Has Your Campaign Stalled?

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on August 11, 2009

You’ve just finished up a night of gaming. Your players are gone and you’re reflecting on the nights encounters. You go over each encounter in your mind, scratching your head trying to figure out just how the party made it through so easily. They didn’t get a thrill out of the encounters and as you reflect you realize that they were bored!

Just how did your players get so bored with the campaign, how did they get so lazy?

Simple. They followed your lead.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but if the players around your gaming table are bored and lazy it might just be because you’ve become that way yourself.

But I still have so much energy and passion for the campaign. There’s so much more I want to accomplish! Fear not, below are some key strategies to help you jump-start your stalled campaign.

Challenge Them

Just when they were getting used to walking through encounters up the difficulty on them. Design your combat encounters as if the PCs were one or two levels higher than they already are. Your players won’t know what hit them. You can always fudge numbers during the encounter if it proves to be too tough.

Mess With The Plot

Do your adventures consist of the PCs going into a dungeon to retrieve an item or rescue an NPC because some other powerful NPC told, asked or hired them to do so? Switch it up. Stop using basic plot devices. Make the NPC the PCs have trusted for the past ten levels end up being one really bad guy. Have the villain that just escaped turn up in the next social skill challenge as an ally. Mess with your players heads, don’t let them get too comfortable about their assumptions of the campaign setting.

Make Your Villains Smart

Your villains shouldn’t be content to die at the end of an encounter. They should escape and return to haunt the PCs many, many times over. Otherwise your players will get bored, very bored. Flesh out your villains, give them personalities, fears, dreams, you name it. Now play them so that those traits come into effect. Play your villains smart.

Why should they fight the PCs when they could get some minions to mob them? Why fight the PCs directly when they could be harried with traps and obstacles?

In short your villains don’t want to die or be captured. Play them that way. D&D encounters should not be filled with disposable foes.

Make Them Responsible

Have your PCs ever taken an action in or out of combat that was against the characters principles? What were the consequences? If there was no consequence you as the DM aren’t doing your job right. In real life every action has a consequence. While we might play D&D to escape real life for a few precious hours, our actions in game should have bearing on the game.

If a PC steals an item from a powerful NPC there should be a consequence. If the NPC is tough enough to have the item, they would have the resources to track it down again. In short, make your PCs responsible for their actions by bringing irresponsible or dangerous actions back to haunt them.

Being the Dungeon Master is a lot of work. It can be unrewarding work when the players just waltz through the encounters and adventures we design. It doesn’t have to be that way and it starts with you. Challenge yourself when you design your encounters, throw some new stuff at your PCs to make them think twice. There are plenty of other ways to revitalize your game and we’ll take a look at them another time.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wyatt August 11, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Ha ha ha! Campaign, what campaign? Me, playing? Why that’s nonsense, if I was actually DMing right now I’m sure the universe would find a way to snatch it away from me in due time.

But this is a good article that I will keep in mind when next I attempt to take up the mantle of DM. And perhaps this time it will work! Thanks!
.-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Might of Eden: Warlocks in Eden =-.

2 Suddry August 11, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Good points here. One other thing a DM could try is to *gasp* ask the players what they think. Sometimes a person is so busy DMing they get tunnel vision so they miss the signals.

3 Wimwick August 11, 2009 at 8:32 pm

@ Wyatt
Two things: 1) I hope your schedule clears up and allows you to find time for more D&D. 2) Thanks, and keep your eye out for part two.

@ Suddry
Good point, player feedback is critical and there’s nothing wrong with asking for it. Just be ready for anything! If it’s ok with you I’m going to include asking for player feedback into part two of this series.

4 skallawag August 12, 2009 at 10:58 am

Maybe don’t just concentrate on “combat” encounters and making them harder. Players don’t like to be put up against impossible odds – they like to win and succeed.

Plot changes tend to confuse players and you may lose them even faster.

– Add interesting, yet challenging skill challenges or TRAPS.
– Bring back your reoccurring villain to toy with the party.
– Start trying to speed up the encounters – players who take 15 minutes to decide their action is not fair to those players who are ready as soon as their turn starts.
– change your encounters, throw an encounter of all minions, or all leaders and even overlap encounters. Don’t give players the 5 minute rest and force them to use their dailies.

5 Wimwick August 12, 2009 at 7:09 pm

@ Skallawag
Did someone leak a copy of part 2 of my article to you? Some great suggestions for making campaigns interesting and injecting some life back into them!

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