Pen & Paper Role Playing Games: Personal Experience/rant of a new GM
About 6 months ago I leaped right into the monumentous seat of Game Mastering my own role playing game. Prior to that I had experience as a player for DnD 3.5 and 4e as well as one or two games of White Wolf and a bit of Pathfinder. While I find the experience to be positively fascinating and enjoyable I can easily see how it can really cause burnout depending on the system.
To be honest I would never have the desire to run a dnd campaign, EVER. The amount of front loaded work necessary is something I do not particularly see as enjoyable. God forbid I try to make my own campaign the amount of work would be rather outrageous for a relatively laid back person such as myself. I tend to consider myself a more stylistic person when it comes to RPGs, I can crunch numbers but its not something I enjoy. So I decided to go look for a system that I would find intuitive enough for my tastes, but not too simple. To that end I tried and bought Savage Worlds. My only problem was that most of my friends are pretty hardcore DnD fans so I had limited choices and numbers of players.
The point that I want to get at is my curiousity at the experiences of other game masters. As a newish GM is have decided to run my campaign based of a Pathfinder Adventure Path. Naturally with my players as most of my friends in general as well as myself is the ability for players to get off track or in game terms go off the rails. In fact this occurs almost instantly and nearly renders any pre-established plot almost irrelevant. Now I will admit that some people enjoy this and dislike being sent down a singular path but for new GMs I perfectly understand why. Attempting to make a world and universe that lives and breaths can be a truly daunting and overwhelming. So my question to other GMs is how do you keep players from completely leaping off the rails all together but give them a sense of freedom to make choices and influence the overall story? My current method is letting my players operate mostly on the scale of the rule of cool, but I do try to edge them in a certain direction to get the plot to actually move forwards rather then laterally.
To give an example I am running the Jade Regent. In the first adventure the party is supposed to attack a castle and find the McGuffin in the dungeon. Most parties would find the treasure, kill every living/unliving thing in the castle and then move on. However my two compatriots had different ideas. They figured that since the castle was in relatively good shape and with a latent underscoring desire for world domination, they slaughtered a majority of the residents and strong-armed the remaining residents into serving them. In essence they took over a castle and started to establish their own kingdom at effectively level 1 (Savage Worlds Novice no Advances). Would other GMs allow this at all?