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D&D General How Do You Fix a Campaign? (Rime of the Frostmaiden spoilers)

Retreater

Legend
One of my current campaigns is feeling a little subpar. I've started a thread (linked below) that addresses one of the problems (as I see it) should you want some more context, but I'll provide the nuts and bolts here in this thread.


So I've found a few examples in articles and videos online about how to start a good campaign, but I'm at a loss of how to fix a campaign that is spiraling down the drain. I turned to my players to ask them how I can change it to make it better, but gods love 'em, they're newish players who don't know how to describe what they want or are afraid to hurt my feelings. But the message still comes through that they're frustrated, not engaged by the story, and feel like each session is just a grind to get XP so they can move along.

Here are some points that came up, which might be pertinent to what's going on.
1) A near-TPK in the first session took out some of the characters that had the start for some interesting backstory. To get the survivors to adventure with the replacement characters took some major suspension of disbelief, and the party personalities haven't gelled yet.
2) The adventure presented is a sandbox with many quests not linking directly to the main story. And when the main story is that sub freezing temperatures are destroying an entire region, cloaked in perpetual night, in the talons of an evil goddess, it's hard for my players to want to focus on anything that isn't connected to that.
3) There are around a dozen towns, settlements, encampments, which are laid out in scant detail. The book might describe 2-3 locations and a handful of villagers in each town. This cursory detail makes it hard to bring the world to life and - as a result - harder for the players to feel a part of the world and their problems.
4) This lack of detail, unconnected quests, and perceived high difficulty carry over to the way the players handle their characters. There is little roleplay or character development (though they've really enjoyed this part of the game in past campaigns - homebrew and Curse of Strahd.) The mini-quests don't keep a consistent story arc going on, and the early character death made players not especially care about developing their characters' personalities.

There are certainly things (especially those things in the aforementioned thread) that I can fix. I can adjust the challenges to better fit the playstyle of the players and their characters' abilities. I can attempt to tie together some of the sites into a more cohesive story. I can create a deus ex machina NPC group to explain how things fit together and give them clues about the adventure sites. I can even use a plot element from a later chapter (the Chardalyn dragon) to destroy some of the excess towns so I can focus on making a couple of them really interesting and detailed. It will take a lot of work to do these things, but being a DM isn't easy.

What would you suggest to improve my campaign? It can be specific to Rime of the Frostmaiden or not. (I already have a GM's Guide to the campaign, and suffice it to say, it doesn't go nearly far enough in fixing the issues coming up for my group.) And I'm not even sure that the problem is with the adventure, it could be that sometimes every DM runs a stinky campaign that needs some improvement.
 

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There are obviously a lot of things you could have done differently - RotFM was never designed (or advertised) as suitable for inexperienced players (or DMs). But now your players have had a bad experience of that adventure you are best advised to wrap it up and play something else. The later chapters are, if anything, even more demanding of an experienced DM skillset. If they want to carry on with the same characters you could just tell them some other group of adventurers has kicked the Frostmaiden's butt, and now the passes are open and they can travel elsewhere in the FR.
 


Reynard

Legend
What is your party's motivation? I think you will find your answer in there.

Why are they traveling the 10 Towns. Are they just hunting for side quests because the players know that's the adventure, or do the characters have a reason for doing so.

Aside from that, turn a side quest into the main quest for a while. My players glommed on to the duergar early on and (as sort of sherriffs that report to the Council of Speakers) have been scouring the Ten Towns for them. They are about to assault the main fortress and try and stop the dragon.

In a sandbox like Rime, PC motivation is very important. They don't have an obvious storyline to follow. If your players prefer a more directed experience, get them onto some track -- the duergar, the city, Auril herself -- and feed them breadcrumbs to keep them there.

Good luck.
 

Lichbrigand

Villager
I have heard that Rime is a pretty messy and hard to run campaign. In my opinion, I would put the book itself down for a few sessions and either write or find a level appropriate adventure and reskin it to Icewind Dale's snowy aesthetic.

Focus on tying the party together and then start to drop hints and plot details from Chapter 2+, returning to the book with the more linear storyline that comes after the Sandbox.

What I would do from now until Chapter 2 would be to focus on the more fun and light hearted elements of D&D. Quirky NPCs, interesting dungeons, puzzles and loot; Rime is pretty bleak and perhaps a fun series of sidequests might help tie the party together.

Another thing you could do instead, is to have a mid- campaign Session 0, discuss these issues and workshop some solutions. Perhaps you agree to a time skip, montage some of what they have seen, level them up and stick them in front of the "main questline" that manifests later in the book. A lot of people would be opposed to this but perhaps a small reset is what your camapign needs.
 
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Reynard

Legend
I have heard that Rime is a pretty messy and hard to run campaign.
It's just not a beginner GM campaign. But anyone who has run either of the beginner boxes should be able to manage it with some effort.

Also, incase the OP hasn't: read the whole adventure. In a linear adventure you can get away with the overview then each chapter as your players get to it. That tactic doesn't really work with a sandbox.
 

One of the things with RotF is there are a lot of connections between the individual sidequests and the main quests that the author doesn't draw specific attention too.

I think Perkins is deliberately trying to avoid imposing a structure on the campaign, leaving it up to individual groups to plot a course through the story. But it's a good idea for the DM to have an idea about how they are going to structure it for their group before they start (even if the players end up taking it in a different direction).
 
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Reynard

Legend
One of the things with RotF is there are a lot of connections between the individual sidequests and the main quests that the author doesn't draw specific attention too.

I think Perkins is deliberately trying to avoid imposing a structure on the campaign, leaving it up to individual groups to plot a course through the story. But it's a good idea for the DM to have an idea about how they are going to structure it for their group before they start (even if the players end up taking it in a different direction).
This adventure really needed a relationship web overlaid on the map to show where things are and how they interact.
 

Retreater

Legend
Thanks for all the feedback so far.
I do want to address that I'm not an inexperienced DM. I've been primarily a DM since I started in 2nd edition AD&D - so over 30 years of DM experience. Definitely not trying to brag - since I'm already here asking for advice - but just to say that I am capable of implementing some high end advice.
I feel some of the factors that have attributed to my subpar game is that 1) we're playing exclusively on a VTT; and 2) I've been running and preparing 4 games, each of which has suffered in its own ways.
I knew going in that RotFM was going to be a challenge to run. I did read through the whole book and got the guide (which I've never done before) - focusing most of my attention on the first two sandbox chapters.
My group consists of four players, three of whom have played for about 3 years - including some lengthy campaigns with minor sandbox elements (Curse of Strahd being one). The fourth player is a guy I've been playing with for over twenty years, but he's impulsive and likes to play random behaving characters because he doesn't like the responsibility of leadership in games.

Here's my brainstorming thought from last night. An ancient prayer had been composed that can destroy Auril (the Rime/Rhyme of the Frostmaiden). It must be performed on her island to seal her for good. The pages of the poem were scattered and have found themselves in the possession of several power groups (the Bear Clan, the Dwarves, the Goblins, Bryn Shander, and the last is on Auril's island). The dead rider on the back of the white dragon can animate in the presence of the berserkers' brazier and tell them this information, because he was the original writer.

So they will have a reason to go to these locations. A couple will focus mostly on roleplaying but others are combat-oriented.

This should give the players focus and a clear goal to take out Auril. It will also let me end the campaign in a few levels should they be ready to move on.

What do you think of that idea?
 

Retreater

Legend
This adventure really needed a relationship web overlaid on the map to show where things are and how they interact.
Agreed. It's mostly just a single line of text in a paragraph description that hints at a connection. You really have to comb through the adventure to see who is aligned with whom.
And in some cases the connection feels very forced (the duergar and the Frostmaiden, for instance.)
 





Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
So... here's my suggestion.

Stop running the Adventure. Start playing a campaign.

Instead of your players rushing to the next quest, take some downtime in-character. Have them stuck in a given town for a week or two because a pass they need to cross is blocked and there's a terrible storm and it's just appropriate to stay in that town. Have them RP with each other, with the locals. Give the region some color through character-interaction. Let them recharge their "Adventure Batteries" by interacting with the world outside of combat for a while.

Maybe introduce another NPC "Party" of similar adventurers who are following their own leads to end the Eternal Winter and might be willing to "Compare Notes" to provide that greater insight. Even better if the party hits it off with them before they head in separate directions and then later finds members of that party dead or gravely wounded because it will give them context rather than just being some bodies in a hallway.

Make space for RP and pull it forward. The Winter's gone on for years at this point, another week won't matter.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Unfortunately that all sounds par for the course for WotC adventures. My approach, these days, is to use the adventure as inspiration for an interesting story and assume that the adventure as written is unrunnable.

Now, with my story in mind, I’m much better prepared to run the adventure for my players.

Also a near-TPK at the beginning is pretty demotivating for all involved, so I’m sorry to hear that happened.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Typically there is an: "Enhancing XYZ adventure" thread here on EnWorld, but I couldn't find it for Rhime. Sly's post as links to more suggestions, so I would check that one out first
I used to be a big supporter of those but the lack of being able to wiki-edit the first post to build an index in the forum update, and my growing disdain for WotC adventures (I haven’t bought one in a while) made me give up.
 


jayoungr

Legend
I don't know if you've checked out this thread. It might have some ideas you can use.

 

An ancient prayer had been composed that can destroy Auril (the Rime/Rhyme of the Frostmaiden). It must be performed on her island to seal her for good. The pages of the poem were scattered and have found themselves in the possession of several power groups (the Bear Clan, the Dwarves, the Goblins, Bryn Shander, and the last is on Auril's island). The dead rider on the back of the white dragon can animate in the presence of the berserkers' brazier and tell them this information, because he was the original writer.
It's a lot of extra work. I did a "end the endless winter" throughplot without needing additional content. Early on (but after I had done team building RP stuff) the party met Copper Knobberknocker in search of healing. He sent them to the Black Cabin, where they learned of a device that could break Auril's spell "if only it where bigger". Soon after they are investigating The Lost Spire when they learn about Mythlars from the books there, as well as that the arcane brotherhood are looking for one. From there it is a straight line (with interruptions for dragons) to chapter 7.

Alternatively, you could focus on the duergar (and rival devils), or the Incantations of Iriolathas (for less altruistic players) as the arc-plot.
 
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