How to encourage player direction for adventures?

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So, as the title says really.  Although I admit it's not the clearest title I could think of!

Basically, my players are around 5th level and I have a few campaign arc's I'm working on introducing, but...

Almost everything I've done is from published adventures or stuff I've created myself.  So far there's been very little input from the players.  I.e. they havent really taken it upon themselves  to come up with adventure ideas or places they want to go/people/groups they want to investigate or deal with.

I've introduced a few different  organisations, both good and bad.  As well as individuals the players have antagonistic or protagonistic dealings with.  I even tried providing a 'current clack' in the form of town criers and notices nailed up in the taverns they frequent.  But so far it hasnt done much good.

My questions are:

1) Is this normal for people relatively new to D&D?  To rely on the DM to provide all the adventures/direction? My players are all familiar with RPG's, both computer based, pen and paper, boardgames and are all familiar with the fantasy trope from novels, films etc.

2) Does anyone have any advice how I can encourage more player direction for my campaign? While I am quite happy to come up with the adventures etc.  I don't want to railroad my players into the path I dictate.  I'd much rather the story come equally from them and me.

Thanks for any advice!

 - Paj 
1. Yes.  Typically, the DM has a specific plotline in mind.  How the PCs complete it is up to them, of course, but typically the DM drops a plot hook, from which the PCs determine their end goal, and then they pursue it.  It's a side effect of DMs having to prepare.

2. That's the thing; having a clear end goal is not railroading.  It's only railroading if there is a single path that the PCs can take to that goal and whatever decisions they make are either meaningless or outright vetoed.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
In response to your first question, yes.  Players who are unfamiliar with role playing games generally have difficulty deviating from the "expected path" or taking the initiative.  This is not a failing in your skills, neither is it a reflection on your players.  Role playing is like any other skill in that it must be developed.  And no, playing online "roleplaying" games does not necessarily develop those skills.  Just keep dangling those plot hooks and sooner or later your players will bite.

In regards to your second inquiry, this is where I have found that delving into your players' back stories can be helpful.  Sure, having the town crier tell the players that Generic_town04 was destroyed by kobolds might attract some players, but telling them that it was their home town makes it personal.  That's the key.  If your players are emotionally invested in your world, they will be more eager to help shape it.

I once had an adventure hook such as described above.  One of my players learned that his home town had been attacked and his childhood sweetheart had been taken by the leader of the mauraders.  Imagine my surprise when he said something slightly less politically correct than "Good, she deserves it"

Obviously this is not what I had intended, but my philosophy has always been to take what the players provide you and run with it.  When the PC's countrymen learned that the PC had neglected his duty to return home to defend his people, they cast him out and put a hit out on him.  Something that had been intended to be an evening's worth of hack n' slash evolved into a major story arc that followed the PC (and in one instance, an NPc who happened to have the misfortune of looking like the PC) for the better part of his paragon tier.
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The lesson here is to keep detailed notes.  So what if the players decide not to descend into that haunted temple and retrieve the artifact of awesomeness. Make a note of it for later So someone else can retrieve it.  If the players bite at your adventure hooks, great! Your work is done for the next week.  If not, then whip out your backup module (You do have a backup module, don't you?) and make note of their decision.  Today's neglected story line is tomorrow's epic adventure!
Next thing you will tell me Browbeat is bad.
1.  Yes. Also for veterans too. I experience the same thing, as a player though, feeling disengaged from the world.  My friend DM never bothered to engage us or root us into a community.  We can spend an hour writing up our history.  He dont' care.  Never uses any of it in any adventure.  So we just end up adventuring from one adventure to another, meaninglessly disengaged from the world.  Most of the time, we don't even know what world we in...seriously.  We don't care anymore either since buddy dm don't care.

It appears you want your players to care and have that personal connection to your world.

Salute. Your a good dm.  Wish my DM buddy was more like you.  
So much more fun when a charactor is connected to the world setting at a personal level and in meaningful way.

Well my guess is:  1.  Your players don't want it or don't know it .  If you want to break them in slowly, you can give them something to be personal about.  Perhaps a Inn, an estate or an actual family or real NPC friends.  They can choose what they want and then let them create it.  Then you can place them in the campaign setting.   You can slowly reel them in using their personal connection to the world as hooks to your campaign adventures.

What you got are disengaged players from your world setting.  They are only engaged to an adventure module.

Ask them.  Would you like your own tower, home, inn or magic store in this city? Or a GF :p...  Let them create it.  You place it in the city.  Let them run it.  Then you can use it to hook em.
 
Now that shadowy organization you mentioned to your players? It's gonna start to matter to them.  Hell with it if that organization gonna sack their inn or kidnap their gf...

Or that antagonistic city mayor you introduced...your players won't ignore that NPC for long if he start meddling in your players own creations.

Hope this helps!   


My questions are:

1) Is this normal for people relatively new to D&D?  To rely on the DM to provide all the adventures/direction? My players are all familiar with RPG's, both computer based, pen and paper, boardgames and are all familiar with the fantasy trope from novels, films etc.

2) Does anyone have any advice how I can encourage more player direction for my campaign? While I am quite happy to come up with the adventures etc.  I don't want to railroad my players into the path I dictate.  I'd much rather the story come equally from them and me.

Thanks for any advice!

 - Paj 



As people have already mentioned, new players rarely take an interest in directing the campaign or adventure. It's more about getting used to the rules and 4e has alot of stuff for players to track. Even experienced players will just follow the DM's lead, so they don't rock the boat.

This is what I had to do to get my group to change how they operated in the game.

(1) Give them time to learn the rules first. It took my group about a year and they are still learning , but they feel comfortable with the rules now.

(2) Ask the players if they enjoyed the session or what they didn't like, seek feedback.

(3) Make it clear that you will allow them to venture off on their own character focused stories as a party. And ask them what they what their characters goal or quest to be. You will likely get no answer to this for a few months atleast, but keep asking the question.

(4) Back stories are helpful, but rare from a group. Remember that back stories can be created during the lower levels of play, no back story required.

(5) Put a pile of small blank pieces of paper on the table and say to your players, if there are any ideas you would like me to add to the story, write it on a piece of paper and hand it to me. You then prepare something based on the players suggestion.

(6) Look for things that the players say off topic, outside of the game or things they focus on. Include these ideas into the game.

(7) Everytime you pick a premade adventure, think to yourself. Which PC is this story focused on and how can I make it affect the characters life in a significant way. Hard choices with lingering consquences are the best way to get players to invest in the adventure.

(8) Train your players out of just following the plothooks you present to them.

Lastly and this is hard to manage at first, I use 'Plot Twist cards' by Game Mastery. If you can't manage improvised games, then don't consider doing it. If you want to know more let me know and I'll post some information.
Wow, thanks for all the help and advice so far!  

My players and I ran a 'planning session' so to speak yesterday where I brought my sourcebooks, map of Faerun (running a 1375 Forgotten Realms camaign as its the setting I'm most familiar with).  We plotted out some basic backstory for the characters, such as where they are from, do they have any family/friends etc.  And I recapped what they had done so far from levels 1 - 6.

Just so it wasnt a boring session for my players, I did allow them to fiddle with their characters a bit, change race, change powers/feats or equipment etc.   I also gave them each a unique magic item or feat (i.e. the Warlock got a magical tattoo, the Mage a magic ever-full hip flask etc.)  I also managed to sort epic destinies (which was a pain in the backside for the Archer Ranger!) and get each player to give me a goal they would like to do by the end of the campaign.  These ranged from owning an Airship, to becoming famous for slaying a great evil, becomming a ruler of Hell and Deicide.

Hopefully, from that session I can add more stuff in to let the players have some choice in the campaigns direction.  Not a typical Hack 'n' slash session but a productive one nontheless!

Prom, these plot twist cards sound interesting.  I would love some more information on them!

Thanks again for the help and advice!

 - Paj

 
With new players giving access to "the whole sandbox" can be daunting. Especially if they are coming out of pre-written adventures which are generally pretty "Railroad" heavy. 

What I like to do is provide some obvious tracks, but make those tracks seem like they might not be the best way.

EX: A quest about rescuing a prince from the goblin queen in her giant fortress. I might have the king demand the PCs charge in there guns ablaze, and slaughter the whole tribe to get him back if thats what it takes. "March on over there, and just start hacking the b******* to bits until you find him and then bring him home safe, I don't care what it takes!" Sort of thing.

When the PCs get near the fort, I'll mention that it has high wooden walls, and looks well defended with lots of archers and mages in towers on guard. The forest has been cut back for at least half a mile around the fort. A frontal assault will be very hard, but if they are lucky they might be able to pull it off. At this point a few are usually hesitant to follow this exact plan. (out of game, it shows them that "The the DM will make a plan for them to follow, but it may not be the best plan) If I notice hesitation and no one has done this already, I will suggest they scout the area for the best point of attack.

After some scouting, I'll point out that they see what looks like a regular supply wagon before dark. They also realize that with an ocean to their backs, the goblin fort most probably has a dock they might be able to sneak inside of. A high check will reveal a sewer they might be able to crawl through. (This allows the DM to suggest a few alternative methods, showing them that I am cool with them not following the original one. If done properly, a few might suggest methods of their own. Try to work with them and make their methods work. Especially if they are new players)

 

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

Ask them questions and accept the answers for the gifts they are. "You've heard a rumor about this town/person/business. What is it?" "Festival preparations are underway. What festival is that again?" "Who has been to this town before? What is the same? What has changed?"

The answers they give to these questions are the right answers, and you should build off of them. The players tend to be more engaged, just as they are with their own characters, because they had a hand in the creation. Capitalize on this. As they watch their ideas get used, they'll want to provide more ideas.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Ask them questions and accept the answers for the gifts they are. "You've heard a rumor about this town/person/business. What is it?" "Festival preparations are underway. What festival is that again?" "Who has been to this town before? What is the same? What has changed?"

The answers they give to these questions are the right answers, and you should build off of them. The players tend to be more engaged, just as they are with their own characters, because they had a hand in the creation. Capitalize on this. As they watch their ideas get used, they'll want to provide more ideas.



This is what you might be aiming for with your players, that's your call. I found that not all my players are ready for this sort of control yet. I'd like to get to that point myself, but it reqires everyone to accept the concept. Centauri is experienced in player directed games, he knows what he's talking about. I would try this with your group first and see if they embrace it. You managed to get your players to give you goals for their characters, which is really impressive.

I have a blog on my wizards of the coast webpage about plot twist cards.

community.wizards.com/prom/blog/2012/04/...

Just remember that the cards are a temporary tool to introduce the idea of players affecting the adventure. It's a toolbox to help train you and the players in improvised play. If you still want to know more, let me know, but I'd try Centauri's suggestion first. Don't give up if it doesn't work that well the first time.
Ask them questions and accept the answers for the gifts they are. "You've heard a rumor about this town/person/business. What is it?" "Festival preparations are underway. What festival is that again?" "Who has been to this town before? What is the same? What has changed?"

The answers they give to these questions are the right answers, and you should build off of them. The players tend to be more engaged, just as they are with their own characters, because they had a hand in the creation. Capitalize on this. As they watch their ideas get used, they'll want to provide more ideas.



I have to admit this works VERY well.  I started a campaign a while back with a pre-made adventure dropped into my home brew world.  Most of the players were new to D&D so it made sense to start off small and slow.  The players successfully completed the adventure and I had planned to use another.  But the players had other ideas.  Based solely on the module, the players made the leap that a goblinoid invasion was imminent.  I scrapped my original plan and ran with it.

 

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Hey!

Regarding #1, I think you've already received some great answers.

As for #2, I have a small piece of advice.  At the start of my campaigns (and every few "levels-up"), I ask the players to write down three things they want for their character.  Two of them should be minor things (magic items, a cabin in the woods, a specific stat bonus because of family history, etc.) for their character to receive over time.  The third (and most important) thing should be something epic and story-oriented ("I want to lead an army into battle," or "I want to defeat my uncle in combat and take my rightful place upon the throne of Dragova.") to happen in the farther future.  

Try it out and see if it helps to get your players more involved.  If anything, it will give you new ideas for some awesome plot hooks!

Good luck!