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

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
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.

It's worth noting that there are a couple of Wizards adventures recently (Storm King's Thunder) that make a few assumptions about how they're played that aren't spelled out. (Or are derailed by other stuff in the adventure).

I view Rime of the Frostmaiden as starting as a "adventurers making a living in a harsh environment" adventure, which only later turns into a "save the land" adventure.

Storm King's Thunder, when played well, does the same thing: You're regular adventurers, doing quests across the land, and only gradually do you realise that something is wrong - there are giants everywhere! - and as you get to grips with the giants are all doing different thing and perhaps something is badly wrong does Harshnag come and bring you to the main "save the land" plot.

This is as opposed to Tyranny of Dragons or Princes of the Apocalypse, which work best when you are sent first to "find out what is wrong" and slowly uncover all the clues and discover the truth of the situation and then try to stop it. Neither Tyranny nor Princes work that well when you're just jobbing adventurers.

Incidentally, the GDQ series, even in its original form G1, G2, G3, D1, D2, D3 and Q1, follows this second template. (You are given a job, and everything that follows leads from that).

So, with your players, they're expecting the second type when the early stages are the first type. So, how do you fix it?

Basically: You give them a patron that sends them on the quests that matter.

Which quests matter? Ah, now you need to examine the adventure! :)

Cheers!
 

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Reynard

Legend
Absolutely essential, both as a DM and as a player.
I like that there is this story when we're done but I also don't mind that it is a mess and full of plot holes and dead ends -- or would be if it was a novel or a film, but since it isn't those are just "what happened" in play.
 

Larnievc

Hero
What would you suggest to improve my campaign? It can be specific to Rime of the Frostmaiden or not.
For relatively new players keep it focussed and simple. The vast majority of the first few sessions in my campaigns are just about getting the characters working with each other doing a little quest that doesn’t really have any world building.

Focussed, simple, short.
 

GlassJaw

Hero
I have not run this adventure but I do read the alexandrian, and he has posted some advice on this recently:

One thing that makes 5e hard to parse is the poor layout and formatting. The headings are too close in size to one another, location information will begin or end in the middle of a page, and important context will be buried in the text making it hard to remember.
Was just about to post The Alexandrian link (the best RPG blog IMO).

I haven't run Frostmaiden but I've read quite a bit of it and have read some different guides for it. Biggest takeaway is that it's a really cool (no pun intended) setting and campaign backdrop but the adventure itself is a bear to run and has some BIG missteps along the way.

Pretty much all of the WotC campaigns require some degree of rework and prep, and Rime certainly has its fair share..
 

Retreater

Legend
We did our first "trying to get back on track" session last night after a brief discussion (most of the conversation was via email.) The plan I had to send the party out searching for the lost verses of the Rime worked like a charm. Completely changed the tone, giving them direction. I had two lengthy roleplaying encounters, letting one of the replacement characters take the lead in discovering the mystery that started everything.
Then there was a battle with a frost giant on a mammoth. The party - despite bad combat tactics and a foolish opening round by the most experienced player - managed to use a series of debuffs to save their skins and live to fight another day.
 

Reynard

Legend
We did our first "trying to get back on track" session last night after a brief discussion (most of the conversation was via email.) The plan I had to send the party out searching for the lost verses of the Rime worked like a charm. Completely changed the tone, giving them direction. I had two lengthy roleplaying encounters, letting one of the replacement characters take the lead in discovering the mystery that started everything.
Then there was a battle with a frost giant on a mammoth. The party - despite bad combat tactics and a foolish opening round by the most experienced player - managed to use a series of debuffs to save their skins and live to fight another day.
Glad to hear it appears to be working out!
 

I like that there is this story when we're done but I also don't mind that it is a mess and full of plot holes and dead ends -- or would be if it was a novel or a film, but since it isn't those are just "what happened" in play.

I know it’s a weaselly thing to say but I think it really depends on the particulars. In my current campaign, which is all about faction conflict, the PCs did a deeply unwise thing that wound up killing off the main big bad group in their area, totally cutting lots of long-term plot threads I was laying. An interesting only-in-RPGs twist, but also genuinely really not great for the campaign’s full arc, since they’ll probably never know what and how much awful stuff they averted, and some major NPCs are just deleted before they could really develop.

I’m reconfiguring things, and I hope it all still plays out in an interesting way, but I have to accept that the campaign might have lost its momentum. I don’t want to do the annoying “let me tell you about my campaign lore!” so let’s just say it’s a bit like if the main big bad in Highlander got murdered with a lucky swing in act 2 of the movie.

But I also think it’s a matter of zoom level. When you step back and look at the campaign once it’s done, were there themes or big character arcs. Even if a campaign doesn’t have a general (though still malleable, of course) endpoint, and is more about episodic encounters, will you think about it years later in a sort of retroactively knitted-together narrative, or is it more about how that second of your three PCs got that sweet critical that one time? Did the protagonists change, the way they do in most narratives, or just get more powerful? And when it did end, did it feel like the climax pulled threads from throughout the whole campaign, or was it mostly about the final challenge level?

Im not saying it’s bad to have a campaign be fully episodic and almost procedural, in the video game sense. Just that I think there’s a way to nudge and plant seeds that make a campaign feel like a story—however chaotic and un-novel-like—when it’s all done, without scripting or railroading.

That’s really what I was curious about, whether that sort of approach is not the default for folks, and most are running campaigns where PCs can come and go, get replaced as needed, and you either go till a book like RotFM is over or until the campaign sort of peters out due to scheduling, setting burnout, etc.

Asking in part because this is a very D&D-centric community. A lot of indie gamers seem to have moved toward super-short campaigns (too short for my trad tastes!) but the way 5e is presented I can’t tell if things are tilting more toward sweeping Critical Role-style narratives, where any character death is monumental, or largely sticking to more traditional die-and-replace play, which necessarily makes it harder to wind up with big character-centric stories.
 

Reynard

Legend
Im not saying it’s bad to have a campaign be fully episodic and almost procedural, in the video game sense. Just that I think there’s a way to nudge and plant seeds that make a campaign feel like a story—however chaotic and un-novel-like—when it’s all done, without scripting or railroading.
In my experience, that "way" is to let the player do it. The real stories happening at the table are the character stories, individually and as a group. Your big bad that never was doesn't matter. What matters is that Bob got his family's estate back, or that Brenda created the first 10th level spell, or that Argus the Unready finally got ready. What I think big predetermined plots do is steal energy from player goals and character stories. If you let the narrative grow organically from player motivations and random rolls on the encounter table, the "story" will be ugly but it will be far more satisfying.
 

In my experience, that "way" is to let the player do it. The real stories happening at the table are the character stories, individually and as a group. Your big bad that never was doesn't matter. What matters is that Bob got his family's estate back, or that Brenda created the first 10th level spell, or that Argus the Unready finally got ready. What I think big predetermined plots do is steal energy from player goals and character stories. If you let the narrative grow organically from player motivations and random rolls on the encounter table, the "story" will be ugly but it will be far more satisfying.
I agree in the abstract, but are you saying an RPG shouldn’t have big bads that last more than one set of encounters? No Saurons, in other words, or larger narrative framings? And no settings with a larger trajectory or endpoint, like a doomsday situation? I’m just trying to figure out how fully sandbox you’re going/advocating, and whether you think that’s sort of inherently the most satisfying approach to running, because otherwise people aren’t embracing what makes TTRPGs unique.

but also, gotta be honest—some of those notional story beats sound hella boring to me! Somebody made a 10th level spell? I would fall asleep at the table if that was the big epic conclusion of someone’s character arc. I’m maybe unfairly harping on one example, but if that accomplishment didn’t somehow tie into Bob’s estate recovery or other big goals, then to me it’s really just characters sort of pursuing things in parallel, and hanging out together for purely transactional reasons.
 

Larnievc

Hero
Im not saying it’s bad to have a campaign be fully episodic and almost procedural, in the video game sense. Just that I think there’s a way to nudge and plant seeds that make a campaign feel like a story—however chaotic and un-novel-like—when it’s all done, without scripting or railroading.
I agree with much of this. Episodic can be good if you sprinkle in monster of the week and lore episodes at the right ratios to keep the players invested.
 

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