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D&D General Players Bored

Corvexus

Villager
I've been running my first campaign as a DM and I've recently had players state, "there's nothing to do in this town", several times. I've created unique shops, a carnival with games and prizes, libraries with lore they never ran across and unique encounters at each area...

What can I do to make my players feel like there's more to engage in, other then speaking to new npcs and buying new gear at every town??
 

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Have things happen around them. Let them interact with those things as they will.

A merchant shows up with a cart of goods. The merchant happens to be a kobold selling shrunken heads, or live mice with their tails tied to a stick, or herbal charms to ward off spirits. if the party doesn't react, the locals do. Maybe someone harasses the merchant, maybe someone assault them and chases them out of town. Doesn't matter if the party interacts because maybe later when they are on the road the find the merchant dead and his cart plundered.

Then have a fight break out, maybe someone in the party is misidentified as an adulterer, or a bandit. The party can plead their innocence, fight or flee.

It doesn't matter what the party does per se. It matter that the world is alive around them, and that they can chose to interact with it or not. BUT, if/when they don't, things still happen. They don't help the adolescent who said their grandmother was possessed, then a demon or a hag shows up. Or something bad happens. The world is happening around them, and if the party doesn't get involved, then bad happens more often than good. Evil grows.
 

Bitbrain

Fully vaccinated!
In my experience, unless there is a specific campaign reason for the PCs to enter a location in town... 9 times out of 10, they won’t.

To give one possible example:

Maybe have the librarian hire them to watch over the library for the night, because he/she has been hearing funny noises at night and some of the books have gone missing (and NOT because people are bringing the books back late). Then have an adventure inside the library as they discover a clan of Derro or something living underneath the building or something.

They do the mission, defeat the monsters and get paid, and then later on, on a mission further down the line, they encounter a monster they’ve never heard of or seen before. Remind them of the library and tell them the answer might be found back there.

They return to the library, consult the NPC, and gain the information they need for that future adventure...
 




Working on the "show, don't tell" tactic:

Players: There's nothing to do in this town.
GM: You meet an adventuring party in the street. They appear very proud of a glowing magical sword.
Players: Hey, where did you get the sword?
Adventurer: We looted it last night from the ghost that was haunting the library.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What can I do to make my players feel like there's more to engage in, other then speaking to new npcs and buying new gear at every town??

First, ask them, "what were you expecting to see, or what kinds of other things do you want to do?"

If the town is basically peaceful, then, yeah, it isn't going to be interesting adventuring, in and of itself. You probably want it that way, as it gives you a largely safe place to go back to after adventuring. So, you wind up glossing over most of the town, to get to the busy bits.

If they are looking for evil wizards, corrupt clerics, and guilds of thieves to thwart... then give them those things, but they will be busy, and not get to out-of-town adventures.

And when they realize they have to keep watch in the night because someone might slit their throats, maybe they will reconsider what they want in a town :)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
If they're not interested in spending time in town, I would consider this a blessing and keep my prep focused on adventures taking place in the bleeding edge of civilization, where towns are merely safe havens to recover after confronting deadly perils and maybe engage in useful downtime activities.
 



toucanbuzz

Legend
...I've created unique shops, a carnival with games and prizes, libraries with lore they never ran across and unique encounters at each area...

First, it's tricky as a DM to know whether you've created stuff that only interests you, or that also interests them. Not every gamer wants to spend time walking down alleyways and talking to shopkeepers. They may simply feel the dungeon or the open road is the place to be. This comes with time. Even if gamers are your good friends, it'll be a journey to read what they enjoy the most.

Second, every gamer wants something different from the game. Some players like an "f-around game" where you wander around and explore every nook and cranny. Others like a heroic, focused game (e.g. let's toss the One Ring in the volcano). Chat up your players to see what they like and adapt from there.

Still, if your goal is to motivate your players to engage more in-town, plant hooks. The innkeep mentions someone's daughter went to the carnival and never came back, and the town guard won't investigate for some reason, so the local merchants have put together a fund to whoever can find her.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One of the things I do when starting a new group or campaign is talk to people about what they want and enjoy. If this is a new group that's forming, I have them read an intro page which gives a general overview which does tell people I run a pretty heavy RP game, so that helps for me.

But if this a group of friends you need to just sit down and talk to them. Do they just want to do dungeon crawling hack-n-slash campaign? Do they want to do investigation and intrigue?

So some general advice that may or may not work.

Next, you may need to railroad them a bit at least at the start. I know people say they want sandbox campaigns, but sometimes it's difficult for a DM to present things in a way that will draw them in. So if you have a haunted library just start off the session with "you've been hired to take a look at the haunted library". Want to do the carnival? Just tell them, the carnival is in town and since you were bored you decided to check it out.

Another tactic is to just have the proverbial naughty word hit the fan and they get caught up in it. They're walking by and hear people screaming for help or muggers try to steal their coin. The town is being overrun by giant spiders or whatever else.

It really depends on the group. I just spent half a session on RP and background stuff including a PC setting up a new business, an ongoing conflict with a rival, another PC dealing with being haunted. It was a blast. But it's not for every group.

When it comes to special encounters, I regularly "reimagine" encounters and use an NPC I was going to use somewhere they never went in a different location. Then again, I also try to set up NPCs, organizations and groups, not specific encounters. So in any city there will be 3-5 main factions each with their own agenda. For each faction I only need to have details on 1 or 2 individuals in that faction (I may have more) at the start. I add more as I need them.

At the end of a session, I ask people what direction they want to take unless they're already on a specific path that needs to be wrapped up. So I'll summarize what they know and ask if they want to follow one of those hooks or if they want to go do something else. The players set the direction, I just set the stage.

Last, but not least, not every player works for every DM and vice versa.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The player experience revolves around goals, obstacles to those goals, and the choices the players must make to resolve the conflicts those obstacles create. As DMs we love to fantasize about “a living, breathing world,” the reality is the players are not going to experience the majority of that, nor are they particularly likely to be invested in it, unless it presents an obstacle to their goals or forces them to make decisions to resolve a conflict. When I read that you’ve created all this stuff in your city for the players to interact with, but their sense is “there’s nothing to do,” it tells me you haven’t given the players a reason to care about the stuff you’ve created. It’s not enough that this stuff exists, if it doesn’t present a goal, an obstacle, or a conflict, the players will have nothing driving them to interact with it.
 

the Jester

Legend
You could have a festival that includes various contests the pcs can take part in (archery, feats of strength, drinking, etc), exotic npcs and items ("buy a stuffed sphinx, slain by adventurers just last year! Only 100 gp!"), food that imparts the flavor of the local region and culture, drunken brawls (draw a weapon and get arrested), etc.

Another interesting in town scene is a public hanging (or other execution), especially one where the people being hanged may not be rightfully convicted. A darker version of this might be a lynching.

Riots could show the pcs the nature of whatever local tensions there are. If the farmers march and burn down the bank, that's a hook into a whole lotta potential adventures on any side of the conflict, should the pcs choose to engage.

A local election adds a lot of color and flavor, and the potential- again- for pcs to get involved as hired bodyguards, thugs, or even arsonists or assassins, depending on the nature of things.

A while back, the city that my game is centered on got embargoed by dwarves, leading to any good made of metal, wholly or partially, costing increasingly more over time (starting at x3, and eventually reaching x10 before the situation was resolved).

There could be mysterious attacks on livestock, bandit raids, bar fights, an ongoing feud between families or institutions, magical pollution from the local alchemist that causes weird effects or mutates creatures into monsters, etc.

Hope some of these ideas help!
 

Lots of good advice so far. I'll just add a few points.

First, congratulations on taking the plunge and becoming a Dungeon Master. It's a proud and noble calling, if sometimes difficult and lonely. It says a lot that you came here to get feedback on how to improve. Things are only going to get better and easier as your skills grow.

Second, for beginning DMs I always recommend using a published adventure, campaign setting, or starter town. Even something as simple as Phandalin from the Starter Set and Essentials Kit. If you're using material created by someone else, you have less emotional investment and you can see more clearly what intrigues your players and what inspires you. That's important because you're in learning mode.

Third, don't make the player have to find the adventure. Adventure should find them! D&D is a world in peril that's in desperate need of heroes. So don't be subtle. And don't be afraid to be cliched if it gets your story off to a quick start. This isn't literature. Here are some techniques:
  • Use a job board or quest board. Give the players quest cards and let them choose the quest they want to take on. Once they've selected a quest, have them go speak to the patron who is offering the reward. That can be someone from your town--the innkeeper, the librarian, the bearded lady at the carnival, etc. From there, the players will naturally interact with the content you created.
  • Use player backgrounds. Maybe the dwarf fighter with guild artisan background gets a bill from the gemcutters guild for increased dues. He's not going to be happy that someone wants to take his hard-earned treasure. When he talks to the guildmaster, he learns that the local gang of thieves is demanding protection money from the gemcutters. Bam, now the players are engaged with your world and invested in the outcome.
  • Have the players get caught up in a bar brawl or mugged on the street. The fallout from that scene can naturally lead them into interactions with other people and locations that you've created.
 

When designing a town/village/city think about what would make a story within it interesting to watch as a play. Libraries, carnivals, and shops are great background elements, but they're just settings for the main attraction: petty villager drama.

Getting the low-down on the town gossip and being able to helpfully (or unhelpfully) insert themselves in it is the surest way encourage players to care, if just to see the fur fly. So, in addition to nice tourist destinations, be sure to include...

A love triangle
An unpaid debt
A family feud
A property dispute
A bastard child
A cranky donky/goose/chicken that terrorizes the children
The weird old lady who may or may not be a retired wizard
Rival gangs (probably just the sons and daughters of rival guilds)
etc.

Basically, think 'Soap Opera'. Just really layer it thick and watch the players go nuts trying to get involved.
 

jgsugden

Legend
D&D is an RPG, a role playing game. Characters play a role in a story.

As a DM, you're writing everything except their characters. So, if you want them to have the opportunity to interact with things you've put into the town, you need to introduce it to them in an interesting way.

You said you put a carnival with games and prizes into a game and they never explored it. How did you lure them to it? Did you just tell them it was there? Or did you drop some hints that there was something there worth seeing?

"As you walk down the road, Argath (he of the high passive perception) spots a young man following the party. He is a good distance back from you but is clearly watching the group and following after them. however, just as you realize this, the young man turns down an alley that leads to the edge of town, where the carnival is set up."

or

"As you relax in the tavern and discuss your recent adventures, a garishly dressed elf bursts through the doors and breaks into a loud and boisterous song. The first few lines are in a language none of you know, but then he breaks into a chorus in common...

… the fates have come to grasp your hands,
to twist your ears and make amends
for past transgressions of ill luck and chance
that took your joy with foul circumstance.

The maiden fair, the men with two heads,
the beasts from far lands, the witch of dread,
all are here to grant you new life,
a life of mystery without all that strife.

Come to the carnival, play fate's games,
explore new sights that hail from far planes,
and learn what your life is meant to be:
You may walk away with the secrets of eternity.


As the last line leaves his mouth he bursts into laughter and throws something at the ground. It bursts into thick smoke that swirls and nearly instantly clears, but as it does he has disappeared ... although his laugh lingers on. You suddenly realize that everyone in the bar stood frozen as he sang, yourselves included. There was magic afoot here."

or

"As you return to town after so many weeks away you note a strange smell near the gates. It is sickly sweet and bitter at the same time, like rotten candy or decaying flowers. It takes you a moment to realize it is coming from a set of wagons parked along the edge of the road there at the city gates. An odd assortment of people and animals stand by them - a two headed male goliath carrying two huge warhammers, a dwarf female that stands nearly 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide that holds a gnarled staff as if it were a baby, a strikingly beautiful androgynous humanoid - one you think to be human at first, but revealed to be something else when their reptilian gaze focuses on your band for a moment, a horde of halflings that seem to span every stage of drunkeness, and many exotic beasts of burden.

As you're looking them over, an exceptionally tall and lean man with a bright blue top hat pushes past the tall dwarf and calls out to the odd people. 'We have our permit. The show goes on. We meet outside the Western Gate in an hour to set up the tents.'

As several members of the odd crowd disperse, the androgynous beauty catches your gaze one more time and whispers the words 'Help Me' silently to you before you lose sight of it in the crowd."
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Motivation is the missing word. What is motivating the players to interact with the town? @Charlaquin sums it up nicely in her post above. The PCs (players) need to want something and you need to get in their way their desire.
 

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