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.
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.