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

jayoungr

Legend
There's a YouTube channel I like called Lunch Break Heroes. I used several of their expansions to Curse of Strahd, and they've been working on expanding several of the locations in Rime of the Frostmaiden as well. Here's a link to their RofFM playlist:

 

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Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
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.

I realize that TPKs and near-TPKs are often a part of the overall D&D approach and appeal (and same for PF, OSR, etc.) but I honestly think they just wreck narratives in a super boring way. If I was running a game and most of the players got wiped, the campaign would probably just be over, or at the very least I'd have to reset and essentially start over.

But if you're going full retrograde, TTRPGs-as-MMOs, and TPKs are just a thing that everyone knows about and accepts, and there's a near-TPK at the beginning of a campaign....I think you have to somehow restart the narrative. Slow down, spend multiple sessions tossing in a whole bunch of other stuff to let the new PCs mesh with the old ones, and then maybe pick up what you had originally planned, or what was written.

Maybe this isn't useful for this specific campaign, since you're already past that point. But I think you can still at least address the past weirdness of dropping in new PCs by stepping off the written campaign for a while at this point, and giving them some sessions specifically designed to help the PCs bond. I don't mean just sitting around trading stories in-game, but some original side-quest that forces them to act as a team, and that ideally relates to some of their character backgrounds.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I recommending chucking it in the bin and starting something new.

Take a look at OSR adventures if you want to run something that is published. You may have to add a few statblocks, but the structure of the adventures are usually better and so is the layout and organization if you're running it straight from the book.
 

I don't know much about Rime of the Frostmaiden, but...

Have you tried talking with your players about it? A number of years ago, I was participating in a FATE game set in an alternate fantasy/ sci-fi Earth. Though we enjoyed playing together, we just weren't enjoying the campaign. So we took one session to sit down and redefine what we wanted to play. Guardians of the Galaxy had just come out, so we decided to shift to a space-faring style game in which we zipped around in a clunky little space ship from planet to planet, fighting against space oppression. It was a lot of fun!

Maybe your players have some ideas of how to inject more fun into the campaign?
 

Yora

Legend
I realize that TPKs and near-TPKs are often a part of the overall D&D approach and appeal (and same for PF, OSR, etc.) but I honestly think they just wreck narratives in a super boring way. If I was running a game and most of the players got wiped, the campaign would probably just be over, or at the very least I'd have to reset and essentially start over.
That's one of the things where 5th edition doesn't quite know what kind of game it wants to be? Is it a game about combat challenges, or a game about completing a story?
When you try to do both at the same time, you either end up with a game that hits dead ends, or combat challenges that you can't actually fail.

The typical and traditional solution to this problem is to design content that doesn't follow a script to lead the PCs to a predetermined outcome (or one out of three), but instead simply keeps rolling forward based on what just happened. Good modules should provide content that works whether the players succeed doing certain things or not
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Whatever you decide to do - continue with RotFM or any other published adventure/campaign - there are a couple of things I think you need to do based on your descriptions of problems in your other Rime thread.
  1. Adventure writers love to include puzzles of some sort like the ones your players have had trouble with. It's a common trope in fantasy adventure games in general, so you're not going to be able to easily avoid it in the published options. You'll either need to rewrite these areas or be prepared to put more emphasis on the clues in the environment that will enable your players to solve the puzzle even if that emphasis isn't written into the adventure.
  2. You may need to emphasize clues that what they're doing isn't working when it isn't working. If beating on a problem isn't working, they need clues to retreat rather than keep hammering away uselessly until they TPK. I don't think you can assume they'll cotton on when the evidence seems to be that they aren't doing so. Some of the problem may be the medium of playing online since it changes interactions and you can't be certain of them picking up other clues in your communication.
  3. Make sure they know how to recover from a PC being dropped so that they don't let PCs with good backstories die in early encounters. That probably made a bad first impression of the campaign and, as you indicate, it may not have recovered.
 

Reynard

Legend
That's one of the things where 5th edition doesn't quite know what kind of game it wants to be? Is it a game about combat challenges, or a game about completing a story?
When you try to do both at the same time, you either end up with a game that hits dead ends, or combat challenges that you can't actually fail.

The typical and traditional solution to this problem is to design content that doesn't follow a script to lead the PCs to a predetermined outcome (or one out of three), but instead simply keeps rolling forward based on what just happened. Good modules should provide content that works whether the players succeed doing certain things or not
That's not a new problem. The question of whether D&D is more of a game or more of a story engine has been around essentially forever, and everyone has their preferences and will gladly tell you how you are wrong (myself included) for doing it your way.

If you want to tell a story, and you think you need character continuity for that, then take death and especially the TPK off the table. Choose a different consequence for failure. The DM holds all the cards and can decide that these bad guys decided to ransom the party, or these good guys showed up in time to save the day, or this deity intervened, or this devil offered a bargain, or whatever.

There is a lot of "the game playing you" in this thread and in the context of an RPG, it is kind of silly.
 


Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
If you want to tell a story, and you think you need character continuity for that, then take death and especially the TPK off the table. Choose a different consequence for failure. The DM holds all the cards and can decide that these bad guys decided to ransom the party, or these good guys showed up in time to save the day, or this deity intervened, or this devil offered a bargain, or whatever.

There is a lot of "the game playing you" in this thread and in the context of an RPG, it is kind of silly.

I feel like this line of discussion is relevant to the OP, though, because the near-TPK was highlighted as an important factor.

But wait, I want to check on something--are there really DMs that aren't trying to tell some kind of a story? And how could character continuity not be a part of that? I'm not asking rhetorically, since there are all sort of games and ways to play them, but I always assumed that, even when running one of these extended published modules, the assumption is that you knit them into a story as you go, and one that relates to the characters. But do people play them as narrative-free sets of challenges to be overcome, the way you'd run through a new area in an MMO or videogame RPG?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
There's a YouTube channel I like called Lunch Break Heroes. I used several of their expansions to Curse of Strahd, and they've been working on expanding several of the locations in Rime of the Frostmaiden as well. Here's a link to their RofFM playlist:

They’re excellent, from what I’ve seen of their Curse of Strahd stuff.
 

I'd recommend getting the new characters to all click together to be of primary importance. If there's conflict or personalities butting against each other, that's going to undermine all their efforts. I don't know your group, what the fracture points are, or whether an exciting battle or deep role-play session would be better.

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.

I'm running Icewind Dale right now, and the players are all loving it. We're still in chapter 1 & 2 territory, so they're still finding out the big picture. There are moments where the party hasn't been sure if they're going in the right direction. I kinda view the beginning as the introduction to the location, getting them to care about the different inhabitants, and seeing how people are coping with the unending winter. People grumble about Auril, but they're doing okay. It's not until later, after the Chardalyn Dragon's rampage, that they'll need to focus on her. I plan on things getting rough after that, with shortages and even worse weather, with the threats cranking up as the monsters of the area are also struggling.

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.

I think it would be of value to detail out some of the NPCs and town locations listed. I don't think you need to go wild with each town, but just making the few that are there as flavorful as you can would help. You know your players and what they'd respond to, so focus on getting those qualities out there. If they like their NPCs weird, adorable, enigmatic, philosophical, etc., go for what works for them. And going back to point one, getting that detail, that investment is going to help them gel.

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.
 

Yora

Legend
I feel that trying to "tell a story" as the GM/content writer is a complete waste of the unique capabilities of the medium. You can tell a story in any narrative medium, but RPGs are the only medium where the audience (in form of the players) can control the story.

The purpose of a campaign should be to provide the players with a stage and the props to create a story based on how they chose to interact with the game environment. Player decisions should be the driving force that directs where the story is going and what's happening. Using an RPG to have the players act out a script (which they can't even see) is a complete misuse of the medium.

And yes, I am calling 99% of all adventures published in the last 30 years a complete failure at the most basic level.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
But wait, I want to check on something--are there really DMs that aren't trying to tell some kind of a story? And how could character continuity not be a part of that? I'm not asking rhetorically, since there are all sort of games and ways to play them, but I always assumed that, even when running one of these extended published modules, the assumption is that you knit them into a story as you go, and one that relates to the characters. But do people play them as narrative-free sets of challenges to be overcome, the way you'd run through a new area in an MMO or videogame RPG?
There are certainly DMs who don’t set out to tell a particular story. But, it’s not that they’re running them as narrative-free series challenges; rather, they aim to create an emergent story together with the players, by giving them goals to pursue (and allowing them to freely pursue their own goals) and creating challenges by placing obstacles in the way of those goals.
 

Reynard

Legend
There are certainly DMs who don’t set out to tell a particular story. But, it’s not that they’re running them as narrative-free series challenges; rather, they aim to create an emergent story together with the players, by giving them goals to pursue (and allowing them to freely pursue their own goals) and creating challenges by placing obstacles in the way of those goals.
My usual attitude is to prepare locations and situations and let story emerge out of player choices and dice rolls (to put it as simply as possible).
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
There are certainly DMs who don’t set out to tell a particular story. But, it’s not that they’re running them as narrative-free series challenges; rather, they aim to create an emergent story together with the players, by giving them goals to pursue (and allowing them to freely pursue their own goals) and creating challenges by placing obstacles in the way of those goals.
Poor word choice on my part. I didn’t mean “tell a story” in the sense of a scripted narrative where the characters are just railroaded or triggering preset events as they go. I meant something where you might work out themes or major potential arcs ahead of time, and see how much the players reshape those. But the idea that PC-continuity wouldn’t be a factor is the wild part to me. Pulling from their backgrounds, forging then testing the bonds they have to each other…isn’t this what narratives, including emergent ones, are all about? World-building and plot are cool, but the main reason anyone truly likes narratives in other long-form mediums is the characters. So I always assumed the default was for GMs to help shape campaigns, as they progress, as stories about those characters, in a way that a TPK (or close to it) would totally short-circuit.
 

Reynard

Legend
I feel like this line of discussion is relevant to the OP, though, because the near-TPK was highlighted as an important factor.

But wait, I want to check on something--are there really DMs that aren't trying to tell some kind of a story? And how could character continuity not be a part of that? I'm not asking rhetorically, since there are all sort of games and ways to play them, but I always assumed that, even when running one of these extended published modules, the assumption is that you knit them into a story as you go, and one that relates to the characters. But do people play them as narrative-free sets of challenges to be overcome, the way you'd run through a new area in an MMO or videogame RPG?
I can only speak for myself, but when I say I don't create a story, what I mean is I don't create a preconceived story. I try to present interesting locations, people, and situations that will promote the emergence of a story created while we play, driven primarily by player agency and the dice. So, yes, I create a story of sorts when I plant an evil cult transforming the city's children into were-marmots, but I don't determine in advance how it is going to play out. I don't create a plot, because not only do I never know what half baked plan the PCs are going to come up with, I am fairly certain that whatever it is, it will be cooler than whatever I would have prescribed.
 


Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
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.


I'm going to address each of these points individually;

1. I mean... a near TPK in the first session, with new players? This is rough; no offense, but you probably need to adjust the difficulty of encounters downwards. New players don't typically enjoy dying, especially at the very beginning of playing.

2. If the players aren't interested in the side-quests, that's fine. New players typically don't like sandboxes, they prefer a more linear story.

3. No advice except go to Reddit and the Forgotten Realms wiki and do some research on the towns. If your not given enough detail to bring a town to life, you need to do the legwork and add those details yourself.
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
Poor word choice on my part. I didn’t mean “tell a story” in the sense of a scripted narrative where the characters are just railroaded or triggering preset events as they go. I meant something where you might work out themes or major potential arcs ahead of time, and see how much the players reshape those. But the idea that PC-continuity wouldn’t be a factor is the wild part to me. Pulling from their backgrounds, forging then testing the bonds they have to each other…isn’t this what narratives, including emergent ones, are all about? World-building and plot are cool, but the main reason anyone truly likes narratives in other long-form mediums is the characters. So I always assumed the default was for GMs to help shape campaigns, as they progress, as stories about those characters, in a way that a TPK (or close to it) would totally short-circuit.
It depends on your creative agenda and the game. For a Story Now game like Apocalypse World or Scum and Villainy, too much planning subverts your agenda. A FitD game like Scum and Villainy even supports having characters go out of play (permanently or temporarily). It’s one way the players can flesh out their crew (e.g., the captain overindulges his vice, so the captain’s player assumes the role of the ship’s mechanic while the captain is in rehab).

In my Worlds Without Number game, I’m aiming for the Right to Dream. The way I’ve put it in other threads here is I’m running the campaign like a science experiment. It’s the idea of the neural referee writ large. That’s not to say there will be no story. One will definitely emerge, but it will be shaped by what the PCs and not just how the world responds but also how it goes about its business (thanks to the faction subsystem in WWN). However, I won’t be dialing focus onto any particular thread that emerges. I’ve done that in the past, and it screwed things up a bit.
 

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