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

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.
 

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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 (She/Her/Hers)
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
Supporter
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).
 

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
Supporter
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

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
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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