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We are playing a D&D 5e game, and our DM is constantly dropping the same hints, and re-iterating the same details over and over again, to try and get us to go where he wants.

I've played enough games to enjoy the "free-roam" style adventure, and I can appreciate the railroad approach as well. The game moves a lot quicker, and smoother, with less distractions. However, the constant reminders are getting a bit annoying.

For example, our latest adventure was to find the hag in Kingsborough. Our first hint, was after fighting hag in one area, we found a shrine with a dismembered hand, with a tattoo of the Kingsborough Guard.

We went back to town, and reported our findings. The DM gave us some pretty clear information that there were rumours of the Kingsborough Guard moving into our area, and "tales of Witches raising the dead" and a "trio of hag sisters." We then clearly stated our intentions of investigating, but decided to relax in town a bit, and prepare for the trip, then head off the next day.

Then, during the night, we were attacked by surprise, by a group of Ghouls.

During the conversation with our informant in town, a few of the player characters decided to relax and have few beers, and ended up being "too intoxicated" to leave. We decided to fast forward to the next day. In that time the DM shoved the ghoul encounter in, which did take up more game time.

These ghouls all bore the same tattoo of the Kingsborough Guard. Once again, we made the connection, and stated that we would head off at the crack of dawn the next morning.

The DM never really seemed to drop the issue until we were well on our way. We have had this issue multiple times, and we have spoken about it together, and with the DM, explaining that we do understand the hints he's dropping, and even asked if we were going the right way, which he openly agreed with.

My only thought, is that he is actually an officer in the Army, and is used to repeating instructions (it is a very common practice for military officers).

Other than just accepting it and going with the flow of it, how can we try and get the DM to stop with the excessive "railroad" approach?

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Have more meta-discussion. You've discussed the fact that he gives a lot of hints, and he said he would try and ease up on it, but the behavior hasn't changed. That suggests that, just like you're frustrated with his behavior, he has a problem with yours that he's trying to fix.

In situations like this, I've found it useful to do postmortems. Often it would be the GM running these, but you can always start up an informal one yourself at the end of a session. Some useful questions to ask each other would be:

  • What were you trying to do that his clues and plot seeds were interfering with? Not just "spend a night in town;" what were you doing on a higher level? Strengthening IC bonds? Having fun fooling around with improv roleplay? Trying to maintain the reality of the simulation?
  • What was he looking for you to do that was causing the repeated urging toward his prepared plot? Are you willing to do that?
  • What can the group do to make it clear that they either will pursue his prepared plot, or actively want to do something else instead?
  • If you've discussed changes in behavior, have those changes occurred? How does everyone feel about any changes that have happened? Does it seem to be working, and do more changes need to be made?

You can have this sort of postmortem as often as it seems useful, even once a session. There's no harm in starting one and having the consensus be "everything is great!"

Remember, you're not adversaries and he's not really in charge of the social situation. You're a bunch of people working together to craft a good experience. It might be especially useful (corny as it sounds) to talk about how the situation makes you feel, using short, specific words: frustrated? worried? stressed? You may be surprised at the answer; many social conflicts arise from people guessing wrong at what other people are feeling.

You'll want to reach a consensus about what exactly to do, but here are some possible techniques I've used in games for dealing with plot seeds, social struggles, and time management:

  • Use clue cards. Write clues or active plots down on index cards and have them visible. That way everyone remembers what's going on and no one has to worry about stuff getting forgotten. When a mystery is explained, a clue is applied to a plot, or a plot is resolved, discard the card.
  • Use cutscenes. If a night in town or another event seems unimportant to the game as a whole, the GM or a player can say "Should we cutscene this?" and if everyone agrees you can just sum up what happens in a few sentences and move on. If it's important to play it out, you can say so and reduce ambiguity.
  • Have a mutually-agreed-upon procedure for when this pattern might be repeating. Maybe he can ask, "Understand your mission?" and only drop more hints if you say no. Maybe, if you suspect he's dropping unnecessary clues, you can say "Does this fit the pattern?" and that's a signal that he can just say yes and move on.
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I'm going to go with a frame challenge here: This isn't excessive rail-roading. (It may not even be rail-roading at all. )

Having presented a danger to the party, who chose to wait to handle it until the next day, your DM is showing the characters how dangerous this threat is. This is in line with the old "Show, Don't Tell" writing advice that been trotted out to DMs forever.

For all that you know, the ghoul attack could have been planned to occur at that time of day no matter what the party is doing. Without access to his notes, you can't really know. A time-driven or event-driven plot like that could be seen as rail-roading from the players perspective, even when it isn't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd also note that the presence of the tattoo on the ghouls may have been in the module, and not the DM's invention. Some parties are full of murder hobos who are terrible at taking hints, and a lot of modules accommodate that. Rather than being mad at the DM, rejoice in your above average intelligence. \$\endgroup\$ – Pork Feb 22 '17 at 6:53

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