How Do You Tell a Group: "Maybe This Isn't for Us?"

Retreater

Legend
To start with, I'm the GM in this situation.

My group wanted to play a mystery/story-based game with a different flavor of the usual D&D campaign we've been playing for the past two years. We started a big mystery/political intrigue campaign using a fairly complex system ("The Enemy Within" using WFRP 4e).

So we had a fair bit of trouble getting the system to work on Roll20 and moved to Foundry and have been adjusting to that AI. Then we had trouble making characters they enjoyed playing, and had to use two of our short sessions (around 2 hours each) to make new characters. And then the players complained that their characters were poor (which is sort of built-in to the setting), and that there's not a lot of combat (which is built into the system), and that there's a confusing mystery and they don't know how to proceed (which is the point of the adventure).

At the end of each session, after they complain about their frustration with the above issues, I reinforce these points: I am there to make sure all of us have fun. The most important thing is that we all have a good time. If they are not having fun, then we can alter the game or even play something different.

I can tell that they aren't motivated when we play. If they are going to take an action, I have to be the one to suggest it, otherwise they are just sort of lost or indecisive. They also don't remember key details from session-to-session, showing me that they aren't invested enough in the mystery to take notes.

I can't help but think we'd be having a better time doing something else. In this case, would you put your foot down and say you want to run another game once we get to a good stopping point (probably in 1 or 2 sessions anyway)? Would you let them keep playing it this way, being frustrated? Would you try to do even less hand-holding and just let them fail?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

BookTenTiger

He / Him
It sounds like this would be a good opportunity for a Session 0 Part 2. As a group, you can review what your goals were with switching to this campaign, talk honestly about if the campaign is meeting those goals, and decide on next steps.

In my long-running group, we did this a number of times, and it always led to good results, like:

* Changing our urban fantasy / sci fi game to a Guardians of the Galaxy style space adventure...

* Wrapping up said campaign early with a final Fiasco game...

* Shifting our 5e D&D game to end at Level 10 instead of 20...

* Changing a major plot element of the 5e game to avoid adding racism to the game...

All in all, having occasional sessions devoting to the direction of the campaign really helped our group have consistent fun.
 

payn

Legend
At the end of each session, after they complain about their frustration with the above issues, I reinforce these points: I am there to make sure all of us have fun. The most important thing is that we all have a good time. If they are not having fun, then we can alter the game or even play something different.
Thats a tough cycle to be in. If the game never clicks and starts working, you gotta wonder if its worth going against the stream?
I can tell that they aren't motivated when we play. If they are going to take an action, I have to be the one to suggest it, otherwise they are just sort of lost or indecisive. They also don't remember key details from session-to-session, showing me that they aren't invested enough in the mystery to take notes.
This sounds like the group is pretty casual. The type that likes having a character sheet with stuff that tells them what to do. That or they dont like being proactive and prefer to be reactive. Putting a lot of decisions and agency in their hands sounds like a tough proposition.
I can't help but think we'd be having a better time doing something else. In this case, would you put your foot down and say you want to run another game once we get to a good stopping point (probably in 1 or 2 sessions anyway)? Would you let them keep playing it this way, being frustrated? Would you try to do even less hand-holding and just let them fail?
Are they saying they want to stop? If no, I'd ask directly if they do. Are the complaints growing pains as they branch into the unknown? If yes, Id give them time to move into it. Adapt the game and story as best you can. Might be extra work for you as GM, but the players will appreciate it.

Sometimes, as GM I have an idea for a game I really want to run. I don't always have the right group to run it tho. To find out, I usually start slow and small and work up to something bigger. That way, everybody finds out something about their playstyle and group. When you are ready you can launch the big game. The one shot is very underrated.

Hope that helps.
 

In that scenario, I would probably outright ask them "do you want to keep doing this campaign?" I'd iterate that my feelings aren't aren't going to be hurt if they say no.

Whatever I ran next would have to open with a bang, with a heck of hook. Because I need to build the momentum up from negative.

Mystery/Investigative adventures are amongst the hardest to run and sometimes to play in, in my experience. It's really easy for the game to just start spinning wheels or hare off on a complete red herring.
 

Retreater

Legend
@payn I did run a one-shot with pre-generated characters (actually a longer adventure than a one-shot, but it lasted about a month of play). They wanted to continue the system, but I think between character generation and the scope of the campaign they really got overwhelmed. Then they realized "it's really involved to make a character in this system, fighting is very dangerous, so we have to be extremely careful." Which is making them very bored.
So they are at the same time very attached to their characters due to sunk cost fallacy and also not engaged with what's going on because they're bored.
 

moriantumr

Explorer
I dm for a group that loves the idea of investigative/mystery/sandbox games but they are really, really bad at playing them. We played Dark Heresy 2nd edition and finished an intro adventure in the course of two…years. I know now to make the investigative/mystery stuff very straightforward and a fail forward endeavor. They make choices and it changes the story, meaning I have to be willing to bring clues or interactions that can move the story forward to them instead of them following what I have planned.
It sounds like they want to fight and not be poor. Reward that. Give them fights between the investigation. Link it to the plot if you like and put coded messages on the attackers. Introduce a patron that promises money and increased class rank. Have the patron request increasingly terrible things from them that makes them question the purpose or motives. Let the patron betray them and leave them for dead, inspiring their investigation to reap revenge and topple someone who has wronged them, but they cannot do it without proof.
 

kenada

Legend
I can't help but think we'd be having a better time doing something else. In this case, would you put your foot down and say you want to run another game once we get to a good stopping point (probably in 1 or 2 sessions anyway)? Would you let them keep playing it this way, being frustrated? Would you try to do even less hand-holding and just let them fail?
Is this the same group you ran Age of Ashes for? This story seems similar to that one where your players wanted the game run a certain way that resulted in play that was not fun.
 

payn

Legend
@payn I did run a one-shot with pre-generated characters (actually a longer adventure than a one-shot, but it lasted about a month of play). They wanted to continue the system, but I think between character generation and the scope of the campaign they really got overwhelmed. Then they realized "it's really involved to make a character in this system, fighting is very dangerous, so we have to be extremely careful." Which is making them very bored.
So they are at the same time very attached to their characters due to sunk cost fallacy and also not engaged with what's going on because they're bored.
I see. I'm not entirely familiar with the system or the campaign you are trying to run. If I was, perhaps Id offer some ways to spice up the game and get y'all out of the funk. However, sometimes people want a fantastic game where getting shot is a minor inconvenience and kicking ass and taking names is the fun. Others, like a very gritty realistic crawl where you gotta be smart and push your luck to get through. Neither is right or wrong, its a taste thing, and maybe y'all really are finding out its not for this group?
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
They might be happier with Monster of the Week. Still a mystery game with investigation elements, but it usually ends with a combat situation where the investigators get to fight and defeat the monster. Think an episode of Supernatural, Buffy with the whole season as a campaign with a climactic enemy at the end of it but making appearances in earlier adventures.
The characters are typically quite a bit more straightforward than WFRP ones, which sounds like it might help.
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
It does sound as if giving up would be the easy way out.

The things that's difficult with mystery and intrigue is that the players need to understand the setting pretty well. and know what the moving parts are in the society around them. It sounds as if they don't have that and since they're small fry, they're worried if they try to do much they'll get their hard-to-create characters stomped.

A potential answer to that is to build up the characters a bit. Don't worry about the mystery or intrigue for a while. Turn the campaign into slice-of-life, and let them build up businesses and/or status, learning about the setting and having fun just living in the weirdness of the Old World. This will require you to regulate the supply of strangeness, so that it isn't just mundane Urban Slum: the Infection, but nor is it battling the forces of Chaos every week. When the players are confident in their ability to navigate the setting, and know what they can and can't get away with doing, then you start to feed them scraps of the main plot.
 

Retreater

Legend
It sounds like they want to fight and not be poor. Reward that. Give them fights between the investigation. Link it to the plot if you like and put coded messages on the attackers. Introduce a patron that promises money and increased class rank. Have the patron request increasingly terrible things from them that makes them question the purpose or motives. Let the patron betray them and leave them for dead, inspiring their investigation to reap revenge and topple someone who has wronged them, but they cannot do it without proof.
Sounds like a great idea, and I'd love to try something like that. Unfortunately, the combat in the WFRP system is so punishing that casual fights just can't happen. You can get an injury with one attack from a basic 0-level brigand that sidelines you for weeks of the campaign (if not permanently debilitating you or killing you outright). As a system, you just can't use it for action-based games like Pathfinder or D&D.
 

Retreater

Legend
Is this the same group you ran Age of Ashes for? This story seems similar to that one where your players wanted the game run a certain way that resulted in play that was not fun.
No. This is a different group. This is the group that really enjoyed Curse of Strahd, but a "meh" experience with Frostmaiden (if you've read my Adventure Post-Mortems). This group has never tried PF2, but I think it might be something they would enjoy, actually.
 

Retreater

Legend
I see. I'm not entirely familiar with the system or the campaign you are trying to run. If I was, perhaps Id offer some ways to spice up the game and get y'all out of the funk. However, sometimes people want a fantastic game where getting shot is a minor inconvenience and kicking ass and taking names is the fun. Others, like a very gritty realistic crawl where you gotta be smart and push your luck to get through. Neither is right or wrong, its a taste thing, and maybe y'all really are finding out its not for this group?
Like all forms of art, sometimes something can be praised as exemplary of the genre, but it's not the right thing for a specific person at a given time. For example, I know the Godfather is supposedly an excellent movie - but instead of watching it, I'd rather watch Guardians of the Galaxy. I like the idea of masterful cinematography, brilliant writing, emotional acting, etc., but at the end of the day, most of the time I want to tap my feet to 70s pop rock hits and watch Starlord shoot alien robots.
So I sold "The Enemy Within" as one of the most highly regarded campaigns ever written with a richly detailed setting built on decades of lore; deep, interwoven plots; near infinite opportunities to roleplay and forge alliances; with one of the staples of political intrigue writing in the gaming world. I think many players want to be in a campaign like that, and many GMs want to run a game like that. But in practice, a lot of people get home from work, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, then they have enough mental bandwidth to disarm some traps, belch a profanity at an attacking kobold, and count a few gold pieces of treasure.
Many players don't want the Godfather, and I get that. I can't blame anyone for being enticed by saying "yes" to something they think they should want.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
To start with, I'm the GM in this situation.

My group wanted to play a mystery/story-based game with a different flavor of the usual D&D campaign we've been playing for the past two years. We started a big mystery/political intrigue campaign using a fairly complex system ("The Enemy Within" using WFRP 4e).

So we had a fair bit of trouble getting the system to work on Roll20 and moved to Foundry and have been adjusting to that AI. Then we had trouble making characters they enjoyed playing, and had to use two of our short sessions (around 2 hours each) to make new characters. And then the players complained that their characters were poor (which is sort of built-in to the setting), and that there's not a lot of combat (which is built into the system), and that there's a confusing mystery and they don't know how to proceed (which is the point of the adventure).

At the end of each session, after they complain about their frustration with the above issues, I reinforce these points: I am there to make sure all of us have fun. The most important thing is that we all have a good time. If they are not having fun, then we can alter the game or even play something different.

I can tell that they aren't motivated when we play. If they are going to take an action, I have to be the one to suggest it, otherwise they are just sort of lost or indecisive. They also don't remember key details from session-to-session, showing me that they aren't invested enough in the mystery to take notes.

I can't help but think we'd be having a better time doing something else. In this case, would you put your foot down and say you want to run another game once we get to a good stopping point (probably in 1 or 2 sessions anyway)? Would you let them keep playing it this way, being frustrated? Would you try to do even less hand-holding and just let them fail?
Hmm, is my memory wrong but I seem to remember that you had problems with Rime of the Frostmaiden also? i wonder are you expecting your players to be more proactive than they actually comfortable with being. Sounds like they may prefer a more casual type of game.

Now its 25 years or so since I tried to run "The Enemy Within" and the group broke up before the end of the first phase.

It might be worth inquiring if they group have any strong feelings about rail roading, or spoon feeding with suitable disguise on the spoon or the tracks. Try that for a session or two and see how it goes.

Talk to them.

Otherwise, do a recap before each session of the highlights of the previous one. Have players do intelligence checks to remember the more obscure details. Tell them stuff their characters should remember.

Have some one drop dead at their feet after asking for a location or person. Have some one hire them to find some one plot relevant. Have some else looking for information about who ever hired them.

Have some one try to kill them if the come across the main bad guys and not notice and have a trail back.

If none of that sounds fun to you then may be do something else, talk to them anway.
 

Retreater

Legend
They might be happier with Monster of the Week. Still a mystery game with investigation elements, but it usually ends with a combat situation where the investigators get to fight and defeat the monster. Think an episode of Supernatural, Buffy with the whole season as a campaign with a climactic enemy at the end of it but making appearances in earlier adventures.
The characters are typically quite a bit more straightforward than WFRP ones, which sounds like it might help.
I actually ran a short Monster of the Week campaign for another group recently, and I think we all enjoyed it pretty well. It wrapped up about a month ago.
I would be concerned with any of the PbtA games with this group, because they need the rules and what they can do on any given turn to be specifically written out.
 

Retreater

Legend
Hmm, is my memory wrong but I seem to remember that you had problems with Rime of the Frostmaiden also? i wonder are you expecting your players to be more proactive than they actually comfortable with being. Sounds like they may prefer a more casual type of game.
Yes. This is the same group I ran with Rime of the Frostmaiden. This campaign was a direct response to them not liking Frostmaiden. But it seems we didn't address the actual real reason they didn't like Frostmaiden, which I think is what you bring up here.
I think straightforward, basically led by the nose is a good idea for them.
I'm not trying to be critical of them, but I think they need guidance to have a good time. Or else, very clear goals and limited options. Otherwise, it's decision paralysis.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Yes. This is the same group I ran with Rime of the Frostmaiden. This campaign was a direct response to them not liking Frostmaiden. But it seems we didn't address the actual real reason they didn't like Frostmaiden, which I think is what you bring up here.
I think straightforward, basically led by the nose is a good idea for them.
I'm not trying to be critical of them, but I think they need guidance to have a good time. Or else, very clear goals and limited options. Otherwise, it's decision paralysis.
It can be fun, I have spent so long running games for a group that like a nice solid railroad under their feet that now a days I am not sure I could run an effective sandbox.

It is a perfectly legitimate playstyle, like your comments on Guardian of the galaxy some people want to put the brain in neutral and play the game the DM presents.
 

payn

Legend
Like all forms of art, sometimes something can be praised as exemplary of the genre, but it's not the right thing for a specific person at a given time. For example, I know the Godfather is supposedly an excellent movie - but instead of watching it, I'd rather watch Guardians of the Galaxy. I like the idea of masterful cinematography, brilliant writing, emotional acting, etc., but at the end of the day, most of the time I want to tap my feet to 70s pop rock hits and watch Starlord shoot alien robots.
So I sold "The Enemy Within" as one of the most highly regarded campaigns ever written with a richly detailed setting built on decades of lore; deep, interwoven plots; near infinite opportunities to roleplay and forge alliances; with one of the staples of political intrigue writing in the gaming world. I think many players want to be in a campaign like that, and many GMs want to run a game like that. But in practice, a lot of people get home from work, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, then they have enough mental bandwidth to disarm some traps, belch a profanity at an attacking kobold, and count a few gold pieces of treasure.
Many players don't want the Godfather, and I get that. I can't blame anyone for being enticed by saying "yes" to something they think they should want.
When people think of The Godfather they think about Michael reaching for a shooter in the commode at Luna's, or Sonny getting jammed up at the toll booth. I know you haven't seen the film so these don't mean much, but they are violent crescendos that propel the plot forward of the movie. What they don't talk about is the amount of exposition that goes into setting up these scenes for the audience. Again, using your example, Guardians of the Galaxy is non-stop action sequences that move the plot along at breakneck speed in comparison.

It's a matter of taste, of course, but the two are very different speeds and deliver disparate experiences. Often, folks think they want to try The Godfather on for size, but only think about the best bits. You really have to love the exposition, the build up, and you have to have the patience for the payoff. Sometimes folks bite off more than they can chew.
 


fba827

Adventurer
(I only skimmed after the initial post, so apologies for what i'm sure someone else already said in better words...)

Aside from straight out asking them, if you want to TRY and continue at least for a little bit, one of the frustrations seems to be not knowing how to proceed. So perhaps find some way of at least jump starting the investigation via a new and obvious clue. OR do it from the -player- side and write up a little worksheet for them with a section for 'suspects and their motives' and 'facts so far' inferences/theories so far' and that gives players a little more codified way to work through problem solving if you didn't want to do it from the character route of extra clues. Either method takes certain types of players to react to it so YMMV.

But if you really are just ready to say "not for us" then flat out tell them "this doesn't seem to be clicking for our group. let's try a regular style campaign again but let's shake it up with a different setting. Or some different gimmick (maybe there is a base they have; maybe they are secret agents for a government agency exploring the strange and unusual magical creature appearances that have suddenly been showing up - that gives straight forward combats and a little mystery as to why these creatures are suddenly showing up now and so on)
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top