on me.
Our gaming group apparently went wayyyyy off course last session. My bard is probably at least partially to blame, but the Game Master felt like any cause for adventuring together, and any sort of focus, had been lost. He warned us we could either have some of the group reroll characters to fit in with things, or he could get us back together, but he’d have to railroad it. We voted for the latter.
He did it in the form of more campaign exposition through email; our characters were kidnapped, accused of a crime (quite mysteriously), and sent to a penal colony far in the southern wastes. I thought the email was a good choice. It gives us time to let it sink in and consider our new surroundings, and ensures that what happens at our table doesn't devolve into the GM telling a story for 2 hours setting things up.
We’ve all been in campaigns were a heavy-handed plot was shoved down our throats, without warning, grace, or benefit. And I’m as anti-railroad as anyone. But I do think that for the GM that doesn’t feel like there are any other options, using the method our GM used isn’t bad. Here’s what I think he did right:
-He warned us ahead of time, and clearly defined the intended consequence of the action.
-He framed it as further plot exposition, setting us up for additional adventures, instead of taking up time at the table where our characters had no input in what was actively happening to us.
-He did it in a finite, defined manner, with a beginning and an end, after which, we had free will of action in a new scenario of the campaign.
For me, I think in most cases, even if you’re railroading, you can at least give the illusion of choice, and possibly the players will never know. And if you don’t want to be sneaky about it, be upfront—just don’t sit at the table and weave this elaborate tapestry, dictating the One True Way, dismissing all other courses of action, while the players are sitting there bored out of their skulls. There may be some shouting about that, and it’s not something I’m fond of doing, but I’m not going to say I’ve never, ever done it. At times, for the good of the game, all roads have led to Rome, so to speak. It isn’t good policy, but sometimes it needs to be done. I think that especially in less-seasoned groups, you’re going to see this more, and of course GMs all have their own techniques to get issues resolved. Railroading is a dangerous tool to use because we gamers react so negatively to the merest suggestion of it, but used properly, it can get things moving again. Just make sure you don’t stay on the train after you’ve arrived at your destination.