I’m certainly finding a lack of satisfying encounters in the last three years of WOC products, and a growing boredom with the lack of jeopardy in 5e combat. It isn’t that the PCs can’t interact, it’s that quite often I see scenarios that don’t really require it. I actually find myself looking more and more to either older D&d products that can be repurposed, or particularly good quality third party products because they’re simple more engaging.I spend a lot of time on the hobby: participating in forums, reading reviews, preparing adventures, learning new game systems or optional rules, setting up VTT games, painting miniatures, etc. While I can get by not doing all of these things (or by limiting the time I spend on each component), this is part of the fun for me. But that's the point - it's only part of the fun.
So an ongoing struggle I've had over the past year or so is that my players don't seem invested. I have to push them to make decisions - even when I try to make it as clear as possible. I have to do every session recap because no one takes notes or remembers any details. Between games I try to keep everyone updated via email - usually to no response. Last night at our Session Zero, a player fell asleep during character creation.
I don't want to turn this into a complaining on my players thread - that's not the point. I realize this hobby isn't the main thing in their lives, and I don't want it to be. In fact, I think it's probably been a little to the point of being an unhealthy obsession for me. Especially during COVID, I really leaned into running multiple games and prepping them a lot. But I'm at the point now where I'm not getting as much out of gaming and it's not as satisfying as it should be.
So what should I do? Limit what I put into the games? (And what should I cut out to save time?) Take a break from the hobby altogether (which I'm afraid would leave me with nothing to do)?
I think the strategic element of the game is very much reduced to the point where good plots, characters and stories have to be more engaging to make up the weight. Combat can no longer carry the bulk of the interest.
I have also found that simple is better when it comes to these stories. Recurring characters both villain and ally are better than brilliant but domino-like characters that are killed then forgotten.
I have found Odyssey of the Dragonlords a lot of fun to DM and easy to get the PCs engaged because the villains are clear and ubiquitous, the NPcs crop up over and over, and the goals of the party while pre-determined are grand and sweeping.
Don’t be disheartened about the not emailing in between sessions. I play with two brilliant groups of role players that heavily invest in characters but both I and @GuyBoy are lucky if we can get so much as a picture and back story out of some people before the first session starts (even though they are very engaged during the session). For some people they see the game time as a distinct slot and don’t bleed that into their other free time.
One final thought is that for me, good well written mysteries are the hardest adventures to write but also are the most engaging. I’m interested as to whether you got engagement from PCs in Shadows over Bogenhafen? I know you got part way through the Enemy Within but not sure how far. It’s sounds like from what you said in your recent post that you didn’t. That module to me, is the touchstone of good adventure design and writing. If you can’t get these players to engage with SOB you definitely need to get some new players! Or have a very honest conversation about them not wasting your time by being obtuse.