Linear, Progressive Play: Games on Rails, Only Good

I’m working on a live action game (or maybe a theatrical experience?) that allows a single protagonist to move through a series of larp-y scenes and make, basically, a single difficult choice. Each of the scenes along the way has a dedicated player/performer at a specific point on the route. This means that if you pace protagonists out at five minute intervals, you can have fifteen protagonists (or, with their companions, 45 people) cycle through the experience in two hours. It looks like this:

We tried it at Camp Nerdly (@oh_theogony originated the role of the White Deer, because of course he did) and it went well and the potential was obvious. I was worried that it would be boring for the player/performers, or that making a single tough choice would not be interesting enough, but these things were not true.
So I’m really interrogating the notion that we need to build in unlimited choice in games, which is obviously not true, or even creating narrow worlds where choices are limited (which is much more my design wheelhouse). This thing offers almost no choices, and those few are reserved for only one participant, and it is really fun. You go on a little journey, it is bounded by fairy tale logic, and in the end you create this cool experience together.
So I’d love to talk more about choice, and the illusion of choice, and games on rails.


I should note that this particular game feels very much like Process Drama, and I’m totally OK with that.


A Grandiose Disaster by Mike Young is another game that runs on rails and is very fun. The players have no/few choices about where the game is going but all the choices about how to interact as characters. This makes the game all about how the characters react to what’s happening on the rails.

I think games on rails are very good for developing character and also very good for new gamers, especially new LARPers, who may be overwhelmed by a large open world with too many choices or uncertain where to start in a more freeform scenario.


I’m designing a game on rails, and I totally agree with @libertine that it can help ease players into the scene. It can also be used for scenarios that have a very specific tone that some of the players may not be familiar with (my game is based on an IP).

My approach to it was kinda like @Jmstar’s, but in reverse. I established all of the milestones players would reach and let the choices they’d make to get there be free. They won’t get to make decision whether they will, for instance, have a traumatizing battle with a monster at the end of one of the phases: there’s no bargain, no running away. They will fight, they will win, and it will break them. The point is describing how it happens and just how deep is the damage.

I feel like @jesseross’ Trophy uses a “soft rails” kinda of thing, where everyone goes in knowing they are doomed, and the facilitator literally uses a fully-written descent into doom. All of the beats, threats and lures are already there, the players’ job is navigating from one to the next in the most tragic way possible. They don’t always make it to the end of the scenario, and sometimes a few of them manage to get away, but part of the contract of the game is staying on the train as it heads towards the precipice, and I love it

I think these approaches allow players to focus entirely in playing their character without worrying about helping build a cohesive storyline.


Mike Young is coming down to Larp Shack next month and I’m going to make him run A Grandiose Disaster for us. I’ve heard about it a lot.


I can’t imagine it’d be any MORE boring than being a performer in a haunted house, for instance. Like, I suspect if the idea appeals to you at all, it’s BECAUSE you get to repeat, tweak and relive your performance. This sounds neat!


I’m still curious to see how the experience is for the dedicated performers. Both the variety of interactions and the chance to iterate and perfect some of yours is appealing, but there’s clearly also danger of boredom or frustration.
Makes me wonder if it’s possible to send 10 different protagonists on 10 different quests that hit each of the performers a little differently.
Or to create a circuit where we take turns going through the gauntlet.


Jay I also wonder that, and I guess I’ll find out when I try it. I think the interest and excitement of seeing new people moving through might be enough. Also, if participants pay for this experience then your motivation is fifty bucks for two hours work.


I imagine that in equivalent tabletop games, it would be like a GM running potential customers at a sale convention through a mini scenario. That can be entertaining alone for the fact that you actually get comparable statistics for how roleplayers behave.

In terms of linear, decision free games, I would like to mention Ghost Drums (, published in Codex Dark 2. As we play ghosts, the metaphor of actors in a haunted house is actually quite suiting. The one player playing the ignorant drum thief though doesn’t even have any decision at the end.

The format appealed to me because I wanted to retell a Tz’utujil ghost tale and that story isn’t about decisions but the inevitability of certain events.