My party might as well be playing monopoly, I could use some ideas....

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I'm running a 4e campaign for 5 of my friends. Out of the 5, none of them have played 4e before and only 2 of them have played in general.

For whatever reason, I can't get them to travel off the beaten path. If I set them on a road they go forward, if they need to find out information, they go and hang out in the inn or tavern and ask people (who knows why they wouldn't try stealth??). In battle, they forward attack.. all of them!!... it's so frustrating! Only one of the players tries to do something unusual in encounters, and it's usually effective or fun at least. I've tried setting up traps for stuff that would be the "right" choice but they still persist in not being creative. I feel like they're playing monopoly, where they go in a circle because that's the way the arrow points. How do I get them to expand their actions? I leave it open, i throw in hooks i describe other situations. what else can I do??
All of them are new. They want to be led by the nose. So lead them.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
How long have you been running this? It can take quite a while for people to get comfortable just playing D&D, let along getting creative. If this has been going on for months though, you will need to take steps. Of course, it sounds like you have been trying the obvious stuff.

For combat, if your not already, start with the basics, throw features and terrain in. One thing you can do there is ramp it up, make the features critical for success. Pit them against a creature that can only be hurt by weapons dipped in a sacred fountain, and only for so many rounds after being dipped. The monster naturally won't go near the fountain, forcing the party to run back and forth while trying to keep the monster close to the fountain. If it is their general tactics that are lacking, you can up the pressure by making the monsters more effective. Just slowly ramp up the monsters tactics and power to slowly train the party to have better tactics.

Out of combat is harder, but here are three things I've tried over the years. The simplest is to stick in a side quest/reward for which there is no obvious way to get it. If they want the extra treasure they have come up with something creative. The second is to setup a large dungeon with no obvious course that is filled with various clusters of monsters and puzzles. This is the classic dungeon crawl, where the party is free to go where they want and do what they want. Stick the best treasure in hidden corners behind interesting puzzles and let them find what they want. For this sort of thing it is a good idea to put clues/keys for the problems/puzzles in the other areas of the dungeon. This will force them to work back and forth across the dungeon. The final method is them against a problem that doesn't have any obvious solution at all, or for which the obvious solutions won't work. Put them in the situation of coming up with something creative or fail.

Jay

I would set up a good moral problem where their choice really affects how things play out. Basically, you need to demonstrate that choices have consequences, whether they be good or bad. Maybe set up a situatioon whererin they're chasing people, and the people they're chasing split up, and so they are also presented with a choice to make.

Nothing.

That is all.

I found myself in a similar situation with my first group, with the added fun of having to suggest how the PCs get anywhere as they oftentimes sat there with little to no idea what to do or would forget important details since no one took notes or cared to remember anything. JayM's suggestions are great and basically what I did. The dungeon crawl is fun since it gives them just the right amount of structure that they won't get helplessly lost, but it gives them the ability to approach it in various ways, and it allows you to throw in various elements for the PCs to try out. This also gives them the opportunity to experience multiple scenarios in a short time frame, and they may start to take a liking to various elements of the game.

I found success in asking the players what their character's back stories were (demand at least a paragraph of information, even if that means 3 simple sentences) and then tying those details into the game and making it personal to them. If you want to get them off the beaten path, create side quests that are still related to the overall story (but not completely vital to success in the overall game) and is personally tied to one or more character back stories. I find that even the most "puppy dog" of players stand up and take attention when part of the game is directly related to who they are.

Lastly, I'll throw in the obligatory "if that's what they like, that's what they should get." It's very disappointing as a DM when you create dynamic areas, characters and stories only for them to be barely touched, if at all, because the players don't think outside of the box enough to get to it, but if they are completely content with the "monopoly" style of game you describe, then perhaps that's what they should get. It took me time but I eventually got used to preparing less off the table and just making things up on-demand if needed, which wasn't all too often at first. You can always introduce bits here and there as the players get more comfortable and involved in the game.

I hope that helps and good luck!
They're new players, they're scared of doing something wrong, and still learning their way around.  Encourage them, and as they get a bit more familiar with what they are doing, they'll start exploring a little more to see what else they can do.

You might also try assuring them that, at lower levels, there's not much they can do "wrong".

Encourage them to try doing anything they think their characters might try, and let them know that it'll be your job to decide whether or not it's possible.  Then, go out of your way to say "yes, you can do that" to any serious suggestion they make, calling for skill or ability rolls for anything that should have a good chance of failing.

Reward the ones who go out on limbs and do something different by spending some time at the end of the game to say "I really like the way you gave that dramatic speech to the Bugbear captain before the fight started - great job!", or "great job on using intimidate to get the Orc Bandits to run away, and acting that out in character - it's things like that that make the game fun for DMs!"  Simple praise for a job well done can be a great motivator to keep doing things like that, and for other players to compete for that attention.

You might also try teaching by example, through your monsters:  "These Goblins seem to be well organized!  You notice that the stronger Goblins take the front lines, while the Goblin with the wand starts casting spells from a safe distance... this could be a tough fight!"

And, watching a more experienced group in action can really help:  for example, the You-Tube videos of the Robot Chicken guys role-playing with Chris Perkins seem to be a great way to give new players an idea of what a very animated game of D&D can look like.


I always enjoy seeing new groups being introduced to RPG's - good luck to your new group, and I hope you all enjoy the game at least as much as I do
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
If they are new players, the only way that they are going to know that they have more than one option to do something is if you say "You need informaiton:  You can do X, Y or Z."

People aren't automatically good at playing games, or know what their limitiations are.

If you want, you could roll a companion character up for a brief questline who gives advice.  Just make sure you remove him from the party soon; players like Companions, but not DMPCs 
Salla, on minions: I typically use them as encounter filler. 'I didn't quite fill out the XP budget, not enough room left for a decent near-level monster ... sprinkle in a few minions'. Kind of like monster styrofoam packing peanuts.
Everyone's been giving good advice here. It's going to take some time and a lot of nuance to open them up to their possibilities without being the "play like I want you to play" tyrant type. Critical thinking and creativity are hard skills to foster, but they come with practice. 

If your players just follow the road you put them on, put a fork in it.
Gently mention that tactics are going to be much more important at higher levels and now is the time to experiment. Use enemy tactics to drive the point home.
Give them clear choices, clearly state the consequences (at first). After a couple sessions, throw in some minor unintended consequences.
Give them the old "catch the bad guy or save the princess" choice. Not something that silly, but they only have time to complete one task over another.
After you've developed a solid group bond, kill their characters for doing stupid things. Make it look like an accident.

@eehlert - I love doing back stories for my campaigns, but I have some players that love it and some that hate it. It's trouble for both extremes - You either edit a 7 page story to conform to the world or write-up an original backstory for a player who won't read it anyway :/
3.x Faithful.

Back in the Olden Days, it was all about killing things. At least for any of the groups I played with. Find the dungeon, go in, kill things, explore, loot, rinse and repeat. D&D (and RPGs in general) have matured significantly since then. Story and actual role play have become much richer and more central to game play.


However, for most of your players this is still new venture. They haven’t grown tired of “get into the dungeon and kill things.” So, as long as they’re not bored, don’t worry too much. Remember your job is to make sure the players are having fun. Get them on that dungeon crawl. And while you’re at it, let them find hints, clues or whatever that could help in other adventures in the future. And make using that information very rewarding.


One other thing you can do to force them to get more involved in decision making: Give them conflicting info when they’re in the tavern. Place an NPC in the tavern with an agenda. Or even a couple with opposing agendas. And if your players are role play reluctant, ham it up. To help with creative combat, have an NPC retell a story about a battle where stealth and tactics are what won the day. 

One thing that is important is getting the players invested in their characters.  Have they provided you with backgrounds?  If not, ask for them to provide a 1/2-1 page background.  If they need a little encouragement, provide them with an in-character questionaire to answer.

Once you have the backgrounds, work on weaving their stories into your stories, but subtly at first.  For instance, if the wizard of the party belonged to a magic college, he may recognize an adversary as a fellow student.  Or the fighter may have been a guard in the past, and he finds the insignia of a local black market guild.  If they don't investigate the subtle hints, make that disinterest matter to the game world.  The fellow student starts dabbling in necromancy or the black market guild is becoming better organized and more powerful.  At this point, you can even explain that their previous lack of interest led up to these events (in game, of course): the student was actually reaching out for help or the guild would have remained trivial if the clues were followed.

The key is to start making them think like their characters and not like players moving a playing piece.  One good way to do that is to get them integrated into the storyline. 

Celebrate our differences.

On a few occasions, our party has come to what seemed to be a dead end, a point where we simply had no clear... or even vague idea of where to go next.

The DM just let us kinda wonder for a bit, giving us time to talk among ourselves and think of options.

Letting 'dead air' linger is a very difficult thing to do. You may feel that if things arent moving along, you are not doing your job. Your first instinct when players are stumped is to make suggestions, just to relieve the tention. But if you give them time, they will hopefully come up with something. Especially if there is some reason to get a move on, such as its getting dark in a place where dark is bad or the room is slowly filling with poison.

Perhaps you can design such an ambiguous section in their next encounter, where there is no "next square" and see what happens.

Of course, this means that you then have to be prepared for whatever screwball idea they come up with.

The short answer is: Lead them.

Start with action, limit the array of important option and choices... at first. Use this as an opportunity to tell a really good story in which they are just characters in it. Take control and let your Storytelling DM flag fly. Make it grand and exciting like a movie - dramatic scene changes, impossible situations, cut scenes, flashbacks, the lot. They shouldn't decide what comes next, but they should wonder what comes next. Put some thought into how to make it interesting for your particular group of players.

Then, start to give them choices. Not big choices, but minor ones. Regular or Diet? French Fries or Tater Tots? (The correct answer is always tater tots.) Expand from there. Someone above was correct when he or she stated that a dungeon is a good place for this because it allows for minor choices that don't change the story much. Once they start to realize they actually have some leeway to do what they want in this game, they may take the initiative.

Or they may never take it. Some players love passenger seat gaming. They show up to be entertained by a balding guy with glasses and they'll come back week after week. Good! They're telling you, in essence, that you're fun to hang out with and they like your stories even if they have none of their own. Consider it a compliment. In time, they may spread their wings and take more chances.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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On a few occasions, our party has come to what seemed to be a dead end, a point where we simply had no clear... or even vague idea of where to go next.

The DM just let us kinda wonder for a bit, giving us time to talk among ourselves and think of options.

Letting 'dead air' linger is a very difficult thing to do. You may feel that if things arent moving along, you are not doing your job. Your first instinct when players are stumped is to make suggestions, just to relieve the tention. But if you give them time, they will hopefully come up with something. Especially if there is some reason to get a move on, such as its getting dark in a place where dark is bad or the room is slowly filling with poison.

Perhaps you can design such an ambiguous section in their next encounter, where there is no "next square" and see what happens.

Of course, this means that you then have to be prepared for whatever screwball idea they come up with.



You might get some great results by leaving big choices at the end of your game session, as a sort of cliff-hanger ending leading to exciting events in the next session, so that the players can think about their tough choices between game sessions, and then discuss their ideas when everyone gets back together for the next session. 

For example, at the end of the last encounter of the night: 


  • "You open the door the Goblins were guarding, and find a hallway. 

  • "The western end of the hallway disappears in shadow around a corner, where you can hear an eerie snarling noise. 

  • The eastern end of the hallway ends at a deep chasm, with an extremely dangerous-looking rope bridge across it, swaying in some subterranean breeze. 

  • "Suddenly, you hear a voice cry out from across the bridge:  "HELP!", and the snarling noise to the west suddenly gets louder, to be joined by a strange chattering! 

  • "...And, that's it for tonight.  Think about what your characters are going to do, and next week we'll pick up where we left off."



New players seem like they tend to think a little better away from the game table, where they aren't on the spot, and the cliff-hanger gives them the perfect opportunity to do so.  (Not to mention, a good cliff-hanger ending keeps them coming back to find out what happens next )

Don't forget to spend a little time at the end of the game session to ask the players how the game session went, and perhaps what they did and did not like about it, and whether there's anything they had any questions about.  Also, be sure to tell the players about anything they did that caught your imagination and made your job as DM fun.  You might also want to spend some time listening to them talk to each other about the game session, if you can.  The feedback can go a long way toward keeping everyone involved
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I'm running a 4e campaign for 5 of my friends. Out of the 5, none of them have played 4e before and only 2 of them have played in general. 

For whatever reason, I can't get them to travel off the beaten path. If I set them on a road they go forward, if they need to find out information, they go and hang out in the inn or tavern and ask people (who knows why they wouldn't try stealth??). In battle, they forward attack.. all of them!!... it's so frustrating! Only one of the players tries to do something unusual in encounters, and it's usually effective or fun at least. I've tried setting up traps for stuff that would be the "right" choice but they still persist in not being creative. I feel like they're playing monopoly, where they go in a circle because that's the way the arrow points. How do I get them to expand their actions? I leave it open, i throw in hooks i describe other situations. what else can I do??


that bolded part?

that's the problem right there. i'm going to go on a speil but it has a point.

one videogame i love is Minecraft. i've been playing it for over a year now and i love it.

it's biggest draw is also one of it's biggest flaws: there is no goal that you don't set yourself. the devs are currently adding more content and ways for players to interact with the game, but there simply no given goal to the game.

technically, you could "win" by simply digging a 1x1x3 meter hole, jumping in and covering it up. hooray!

but right now?

the current version creates ghost towns complete with little houses, a watch tower, farms with wheat, lampposts, roads and whatnot. there's even little tables and chairs in the house. 

so what did i do when i found it in the middle of a desert by my spawn point (with the awesome map seed of: Dungeons & Dragons)? 

i immediately started creating a perimeter of deadly cacti and securing it. i then started building a moat around it. then i saw trees indicating the new "swamp" biome... so i went mushroom hunting, as well as gathering wood (basic building materials) and saplings, so that instead of travelling outside my desert fortress i only need step outside.

during that time i also collected sugarcane that i later used to seed a nice cane farm (which are used for both sugar, and thus cakemaking, & paper which can create maps & books).

i then built me 2 mushroom rooms, gigantic 9x9x9 meter areas with but a single mushroom in the middle... which i then use bonemeal to make GINORMOUS mushrooms, strait out of mario's world 4-3, which can then be harvested for more normal mushrooms, etc... 

during the time i was carving out all that area i found enough iron to make a few buckets, which i can now use to help me get both water & lava and more then enough stone to make a few basic tools, allowing me to go exploring the awesome crevasse i sorta-kinda-accidentally fell in when i loaded up the map... oops. i'm sure i saw some lava, which means i can create the obsidian needed to get to the nether (IE: minecraft hell)

of course, this is after i'm done building a proper farm so i can harvest eggs (for cake), cowhide (armor), milk (for cake), as well as delicious bacon, steak & chicken to compliment my current bread & mushroom soup diet. 

this is the mindset of someone who knows what the game is capable of and has more then a few ideas... and this is just the basic stuff. i've got a chest full of sand (desert and all), so i can now create an actual sand castle in which to rule my little desert outpost with and once i start mining deep enough to find restone i'll be making horrible contraptions 

but for people new to the game? i've showed it to a few of my monday D&D group players and they simply shrugged. the game has no goal and all challenges are entirely of your own devices. there is no real learning curve and you pretty much need to have the wiki next to you.

but there is no goading. no "welcome to minecraftia". just you, some cow mooing and the midday sun. there's no warning about the murderous, night-stalking creeper either. more then a few players were left going : "what's the point of this again"

now, if i haven't lost you at this point, good! i'm going somewhere with this ramble.

sandbox-style gaming in D&D has, IME, been handled like this: throwing new players (or even experienced ones) into a sandbox with no goals will leave them fussing about with no direction... they'll simply follow the leads you throw at them without thinking since they have no foundation to work from

here's my recommendation:
-sit them down and have frank talk with them. tell them that you find the game is a bit too linear. putting the issue out there is most likely to open discussion on their side as to why they're not interacting as much as you would like them to.

-set goals. one of the first thing me & my buddies do when we create a new minecraft server is plan what we're going to do. this normally starts with "lets create a spawntown" and then decide what we want in it, then divide tasks. once this is done, we each start building our own projects or go on ADVENTURE! (adventuring in minecrafts requires all-caps & an exclamation mark). 

conversely, i do this with my D&D groups, i ask them "why are you all adventuring together"? hell, even if i'm not the GM i usually request this.

i never ask for several pages of extensive backstory, a paragraph at best to get vague idea of the character concept, but i want  a reason for these murderous hobos to travel together

i also request them to tell me what kind of elements they'll be interested in exploring: what kind of genres do they love? horror? action? mystery? are there any elements they enjoy in particular (for example: i'm a big sucker for zombies... they're the faceless mooks i can slaughter all day long and not feel bad, plus zombie-themed stuff generally have a post-apocalyptic feel to them). 

remember that all characters are usually some form of mirror to the player. knowing that interests the characters (and by extension, the players) is a good way to the perfect bait & lure, rather then simply chucking a bunch of hooks in the water with bits of bread attached and hoping something bites.

in the meanwhile, the players or those with a vague concept can fill in their background as they progress in the game, get a feel for their characters and see what interests them.

-encourage interaction, but don't make it manditory.

by this i meant to give them space and interesting set pieces to play around with, but don't force them to do so. one thing i dislike is when GMs require PCs to do one very specific and non-intuitive sequence of interactions to resolve something, generally leading to the group "gaming the GM" by trying to guess his train of thoughts or poking everything with a 10ft pole.

in fights put interesting terrain and describe them as such: crumbling pillars that could fall with push, open pits and the guards who stand next to them, giant millstones that crushes boulders into gravel, etc... don't just set the pieces, hint at their use but don't require it.
 
one thing to try is that if it feels right narratively, occasionally let the players's actions create new elements to the story. if the players go off the rails and start searching the library for secret passages or something, even if you haven't placed one: add one! it could be a hidden study containing a hint or simply old tomes that were put in storage and could be sold for cash/contain a ritual...

whatever feels right at the time. 

if the players start feeling like the actions they take of their own accord have weight in the game world, the more they'll want to interact... just don't force them to poke and prod at everything.

-give them time. they're new and there is a learning curve, especially when they realise that they have more options then "NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST & GET FLASK". most players need time to familiarize themselves with the mechanics, how you interact with the game, before they start interacting of their own volition. they're testing the water to see if it's not too cold and comfortable to jump in.
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Thanks you guys this was helpful! We have been playing for a while. This will be our 11th session tonight, and they usually last 3+ hours. I will try out some of the suggestions and hey if it doesn't work, i will just tell them the story they want.. :P
That's a great attitude Silly. Let us know how it goes.
3.x Faithful.
It's not uncommon to run into a group that will railroad itself. That's not a bad thing. It keeps things from being too random, and it makes things usually a bit easier on you as a DM.

Keep their options open, and try to allow for any "sandbox" that may show up, but don't get too upset if they end up being more comfortable with a more "A--B--C" style gameplay. 

"Not only are you wrong, but I even created an Excel spreadsheet to show you how wrong you are." --James Wyatt, May 2006

Dilige, et quod vis fac

When I started with my 4e group, almost all of them were new and nervous. So the first thing I did was introduce a couple different play styles. I stuck them in the middle of a murder mystery for them to solve, which was a lot of fun. 
It's also a good idea to present multuiple ways of dealing with a dungeon and telling them so. If they need to get into the corrupt merchant's manor and find the proof that he's selling weapons to the orcs they can either bash their way in or be stealthy, and you can tell them so. "Hey guys, if you want to Solid Snake your way through the manor you can. You still get experience for the guards even if you slip past them." 

I also like to end sessions on a choice: go left or right? Follow the guy you're chasing overland or try and cut him off via the river. Investigate the problem in the mountains or with the neighbouring city. Then I write the next adventure accordingly. 

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I can't remember most of the specifics because I just read everything all at once, but all of the above ideas were great.

There's one thing I would like to add though, and i'm surprised nobody else did (unless I missed it).

If they just follow the road, don't give them a road.  Let the paved path just kind of die off, or get washed away or something.  Let them wander or use some skill checks to figure out where to go. 
You can't reason someone out of a position that they didn't reason themselves into.
I can't remember most of the specifics because I just read everything all at once, but all of the above ideas were great.

There's one thing I would like to add though, and i'm surprised nobody else did (unless I missed it).

If they just follow the road, don't give them a road.  Let the paved path just kind of die off, or get washed away or something.  Let them wander or use some skill checks to figure out where to go. 



I wouldn't recommend this method for a couple of reasons:

1. It's the DM's job to drive the action in the absence of the players doing it themselves. It's like a bad economy... if there's no demand from consumers, the government (the DM) must step in and juice things or else you just sit there languishing. You've got X number of hours to game per week. Wandering around and doing nothing is a usually a waste of that time. The DM must interveve.

2. Skill checks to figure things out? "Make an Insight check to figure out which way to go." Player rolls a Nat 1 for a total result of 4 which is lower than the lowest DC at 1st level. What do you do then? Give him the information he needs anyway? What was the point of the roll then? Don't leave it up to chance. A DM doesn't need the justification of dice to push the story along. You do what you gotta do because that's your job as DM.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Hmm, that's a good point actually.  I suppose there at least needs to be some sort of direction.

I take back my previous statement. 
You can't reason someone out of a position that they didn't reason themselves into.
It's alright - it's worth trying anyway, especially if nothing else seems to work - some groups may react better to open-ended, sand-boxy environments than others.

For my part, I've tried a little of everything, and found out the hard way about open-ended adventuring and new, uncertain groups:  they don't mix well.  My conclusion has been that it's best to keep the choices simple and straightforward at first.

I'm certain the players will let you know when they are ready for more freedom in a more sandbox-style gaming environment (by asking why they can't do something different from the choices you suggest, or by otherwise testing their boundaries or complaining about "railroading".)
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
There is a difference between an open ended adventure and an open ended encounter. My suggestion, and I think Saranghae's also, was to give the players an occasional relatively open ended choice, as opposed to being given a choice between A or B. This would give them the experience of creating options instead of choosing from a list of predetermined ones.

The encounter could be designed with beneficial or detrimental results, instead of pass/fail. 

I think the issue is giving the players time and opportunity to think, instead of the DM rushing to their aid too quickly with easy options. 

They players may not care to do this, but that is another issue. The OP was looking for ways to encourage his players to think more creatively.

As to the DM's responsibilty to move the game along, I think the majority of that weight is upon the DM's shoulders, but not all of it. The player's need to pull their weight, too, and participate in the story, not just consume it.
Say in the "road has washed away" scenario, a success could be "you scan the area around you and were able to make out a break in the trees ahead, indicating the road may have once traveled through in that direction".

A failure could be "you search for several days, using up the remainder of your food. You are getting hungry and if you continue on, you will have to make an endurance check or lose a healing surge." They may decide to make a nature check to find food, delaying the endurance check but they eventually find the break in the trees that the previous scenrio found had to suffer for it and now need to continue on with no food.

Or they could die searching if they continue to roll nat 1's, but that is always a possiblity, even in the most structured of scenarios. The whole encounter need not take hours...just a few rolls, depending on what they decide to do with their time. They could decide to organize a hunt or play Man vs Wild for a while. Perhaps they run into some unfriendly goblins or a pack of wolves. But eventually, find the road again and on with the adventure.
Open-ended adventures are something I don't see working out well with the average group of new players, encounters might be a bit different.  Your group's mileage may vary, but open-ended encounters are something that, for a new group, I might reserve for a cliff-hanger ending for the night, so they have time to think about their options... I'd let them know that it's open-ended, there is no single "right" solution, and they can come up with some ideas and solutions on their own and discuss them at the start of the next session.

My group (all new players) handled that sort of thing as a cliff-hanger ending pretty well when they were starting out, whereas the one or two times I tried placing open-ended encounters earlier in the newbie adventure left them with that deer-in-the-headlights expression of stage-fright that I guess comes with that territory.

Every group is different, though, so I don't want to discourage trying open-ended encounters in the beginning or middle of a session.  My group is rather small and reserved, and you might get much better results from just dropping open-ended encounters on a larger, more outgoing group.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
1. It's the DM's job to drive the action in the absence of the players doing it themselves. It's like a bad economy... if there's no demand from consumers, the government (the DM) must step in and juice things or else you just sit there languishing.

Fortunately this works far better in role-playing games than it does in real life...

2. Skill checks to figure things out? "Make an Insight check to figure out which way to go." Player rolls a Nat 1 for a total result of 4 which is lower than the lowest DC at 1st level. What do you do then? Give him the information he needs anyway? What was the point of the roll then? Don't leave it up to chance. A DM doesn't need the justification of dice to push the story along. You do what you gotta do because that's your job as DM.

This. If the PCs have to have information (or an object) in order for them to proceed, the DM finds a way to give it to them. They can do skill checks to gain information (or objects) that would make progress easier or faster, but not the stuff that makes progress possible.

(On the other hand, there can be multiple routes to the information that makes progress possible, and skill checks or combats can influence which route they follow... but they WILL get to that information.)
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
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