Jorge Jaramillo Villarruel wanted something about Railroading.
Jorge, what on earth can I say about this that has not already been said - in the long complex discussions of the Quantum Ogre, and in other places? (I’m really sorry but I couldn’t work out anything actually good to say so this is kind of a crappy mashwork post.)
DCO and MotBM have an expected 'end scene' of climax and if you don't reach it or experience it then you are not getting the hoped for experience.
Silent Titans has things you need to do, byt you can do them in any order and it has advice for putting together an end scene if it looks like the players need one.
But the possibility of not getting to 'the end' exists in all of those adventures and is part of the drive of running and playing them.
"Thing find their meanings in their end." - I wrote that ages ago. I'm not sure if its true. Meaning often seems like a spiderweb reaching across different elements and qualities of experience, with many paradoxes within it.
No human can simulate a world in enough depth to provide the theoretically-infinite possibilities of D&D.
In reality the size, depth and texture of the imagined world is decided by the Dm's imagination, memory, creativity and attention, and by the meta-cognitive tools of preparation like books, maps, notes etc. And by the questions, impulses and knowledge of the players.
A big problem with OSR 'theory' is that there is too much to say. Any statement or rule could be 'wrong' in certain situations.
I'm going nowhere with this. I'm going to turn the question into a post I possibly can write;
How Do You Know When You Are Robbing The Players?
1. Facefall after you reveal too much behind the curtain. In one game a long time ago the players seemed to enjoy a particular part and I told them outright that I made it up there and then.
They did not seem happy and we lost a lot of energy. I have tried to never make the same mistake again. From that point on, long-planned elements and crap I just came up with have blended together with the players (hopefully) none the wiser.
2. They haven't surprised you in a while. If they are exercising agency then players will usually do something odd every half hour or so.
3. You are bending geography known to you, if not to them. Places that haven't been determined yet are ok to shift around a little, but anywhere with a settled location, especially if it’s written down, really shouldn't move after that.
4. Things aren't awkward. There are no long wait followed by desperate hurryups, no weird obsessive tangents, no endless pressing at things that won't move, no irritating or forgotten things and no surprising ultrarapid successes. Free people tend to progress in staccato bursts. Smoothness is suspicious.
5. A Lack of Loose Ends. *Everything gets re-integrated. *Everything means something continually.*
6. A 1 or a 20 won't seriously challenge a PC/NPC relationship, if even only briefly. NPCs who can't be offended or others who can't be persuaded, are a bad sign.
7. No game-breaking. If that crap they brought through from that LotFP game, or that cheesy spell exploit they've been over-using gets nullified *without in-game reason*, then that’s not good. of course if the _PC's_ over-use the same tools and the _NPC's_ adapt, then that's quite another thing.
8. If the end comes early and it isn't the end.
Bad situations - Villain had yet another escape route/was a Doombot*. There is a conspiracy beyond the conspiracy. There is an end monster beyond the end monster.
Good Versions - Turn the end of the game into dealing with complex in-world consequences of unexpected victory. Skipping time forwards until shifts in the power balance after the PCs victory produce new problems. Just straight up ending the session "I got nothing left. You have won."
Ways to Get People Unstuck, or at least Going Somewhere, without Railroading;
1. Leading description to useful info, mixed with general description of the physical world.
2. 'Your *character* would know...' or "My character sits and thinks, does this remind them of anything?
You can't give direct answers or specific information but you can guide thought a better direction.
3. The Sly Wink for *negative* info only. i.e. players become obsessed with searching a castle, convinced secret is there. There is actually nothing there.
"You search for a week until your characters, *and you*, are *sure* [WINK] the place is empty."
4. Return active elements - someone looking for them or following them turns up with useful or at least interesting info. This is better if there is someone they have met, interacted with or at least herd of, who has a sound reason for turning up.
I think the main thing you are trying to do is to find subtle or less-evident aspects of play or the imagined world which will help people, not find the answer, but re-orient the way they think, the direction of their intuitions and analysis, so they can get out of a rut and go *somewhere*.
*(As an example of my state of mind right now, immediately after this I went into mild fugue and sketched out a brief pitch for a Marvel series about a broken Doombot that gains sentience, works out it is a robot and starts editing its own programming.)