On Sheet – Diesels and Drawbars

On Sheet – Diesels and Drawbars

ot a friend who shares my interests, in railroading and operations, but also in gaming. Both of us have designed and sold games in the past. Both of use have run roleplaying games over the years.

For those readers among you who don’t know what a roleplaying game (or RPG) is, it’s a game where one player controls the world and tells the story. The other players (controlling characters with attributes generally randomly determined) listen to the descriptions and work together to express their actions, take their chances and pull a heist/kill a dragon/save a princess/gain lots of money. As characters play, they gain experience and get advantages (more spells/better equipment/improved attributes). It is not uncommon to find a person go into depression when a mission goes south and their character (of years) dies. I actually had a real-world fistfight break out in a game where half the group betrayed the other half.

The best way for me to further describe it is to present this link from the BritCom The IT Crowd, where a corporation, desperate to entertain some visiting clients yet unable to come up with anything, have the two IT nerds host an RPG game for them. You can find the link HERE.

So why am I saying this? Well, my friend and I recently sat down for coffee at a neighborhood cafe and were chatting about games and railroads and whatever came to mind. I don’t remember quite how it came up but we realized that, in a way, model railroad ops are like RPGs. Yes, you might drive over to the session in the year of 2022 but once the session starts, you are in Virginia in 1950, or along the PRR mainline in the thirties. You are thinking railroad thoughts, an eye to the timetable, hanging your head out the window and feeling the winter wind rip over your face…

Yes, operations are like railroads but there really aren’t characters. We are just “we” in another setting, as if we’d been born in Altoona in 1900 and got a job with the railroad after the Great War.

And that led to the discussion – why not? Why couldn’t you have some sort of sheet to keep track of your engineer’s progress. Maybe there would be stats to determine how many cars you could safely push on the head-end coupler, or how many car-lengths you could walk in a given length of time as a brakeman. Possibly you could keep track of your ranking, from brakeman to engineer to conductor, getting better and better jobs as your competency increased.

We seriously discussed it for about ten minutes or so, laughing over some ideas. Maybe there would be aspects of your character than would impact his use. Perhaps you could be an alcoholic (with a chance of being drunk at the flop house and unable to be used that session). Or you have a shew of a wife who doesn’t like you working at night (possibly you couldn’t get experience for night runs). Or maybe you are charismatic and management might be willing to overlook your mistakes and not dock you experience points.

My friend and I realized that this is, for all purposes, impractical. How would it work to take an engineer to another railroad? What if all the characters were used only on one railroad but there was nobody with rank and skill enough to run the express limited? And what if some people wanted to combine RPG-play into a session but not everyone. And a session takes a lot of effort to set up – do you want the bookkeeping overhead? I’ve hosted sessions for trains and games, and both take a lot of work.

In the end, my friend and I laughed into our coffee cups over the idea. But still, who knows, maybe it might work. If anyone comes up with a working system, I’d like to know.

Of note: I did have something a little like this on my Cuesta Grade in years past. I’d keep track of who ran which runs and recorded their simulated mileage after sessions. When they hit 10,000 miles they got a service pin. Fixed switching jobs and admin posts carried mile-equivalencies. Yes, we did hand out pins and considered that engine an experienced hogger after that. If you caused a crash, depending on the speed and situation, characters might be ruled to have died. It was just fun in the session’s briefing to award a pin.

Anyway, I’m not serious with this – just floating the idea out there.

Keep ’em on the rails, boys.