I have been playing D&D 5e for the better part of three years now, and normally I have had a blast: everyone is engaged in the game and wanting to play.

In November I started DMing for the first time and I started up LMOP for a group of my close friends. We played through Phandelver, but I would usually have to pull them back from side chatter quite a bit or go find them as they wandered off to go smoke a cigarette or something. Now we have finished and I'm starting to go through Princes of the Apocalypse.

My Difficulties

We are three sessions into the game and the party have:

  • Had one player waste 2 hours going to three shops to buy a dress, sexually harass the staff, then say he never wanted to buy the dress in the first place.
  • Gone to a tavern and decided they wanted to get drunk and go to sleep (with a brief threatening of homicide on a random tavern patron) rather than follow any of the numerous plot hooks I threw at them.
  • Go to a carnival (made my own plot hook to get them interested rather than the shoddy Mirabar delegation) that gets attacked by cultists and instead of talking to their savior (feathergale knight killed some earth cultists) decide to rob the carnival staff and then question what they are supposed to do next.

    All of this has taken approximately 13 hours because they are constantly having side conversations, not paying attention, being disruptive, or walking off to take solo breaks for 10 minutes in the middle of a block of story.

I've never dealt with a group that is like this. It just seems like they don't even want to play the game, however, when I ask them, they insist they wanna keep playing.

How can I get my players to:

  1. Be more engaged in the game and stop messing around OOC
  2. Focus on the game rather than treating it like a poor tabletop life simulator
  3. (less important, but still a thing) roleplay more rather than feeling like they are using a joystick to play a roleplaying video game?

    Or should I just take the one guy who seems to enjoy being involved in the game to find another group and just scrap the whole thing?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you played with these friends before, or are they new to table-top gaming as a whole? Is it possible that they really aren't interested in the game and are just playing along as an excuse to socialize? \$\endgroup\$
    – David K
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 12:21

5 Answers 5


Your players are invested in a different game.

The first group that I played with played the way you describe: mucking around town, not caring much about objectives, messing with every NPC they meet. It took us entire sessions to get through even the most basic of quest-giver scenes, and we delighted in spiking plot hooks and keeping the DM on his toes. I still play with that group, and it's still a lot of fun!

It is likely that your players have a very different view of the gaming experience--maybe socializing or being "off-task" is just a form of relaxation. While you may want to push through the prewritten campaign, maybe they want to just blow off steam and mess around in a fantasy world, doing things they'd never do in real life. Both viewpoints are perfectly valid ways of approaching a TTRPG.

On the other hand, the group I DM for is very plot-oriented---they will eat up quest hooks, and they will efficiently pursue their goals. When I first DMed for them, I was surprised that they completed a quest in the time it took my other group to stroll through town.

Adapt or pass the baton

Trying to force those players into "focusing" on the game will likely just swap your roles: you might be satisfied, but your players might chafe against your "railroading". The first DM of my first group tried to do this, and it caused a lot of friction in the group. Eventually, that DM became a player, and we had a different DM. This DM, instead of trying to run a coherent plot, simply had an omnipotent, insane NPC wizard teleport us around and told us to cause chaos. As you might imagine, this went over a lot better.

Additionally, instead of making deep dungeons or storylines, he focused on making more interesting NPCs and environments instead. This NPC focus meant that he was prepared to create interesting scenarios when we were messing around in town, and he didn't waste time on dungeons we would never enter. For example, in your tavern, you can have a champion or something challenge the PCs to a 1:1 fight, or give the shopkeep a interesting prank magic item (horn of baubles, maybe?). If your players like wandering off or doing individual things, plan more individual encounters or ones that don't require the whole party to be present. I realize you're trying to run a published adventure, but maybe that's not suitable for this group. You will probably get more mileage out of the adventure by using its encounters and NPCs as inspirations for your own modified campaign, rather than running it straight.

Basically, the three questions you ask at the end are basically, "how can I force my players to play how I want?" Instead, you should be asking, "how can I adapt my campaign for these players?" If the answer to that latter question makes you not want to be a DM anymore, then you should pass DMing responsibilities to someone else.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, making more engaging NPC's might even get them to care about the world and go out on your quests. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 6:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd add that it may be that these players aren't interested in TTRPG at all and are just playing along because their friend really wanted to do it. The OP didn't indicate whether the friends are new to DnD or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – David K
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie, no, I mean the AD&D horn of baubles. Now that I've searched for it I'm not sure if it's actually a real item... \$\endgroup\$
    – Icyfire
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire Horn of Baubles existed in AD&D 2e. Complete Bard's Handbook. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments removed, I have already up voted, nice edit. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 15:00

They do sound bored, which is definitely a blow to a GM's ego. The best way I've found to get players hooked on the game is to ask them one simple question: "What's the most fun part of gaming for you?"

That's the easy part. The hard part, as a GM, is actually listening to what they say, and finding a way to implement it. And I say that's the hard part, because sometimes what they think is fun and what you think is fun are going to be at odds. Sometimes, they're so at odds that there's not much way to salvage a game, but you have to at least try.

However, once you've got that answer, and if it seems one that you can work with, the next thing is looking at your own style. Maybe, since you're a fairly new GM, you need to work some on your pacing or style of delivery. Ask yourself what made your previous GM so much fun, and compare how they did things to how you're doing them. Read some articles or watch some Youtube videos on good GMing, and see if anything resonates with you.

One other thing to consider is just telling them flat-out that all the side conversations and other disruptions are killing the game for you, and then asking them why they're doing that. That should... if they're receptive to honest communication... circle back around to my original suggestion at some point.

TL;DR: You want to have fun. They want to have fun. Figure out what's the most fun for all, and then try to make that happen.

A couple of resources:

  • \$\begingroup\$ The OP is running a published adventure. This isn't a home world. (That said, lots of good meat in your answer). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but the OP is already riffing on it to try to hook the players, so maybe the right "detour" will get them back on the road. Or maybe they'll start having so much fun that the published material gets chucked out the window. Win-win. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stormhound
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 16:02

I'm in a sort of similar situation, though the players don't seem too bored. And I suspect your players aren't either, they're just joyriding the game. Some of my intended methods of reigning them in:

Have the NPCs cut them off: They are rummaging through junk/shopping/getting drunk. Someone has a beef with them for wrecking his inn. That someone has either alerted the authorities or hired some thugs to rough them up. Though preferably you want them running in shouting for help, or walking up to them and saying he's from the next village and heard of some mercenary warriors and came for their assistance.

Do it as in the real world: They want a tabletop life simulator? Give it to them. You mess up someone, he's either gonna hire thugs to mess you up, or call the police, there's only so many people that will tolerate it, and you can make it clear that they are just being low-life thugs and got the whole region to hate them. Thugs going after them are probably going to lead to more chaos with the specific composition, but if it's the authorities, they'll probably try to control themselves or find themselves in prison. But authorities can reign in most rogue behavior. (I am assuming of course that you don't want to kill them and that you'll provide them with an escape plan, in which case they can always start losing some of their equipment, and getting it back from whomever the guards sold it to may be a side-quest in its own right). They are probably going to be more careful after they're faced with the option to pay for the damage caused or go to jail.

Embed chaos into the campaign: With my band of misfits, I am providing within the next two sessions the possibility of joining the Hutts, the Empire, the Rebels, or just do some odd jobs and smuggling. In your case, they can be raiders (think Danes in England in the 900s, orcs in Warcraft, which is another campaign we are gonna start in the 5e system, etc), and they may well be tasked with shaking up villages and small fiefdoms that don't pay taxes - or protection. And you can still reign them in if they obliterate more than one or two, as their employer won't have much use for a pile of ashes afterwards. Though present it more of an "100 gold for the job, 400 more if you don't [make a mess in whatever way you define it]"

and very importantly

Shorten what's not worth it: He wants to buy a dress? Describe the three dresses he finds at the shops, and tell him how much it will cost to have one custom made. This specific encounter needn't be played out in-character.

Examples for the examples you gave:

  • Shopping spree and sexual harassment: Authorities. Have him be a registered sex offender, or just thrown out and beaten a bit.

  • Drunk at the tavern: NPCs walk in, or authorities are called, or a bar fight just starts up and when they win, an NPC stares at them and says "That was [name]'s deputy/thug/officer, [name]..." and then either warn them that they're in trouble or asks them to take out the rest of the feared gang.

  • Ignoring savior at carnival and just looting it: Why didn't that knight stop them too? It would be a fine opportunity for them to redeem themselves, forced to aid the knight in tracking down and stopping the cultists.

As far as your question 3, about role-playing goes, don't be afraid to roleplay a lot. Do funny voices and stuff, refuse to just give them the summary, again they may say "I tell him that ___", find every opportunity to ask them how they say it, as the same words said in abruptly and calmly can sound really different (or sarcastically vs earnestly).

Last tip: use a Google questionnaire to verify any suspicions you have, and to directly ask the important questions you don't wanna ask in their face by making it anonymous. They all responded and it was pretty useful for me! Also polls work great, when asking when they want to arrange the next session one player from the 5e campaign straight-out selects "I am too closed-minded to try a different setting", which is very annoying but at least I know not to take him into account. Also the feedback from the others showed me that I was way too worried and I already knew what I wanted to work on.

also the links provided by Stormhound are good, and I have started listening to the Dungeon Master's Block podcast which is at least encouraging, if not helpful.

Hope this helps somehow.


It sounds to me as if they aren't interested in this story. Some stories catch peoples attention more than others that's just perfectly normal and why we all have different tastes. Right now, your trick as the DM is to figure out what they are interested in.

This can be done in two different ways: Away from the Table or At the Table.

It's fine to say that you aren't enjoying running this story because they don't seem interested in any of the plot hooks. And you know that you won't be at your best if you aren't more involved in the story. Make this about you wanting to have more fun, but also you wanting to do your best as DM for them. Really focus on that last bit so that it isn't ever about them not doing what you hoped, but about you wanting everyone to have the most fun.

There's a good suggestion above about using a Google questionnaire to ask what they really want. It being anonymous means that people are more apt to give you real feedback as to how much they are enjoying the game. It's still going to skew nicer because they know you, so don't make it about, what their least favorite part is or what you could do better, make it about what they like that you do. That way they don't feel bad and you get an idea of what they want more of.

At the table, throw different plot hooks at them, sounds like you have, but throw plot hooks for completely different campaigns and see what sticks. This will mean more work on you as the DM because you might not be running a module, but it sounds like your players might not be interested in this story module. Also, I want to give you props already for going off script from the module to try and find something to bring them back into the module. In the end, it might be that you have to scrap this campaign, have them roll up new characters and start running your own new game. The RPG Academy have a lot of solid podcasts for new DM's especially in their Faculty Meetings.


Look at the things they did...

  • sexually harass the staff
  • get drunk
  • threaten to kill a random tavern patron
  • rob the carnival staff

and look at the things they avoided...

  • legitimate shopping
  • following numerous plot hooks
  • talking to their savior
  • following up on the cultists
  • saving NPCs

It appears they aren't interested in being heroes or following a plot, but are quite able and happy to entertain themselves.

These types of players can be a lot of fun to GM for, because they are proactive and random and do stupid things. You don't need an adventure module, because they naturally create chaos and get themselves into trouble. All you have to do is pick up the plot hooks they throw you.

Things you can do:

First, give them lots of rope to hang themselves. Let them do anything they want to do, but moreover, arrange opportunities for them. It won't take long before their pranks escalate and get out of control, and they start making enemies. Don't fight the chaos, cultivate it and then use it to your advantage.

But also apply consequences. It works best if the consequences are delayed so they initially seem to get away with stuff, but it later comes back to bite them. Sometimes a it's slap on the wrist, and sometimes it bites hard. Don't hold back, give them as good as they get, in equal measure. My rule of thumb is karma: if you do X to NPCs, they'll try to to X to you. This is important to keep villainy in check, as they come to realize there will be hell to pay. It also creates plenty of adventure.

And don't forget consequences to others: let their actions have real permanent effects in the world, and on NPCs. It is very gratifying as a PC to know you're not in a straight jacket, that you are actually able to affect the world meaningfully. Hopefully as they see or experience the (sometimes brutal) consequences of their actions, they will acquire a sense of responsibility, realizing they can do good or evil. This is very empowering and a great way to keep them engaged and motivated.

As they become aware of their own agency and power, add NPCs who are just like the PCs but engaged in their own plots. The PCs may take the attitude of rivals or meddlers. If not, then have their sphere of influence overlap and begin to throw off the PC's schemes. That should definitely get their attention.

Cultivate NPC relationships. Invent weird and fun NPCs and put them in the PCs' path. Sooner or later they will "adopt" certain NPCs; these will get nicknames, maybe be included in various activities, and you'll see the PCs begin to grow attached. Be patient and cultivate any NPC they take notice of, because they longer this goes on the more powerful a tool it becomes. It doesn't matter if it's love or hate. Even if they are not heroes and won't lift a finger for anyone else, they will respond to this NPC. When the time is right, use the NPC as a hook to draw them into an adventure. Such NPCs can be reusable or one-time. A loved NPC that betrays them will become even stronger as an object of hatred. You can insert real tragedy by killing a loved NPC, but be careful with that one or you'll lose the players' trust.

If all else fails, attack the PCs directly, but mysteriously. Unknown attackers try to assassinate them, or steal their stuff. If doesn't matter if the NPCs fail (and usually they should, if you don't want to be seen as jerking them around). It doesn't matter if you who sent them or why; all that matters is the PCs notice and want revenge or at least an explanation. If they don't notice at first, keep harassing them until they do. If the players persist in ignoring a threat, killing a PC will let them know this is serious. Eventually this will have the PCs in hot pursuit with single-minded determination, even if they don't know who they are pursuing or why.

The PCs may never become heroes or play through a module, but give them enough rope and they'll keep you entertained forever.


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