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I am about to run my first adventure as a GM. I have never GM'd or participated in table top role playing before so I am following premade adventures (in this case starting with the 4e Redbox adventure the Twisting Halls). I am going to be running the Reavers of Harkenwold next and am not sure how I should present the plot hooks to get the PCs into the next adventure. Is it common to have the GM summarize the PCs actions between the first adventure and the next, using the plot hooks to introduce the next adventure and give them purpose? Or is that too much like railroading and I need to somehow more organically introduce the plot hooks?

Everyone in my group is as new to table top RPGs as I am unfortunately so I don't know much about how they will react.

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Can you give us a little more detail about your group? Are all your players new to RPGs as well? Do you know (or can you find out) where they fit in the player archetypes (see dustin.wikidot.com/player-types)? –  thatgirldm Oct 24 '13 at 20:05
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Is there any way to drop the d&d tag from this question? The question seems to be very system-agnostic to me. –  Pulsehead Oct 25 '13 at 12:23

4 Answers 4

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The short and extremely unhelpful answer is, maybe. It all depends on your players, their play styles, and your comfort level as GM.

The long (and hopefully more helpful) answer is, find out what your players want and go that route. One good way is to take a look at the other kinds of games they play (if you know): do they play mostly open-world shooters, or more story-based games like FFVII or Kingdom Hearts? It could also help to outright ask them. Especially since you're all new to RPGs, getting expectations out on the table early is a big help. You'll notice a common theme to a lot of questions on this site is the group's social contract, i.e., the spoken or unspoken agreement about how things should go. For a new GM with a group full of new players, getting everyone on the same page with regards to how much story vs combat the group as a whole wants to see, will go a long way toward making your game run smoothly and enjoyably for all.

Some groups prefer to spend most of their time on the hack 'n slash parts of the game, in which case you'd be fine just summarizing the action between adventures: "When you return to town, you're approached by a man who says he heard of your prowess and has a mission for you."

On the other hand, if your players lean toward the role-playing/story-based parts of the game, you should look for ways to organically introduce plot hooks. This can be difficult, especially as a new DM, since it involves putting clues out there and hoping the players find them.

Now, there's a talent to this, in making the clues obvious enough that the players don't miss them completely, but not so obvious that it still feels like railroading. If you don't feel comfortable with that yet, it's fine to start out a little railroad-y, even if your players prefer RP. Especially if you're all new to RPGs, it's better to take the time to get comfortable with the system and each other's play styles than to try to do everything all at once. Using more on-the-tracks narrative can help with this, as it avoids the big long awkward pauses when you say, "You arrive at the village. What do you do?" and your players sit there trying not to make eye contact because none of them are quite sure what to do next. Or the other extreme, in which everyone goes off in different directions and you suddenly find yourself trying to adjudicate a bar brawl, a temple ceremony, and a night out with attractive members of the opposite sex all at the same time.

TL;DR: Find out whether your players want organic plot hooks and give them what they're looking for, but don't overtax yourself as GM.

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Keep in mind that when you decided that the group was going to play Reavers of Harkenwold next, then you decided to railroad the party. For your plan to work, the party has to end up in that adventure, and can't decide to simply avoid the area. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. You can do railroading on the large scale (adventure to adventure), while maintaining player agency on the small scale (within the adventure). But it is something to keep in mind. If you give the players a choice in how to proceed, then you risk that they won't end up in the adventure.

In the games that I've run, that usually hasn't been a problem. Most people I've played with, are quite happy to head in the direction of the next planned adventure, as long as you give them the right hooks to let them suspend their disbelief. Pay attention to the player's characters. Have they made a character that will head towards an adventure if there is gold involved? Or one who will put his life on the line for impoverished villagers under threat from evil? Give them an excuse to get into the adventure, and usually they will.

Everything that thatgirlgm said applies, of course. But if you've gotten your hands on a group that isn't willing to be railroaded, then your plan is bust. You can't both run an open game, and decide what the next adventure is going to be.

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I originally started to write this as a comment to Rubberduck's answer, but it got too long for the comment box.

As the other answers have noted, the fact that you're running a pre-made adventure in the first place intrinsically implies some amount of railroading, at least if you want to actually make use of your plans instead of having your players haring off somewhere else entirely. You can give your players as much freedom within the scope of the adventure as you like, but you need to at least get them into the right place at the right time to begin it.

One simple approach that I've found surprisingly useful is to simply tell your players in advance, out of game, what kind of adventure you're running and what they need to do to get it under way. (Preferably without spoiling anything that shouldn't be spoiled, of course.) If they're OK with playing the adventure at all, most players — no matter how much they might generally like to step out of the box and look for alternative solutions — will understand the practical necessity of getting to the adventure in the first place. (And if, for some reason, they're not OK with the kind of game you have in mind, it's best to find that out before it begins.)

That way, you don't have to struggle to railroad or trick your players into getting where you need them to go, since they'll understand the necessity and will (hopefully) make up their own in-character reasons why they should do so. I could toss in some buzzwords here e.g. about participationism vs. illusionism, but the main idea is very simple: it's a lot easier to run a game if your players know what you're trying to do and are willing to cooperate.

It's kind of similar to other common meta-rules of tabletop RPGs, like "don't split the party" — even if there isn't any obvious in-game reason why the players shouldn't do that, those who try it tend to realize after a while how much more complicated it makes actually playing the game, and that it's all much easier if they just find an in-game reason, however tenuous, to stick together.

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The time between adventures is commonly called downtime and how that time is handled is different from player to player. A way that works nicely for me is to let some time pass ingame between adventures so the characters have time to develop a bit.

I ask the players what their characters have done in the meantime and I phrase it so that it's implied that the group has stayed together. This helps with keeping the group together later on. Each player gets the chance to develop their character a little, making use of any character related ideas that have popped up during the IRL downtime.

Then I simply tell them where they are now and why they're there. There is almost never any reason to make things more complicated than this and I have never had any objections to this. In fact, this gives the players a solid platform to launch their second adventure from. Chaining one adventure to another can be as simple as saying that they were passing the area or that they were contacted by someone to do a job. Work in more elaborate hooks later when you get the hang of it. It should take you two to three adventures, tops.

Railroading can be a bad thing when it takes away from the players freedom of choice, but doing it in the downtime rarely removes any freedom since the players haven't been playing during that time anyway. That's why it works.

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