I play in a group where we routinely switch out GMs. When I GM I tend to prefer story-based games with lots of character building and descriptive role play. We tend to run Paizo's Adventure Paths just because we all have jobs and families and lives and such and doing so cuts down on the prep work, but when I'm running a game I still tend to put a lot of work into fleshing out the modules.

My challenge has been that things seem to start off well, everybodies into role playing and we're all having a good time, but after a few sessions (typically 3-4 hours on a weekday night) my players seem to get bored with things. It feels as though they want to get on with things, to level their characters faster, to move through the modules quickly and to "get it over with, so we can go on to the next thing." We've started and stopped several APs this way, and we're lucky to make it 4,5 levels before the "go go go" mentally eventually leads to a TPK.

Any suggestions? I'm quick to blame a MMO mentality here, but all of the players, including myself played pencil and paper long before the advent of online gaming.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you talked to your players about the problem? Do they agree to losing patience? What, exactly is it which makes them restless? \$\endgroup\$
    – thomax
    May 8, 2012 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


Tease them. Make sure they want to hear the rest of the story, they want to see the plot progressing and the combat is but a mean to that end.

More specifically, there is one thing I have always found important and my DM's have virtually never used: player backstories.

We all have our players write backgrounds for their characters, but how often do we use them to generate personal stories/quests that are meaningful to one (or more) of them every so and then? I honestly think that's the core of making quests interesting for the players, making them involve their characters' personalities as much as possible, whether through their past or their current mentality.

Every D&D player creates a character and throughout all of his sessions he/she keeps thinking of imaginary plots with his PC in the spotlight, desiring moments of him standing there, being the cool protagonist of the story as the camera focuses on his reactions while the story goes on.

So, maybe DMs should need to give out a little more of that to their players. Give them turns being awesome. How can anyone resist that? ;)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Using character backgrounds is a great idea! I remember this being the case back in the day when I first started pencil and paper games. Perhaps modifying the AP material to be more player specific is the direction I need to be taking things. \$\endgroup\$ May 8, 2012 at 19:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ If by AP you mean Arcane Power, I agree completely. Certain books that provide material for specific character themes can give you some great ideas for campaign development, plus they are even better if you have more than one characters in the party that fit this theme. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eldebryn
    May 8, 2012 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for backstories; most players love to have their character backgrounds explored; or have a word with the players to expand them more and then draw in characters from their background; "You know that guard unit you used to work for; it's old Noddy, the smith who used to do all your armour there - he's a long way from home." \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    May 9, 2012 at 7:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ We are big on player backstories for most of our campaigns. Whoever is running DM will usually try to find ways to work the character's backstory into the campaign. For example, running Shackled City a couple of years ago, my character's primary motivation was to find his missing father who was last seen in Cauldron. The DM worked in clues and leads that helped keep my character motivated across the 13 or 14 levels it took before he finally found him. Background stories can be a great boon so long as the DM finds good ways to work them in. \$\endgroup\$
    – BBlake
    May 9, 2012 at 22:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for backstories; I love when my players have backstories for their characters because it ties the characters into the world more. Subsequently, it makes the players more excited when you bring their backstories into the plot in unexpected and engaging ways. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2017 at 3:10

My group bounces around a lot as well. Part of the problem is that I want to play very heroic campaigns. I want to be the good guy (or maybe the flawed hero), and I want to kill the evil guy (even if he is a misunderstood genius who made a few bad choices). Other players love that morally gray area talk-heavy style of play where the players spend as much time stabbing each other in the back as advancing the plot we were tasked with "solving". I don't mind a little PvP or intrigue, but sometimes I think the rest of my group could take a year to plan how to go to the grocery store for a week's worth of food. As a result, the light-hearted adventures gets cloying to the RP folks after a month or two, and the dark character studies gets stifling to me after about the same time.

What works for us is this:

  • Play an adventure (maybe about 1-2 levels worth of material from a D&D/Pathfinder perspective).
  • Play something else. Quantify the old game, is it serious or lighthearted? Adventure or character story? Sandbox or on rails? Genre? The next game should contrast on as many fronts as possible. Currently we are playing 2e D&D during the God's War, before it was Star Wars pre-Clone Wars, and before that it was Shadowrun, and before that we've played Vampire, homebrew 3.5, Pathfinder, Werewolf, etc. Change it up, and the stuff you don't like about the current game will not drag on.
  • While playing other things, the characters who were emotionally invested in the old game will want to wrap up their storyline. Our group about once every month or two has a "catch up" night or a "loose thread" night where we cover this stuff with the GM.
  • Sooner or later, folks will start moving a plot far enough forward on an older "paused"/"back-burnered game that all the characters will start saying "if George is going to do X, I want to do Y!". Next time we switch out games, this one will likely be the one we play.
  • Make an adventure that the players are invested in finishing. If you have a plotline that involves all of this intrigue and character development, yet your players are bored because they want to go stab orcs, either put orcs in the chatty parts or make the chatty parts a (brief) prelude to stabbing the orcs.
  • If you have 1 player that derails things because s/he gets bored, throw them the occasional bone. In the middle of the long and tense negotiations, the castle comes under attack. Thog the Skull-Krusha can then go and defend the walls while the other players may be involved in negotiations. In a very real sense Thog helped the peace process, since he rallied the troops on the South Wall and kept the orcs from breaching the castle (for example).
  • Distractions are bad, our group is currently fighting the good fight against technology at the table, since it ends up with people playing games while waiting for their turn. OK during a combat, but can really drag when combat ends and someone does not get the message and ends up playing for the next hour.
  • As @John Athanasiou mentions, if someone writes you a backstory that is good, hand them some plot-cookies and further their personal agendas. It may take a while to get better stories from people, but a good background matching to the planned story works great. I'm looking at running an adventure in Pathfinder, and it takes place on the continent of Garund. I'll ask the players, "You are travelling towards Garund, why are you going there? How did you pay the fare to get there?" etc. Once I know their goals, and what I have planned to get the ball rolling, I can then throw plot-cookies to the players and watch them enjoy their moment in the spotlight.

I follow a very simple set of rules.

Make them care. People care about stuff. Children. Suffering. Gold. Good. Law. Society. Describe things they care about well enough, cause them to suspend their disbelief for even one instant, and you'll have them by the cockles of their hoary, roleplaying hearts. If you can't do this, there is a stopgap, i'll describe it below.

Once they care, make them scared. For their character's life, the NPC that they like got kidnapped, there is a mysterious thing happening. Fear of the unknown, fear of danger, fear of dice, fear of spooky, ghost story like descriptions. Fear is the prime motivator for all human action.

Give them a chance to punch the thing that is scaring them right in the face, and save the thing they care about. Whether by finding that clue, whether be vindicating the thing they care about post mortem, by actually rescuing that damn princess from the terrifying, horned, fire-breathing, sadistic dragon - however.

This is a simplified version of the process outlined for most story writing exercises. Learning how to write a good script, short story, even poem, will help you do this. As will any exercises in oration, public speaking. Combining the two is basically the role of the GM.

If all else fails, though.

Make it bloody exciting. People cannot help but be titillated when they imagine someone hanging from the rope of an airship trailing fire and smoke as it plows through successive church steeples. If you can't engage the players on the emotional levels, for whatever reason, engage them on the visceral. Nothing is quite like having people's eyes briefly glaze over as they go 'hell yeah', clink beers, and imagine a space marine riding a daemon over the lip of a space station and punching him repeatedly as they re-enter the planet's atmosphere.

Oh, and a word of advice in adhering to these rules.

Steal liberally.


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