4 Ways to Keep Players on Track in Your D&D Campaign

There is nothing more satisfying for a Dungeon Master than when the players in your campaign stop just going through the motions and start interacting with your world on their terms. At this point your players have developed their own stories and feel like they officially belong in the world that you are creating and guiding them through. One could even say that at this point your players are truly role playing.

Despite the elation at seeing a group of people interacting and taking seriously the fictional world and story you created for them, this can come with a price, as at this point (whether it is game one or game twenty of your campaign) that players may become so focused on their own goals and backstory that they forget about the main story that you are trying to take them through.

While letting everyone at your table explore their own objectives and motivations is certainly worth a few games, eventually it is time to get them back into the campaign's story, and move them along. So if you find your players getting distracted, here are four ways to bring them back into the fold.

1. Be Prepared for Failure.

A mistake I still make from time to time, even with 15 years of DMing experience under my belt, is not considering what happens when your players fail a crucial roll. And this is something as a DM you need to be prepared for. What happens if they don't encounter the character with the info they need? What if they fail that spot check they need to pass to see some crucial piece of the puzzle?

When players miss this sort of information, they will tend to flounder and start focusing on their own on their stories. There are two things I usually do to prevent this. First and foremost is that you need to have notes cover what happens if they fail rolls, not just if they pass. What happens if the guards spot them while sneaking through? What happens if they fail that necessary dex check, etc. etc. Keep the possibilities in mind and be prepared.

Second, nothing that is crucial to the story should ever be based on chance. If they need to meet a specific NPC for your campaign to continue don't wait for them to find them, place them in front of the party with a big neon sign. If they need to notice that lever that will release them from the dungeon, then make sure that they see it, standing out among the rest of the dungeon.

In short, make sure that the information you need to get across isn't dependent on a character roll succeeding, and if you must, make sure you have a Plan B.

2. Offer Choices, Not Endless Possibilities.

I know this sort of goes against the whole "you can do anything" attitude that many D&D players have... But frankly that sentiment isn't exactly true. D&D has rules and limitation based on what and where your players are in game, which usually means that they actually only have a few options that make sense in any situation, and as a DM you need to consider those possibilities.

For example, if your players encounter a bandit camp. Don't just inform them that there is a bandit camp in front of them them, ask your group if they want to attack the bandit camp or sneak around it, or whatever choice you think makes sense. Obviously listen to player ideas, suggestions and ways they want to proceed, etc. etc. But let them know right off the bat that this encounter has more than one way to be dealt with: you can fight them, or go around them.

It may seem like you are guiding them, but you would be surprised how many players didn't think, or didn't realize that they had more than one choice. And crafting the choices you present carefully can make sure that your group stays on track and completes the objectives at hand, rather than wandering into pointless battles they needn't have participated in.

So use your best judgment and figure out a few of the paths your characters could take, and suggest a couple if they are a little stuck.

3. Remember That All Roads Lead to Rome

Sometimes in a game your players will focus on... Well frankly some pretty strange things. For example, I had my Age of Heroes group become completely obsessed with a Farmer named Tim. Now I have no idea why, as all the fellow did was sell them some vegetables. However, to the group Tim became very important, and ensuring his survival while in town was always on their minds.

Now luckily for me my group got over their obsession with Tim and we were able to get on with the story. But sometimes this isn't the case. Sometimes your players will derail your story as they focus all of their efforts into pumping up Tim the Farmer's life.

If you are having this problem then the solution is in fact quite simple: Tim the Farmer is now part of the story. He has some secret, an item, or some information to share that will help the players move on. Maybe they even want to join the party. How you do it doesn't matter, but the point is that if your players are moving to far off plot then the path they are on needs to lead back to your campaign plot.

In essence: all roads must lead to Rome.

4. Give Them Some Context

As a DM you are a creator of worlds. All that happens, all that has happened in your world is in your head, in your notebook or saved on your computer. You have an incredible and unique insight to the happenings, the causes and effects, and general culture of your world. Your players do not. However your player's characters are living in this world so it is not unreasonable at all that they would have some basic knowledge about how it works. Let them know if their actions will destabilize the kingdom, or make them be perceived as bandits, or saints. Your players should at least have a sense of these sorts of things. Much in the same way that you know the laws and customs outcomes of your actions in your own country/society, your characters should have some of that information as well.

So take a minute and discuss the consequences, or backstory of location, etc. etc. Give your players the information they would likely already know  It will make them fell like a part of the greater whole, and allow them to make informed choices in your campaign, which usually in my experience lead to them following your story, because it's often pretty important to what's happening in the world. But your players can't act on that if they don't know about it.

So those are four pretty easy and pretty subtle ways to bring your players back or prevent them from abandoning your story. These all take a bit of practice, and an awful lot of thought, but soon they will become second nature as you write your campaign, and you will find that your players will become more engrossed and more connected to your story for doing so.

How do you stop players from going off track?

Written by: Andrew Gregory

4 Ways to Keep Players on Track in Your D&D Campaign 4 Ways to Keep Players on Track in Your D&D Campaign Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 12/20/2019 02:05:00 pm Rating: 5

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